Here’s a confession for you. God messed up my life.
Maybe that is a strange way of putting it, but He did, and He continues to. In fact, I believe order to be in a true, committed relationship with Him, He has to screw up our lives. And if he hasn’t screwed up yours, then perhaps you are not as committed as you thought you were.
Before you start to hate me and stop reading, let me explain what I mean.
“For whoever saves his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for me shall save it.” (Luke 9:24)
Either way, we are losing our lives. This verse tells us that when we begin to involve ourselves in the things of God, the comfortable life we knew, begins to feel much less comfortable.
Earlier this week I had what I like to call a two faced day. I started off the day in God’s word and in prayer with Him. I really felt as though I was abiding in Him the way John 15 describes. Then lunchtime came around, and for whatever reason for the rest of the day I started living for myself. I began filling my head and conversation with earthly things, and God’s word, glory, and name were absent from my mind.
Not much changed physically however, in fact, most people around me probably couldn’t even tell. But I had a deep sense in my heart that I was no longer abiding in the Lord.
It was a terrible feeling. I walked around the entire second half of the day, very aware that I was not abiding in the presence of God and it left me discontented, grumpy, and quick-tempered.
But then something hit me. This is how I used to live all the time. I used to never be aware, or even concerned if I was abiding in the Lord or not. I lived an empty life everyday and never thought twice about it, I was blissfully ignorant.
But then God came along and started planting seeds of growth in my heart, and as those seeds began to take root I became more and more attuned to God’s presence and His will, and now, I can’t live outside of it without feeling a holy discontent.
God has messed up my life.
I used to be comfortably unaware that I was living an empty life. I could be selfish, rude, and greedy all I wanted without feeling a twinge of conviction. Life sure was simpler then.
Now, living an empty life no longer feels empty, but it feels stuffed full of all of the wrong things that I know cannot deliver the life God desires for me. I have become aware of my selfishness, my bad attitude, my greed. God is ruining my life!
And I couldn’t be more thankful for it.
That discontent I feel with an empty lifestyle is indeed a reason for thanksgiving. I can no longer be content with my selfishness, because now I’m aware that there is another option, another way to live. It means that God has shown me the light, so I can never again be contented with living in darkness. He has led me to fresh water, so I can no longer enjoy licking the dirt. He has laid me down in green pastures, so that I am no longer comfortable on a bed of thorns.
If we are numb to the pain, a bed of thorns can actually feel pretty comfortable, but sooner or later we will be so badly cut up that it will choke us and kill us, whether we feel the scratches or not. God helps us to feel those thorns and long for a bed of soft grass. He makes us aware of the emptiness, the foolishness, the selfishness of our lives, so that we would forsake all of that and enter into a new way of living. God wrecks our lives, not because He’s trying to guilt us, but because He is trying so hard to save us and turn us towards faith in Him.
This hurts sometimes, but I would rather feel the pain of a few thorns then unknowingly bleed to death on my thorn bed.
I think a lot of Christians still live in the Old Testament. By this I mean we live as though some of the constricting laws of the Old Testament still apply to us today. I am not talking about the Ten Commandments or the law to love the Lord your God, I believe all that still stands. It’s all well and good. I am mainly talking about our attitude towards the presence of God.
Most of us walk around as though the tabernacle still exists. As if there are only a few choice people who can step into the presence of God, people who are more spiritually connected then I am, pastors, missionaries, Jesus-freaks, whoever it might be. They experience God’s presence, not me. It may be a subconscious thing, but in the depths of our hearts we really don’t believe that we can truly enter into the presence of God and see His face. We either don’t believe, or you’re like me, afraid that God’s presence and what He might reveal to you could mess up your ‘comfortable Christianity’.
The truth, however, is this; we cannot live as though the tabernacle and the holy of holies still exist. We live in the light of a new truth that the writer of Hebrews talks about at length…
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart and with full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:19-22)
We cannot leave God’s presence in the tabernacle, only to be visited once a year. We cannot stuff God into a shrine because the curtain was torn when Jesus gave up His soul and the Spirit of God, the presence of God now dwells in each and every one of us.
