Friday, January 30, 2009

My Heroic Quest

Finally, after a couple of little detour posts, we’re here, at the heart of renewal. For me, the heart of renewal is worship, and at the heart of worship is God, Himself. I’ve been eagerly waiting to get to this place, where the focus begins to shift from me and my stumbling efforts to the majesty of who He is.

Renewal brings us into the conscious presence of God, and that’s where worship happens. Worship happens there naturally, because it’s the right and healthy response to being in the presence of our Good Creator.

But here’s a hiccup in our journey: Is God really good? If He is good, why does he demand worship? Is he greedy for admiration and affirmation? Does He need us to inflate his ego? Sounds so selfish. Can God be selfish? Is it really all about Him? How can that be good?

There are probably lots of good definitions of worship, but I like this one:

The chief end of man is to love God and to enjoy Him forever.

To love and enjoy. To take pleasure in God.

It’s true that our worship brings God pleasure, but His pleasure and ours are inseparable. His call to worship is a call to take part in His joy. We are confused about His motives because we are inward focused beings. Our world is all about us, and we’re all our world is about. But God is outward focused, so when it’s about God, it’s about all of us too. His goodness does not stand apart from our good. His goodness engulfs us.

This concept of God’s outwardness does not come naturally to us because of our brokenness. We are inward-bent beings and we can’t imagine anything else. We were created to be outward focused beings, like God. That’s part of what it means to be created in His image. It’s as if God created us with a silver cord that ran from our hearts to His. The cord drew us outward to Him and held us there, in perfect relationship, and joy ran back and forth between us along this cord like melody on a violin string.

When God told Adam and Eve that disobedience would bring them death, He was talking about the breaking of this cord. They sinned. The cord broke. And the whole human race curled up on itself like the released coil of a spring. No attachment to anything or anyone. No purpose or foundation or security. No focus but inward on itself. No vision of goodness except the slowly fading shadow of its original soul-filling view of the Creator’s face.

Yesterday I was subbing in a Grade 11 English class. The kids were studying myths, specifically the mythic theme of the heroic journey. In this public high school, the curriculum invited me to teach the students about the ultimate mythic journey—a person’s search for attachment to something—his search for purpose, for the foundation, for the security that was lost with the Fall.

I was able to tell the students that each of them will face, at some point in their lives, the hero’s challenge. They’ll have to decide whether or not to “answer the call.” To leave the comfort and safety of their known world and embark on the ultimate journey. To turn from their inwardness and seek something greater than themselves to worship.

Joseph Campbell, the myth expert they were studying, says if a person refuses this “summons” to a greater life—if he chooses to make himself his god instead—His flowering world becomes a wasteland of dry stones and his life feels meaningless. . .Whatever house he builds, it will be a house of death. . .All he can do is create new problems for himself and await the gradual approach of his disintegration. In other words, he will curl up on himself and die.

Sadly, Campbell’s view of God is a hideous one. He speaks of a selfish god, much like the fickle, foolish gods the Greeks and Romans worshiped—a God who would demand worship for His own selfish sake. Campbell's god--the god who calls to the heroic journey--is an enemy who has to be overcome in the process.

But our God is different. When we turned away from Him and curled up into our lonely selves, He missed us. He missed us so much that He did something to make possible the reconnection between His heart and ours. Instead of fighting against us as our enemy, He enabled our journey.

This enabling is the ultimate Story. It’s the redemptive Story ancient myths are made of. It’s the old, old story the Church has been telling for two thousand years. We’ve told it so often we’ve lost the wonder of it. But the wonder of the gospel—God’s good, outward focus—His dying so we could live—that’s what makes Him worthy of our worship, and our recognizing that goodness is what starts the melody running up and down the cord again.

I'm not sure I’m there yet. I hear strains of the melody now and then. I think I used to hear it more clearly. I want to get back to that place and move beyond it. I want to sit in the orchestra pit and let the sound reverberate around me. I want worship to become as natural again as breathing. I want to become a part of the music. To lose myself in it. That’s the ultimate goal of my journey to renewal. The goal of my heroic quest.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mind Games

That does it. The Spider Solitaire has got to go.

I went to bed last night secure in the belief that God was my screensaver. My default mode. My desktop background. I was sure that any time my conscious mind was at rest it would revert to thoughts of Him.

Well, I was right. This morning I woke up praying. That's right. I was already praying when I woke up. The problem is, I was asking Him to help me decide which of the three eights I should move to the nine.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Don't Follow Me


Don't follow me. I get lost in the bathtub. If you don't believe me, just ask my husband. It's so bad that if I think I should turn right I turn left, since well over 50%of my judgements about which is the right direction are wrong.

Hmmm. This might not be adding to my credibility, which is not a good thing since I want you to keep reading my blog.

