Friday, March 12, 2010


Recently I was talking with a friend who's been struggling with a lot of difficult issues lately. She told me that when things are going well, it's easy to have faith. But when things are hard, any perceived distance in her relationship with God sends the doubts flooding in. She needs strong and visible support from God when times are tough, and if she doesn't get it, her faith suffers drastically. I think that to some extent most everyone feels like my friend sometimes. Even Mother Teresa, famous for her faith, was documented in the book Mother Teresa: Come By My Light as sometimes struggling with her relationship with God. I think of myself as a person of strong faith, but even I know from personal experience about the struggles my friend described.

I vividly remember sitting in the middle of a cloth labyrinth in the chapel at my college one night when I was 19 years old, crying my eyes out because I could not feel God in my heart like I used to. In high school I used to carry God around like a secret best friend in my head, but as I went through emotional and spiritual challenges in college, God seemed to get further and further away from me. I didn't think I could deal with my troubles without the sense of His presence, and I sat and wept out of the sense of cold emptiness and solitude inside me. God and I have reached a more stable place in our relationship these days, but it still hurts when I'm in trouble and I can't feel Him. I do believe in the old Footprints poem—that God is sometimes supporting me most when I can't tell that He's there. I don't worry about being abandoned anymore, but I do hunger and thirst for the overt sense of that comforting presence in my life. I know God is there, but I want to feel Him more strongly when I am at my weakest.

I trust that God has his own reasons for the ways He participates in my life. I know that the silence in my head and the lonely ache in my heart do not mean that there is no God or that He has forsaken me. I realize that sometimes I need the opportunity to work through problems without God's direct intercession and that being strong and persevering is a character building exercise. I believe that God is giving me strength and subtle guidance even when I don't feel Him strongly and that He loves me all the time. I won't lie though—it's hard to maintain that trust in the hard times when God feels far away. It's difficult to see the big picture of God's redeeming love when I hate the inadequacies in myself and I struggle to make the relationships in my life work. It's challenging to keep on convincing myself that my relationship with God is strong and well when He is an unseen entity in my life. Yet, these are the times when I need faith the most. Without God I know I will be defeated by these challenges. I have to hold onto God in order to make it through.

With that in mind, I have more song lyrics to share today. They are excerpted from "Faithful" by Brooke Fraser:

There's distance in the air and I cannot make it leave
I wave my arms round about me and blow with all my might
I cannot sense you close, though I know you're always here
But the comfort of you near is what I long for

When I can't feel you, I have learned to reach out just the same
When I can't hear you, I know you still hear every word I pray
And I want you more than I want to live another day
And as I wait for you maybe I'm made more faithful

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What I Should Be

Last night at church, the pastor closed his sermon with these words from the gospel of John: "Take heart! Get up! Jesus is calling you!" These were the words the crowd spoke to blind Bartimaeus when Jesus heard his crying out and stopped to help him. Bartimaeus didn't have to be agitated or desperate for help anymore. Help had arrived. All he had to do now was get up, ask for grace, and accept the gift, and that's exactly what he did.

It's easy to get wrapped up in frustration, guilt, and shame because I am not what I should be. I feel like blind Bartimaeus, crying at the side of the road, "Jesus! Lord! I am not what I should be! I am not whole! Please help me!" And yet, when Jesus stops to hear my plea, what will I do? Will I stay hunched by the roadside, paralyzed by my hatred of my own limitations? Or will I take heart, get up, and take action? Will I go out to meet Jesus or will I stay huddled up in my own misery and mess?

Bartimaeus has three lessons to teach me about how to become what I should be:
  1. Ask God for help. Bartimaeus knew he couldn't heal his own blindness. Likewise, I know that I can't correct my own (physical or emotional) defects, and I can't cure myself of my own sin. No matter how hard I try, I cannot make myself be what I should be. I must have God's help in order to fulfill my true potential. God will not force this assistance on me, so I must be wise and humble enough to ask for it. Like Bartimaeus, I must cry out until I am heard, and when my moment arrives I must be willing to stand up and seize it.
  2. Take action. Asking for help is well and good, but I have to do more than just ask. I must get up and go to meet God when He calls me so that I can actively accept the grace He offers. If Bartimaeus had stayed where he was, would Jesus have come to him? We don't know. Jesus called to Bartimaeus and he came and was healed. I too must be willing to do what God asks when He calls to me and to accept the healing on His terms.
  3. To be what I should be, I must stick with God long-term. Bartimaeus didn't go on his way after Jesus healed him. Instead, he followed Jesus—right into Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified not long after. We don't know what happened to Bartimaeus after that, but I'd like to think he became part of the emerging church. Likewise, I can't just look to Jesus as a temporary fix to my problems. He is someone I need in my life all the time. Once I reach out to him and find help, I can't leave again just because things get better. I still need God if I'm really going to be what I should be. Bartimaeus needed more than to receive his sight, and I think Jesus knew that. Bartimaeus got a whole new life, and that's what I want too.
With God's help, I can be what I should be. I'm not going to get there by punishing myself for falling short or by wallowing in self-pity or denial. Bartimaeus could only connect with Jesus when he was willing to cry out, even when the crowd was trying to shush him. He didn't care about anything so much as he cared about connecting with Jesus. I want to feel that way too. That's how I should feel, because a loving and devoted servant of Christ is what I should be.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The King of Love My Shepherd Is

The King of Love my shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never.
I nothing lack if I am His, and He is mine forever.

