I recently asked the question in one of our meetings, “Why is it that we (the church) sometimes seem to have so much trouble going deeper and being more vulnerable in our relationships with each other?” The answers that came back were remarkably consistent. In a nutshell, the standard response was “we’re tiered of getting hurt.” One guy likened his hesitancy to pursue relationships to the memory of being at the Jr. High dance and being afraid of crossing the room to ask a girl to dance for fear that she might turn him down. Rejection can be a crushing blow to our identity and sense of self worth… even as adults. We all have an inborn need to feel that who we are matters, to God and to others. But in our pursuit of validation, we have often been reminded of how limited our capacity can be to bestow value and worth on one another. Some of our attempts at genuine relationship have even resulted in a crystal clear confirmation of that which we fear the most… the sense that who we are and what we have to offer really doesn’t matter that much. This can be especially painful when that message is communicated through our local church experience. And yet, because we were created to function in the context of intimacy and community, we are subconsciously driven to keep putting ourselves out there in hopes of attaining at least a tolerable level of acceptance and approval.
In the 1940s, Abraham Maslow, one of the early proponents of developmental psychology, proposed that our most basic needs include:
- Self Actualization – our need to reach our full potential and destiny.
- Esteem – our need to be valued and respected by self and others.
- Social – our need to be connected to a larger group and to be loved and accepted within that group.
He also noted that we will sometimes be willing to deny ourselves even our most basic of needs, like food, in order to gain acceptance and a sense of belonging within a group. I believe Maslow understood some things that many of us in the church have somehow lost touch with. The top three tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can easily be supported by scripture and are clearly in sink with the Lord’s heart for his people. Does he want us to reach our intended purpose and destiny? To be all we were meant to be? How important is it that we have a deep sense that we are valued, loved, accepted, and connected to something much bigger than ourselves? More importantly, how many of us currently feel that these needs are being sufficiently met?
Because of our culture’s transient nature and the unspoken devotion we have to our long standing local church paradigm, many believers have basically learned to live without some of the very things that we need the most. Even more concerning is the fact that some of us have gone as far as to simply give up our hope of attaining meaningful relationship altogether. There seems to be a growing trend among Christians to adopt the attitude of, “It’s just not worth it… I’ve been burnt before, I’ll just get burnt again.” This has produced an army of believers who no longer have the bond of being united against a common enemy, but now feel it necessary to trust no one and to guard their heart so closely that none are allowed to enter its deeper recesses… including God. This has left much of the bride feeling very alone and isolated.
The lord provided us with the quintessential example of vulnerability in John 13:3-5
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
It has always amazed me that Jesus, knowing full well that he was soon going to be betrayed, rejected, and completely abandoned by his closest of friends, was still willing to serve them in such a personal way. His humility and unguarded vulnerability remained in tact, even in the face of ultimate rejection and unparalleled emotional pain. But notice the first verse in this passage, the Lord had an acute awareness “that he had come from God and was returning to God” I submit to you that Jesus was able to let his guard down only because of the nature of his relationship to his Father. His identity was secure. He knew where he had come from, and he knew where he was headed. Although he loved those men dearly, he did not need their validation or approval in order to serve them in this most intimate and gracious of ways.
At last count, I have held a paid staff position at 10 different churches. Since 1984, my primary vocation has been that of a Pastor. In that time, my wife and I have served in everything from Mega-Monsters to small home churches. From conservative mainline denominational to independent charismatic… upper class suburban to inner-city poor. One thing has remained consistent. People come to church for many reasons, but ultimately they stay for only one reason… relationships. We will invariably put up with all kinds of church craziness when we are “rightly joined and fitted together.” But we will bail at the first sign of trouble if we have the sense that no one really gives a rip about us, or that we won’t be accepted for who we really are. It’s time that Christians come to terms with our need for belonging and acceptance. Ultimately it is about our relationship with the Father. We must constantly be in pursuit of a deeper revelation of his unconditional love and acceptance of us as his children. But this is where we’re missing it. WE ARE TO BE OUR FATHER’S EXPRESSION OF LOVE TO ONE ANOTHER. How do we best receive God’s love for us if not through another’s loving touch, or words, or actions? Jesus clearly understood this principle. He was a living breathing testimony of how we’re to conduct ourselves as believers. Did he wall off his heart for fear of further injury? Did he avoid meaningful relationship in order to forgo rejection? No, he kept throwing himself out there… serving, healing, and ministering compassion through up close and personal contact. Though it is clear that he frequently escaped the constant drain of ministry so he could spend uninterrupted time with his father, he just kept coming back for more, finally to endure unspeakable torture and death as his final demonstration of love.
I believe the Lord is saddened by the overall level of relational superficiality that most believers are currently experiencing in their local church. In truth, what or who’s to blame for this reality is probably a mute point… but as church leaders, it is our responsibility to do something about it. And more often than not, it starts with us. Church leadership will undoubtedly provide plenty of opportunities for relational strife and personal heartbreak. Many pastors, myself included, have had to fight off the tendency of becoming overly protective of their heart in order to survive. But erecting impenetrable walls around our heart eventually results in love starvation and an overwhelming sadness or anger toward God and others.
The next reformation for the church in the U.S. must involve some kind of systematic emotional restoration effort for its people. Christianity has to be lived from the heart. Our passion and emotions must be engaged and alive both vertically and horizontally if we hope to accomplish anything of eternal value. If we find ourselves trying to do all the right things, but our primary motivation is our sense of obligation or duty, we won’t last very long. When we remain offended, or we refuse to seek healing for our wounded emotions, we are a sitting duck for demonic oppression and torment. Our enemy knows that if he can get us to close off our heart… he’s got us. A little un-forgiveness goes a long way toward knocking us out of the race.
(1 Pet 2:4-5) tells us that Jesus was the original “ living Stone–rejected by men” and that “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house…” If you feel rejected, you have to understand that you’re in good company. Rejection is an avoidable right of passage for true spiritual authority. And somehow through the process of our heart being repeatedly wounded and healed… it becomes stronger and yet more pliable at the same time. When we are unwilling to be vulnerable with the Lord or others it is a sign that we have lost our trust in our Father’s sovereignty and loving watchfulness over us. The local church is that spiritual house built with living stones. And like the temple rebuilt by Zerubbabel, many of those stones will be burnt and forever scared by the ravages of battle. Nonetheless, in order for us to function properly… or even to survive for that matter, we must be connected to one another. Not just organizationally, but at the heart level.