Let's just say my bad sense of direction is only geographical. I'm always right about everything else. Does that help?

So don't follow me, but I'd love for you to follow my blog. I've just added a "Followers" application. (See lower lefthand column.) If you're a regular reader and are willing to admit it, why not sign in? It would be fun for me to see you there.

Oops. This sign just fell off the wall. Do you think it's a message from God?

Obedience: An Easy Difficulty

Okay, so I’m a little embarrassed about last night’s entry. I should probably never post my midnight musings. They tend to be a little too intimate and it makes me feel vulnerable. So we’ll leave that little spurt of quandrying behind. (Yes, you English buffs out there, I know quandrying is not a word.)

I’d like to say two more things about obedience before we move on to the heart of this whole renewal topic:
First, obedience is not as difficult as it might seem.
And second, it is more difficult.

Obedience is not difficult if we’ve prepared our hearts for renewal. Hearts softened and open toward Jesus will tend to obey instinctively. It’s a natural outcome, almost like breathing.

Someone has said that living the Christian life is simply being “restfully available, and instantly obedient.”

Being restfully available is the same as abiding* in Him. Abiding is the breathing in. And, although instant obedience does require an act of our will, when we make ourselves available, there is momentum built up in the direction of obedience. Obedience is as natural as breathing out, when we’ve already breathed in. There’s a blissful rhythm to it. When that rhythm is broken, as it was when I balked at obeying in the shopping mall that day, it needs to be re-established by confession and repentance. Then the natural process is again in place.

I’ve called it a “natural” process, but it’s really “supernatural.” God is involved in every aspect. It just feels natural when we belong to Him.

The hard thing about obedience is that it needs to be a continuous process, and continuing in anything is difficult. Discipline is involved. Unlike breathing, resting and obeying is not completely antonomic. (Yes, this one is a word. Means “acting independently of volition.”)

Kevin Cram’s blog, http://www.alongobedience.blogspot.com/ quotes Friedrich Nietzsche:

The essential thing in 'heaven and earth' is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.

Although Nietzsche is not my favorite theologian, I like this statement. Obedience needs to be long, and it needs to be in the same direction.**

Sometimes this kind of obedience becomes plodding, and that’s okay. Plodding is the nature of persistence and God says persistence is a good thing. But it’s good because it is a temporary condition. Persistence leads us through the difficult part into the glorious results—that thing “which has made life worth living.”

As Christians we know the only thing that makes life worth living is abiding in and obeying our Creator. And that worthwhile life is eternal. How delightful!

To know God is at once the easiest and the most difficult thing in the world. It is easy because the knowledge is not won by hard mental toil, but is something freely given. As sunlight falls on the open field, so the knowledge of the holy God is a free gift to (persons) who are open to receive it. But this knowledge is difficult because there are conditions to be met and the obstinate nature of fallen man does not take kindly to them.
A.W. Tozer

*Some translations say “remain in Him.” I like that rendering. It’s as if we’re already there and we just need to stay put.

** I’d just like to add the disclaimer, which I’m sure Nietzsche took for granted, that the obedience needs to be to God. Otherwise the “same” direction would not be a good one. Hitler, who greatly admired Nietzsche, practiced a long obedience in the same direction, and it was disastrous, because he was obeying the wrong supernatural being.

Friday, January 23, 2009

God is my Screensaver

We are called to an everlasting preoccupation with God.
A.W. Tozer

Is this true?
If it is, am I preoccupied with Him?
Is his image my desktop background?
My screensaver?
Does my heart automatically rebound to His face when my busy life is still for a minute?

I think so. But does that count as being preoccupied with Him?

Lately I seem to be obsessed with God.
Is that a good thing?
Or is it a weakness—an imbalance?

Where will it lead?
Where do I go with it from here?

I don’t know,
But I have a peace about it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The "O" Word

Have you noticed that in our North American culture “obedience” has become a bad word? In a secular society, where God is no longer in charge, words like “authority,” “obedience” and “command” are evil. Without the rule of God, every person is his or her own authority. No one has a right to tell anyone else what to do. Even in elementary school, children are not taught to obey their parents. They are told, instead, to find their own way, create their own truth, and live their own lives.

But when we, as Christians, dedicate our lives to God, we choose to come under His authority. We choose to obey His commands. We are not justified by our “good works,” but obedience is a natural outworking of our submission to Him. In the Jewish tradition, faith and action were the same thing. We tend to separate them out in our worldview, and because of that the desire of our heart to follow the Lord does not always lead to the actual following.

Obedience puts feet to our decision to submit to God, and it activates the renewal we long for. Do we still feel dry, even after a spiritual recommitment to the Lord? Sometimes one small act of obedience opens the floodgates of God’s blessing in our lives.

