Hey there Christian! Something has me greatly concerned as we look at the world around us today. It is not hard to be discouraged by the things I see, is it? You do not have to look much further than the evening news to realize things are terribly broken in our world today, but these are not things which most concern me.
Today my heart and mind are tired and weary from waiting. I am worn out from hoping and longing. Yet I must continue. These are my feelings, but my feelings do not determine my faith and confidence in God. While I am weary and tired, I have to maintain desire for more of Christ. I have to continue to desire for God's action and presence. If I cannot do this, I am utterly lost.
When my desire to pray is lacking, I have to pray for the desire to pray. If God gives desire to the human heart, and He gives if we ask according to His will, then I have to ask for more desire in the dry and weary places.
E.M. Bounds wrote, "Prayer is the oral expression of desire...the deeper the desire, the stronger the prayer. Without desire, prayer is meaningless mumble of words."
When that desire runs out, I have to pray and ask for more. I never fully arrive, and I certainly need more and more of Christ in my understanding, my looking, my speaking, my thinking.
A local pastor friend of mine exhorted his congregation to “Turn off FOX News; its making you paranoid.” While it may be great counsel, it is important to recognize FOX News is only one of numerous voices making us paranoid as it relates to Christians living in our current culture and society.
In the Church today looking forward, far too many of us have come to believe and accept our ticket to ride a certain hand basket on its way to a certain destination. Yes! The times are changing at the pace of the Internet, and our culture and society are increasingly opposed to the values and lifestyle of the follower of Jesus, but I see great hope for what will develop, by necessity, because of these realities. There are many reasons to exchange your ticket for a more hopeful future.
1. This is nothing new God’s people have always had to live among a dominant culture that does not affirm their values, lifestyle, or their claim to One Truth. This is nothing new. It may feel new to us who have been believers through a more comfortable time, but we cannot disregard the reality John reminds us of; “this world and its desires are passing away” (1 John 2:17). We will not and cannot turn the world around, and we cannot pretend that this opposition is anything new. We stand on a the shoulders of history in this reality.
2. The Value of the Local Church Do not entirely believe the statistics that portray a declining church in America. Understand that correct statistics misinterpreted are false statistics. The Church is still and will continue to be quite large. The question will be whether its impact will be strong in the coming generations. Its impact will be stymied if all of its talent, time, energy, and resources continue to be used outside its walls instead of through it. The next generation needs a reason and a reminder to fall in love with the local church. We cannot continue to separate from “religious institutions” and wonder why they are not lasting.
3. Higher Call To Discomfort As circumstances grow less comfortable for the believer, it becomes more impossible for the Christian to simply float in and out and up and down on the waves of the culture. The tide is changing so rapidly, the future generation will be stronger believers because they will have to be. The Christian will be increasingly marginalized in our culture, but that means the true believers will be exactly that; TRUE valiant believers. The days of lukewarm comfortable Jesus following are swiftly drawing to a close. That is good news!
4. Vision Is Unheard; not Unspoken Young Christians want to be part of the visioning to bring about new life and new energy to the Church. The future is coming at us faster than ever before, and keeping up will require the Christian to be as fast. There are young Christians prepared to do this with a commitment to truth. They are listening to the same things in the media, which says our future is doomed. When we believe this perception, we devalue the voice of young Christians who are prepared to stand valiantly in this culture.
5. Discipleship Is Key When you look at the Chinese Church, you will not actually see anything. The Chinese Church is growing by droves in a country where Christianity is criminal. By necessity this underground Church is incredibly committed and unwavering. As American Christians are increasingly marginalized, one-on-one discipleship is going to be more and more vital in the spread of Christianity here.
6. The God-card Ultimately, we must always trust in a sovereign God over and above whatever happens in our culture. I would close with the hope we all ought to have forever. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him—but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.” (1 Cor. 2:9-10)
The opposite of love is not hate; it is fear, and love drives out fear. We are not given the spirit of fear. As we look to the future, we have no reason to fear if we have truly had an experience of the loving God who will remains sovereign, regardless of the paranoia you hear on television.
Reading back through old journals can always give phenomenal perspective to where you used to be. I went back to one of my several journals written in the midst of my deepest questioning periods of faith...and this is one of the posts I found.....
Journal Entry from 10-17-01
How amazingly I've been spoken to in my Bible reading tonight?! I am amazed by a simple phrase in Psalm 119, verse 86. Its a phrase I now realize is very common in my prayers, my writing, my written prayers: "HELP ME!" Two words mean so much and hold so incredibly much. In an understanding that God truly knows my heart, and in most cases, better than even I do, a simple last cry of "HELP ME" means everything in the world. Its amazing that out of this entire chapter (the longest chapter in the Bible), this phrase has stuck out and meant the most to me. At the beginning of that particular stanza, the writer also exclaims, a little more eloquently, "I am weak from waiting for you to save me, but I hope in your word." That is me right now. I mean THAT is the very cry from my heart almost to the T. I have been looking and searching for my heavenly father, and the continuous search has made me very weak. Ah, but through it all, I am clinging to hope. I cling to a hope in God's word to be spoken and encouraged upon me eventually. That verse (81) is immediately followed by a phrase I also sometimes feel is my very cry. "My eyes are tired from looking for your promise. When will you comfort me?" I have felt that so much lately, but I've never been able to verbalize it in my prayers to my half-believed heavenly Father. But again, the most amazing thing from this reading comes in verse 86 when I do indeed feel all of this but cannot ever verbalize it as I wish I could: "HELP ME!!" Sometimes, I only wish I could pray verse 88:
"Give me life by your love..."