My prayer is that I would heed the instruction the writer of Hebrews gives and draw near to God with a sincere heart. It’s a scary and “spiritual” thing, yes. And it will probably ruin my comfortable life and throw me way off balance. But I would rather do flips on a balance beam with God as my spotter, then sit comfortably on the sidelines and never even enter the competition.
Is it possible for our influence to outlive us?
I pray everyday that my influence on this earth would not be limited to the amount of time I spend in my physical body. I pray that my sphere of influence would spread much wider then those whom I have come into direct contact with. That’s why I pray the promise of Daniel 12:3…
“they that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars forever and ever”
When I first found that verse, my heart was immediately stirred. As an eight year-old kid, it was my dream to be an astronomer. Not your likely fire fighter or profession baseball player dream, but there was something about the sky, and especially the stars that captivated my young mind. And while astronomy is no longer part of my dream, I still find the workings of the universe to be fascinating.
Our universe is an immeasurably vast masterpiece made up of millions of stars, all of which shine their own light. The one we are most familiar with of course is our sun. The sun’s light travels 93 million miles from the surface of the sun to the surface of our earth in about 8 minutes. That is over 670 million miles per hour. That is the speed of light.
Now, because the sun is so close to us in comparison with other stars, we can measure our distance from it in regular miles. For all the others stars that line the night sky however, we measure our distance from them in light years. One light year, the distance that light travels in one earthly year, is about 6 trillion miles. To give you an idea, the next closest star to the earth is called Proxima Centauri, which resides about 4.24 light years away, the equivalent of nearly 26 trillion miles. And even beyond that, there are stars that sit hundreds, thousands, even millions of light years away from us.
Now I bore you will all of this science to hopefully make a point. In school, we were all taught that if the sun were to burn out, it would still give light to the earth for eight minutes while it’s final burst of light traveled to the earth’s surface. I think that is so cool, that the sun, even after it burns out, will still give light and warmth to the earth for eight more minutes. And what I think is even cooler, is that a star that is one million light years away could burn out, and it would still twinkle light in our night sky for a million years after it was gone. It’s light would still be part of the beautiful tapestry of the night sky one million years after it had burnt out. That is some powerful light.
My prayer is that my faith would shine as bright as those stars that are one million light years away. I pray that even after I have burnt out, the influence of my faith would still give light to the world, creating God’s beautiful tapestry of salvation in the human race.
Is it possible for our influence to outlive us? Absolutely! By the fruit we bear on the this earth, the spiritual ripples of our faith will spread for years to come, and if we’re lucky, maybe even light years.
“God does not give us anything we cannot handle”. I DISAGREE. I don’t mean to be brash or harsh, but I’ve found that in my life God gives me things that I can’t handle all the time, and He is there to pull me through them. If God only gave me things that I could handle, then what is the reason for faith? Why would I believe in Him and submit myself to Him? I wouldn’t, because I would be able to accomplish and handle everything set before me. I would have zero dependence on the Father. I would be an emancipated minor.
So the statement above, though partly true, is not worded correctly. What it should say is, “God does not give us anything He can’t handle”. He gives us things that we can’t handle all the time simply to draw us into a reliance on Him so that when we come through the other side, we know without a shadow of a doubt that He deserves all the glory and praise for it.
And to go even further, if bringing God glory is the chief goal in my life, as I believe it is for Christians, then I should be praying for, not against circumstances and trials beyond my capabilities to overcome, because when I do come out on the other side, God has bolstered my testimony. He has given me a more glorious story to tell as I go about my walk speaking to people about the amazing things He has done for me.
“Give thanks in all circumstances,” for God is bolstering your testimony and preparing you to change someone’s heart with your story.
Something else that I see a lot of people praying is for the Lord to ‘bless them’. Now I think this is a wonderful prayer and God will be faithful to answer it. But once again, in my life I am finding that this prayer is incomplete. I don’t just find myself praying for God’s blessing, but I pray that God would not bless me beyond what I can handle.
At the end of the trial when I receive the blessing, I pray that I would not be blessed so far to the point that I would try and steal the glory from God and covet the rewards for myself. A blessing can be more dangerous then trial if we misunderstand who deserves the glory for it. I always need to caution myself when a blessing comes along. I caution myself to make sure that the blessing would flow right through me and on to the Father who truly deserves the glory for it.
