Kevin L. Howard
To those who have struggled
to be honest
and with God
I'm grateful for the writings of Eugene Peterson, David Hansen, and the late Henri Nouwen. Their works have helped cultivate a healthier heart for pastoring and inspired me toward transparency, vulnerability, and honesty.
Also, special thanks to Sunjoo Choi and Andrea Ning for their suggestions and feedback. May our Savior grant to them good things above and beyond whatever they could ask or think.
A Final Reflection
One of my fears with printing my thoughts is that they'll be here later to haunt me, to remind me of the person I often fail to be-sincere and transparent. Those who know me only for my silly antics and constant joking will find in this work a more serious side of me. Maybe even an unknown side of me. This is one of my attempts to be more real and serious.
There's no specific theme or topic that these prayers and devotional thoughts follow, just my attempt to weave through my pleasant and foul moods, distressing and relaxing situations, to find God somehow standing there with me. At times I felt as though he'd abandoned me. At other times, I knew I'd abandoned him. But all in all, I found him finding me.
Other than a loose chronological flow, these entries aren't arranged in any particular order. Although a few of these prayers and thoughts were penned in the early part of the 90s, most were written within the last few months, during my last semester of seminary. Some are written to God, others to myself, and still others to an unknown reader.
For whatever they're worth, they are here displayed before you and offered up to our Lord as a trophy, hopefully showing that, in the words of an Old Testament professor, "God can strike many a straight lick with a crooked stick."
May this small volume serve as a feeble hand lifted heavenward with a finger boldly pointing to Jesus Christ, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. To Him be all honor, glory, worth, majesty, and praise.
Giving My Total Self
Lord, to express my feelings through the use of words is no easy task. Often I find it difficult to come to grips with them and then face my feelings. Maybe by looking at them I will find that I am not as strong as I had thought, or perhaps my weaknesses will outnumber my strengths. The healthy side is that I may be able to learn more about myself and thus let you change me to your image by way of your strength in my weaknesses.
Too many times I have worried needlessly. My worrying indicates my lack of faith in you. I suppose that by dwelling on my problems I hope to find an easier way or a solution to make my life more comfortable. Agony dwells with me when I drag around all of my troubles. Deliver me!
Loneliness lingers with me. I know that you are always with me and I am complete in Christ. However, sometimes my daily life doesn't match my theology. This is my fault not yours.
I give my total self to you, knowing that you know what is best, and your way is the only path of true contentment.
God, life has its moments of bliss, and for those moments, while in them or just remembering them, I am grateful. I thank you for the sunshine and flowers. But often I see only the morbidity of life and the evilness of man.
While in this body, troubles will come and go; they will probably stay longer than I want. But one day, you will cease their activity forever. In full measure, I will know your goodness and grace.
You are my anchor in the storm, my shelter from the rain, and my water in the desert. You are the comfort in my pain, the rest in my fatigue, and the peace in my distress.
Your hand of solace is bigger than my world of difficulties. You have not taken away my sorrow, but you have held my hand through my sorrow.
How sweet it is to bathe in the deep waters of your kindness. So as I drink from the vessel of your mercy, I give thanks even for the bitter dregs that you occasionally drop into my cup.
Learning to Trust
Lord, sometimes I'm afraid to be honest with you. I fear that you don't really want me to have the best, that you somehow want me to be satisfied with something or someone that I desire less than another. Help me trust you.
Resting in God
Lord, what does it mean for me to rest in you? It doesn't mean that I'm always passive, as though sleeping. Rather, I think it means that whether I'm busy or just quietly contemplating, I'm finding my comfort and hope in you. I don't necessarily have to be doing something for you. You bless your children with rest because they are your children. You are my father and because of this relationship I reap the harvest of peace and joy. I don't have to earn your perks, as though your goodness is based on my doing; rather I must be. As I learn to be in fellowship with you, I receive the overflow of your goodness.
God, I'm not sure what I feel now. I know you have all situations in your hands. You are God and I am man. I declare your holiness and trust that you can turn even my frustrations into praises.
God, I'm in a dilemma. I don't know what to do. My emotions roar with many voices. I want to hear only your voice. What shall I do in my distress? How should I respond? Lord, provide wisdom when my hour of choice comes. Don't leave me hanging without direction. Be peace to me.
Lord, I'm very anxious now and I need your calm peace. I don't know why I can't quite trust you with all the issues of my life, especially after years of witnessing your faithful hand. Yet, I struggle to believe that even in the details of my life, you will work your will in a satisfying way. I do believe you. You are trustworthy. I say this not because my faith is strong but because you are strong. I want to affirm your reliability even if my nerves don't always demonstrate trust in your faithfulness. So have your way and be God to me.
Father, even now, as I sit in class, I'm bored and my mind wanders. But, I'm trying to think that you want even these dull moments to be incorporated into my faith journey, including them into my worship of you.
I'm not sure I know how to do this because boredom is boredom. Yet, even though I don't necessarily know how to worship you in the tired and sleepy moments of my life, I will try to dedicate even these slow, turtle-paced emotions to you. Be glorified!
Lord, I have no real reason to fret at this moment, but I am very depressed. You are doing so many good things in my life, yet I feel insecure even about those things you've granted to me. Why am I so insecure? Aren't you my rock and fortress? Come to me now and dispel my fear. Chase away my doubt and anxiety.
I feel like Elijah who has just witnessed God abolish his enemies, yet trembling in despair under a tree. I saw you on the mountain yesterday, but today, in the valley, I can only see me and my enemies. Will you take even this fragile and confused man and use him for your glory?
Where is God?
I don't want to pray, I don't want to read the Psalms, and I don't want to sit here and listen to you God. I want to do something, anything to distract me from myself. But even then, there's nothing in particular I want to do, nowhere I want to go. I want to be left alone but I don't want to be lonely. God, where are you in the nasty mix of life? Your Word tells me you're here, but my small fractured faith and erupting emotions blind me from your presence. Be real to me even when I don't have eyes to see. Give me sight!
God, I don't know how you will do it, but I believe that this situation will turn out for your greater glory and my satisfaction. My faith waivers, but I believe in you. Help my feeble faith. Be faithful even when I am not.
Lord, I don't know what to say to you, but I feel like I need to at least try. I usually don't understand the circumstances of my life, and maybe I don't need to. But I do want to understand you. At the very least, I want to know you. Sometimes all I can do is sit in silence. Sometimes you don't answer me the way I would like, and at other times, you don't seem to answer at all. Maybe you just want me to listen. Maybe you just want me to be quiet in your presence and learn to seek you. Give me wisdom to be silent, ears to hear you speak, and eyes to see you work.
God, I'm angry and hurt. I can't figure out why your ways involve so much frustration and pain. There's no comfort for my heart unless you intervene and soothe the waves of my ragging soul. Don't let me drown in my distress or sink in my self-pity. Rescue me! Tell my emotions, "Peace, be still!"
At the End
God, I can't offer you anything right now. I guess I never could, but I feel my barrenness now. All I have is a weak frame, a tired mind, shot nerves, and many tears. God, I offer myself to you. Please take me and my situation and be glorified. I'm confused. Please calm and sustain me. I know you want me to rejoice in you, and, to the best of my ability, I'm trying. Please minister to me now as you did to Christ during his temptations and struggles in the garden. Don't leave me alone, for I'm afraid. Teach me to rejoice in you.
Lately I've groaned much in your presence Lord. Sometimes that's the most articulate I can be. I've often felt bent beneath the weight of life. I know that walking with you requires suffering. I really don't like the pain, but I know that by these trials you're teaching me to reach out to you and cry for help. Sometimes it's just a moan. But you are near to hear even my moans. Only you can understand them.
God, my thoughts are far from you now. I'm on a mission for myself. My mind keeps drifting to the illegitimate pleasures of this world. I should know that your way is best and only you impart true satisfaction. But my flesh has a way of its own. When I'm led by my own desires and lusts, I tend to think that nothing else matters except immediate satisfaction. Lord, help me move through these temptations with eternity in mind. Flood my soul with those things which are good, honorable, and praise worthy.
Hating the Waiting
God, it seems that in almost every area of my life now you're saying, "Wait!" This frustrates me to no end. As best as I can tell, I'm obeying you, and enjoying my relationship with you. Yet for some reason you're putting holds on the important areas of my life. I hope that I can learn to trust you even as you tell me to wait.
Lord, as I learn to walk in fellowship and harmony with your people, I learn more about you. May the unity that exists among you, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit somehow manifest itself in my life as I learn to function in the body of Christ, the Church.
Sometimes I'd rather complain about your people and how they keep messing up. But I must remember that every critical word against the Church is a word against me and against your body. I must be careful not to verbally abuse your bride.
The Persecuted Church
Lord, as I read about persecuted Christians around the world, I realize how far removed I am from their pain. I feel pity for them and some guilt that my life is so easy, but that's about all I feel. It's not that I don't care. I do! But, I don't care as much as I should. Lord, forgive me for being apathetic and for hiding in my freedom as an American Christian. I repent for living far from the borders of danger. I'm glad there's no persecution here in the U.S., but I'm still ashamed to say your name boldly. May I not live my faith to avoid discomfort but to honor you. Grant your people around the world the grace to be faithful to you, and if ever it comes my turn to encounter persecution, may I glorify you in the face of pain.
II. DEVOTIONAL THOUGHTS
The Most Dangerous Cult
This cult teaches feeling over fact, happiness over holiness, religion over righteousness, suggestion over Scripture, greed over giving, selfishness over serving, power over purity, comfort over commitment, fickleness over faithfulness, recreation over repentance, sensuality over submission, anarchy over authority, satisfaction over sacrifice, manipulation over ministry, and programs over people. What is this cult's name? Meism! The cult of pride destroys all of its members.
Convenience and Comfort
Spring and summer often bring thoughts of vacation, relaxation, warmth, cookouts, and beautiful flowers. We all want to enjoy this time of the year with as much convenience and comfort as possible.
Unfortunately, some people only go to church, read the Bible, pray and witness when they feel like it, or when they have nothing else to do. For most people that means never. Are we "Christians" just because it's convenient? Do we like our religion because it's comfortable? We do well to remember that the cross was neither convenient nor comfortable for Jesus.
As someone has said, instead of prioritizing our schedules, we should schedule our priorities. Whatever is most important to us will be at the top of our list and everything else will be worked in under it.
A Preacher's Confession
I just realized something. Actually, it wasn't so much me doing the thinking as it was God opening my eyes toward the truth.
I was remembering how that in 1988 when I bowed down that Saturday night in August with tears flowing from my eyes, when I surrendered my life to preach God's Word, I was quite needy of God. And with humility I told God I'd preach, but he'd have to open the doors of opportunity, giving me the message and the words to express it.
God just showed me that I no longer look at preaching with the same dependence on him. Instead, I think I can figure out what to preach and how to say it now that I'm educated. I thank God for reminding me that I need him now just as I needed him then.