The local church must regain its commitment to being a refuge for those in need of emotional restoration and a place where the building of meaningful relationships is a top priority. As individuals, we must pursue a deeper revelation of the Father’s unconditional love and acceptance for us so that we have that kind of genuine love to give to others. Only when we lay ourselves before the Lord and become vulnerable to his touch can we find the kind of intimacy that we all secretly long for. As a result of our poor treatment of one another, and our faulty perceptions of how we might feel the Lord has treated us, we can sometimes be prone to relational superficiality. We must resist this proclivity. Our spiritual life depends on it. Our ability to function as an integral member of the body depends on it. The fulfillment of our destiny depends on it. The next reformation will require a renewed focus on the value and importance of maintaining a deep, heartfelt relationship with the Lord and our fellow believers.
Jesus we really need help here. We want to serve you with a whole heart and an open Spirit. Please forgive us for holding on to our offendedness toward you. We know you love us and want nothing more than for us to be able to feel that love in a tangible way. Please forgive us for hanging on to our un-forgiveness toward our brothers and sisters. We trust you, and we release them and what they’ve done to us back to you. We recognize that they’re struggling and stumbling along just like we are. Forgive them. Please heal our emotional wounds. Heal your church Lord. Heal the bride so fully that her beauty will cause the heavens and the earth to swoon.
When Jesus was asked to provide the cliff notes version on how to be a Christian, he said “love God and love each other, cause that’s what this thing is all about.” RBT (Revised Bump Translation) Most would readily agree that Christianity, in its purest form, is truly simplistic. But for reasons apparently beyond our ability to comprehend, we often seem to make our faith and practice a lot more complicated than we would like it to be. Maybe it’s some kind of spiritual A.D.D., but we tend to quickly lose sight of that which was intended to be our primary focus as believers… loving God and loving others. Added to our struggle to stay properly focused is the fact that well intentioned pastors and church leaders sometimes get distracted by lesser truths and teachings and thus inadvertently cause much confusion and loss of clarity as it pertains to what is truly mission critical for the local church. We all have our pet doctrines and specific topics that we particularly enjoy propagating. But I would contend that even more concerning is our shameless addiction to maintaining the sanctity of how we do what we do every Sunday morning. Somehow, because we’ve been basically doing the same things the same way for the last several hundred years, we now associate singing songs and listening to someone talk for 45 minutes with being a believer. What has happened to us? The basis of our faith has become an event that most of us merely attend as a non-essential spectator. In turn, we’ve created a false perception of what it means to be a Christian. We’re not really living as Christians anymore, we’re singing songs about it and letting someone else indoctrinate us on their theories of what it might look like if we actually did something about it. Brothers and sisters, I submit to you that Christianity is not an event that we passively attend, but rather a life we must live and more fundamentally a real being that we must get to know as a friend.
It’s been said that to know someone is to love them. Before we can truly love anyone, we must have some form of up close and personal interaction with them. Especially in the U.S., we’ve been trained to interact with God vicariously through the songs, teachings, and books of others. This is a relatively recent phenomenon that I’m sure would seem quite strange to early believers. Much of what we’ve come to accept as our expression of faith is no more than an obligatory routine that we do each week because apparently we lack the motivation to try something else. According to the Lord, the bare essence of our faith is relational in nature, not ritual. But therein lies the problem. Our culture has trained us to put more effort into our events than we do our relationships. We were created to live out our lives in the context of a family and a community that would allow us not only to function, but also to actually enjoy ourselves in the process. It is my contention that American Christianity has become more about our meetings than what our meetings are supposed to be about… mutual life giving love relationships with God and others.
Looking at the back of each other’s heads while listening to a talking head, although purposeful, is clearly not relational in nature. Of course there’s value in these types of gatherings, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t get together on Sunday mornings anymore. The point is that we’ve just invested an unhealthy percentage of our time and energy in our meetings and not nearly as much as we should in each other and our individual interaction with the Lord. Genuine relationship, be it with God or others, is costly. It is time and energy consuming. It is also very risky and thus potentially unattractive … at first.
One of my daughters came into my office the other day and blurted out, “I’m mad at God!” Being the picture of parental wisdom and patience that I am, I responded, “Yeah? Why’s that?” She went on to explain in detail several of the things she didn’t understand about her current life situation and more specifically what the Lord wasn’t doing for her that she wanted him to do. She went on for some time verbally re-enacting the conversations she and the Lord had been having. “I said this, and then he said that, then I asked why, and he answered with this…” and so on. It was as if she was describing verbatim an interaction she had just had with one of her high school girlfriends. After she left the room, I have to admit that I had a deep sense of pride in my little girl’s relationship with the Lord. It was real, it was raw, and it was honest… the way genuine relationships always are. Sometimes we get mad and have to give each other a piece of our mind. “I don’t like the way you’re treating me… why’d you do that? Sometimes I don’t understand you.” If we ever find ourselves talking this way with God… that’s actually a good sign. It means we’re getting to know him as he really is… and not just because someone else told us what he was like. Intimate relationship requires truthful, gut wrenching vulnerability more often than not.
And frankly, that’s probably more at the center of the real issue. Most of us are so emotionally wounded, that we have great difficulty achieving much heart to heart intimacy with God or anyone else. Life has been rough on all of us whether we’re willing to own that fact or not. I don’t care how spiritually mature we think we are, we are deeply emotional beings and most of us could benefit greatly from some prolonged inner healing and deliverance ministry. And in my experience, sometimes it’s the most visible and influential church leaders who are in the most desperate need of emotional healing. Many of the leaders I’ve known would love the opportunity to be truly vulnerable with someone, but they realize they can’t go there for fear of certain character assassination. This dynamic has bread much of the rampant superficiality and smiling fakeness that we’re experiencing currently in the local church. Pastors are people too… so we need to cut em some slack. Pedestals tend to be precarious by design.
In addition, we must also not forget that every moment of our lives we dwell smack dab in the middle of a full on, bare knuckled brawl in the supernatural realm. As a believer, we have an enemy who is hell bent on sucking all the peace and joy out of our life here on earth that he possibly can. One of his primary strategies is to simply get us to focus on one another’s weaknesses or mistakes so that we remain in a state of offense toward one another. Or, he just gets us to start doubting the Lord’s goodness or love for us and as a result we become offended at God. Proverbs 18:19 says, “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city” That sounds like battle language to me. Local church life seems to bristle with opportunities for relational pain and anger, but unhealed emotional wounds and unaddressed offense both have the potential to keep us from honoring our two most essential directives. We can’t love God or each other at a distance. It has to be a transparent, face to face interaction for it to work.
