I'm always having a hard time with the idea of miraculous healing...maybe of anything miraculous happening. I know it does but I can never pray for miracles. God and I both know I don't really think He'll do it. Recently both of my kids have been sick, the sickest I've ever seen, and I thought I should pray for them. I did pray for William when he was at his worst, telling God I knew He was merciful and begging Him for mercy on William. That was the middle of the night. The next day William slept until 2 in the afternoon and was clearly much better when he woke up. Not miraculously without a trace of illness, but much much better. I knew God had answered. Now I'm at the same point with Ellie, but still just don't know how to pray. Knowing nothing about healing, I had this vague idea that there is some combination of words or something I am supposed to feel that will make it happen. But as I was trying (in vain) to pray for her, I felt like God was a little amused at me--like I was doing some silly "rain dance" to get what I wanted. I stopped and admitted defeat. What now Lord? But then I looked at her and even though there were no obvious signs of a recovery, I knew she was OK. Something inside said that there was no longer a cause for concern. Still, what about those prayers that yield immediate obvious miraculous healing? Am I still supposed to seek that? But then He spoke to me again through Elizabeth Elliot, as He so often does. "Just leave him to me" was the title of the devotional. And through it, He told me to pray and then rest and trust Him. Not trust Him to do what I had asked, but to trust Him that He heard and was holding both me and Ellie in His hands. Look to Him in quiet trust and know He will do what is good.
I was lying on the couch trying to take a nap, and started thinking about horse drawn sleighs. They put these little eye patches on the harness called "blinders" (or "winkers" if you're in the UK) that help keep the horse from being distracted by what's behind and around them. They can't see the driver but obviously know that he's there by the tug on their mouths.
Walking by faith seems a lot like that to me. We can't see the Lord but we have to learn to be sensitive and obedient to the direction He gives us. And we need to be free from distraction, otherwise we might get scared and run away or see something else we want and wander off the course the Driver has determined to take. We need to be blind to all but His will, and then we will be really useful to Him, like a horse that knows and does nothing but its master's will.
I prayed for blinders, like the horse has. Lord, let us be sensitive only to what You are doing and asking of us. Let us be guided only by your wise and good hands, and not by what we see around us. Because we can't make sense of all we see any better than a horse, and our desires won't lead to anything profitable being accomplished in Your Kingdom. It's Your "sleigh"; make us useful to You...
Maybe this experiment seems a little extreme or even wrong to someone reading this. I admit I wondered it myself. But I love God, I want God. The more I taste of Him, the more I want to drop everything else and be His, utterly His. "Taste and see that the Lord is good" the Scripture goes, and it is so so true. But this is my experience. Maybe I am a wacko.
Is this experiment also for every other believer? I think it is. Jesus said that the first and greatest commandment is "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength." In all my years of being a Christian, this experiment is the only means I have ever found that allows me to, at least for a moment at a time, obey that commandment. If there is another method for doing so, by all means do that as well or instead. But do something. If the Son of God Himself called that one the greatest commandment, then it seems to me that we as Christians ought to be bending their whole will to obey it, right?
I've had a difficult time coming into God's presence for the last day or so. I listened to the Spirit in my heart, but something was missing. I wasn't encountering Him with joy like I had been and I wondered what was wrong. Last night He showed me that there was an area of my heart I had been keeping back from Him. I was really enjoying shopping for Christmas gifts and had been avoiding Him about it, in case He would tell me not to go shopping because He wanted to do something else. I was like a little kid holding on to some little treasure so tightly, so no one could take it away. Its not that shopping for gifts or any of that is bad in itself, but He wants all of me. Even the good things. An area that isn't surrendered blocks some part of our fellowship, which is truly bad I have decided. I would rather have Him than my little shopping spree. Nothing compares to that joy I have found in Him...though I am embarrassed to admit how hard this one was to let go of. But what can I say? Apart from Him I am still the same silly selfish girl and will always be her apart from Him. And this is my choice: not to be apart from Him.
