Saturday, March 15, 2014

Trust and Despair

This morning I talked to God about the state of our union, his and mine.  My faith in him is constant, but my feelings are so erratic.  Often, these days, I suffer from vague feelings of guilt, confusion and despair, even though I know, deep in my soul, that all is well with Him. 

Why is that?

I'm not sure.  But I'm holding on to the verses I feel he's drawn my attention to during this strange time of ambivalence. 

Proverbs 3:5-6  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him (as Lord!) and he will direct your paths.

So after I talked to God, he spoke to me, in two very specific ways: 

My morning's reading in the Daily Light was about Jesus suffering in the garden.  He trusted his Father completely, yet, in the garden, as he was awaiting the arrival of the soldiers who would take him to his death, he told his disciples, "My soul is deeply grieved." 

He cried out for mercy from God.  "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me." 

God didn't grant his request.  He sent an angel to strengthen the Son he loved more than life, and then he let the soldiers come.

I left my quiet time and came to the computer, where I found this blog from Open Doors, an organization that ministers to people who suffer persecution for their faith in Christ.  This is a quote from a Chinese man who was imprisoned for his faith.  It helped shed some light on the predicament--this strange dichotomy between trust and despair.

He says:

    When we suffer for Christ, what actually happens? I mean, what really goes on spiritually within us when we are going through suffering? 
     I ask the question because a young sister was listening to me recently recount my experience of being in jail for three weeks last year. She said, “You talked of having constant diarrhea, of being kicked and punched painfully, and you even feared that God was punishing you…yet you talked also of feeling joy and experiencing peace.” She said to me, “I don’t understand how these things go together.” 
     My reply to her, and I give it also as an instruction to you all (for you will all suffer at some point for His Name), is that when we suffer, three spiritual experiences happen to us all at once: angelic strengthening, superhuman forgiveness, and human incomprehension. These three things appear contradictory, but if you suffer, you will find they come together as they did in the life of Christ. 
    An old Christian used to say to me, “When they lead you away to jail, tell yourself you are merely going with Christ to the Garden of Gethsemane, and to the Cross.” To the Garden, and to the Cross. I liked that. I tested it. It’s true…

"Angelic strengthening, superhuman forgiveness, and human incomprehension."  I'm not suffering as this dear brother suffered, but his description of the feelings he experienced help me understand that joy and human incomprehension can co-exist.

My feelings will still come and go, but I'm honing in on the key purpose--our purpose in our walk with him.  It's just to trust.  To grow in our trust.  He doesn't ask us to understand.  He doesn't ask us to know the right path to take.  All we have to do is trust and he will arrange the rest.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Writerly Predicament

So this is my predicament:  I feel I'm supposed to be writing.  Writing lots.  But I hate writing.

My solution:  Procrastination by way of reading.

Reading seems to be the only escape from the arduous task of writing that my conscience will allow me.  Reading is, after all, research for writing, right?  Reading is the other side of the writing coin, and all writers should also be readers.

That's my justification, but I'm looking nervously over my shoulder as I bury my nose in my books.

I feel I'm at a crossroads in my life's journey.  Or maybe taking a short detour, off the beaten path, that's bound to lead, eventually, back to the main highway.  I'm pretty sure the detour is part of the "rest" God has called me to right now, but I suspect it won't be long before I am catapulted back into the writer's world again. 

I have no idea what that catapult will look like, or when it will sneak up behind me, but in the mean time I intend to make the most of my sojourn in the reader's world.

Also in the mean time, to assuage those little pangs of guilt and anxiety I get when I leave the writing behind for very long, I will occasionally post a blog.  This one is about, of course, reading.

My taste in books is eclectic.  If you'd like to take a peek into my reading world, I invite you to check out my Amazon reviews.  Some of the books I enjoy are deeper than others, but all my choices are uplifting.  Whether they deal with spiritual issues directly or not, every book I've reviewed will leave you with a sense of hope.