If you think about the definition of “love” provided in 1 Corinthians 13, you will realize that very few of these concepts are easily applicable to a large public gathering. True love must be expressed in the context of relationship, and most often to an individual. Thus, loving God and each other can be difficult to do well in a crowded room with someone singing or talking on a microphone. Forgive my pragmatic nature, but we need to re-think this thing a little. How am I to express love to you if I’m afraid to even look at you when you’re sitting right next to me? God forbid we distract one another and miss some crucial moment of the performance on stage. Is it just me, or is there really something very wrong with this picture? Why are we so afraid to get out of our seats and mix it up a little?
Truthfully, it’s not just the rut we’re in on Sunday morning, it’s the overall shortage of joy and our frequent inability to simply ENJOY our relationships with one another and the Lord that seems to keep dogging us. We’ve been so busy doing the church thing that we’ve forgotten how to BE the church. How we interact with our friends, our family, our fellow employees, or our boss is a much more accurate indication of our spiritual maturity than how well we understand and can articulate the latest and greatest doctrines. Paul called this being “blown here and there by every wind of teaching.” (Eph 4:14) Many of us still think that if we can just get our friend to the meeting…. if they just here the right message, they’ll “come to the Lord.” Here’s an idea, why don’t we make an honest effort to take the Lord to them? He’s in us right? I don’t know anyone right now who would say they suffer from too much kindness being shown to them, or having too many friends who really care about them. Jesus was known as a FRIEND of sinners. Sometimes just being a good friend may be the most spiritual thing we can do for someone. That also applies to our relationship with the Lord. Slowly I’m coming to the understanding that he wants us to see ourselves as more than his child or his servant. Just like us, he needs friends. Jesus likes it when we just hang out together, no agenda, no pressure… friends. Honestly, I still have trouble being a good friend in the Sunday morning environment, to the Lord and to others. Too much other stuff is going on, and we only have so long to do it because there’s another show starting in an hour and a half. Hurry and find your seat, we don’t want to miss the trailers. It’s time for change. God help us, I feel like we’re at a fork in the road.
In the early church, there was a lot of rejection and relational conflict going on as believers began to transition into the newly forming sub-culture we now know as Christianity. Ethnic and familiar allegiances were taking second place to a new found devotion to the person of Christ and to the local church. This was especially true of the church in Rome. At that time, the climate in the Roman community of believers was often marked by discord and strife and therefore proved to be a fertile breeding ground for the delving out of many overly harsh judgments. Those who not so long ago were considered friends and family, now were viewed as opposing factions. In the midst of all the mud slinging, Paul challenges the young church to “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God” (Rom 11:22)
If we’re honest, most of us are much more in touch with God’s sternness (some translations “severity”) than we are his kindness. Of course there are many reasons why we might have this kind of imbalanced perspective, but none more suspect than the abundance of legalistic doctrine that has been allowed to freely flow from so many of our pulpits. And to make matters worse, we’ve unknowingly heaped condemnation on ourselves and others for not adhering to all the dogmatic BS we’ve been subjected to. As a result, many of us have been led to believe that God is somehow fundamentally disappointed in us. This is just plain sad. What we believe about the nature of our Heavenly Father will drastically affect the quality of our life. If we believe that God is usually mad at us, or that our performance is always falling short of what’s expected, then it will be tough for us to enjoy even the best parts of our life. On the other hand, when we are hanging on to the revelation that God’s unconditional love and acceptance is based solely on our relationship to his Son, then even our difficulties can be seen to have redeeming eternal purpose.
Receiving and relying on the grace of God is both simple and profoundly necessary. Considering the kindness of God begins with a decision to believe that he is gracious and kind by nature, and not the divine drill sargent that we’ve been led to believe. Of course, like any good father he has to be stern with his children at times. He will never wink at our disobedience as if it were cute. But this is precisely why we must “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Heb 12:15) Can you see the principle here? If we somehow “miss” God’s grace, then we will become bitter… toward him, others, and even ourselves. Have you ever felt that God was just waiting for you to fail so that he could smack you back into line? Trust me on this my friend, maybe your earthly father gave you that impression, or maybe some other authority figure in your life operated that way, but that is not the way God is! Malice is just not a part of his make-up.
When we struggle with bitterness, it is because we need a deeper revelation of God’s love for us. If we receive his grace, then we have it to give to ourselves and others. If we often feel like he’s angry at us, or disappointed in us, then we’ll just as readily pass that negative emotion on to those around us. If we allow a “bitter root to grow up” within us, it will invariably “cause trouble” for us and in turn “defile many.” Again, we’re only able to give what we’ve already received. But that blade cuts both ways. When we begin to truly rely on the kindness and grace of the Lord, then we’ll have an abundance of it to give away.
Let’s face it, our flesh is always going to be prone to weakness. “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.” (Ro 7:18) But keep in mind that all that human frailty is there by design. If you’re spending much time wrestling with feelings of anger, or you know someone who can’t seem to get over their bitterness, it’s time to apply some grace. Receive the Father’s forgiveness and then release that forgiveness in every possible direction. Whether we’re feeling the shame of someone else’s unrighteous judgment, or we’re the one passing it out, the application of this truth is the same. “See to it that no one misses the grace of God.” Why? Because we all need it desperately. No exceptions. “Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (Jas 2:13)
Lord, you know we need help with this one. Please grant us a deeper revelation of how much you love us. Forgive us for our harsh judgments toward ourselves and others. Forgive us for believing that you’re mad and disappointed with us. You are a loving Heavenly Father and want nothing more than to bless us and to grant us favor in all that we do. You are good and kind and so faithful to us. Thank you for being such a great Dad. We love you.
In Part 1 of The Good Life, I briefly shared about a couple of the lessons learned during a five year period of my life in which God seemed to be a million miles away. After functioning for many years with what I thought was a relatively significant sphere of influence, my faith journey suddenly took an abrupt turn down a treacherous road that led me to a very dry place on the backside of nowhere. Like most American males, my identity was closely tied to my job and my perceived status in the proverbial pecking order. I went from overseeing a gifted ministry staff and weekly having the attention and esteem of hundreds of people, to being the lowest man on the totem pole in a dead end job. Any inflated impressions I may have once had of my self quickly became little more than a distant memory. Now that I was no longer “The Pastor” I began to question my place in the world and what purpose my life might have apart from my calling and ministry abilities. More importantly, what value was I to the Lord if I could not even hold onto the position of “full-time” Christian servant? The answer to that question came as a result of an elongated wrestling match with God that I wouldn’t wish on anybody. But hopefully, by learning from my boneheaded stubbornness, you can fore go a few of the painful face plants and mat burns that accompany any form of confrontation with an omnipotent being.
