Joy & Pain…in service

Slowly, but surely, I’m plugging away at Fernando’s ‘Call to Joy in Pain.’ A few things I gleaned from today’s reading were that if churches really want to see the congregation rise up as servants (and not merely consumers), one of the very best ways to see that accomplished is for the leadership to invest themselves in loving the flock. Love motivates and inspires. We are living in a generation that refrains from vulnerability in relationships, but when we allow that to go on, we are short-circuiting the good work that comes from dealing with difficult circumstances honestly and seeking the Lord to help us to help those in our church body who’s needs surpass our perceived abilities to offer time, resources, energy, etc.

These are some helpful reminders for those of us who plan to be involved in lifelong ministry, whether full-time or part-time, paid, or volunteer. We all have a part to play here. As much as we sometimes feel that our schedules are already brimming, I would encourage you to prayerfully consider if there is any capacity in which the Lord might want to use you to either love another church goer or help someone from the body out with a practical need. One of my periodic things is writing letters to women from my congregation to encourage them in their walk, let them know I’m praying, or follow up about something that I know has been happening in their lives.

Sara Groves is one of my favorite artists…when I think about love, there are a few things that pop into my mind almost immediately: excerpts from C. S. Lewis’s Four Loves and Kierkegaard’s Works of Love (see quote tab) and songs from Sara Groves. Here are the lyrics for one of them:

When it was over and they could talk about it
She said there’s just one thing I have got to know
What in that moment when you were running so hard and fast
Made you stop and turn for home
He said I always knew you loved me even though I’d broken your heart
I always knew there’d be a place for me to make a brand new start

Oh love wash over a multitude of things
Love wash over a multitude of things
Love wash over a multitude of things
Make us whole

When it was over and they could talk about it
They were sitting on the couch
She said what on earth made you stay here
When you finally figured out what I was all about
He said I always knew you’d do the right thing
Even though it might take some time
She said, Yeah, I felt that and that’s probably what saved my life

Oh love wash over a multitude of things
Love wash over a multitude of things
Love wash over a multitude of things
Make us whole

There is a love that never fails
There is a healing that always prevails
There is a hope that whispers a vow
A promise to stay while we’re working it out
So come with your love and wash over us

Searching for a new paradigm

A reflection out of my reading in Call to Joy & Pain and work with Live a Praying Life

This year has confronted me about how much I have grown up with clearly drawn lines around where God’s turf was in my life and that there has been terrain where He was not to tread because, after all, it’s my life.

But it isn’t really; it’s His.

As I aim to grow in Him, this season has surfaced a great many ‘I wants’ that have been severely disappointed. I realize that I was raised to have a plan and move towards it, but the more my plans fall through, the less I believe that paradigm works. To complicate things further, God tells us that He has plans for us, yet we don’t constantly walk in the knowledge of what those plans entail. He hasn’t exactly sat me down with a timeline and told me word for word what I need to do to arrive there…wherever ‘there’ is. Sometimes, we have to walk purely by faith that God does, indeed have a plan, one that we cannot see.

I don’t like the idea of relinquishing my whole future to God, wholly undefined from my own vantage point. What might He fill that life with? Still, is there anyone else who would be better to give that blank check to? My prayer life is being disrupted in these thoughts of what it means to pray…that it is more about being transformed into persons with His heart and His desires. Suffering and pain can be part of the means God uses to produce the character He needs to see His work accomplished.

Even in the face of knowing enough about God to know that He is good and His ways are perfect, it’s difficult to say with each instance or circumstance of life, ‘This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” I have these what ifs and what abouts that choke out joy and highlight pain or failure.

Somehow, in a way that I cannot see, God will supply all that I ever needed. I don’t yet grasp what it means to live with anticipation of what God will do, without being tempted to define what I think that should be or keep my heart on the fringes so I don’t risk more brokenness.

All of the misshapen pieces I have examined this year, the places I wish I could hide or fix, struggles that I could not mask, I know that God has a use for those things. On what might seem desolate terrain, He will amaze me with what harvest He can grow, in His time and in His way. The purification process will one day yield fine metal for Him to use. In the meantime, He helps me take down my fences and tills the ground for a work that has yet to come.

