(My apologies for some formatting strangeness this week – Blogger’s editor is acting funny and I have to get on the road. -AP)
“I haven’t been in the Word that much this week…”
Probably the number one thing that comes up in spiritual conversations with the many men God has put in my life is quiet time guilt. Every year, Cristine and I hear men and women make commitments to “be more consistent in my quiet time”. Sound familiar?
What if we’re setting our hearts on the wrong goal?
Alicia Keys penned these lyrics and hit the top of the chart.
Some people want it all
But I don’t want nothing at all
If it ain’t you baby
If I ain’t got you baby
Some people want diamond rings
Some just want everything
But everything means nothing
If I ain’t got you…
The apostle Paul penned these words and this morning hits many of us in the heart.
“[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death, [in the hope] That if possible I may attain to the [spiritual and moral] resurrection [that lifts me] out from among the dead [even while in the body]. (Phil 3.10-11 AMP)”
Neither of these two writers had a desire to read something in mind when they made these inscriptions. Neither of these writings talk about a yearning for a mechanical daily activity, either. Rather, both had a deep desire to be with someone, to know someone deeply and intimately, they had a magnified longing in their hearts for that person. For Alicia, it was a romantic desire for “you, baby”. But, for Paul, it was a holy desire for the Lord.
If quiet time is about a mechanical habit, I might as well wish you “good luck” (some of you got the joke). For so many reasons you will find in scripture, God proves that He wants us to know Him and that it’s even possible to do so. One of the most important pieces of “good news” outside the resurrection of Christ is this one of the jobs of the Holy Spirit is to reveal to us the depths of who God is. (1 Cor. 2.9-12) God doesn’t want you or I to have a “quiet time”, a mechanical and dry reading exercise – He wants us to know Him.
What if we changed our goal, altered our prayers, set our sights on a loftier mark? Though you already know this inherently, this week I hope you’re encouraged by the fact that knowing God is possible and practically commanded by God. Further, I hope you gain momentum in your pursuit of Him by the power of the Holy Spirit. He was commissioned to help you in this process. I hope your prayer this week is “God, by the Spirit, magnify my desire to know you and teach me the depths of who You are.”
“Sometimes I’m angry at God”
“Could God possibly love me after all I’ve done?”
“I’m too fat.”
“I lied… again.”
“It’s hopeless – why even try? I give up.”
Sometimes, I forget what it was like to be a teenager. Thankfully, Cristine and I are in discipleship with men and women who have/had teenagers and our oldest daughter is a full-blown 14 year old. Without going into too much detail, she’s going through some of the normal and not-so-normal struggles of being a teenager. None of the above statements are above because they do or don’t apply to her situation, they’re just indicative of thoughts many of us have struggled with at one time or another. Have you ever felt like that? Was it during that time of “lost”ness that can so often be synonymous with the teenage years?
In life there are at least four boxes that our choices fit into. They are as follows:
- Easy to do/feels good and is good for me
- Easy to do/feels good but is bad for me
- Hard to do/doesn’t feel good and is bad for me
- Hard to do/ doesn’t feel good but is good for me
I was drawn to box 2 and never long-term committed to box 4. When I chose to do 2’s or turned away from 4’s, I always wound up feeling guilty, empty, frustrated, or confused. Often, I would keep doing 2’s hoping if I did them enough, they’d suddenly become good for me. Sometimes, I’d “stick it out” with 4’s hoping they’d eventually start feeling better or getting easier just because I knew on some level they were good for me. Can you relate?
The “Prodigal Son” is a story about a kid who turned away from box 4 and wanted everything to be a 1. Easy and good. In fact, he probably believed, like most of us as teens, “if it feels good, it must be good“. That’ll get anyone stuck in a rut of doing 2s and avoiding 4s. What the Prodigal didn’t realize though, was what was at the bottom of the boxes. Look, if you dig far enough into any box, you’ll get to the bottom, won’t you? The bottom of the box tells the truth about what the box really is. So, when the money ran out, the Prodigal found the same things I found at the bottom of the boxes:
Box 1: Fruit and benefit
Box 2: Guilt, shame, depression, hopelessness, waste, diabetes, excess, addiction, etc.