OK, so you don’t feel like you’re fulfilling what you know the Lord has called you to do. Or maybe he’s made promises to you about your future that don’t seem to be getting any closer to being realized. Perhaps you’re currently experiencing an unprecedented level of situational difficulty. Money problems? Broken relationship? Shattered dreams? Poor health? For the overcoming Christian, it all eventually leads to the same outcome… an unconditional surrender of our will, followed by a decision to trust in the kind and gentle nature of our Heavenly Father. One of the most crucial truths I learned in the wilderness is this; never put your hope in an outcome, instead, put your hope in the Lord. We often hear the fist half of Proverbs 13:12 quoted; “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” But that’s not the end of the verse. It continues with “a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” If we find ourselves sick at heart, it might be because our hope has been misplaced. Real life begins, and our deepest longings are fulfilled when we can authentically breathe the ultimate prayer of surrender, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
Please trust me on this my friend, God will do what he wants, when he wants, however he wants to do it. In fact, if experience has taught me anything, the what, when, and how of God’s plan for us often ends up looking completely different from what we might have envisioned or hoped for at first. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:9) If we can’t be happy unless God does what we want him to, or we somehow withhold our affection unless he does it the way we think he should, then we might as well prepare ourselves for an extended stay in the Heartbreak Hotel because we’re not going anywhere anytime soon. Simply put, man plans and God laughs. We might as well get used to it because that’s not gonna change. Lordship ultimately requires us to give even the good things he’s given us (words, promises, dreams, callings) back to him. God allows in his wisdom what he could easily prevent by his power.
Now here’s the good news. Those promises we have from the Lord don’t lose any of their potency or potential with the passing of time. I don’t care how long it’s been, he will do what he said he would do. He is completely faithful to his word and worthy of any amount of blind trust we can muster. Our job is to live in obedience one day at a time. Each day God will give us the grace to do what he asks us to do. If we ever find ourselves being anxious about our future, then in essence we’re trying to borrow from tomorrow’s grace. Learning to live by faith is a lot like collecting manna. If you try to get enough both for today and tomorrow you’ll end up with something rotten. “Tomorrow has enough worries of its own.”
After a long wander through the desert, I am slowly learning to enjoy my life in whatever form it takes. Many times this begins with little more than a quick acknowledgement of the Lord’s goodness. Sometimes it’s more of a conscious decision to be grateful. All in all, the quality of our life has everything to do with our demeanor toward God. If we stay mad at him, or question his goodness for too long, we’ll find our selves stuck in the dry places. When we choose to believe that he loves us and wants nothing more than to bless us, then the good things he has for us begin to flow again. Truth be known, my situation hasn’t changed all that much since I entered the wilderness. I’m still working the same job for the same pay. My sphere of influence and ministry remains small in comparison to what it used to be. I’m not really in a place where I can do some of the things I know I’ll eventually get to do for the kingdom, but for the first time in my life, I’m starting to find peace and fulfillment in a way I’ve never experienced. Little by little, I’ve been getting the revelation that I don’t really have to do or be anything to earn the Lord’s approval or affection. I’m his beloved son and he likes me just the way I am. I like to hunt, collect stuff, hang out with friends and eat really good food. That’s the way God made me… and that’s enough.
Lord please help us to submit to your will for our lives. Please forgive us for holding back our affection when things don’t turn out the way we want them to. You are so kind and patient with us. Help us to keep our eyes on you and on all the good things you have given us to enjoy. Forgive us for comparing ourselves to others and help us to accept who you have made us to be. You are good and your mercies endure forever. Amen
After 20 years of serving as a local church pastor, we needed a break. Vocational ministry tends to create a unique brand of difficulty, and somehow we must have signed up for the deluxe package. But little did I know that our decision to take a sabbatical would send me out of the frying pan and right into the fire. After handing over the leadership of our church to my associate pastor, we moved hundreds of miles away from everyone we knew and re-located in a part of the country that seemed more like another planet than another state. I took an entry level construction job which often required me to spend much of my day digging holes at sewage plants and county landfills. Within months of moving, a cantaloupe sized growth mysteriously showed up in my abdomen resulting in the need for major surgery and the removal of over half of my liver. But worst of all, for the first time in my adult life, going to church on a Sunday morning made me feel like I was merely another head in a sea of heads. I went from being a first string Quarter Back to just another spectator who apparently could only afford tickets in the nose-bleed section.
This was just the beginning of a five year period during which I experienced what some have called “the dark night of the soul.” During this time, my identity and self worth came under direct assault. More often than not, my days were marked by a deep depression and an underlying anger toward the Lord for allowing me to go through this kind of mental and emotional torment. “After all those years of serving your people… this is my reward? What is going on? What are you doing to me? This doesn’t make any sense! If this is all there is, just go ahead and take me out.” And so it continued, from anger to apathy, from sadness to despondence. At times my frustration became so intense that I felt I was literally losing my mind. Again, this went on for several years. I now understand that this season was a tailor made time of testing designed to dig up and root out certain mind-sets and thought patterns that I had developed over the course of my life. And though I’m probably only a year or so out beyond the edge of this desolate spiritual wilderness experience, I’m beginning to feel like maybe I can identify a few of the truths revealed to me over the course of that painful hands and knees crawl through the burning sand.
Somewhere in the midst of all my crying and yelling at the Lord, I began to realize that He’s not really swayed by our fit throwing. Though most of my overly dramatic cries for help came in the form of seemingly innocent prayer requests, many of them were actually my attempt to get the Lord to do what I thought he should do. More accurately, I wanted him to do them in the time frame that I thought he should. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that God really does have “all the time in the world” to accomplish his plans and purposes. What feels like an eternity to us is not even a click on the second hand of his watch. So for us to require the Lord to respond to our requests, or even to fulfill his promises in our time frame… well it just doesn’t work that way. Lordship is trusting not only that he’ll get it done, but that it will happen when he’s ready for it to and not a moment sooner, no matter how much we complain or beseech him to do otherwise.
