Sunday, June 27, 2010

The quiet comforts

This last week was a doozy. I found myself so discouraged by the end of the week, I literally just wanted to leave my life behind, sever all connections and live alone with my family in the woods somewhere. Every now and then I have this kind of desire. I grow so frustrated - hurt is probably a better word - by the people around me that I wish I could just start a new life somewhere else. But I know that’s not how God has designed us. Unfortunately personal relationships with other people are part of God’s great plan for us. Also unfortunately, these personal relationships seem to be the great source of frustration and pain in life.
When going through a period of discouragement, I find it very easy to simply embrace feelings of self-pity and bask in the dark feelings that permeate my soul. This is not a proper response, though. We are to look to the great God who created us, saved us and is currently making us into something better to comfort us. It’s not an easy thing to do when feeling so black.
On this particular occasion I was lifted again to a thankful spirit by two circumstances. The two circumstances came in the form of two different means, both impersonal and personal.
Due to my sad state, I decided to pull away from my wife while our daughter was sleeping and sit quietly upstairs on our patio. It just happened to be the time for the sunset. I sat quietly watching the sky change colours, brilliantly. It had been raining all weekend long, and had only just stopped, so there were a lot of differently shaped clouds in the air, dancing rapidly across the sky. There quick entrances and exits on the stage made for a constantly changing scene before my eyes. Curiously there was one cloud that maintained its position in the sky, while all the others hurried on before it. The sky behind the fixed cloud lit up in a bright gold. It seemed as though there was a fire behind it blazing uncontrollably and that the small dark clouds passing before it were the smoke from that fire. It also gave the effect that the sky had been ripped open at this one place and I was being given a glimpse into the dwelling place of the Lord. Off to the side there were clouds stretched out like a cotton sheet, couched with red all around. The scene looked entirely surreal, like a cheaply made set, and yet it was all real. Somewhere as I was thinking about God reigning on His throne, ruling the heavens and the earth, I glanced behind me and saw the largest rainbow perhaps I have ever seen (most good rainbows seem to take this superlative quality). I was amazed and thanked the Lord for His promise. After showing me His glory, He reminded me of His promises. I sat there thinking, thanking. I began to think about Brian MacLaren for some reason. I thought about how he believes Genesis is just a book of fables that people thought up to explain natural events. For him the account of the flood is a nice way to explain rainbows. I began to not care about Brian MacLaren anymore. He can believe what he wants to, but he’s missing out on the promises of God. My heart grew warm with thanksgiving that the Lord spared mankind through Noah, and that He promised never to bring about such a terrible catastrophe again. I was reminded again of G.K. Chesterton’s quip: ‘Oscar Wilde said that sunsets were not valued because we could not pay for sunsets. But Oscar Wilde was wrong; we can pay for sunsets. We can pay for them by not being Oscar Wilde.’ I will pay for my sunset and my rainbow by not being Brian MacLaren. The payment is worth it as well, as God rewarded me with an incredible affinity to Himself through a revealing of His glory and a reminder of His promises.
After the heavens had finished their performance I went back downstairs to my family. This is when the second joy found its way into my heart. My daughter for some reason was standing at the couch, supporting herself with one arm. She looked at me, smiled, and then started babbling excitedly. Her eyes gleamed with a rapturous joy. She seemed to be telling us that she was happy to be with her mommy and daddy. My wife and I just sat there listening to her, watching her explore the world around her and grow excited. Every now and then she would look up at us, smile and babble. Our hearts melted at every sound. God used this little girl to remind that relationships aren’t all bad. Joy can and should be found in our relationships with one another. It only depends on how much we value the glory of God, and how often we think on His promises.

Friday, June 25, 2010

What to do when you have nothing to say...