The conclusion I draw from this then is that our logical instincts tell us to pray for less trials and more blessings, but maybe the real prayer that will bring God the most glory would be less blessings and more trials. The scariest prayer in the world is, “God, bring me to a place of full dependence on you”. But the ‘so that’ in that prayer is one of the most beautiful, “so that I would know without a shadow of a doubt that you carried me through to the blessing, and that I could give testimony of your great power and glory to all the earth.”
It’s big, it’s bold, it’s countercultural, so there must be something to it.
The idle sand sat lifeless by the sea, subject to the movement of The Great Wind.
“The greatest joy is the cry of ‘Eloi’, said The Great Wind.
The sand did not understand.
“The most painful separation is the implementation of a divine end to segregation in our generation and beyond.” The Great Wind explained.
“You speak in a strange way,” said the sand, “And what you say seems backwards. Pain brings forth pain. Joy brings forth joy. I see that here on my beach.”
The Great Wind sighed and the sand became aware of the potential of it’s raw power.
“This separation brings for a congregation. To fuel the nation with inspiration and dreams.”
The sand did not understand this prophesy either.
Dreaming is the sand’s greatest undiscovered weapon.
‘I cannot dream’ thought the sand, ‘I am only a tiny grain.’
“But dreams are what makes sand into a beach of beauty,” breathed The Great Wind, reading the sand’s mind, "Not the beach of weak, destructible sand castles that surrounds you now."
“You’re confusing me,” said the sand, “What do you want from me?”
The Great Wind softly whispered to the sand, “I blow, you go.”
Then there was a pause.
And another pause.
And a very long pause.
“Okay,” said the sand.
And then it started to rain.
If Christ is truly the bridegroom and His church is truly the bride, then we must commit ourselves to creating a wonderfully happy marriage with our Savior.
Now I’m no expert, but from what I’ve heard and what I’ve read marriage is no cake walk. A healthy marriage requires such things as devotion, humility, service, teamwork, commitment, patience, kindness, gentleness, and of course, time spent together.
Lately, God has been teaching me a lot about the time I spend with Him. None of us spend enough time with God, that is certain. In order to have a thriving relationship with anybody, you need to spend time with them. God is no different. We’ve all heard that sermon. However, my mind of late has mostly been focusing on where and how I spend time with Him.
Throughout the Christian’s spiritual journey we develop traditions with God where we feel like we connect with Him best. Some of us have a special place where we like to pray in the morning, or a place in the sanctuary where we like to sit during a church service, or a certain posture of worship that we always revert to. For example, once a year I like to travel back to the bench on a university campus near my hometown where I took my first step with Christ at the age of thirteen. I like to meet with God there once a year in prayer to reflect on the year passed and the growth that He has accomplished in me.
These traditions that we establish are great, and they are important to many of us, including myself. But let me put it to you this way, if you were married, and for ten, twenty, even fifty years, and you only ate at the same three restaurants and went to the same movie theatre on date nights with your spouse, do you think your marriage would be alive, thriving, and exciting? Do you think you would know your spouse as intimately as possible? Do you think your 50th anniversary slide show would be any fun to watch? Like I said, I’m no expert, but I don’t think so.
It’s the same with God. If we only seek the Lord in the ways we have always sought after Him, then we will continue to experience in the same exact way. And this might be fine for some people, but I believe that by doing this, we are putting God in a box. And our vision of God only stays confined to the boxes we put him in.
The people we know the best are the people that we have spent the most time with in wonderfully diverse situations. Circumstances change our perception of people, and they change our perception of God as well. If we change our surroundings, or our posture, we see things in a new way, a new light.
I wrote something that I felt God speaking to me the other day in my journal, God said, “Jon, each morning, meet with Me in a new place and in a new way, and I will show you something new about Myself. Try something, try anything, and I will be there.” To put it another way, when we begin to experiment with God in new places and new postures, He breaks open those boxes and shatters what we once thought He was capable of.
For the past week I have been trying this and the results have been unbelievable. And the things you try don’t have to be earth shattering. One morning, instead of kneeling while I prayed, I stood up with my hands in the air, and it totally changed the way I felt the Spirit’s presence, because the posture of our physical body affects the posture of our spiritual heart. Our circumstances affect our perceptions.