One more thought spurs off my post of a moment ago--this giving of my body to God sounds truly creepy in a way, though it doesn't feel that way to do it. Its kind of like we are standing side by side here, and I am just letting Him hold my hands to do a task I could not do on my own (only not merely my hands but all of me, even my feelings and desires are ordered by Him as I allow it). Does that make sense? It isn't like what we see in a demon possession where the person is clearly absent from their body and being utterly controlled by another spirit. God does not control us. At any moment we are free to jerk away or take back our hands. So far, He has been gentle and a gentleman. It is a partnership, and we can take the upperhand at any moment we choose.* We lose so much by doing so, for He is more capable and wise and good than we can imagine! But we are free to order our own life and go our own way . He wants to work with us. We're just the silent partner.
There seems to be a connection between my heart and my brain in what I am trying to do. When I think of Jesus Christ and His kingdom, I also turn my heart to him in surrender of my own will. Kind of like praying "Thy will be done" but I don't actually say it. I just will it silently in my heart. But it isn't a reluctant turning to Him. I have seen His goodness and beauty in a way that is impossible to describe. Some part of me is always warring for control of my own life, and that part of me I do violence to in a way. I choose to go to the Lord because He is good and I am not; because He is perfect and I am not. And when I get there, when I muscle past that stubborn "thing" in me that says "no don't do it!" I find myself in the presence of the most beautiful, loving, generous, gracious, magnificent, joyful Being I have ever met--beyond all I could even imagine. Overwhelming joy and light washes over me in His presence. I have no worries. All of a sudden everything seems RIGHT, even if in the human perspective it isn't. For example, lately, and maybe its no coincidence, I am finding myself often slighted and hurt by people close to me. Shockingly so. I don't even know what to do at first. But then I think, "God's kingdom (His will) matters more than what I want to do about this situation." and in my heart I take my feelings and the situation to Him, and immediately I have peace and wisdom for how to proceed. Like an instant download to my heart. I guess what is actually happening is that I am surrendering my body to His use, and that "instant download" is really just Him taking the reins. And I am governed by His peace and joy as He sees to the people in His Kingdom. I feel like I have discovered some wonderful secret. If ever there was a way to quit sinning, well this is it. I give my body to God to use, and He does not sin. But I have not disappeared. I am just hidden in Him. What people see in those moments I am surrendered is no longer Jenn, but Jesus. They may not realize it, but that is the fact. "I have died and my life is hidden with Christ in God." I am on vacation in my own soul, resting in perfect peace and unexplainable joy. And all I have to do is surrender to Him. Not an easy thing, but so simple I wouldn't have believed it was the answer if you'd told me years ago. In fact, I didn't! I read the Laubach/Lawrence book nearly 8 years ago when Kurt and I were dating, and it was incomprehensible to me, even though some part of me wanted to do what they had done. I guess God took that inkling of desire and has graciously brought me here to fulfill it. Hey--Em--looks like He did the 7 year thing with me too! ha!
Well, Em, this post is for you. I don't really know what to say about the experiment yet, except that it is so worth the effort, even though I am doing such a bad job!
(For any readers who don't know what I'm talking about, I recently read Practicing His Presence, a little book with writings from two men, Frank Laubach, a twentieth century missionary, and Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk. Both men set out to see if they could remain constantly in fellowship with God. Laubach's experiment was to see if he could bring Christ to mind one second out of every minute, opening his heart and will to Him.)
What I have found so far is that God is near and loves deeply and pours out grace freely. Sometimes I go for hours and forget to bring Christ to mind but when I come He receives me with so much joy and affection. I can hardly describe how wonderful He is. Some days like today I get stubborn and just want to do my own thing. He lets me. (though Lawrence said that in his experience the Lord would call him back when he had forgotten for too long...both men, I think, said that God wouldn't push if there was a problem with the will being toward self).
Anyway, I hope that helps give you some idea what's going on. It's hard to explain how it works, except that in coming to God, we have to lay our WHOLE self at His feet, all of our will. Both Laubach and Lawrence expressed repeatedly that the will to be God's must be with all our hearts, keeping nothing back from Him. Laubach said that he resolved and then reresolved to give his whole self to God, every minute. It was definitely an act of will and a conscious decision to reject everything but the Savior and His love.