Ajith Fernando’s Call to Joy & Pain

A dear friend of mine recently referenced Fernando’s Call to Joy & Pain: Embracing Suffering in Your Ministry. I thought I would take a look at it since it was related to some of the work I’ve been doing in scripture reading and Bible study.

In the introduction, Fernando addresses a very significant issue for Americans in acknowledging the “cultural incompatibility of the cross.” In the book, he will proceed to discuss both joy and struggle in the life of a Christian and how they are sometimes woven together throughout our experiences.

He points out that satisfaction competes with joy for our attention and investment. Satisfaction is not bad in and of itself, but when we pursue it at the cost of things that God has asked us to do or to forsake, then we’re in trouble. Fernando indicates that addiction is perhaps the most pronounced expression of satisfaction that has won out over joy in a person’s life. However, he reminds the reader that, “without the joy of the Lord, all pleasure has a hollow ring to it.”

I would agree that particularly in the current generations, we are facing a strong temptation day after day, to pursue satisfaction over a deeper, truer Christianity. Experientially, satisfaction fades away all too quickly, and we find ourselves feeling empty again and wanting something or someone else to fill that void.

Over the last several years, I’ve become increasingly convinced that our capacity to know the fullness of joy is connected to our willingness to receive pain. I think when we push away the painful times in our lives or attempt to ignore them, we are also cutting off the potential for a more complete joy that the Lord ushers in after a season of trials, or waiting, or growing.

What do you mean, wait?

As I was gathering some more books to refill the display on doubt and fear, I came across a book I read a few years ago on waiting. I thought I’d review it to see if there was something that might speak into my current circumstances.

What I want to share with you are some of the highlights of that book that I’m mulling over and living out.

Waiting is not the same as complacency. A. W. Tozer said, “complacency is a ‘self-satisfaction accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.” Waiting is an active process. A lot is going on, but this work can take a long time and much of the work is happening in our innermost being and so it might be some time off in the future before others can see the fruit of waiting.

Waiting provokes wrestling, which is to ‘engage in deep thought, consideration, or debate; to strive earnestly as if in a violent or determined struggle’ (pg. 91). Waiting may lead to weeping, or breaking down. ‘The longer we wait, the more aware we become of our powerlessness’ (pg. 117).

‘Waiting often brings us to peaceful acceptance, to willingness. Willingness is not a passive resignation, but active trust. We are willing not only to wait, but to examine our motives, to confess our sin, to step out in obedience, and to surrender our rights, in confidence” (pg. 129).

Sometimes willingness to slow down, listen to God, and obey Him happens after a period of wondering where God is and what He’s doing. Otherwise, we might have just carried along, full steam ahead, towards some plan that looked good to us. There is something in me that groans deeply when I sense God’s wait sign going up. I’d rather just hear no and rush headlong into something else than to hang on ‘wait.’

“Waiting sharpens desire. In fact it helps us to recognize where our real desires lie. It separates our passing enthusiasms from our true longings. It reveals to us both our shallowness and our depths. Waiting is a test of our love and longing” (pg. 134).

Perhaps I appreciated that quote most in my own experience of waiting because I’ve pondered how the Lord is purifying the things I thought I wanted and reshaping them again. I can’t see what it looks like, but I can feel the refiner’s fire and the pain that comes from the straightening of crooked places and filing of jagged edges.

Waiting is a choice to obey that we have to keep making day after day. The alternative is to walk away and pursue something else. Even in Christian circles, I find that this is often encouraged…to simply get on with it, rather than to stay the course and endure whatever it is that God has in store for those who will heed the call to wait.

In my own season of waiting, I’m trying to trust that waiting allows me the opportunity to know God in a way that I’ve not known Him before and maybe didn’t even desire to know Him until the going got tough enough.

Here are a few of the passages that were referenced in the book:

Psalm 27:13-14

Psalm 73:28

Psalm 84:5-7

Psalm 126:5-6