What does it mean to carry my cross? I think it means denying myself and doing God's will instead of mine, regardless of the difficulties involved, which include pain and suffering. But somehow, my cross has dwindled down into the shape of a splinter. My cross is no longer the price I have to pay for being faithful to the Lord, instead, it's a flat tire or a leaky transmission, it's another nagging overdue bill, it's my regret at having to return too many calls, or it's the weariness I feel when showing up at an extra meeting for church. Yes, I've somehow managed to take the real sting out of carrying my cross. My cross is the weight of a toothpick, but to hear me describe it, it's the weight of a boulder.
Looking for a Sinner
I want to condemn my neighbor so that I will feel more righteous than he. But I realize that if I condemn him that I too might have to admit guilt. Therefore, I'm tempted to think that his sins are just failures and his wickedness merely limitations. If I somehow justify his sin, then I can also justify mine. May God give me eyes to see.
Sometimes the more discerning are tagged as spiritual and righteous. And in many cases that is a correct label. But maybe the person is discerning, not because he has been holy all of his days, but because somewhere along the way he has lived very close to sin and felt its subtle hug. Maybe that is why he can often see sin approaching before others can because he has frequently laid close to it at night and drawn warmth from its passionate breasts.
My Sweet Crazy Mess
At the risk of becoming material for a sermon illustration or a psychological case study, I confess that my world, like yours, is fast-paced and often out of control. It unnerves me, leaves me breathless, and irritates me to no end. Yet I love it. Admittedly, this is strange- sort of sadomasochistic. But in its own subtle way, this chaos charms me. The hectic pace is what I dream of escaping; yet I rarely ever escape. And if I do, I find myself planning so that, before long, I'm starting more things than I could ever get done-right back into the whirlwind. This rat-race drives and inspires me. Without it, I might never squeeze in time to do things I really love, like reading and writing.
Fortunately, I'm not alone. Being accompanied by millions of others, the swirl of it all seems normal. Surely this love for the turbulent is a symptom of a greater sickness, one that plagues most in the never-slowing Western world. But what do we do? Most of our attempted solutions only add more torque to our spinning lives. Off we go again into our churning world, chained to our distortion, forgetting our Creator.
An Evil Reflection
When I evaluate my spiritual condition I'm comforted by the fact that I'm not as mean as I used to be or as mean as those who made the news tonight. But a still and quieter voice in me tells me to be unhappy and even ashamed. For I know that I'm still corrupt, it's just that I hide it better. Maybe I'm not as outwardly corrupt as those who make the news, yet my corruption is more subtle, more inward now.
Does anyone else occasionally think that life is a joke, God is laughing, and we are being laughed at? Does anyone share the similar thought that if all of life is really a joke then shouldn't we be laughing too? Not laughing because its funny, but laughing because we've been had, laughing because there's nothing to be serious about.
Am I the only one who cringes at the potential within me, at the most odd moments, to do great harm to those I love the most?
This is very unsettling. I try to comfort myself in the fact that such thoughts are passing and rare, but can I so easily dismiss this subtle evilness? The fact that I could find solace in a lesser degree of wickedness causes great alarm.
But I've learned to become comfortable with myself, accepting my flaws and imperfections. "No, no" I tell myself, "do not be bothered with such thoughts." But again, that voice returns and says that what I feel, think, and do display my evilness.
I would rather speak on the evilness of humanity in general because that would make me feel less guilty, less caught. But I can't. The evilness that lurks is the evilness in me. It's nice to think of sin as somewhere out there, far removed from me. But in my more discerning moments, I know where vileness lays its eggs.
I feel better because I've condemned myself with Christianly language, but I've probably not really condemned myself. I sense the sin in my life, and I embrace it instead of forsaking it. I tell myself, "That's just the way I am. I'll never be different." But I pray that God will shatter my disbelief and change me.
The Church Beyond Sunday
Many think they are Christians when they go to the church building, but when away from it, they don't allow Christ to affect their lives. When I read a book and jot down notes, no one doubts that I'm studying. However, I'm no less studying when I lean back in my chair, gaze at the ceiling, and ponder what I've read. It may appear that I'm not studying, just day-dreaming.
So when we're away from the local community of faith, the Church, we must still ponder our experience there, remembering the fellowship, contemplating the sermon, meditating on the Word, and living the truth.
At this moment of contemplation I'm confronted with a silent splendor. I have this feeling of awe, that something great is happening or going to happen. It's the kind of feeling you get when you stand at the ocean's shore. I feel an urge to speak, to say noble words, yet I'm compelled to remain quiet, knowing the moment is too sacred for words.
Sometimes I feel I can't change. There's something dissatisfying about the person I've become-sarcastic and crass. Yet I feel like I'll always be this way. My habits seem so ingrained that they're sure to follow me to the grave even if I live to be an old man.
It is not well with my soul. Something reeks of deadness. I'm weighed down with my own sin. I want to throw off my sin, but it's as though my sin has claws sunk deep into my spiritual skin. The evil radiates from within. I'm heavy with carrying my own sin. If I think I've got a sin whipped, I can never be too confident of its final death, for it could rise again in my soul.
For the Future
When I become a Sr. pastor, I must never forget what it was like to be a student-the times when I was exhausted, feeling as though I'd never get all of my work done. I must not forget how lonely I felt at times. I should be mindful of the occasions when people thought I was stronger than the average Christian just because I was in seminary. I can't forget the times when God seemed nowhere to be found. I have to be compassionate to those who serve with me and under my authority. I need to be sensitive to their time constraints and schedules. I must be their minister even before being their boss.
One Short Walk
As I'm walking outside, toward my dorm room, I wonder what it is about life that makes it so grand. This day is gloomy, though unseasonably warmer than most. I look up at the flag flying at half mast signifying someone's death, and I know that regardless of how happy or sad I may be, there will be brighter days and still darker ones to come.
I go along not knowing when my life will end. That's part of the mysterious joy. Maybe tomorrow will be better than today! The hope of things getting better, even if they're already good, has a way of keeping me going. I welcome the warm summer days, but I'm aware that many cold winter nights may have their stay in my life before it's all over.
While studying in my room, I don't think I spend enough time looking out my window. Instead, I look around in my room and often in the mirror. In my room, I only see myself and things representing me, but when I gaze outside I see another world, a world which exists apart from me and a world which awaits me.
This is why we should take plenty of time to be among people, walk outside, and go to the beach or mountains. It helps us realize that we aren't the center of everything.
Reflections on Seminary
In the years to come, I'm sure that I won't remember much of what my professors have said (actually, I've already forgotten most of it), but I'll always cherish the times with my friends. Soon the memories of studying will fade, and I'll only recall hanging out with my comrades of mischief: eating, talking about girls, praying, talking a little more about girls, playing ping-pong and basketball, and laughing a lot.
That's how seminarians (and others) learn to minister-by being with people and with God. My lasting memory of my seminary days will be the community of friends God blessed me with.
Progressing Through School
When I first began seminary back in 1994, I taped quotes and sayings on the door of my room. These lofty words and pithy phrases spoke of theology and issues of personal holiness. Now, five or six years later, at the end of my seminary career, I have only pictures of my friends on my door. I guess my doors have served as a commentary on me. Like most seminary students, I started with a focus on concepts and abstract topics. But by God's grace, I've been moved to a focus on people. I'd say that's progress.
Reflections on Waiting
In the times prior when I have been interested in a girl, I've always wanted the beginning stages to pass by quickly. I considered the whole pursuing and waiting process a hassle. I wanted to get right to the dating and commitment part of it. But today I learned something important while reading a book by Eugene Peterson. He talked about pastors who often don't see all of their duties, especially the menial ones, as part of their journey with God. They want to hurry through their list so they can get on with the bigger things. I'm like that with the early stages of a potentially romantic relationship, wanting to zoom through the waiting and get to the dating. But it's all part of my journey with God, an important part of that journey. I've got to learn to enjoy God, especially in those times of waiting, when the relationship with a girl isn't as defined as I would like. It's there that I learn to walk with God and just enjoy him for who he is as well as gain insight and preparation for a deeper relationship with that person and with God.
The Little Things
As ministers, we must not think of ministry as consisting of only big things, like weddings and funerals. The menial things require ministry too. Even the mundane. However, in our attempt to value the smaller issues of life, the less important ministries, we must not be so satisfied that laziness shapes our ministry to consist only of the trivial. We must do both-the great and the ordinary, all for God's glory.
We should be careful in what we do. Habits form quickly and die slowly. As I grow older, I'm discovering that it gets harder to rid myself of some of my bad habits (sarcasm, messiness, poor eating, and other anonymous things). Sometimes my habits seem so ingrained that I think it's impossible to change. I know there's hope in God, but sometimes all I can see is my humanness. We should guard our hearts by seriously scrutinizing the things that
enter our minds and lifestyles. God is powerful enough to rid us of unwanted habits, but why go through the pain if we don't have to?
I'm tempted to find my happiness in writing, looking to it as a source of hope. But I mustn't allow myself to fall into this trap, for it would be adultery and idolatry. God must always be the one from whom I draw my significance and meaning. It's true that I can be happy doing many things, including writing. But I must not forget that my only lasting source of happiness is my relationship with God, just enjoying him. I may not always be happy as a Christian, but if my hope is in Christ, then even in the dark times I can have an abiding peace and joy.
Enjoying the Journey
Lately the Lord has been teaching me something that helps me live more at peace. He's teaching me to enjoy the journey of life without living for just the goals I'm striving for. This is how life is lived at its best. There's more to our journey than only living for those moments when we've achieved and accomplished. It's okay to have those goals, but we must learn to enjoy God while we are moving toward our goals. After all, he is our life and highest pursuit. If we train ourselves to only be satisfied and happy after we've reached a certain goal, then we are missing out on the fullness of knowing God in our journey. And we're more likely to use and abuse people so that we can obtain our goals. We must learn to find our peace in God all along life's way, especially when things aren't exactly the way we'd prefer them.
Longing to be Happy
It seems that in my Christian journey, I'm always looking for some event or thing to make me happy. Don't get me wrong, I know only God gives satisfaction and meaning. And I'm quick to acknowledge him as the one who gives me all of my blessings. But still, it's easy for me to think that things will make me even happier. The things I desire aren't always bad or sinful things: relationships, knowledge, experience, pleasure. But by the way I live, I must sometimes believe that my relationship with God isn't enough. I have God and he has me-but I want something else to make me happy. I don't believe God wants to keep these things from me, but he does want my soul to find its complete satisfaction in him. I am bound to go through life disappointed, running about trying to experience or obtain one more thing, if I haven't first learned that Christ wants to satisfy my body and soul with himself.
Many times, as vocational ministers, we have to be other than what people expect us to be. They will insist that we fill or days with the do's of ministry: counseling, conferences, and administration. But we must not be pressured into the mold of manager. God has given us another calling-to pastor. We are called to commune with God and help our people do the same. If we get sucked into the trap of business and schedules, then we will starve, and so will our flock.