I realized during some hot evening this summer that I still have a security blanket of sorts. Even if it's 85 degrees in the house, I still need a sheet to pull over me when I go to sleep.
I think in college my "security blanket" was a certain jacket that I wore everywhere in the winter. I used to sleep in various lounges and on various furniture all around campus, and the fleece jacket provided a cozy feeling in public places.
Tonight I was reading the passage in Matthew where Jesus is having dinner with Matthew and other tax collectors and "sinners," and God spoke to me. I read the words, "tax collectors and sinners" but immediately the Spirit translated them, in a way, to read "drug lords and pot heads". And I "saw" in my mind Jesus sitting at that table with the druggies that hang out next door at the park.
The very human part of me wants those "riff raff" types out of our park. I feel disdain for them. But tonight I got to see them as the sick and lost that Jesus came to save. He told the self righteous Pharisees, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I did not come to save the righteous but the sinners."
Recently I felt challenged by the Lord to start praying the Lord's prayer, thoughtfully, meditatively. I read in Willard's book that he had done the same and found it very powerful. I know this might sound nutty, but I can feel the power of it, when I am quiet in my spirit and praying from the heart. I just spend some time being still before the Lord and ask Him to search my heart, and there comes a point where my mind clears and I know I am in His presence, and I pray each line slowly and consider its meaning. Sometimes I elaborate on it a bit. its helped a LOT reading Willard's book, because he presents such a marvelous, deep picture of the gospel and God's kingdom. Its brought new meaning to the old prayer.
So today I was praying and could hardly even start the prayer because I was so tired (yet again, or still). And I had to stop and just tell the Lord, "I can't even pray I am so tired, and there is so much to to do today and I don't know how to do it." And then He answered my heart...I knew Him as a God of rest and not a slave driver. And knowing Him in that way made my daily duties so clear. Some things I did not need to do; I had taken the chores and pressure on myself. When I got to the part of the Lord's prayer that says "Give us this day our daily bread." I told God that I needed some diapers for Ellie. I planned to go to Target and get them, but when the window of time came (when both kids were awake) I felt the Spirit leading me not to go. I only had one diaper left! But I figured He would provide somehow. So we ate lunch and took naps. later in the day I mentioned to my neighbor I needed to go to Target for diapers and she offered me a whole bunch of leftover size 3's her son had grown out of. Prayer answered! Then I was trying to get the energy and inspiration to do dinner but just didn't have it in me, and I prayed. Lord, I need some dinner. I opened the fridge and there was a big container of lasagna I had forgotten about.
I know maybe the answers seem coincidental or lame, but I knew then and now that they were the answers, and I am so joyful and thankful that He answers prayers so clearly. And it shows me that if He is so clearly answering that part about the daily bread, then I can be sure He is also answering the rest of the prayer as well...
I get so frustrated with the way politics divides people, even believers. And I got to thinking that Jesus could have told the parable of the Good Samaritan today with the key players being Obama and McCain supporters, and the one who stopped for the robbed man having pity despite the fact that he was for the other side. We should have compassion for our opponents. But I think in our hearts we can easily consider them worthy of condemnation because of their viewpoint.
It's natural for humans to divide themselves and categorize and generalize. But I think God has called us to a bigger love. And so many of the political issues are not matters that can be decided by clear moral mandates (that is, what the Scriptures tell us is good). So why do we hate each other over these issues? Doesn't it seem wrong somehow to take a strong stand for the protection of the unborn or those in need of welfare, but then verbally abuse those who are already born or own a home simply because they stand on the other side of the political fence? Would you still support the homeless or unborn if they turned out to support your political opponent?
Up until just now I used to believe that I was surrounded by a crowd of the enemy, spiritually speaking. And in the midst of all the pain and fear and confusion, I would reach out for God and hope that I could reach Him, or that He would take my hand. I knew He was good and was nearby somehow, but maybe I had to say the right words to get Him to intervene.