Another key to navigating the wilderness was learning how to stay focused on the right things. Paul encouraged the early church to practice this principle. “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy– think about such things.” (Phil 4:8) One of our enemy’s oldest tactics is to rob a believer’s enjoyment of life by simply reminding them of what’s not right. But if we spend our days dwelling on what’s not right about ourselves or our situation or that person at work who makes our skin crawl, then we are basically creating our very own self fulfilling prophecy. Magnifying the negatives and minimizing the positives of our past or present reality will inevitably leave us joyless and oppressed. We must learn to focus rightly because eventually we will become that which we behold.
This principle is particularly true when applied to our relationship with the Lord. If our prayers are focused on what he hasn’t done for us rather than what he has, then we’ll slowly be convinced that he really doesn’t love us the way we once thought he did. This is a powerful deception that literally can ruin our faith, and in turn, spoil our life. Over time, I have developed an inner resolve to focus on the goodness of God and what he has done and is doing for me. Listen up believer, we’re going to spend eternity in paradise with the Lord! We are saved, redeemed, justified, adopted, deeply loved, and accepted just as we are. We serve a GOOD GOD who wants nothing more than to bless us because we are his children. He is true, noble, right, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of our praise. If we choose to believe anything to the contrary, regardless of how dismal our situation may become, then we are walking in a profound foolishness and deception. We must not allow our flesh and our struggle with our own human weakness to skew the heavenly perspective we were created to maintain. Often, the discipline of focus begins with a decision to simply “think about“ the “right” things. We will stay rightly focused as we learn to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor 10:5)
Lord Jesus, help us to get this one. We know you are good. We know you love us. Forgive us for listening to lies about your nature. Forgive us for our impatience. You are a good Father and you want to bless us and surround our lives with your mercy and favor. You have provided for us, you have protected us, you brought us out of the darkness and into the light and we give you our praise. We worship you because you are worthy! Thank you Jesus, we love you. Help us to stay rightly focused today. Amen.
To be continued ….
From the time I was a youngster, I’ve been labeled as a “wheeler-dealer”. I can’t explain it, but I just love to buy and sell stuff. I was apparently too young to remember this transaction, but my Mom tells the story of me selling the ladder that went to my bunk bed to one of the neighbor kids. Why he wanted it I couldn’t say, but apparently I felt I didn’t need it anymore, so out the door it went in exchange for a cash settlement. In the early 70s, you could often find me collecting, trading, and bartering with Wacky Package stickers or beer cans as they were the hot commodity of the day. Even now, I take great joy when I find something at a flea market, or in a garage sale, or on Ebay that I think I can turn a profit on. I don’t really know why, It just makes me happy. In fact, my favorite TV shows are American Pickers, Pawn Stars, the Barrett Jackson auto auctions, and The Antiques Roadshow. Somehow I’ve slowly gravitated toward these kinds of programs because they are all based on the principle of worth. Which simply put is, something is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it. Over time, I have come to realize that this is especially true in the realm of the Spirit.
As a believer, we must understand that all things of great value come at a price. “But Salvation is free” you might retort. True, salvation is a free gift to you and I, but it came at the highest price ever paid for anything. You see, as a believer we can sometimes unknowingly underestimate the value of some of the “good gifts” (Matt 7:11) given to us by our Heavenly Father. Every parent understands that if we give our children everything they want at no cost to them, eventually they will develop an entitlement mentality. In other words, spoiled kids think they deserve everything and don’t have to work for anything. This is why my Dad tried to teach me and my siblings about what he called “the value of a dollar”. Though he was a very wealthy and generous man, he did not give any of us kids everything we wanted nor was he pressured by when we wanted it. In turn, we learned that some things we had to wait for, to earn, and eventually to pay for ourselves. Maybe you don’t want to hear this, but our Heavenly Father sometimes likes to apply this principle as well.
Let’s take for example the kind of experiences that may be required of us in order to gain a greater level of spiritual authority. At one point, the Apostle Paul’s authority was brought into question by those who were jealous of the impact his ministry was making on the church of Corinth. His defense was both simple and profound. In essence, he claimed that he had earned his authority by consistently being willing to work hard and to suffer for the cause of Christ. “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.” (2 Cor 11:23) We must not be deceived about this, there will most certainly be some work and pain involved in the process of attaining genuine spiritual authority. True, some things will come as a free gift, but rest assured, others will have to be paid for. Much like our earthly parents, the Lord understands that we won’t appreciate anything of value that didn’t cost us something.
A friend of mine shared a story recently about attending the 90th birthday of one of his uncles. He said he had never really spent much time with the man, but he was confident that he must surely be wise after living all those years. He knew this might be his only opportunity to glean some of the wisdom gained over the course of a long and eventful life. So he cautiously approached and asked him to share just one “nugget of truth” that he had discovered. Much to his dismay, the old man flippantly replied, “just keep breathing.” At this, my friend walked away quite discouraged and offended at the man’s unwillingness to give up any of the goods. How dare he!
I’ve seen a similar dynamic take place at different church events. It’s not uncommon for a well meaning believer to approach someone who has just delivered a powerful message, or demonstrated some form of anointed public ministry. They will walk right up and ask, “could you please lay your hands on me so I can get what you have?” Unfortunately, that’s not usually the way it works. Most of the people who are walking in true spiritual authority or anointed ministry have paid a great price to be doing so. And if somehow they haven’t yet, believe me, they will. This principle can also apply to the gaining of what Paul called the fruit of the Spirit. Don’t believe me? Is your theology getting tweaked a bit? Just ask the Lord to “give” you patience and see what happens next. I can tell you from experience what will happen. NOTHING WILL HAPPEN… at least not any time in the foreseen future. You will have to wait like you’ve never waited before until you flesh screams out in frustration.
Again, please don’t be confused about what I am saying here. God does give us plenty of great things, spiritual and otherwise, free of charge. He is more gracious and abundantly generous than we will ever comprehend. As a believer we do share in an inheritance that is completely unmerited. But don’t be shocked if you have to pay dearly for some of the kingdom stuff you’ve yet to attain. There is purpose in our difficulty. The Lord will sometimes even allow our enemies to remain in order “to teach warfare” to those of us who don’t have enough “previous battle experience.” (Judges 3:1-2) That’s the principle of worth in action.