The bird's purpose in life seems simple: to fly around carrying out various bird-like tasks. Her responsibility is to eat and to build, and to collect food for her little ones. But her calling in life is to be. Not to do bird things, but to be a bird. We as Christians are like the bird. Our duties are different than that of the bird, but our calling is the same-to be, to exist as a creature made by God, to glorify him in our existence.
I sometimes hide behind a mask of silliness and shallowness. I'm not sure why, it's just easier to deal with people this way. Such a front often serves as a grid through which only true friends can be found. For only those who care enough to see past the facade and delve beneath the surface are those who can be admired and trusted to the point of being called "friends."
At the Mall
Half dazed and maybe half crazed, I walk through the mall. Places like this make me sleepy. I see other guys like me who aren't quite sure why they're here either. There are better places to be, yet we're here.
We're easy to spot. We're not shopping; no, we're walking, relaxing, maybe thinking. Being a task-oriented person, going to the mall means I find what I need and get out as soon as possible. But for whatever reason, I'm here today, with my other wandering male peers, just taking it easy. We don't know each other, we don't speak to each other (we're men-we have little to say to the people we know, much less to strangers), but here we have a similar bond, a masculine arena of silent pondering and slow walking. Granted, I'd rather be fishing or hunting, but there's something about today that's helped me realize that I can enjoy life (at least sometimes) even while at the mall.
It's funny how things work out in ministry, how sin has a way of finding us. We may be going about ministry, minding our own business, and doing what God has called us to do. Then it happens. Out of nowhere, maybe even while we pray, we see our ladder to the top. We may not even be looking for it, but suddenly things line up and fall into place. The ladder appears via people, places, positions, and power. That which we thought we were not interested in now becomes of great concern. The shift of our focus is subtle, but significant.
No longer are we living in the fullness of our relationship with God, now we're living for ourselves-planning, scheming, conniving for something bigger, something better. We tell ourselves that we can still serve God this way, but down inside, we know it's a lie. We've moved far from him in only a brief time. Though this temptation is common to all, it is especially dangerous to ministers. For the climb to the top may seem like a trip to Sinai but it is really a ship to Tarshish.
I've often wondered why God never let me get married while I was going through my higher education. The loneliness has been great at times, and I've thought it awfully unfair of God to deprive me of this common gift. Well, now that I look back on the last few years, I see that God has blessed me by keeping me single. I'm not sure how I would have handled the pressures of school and family. I suspect that my wife would have felt pretty lonely at times. Truly, it was good for me to be uninhibited throughout the last decade. That's not to say that I think a spouse or a child would have been a curse from God. Surely not. A blessing in many ways. But, God's blessings do often bring with them great burdens. And I'm not sure I could have handled it. But then again, God's grace is big enough for each day's tasks.
A Hurting Heart
The broken-hearted Christian has a wonderful opportunity to learn how to present his hurt as an offering to God. It is there in the darkness and desolation, the pain and despair that man comes to the end of himself and God takes over. It is in the deep canyon of helplessness that we become trophies of God's grace.
I feel a little uneasy right now. I'm anxious. I'm afraid God will not work out things to my satisfaction. This is revealing. My tendency is to think all of life is about me. I want God to do it my way. What I must realize is that my loving Father will do only that which is for his glory. And as his child, whatever is for his glory is for my good. As a Christian, his plan can never really ultimately dissatisfy me.
Not Expecting a Response
I find it a bit strange that occasionally some of my friends knock on my door while continuing to walk right by. They knock and walk while never taking time to stop and listen. It's as though they knock but don't expect anyone to be at home. Sometimes we pray this way. We petition God, but we don't expect him to answer. It seems that if we are going to bother with knocking, then we should expect an answer, and take time to listen for his "Come in."
Sometimes it seems best just to be silent before the Lord. This is hard because I like to talk. I enjoy hearing myself speak and think I need to be heard. All the more reason to be quiet, I suppose. Sometimes I'm silent in God's presence, at other times I'm silenced by his presence.
I don't know why, but there is something more real and thorough about life when my words cease. I can't say that I always like it, because being quiet makes me feel less important. But I guess that's the point. Being quiet helps me hear a voice other than my own.
Every once in a long while, I get the sense that I'm standing on the brink of something amazing, at the edge of something bigger than me. God's about to do a marvelous thing and all I have to do is take his hand and let him lead me in. Now is one of those times.
Here, again, I find myself waiting before the Lord. I'm not sure what I'm waiting for, maybe the direction of God or his voice. I have no plan. Just waiting. Maybe God will speak or maybe the silence will remain. But there seems to be some value in waiting.
Searching for the Shepherd
Sometimes we forget our shepherd in our busy existence as sheep. The hardest thing to do is stop and look for him. Yet, it is often only when we become still and quiet that we realize he's there right beside us. The shepherd never left.
Complaining to God
I can't always be totally open with the people around me because sometimes all I have to say is negative. People can't handle complainers. And we do well not to be complainers. But, yet, there are occasions when complaints are all I have. I'm a little afraid to even be honest with God at this point because I know he doesn't take kindly to complainers either. But since he's also my Father, I've learned that I can be honest with him, and he won't reject me. Usually, he'll let me moan and gripe and even let me make a fool out of myself. He's big enough not to be shaken by it all. Eventually, he helps me see him rather than my situation.
Let's face it, along with lashing out, the easiest thing to do in conflict is just leave. But sometimes the only way we can see God's hand is to stay. It's easier to run and more appealing to go elsewhere. But stay is often what we must do when trouble arises. We don't have to possess all of the answers. Maybe we'll have no answers at all. In fact, we may be better off if we don't have answers. We just have to trust God for the solution.
When Tragedy Strikes
Though trouble isn't the only time we should pray, it sure does create fertile soil for it. Sometimes we forget how much we need God, and then along comes disaster. My, how distress has a way of preaching repentance to our hardened hearts. It's funny how humble we can get after tragedy strikes. Let us not be proud before God. Rather, let us fall on our knees and hope in him.
Getting Out of the Way
As a vocational minister, I guess one of the most important things that I could ever learn is to get out of the way. I tend to think that I have to lead, to be seen in public, making things happen. But God is saying, "Just step aside and watch me work." Well, this wounds my pride. But that's the whole point. I'm not needed after all. God can manage without me. A humbling thought-God doesn't need me. Maybe I'll live long enough to learn how to incorporate that truth into my life.
Sometimes I think I've got God figured out. But I mustn't be so proud. Even if I've walked close with him before, I don't always know how to find him. Sometimes I stumble upon him. Or maybe I should say, he reveals himself to me in spite of who I am. I can't think that I've got God at my command just because I've mastered some spiritual formula or method. Each time I must fall at his mercy and wait for him. I must ever be dependent upon him and not my method of invoking him. Sometimes he shows up quickly and at other times, he shows up seemingly late.
My anxiety tells how much my identity and happiness are tied up into a phone that didn't ring, a letter that didn't come, a compliment that wasn't spoken. Funny how easily I find meaning in life from these things. I think I'm more solid, more content, filled with a larger grain of faith than what actually turns out to be the case when things don't go exactly the way I planned. When I think my faith is strong, God shakes me up so that I learn to trust him more.
I've always understood an idol to be anything or anyone that I put in the place of God. And, this surely is idolatry. But that definition is a bit too impractical for how I live. It doesn't provide the kind of lens I need to spot my own idolatrous tendencies. It's too easy for me to lie to myself with that general definition. I need a more accurate instrument with which to view my roaming heart.
I think there's a definition with a better eye to aid me against running after false deities. An idol is anything or anyone other than God which gives me hope to face life. This doesn't mean that I can't legitimately seek happiness or satisfaction in life. Nor does it mean that I can't enjoy much of God's creation. But it does mean that my reason for living, my significance in life, my purpose for existing must derive from my relationship with God rather than my relation to the things of this world. Even a godly relationship with a fellow Christian must not be my source of meaning or hope. I must learn to enjoy that relationship as a gift of God rather than as God itself. I guess the key to avoiding idolatry is tying up my identity with God and not with stuff.
Time for God
God can speak whenever he wants, regardless of what I'm doing, but sometimes his voice is clearer when I take the time to listen. But I don't always want to make time for God in my hectic schedule. There are moments when I know God's communicating with me, but I don't have time to listen. I don't want the interruption. Yet, it's precisely when I don't have time for God that I most desperately need to make the time to hear from him.
Troubled with Myself
There are a few things about me that I despise. The one that stands out in my mind at the moment is the way I look down on some of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Now this wouldn't bother me so much if they had wronged me. All the better. Then I could justify my feelings. But I have no basis for my disdain for some people. Often they are strangers, even if I see them frequently. Typically, they are people like me: white middle-class Americans. But for whatever reason-the way they look or the people they hang out with-I want to avoid them. My attitude strikes me as unchristianly, but I'm not quite sure how to conquer these feelings. May I be as merciful to those around me as Christ has been to me.
Events and times have a way of ruling my world and motivating my every move. There's nothing wrong with looking forward to a planned event, but that event mustn't become the thing that drives me. I'm learning that if I'm wrapping all my hope into a particular occasion, such as a date or my own graduation, then after those things are over, I'm left a bit unfulfilled looking ahead to another event. It's all right to anticipate these things, but I can't live only for these things, finding more pleasure in them than in God himself. Those things must be enjoyed in the context of my relationship with God rather than as an addition to it or replacement for it.
I'm not exactly sure what God's up to in my life right now. Things seem to be going well at the moment. However, I mustn't let these good times lure me into thinking that God owes me such. Nor must I believe that God is only good when things are good with me. Yes, I will praise him now, not just because things are well with my soul and my exterior life, but because he is worthy of praise, even when things aren't so pleasant.
Ah, the smile, what a flower among weeds. How a smile changes someone's appearance. I often wonder why Christians, especially seminarians, don't smile more. By the looks of some people, you'd wonder if their Lord really rose from the dead. Don't get me wrong, I know we can't smile all of the time. Neither do I want people to fake a smile when their world is in shambles. Smiling isn't a prerequisite to the kingdom of God, and smiling is no proof of Christianity. But I wonder, are we as Christians more apt to be identified by our frowns rather than our smiles? What message are we sending to the world?
At times I wonder why my particular friends are my friends. I'm not raising an issue about the essence of friendship, rather I'm trying to get at my motive for friendship. I'm suspicious of myself. True, these people care about me and I care about them. But could it be that they're serving another purpose besides mere friendship? Maybe I'm befriending them only because of what it does for me-makes me feel important or gets me into a certain social arena that will help me reach the top. I don't know. But hopefully, even if my motives are frequently impure, God is teaching me to love them for who they are and not just what I get out of it.
A Curious Thing
My curiosity usually gets the best of me. I'm easily distracted, and no matter what I'm doing, I'm usually wondering if I'd be happier doing something else. Often I have the feeling that I'm missing out on some event somewhere else.