So I’ve set a goal for myself to write a blog once a week. It’s not really a firm resolution, rather just a loose ideal I’d like to maintain. I wouldn’t be particularly crushed if I were to miss a week or two here or there. The problem is though, as with most things, when I began to make small excuses here or there to not do something I’ve previously decided I want to do, it often leads to abandoning the task altogether. It seems that the small instances of not fulfilling goals tend to be the small cracks in the windshield that grow and eventually shatter the glass. Certain things tend to be easier to fulfill. The things that simply require me doing something non-creative. Things like prayer, reading or studying. Goals involving these kinds of things are simple to fulfill; all you have to do is do them! Not fulfilling them can usually be directly linked to laziness. But what about creative goals? Things like painting, writing or composing music? These things can really pose quite a different problem. Even if you set aside the time to do them, you may just find yourself at a loss for what to write or paint about, or how your composition should come together. Particularly with my goal to blog, I’ve faced the problem of what to do when I have nothing to say!

So here I am. I have literally nothing to say, but you’re still reading this as if I did have something to say. You half-expect to unearth some rare jewel of wisdom by the act of my reflecting on nothing in particular. You think to yourself, ‘He can’t possibly write about absolutely nothing!‘ Yet here I am, and I assure you I’m only reflecting on my problem of having nothing of worth to write about. My soul doesn’t feel like singing the praises of the rain that’s finally coming here, nor does it feel up to the task of pondering the great mysteries of life and faith. I just feel kind of tapped. I have some studying I need to do, I have some reading I can get done and I have a few other menial tasks that I can attend to perfectly well right now. What I can’t do is offer any insights into life at all - except maybe this one: there are times when we have nothing to say.

Over the last few years I’ve learned that it’s okay for me to be quiet. Not only is it okay to be quiet, but it’s actually preferred that I don’t add my thoughts on issues that I haven’t spent any quality time thinking through. By speaking I render myself vulnerable to being wrong. It’s okay to be wrong, but it’s not okay to be wrong while offering advice to other people. ‘I don’t know.‘ Those three words have become a regular part of my speech over the last few years. I don’t know but I’m being honest enough with you and myself to admit my lack of knowledge.

If you don’t really know me well, you won’t understand how big a deal this is for me. I used to pride myself on knowledge. The irony of that is that I prided myself on knowledge when I had next to none. Now I can gladly say that I’m not sure about the right answer on particular issues, but I’ll do my best to find the answer. I’m now convinced that I do know some things (a very little still), because I searched for the answers when I realized I didn’t know.

So what is this blog about? The random prattlings of a confused man? Maybe. The whole point of this blog entry was to answer the question, ‘what do you do when you have nothing to say?’ I can confidently say that the answer is this:
I don’t know.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Why Won't Anyone Listen To Me?

I had to think for a couple seconds about the title of this blog. I wanted to highlight the need for patience, prayer and humility, but titles with those concepts just wouldn’t adequately describe the purpose of this entry. The truth is, I want this blog to be an adequate reminder of an attitude and practice that I want to maintain in my life. I figured the title should reflect the attitude and line of questioning I had when God revealed to me the untrusting nature of my belief.

Let me set the background scenario for how I began to think of these things. The first thing you should know is that I believe the Bible to be true and adequate for training us in all areas of life. I believe it should be the primary source for Christians to understand how our lives should be lived. This would include our attitudes at work, at home and at church. It would also include the way we as a corporate body structure our churches. I believe firmly that God has not left us without instruction to something as dear to Him as His Church. I believe firmly that Scripture should drive us in all that we do. Part of that is submission to church leadership. That’s a background of my beliefs relevant to this discussion. Now I’d like to detail my predicament.

Believing all these things has translated historically into a lack of grace in my life when discussing with people who seem to me to have impure doctrinal beliefs. I have historically grown impatient with those who seem to misuse the Bible, or simply not understand it correctly. The last few years, God has been working on my heart to make me more gracious. Unfortunately for those around me, it’s been a slow process. I don’t want to write to much about the actual scenario, lest those involved would feel I had betrayed their trust, or talked badly about them - that is not my intention. I’m simply writing these things so that I remember them in the future, and I feel that they may be of profit for the three people that read my blog. For sake of understanding what I want to share, it’s important (at least for me) to know (for me to remember) the context of how I learned it. So here is the scenario in a nutshell: I have very formed beliefs about what the Church is and how certain things should be practised. I was asked to do something by my church leadership which I didn’t feel comfortable with, as I thought it betrayed the truth of Scripture on particular areas of Church practice. That is the scenario. What to do in this situation was a source of great concern for me.