But I am so content and encouraged in bolding exclaiming,
And cling to the hope that he will.
"If you asked a man who is poor in spirit to describe his prayer life, he might well answer, 'Most of the time my prayer consists in experiencing the absence of God in the hope of communion.'" - Brennan Manning
Brennan adds another dimension to our desired connection with God through successful prayer: the hope of communion. The man who is truly poor in spirit is there because he continues searching after and coming before God regardless of whether he experiences or FEELS connection with God each time. He keeps coming back because he has HOPE. He has a hope for communion. We cannot allow ourselves to be thwarted by the experience of absence when we approach God. I believe it will happen more often than not. On the other hand, as one who truly longs for God through it all, I have to continually go back to God with the HOPE of communion, and I must maintain that hope every time I approach the throne and lap of God the Abba.
Psalm 27:4 says,
"One thing I ask of the Lord this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple."
Matthew 5:3 says,
"Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
I have always imagined it the incessant and irritating daily reminder of souls. We often picture a glorified splinter, which reminds Paul, daily, that he is to be weak that God may bestow true power. But there has to be much more to this thorn.
If it were only a glorified splinter, Paul would be a big baby to write in 2 Corinthians 12, "Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me." Come on, would a big splinter be worthy of such pleading?
In those times, "thorns" were used as a military device, and it was certainly much more than a splinter. It was much more like a big stake. They would pound these stakes (not much bigger than a thick tent stake...but sharper and more jagged) into the ground all over the place in an open area they were retreating through. This way, when the enemy came running through that field after them, they would be slowed down. Big stakes protruding from the ground would slow any army down.
Now re-imagine the thorn in the flesh. It takes on a little more intensity now. So why would Jesus want to give Paul a thorn? Well Paul was an amazing man who's testimony has been a root for the Christian faith. He wrote most of the New Testament. Now with accomplishments like that, can you imagine the arrogance he is capable of? But he wasn't arrogant. In fact, he was incredibly humble and vulnerable in his ministry. I think it is for this reason he was given a thorn that so tormented him.
His torment brought Paul to this kind of humility that reached millions. This thorn made him FEEL so weak that he could only depend on God. We know this thorn cut deep into Paul, but was never removed. It remained to continually bring Paul to brokenness and vulnerability, but it is this brokenness which forced Paul to rely so heavily on God. Not by our strength; but God's.
The Message calls "the thorn in the flesh" the "gift of hardship". I think it really can be anything for us. We do not know exactly what Paul's "thorn" actually was, but we know what it did. I think our "thorn" could be anything, as long as it does one thing...brings us to brokenness and vulnerability before a powerful God.
I wonder what my thorn...my gift of hardship may be. Peter Scazzero makes a list: "What might the 'gift of hardship' God has given you be? A child with special needs? A struggle with an addictive behavior that forces you to be vigilant every day and attend meetings regularly? Emotional fragileness with a tendency to depression, anxiety, severe isolation, or loneliness as a single person or widow? Scars on your soul from an abusive past? Childhood patterns...a physical disability? Cancer? Real temptations to anger, hate, resentments, bitterness, lust, pornography, or judgmental?"
Psalm 27 says, "I would have despaired UNLESS I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD. In the land of the living. Wait for the LORD. Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD."
I wrote to Bryleigh (and in my journal to myself):
Always believe and trust God's goodness...no matter what happens. If you can stubbornly trust His goodness, nothing can bring you so far down.
That unwavering trust and belief will help your heart be strong and courageous. Because in everything you face you will be able to say, "It is going to be okay. I do not know when but my God WILL come through; he always does. I will just wait for Him to come through; He always does."
If I am going to continue a life of healing in Christ, I will need HOPE. Hope is often highly misunderstood. Since hope is fundamental to our healing, it would serve us well to know what it means. First of all, hope is not a concept. There is substance and definition to hope. Essentially, HOPE is projecting the positive things I am experiencing NOW into the FUTURE. This means HOPE says, "Months from now I will be better of than even now."
The problem with hope is our tendency toward the opposite. We could have the tendency if we are not healing, feeling or working through things to say to ourselves, "Months from now, I'm going to be screwed and worse off."
HOPE PROJECTS YOUR CURRENT STATE OF BEING INTO YOUR FUTURE.
That being said, there ARE a couple things required of us to live a life of hope. To live a life of hope requires a positive current state to project into the future. This means that our current state needs to change.
There must be a CHANGE in our lives in order for us to begin a life of healing and hope. This change, though, requires a RISK be taken. Am I going to be willing to take risks for the cost of healing? If I want to know a life of healing; a life of hope, I have to be willing to take some risks so that change may come. If I stay COMFORTABLE in my current state (the one without healing) I will project THAT state into my future, and I will be the same or worse months from now.
On the other hand, if I look at my current state and get bold enough to take a risk and change it, I will begin to see healing and change. Then my current state changes and I can project it into my future...THIS is hope.
"but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, HOPE. And HOPE does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us." - Romans 5:3-5