As a curious person, I may be less likely to finish a given project unless I'm totally enthralled by it. My curiosity is both a strength and a weakness. Yes, this restlessness keeps me distracted, but it also gives me incentive to venture into new things. Maybe even this curiosity is a gift from God. Maybe!
The Important Things
With a certain few things, I'm amazingly driven and disciplined. Sometimes I get so caught up in particular projects that I lose sleep and occasionally forget to eat. Yet, with other areas of my life, I'm a procrastinating undisciplined slob. I have no attention to give to those things. I'm not sure why there are such wide chasms in my life. Maybe I'm schizophrenic. Or maybe it just says that I'm willing to make the time for what I consider to be important. I guess that's normal.
Ever noticed how that when you're supposed to be doing one thing, especially if it's difficult, you suddenly know all the other things that need to be done? It's like this special revelation that comes just as you're getting ready to work. Never before did you notice how dusty your room was, but now that you've got a paper to write, the thought of your room being undusted is too overwhelming. The assignment and chores we don't want to do have a way of calling our attention to other things. We busy ourselves with the lesser things we dislike, just to avoid the bigger things we dislike. Often, I'm never more productive than when I'm procrastinating. I find this enchantingly weird!
Isn't it interesting how that some very odd things seem humorous? Some poor guy falling down the stairs, a lady with her dress tucked in her hose, a kid yanking off his mother's wig, a student spilling his lunch tray in front of the whole cafeteria, or a chap walking around unaware that his zipper is open. I don't know why these things make me laugh. I guess it's the common bond of shame that makes them funny. I feel a bit guilty when I'm entertained at someone else's expense, yet I can't help but snicker a little. I wonder if God ever chuckles at these things.
If our Christianity only comes to bear in the really serious times, like tragedies or weddings, and has very little effect on the way we live day to day, our Christianity seems pretty useless. I wish our relationship with Christ were more present in the small things we do-like being courteous while driving, or being quiet so that we don't wake those sleeping, or being friendly to those around us. Often, it seems that being a Christian is something we do on special occasions rather than someone we are at all times.
At what point my admiration moves from gratitude to idolatry, I'm not sure. But I know it happens frequently. Perhaps it happens when I'm taking pleasure in an assignment completed, or remembering a witty remark I made, or delighting in a piece I've written. I don't know when, but it happens enough. My loyalties slowly shift from the God of heaven to the stuff of earth. This is when the art becomes a curse and the heart becomes a corrupter. Will I ever learn?
Occasionally we find ourselves standing, not on the edge of something great, but in the midst of it. Maybe we've waited all of our lives to be here. There's nothing we want more than to just enjoy our circumstances. Yet, for a reason unknown to us, God is calling us elsewhere. We don't want to leave, but God beckons us. We may even hesitate, but obedience compels us. As hard as it may be, we must go. [I disagree with this view of calling now.]
As I was venting in the gym tonight, hating my present circumstance, it suddenly hit me-the reason I'm so mad is because I'm viewing my situation as being only about me. God wants me to have the perspective which first asks, "How can the Lord be glorified, and how can I put the priorities of those involved ahead of my own?" It's not easy putting others first. But that's true ministry. Actually, that's true Christianity.
I'm never more aware of my lively humanness and lasting sinfulness than while struggling with my passions and lusts. Lively and human because these cravings seem to be a gift from God. Lasting and sinful because these cravings are so easily distorted by Satan.
There are times when I think I've got these sensuous images under control, only to become aware of my abiding deep-seated weakness. Even prayer and Scripture aren't always safe-havens for my wandering mind. By now, you'd think I'd know better than to assume my strength over my smoldering desires.
Daily I'm learning of Christ's strength, but I'm also learning more about my own depravity. May I never be so foolish as to think that I've conquered this area once and for all. Surely such a day will usher in my greatest failure.
The Urge to Kneel
I know there are no pre-set ways to come to God. I'm free to lay down, walk, or sit. But sometimes, I'm compelled to kneel. This tells my pride that I'm subordinate to someone else and not primary in this universe. As God stills me in his presence, I feel more prepared to receive his direction for my life.
Seminaries are theological graduate schools designed to train Christians for the vocational ministry. I'm beginning to think that God has a seminary. God's seminary doesn't require many books and the tuition is the cost of the experience itself. His seminary is the school of suffering. Man-made seminaries train the head, but God trains the heart. Anguish in the soul may teach us more about God and his strength than years of scholarly endeavor. God's school isn't one that we willingly enroll in, we're just in it by virtue of existing. Since we're already in it, we might as well fall on his mercies.
Life should be fun. At least that's the conclusion that a friend and I came to earlier tonight. Fun is not the only thing life should be. It should not drive us to ungodliness, but it need not be neglected. Life has its share of troubles. Too many! So we shouldn't fear having a good time in this journey. Life is not all gloom and despair. Let us make the most out of what God has given us. A large dose of laughing would probably do us all a little good. In fact, we should look in the mirror and laugh at ourselves every once in a while. We'll be amused.
God's ways are not free of sorrow. His will eventually involves my death. I often despise the thorns he sends my way. But I suppose I might never call out to him if I walked unscarred in this world. I trust that his ways, even the painful ones, are serving his purpose. I thank him for the results of the heartache-the pain is probably the only way that I can learn his ways. Henri Nouwen said it well, "The experience of God's presence is not void of pain. But the pain is so deep that you do not want to miss it since it is in this pain that the joy of God's presence can be tasted."
I did something tonight that I love to do. I went outside and looked up. There were no stars to greet me this time, but still, gazing into the heavens does my soul good. It lets me know I'm living for someone greater than myself. I recommend it. Go out and look up.
I'm not happy with a certain situation in my life. I keep trying to strategize, to scheme, to figure it out, to plot and devise the perfect plan. I worry, I fret, I tire with exhaustion. I'm trying to get everything worked out so that I can be happy.
Every few minutes, I start thinking that things would work out if I could just do this or that. But God keeps saying, "No, it's not by your might or by your power, but by my Spirit." Why do I think I can iron out all the wrinkles? God's saying, "It's not your problem to fix. Let me handle it." For some reason I keep thinking that I can do a better job than God. Again, he reminds me, "Trust in me with all of your heart and lean not upon your understanding. Acknowledge me in all your ways and I will direct your path (Pro 3:5-6)." I'm trying to do that.
The Hand of God
I'm sweating and fretting and doing very little forgetting. Yep, I need to just step aside and let God work. Well, I can't totally step aside because it's me he's working on. But, if I can relinquish control, I might be able to see him work. I'll join him where he invites me to participate. As for the rest, I must just scoot to the side, and witness his glory and might at work. Trust! Yes, that's it, trust!
It's funny how friends come in and out of our lives. Some people are life-long friends, others long-term but sporadic. More are temporary, and many others are only acquaintances and strangers. There are some friends that we see nearly everyday and others only occasionally. Most of these people will eventually lose contact with us. Only a handful will stay in touch with us through the years. Friends who remain in our lives are a special blessing. But for those more short-term friends, we should also give thanks. Even though our closeness fades, they were loyal while we knew them and would be loyal if we were reunited.
Friends are like the seasons: some stay longer than others, and some we like better than others, but still, they are faithful. For all the true friends, whether permanent or temporary, we thank God for letting us know them.
Rejoice in God
God's love is amazing. Only a couple of days ago, I was immensely dissatisfied with an event that I had planned. Nothing worked out the way I wanted. And, on top of that, I was deeply upset with someone I cared about. I growled, groaned, sighed, and lost sleep worrying. In my turmoil, I heard God saying, "Rejoice in me." God voiced this to me over and over.
It was clear that I'd become the focus of my world, and I could only see the problems in my situation. Yet Christ was faithful to remind me that all I ever really need is him. I guess he's all I ever really have anyway. When I put my eyes on other things, I eventually see those things vanish, taking my happiness with them. My situation still isn't worked out the way I want. But, regardless of the outcome, I must learn to rejoice in God. Praise be his name.
The Voice of God
If I'm listening, I can usually hear God's voice. No, it's not audible. But it doesn't have to be. God has always spoken in a silent tone to me. Yet, it's loud and clear. True, listening for that unheard voice is a bit strange. And, those who hear voices aren't always hearing from God. But, I can't let the possible dangers of misunderstanding God's voice, or the possibility of hearing another voice entirely, keep me from trying to hear him. I certainly don't always listen to him, and he certainly doesn't always speak, but neither is he always silent. His Word, Spirit, and Church bring a voice to the vacuum.
The Struggle of Prayer
Often my thoughts about prayer are more numerous and lofty than my prayers. Sometimes my thoughts about prayers distract me from praying. And when I do pray, I'm sometimes more focused on my words than on God. Well, in spite of these failures, God still faithfully waits for me to cry out to him. As a Father, he waits throughout my absence and listens through my silly talk and murmuring. He knows my real needs and answers accordingly.
The Cycle of Sin
Have we ever noticed when we give ourselves a little leeway to sin, that we can't ever stop there? We lack the control, and sin lacks the handles for us to hold. Letting ourselves sin just a little is like letting cancer spread in our bodies just a little. It spreads at the least freedom it gets. Added to the destructive nature of sin, the more we do it, the more addicted we become.
But it's easy to justify because we want its pleasure. We even have a way of convincing ourselves that we've avoided enough big sins to deserve a little one. We think God won't mind. The heart is desperately wicked isn't it? We do well to flee sin's grip and cry out for God's mercy.
Appetites and Desires
Again, I'm aware of how much my appetite controls me. Just missing one meal causes me intense hunger. I'm losing focus on what I'm trying to do. Maybe I'm going to pass out. All I can think about is eating. One thought: MUST EAT FOOD! It's necessary in order to survive, but I wonder if it controls me. What about my other desires? Some are necessary and healthy, and others are natural yet distorted. Are they just components of my life or have I built my life on them?
OK, it's morning again and I feel ragged. Can I face another long day? I'm not sure if I'm up to it. How can nights slip by so fast? How can weeks turn over so quickly? I'm tired and would like to step out of my normal routine. But, I guess I have no choice. Could God be hiding in the mess of things today? Maybe he'll surprise me with his presence as the day unfolds. Yes, I will look for him. But, if I cannot find him, I pray that he will find me.
We as pastors have to teach our people, but we must also learn from them. We may find this hard. After all, we went to school and studied Greek, Hebrew, and theology. We have the experience of having taught the Bible for many years. But we must humble ourselves. And being humble is a struggle, especially when some of our people are hostile toward us. Yet, we can never allow ourselves to look down on our people. If they are truly God's people, they have his Spirit too. We can't always lead and control. We must learn to listen to them as they have learned to listen to us.