Box 3: Bitterness, disappointment, temporary gain followed by guilt, shame or pain, etc. (see Box 2)
Box 4: Discipline, growth, fruit, wisdom.
One of the most awesome truths I’ve ever discovered in scripture is in this parable. In every parable Jesus told, there was a man-figure and a God-figure.
You Are More
Yesterday, a friend of mine was watching one of the Lord of the Rings movies and commented cleverly Tweeted “[Gollum] Smeagol needs to work on his self-talk. Very conflicted inside.”
If you’ve never seen the movies, Smeagol is a disturbed and disturbing character who represents the inward and outward impact of sin on our lives over the long haul. Consequently, he is both tortured and twisted on the outside and in, having been visibly impacted by his enslavement to the fleshly desires, represented by the Ring of Power he so deeply covets. We could probably end in prayer here, right?
So, What’s the Problem?
The quality of our self talk is a reflection of the quality of our hearts. Gollum’s self talk is much more “talk” than “self” because it comes out of his mouth so often referring to himself as “we” – conflicted and vehemently self deprecating. At one point, he even takes a stand against… uh, himself… arguing with his own reflection, which accuses him of murder. I’m actually refreshed by this in some ways: at least we know what’s on Gollum’s mind. No guesswork required!
Today, I’m reading Proverbs 23:1-8. Check it out – it’s all about the inward motives of the heart. It’s all about unseen, “private” thoughts. When I meditate on this stuff, I’m mildly refreshed by Gollum’s “self-talk”: at least we know what’s going on in his mind. There’s no guess work here. Even though Jesus tells us very clearly that “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks”, some people have developed a really powerful filter that prevents the truth from coming out… at least for a time.
Kick the Habit, Not Yourself
I’ve got a few friends that consider themselves addicts. For good reason – one of them has relapsed into chemical dependency no less than a dozen times this year. I know God’s going to pull him out of this and fully deliver him eventually. But, in the meantime, it’s hard for me to watch how hard he kicks himself when he’s down, calling himself names like “addict”, “doper”, “stoner”, etc. Last week, I was flipping through Ephesians and noticed several words highlighted. Every one was an identity statement: descriptive of how God thinks of us and who we are in light salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.
Here are a few of them:
- v. 1 saint
- v. 1 faithful in Christ Jesus
- v. 3 blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ
- v. 4 chosen before the foundation of the earth
- v. 4 holy and blameless in Christ
- v. 5 predestined to adoption as [a] son
- etc., etc…
You get the point, right? We see ourselves one way “for as he thinks within himself, so he is” (Prov. 23.8 NASB), yet God knows our hearts. If we were to examine our own self talk, we’d get a very accurate picture of who we think we are. But, what would happen if we were to hold those results up against the way God truly sees us in Christ? Just because we think it doesn’t mean it’s true.
There are dozens of “identity” statements throughout the NT that result from our faith in Christ. God not only put them there, but also preserved and protected the canon of scripture not that we would worship the word of God, rather that we would worship the God of the Word, and come to know Him and consequently how He thinks of us… in Christ.
If you are in Christ, you are a new creation, adopted by God and given the gift of sonship [which includes daughtership, but is no relation to the Mother Ship] and eternal life. That may be very different from how you see yourself or think about yourself. God knows the relationship between what is in our hearts and what comes out of our mouths. He also knows that the way we think of ourselves determines a lot of how we behave. If we would just obey the scripture and think of ourselves as He does, what difference would it make in our day, our week, our weakness, our battles against the private thoughts that so easily corrupt our day?
Let’s not go back to being the “stingy [evil eye]” man who sees himself like Smeagol. Let’s trust in the only One who holds the words of life.