“He was despised and forsaken and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and pains… therefore I will divide him a portion with the great kings and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty, because he poured out his life unto death.” (Isa 53:3, 12)
Have you ever seen The Antiques Roadshow on PBS? Though the premise is remarkably simple, this little TV show has become quite popular. Every week, hundreds of people stand in line for hours just so that they can have a few moments with an expert appraiser who can tell them how much the item they’ve brought in is actually worth. The items that make it on the air are usually the ones that most of us would have no clue as to their true value. In one episode, a young man brings in a rusty old sword. He tells the appraiser that he and his brothers used to play with the sword when they where kids, and that they often “split watermelons and dug in the dirt” with it. Without a flinch, the appraiser quietly puts on a pair of white gloves. He then gives a pair to the young man and asks him to do the same. He proceeds to explain the origin of what is actually an extremely rare civil war relic. The painfully clueless owner finds himself rightfully stunned when it’s revealed that the old sword is actually worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. In another episode, a woman finds an old metal helmet wedged in the rafters of her attic. She later confesses that she polished it up with Pledge before bringing it in to the show. This is after the appraiser explains that the helmet is that of a Spanish Conquistador from the early 1500s and worth about a half a million dollars!
It’s hard to comprehend that items with this kind of value can be right under our noses without us even realizing it. Nonetheless, I’m starting to believe that this kind of thing happens a lot more often than we might think and in more ways than we may be aware. Hidden worth is truly a fascinating concept and one found frequently in the Scriptures. Jesus would often speak to large crowds in the form of parables only to then draw away and later explain their meaning to his disciples. On one such occasion he gave his closest followers the following two parables as further elaboration on his teaching. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Mat 13:44-46)
When we think of the word “treasure” what comes to mind? Thanks to Hollywood, most of us can easily conjure up images of an old chest full of precious gemstones, or a stack of gold bars. But the scriptures seem to indicate that this kind of treasure is actually commonplace in the heavenly realms. In Rev 21 we’re told that the very foundations of the heavenly city’s walls are “decorated with every kind of precious stone.” and that heaven’s gates are each “made of a single pearl.” John reveals that even the great street of the city is made of “pure gold, like transparent glass.” Can you imagine? The architect of heaven uses these precious materials like we use concrete, steel, and asphalt. When Jesus said that the Kingdom was like a “treasure hidden in the field” and the “pearl of great price” it seems that he was simply trying to appeal to our earthly sense of relative value. Traditionally, we take this passage to mean the Kingdom itself is priceless and worthy of any sacrifice we could ever make. And yet, like every other passage of scripture, there are undoubtedly deeper levels of truth to be found under the surface of these verses.
Earlier in Mathew, we find Jesus using a similar theme. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Mat 6:19-2) At one point, I had grown very weary of serving as a pastor in the local church. Relatively low pay and years of getting bit by sheep had left a gnawing question in my soul. I asked, “Why do I do this Lord?” You see, I’m a firm believer that no one will endure hardship or make any kind of long term sacrifice if they are not clear on what the pay-off is. So as I was praying, I asked the Lord to show me the treasure that I was storing up in heaven. Almost instantaneously, he began to remind me of people I had ministered to over the years. Face after face came to mind of those I had somehow encouraged to know the Lord in a deeper way, or prayed with, or taught. Most of these people I had long since forgotten about or lost touch with. It was at this point that I began to consider the value of a single human soul.
When we learn to recognize each human life as something the Lord treasures, we cannot help but to treat people differently. The Gospels reveal this truth repeatedly through the example of Jesus. The writers of scripture have provided one account after another of the Lord intentionally associating with people that were guaranteed to lower his social standing. It’s almost as if he was somehow drawn to those relegated to the seedy underside of his culture. Although he was often pursued by the rich and the well educated, we usually find him going after the “down-and-outers”. Was it because he was more comfortable hanging out with drunkards and prostitutes? Maybe, but the fact that the Lord’s behavior is so consistent in this regard means that he was obviously trying to make a point.
In the book of Luke we’re given six consecutive chapters (12-18) of Jesus teaching on the contrast between the values of men and those of the Kingdom of God. Amidst this section of scripture we find Jesus at the house of a prominent Pharisee watching the other guests jockeying for position. After publicly humiliating those who had found their way into the best seats in the house, he then addresses the host. “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:13-14) Granted, at first glance it would appear that the Lord is encouraging us to practice some sort of reverse favoritism, and certainly that idea is at least implied here. But the deeper truth must involve our tendency to place greater value on those who we think we can get something from. More often than not, most of us choose to relate only to those people who we feel might benefit us in some way. This is a sad, but very real part of all of us if we’ll be honest about it. By nature, we’re all shameless self-promoters. Jesus, on the other hand, being fully aware of his own position and value, was able to freely lavish value on those deemed virtually worthless by his contemporaries.
Imagine what we could accomplish if we began to consistently discern the treasure that is every person, regardless of how they’re assessed by others. An expert appraiser is one who recognizes value in that which most would be quick to overlook or to write off as ordinary. A treasure hunter is someone who goes to great lengths to acquire that which has been lost and usually long since forgotten. Our world is chocked full of undiscovered treasures. Though often in plain sight, these treasures are hidden from most. In Luke 16:15 we read that “what is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” Through his example, the Lord demonstrated that the transverse must also be true.
It’s often said that “you can’t take it with you.” In terms of earthly treasure, this is commonly understood and acknowledged. The things that we spend so much of our lives trying to attain will ultimately have no place in heaven. But there is something that we can take with us, something of immeasurable eternal value that we will never cease to enjoy. It is a treasure so valuable that God himself proved willing to pay the ultimate price to redeem and restore it. The treasure is you, and me, and the guy standing on the corner with cardboard sign looking for handouts. Each human life represents equal, yet unfathomable worth regardless of its current level of earthly esteem or prominence. In fact, in Malachi 3:17 the Lord proclaims that those who fear him, he will “openly declare them to be his jewels. His special possession, and his peculiar treasure.” (Amp.)
We might want to consider how we’re treating that which God values the most. Do we put on the white gloves, or do we handle one another as commonplace and readily expendable? Does it matter to us that so many of the Lord’s precious resources have been written off or left behind to decay in some forgotten dusty attic? There is only one explanation for being careless in our treatment of others. It’s that somehow we’ve lost sight of their eternal worth. In the heart of every believer there lies a God-given unction for the discovery and restoration of hidden treasure. And though it often seems to manifest in the natural, I’m convinced that this desire is deeply rooted in the supernatural part of who we are. Lord Jesus, your appraisal of us is the only one that really matters. Please help us to view ourselves and those around us as the multifaceted jewels that you created each of us to be.