Coke and Coffee
It's too easy for me to depend upon a caffeine high to get me through the day. With Coke (and coffee for those who prefer it) so readily available, I reach for it all too often as a source of some kind of empowering fluid. By putting too much hope in a drink rather than depending on God, I occasionally miss out on knowing the blessings of his sustaining grace. I know I'm free to drink these things, but sometimes I'm just too eager to reach for them for a little boost. Next time I'm sleepy and not free to sleep, maybe I should just pray and ask God to uphold me.
Peace and Joy
Sometimes I'm surprised at how enjoyable life is. God can give us peace and joy even when things around us aren't perfect. Christ has given me peace and joy, and as best I can tell, it's not some feeling I'm getting from my circumstances. It's cold and rainy, my hair is messed up, I forgot to shave, my shirt's a little too short, I've got an unreasonable number of assignments to turn in within the next month, and there's a great deal of ambiguity about my future career and uncertainty about a particular relationship. Yet, God has calmed me. Sometimes his peace and joy just can't be explained.
I don't know about other trained ministers, but I often have a reluctance to lead people into prayer. Here's what I mean. During conversations with people, they often tell me their troubles. And usually, I'm quite willing to listen. Frequently I sense God nudging me to pray with them, but for some reason, I always want to resist him at this point. Maybe this indicates something seriously carnal about me or shows that I only want to pray when cases are the most extreme. Yet, I feel that prayer should be more like breathing, a second nature to me.
Maybe it's just the flesh fighting against the Spirit that makes me tend to shy back from praying with people. I guess this reluctance also expresses something very real and powerful about praying. It is a battle that requires all of my being when I engage in it. I hope that over time and practice, I will lose this hesitation.
Looking for God
I had a conversation with a non-Christian the other day. I realized afterwards that even though we discussed the Church, I had failed to bring Jesus into the discussion. True, the setting wasn't the most conducive for a full-fledged gospel presentation. But what upset me is that I didn't even really think to mention Jesus in the conversation. I want to be more aware of what God might be doing in people's lives. I don't want to miss it. God's teaching me to look for him.
Scared of his Will
Strange, isn't it, that I fear the will of the one who loves me most? Why do I fear that God might not let me marry the one I want? Why do I fear that God will not let me move to where I want? I suppose there may be many answers, one of which has to do with my distorted view of God, thinking he's out to make me miserable. I'm learning that his plan for me will be the best for me. I'm trying to get it in my mind that I'll never be more satisfied than when I'm embracing and fulfilling God's will for my life.
Pastors, do you ever look around in your congregation and shake your head in hopelessness when you see some of your members? I too tend to see some people and think that they'll never get it right. But we mustn't give up on people. The minute we give up on them is evidence that we've given up on God's power, and proof that we've forgotten that God hasn't given up on us either.
If there is anything obviously good about troubles in this life, I suppose it's the longing it should create in us to live in heaven with our Creator. This world constantly reminds us that we are fallen and still awaiting full redemption. Getting too comfortable in this world causes us to lose our longing for heaven. Fortunately, God frequently invades our serenity to provoke a longing in our souls for a place in his unimpeded presence.
To Live Tomorrow
Every day is a chance to try one more time to live out the truths we know. Some days we fail more consistently than at other times. But in it all, we're hoping God will lead us through each day with as much joy and peace as possible. Regardless of whether we look back on our day as a failure or a success, we want God to give us at least another day to live again. There is an addictive ingredient in living.
The Daily Grind
Sometimes I get bored with my life. It's not that I want to die, I just want out of my rut. I have to be careful when I'm in this state. I mustn't let this boredom lead me to sin, trying to add a thrill or zest to my life. I'm sure that much of this boredom is part of the natural ebb and flow of life. But there are other times when I think it indicates a dissatisfaction in my soul with God or with myself.
Just when I'm going along enjoying life, pebbles fall into my peaceful pond and send ripples across the placid surface. How can something as non-eternal as a computer problem stir up so much mud in my soul? Maybe these troubles come along to show me that there is still room in my life for maturity and sanctification. Hopefully, I'll learn to bless his name even when my computer is sending waves into my world.
How much better if we can fulfill our responsibilities with a passion for them. I'm sitting in class physically, but I'm elsewhere mentally. It's so easy to participate in things without putting our heart into what we're doing. Many of us treat church this way. We go, but we really don't want to be there. Oh that we would run our Christian race not just running, but running with all of our hearts.
Many things fill my head, some pure and others not so pure. I can't be totally open in writing about all of those things, not because I'm the only one struggling, but because so many Christians do. Yet, there are unspoken rules about weaknesses that we don't confess. If one man confesses a sin it has a way of showing all of us our guilt. I'm not suggesting we air our sins to everyone, but there are pressures to keep quiet about certain sins. May the Lord free us to live in honesty among our Christian family.
Why do guys tend to find other guys, usually strangers or acquaintances, somewhat of a threat? I don't know if women ever experience this among themselves or even if this is a common guy experience, but it is frequent with me. I see a stranger, and based on the way he carries himself or the way he looks, I may build a wall to keep him out of my life. Even as a believer, it's hard not to keep people on the fringes or even to watch their lives hoping to find weaknesses.
It seems like guys are always ready for a fight, either to watch or to participate in. This strikes me as a pride issue, a beastly territorial thing. I don't understand it, but it seems real enough. May God be merciful to his masculine servants.
There's something wrong with a Christian who's constantly negative (even my statement here is negative). We will do everyone a favor by rebuking negative Christians soon and with firmness. Pessimism spreads too quickly and can pull a whole congregation down. We mustn't allow Satan to benefit in this area. However, we must correct these people with gentleness, patience, and love.
Kids have a way of ushering my mind into nostalgia. Sometimes I just stare at little boys because they hearken me back to my childhood. I smile when I see two boys playing or wrestling, or even fighting. I guess I'm smiling because I really see my brother, Gary, and me. Even as kids, we talked about what it would be like to be grown up. It seemed out of reach then. Now, my childhood is out of reach. It wasn't that long ago, but it seems like an eternity has passed since then. Yeah, those were good days, but I can't spend too much time in the past. I don't live there anymore.
Peace of Mind
I'm convinced that God's will or his call is sometimes manifested in a more passive way. In other words, God's will isn't always a clear burden or call. It may be peace of mind. I suppose that his will is always accompanied by peace. But sometimes that's the only indicator he may give. True, we can easily misunderstand our desire as the peace of God, but we can just as easily misunderstand our desire as God's calling. Either way, we have to be cautious. But sometimes we have to move on less clear and objective signs. His peace is sufficient.
The Good Life
There's something mystical about leaning back in my chair, with my feet propped on the desk, with a can of Coke in my hand, while gazing out the window on a sunny spring afternoon. At least for the moment, I've reached the epitome of contentment. I suppose this is the same feeling people get from smoking a cigar or drinking a cup of coffee. I think the savoring exists in more than merely the parts that make up the whole. It comes in the entire experience itself. I wonder if other people around the world share in this sweet pondering of life. I wish I had more time to just sit and muse.
I'm angry at this moment; angry that I have so much to do; angry because I can't figure out what to do first, and angry because some people keep making mistakes at my expense. I'm angry because people ask me to assist them but give me little time to work such things into my schedule. And, of course, I'm angry with God because he's in charge of it all. I'm striving to walk close with him, yet it seems he's making life difficult for me anyway. Maybe this reveals my motives for following him-hoping life will just be easier if I obey. But, even his faithful servants in Scripture had their share of hardships as they walked the way of their master. I guess I should repent and keep following him.
Taming the Thoughts
I'm finding I can't always pray away my temptations. Actually, my temptations sometimes get worse the more I pray about them. This is not to downplay the importance of prayer, but I think it does offer insight into the nature of prayer and the nature of sin. What I need most at those times is to replace those nagging evil thoughts with wholesome thoughts. God's Word is the best means of getting wholesome thoughts immediately into my psyche. This may not be the only thing to meditate on, but it certainly is the heart and soul of any good thought that I could have.
I'm so tired of studying. I'd sure like to take a break, but I can't. There's no time for that. More papers. More tests. More deadlines. My brain hurts! I want to do something else, something easier, like reading-that's not as demanding on my mind. But for now, I must press on, with my mind teetering on the border of fatigue. All of this for a diploma. Zeessshh! May God give me strength.
When I woke this morning, all I could think about was the early morning worship service. My thoughts were consumed with this idea, not because I was eager to worship, but because I was thinking about who would see me if I went. For fifteen minutes I meditated on how cool it would be for me to see my friends and for them to see me. Then I realized that every thought I'd had up to that point was about me and not one thought was about Christ and his resurrection. I realized how much of a self-idolater I really was and am. I was saddened, but quite unable to shake the worship of me. Why am I so wrapped up in myself so that even on Easter all I can see is me?
Fortunately, God's mercies broke through and before the day was over, my eyes were cast back to the cross and to the empty tomb so that I saw someone else's glory besides my own.
When I ponder my life, it seems that there is a pattern of reoccurring difficulties. Frequently, when I think I've resolved some conflict in my plans, or think I've found commitment in a relationship, these tied ropes have a way of unraveling. Maybe this observation does nothing more than reveal my insecure nature or expose my victim-mentality or simply demonstrate self-fulfilled prophecy. But I wonder, do I continue to be tested in the areas where I'm most untrusting of God? Maybe I'm continually tested because I continue to fail the test. I suppose all of these possibilities could be true. Maybe I'll mature in these areas and move on to other things.
Who's in Control?
Today I received some very disappointing news regarding my school schedule. What makes this extra disappointing is that I thought I'd taken care of this problem already. When receiving the news that I still have to take one more class than I thought, I was immediately consumed with anger. How could this be? I made sure everything was in order. I was so frustrated. But I felt God saying, "How you handle this shows your faith and also shapes it." I wondered, "Is God really in control?" Yes he is. And in that, I can rest.
A Call to Suffer
I am probably never closer to Christ than when I am shriveling down on my knees, reeling from some emotional wound. The Lord, who suffered, can't be known apart from suffering. Granted, he calls me to share in his suffering for the cause of the gospel, but surely his call to suffer also includes the other deep hurts that come my way. I must not confuse the two types of suffering, but neither must I forget that it is for my Lord that I live. And all that pains and thrills me must be seen in the context of his calling.
Have you ever been so bored that your mind sifts through every imagination possible, overturning all its mental rocks hoping to find a gold nugget to preoccupy your thoughts? I hate this feeling. My mind freely strolls into dangerous territory when its tortured by numbness. But there's no real freedom in these wandering (wondering) thoughts. No, It's more like a prison than a freedom trail. Boredom is a type of pain. Sometimes I seek to escape it at almost any cost. I'm sure God would love to transform my boredom into a pre-occupation with him. If only I could revel in him during these meaningless times.
Evil and Pain
So what do we say about wars, hunger, and other types of suffering? Surely this appears to be the dust-bucket in a clean man's house. The evil in this world seems to condemn God. Do we have a defense to offer on God's behalf?