Yesterday as I was reading the story of the Prodigal Son at Bible study, I was struck by God's overwhelming and all-encompassing love. The father in the story loved both his obedient son and his disobedient son. He did not write off the younger son for being wayward, and he did not quarrel with his older son for being uncharitable. He loved them both and tried to show both of them a better way to live. My God is a God of forgiveness and mercy, one who pulls us out of the depths of our sin when we turn to Him. The prodigal son's father did not come after him right away when he left, and so the son had to suffer hunger and poverty before he decided to return home. There were consequences for his mistakes, but once he returned to his father there was no punishment in store, only mercy. God wishes to rescue us, not punish us. That's what His overwhelming love is all about.

This is why I feel so sad sometimes when I read the news. Terrorists praise God as they hijack airplanes and blow themselves up in public markets. Nigerians cried "God is great!" as they massacred people—including defenseless women and children—with machetes. Protesters carry signs with slogans like "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "God hates your tears" at funerals. Christians of all types make harsh speculations about who's going to Hell and what punishments lie in store for various misdeeds. It saddens me to consider this concept of God as someone who would rejoice in terrorism, violence, and punishment. I won't say that God doesn't use punishment as a tool, but I don't think He revels in it. I think God wants sinners to be saved, not destroyed. God does not endorse plane hijackers or suicide bombers. He does not scorn the tears of bereft mothers. God has compassion on all of the people in those situations, and He is sad that we do such destructive things. My God hates sin but loves people.

I feel a little angry sometimes that people would tarnish the name of my God by associating Him with such heartless tyranny. God is not a cold judge who creates rules simply so He can punish those who don't obey Him. God is not whispering into the ears of violent psychopaths or waiting gleefully to throw us into Hell as soon as we screw up. Jesus' death was not some legalistic ploy to buy us back into the good graces of a reluctant Father—it was the means for God to pour out His wondrous love and mercy on our undeserving souls. I'm not going to sit here and say that God doesn't have any judgments about community power struggles, social justice, or wars. But I don't think those judgments are where the story ends. They're just stepping stones in His mission to make us better, and God's love is the driving force behind all of His other properties—including His righteousness and His judgment.

Any time I see someone glorifying violence, retribution, war, or even damnation in the name of God, my soul bleeds a little bit. God doesn't love any of those things. He loves us. Whenever I see a sign that says "God hates [x group of people]," I want to cry. God hates the things we do sometimes, but He never hates us. My God is the God of love, and that is the most important thing about Him. I am sad that everyone doesn't know my God, because it's so wonderful to have a Good Shepherd to take care of me. I want everyone to feel that benefit and understand that amazing love. I want everyone to know my God.

And so throughout the length of days, Thy goodness faileth never.
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise within Thy house forever.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Change

My life is not terribly important or profound. In the grand scheme of the universe, I am like a tiny speck. My life will be over in the blink of an eye, and 100 years after I am dead, it's likely that no one will remember me. My actions don't necessarily make a huge or lasting impact on the world, and my legacy will be in the hearts of people who will eventually die themselves. I probably can't do either great good or great evil in this world because I have little power. Some people would use this observation to argue then that it doesn't matter what I do. I could simply live for myself because my actions don't really make that big of an impact on the world anyway. That's not how I see it, however.

Whether or not I drastically change the world, it matters very much what changes happen inside of me. I am small, but I am not insignificant. God designed me and Jesus atoned for my sins, so to God I am quite valuable. My integrity and my faithfulness matter more than the practical impact of my actions. God can see the love, desire, and loyalty in my heart even when the world can't see the impact of my actions. Who I am and what I do is very important to God and ought to be important to me no matter what anyone else thinks. Faith matters more than results, and honesty and humility count more than outward success or physical legacies. Even if what I do is small, it matters.

I find that this point is quite excellently stated in Garth Brooks' song "The Change" from his 2000 album Fresh Horses:

One hand reaches out and pulls a lost soul from harm
While a thousand more go unspoken for
And they say "What good have you done by saving just this one?"
It's like whispering a prayer in the fury of a storm

And I hear them saying you'll never change things
And no matter what you do it's still the same thing
But it's not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world we know
Never changes me

What I do is so
This world will know
That it will not change me

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Blur

Sometimes my life is a blur. I find myself struggling just to keep up with the relentless pace of my life. Events run together in my mind and I concentrate simply on surviving with no hope of really understanding the big picture of what's happening. Only later, when things have slowed down, will I have any chance of being able to look back and see the lessons that I was learning or the paths that I was forging during that hectic time. I am in one of those times now. Each day that I complete everything on my to-do list feels like a major victory, even though tomorrow's to-do list is just as full. I dream at night about the projects I'm working on and spend each day trying to figure out how to give my best effort even when I feel my energy draining away. It's hard for me to really see what's going on in my life or to appreciate all the changes that are happening so quickly. Later on, this might seem like a profound time in my life.

Sometimes when I am rushing through my life like this, I worry that I am losing bits and pieces of my experience because I cannot keep up with them. No one else can really see the struggles I go through or witness the victories and defeats of each day. No one but me can really appreciate all the growth that I'm experienceing right now or all the really important things I'm learning. If I can't even keep track of all of those things myself, are they lost? Is my life truly becoming a blur?

It's times like these when I feel so grateful to have God's presence in my life. Because God is watching my life, I know that everything I do and experience is being recorded in the eternal consciousness of my Creator, where it can never be forgotten. Even if I cannot understand the significance of what's happening in my life right now, God sees and understands all of it. Later, when I have time to think it through, God might send me insights about what has happened and help me to benefit more fully from the things I couldn't truly appreciate when they were happening. God is with me, so even when I lose track of bits of my life, they aren't truly lost. God sees and remembers everything and stores all of it up for me until I'm ready to understand it. In a way, my experiences—even the hectic ones—are a kind of personal inheritance, and God will be sure that in time I receive that inheritance in full.
Christian Love Lessons - Free Blogger Templates - by Templates para novo blogger