I began with prayer. My prayer followed three main lines of petitioning: that God show me how to react to the situation, that God show me if I erred in my interpretation of the Scripture and that God move the hearts of the leadership to understand the Scriptures correctly. All of these things, of course, I prayed would be according to the will of God. As I was praying for these things, God really spoke to my heart. He began to reveal an attitude in my heart that was untrusting of His methods and plans. I grew convinced through my study of the passages in question that my interpretation was accurate, but I noticed a desperate feeling in my heart to see my church practice according to the Scripture. This, needless to say, is not a bad thing. What was bad was my willingness to judge my leaders based on their not understanding the Scripture. I was eager to prove to them the truth of Scripture. I was willing to attack their current practices and argue about what was true and right. I was not willing to submit to their leadership and recognize that the same Holy Spirit which dwells in me also dwells in them. I was not willing to trust that God was working in this church, and that He had things under control. I began to feel uneasy about the situation, and I doubted whether I could have any ministry at the church. I began considering whether I needed to begin searching for a new church.

But God in his ever so gracious, ever so tender manner spoke to my heart. ‘It’s okay,’ He said. ‘Don’t forget why this issue is important to you. It’s important to you because I said it’s important. You can trust that if something is important to me, I will work it out. The truth is that I know what I’m doing, and I’m working at your local church. Take your stand and refuse to do what they’ve asked, because your conscience is convicting you. Then submit to their leadership and follow whatever decision they come to. Don’t forget that I chose them to shepherd my church, and I’ve given them authority over you. Don’t trespass my Word with the guise of following my Word. Don’t be divisive. Don’t judge. Just trust that I’m working in the church, and I will execute my will. Remember that I’m a patient God, patient even with you when you sin against me, and I’m asking you to be patient with my people, as I’m patient with you.’

So I have a problem with trust, do I? As I began to search my heart I recognized that yes, yes indeed I do have a problem with trusting the Lord. I give up so quickly because ‘things aren’t right.’ Thank God He doesn’t give up so easily, because when it comes to me at least, things are almost never right. Trust. That’s what I’ve gotta do, huh? Trust.

The concept is so simple: God knows everything, He has power to accomplish anything He wants to, so just trust that He knows the circumstances of my particular situation, and trust that He has the power to accomplish what’s best in my particular situation. So simple… to give lip-service to. I began finding how difficult it is to just trust that God is working in other people’s lives. As I began trying to focus on this idea, though, there was a very real positive practice that began to develop in my life. Prayer. Real heartfelt, intercessory, supplicatory, thankful, penitent prayer. I started to approach all my relationships with this main idea at the forefront of my mind: God is working in this person’s life. I began to stop trying to convince people of how right I am, or even of how they need to follow the Scripture, and began to just pray for these people sincerely. It doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped telling people they need to submit to the Lord or follow the Scripture, but I’ve realized that it’s not my job to convince them. I can honestly leave it up to the Lord! He knows what He’s doing. If there is something Biblical that is important to me, it’s infinitely more important to Him. If I don’t see Biblical practices being practised, it’s entirely arrogant of me to think that I can somehow cause them to be practised. God is entirely more powerful than I am, and He cares for these things entirely more than I do. More than that, He’s asked me to pray that they occur, and trust Him.

So I trust. I trust God to work in other people’s lives. I trust God that the same Spirit He’s given me, He’s also given to others who have believed on His Son. What’s that coming my way? Oh, freedom. Hi freedom, it’s nice to finally know you! The freedom that comes with a simple trust in the Lord and His Word has been monumental in my life. I’m well aware that to most Christians all that I’ve just written is completely basic, fundamental and boring. For me though, because I haven’t been practising it, it’s been transforming. Why won’t anyone listen to me? Because I’m just a jerk trying to convince people that I’m right about the Bible. Why would anyone listen to me? Because I’ve simply trusted the Lord and prayed that He would work in their hearts, and when I discuss the Bible with them, I’m not trying to convince them I know something they don’t, but graciously offering what the Lord has taught me and what about the Scripture drives me to do what I do, and believe what I believe.