So today, try something new with God. If you have never raised your hands before in worship, try it, see what it’s like. Do your quiet time at a coffee shop and silently pray for the people around you. Climb up to the roof and pray from up there, do your bible reading out loud, sit down during worship and silently pray the words of the songs in your heart.
God has revealed to me one of the most exciting parts of faith in Him is the potential for experimentation, and it’s something that I have been missing in my walk for a long time. We can meet Him anywhere and talk to Him about anything, so why not try everything. I want my 50th anniversary slide show with God to be filled with wonderful, diverse images of wonderfully diverse memories. Try something crazy, what’s the worst that could happen, or better yet, what’s the best that could happen?
Early this morning I took a long prayer walk around my neighborhood. I was praying to God about a few ministry-type endeavors that I plan on working for this summer and during this particular portion of my spiritual stroll, God did one of those things where he took all the thoughts and prayers I’ve been having and connected them all to reveal a Biblical truth about who He is and how we should relate to Him. Gotta love the Holy Spirit.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the physical and the spiritual, especially in how they relate to the ministry of our lives. No matter what any sort of sci-fi nerd or palm reader tries to tell you, there are two realms to the world in which we live, the physical, and the spiritual. The physical realm is everything we see, hear, touch smell, and taste every single day. The spiritual realm is the unseen and often un-thought of workings of God through His Holy Spirit.
So, I began to think, if there is a physical realm and a spiritual realm, there are therefore two different forms of justice that God wishes to accomplish within these realms, physical justice, and spiritual justice. This is what I have been praying about, that God would accomplish both physical and spiritual justice through the ministries I am involved in this summer.
We live in a society where it is widely accepted to serve you’re the physical needs of your fellow man. Everyone would agree that giving food to the food pantry or clothes to the Salvation Army is a good thing. Physical justice, to provide a definition, is providing for the basic physical needs of those who lack the resources to provide for themselves. And the good news is, this sort of service is very much on the increase. Countless charities exist in the hopes of bringing food to the hungry, or medicine to the sick. Even for profit businesses like TOMS Shoes have integrated into the heart of their business model a way to serve the less fortunate. And while I say that there are countless organizations out there, there still aren’t enough. Thousands are still going hungry and dying from lack of clean drinking water. We have barely made a dent on bringing full physical justice to the globe, but we are well on our way.
I think, however, that the truly neglected realm is the spiritual realm. This makes sense because spiritual realm is unseen not everyone believes in God. But I find that Christians ignore the spiritual realm and spiritual justice just as much as non-Christians in our ministry work.
Now please do not hear me wrong on this. I believe in physical justice, I believe that we are called to serve our fellow brothers and sisters and to care for the sick and provide food for the hungry, no one can deny that is based in the Holy Scriptures.
But if we were to look at the narrative of the Bible, physical justice was only half the battle. The Israelites, for example, were slaves in Egypt, a completely unjust state of living, so God called Moses to set them free. Justice! Right? Not really. They were then stuck in the desert without food. So God provides Manna and quail from the heavens to feed them. Justice! Right? Sort of. They still have no place to call home, then God delivers the city of Jericho into their hands. Justice! Right? Not quite yet. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament we watch God’s people flow in and out of power and earthly prestige, no matter how many times God provides for their physical needs. They may have found food, and a home, but they were still hungry and lost.
This leads me to believe that God desires more then just physical justice for his sons and daughters. If we look at the ministry of Jesus, we see no doubt that physical service is important. Jesus healed countless people. He fed the 5,000. He provided a huge haul for Simon and the other fishermen. But what was Jesus really here to do? What was His main mission? What do we remember Him for? We remember His sacrificial death on the cross, where He took our sin punishment on Himself, then when He rose again three days later, thereby defeating death and sin, giving salvation and grace to all mankind. This was the largest act of spiritual justice the world has ever seen, and it changed the course of human history.
The point is this, God calls us to serve the physical needs of others. But unless we also give ourselves to serving their spiritual needs, our physical service means very little. Physical justice alone cannot satisfy a life long term. We can give a lost sheep food and dress them up in new clothes, but until you change the heart of the sheep, they are still lost.