Who are we to think that God needs a defense? And even if he did need a defense, what makes us think that we'd be qualified to do it? And, to whom would we offer it? Well, the question of pain and evil is no small issue to deal with. Somehow God uses it all to bring glory to himself even when it looks as though the opposite is happening. This is the point at which we either mock God and walk away, or else marvel at him and bow down. As believers, we will not hide our questions at this enigma, but we will choose to marvel and worship rather than mock and waiver.
Most of us have never been formally trained as actors, but we do it well. At least for a while, no one ever knows how phony we truly are. We're pros at fronting. With a subtle skill we mask our weaknesses, pains, and sins, trying to appear strong and whole. Yet in the long run, we only fool ourselves.
Who is this God that I serve? He is not so simple that I can figure him out. But, he's not so complex that I can never know him. He is one God, yet three persons. I bow down to my Lord and worship his holy name. I cry out to my Father, not in my own authority, but in the name of Christ who has given me the Spirit, God's presence in me. To this holy and only Godhead I vow my utter devotion in life and in death.
Can't Sit Still
I'm fidgety right now. I can't stand to even sit here in church and worship. My Mom and my 6th grade teacher, Miss Fair, always said I had ants in my pants. Today, I feel like I do. Maybe that's why I'm writing instead of listening to the preacher. There's no particular place where I want to go. I just want to walk around outside and enjoy this sunny day. May the Lord calm my spirit that I might enjoy worship with God and his people.
The Incarnate Son
The mystery of Christ is no small thing. How could the eternal God step into time and become an embryo? I don't understand. How can this God who has always existed enter into time? How can this God, whose glory can't even be confined to heaven itself, become an earth-dweller? How can God, who is holy-other than his creation, become fully man while remaining fully God? Again, I don't know. It is in these thoughts that I find my limits and must worship my inexplicable Lord. Through the Spirit be all glory to the Father as has been manifested in his Son, Jesus Christ.
God has chosen to dwell in us. His Spirit means that God is with us and in us. He lives among his people so that we may glorify his name. He jars us in our sin and tenderly comforts us in our pain. He provokes us to cry out, "Father." The Spirit translates our incoherent moaning into refined doxologies. He enables us to say a bold word about Jesus when we would otherwise be too timid. This is the tender ministry of God in us. All honor be to the Father as he has worked through Christ, the Son, by sending the Spirit to live in us.
I used to think I had all the answers to life's big questions. I thought I knew mostly everything about God and the Bible. Now, after finishing seminary, I'm not even sure I know all the questions. I suppose I have more knowledge, but now I'm more aware of how limited my knowledge is. Hopefully this is a sign, not that I'm decreasing in intelligence, but increasing in wisdom and humility.
I suppose that courtesy can be boiled down to putting the concerns of others above that of your own. Basically, it's love. Keeping your voice at a whisper when those around you are sleeping may not seem like love, but it is. Courtesy is not all there is to this crazy little thing called love, but it is a manifestation of it. Being courteous means that we have the best interest of others in mind. I wonder why we as Christians don't take the ministry of courtesy more seriously.
The Curse of Later
There's something very hypocritical about telling myself I'll be more faithful to God once I'm out of seminary. There have been some areas of ministry that I've put on hold until after school, and now that I'm almost done with school, I'm so used to not doing certain things, like witnessing regularly, that it will be difficult to get back in the routine of it. As Christians we do ourselves and God a disservice when we don't consistently practice our faith. Some things may have to be postponed, like preaching every week, but we must never postpone our daily ministries such as having compassion on people and sharing the gospel. It's never easy to start doing a task that we've set aside for a more convenient time. Now, during the busy and hectic present, is the time for diligence in ministry.
The Apostle Peter
I see Peter in Scripture and I laugh while shaking my head. He usually missed what Jesus was trying to say. He spoke too much and usually said the wrong thing. How could he get it wrong so frequently? Well, I for one am glad that Peter's many mistakes were written in holy Scripture. I'm more like Peter than I want to admit. His story encourages me. Even though I keep botching up and making a fool of myself, Jesus is long-suffering with me and can still use me in spite of my flaws. To all the Peters, there is hope as long as there is hope in the Lord. Maybe one day we'll also share in Peter's successes as we share in his failures.
Praise to God
A week ago I was given frustrating news about my school schedule. I wasn't happy about what they told me. Now, I received word today that the problems have been taken care of. To God be the glory for his resolution of these difficulties. Last week, I sensed that God wanted me to stay calm and trust him. I didn't know how it would turn out, but God was saying, "Just trust me." I wasn't as compliant then as I may sound now, but the Lord has taken care of the situation. Even if it had not worked out to my benefit, God would still be praiseworthy.
Eruption of Anger
It's only in the disgusting moments that you discover what kind of a person you truly are. For instance, I just had a major problem with my computer. In spite of my best efforts, I lost about four hours worth of work. While sitting there, in partial tears, already exhausted, I wanted to scream, cuss, and then, with a hearty laugh, throw my computer out the window. What restrained me? I don't know. It must have been God. But I was in no mood to praise him.
There's nothing like frustration to bring out the worst in us. I'm afraid that the dark side which I thought only pops up on occasions is more of a permanent resident than I want to admit. It just takes the right situation (or should I say the wrong situation?) to call it forth. That angry bear isn't in hibernation like I thought. Maybe next time I'll be able to worship God in my frustrating circumstances.
As I sat outside tonight, I pondered over my past decade, especially the last two years since I came to this school. It was in that moment of remembering that I felt alive and thoughtful. Maybe it was the quietness of the event, or the wind gently blowing my hair, or the vast array of stars looming overhead that made me feel the rightness of that time, almost as though I was created to sit there and savor the moment. I'm not sure, but it's rare moments like that which give me a better grasp of God's firm grip on this spinning world.
I can't believe it. Here I am in the second to the last class I'll ever have to sit through in seminary. I've waited about ten years to approach this moment, and now it's here. My assignments are just about all done, but I'm not sure if the full excitement of this experience has hit me yet. In years and months past, finishing was a dream out in the future. Its intangible nature stirred a sensation in my soul. But now that this dream is on the brink of becoming reality, the nearness of it has caused this great moment to be just another event in my life. Granted, I am thrilled, but not like I thought I'd be. I don't know if I should interpret my subdued feelings as apathy or just the nature of maturity. But here I am anyway. Either way it's interpreted, I've made it this far only by God's grace.
How do we face God, having sinned that same sin again? How do we confess it one more time to our holy Lord? Will we ever learn to obey? Will we ever learn to surrender? I have not conquered all my sins, so I don't speak with my own authority, but I know that as long as our Lord remains risen from the dead, there is hope for those of us who still daily struggle with our sins, even the same ones. We shouldn't make excuses for our sin or find comfort in our straying nature or a safe-haven in our rebellion, but we do find the cross and resurrection to be our hope in sin. His Spirit's power dwells in us so that we might learn to dwell in the power of his Spirit.
The Irony of Ministry
It's hard to sort through my feelings about ministry. I'm overly excited about fully engaging myself in ministry. Serving, preaching, listening, praying, laughing. Yet, I'm overcome by mounting fears. I'm aware that the calling which gives me so much joy can bring me so much hurt. The loneliness, the grief, the tears, the fatigue, the temptations. I'm afraid that the very thing I want to embrace, ministry, will be the very thing to pull me underneath the waves, or even worse, underneath the sheets. May God grant all of his vocational workers the wisdom and integrity to begin and finish well.
Just as husbands and wives have to view each other as members of one body, so I'm trying to learn to view my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as part of one family. It's too easy for me to see others as in opposition to me. When statements are made that I disagree with, I sense that it's competition: me against them. Somehow I don't think this is what Christ had in mind when he made us a part of his body. If I view fellow Christians as enemies or opponents on a competing team (even if they act that way), I'm never going to show them love or learn from their words. If we're all part of the same body, then we all profit when one member is built up and appreciated. Submission to God's will means, at least partly, that we treat one another as family and friends rather than opponents. Even in disagreement, we must love each other.
It's easy for some of us to let the weather dictate our mood. But for Christians, we must realize that our hope is not in this world, and certainly not in the weather. No! Our hope, significance, and meaning in life is found in Christ. As we learn to enjoy his presence, we learn to live. Granted, even with this truth firmly planted in our minds and hearts, not all of the melancholy goes away. Christians may feel even more guilty than non-Christians when they can't pull out of these moods. Yet in the dark moments, Christ is there and his love is extended to the depressed. Even if the gloom doesn't all go away, hopefully there is at least a smidgen of strength found in the truth of Christ. He rose from the dead and has conquered death.
Life and Death
If most of us are honest, we fear death and don't want to die. That seems normal. Even for Christians, death is still the enemy. But death is a conquered enemy. For believers, we have the joy of loving Christ now and spending life after death with him. Think about it! When that unstoppable moment comes for each of us to die, that moment when we slide out of earthly existence, we will be delivered from our affliction and ushered into God's presence. The worst moment of our lives-death-is quickly transformed into our most opportune moment to worship our Creator. Death, though real, gives way to life. I think that's what Paul had in mind when he asked, "Death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory?"
The Busy Pastor
The meetings, the phone calls, the visits, the counseling-these all work together to assassinate the pastor's prayer life. They're good things indeed. They need to be done, but they aren't his first calling. In the busy rush of running to the hospital and then hurrying back to sit in on the finance committee, it's easy to let these tasks define the pastor's role. He becomes a performer rather than a worshipper. His life consists of lists and assignments. The pastor must schedule his priorities, and do what he knows is his calling-pray.
What's louder, the noise on the street-horns honking, people yelling, cars roaring by, or the noise in my head-the voices wooing me to do as I please, the songs telling me to seek stardom, the demons preaching pleasure? With all this distraction it's hard to stay on track. Often, it's difficult to hear God speaking. I'd do well to make an extra effort to listen to his voice.
I finally got what I've always wanted-time. No classes, no assignments. But now that I've got it, I'm not sure how to use it. Everything seems to bore me, and if I do become involved in a project, I feel like I should be doing something else. This is my restless heart at work-never settled and never content. I love the opportunity to rest and relax, but I don't like the floundering pattern that usually results, drifting from one place to another, searching for something to entertain me. I've got plenty that I could do, but none of it interests me now. I wonder where God is when I'm moping around, looking to trade in my free-time for something worth doing. Is he disappointed with me because I'm not content? Does he want me to just rest and take it easy? Would he rather that I be busy?
I want my heart to erupt toward God with the same passion, thrill, and excitement I feel when I think of the opposite sex. Actually, I want to be more enraptured with my relationship with God. When I'm romantically fond of a girl, it's easy to be a servant. Thoughts always upon her-that willingness to go to any length to make her happy. How can I please her? How can I surprise her? Sometimes it's just downright silly! I wonder why my heart doesn't bubble over in this same giddy way when I think of God. Is my love for him more mature than mere earthly affection, or has my romantic flame for the Divine gone out?