But tonight as I was sitting on the couch unable to sleep, I waited on Him to say something to me about the frustration and anger I've been feeling today, and how it has brought me down. And that image came to me, of the crowd of demons or whatever around me and me reaching out to God, and He said to me, "I am closer to you than the enemy, closer than the air you breathe." All the suffering of my life has been allowed, maybe mostly because I am a free being and have invited a lot of it on myself. But He has used it to purify me and bring me to Himself, to get rid of the faulty ideas and cleanse me of them, to bring me to a place of wholeness in Him.
I am His child. He guards me as a hen keeps her chicks under her wing. Even what the enemy is allowed to do to me is allowed for good, the good of conforming me to Christ, wherein lies my greatest happiness and perfect peace.
Today I find myself wondering how much of my own despair has crept into my idea of Who God is. I am characterized by sorrow and frustration and fear, and that is the only life I can imagine. I get glimpses of joy and beauty and treasure them. They are few and far between. But isn't that because my heart resists seeing things as God does, resists even accepting His love? I have determined myself to be ugly, unworthy. I think that has barred me from seeing and experiencing abundant life in so many ways. Some little voice keeps telling me that I deserve to suffer and be rejected, and those experiences are the ones I embrace.
But what if reality is totally different? 180 degrees different? What if God really is a joyful being who delights in me, and in His creation. I'm reading a really amazing book by Dallas Willard The Divine Conspiracy, and in the third chapter he speaks about our modern misconception of who God is, and how it hinders us in our life with Him. Willard goes on to describe God as a being in in Whom "tidal waves of joy" continually wash over him. He says that Jesus was known to be a happy person. But I stopped there. Wasn't He a man of sorrows, afflicted and oppressed? But then Willard points out that the difficulties and sorrows were nothing compared to the joy of His being. And Scripture seems to validate that idea--"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Heb 12:2. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross.
I think the key is the boundless love that characterizes God. Love that gives generously, freely. When I am not focused on myself, even in suffering I experience joy. Like my son: he cries when he stubs his toe, but when the pain subsides he is back to prattling on happily. He doesn't dwell on the fact he got hurt. There is so much exciting stuff to see in the world. he isn't self aware the way I am. So maybe if I stop dwelling on the pain I have encountered in my life in my mind all the time, and fix my mind on good and perfect and excellent and wonderful things, like Jesus Himself, I will start to understand God better. And I pray that I do, because I really really want to know the God that Willard seems to.
Sometimes, like tonight, I wonder if I'm making up stuff for me to do or if I'm really doing things God has put on my heart. It's hard to tell when I am so tired and hungry and stressed and whatever-else whether what I "feel" I am supposed to be doing is just coming from me or is really the leading of the Holy Spirit. Like take the park for example. Am I really supposed to be leaving those verses taped to chips down there? Not that I think it is bad to be doing, but is it God's assignment for me, or am I just sowing in a field that isn't where He wanted me to plant? I don't believe in the idea of just dreaming things up to do for God and then expecting Him to bless my efforts cause, hey, its for Him. I want Him guiding me, speaking to those hearts the timely words they need.
I can't see any fruit of the work in the park. I don't need to feel validated by that, but it would help me know that God is there at work at least. Today was particularly tough because of the passages of Scripture I am pretty sure the Spirit was pointing me to. Not the happy stuff. Judgment stuff. And in a time like that, I wonder really whether this is God, cause I would really rather be saying the happy encouraging stuff to people. I guess I just want to be in the center of His plan. I know my plans lead to nothing eternal.
I think in my heart, not that deep, I am assured that this is what I am to be doing. Whether I see the fruit of it or not.
I stumbled across an entry in my journal that I thought might be interesting to whomever comes across this blog. Here it is, somewhat abridged (and amended), for your consideration:
7-14-08 Yesterday God revealed to me that it is relationship He is seeking in all the history of men. The devil and his working here is merely a subplot; establishing supremacy over him is not God's main purpose. And why should it be? The devil is a creature, one of God's creation, not an anti-god or an equal power to God. God permits him to sift the hearts of men, and reign here for a time, but he is not to be our focus. he has been for me, but God is calling me to just be with Him, the Lord of glory. He wants me just to love me, and in that relationship I become a useful tool to Him, but making me useful for the task of overcoming the devil is not the primary goal, as I thought before. What, then, would be left in eternity, once the devil is bound? "At the end of the meal, it is just you and Me."