Several years ago, a friend of mine shared an impression he had received about the spiritual climate of the region in which we were living at the time. In prayer, he saw a stereotypical church building with a huge three-legged stool sitting on top of it. On top of the stool sat a bride and groom figurine like the kind that would normally be seen on a wedding cake. On the legs of the stool there was writing, each leg bearing a different word. On the first leg the word “competition” was written, on the next “recognition” and on the third “suspicion”. As he continued praying, the Lord revealed that the figurine represented the union of Jezebel and the religious spirit, and that they were the antithesis of Christ and his bride the Church. Their position on top of the stool was indication that they had been given much authority in the local church in our area. The stool represented spiritual authority, and the legs were that authority’s support structure. The Lord then revealed that if only one of these legs were to be broken, the whole thing would easily topple over. I believe these three attitudes of the heart: competition, recognition, and suspicion expose some of the enemy’s most common tactics for keeping Christians from working together. More importantly, they also provide a glimpse into the Lord’s plan for unifying his body and restoring life and vitality to the local church.
Competition: If at any point we feel the need to compete with another believer or ministry, we need to consider where that desire might be coming from. Though I am convinced there is actually a kind of healthy competition that can take place between believers as we “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24) there is also an ungodly form of competition that is most often motivated by our need for validation. Let’s face it. We all want to be great and to be a part of something great. What we may not realize is that this need for greatness is a God given desire. The scriptures make it clear that every believer was created to take and to hold a place of great heavenly authority. However, we can often loose sight of this perspective in the midst of our efforts to find our place in the earthly pecking order. Most believers would acknowledge that our value is not determined by our level of outward “success” or by how we are viewed by others. And yet, we often have an internal struggle erupt when another brother or sister is openly blessed by the Lord in some significant way. Why do we sometimes grit our teeth when He makes an obvious display of His favor on a fellow believer or ministry? In 1 Cor. 12, Paul explains that “if one part is honored” than “every other part should rejoice with it.” We all know that it can be quite difficult to muster up the appropriate response when faced with that situation. Instead of being genuinely thankful for another’s good fortune or blessing, our first response may be to feel jilted or “gypped” by God.
There are many biblical examples of this form of jealousy. Cain and Able, Joseph and his brothers, certainly Jesus and the Pharisees, and even the ministry of the Apostle Paul suffered from this kind of ungodly competition. In Acts 13 we are told that when Paul was teaching in the Synagogue he began to draw large crowds of people. And “when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.” (vs. 45) If we ever find ourselves wanting to discredit or disparage another ministry or a minister that seems to be having more success than we are, we need to quickly reign in our tongue and ask the Lord to enlighten our thinking. Even if a given ministry or leader may at times appear to us to be improperly motivated, we need to be mindful of our thoughts, and intentionally gracious with our comments. Being overly critical of another believer or their ministry is a sure sign of something amiss within us. And rest assured, if our judgments are truly unrighteous and without repentance, they will inevitably lead to our own humiliation.
In contrast, if we will simply learn to “rejoice with” our brother when he is blessed, this will encourage the Lord to release his favor and blessing to us. Our Father really does want to pour out all kinds of good things on his children, but he will never reward unbridled sibling rivalry. When my kids are in strife with each other, I am often compelled to respond quickly with some kind of disciplinary action. But when they are seemingly intent on tearing one another to pieces, I will let them go at it for a while without my intervention. The result is remarkably consistent. In no time, they become truly miserable and then they come crying to me for help. My response is always the same. “I don’t want to hear about what your brother did, I’ll deal with him next. What did you do wrong?” I am convinced that this is also the Lord’s approach to resolution when we find ourselves in the midst of relational conflict. In short, the countermeasure for competition is cooperation.
Recognition: If you have ever had the opportunity to attend a meeting where leaders from several different churches or ministries had come together, you might have discovered that these get-togethers seem to have a tendency to be either wonderful or horrible. There is nothing sweeter than enjoying the heart-felt relationships shared by like minded believers, and nothing more excruciating than having to endure a room filled with posturing pastors or church leaders. Again, this need for recognition is actually a part of our God-given makeup and is there by design. The Father wants us not only to know Him, but also to be aware that we are known by Him. But when we are not in touch with the Lord’s acknowledgment of us, we will invariably resort to drawing attention to ourselves or something we have done in the hopes of getting it from each other. Jesus devoted a significant portion of the sermon on the mount to this very issue.
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matt 6:1-4)
At one point, I was asked if I would be willing to help clean up our church building after one of our events. I agreed to volunteer and showed up the next morning ready to work. Within minutes, I found myself on my hands and knees cleaning toilets and urinals. Though I immediately recognized that the Lord was closely watching my internal response to this proverbial test, there was still a part of me that really wanted someone to notice my willingness to tackle this particularly humbling assignment. Thankfully, no one really paid much attention to what I was doing or made any comments about how great I was for lowering myself to such a task. And rightly so. Throughout the Gospels, we repeatedly find Jesus trying to enlighten his disciples to the principle of unnoticed obedience. In Mark 9 he asks them this question, “What were you arguing about on the road?” Instead of responding, “they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” This statement is truly profound and applies to so many different aspects of our faith. Clearly the Lord is not as impressed by our “greatness” as we tend to think he is. But the scriptures seem to indicate that there is actually huge potential for long term honor and recognition in a lifestyle of unassuming self sacrifice. Therefore, the countermeasure for recognition is servanthood.
Suspicion: Are we prone to give other believers the benefit of the doubt, or do we tend to hold them at arms length until they have somehow proven themselves to us? Even though we understand that appearances and first impressions are not always reliable, I think we often want to “size up” one another a little prematurely. If we have been a part of a local church for any length of time, then we have undoubtedly had our trust betrayed by a brother or sister in the Lord at some point. If we have not yet been thoroughly disappointed or disillusioned by the behavior of another Christian, then we should prepare ourselves for the inevitable. We should also recognize that to be disillusioned is to have an illusion removed from us. Many of us still seem to be living under the assumption that no one in the church should be allowed to hurt us. We should keep in mind that the Lord not only allows us to be wounded by others, but that his deepest desire is for us to die. Through the example of his crucifixion, Jesus demonstrated that there are times when we must choose to make ourselves dangerously vulnerable, even to those who have the capacity to inflict great harm upon us.