I plan to add to this list of reviews as I read, as a way to further justify my reading and keep my writing skills exercised.  I'll keep you posted as new reviews come up.  Meanwhile, if any of these reviews prompt you to join me on the reading journey, I will feel affirmed.  I will feel like I am, in Mr. Topham's words, "a very useful engine."*

Here's the link to my current Amazon reviews.  I highly recommend all these books to any of my reading friends.   

And here's a link to the last post on my writing blog, which is, predictably, also about reading and Amazon reviews.

Please comment here, or connect with me in other ways, if you read any of these books and enjoy them.  It's a tad lonesome on this side road, and I'd love to have a comment or a conversation about your own reading journey now and then.

*  If you have kids or grandkids you will understand this reference.  If you aren't you'll have to Google it.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Rest That's Soul-Deep for the New Year

     Come to me,
all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30

I enter the New Year celebrating an age-old truth freshly spoken into my heart by God through the Holy Spirit today.  It's a culmination of the "rest" theme He's been leading me gently into over the past few months.  I pray this message of rest will comfort and strengthen your hearts, as it has mine.

A version of the following message was originally published in the Far East Broadcasting Company's blog on December 11, 2013. I've added some thoughts here on hearing from God, another theme you will have noticed in some of my previous posts on this Joy blog.

"So much for your preachy Thanksgiving post last week about how we should thank God for the important things He does for us," I said to myself as I sat in church on Sunday morning.  We were preparing our hearts for communion, and I could not conjure up a spirit of thanksgiving for God's gracious gift of salvation to save my soul. 

It's really hard for me to admit this, but after sixty years of celebrating communion every month, it's sometimes difficult for me to come to the table with a fresh appreciation for what it all means.  I think one of our worst characteristics, as human beings, is our tendency to take good things for granted after we've had them for a while.  It keeps us from loving God as we should, and it steals our joy. But I have no idea how to keep it from happening.

So I sat there, feeling exactly the opposite of what I should be feeling as I "remembered the Lord's death until He comes."  Feeling nothing, except an uncomfortable burden of guilt as I realized how hard my heart was, and a tiny sliver of fear that sneaked in after the guilt.   

And then the Lord spoke to me. 

I want to try to describe how it happened, even though I can't do it adequately, because I've been thinking a lot lately about how God speaks.  I don't know if this is how He spoke to Abraham or not.  I know He used words with me.  He spoke them into my spirit somehow.  But when I try to remember them and write them down, they don't seem quite right. 

I know it was His "voice" because I recognize the spirit of Jesus in what He said, and also because of the overwhelming awesomeness of the realization that came.  The words had the ring of truth to them.

As I sat there feeling sad and guilty and afraid because of my insensitivity to His love, He said, "It's okay, Ginny."  

Translated into New Testament language He might have been saying, "Peace, be still," or "Let not your heart be troubled."

Then He told me why I should not be troubled.  He said,

Whether or not you feel gratitude for my broken body and shed blood has no effect on whether or not you're forgiven.  My broken body and shed blood have thoroughly redeemed you, and that redemption is a finished work.  You will always be forgiven, whether you ever thank me or not.  I didn't die for the appreciation.  I died for you, because I love you.  It's a given.  Nothing will ever change that.

He wasn't that wordy.  It takes a lot of inadequate human words for me to convey the total relief and freedom I felt when He spoke.  It was overwhelming.  It brought peace to my heart and tears of gratitude to my eyes.  That's why I know it was his "voice."

More and more I am realizing that the Christian life is not about what I am supposed to do for him, but what He has already done for me.  And continues to do.  And will continue to do, throughout eternity.

More and more I am learning to relax into His love, and every time I hear His voice I find it easier and easier to recognize.

Jennifer Dukes Lee writes a blog that I always find a real blessing.  I recommend her to you.  Her post today on New Years' resolutions mirrors this same message of rest.  

May God give you a heart full of peace and joy as you lean back into His boundless love and grace during the coming year.