Cristine and I both have a tendency to lean toward the Psalms in our reading during troubling times. Isn’t there something refreshing to know that David, a flawed man, yet a man “after God’s own heart” was used to write some of the most God-exalting yet gritty and honest-to-God poetry in the whole canon of scripture? We both find it very comforting that in one line of a psalm, David is railing on about how the wicked prosper or how his bones ache because of his affliction(s), yet a line or two later he’s on about the faithfulness of God or God being a refuge and strength.
As we walk alongside Brianna, our oldest daughter, through the most challenging season of her life, we’re also engaged in conversation and discipleship with other men and women who are experiencing the same deeply troubling adolescent trauma with their own children. We’re grief stricken at the painful and damaging choices we’re seeing so many teenagers make and the struggles that are so very present and real in their lives, fueled and exacerbated by a media rich, pornified, and bullying culture And, we are encouraged. Yep. Encouraged.
In Psalm 10, King David is ruling over Israel, supreme in command of the nation next to God alone, yet seeing the injustice and self-centered, godlessness of the wicked in his culture, wonders what you or I might wonder against the same unjust backdrop – “Where is God?! Am I the only one seeing this stuff?!” (rollover for Psalm 10:1) One piece of perspective David never loses, even in questioning God is this: he sees spots, “bright spots” of God’s faithfulness. Throughout, he refers to God as YHWH – “I Am, That I Am”, the holiest of God’s names. “I Am” implies God’s sovereignty and omnipresence and later, David backs off a bit to acknowledge that”
“you, O God, do see trouble and grief;
you consider it to take it in hand.”
and lands the plane at:
16 The LORD is King for ever and ever;
the nations will perish from his land.
17 You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
18 defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.”
In the midst of our troubles and the great struggles Brianna and her peers are experiencing in the midst of a wicked and godless culture, God has repeatedly shown us glimpses of brightness – “You hear, O LORD, the desire… You encourage them, and listen to their cry.”
Where are the “bright spots” in your current strife? Where are the places where God has already shown Himself to be the faithful and just defender of the poor, marginalized, suffering, and/or righteous? If not for you, for others? In light of the fact that God owes us nothing but judgment, yet has given us mercy and grace by slaying Christ on the cross in our place, what do we really have to complain or ache about? (Neither David, Cristine, nor I say this flippantly, but as men and woman currently bearing turmoil, stress, and even persecution.)
Can I trust that though I don’t “see” God coming to my aid/defense/rescue that He is not ignoring, forgetting, or deleting my prayers from His inbox? Are you banking too heavily on rewards for righteousness and punishment for wickedness in this age rather than on the age to come?
God is still on the throne – if we are followers of the living, resurrected Christ and not mere deists or theists, we worship a God who does not turn a blind eye to our troubles and will show Himself in “bright spots”, if not during the storm, at least after. We do not have a temporal hope, we have an eternal hope – that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2. Cor. 5.10)” The wicked will not go unpunished forever. The righteous will not go unrewarded forever. There will come a day, though it may not be today or even this age, but God is watching and rewards are both His to give and forthcoming.
PRAY: “Lord, You are the great ‘I AM’. Sometimes, it’s hard to imagine that You are watching, present, or even good when compared to what is going on around me. Help me to know that You are watching, You are present, and You can be trusted to be good. By the power of Your grace via the Holy Spirit, encourage me in this time – show me a ‘bright spot’ in the storm to remind me of Your past, current, and future faithfulness.”
Last the weekend, Cristine had a great conversation with Brianna, our oldest daughter about some deep matters that have been troubling her lately. Brianna was talking with a group of her peers outside of a church setting – in fact, it was an expressly “secular”, group counseling session. There was an implied rule in the conversation that “religion” was a touchy subject and to tread lightly in that territory so as to not “offend” anyone. Ironically, through, each of the participants were asked to share what was most important in their life. As the responses came out, from “friends” to “family” to “music”, Brie noticed herself getting more and more uncomfortable with the “tread lightly” restriction. “I felt like I was going to explode.” When it was her turn, she said “my relationship with God”.