Of course, this is not to say that we should haphazardly throw ourselves at the mercy of anyone with a fish emblem affixed to the bumper of their van. Proverbs 4:23 says we should “guard our heart” because it is “the wellspring of life.” We should always be mindful of our alliances and discerning of those whom we embrace. But our pre-programmed misgivings toward other Christians can often end up being entirely unwarranted. Our enemy is no fool. He is very aware of the power that is released when dissimilar believers are unified in their goals and purpose. In 1 Tim 6:4, Paul warns his young disciple about those who have “an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, and evil suspicions.” Have you ever encountered someone who seems to have an unhealthy interest in controversies? Did they quarrel about words and talk maliciously about others? Unfortunately, we have all probably all been sucked into these kinds of evil suspicions at one time or another. But even worse, if we make it our habit to pre-judge or talk negatively about other believers, than we should expect to reap what we have sown. Instead, we should learn to ask the Lord to show us those divine relational hook-ups that we might normally overlook because of our own personal biases or insecurities. We might even be pleasantly surprised by the friendships that would develop as a result. The countermeasure for suspicion is trust.
It is no secret that the majority of people in this country are no longer attending church. Even many believers have become disenchanted by the notion of committing themselves to a local congregation in any significant way. I believe the Lord is deeply grieved by this trend. Though some have vowed to remain estranged, many others are sitting right beside us on Sunday morning wanting desperately to somehow be more connected. Granted, we probably will not have the same level of affinity or concern for everyone who feels this way. Some we may not want to be connected to at all, but that is the nature of the body. Still, we cannot deny that we really do need each other. So, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, but especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Gal 6:10)
“The Three Legged Stool” is used by permission of Don French and Kingdom SEAL Ministries.
We have all heard that patience is a virtue, but as virtues go, this one is clearly somewhere toward the bottom of the popularity list. Heb 6:12 says that we are “to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” That passage goes on to explain how Abraham was a great example of someone who was given a wonderful promise from the Lord but then had to endure many years of waiting before that promise began to be realized. Paul tells us in Romans 1 that Abraham’s faith “did not waiver.” But we know that his patience, in fact, did. The result was the birth of Ishmael.
Several years ago, I found myself in the middle of one of the driest and most difficult seasons of my life as a believer. After serving as a pastor for a number of years, I was suddenly without a church, without a job, and facing imminent financial bankruptcy. In the blink of an eye, I had somehow gone from being a “somebody” with a position of influence and authority, to being a “nobody” with seemingly very little to show for all I had been and done with my life. I was depressed, and most certainly disillusioned by my sorry state of affairs. And to make matters worse, just a few months earlier my wife and I had a very dramatic encounter with the Lord where he supernaturally spoke beautiful words of promise and future blessing over us. But this experience was quickly followed by an extended season of testing and trial. And no matter how much I complained, no matter how passionately I beseeched Him to pull me out of the situational mess I was in, nothing seemed to change. Unlike some of the testimonies we have all heard, the Lord did not send someone to my door with a big check, a new car, and a lucrative job offer. Instead of making me feel better, instead of taking some of the situational pressure off, He just got quiet, real quiet. The Lord was making me wait, and it was killing me.
As a believer, we get to chose how we will respond when the Lord’s promises are not coming to fruition at the pace we had first hoped. And I have noticed that it is not uncommon for us to try to force His blessings prematurely through the arm of the flesh if our waiting period lingers on for a while. This is precisely what I did. Rather than remaining patient and allowing the Lord to develop my faith and perseverance, I began to try to alleviate some of my pain and suffering by “blessing” myself. For me this came in the form of a 1964 Harley Davidson Sporster. Granted, I can see why Abraham chose a pretty young maidservant, but there is just something about an old Harley. And as they say, “If I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand.” Even though I had been riding motorcycles for a long time, I had yet to own a Harley. So finding one for sale, glimmering so beautifully there on the side of the road, and at such a great price! How could I possibly pass up this opportunity? It must be God. At least that is the logic I used as I tried to convince my wife what a wise purchase I was about to make. Now in reality, this bike was just shy of what Harley riders call a “basket case.” In other words, all the parts were there, but that was about the extent of it. Still, as far as I was concerned… well let’s just say that love really can cover a multitude of sins.
So I began the process of restoring this lost treasure that I had discovered just waiting for me there in front of the tattoo parlor. What a find, a genuine vintage chopper with a sissy bar and a flame job. I was in heaven, or so I thought. As the expenses piled up and the repair list seemed to grow exponentially, I began to wonder if my labor of love was such a good idea after all. In fact, it did not take long to figure out that I was spending more time trying to get this thing to run than I was actually riding it. Keep in mind, this motorcycle came with only a kick starter. For you non-riders, that means it did not have one of those little red buttons you push to make your motorcycle roar to life. That was a luxury I only later found out was virtually impossible to install on this particular model. So instead, I kicked, and kicked, and kicked, and sweated, and kicked some more, and cussed, and then kicked some more, but often to no avail. My beloved Harley, that not so long ago had been the obvious solution to all my problems, had now become my cold blooded arch enemy. And worst of all, all that kicking and thrashing resulted in my having to go through several very painful hernia surgeries.
After months of recovery, I stood there one sunny spring morning looking down on my once beloved motorcycle and debated if a quick ride was really worth what it might cost me. In that moment, I clearly heard the Lord say, “this is an Ishmael for you.” I knew exactly what He meant. Like Abraham, who tried to force the Lord’s blessing rather than waiting for it, in my impatience I too had inadvertently caused myself a boat load of pain and hardship. I was way beyond having a little buyer’s remorse, this motorcycle was literally making me miserable. In Genesis 16 we are told that even the name Ishmael means “misery.” Fortunately, I was able to sell my Ishmael on E-bay to a big hairy biker from West Virginia. And I am trusting that one day my Isaac will arrive. A new Road King would be nice Lord.
The lesson learned is this. Our heavenly Father most certainly wants to bless His children. His plans really are to prosper us and not to harm us. But because only He can see our future with complete clarity, we have to learn to trust that He also must know the best way for us to get there. He literally has all the time in the world to accomplish His will. Therefore, it stands to reason that whenever we are in a hurry to get where we are headed, we will often end up somewhere we do not want to be. In contrast, in Proverbs 10:22 we are told by King Solomon that “The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it.” What a concept. When we wait patiently on the Lord, and we allow Him to bless us, no striving, no pain, no trouble will be added. That is the kind of favor I am looking for these days, a blessing that is initiated and sustained by God with no additional maintenance required. Lord Jesus, help us never to doubt the words of blessing you have spoken over us. We submit ourselves once again to your will and to your perfect timing.