I'm sitting here at work now, with less free-time than just two days ago, but somehow I'm happier. Maybe it's because I've got some time to read and reflect, added with the joy of getting paid too. That's the way to do it. But, still, even though I'm a little more at peace now that I'm employed, I find myself wanting things a little better: more pay, shorter commute, a ministerial position. I don't know if this if just an American thing, the discontentment I mean, or a human thing, but it's definitely a real and personal thing for me.
I wonder about those of us who carry books on trips and to lunch breaks. I wonder if it's a way of hiding our insecurities. We don't want to be alone or go some place without an object in our hands. It's kind of like trying to tote around a friend, or a weapon. Or maybe we carry them so that we won't have to deal with people. We can block others out when we read; it's like a portable wall that we erect to keep others at a safe distance. We sometimes spend more money on our books and more time with our books than we do with people. We who are bibliophiles must be careful not to make books our idols and not to put them above our love for people.
Does anyone ever experience that phenomena in which one day your spiritual life is healthy, you're enjoying your walk with the Lord, and all in all, life is pleasant; and then, you wake up the next day to find yourself quickly sliding down that greasy slope of carnality, right into the jaws of temptation? One day, a woman is present, yet unnoticed; but the next day, her body screams for my attention, begging me to let my fantasies run wild. (Actually, it's my body screaming for her, but it seems a little less indicting to think that it's her body screaming for my attention.) My pleasant sunny spiritual day turned into a cold dark night. Why do desires change so quickly? Even on the good days, especially on the good days, I still need God's mercies.
No moment in the future can live up to your level of expectation if you haven't first learned to live contentedly in the present. You'll never be satisfied with what's out there if you haven't first learned how to walk in fellowship with God now. Satan lies and tells you that you'll be happy if you get one more thing or meet one more person, but your source of peace and satisfaction exists in Christ not in some object or experience. Learn to love him now and you will be prepared to enjoy him when the good and bad come your way.
I have to admit that I admire the cowboy, that is, at least Hollywood's portrayal of him. I don't know quite what it is about him, but there's something there that I identify with. It's not the horses or ranches or cowboy boots. Rather, I think it's the intrigue with staring out over an open field or up at a mountain range and seeing something bigger than myself, something not tangible, but nonetheless there, that preoccupation with dreaming about what could be.
I guess I'm trying to describe freedom, the privilege to move about as one pleases. Part of what I'm describing reveals my maverick mindset. It's that desire to do things my way. But it's not just rebellion, it's that urge, almost a calling, to move from place to place, leaving my friends behind, going from the familiar to the unknown. It's the desire to explore, to venture out, to invent.
I don't pretend that all of these inklings and feelings are prompted by the Divine. Much of it may be my own rebellion, the Adam in me saying, "I'm independent and I don't need anyone." I know what I've described isn't all good, but neither is it all bad either. So to God I turn for mercy and to God I turn to celebrate. And may God temper my tendency to drift with a genuine concern for others.
Love Became Flesh
The perfect picture of love is Jesus. He deserved a place with much more glory and honor, but he chose to walk among us. He not only walked among us, but he became one of us. This may even be looking at things backwards, since in actuality, we were created in his image more than he was in our image. Nonetheless, the idea is clear; when we want to know how love acts, we look at Christ. True, not all of our questions are answered, and by looking at Christ, we don't know how to respond in every situation. The Gospels are very limited in what they tell us. But still, the picture is clear. God is love. Christ is God and Christ is the fleshing out of love. He is the only one who could pay for our sin. His sacrifice is undeserved, and, often times, unappreciated by us. Yet he shed his blood to give us life. We can know this love if we believe on the Lord of love.
Love is a powerful thing. I know that love is really only fully expressed in a person-God. But I want to call it a thing, because even with the picture of love that we have in the person of Christ, there is something quite slippery and elusive about love.
We know it when we feel it, but it's not confined to feelings. We know it when we see it, but it's not restricted to the visible world. And there are times when we think we see and feel it, but have mistaken it for something else. Although all of us want to be loved, there are still times when we have a hard time receiving it. We may even have a clear cerebral definition for it, like, "Love is the commitment to someone else's well-being above that of one's own," but we don't always know how to show our love. It seems easy enough for us to spot in others when love is not being demonstrated, but not always easy to identify when we are not loving others.
Love exists only in the context of others. Love is strange. What, besides love, can be so good because it is demonstrated toward others? But, what besides love can be so fragile because it's so easily distorted in the context of others? Our human love is not perfect. How else could we truly love another person, and yet use our love for our own purposes? Such a love may not be pure, but it is, for many of us, a typical experience of love.
There's a blessed element in the heart when it breaks into singing. For the Christian this should be a common occurrence. Even if we can't sing well, and even if no one else is around, our heart should frequently overflow into song. We should not be so caught up in ourselves or so afraid of what others would think, that we can't belt out a few tunes for the Master. If there's no water in the bucket, then maybe there's no water in the well. And if a Christian doesn't have an occasional song of praise that just has to get out, then maybe there's no praise in the heart. We want to be careful not to make this extemporaneous singing a prerequisite to the kingdom, but if the Christian has nothing to sing about, then who does? So sing, sing unto the Lord!
The Simple Things
The simple things can easily become the biggest demons. True, the simple things in life are to be enjoyed and savored, like having a Coke or taking a walk in the park or lingering on the porch swing or conversing with a friend. There should be no guilt in these things. It's in the simple things that we find our satisfaction in God rather than in the titillation of our surroundings.
But it's also the blessed simple things that so easily become distorted and lead us into sin. A caffeine dependency develops from the Coke, the mind wonders to sensual things during the walk in the park, procrastination springs out of the relaxing time on the porch swing, and gossip results from the conversation with a friend. Now it's not always the case that the simple things slip into the sinful things. That need not be so. But it does easily happen, and we must be careful.
Preparing to Die
It's a sobering thought, none of us will outwit death. He may be put off and avoided for a while, but eventually we must dance to his music and sing his song. Yep, all of us will succumb to his poetic wooing. So the issue isn't how we can avoid death, but how we can prepare for him. We can do this only by trusting the one who sentenced Death to death. Only Christ, the good Shepherd, can take us through the valley of the shadow of death so that we can stand with our Creator on heaven's bright shore where life reigns forever.
I'm more nervous now than I've been in a long while. I'm waiting at Boston's Logan airport for my parents to arrive. I have no reason to be nervous, this is a happy occasion-my graduation. But, I'm nervous anyway. By my actions and fidgety quirks, any bystander can tell I'm anxious. I'm acting like someone who's never been to an airport before, like I'm out of place or running on a tight schedule.
I'm trying to relax, but I'm not good at waiting. Being a preacher has helped me learn to be calm, or at least appear that way in anxious moments, but there are times when I can't calm myself regardless of the past poise I've shown. This is one of those times.
As I'm reflecting on my anxiety now, anxiety from a good situation rather than a bad one, I'm trying to rest in that inner peace that I've often preached about. But I realize I'm far from finding it. This moment reaffirms that as a preacher, I've sometimes had to preach principles because they're true rather than because I've learned to walk perfectly in them.
While in my dorm room last night, full of energy and with time on my hands, I tried to find some of my friends. But they were nowhere to be found. I had this feeling that God would bring one of my friends by or else provoke someone to call. I was sure the Lord would provide someone. I even prayed for it. But it never happened. Again, this was an example of how I think one way and God thinks another. He doesn't always do what I expect him to do, even when I feel it deep in my bones. To understate the issue, feelings can be deceptive.
Here and Now
Again I admit that I have this insatiable urge to go find God elsewhere. What do I do to squelch the sense that God is doing more somewhere other than where I am now? I'm under the delusion that if I venture out, I'll find him. I suspect that I'm not the only Christian who feels this way. I think many pastors have this same gnawing urge. It often seems easier to leave, to change our environment and congregation, rather than face our disappointment, depression, and boredom where we are. We lie to ourselves, thinking it will be easier somewhere else. But what we should keep in mind is that wherever we're wanting to go, somebody else is wanting to leave. The thing we're trying to get away from is most likely ourselves. Running won't help. God is God for the now and the present. We need to learn to be patient where we are, to wait and let God find us in the here and the now.
Maybe I'm too young to think about this, but I fear growing old. More precisely, I fear the incapacities that old age will bring. There are questions in my mind. What if I don't have enough money or physical strength to take care of myself? Who will take care of me? I dread existing with pain and severe limitations. There's a certain shame to this slow dying process. Maybe the ravages of old age are still far away, but they won't always remain in the distant future.
It's easy to be deceived about our involvement in the world, the culture of the non-Christian. We have a tendency to be confined to the mindset of the society around us. We tell ourselves, as we become friends with the world, that we're experimenting, or educating ourselves so that we'll know how non-Christians live. When the truth is, we're falling in love with the pleasures of the world. We're unknowingly becoming enemies of God as we adjust to the soothing waters of the world.
The danger with swimming in the oceans of the world is that we're typically not aware of the undertow. If we're honest, most of the time, we're not even aware that we're swimming in the world's ocean. It just seems like home to us. This is not to say that every aspect of pagan culture is bad, or even that every aspect of Christian culture is good. But therein lies the danger. We can move too easily between the two, without knowing the difference. The only hope for us is a full immersion in God's Word, and crying out in prayer that the Spirit might rescue us from drowning in sin.
There seems to be a growing public interest in angels these days. Songs and TV programs seem to mention them more often now than in the past. Some Christians would consider this a positive thing. But I'm only minutely thrilled by this recent public interest in angels. I say only minutely because I think that people's interest in the spiritual does give us some open-door opportunities to share the truth with them. But I'm convinced that Satan is pleased with this intrigue with angels. A ploy of Satan is to give people a taste of something that's close to the real thing and convince them that it is the real thing.
What could be better than stirring an interest in angels? This is clever because it keeps people distracted from their sin and the Christ who died for sin. People have a false assurance of salvation because they're devoted to angels and spiritual things. May Christians use this opportunity to present the truth of Christ-all are sinners and only faith in Jesus can usher people into a relationship with God. No crystal, no meditation, no unicorn, no angel can provide peace with God-only a relationship with Christ.
The night spring-air almost has a personality of its own. The wind blowing in my hair somehow seems to crown me with nobility, the glow of the moon on my face arrays me with vitality, and the crunch of sand underneath my feet signifies dignity and life at its best. Of course I don't want to attribute divinity to the creation, for only God deserves glory and worship. But I do love how his creation brings my actions to stillness and funnels my attention to awe at his handiwork. Even the darkness of midnight has a way of shining forth his light. Marvel with me.
With my nice neat logic, I try to make my world smug, dependable, safe and always reliable. If I figure things out, then God can't throw me any curve balls, or at least not any unexpected ones. But I have to relinquish the desire to always know what's going on. I haven't figured life out, and I certainly can't figure God out. Heck, I haven't even figured myself out. There are so many mysteries in life, too many times at which "I don't know" is the only answer I have. To follow Christ, I don't have to give up thinking, but I do have to give up demanding all the answers.