[back to today's thoughts here] I am not saying, of course, that God does not wish us to be useful, or that He is indifferent to the devil's working. God loves His creation deeply, and has been working from the beginning to make it, make us, free again. 1 John tells us that Jesus came "to undo the works of the evil one." But why He wants to overcome the evil one is what I learned. Not for bragging rights, but for the purpose of restoring a loving relationship with His creatures.
Since I wrote last, I have started leaving bags of chips with Bible verses taped to them in the park next door. It made me start to feel differently about the park. There seemed to be a peace there and I thought that perhaps God was moving, speaking to people. But in the last few days it has been hard. The last time I left chips out, I was leaving right as some kind of dangerous looking young men (maybe HS age) showed up. They went to one of the tables I had dropped by and started doing drugs. As I passed them on the way out, I felt afraid.
The next day some people threw a party at the park all day. They had party blowers and were making a ruckus during William's nap, and I was angry. Then they left the park a disaster. I went down and cleaned up what I could. When I came home I didn't lock my car because my gloves had broken and I got frosting on my fingers and didn't want to touch the clicker. Today, our car was found ransacked and all of Kurt's CDs were stolen. And I thought to myself, I am SO done living next to this park!
After the police left this morning, I got to thinking. That officer who took the report puts his life on the line everyday to protect our lives and property. Shouldn't I be willing to lay down my life to offer people eternal life? That's what Jesus did, and I think I am called to no less.
But then I am also reminded of Jesus' ministry--he said, "...the Son can do nothing of himself, unless it is something he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner." Jn 5:19 The Father was guiding Jesus constantly in his earthly ministry, and Jesus acted always in obedience to his Father.
I think we're called to do the same--to always be listening or seeking His guidance in our hearts, and acting in obedience, as opposed to going off on our own and dreaming up ideas for God. I think we are called to listen to Him and seek to know what work He is doing on earth, and then offer ourselves as vessels for that work. And so, when it comes to sowing seed, I want to let the Master Farmer be guiding me to fields He wants to see sown. I think he just wants us willing and walking with Him to whatever end...
Yesterday I watched a couple of documentary films, one on Keith Green and the other on Rees Howells, whom I was already pretty familiar with. As I was watching, something was coming over me that was new and strange. Both of these men, largely different in their personalities and the way that God met them in their lives, had in common a burning desire to see the lost come to hear the gospel. It was their consuming passion. And it stirred something in me that was hard to explain. All I can say is that it seemed like they were on the best ride ever and I wanted to get on too.
For a long time, since college, I have not been interested in sharing the gospel unless God specifically brought me a person who was hungry and eager. I tried sharing with my friends in college and it got nowhere. People were closed and it didn't seem to matter how much I loved Jesus or if I had the right answers. So I figured I was going about it all wrong. I'll just hang out in one spot and wait for a hungry fish to come my way. But I haven't seen any fish.
The Lord brought home to me the reality that efficiency is not His MO. In the parable of the sower, the sower went out scattering seeds, which landed on various hearts, some fruitful, some not. I was more like a sower going around testing patches of dirt with my toe and only planting where I thought there was a reasonable chance the seed could grow. But the realization came: how did I know my estimation of the soil was correct? It is quite likely that I have passed a lot of good soil.
The sower went out and scattered seed. Not only did some of it fail to produce fruit, 3/4 of it did. But He scattered all the same. And now I feel free, adventurous, excited...it's not like the seed bag is going to go empty and there is a lot of land out there that needs covering.
On Monday I got my wisdom teeth removed and it has been a painful week trying to recover. It hurt especially to eat, which had me always torn between dealing with my empty stomach or keeping my mouth from hurting even more. So I have spent a lot of time frustrated and hurting, and it has made me a very unpleasant person to live with.