The Prayer not Prayed
At times when I've been with close Christian friends, and we've confessed our sins, there were many times when it seemed hard to pray for each other. It was even hard to suggest praying at that moment. Instead, we remained silent, or created noise, occupying ourselves with something less spiritual, less weighty. It's as though our silence voiced our shame. Because we felt dirty or unworthy or just apathetic, we didn't pray with each other. But, it was at these times that we most needed to pray. Yet, our prayers went unprayed, even unsuggested.
Sometimes I sink into my own darkness. It's deep and, by the steep climb out, next to bottomless. It is the me that I can't ever quite rid myself of, the part of me that chooses pleasure over holiness and rebellion over obedience. It's the aspect of my nature that keeps me aware of my live (?dead) and carnal self, the aspect that doesn't shine or rejoice or worship. It's the sullen dungeon in which I've dwelt far too long. I'm not wishing to describe my sin in such a way that relieves me of responsibility, but only to describe it in such a way that paints it as real and ingrained, a portrait which displays the crude ugliness of sin. May God's light shine in my darkness.
Sometimes only pain and hurt can teach us the way we need to be taught. Such an example I find in my own journal from the early 90s after one of my pastors had fallen into sexual immorality. Here's what I recorded about the events that unfolded after hanging up the phone with a friend.
"I immediately cried with even more uncontrol. I was truly wounded. I was beginning to understand what one author meant when he said that 'God can't use a man greatly until He has first hurt him deeply.' That thought stayed with me.
"At the end of my bed I cried in bitter pain. Weeping before God, I questioned him. I asked why. I told him my pain and confusion. My words were often interrupted by my uncontrollable weeping and groans. How could all of this be real? Please, let it be a dream. But not so-it was real-the sin, the hurt, the love of God. It was there that I think I most clearly realized that I had a wound that no one could heal except God. It would definitely take God's grace to lead me through this pain. Never before had I felt such loss, such frustration, just utter despair. I saw that God had really begun to break me."
Yes, sometimes all we can do is weep, and weep we will, hoping against our feelings and circumstances that God will not leave us weeping alone in the dark.
Parents and Children
It must be a hard thing, maybe almost unbearable, for good parents to see their children in pain or struggling through problems, especially if the parents can ease the suffering. The nature of parents is to help and heal. No one would want parents who didn't do that or at least want to do that. But sometimes I wonder if it wouldn't be better for the children if the parents weren't so quick to intervene in every situation. If a child digs a financial hole for himself, then why should he not have to dig himself out of it? Are the parents really helping him when they bail him out of his troubles?
If kids have to struggle through problems, while not being abandoned by their parents, and are given the privilege to suffer through their decisions and struggle towards hope, then they might just develop the kind of character they'll need for the rest of their lives. This would also prepare parents to let go of their children. I'm not suggesting that parents be abusive or neglectful, but that they give their children enough room to feel life's sting while the children still feel the safety of home.
When God Visits
Sometimes God visits by a hand on our shoulder or a pat on the back or a smile without words. We must be observant, expecting God in the grand events and bright colors while not missing him in the plain hues of every day life. Not that God can be reduced to the minor and minute, but his glory speaks even from the simple things, declaring his love for his children. May God give us eyes to see the invisible and ears to hear the unspoken.
There are times when I think God has forgotten me. There are times when I feel more like saying, "I guess God loves me," rather than "I know God loves me." I suppose I'm aware that he really does love me, but I lose sight of that truth. I get so caught up in me, in my goals and worries and plans and heartaches that I feel isolated from God. I'm glad that he occasionally sends me reminders letting me know that he's still the loving Father, even when feelings and circumstances seem to say the opposite.
Ministry in Madness
There are so many times when we, as trained ministers, have to stand among the dead and hurting without answers or reasons for the pain and tragedy. Our own lives are no exception to the rule either. We can't always explain why we feel the way we do or know why our circumstances are arranged in an unpleasant order.
Sometimes, I just want to drop the pastoral facade and sling a plate through a window or shout out profanities. That of course would never qualify me to win any ministerial awards, but it would at least put a picturesque exclamation at the end of my, "I don't know!" It might even offer me some certainty in my shifting world. Granted, letting loose with such behavior is probably not the best way to deal with my frustrations, but there seems to be some freedom and healing in just admitting that these tendencies lurk within me. Yet, there's something greater at work than freedom and healing. Even in my failure and frustration, God remains steady. He is still sovereign, and he is full of love when I'm in no condition to receive it and even when I'm too weak, too sinful, and too ignorant to understand it.
God's compassion reaches me at unexpected moments. It happened earlier today when I was sitting at work on break, feeling rather distant from God because I'm struggling with sin and confusion; and then, almost out of nowhere, God touched me. It took place while my attention was divided between a secular song playing on the radio and a book by David Hansen on pastoring.
I wasn't reading the book because I necessarily felt spiritual, but because I was desperate for God to speak, and probably too lazy to read Scripture. Yet, God spoke anyway. It came not in audible words, but in a still and gentle way. I just sensed God's love, his faithfulness, even though I wasn't faithful. I got the sense that even if I ran away, he'd run after me. Praise be to God. That's exactly what I need to hear. God loves me even when I wander, even when I run away.
You haven't learned to preach until you've failed miserably at it. Then you know what it's like to lose self-confidence, to be embarrassed at your own voice, to wrestle with God, to doubt your calling. It's at that point where you become moist clay in the potter's hand. Yet, having failed, in and of itself, doesn't guarantee that you'll be a great orator the next try either. But it does get one in a position to be humbled and used by God. Failure doesn't make one a great preacher, but there are probably no great preachers who haven't had great pulpit failures. The truth is, even the so called "great preachers" are still weak. There are no other kind of preachers really, just those who don't know they're weak.
Preaching is a ministry in weakness, in spiritual things, and in the intangibleness of humility. So we are most useable as we kneel helplessly before Christ. We become the visible finger pointing to the tangible Christ who often seems intangible. True, if God could use a smelly fish, a stupid donkey, and a hardened Pharaoh, then he can use a prideful preacher to dispense truth. But, O how much greater will he use the yielded servant and how much more will the servant delight in his relationship with the Creator if the servant is humble?
The Pastor's Song
The cries of our people resemble an old familiar song. We will likely respond in one of two ways. One response is that we pat our foot to the familiar tune without much conscious thought of what we're doing. Feeling this song is easy because it's part of who we are. We just respond naturally with delight in it. We go and minister, and we love it. The other response is that we'll sit unmoved by the song because we've heard it so many times and it does nothing for us. We've learned to ignore it. When we seek to minister to our hurting and often times whining people, we'll either caringly reach out to them, maybe even without thinking about it. Or, we may resentfully step to the tune, feeling more obligated than privileged. Sometimes it will be easy to give of our time and attention. At other times, we may numbly sit by missing opportunities to minister because we're tired of the same old song. May we tap our foot to the Lord's song, and hum along with His song, getting in step with his rhythm, to discover His attitude, and to follow his moves.
The Mysterious Meal
When I approach the Lord's supper, either to administer it or to have it administered to me, I'm tempted to explain away it's mystery and make it something I fully understand. I don't like doing things that aren't backed with logic and good sense. The Lord's Supper is full of divine foolishness. What good does a tiny bit of bread and juice do for Christians who have adult-sized appetites and God-sized problems? What does death and resurrection have to do with a meal anyway? Yet, it is precisely at that point where my will clashes with God's that the clarity comes: "Hands off of the sacred; it is not for you to take by your own choosing, but for Me to give." And receive it I must, with no pre-condition of control or superior knowledge. I must surrender. I can't barter with God or earn his favor. I can't receive until he offers. I must release my tight grip of control, letting go of the desire to abolish all mystery. It's not my ordinance. It's like salvation, I must come with open hands and open mouth. God provides and I believe. In fact, I believe because he has provided.
When I take this meal, somehow I see the invisible, I smell the heavenly bread, I taste the world to come, and I digest more than food. I hear the inaudible voice of my Creator, I touch the intangible, and I find rest where there is only weariness. Once again, the cross and empty tomb have provoked me to worship Christ. That's part of the mystery of the Lord's Supper.
A Prideful Confession
In the last decade, I've become more real and personal, more transparent. I've become more comfortable with confessing my sins to Christian brothers. I've learned to be more vulnerable. But, I must watch myself because I've also learned to confess in such a way that portrays me in the best light, or not as bad as I could have been. Sometimes I'm prone to shape my confessions in ways that make me look good, like a man to be applauded for his honesty. Ironic that I become prideful while confessing my pride. But that is the elusive and deceptive nature of my sinful heart.
A Silent Prayer
Sometimes when I want to pray, but don't know what to say, I just look up at the floating clouds or out over the earthy terrain. I stare in awe and gawk in worshipful wonder at God's creation. I can't figure out what to pray, but my soul does. It expresses it's praise in this silent delight.
A few months ago, I asked God to call me into the next big decision in my life. I didn't want to just go and do something. No. I wanted to be called and sent by God, sure of that call.
I had no idea when I asked him to call me that such a call meant sleepless nights and restless days, struggling to know his specific plan for me. I was only asking for a stronger sense of direction, a clarification on the future, a better lit path, but God had in mind struggle, pain, and uncomfortable surrender.
God is using this transition time, the confusing present, to chip away at my desires until I give up. His call has not yet come, but it will. And when it does, it will come clearly. But maybe not until I've learned to trust him in the ambiguity and release my demands for what his will must be. [I now disagree with myself here: See my articles on biblical calling.]
I don't want to be here in the library studying. I feel like life is passing me by and everyone not in the library is out there having fun. I'm anxious. Maybe this shows that I haven't yet learned to rest in the Lord. I want to go, but I'm compelled to stay. I need to prepare this sermon. If I'm going to preach and pastor, I must learn to ignore the lure of the rat-race and find contentment in being with the Lord. That's not to say that the Lord can never be found in the rat-race or that the library is a special abode of God, but right now, this is where he wants me to be. And this is where I must stay.
III. A FINAL REFLECTION
It's probably the desire of every writer to be remembered. Actually, that's probably the desire of every human. It's certainly my desire. It seems that most of my efforts are so that I will be remembered. But as Christians, we know that our calling is to "decrease so that Christ will increase." Yes, it is our task to make Christ known and for us to be forgotten. To make Christ known is a bit easier than relinquishing ourselves to be forgotten. But, nonetheless, our task as believers is to allow the Holy Spirit to demonstrate the love of Christ in our lives and to proclaim the glory of Christ with our lips. Life is not about our own kingdom, it's about Christ and his kingdom.
May we be known only as we are known in Christ, and may we seek to turn the world's attention off of itself and on to Christ, our only hope. "May God be true and every man a liar!"