This morning Kurt left to go hiking, and while I am totally able to care for the kids at this point, I just didn't want to. I wanted to be alone, definitely not be responsible for two lives. I was cranky and I think William was way more naughty than usual...I have the torn book and scribbled-on coffee table as evidence. I was about at my wit's end when God brought a picture to my mind. I saw Christ carrying his cross up to Calvary. He was beaten and bleeding, and along the way, even to his last breath, he was speaking to encourage others or ask for them to be forgiven. He didn't take even excruciating pain to be an excuse to focus on himself, but even at the end his life was in the Father's hands, loving people. He poured out himself.
This is another word I read in Scripture that confused me, but I didn't realize it until recently. I thought it meant "unbelievingness" and had to do with having doubts. But while doubting is sin in God's eyes, it recently occurred to me that the word means the same thing as the way we use it today--its talking about a spouse being unfaithful. I guess maybe that's obvious to other people but it was a big moment for me. God wants His people to love Him with their whole heart, just like Kurt wants my whole affection and would be jealous if I gave my love in any degree to another man.
So then it makes a lot more sense to me when God says that He is a jealous God. Off yesterday's post, to love the world in any degree is to be unfaithful to God. There are lots of references in the Bible to God's relationship to the Jews and/or the Church being one like marriage. So that creates a very pressing issue...am I unfaithful to God? Do I make Him jealous? I can't take that any less seriously than I would in my earthly marriage.
So what do I love in the world? Where are my affections, really? Often a clue comes in the form of what I tend to get riled up about.
"What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. ." James 4:1
I get that way about sleep a lot these days, since I've got two little ones.
"You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?But he gives us more grace." James 4:4-6
Sounds kind of funny to think about love of sleep being adultery toward God, but I can't deny the fruit of it. I get quick tempered when I expect to have a nap and can't have one, or when I am made to stay up past my bedtime. Its a vicious drive in me, and bears all the fruit of unrighteousness. Fortunately the Lord wants us to be faithful and bear the fruit of righteousness, so I find Him working to rid me of this idol, and teaching me how to yield to His peaceful, gentle, generous Spirit working in me to care for my family. (and it is His Spirit, incidentally, that revealed my lust for sleep to me. Our places of unfaithfulness tend to be very cleverly hidden from our eyes. But God sees them.)
It has always seemed weird to me that Paul tells us in his letters that love should be "sincere" and "from the heart". I don't know if I ever asked anyone about it, but it seemed to me that there were very few if any people that I really loved in this way. How could I? Who could? No one loves everyone like that except God. So I figured maybe the verse didn't mean what it seemed to mean. Maybe I was loving people from the heart since Jesus is in my heart and its some kind of theological idea...this "loving from the heart."
But my discomfort has caught up with me again lately. I do not love people sincerely. Some days, even for no explicable reason, a good friend will call and I will feel annoyed that they are calling me even before I pick up the phone. I just don't want to be bothered with other human beings some days, even the ones who have always been good to me. Let alone those who are more difficult to love. I may force myself to pick up the phone and put a smile on my face, but that just doesn't seem like "sincere" love "from the heart." Is choosing to act loving the same as what Paul is talking about? Because that is the most I can muster in myself.
I think God is asking for something supernatural from us. He wants to see His love in us, all the time. For awhile I could believe when people said that God does not do miracles anymore. But now I am thinking that we are called to live a miracle every day of our lives. Only God can put that kind of love in us and share it through us. And when I went back and reread the verse above, I saw the clue to how:
"Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart." I Peter 1:22
We can choose to act loving, but God just loves. And His love can shine through us as our hearts are purified, rid of love for self and the world.
"Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." I Jn 2:15
I had a thought in the shower this morning, which is where I have thoughts that seem to come by surprise. It occurred to me that in a healthy Christendom, seminaries would be unnecessary.
My line of reasoning went like this: Jesus, his apostles, and the leaders that succeeded them were not seminary trained, and that does not seem to have been a disadvantage. One might object and point out the fact that Jesus and others spent much time in the synagogue, but that seems more analogous to church or Sunday school to me than seminary. Our churches should be providing the training for our pastors and laypeople alike. Why is this not happening? Where did we get the idea that going to a special school for a few years was better training for leading Christians into a relationship with God than simply walking closely with God?