I don’t know about you, but I find it easier to obey God’s rules than His orders. I have no problem avoiding adultery or murder or idolatry (in its literal form, at least). All I have to do is refrain from doing wrong things. But God doesn’t want us just to avoid disobedience. He wants us to be proactive. He wants us to DO good. This takes initiative on my part. It takes stepping out in faith. It requires me to listen for His orders and then do what he commands.

So how do we take this step from commitment to obedience? How do we know what God wants us to do?

It’s not as hard as it seems to know what God wants us to do. His word is full of His orders—specific ones—all of them involving love, and all of them involving other people. If we want to activate His rule in our lives, all we have to do is look for one of His commands and then go out and do it. When we obey, we are blessed and other people are blessed, and God is glorified. When we don’t look for good things to do and do them, the blessing is missed. It’s that simple.

Active obedience is sometimes hard for me because it involves risk. I risk being misjudged, being embarrassed, or being taken advantage of. If I do a random act of kindness for a total stranger, they might think I’m weird or that I’ve got an ulterior motive. I’m too embarrassed to stand up in church and tell people about an answer to prayer because others might think it’s not such a big deal. I won’t offer to teach Sunday School because it might turn into a huge responsibility and put some of my free time at risk. And I’d never think of bringing a street person into my home because they might steal something.

Active obedience costs. But the cost is an investment. Active obedience reaps eternal rewards, for us as well as for the people God wants to bless through us.

One day I was out shopping when God pointed to a young clerk in the store and said, “I want you to go up to her and tell her that I’m with her and I love her and am taking care of her.” I groaned. This happens to me every once in a while and it always puts me in an awkward position. I don’t like to do it. Usually I give in and get it over with and the person God has sent me to is blessed. Never has anyone actually scowled at me and said, “You’re a crazy lady. Get away from me.” But this time I just couldn’t work up the nerve. I hung around for a while, trying to obey, then I left with the thought that I’d just pray for her.

For a week God leaned on me about this failure to actively obey. For a week I prayed for her, but it wasn’t enough. Finally, I gave up. I went back to the store to find her. It wasn’t easy. I had to talk to the manager and find out who had been working that day. He had to talk to the other clerk so they could figure it out. They had to find her in the store, and then I had to go to her and confess the whole story—that God had told me to speak to her, that I had disobeyed, and that God had hounded me until I came back to do what He’d told me to do in the first place.

I asked her if she could think of any reason why God would say this to her. She said, “Well, I don’t know. I’ve recently moved here and I don’t know anybody.” She heard me out, thanked me, and turned and hurried into the back room of the store. I'm sure she was crying.

In this case God redeemed my disobedience. But I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had not eventually obeyed. The thought of the blessing that might have been missed should be enough to goad me into active obedience in the future.

But I also wonder how many opportunities for active obedience I’ve missed because I just wasn’t listening. I suspect there are lots of people around me every day who need to hear the simple message that God loves them. It’s easy not to hear orders that make me uncomfortable, or that would require me to go out of my way, or that would actually cost me something if I obeyed.

I wonder if part of the dryness I’m experiencing might be because I’ve been failing to act on orders God has been whispering in my ear.

Today's to do list:

1) Decide that I want to obey God, even if it costs.
2) Tell Him of my decision.
3) Listen for the still, small voice and expect to hear it.
4) Read His word, searching specifically for a command I can obey.
5) Go out and do it.

How good it would be if we could learn that God is easy to live with. A.W. Tozer

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What Does Spiritual Receptivity Look Like?

From man’s standpoint the most tragic loss suffered in the Fall was the vacating of [his spirit] by the Spirit of God. There God planned to rest and glow with moral and spiritual fire. Man by his sin forfeited this indescribably wonderful privilege and must now dwell there alone.

By the mysterious operation of the Spirit in the new birth, that which is called by Peter “the divine nature” enters the deep-in core of the believer’s heart and establishes residence there. Such a one is a true Christian, and only such.
A.W. Tozer

In today’s post, I’d like to pursue the idea of spiritual receptivity a bit more, since it seems so important in renewing and maintaining a right relationship with God.

If you’ve read this far, there’s a good chance you are spiritually receptive. If you weren’t you’d have gotten bored and left the blog long ago. But if you want reassurance in this area, there’s an easy test.

I love my old King James Bible. My mother gave it to me when I graduated from high school, so it’s very OLD!! It’s falling apart, the language is archaic, and good old Scofield has fallen from his pedestal in these modern times, but he has some great teaching notes that will help us define spiritual receptivity.

Jesus says, in John 15:4:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me.

Abiding is the state of being right with God. It involves being in fellowship with Him and being filled with His spirit, and Jesus says we can’t bear fruit if we’re not doing it. So all the ways we speak of right relationship with God, and all the ways we glorify Him, are wrapped up in this business of abiding. Spiritual receptivity leads us into this state of abiding. In fact, a continual state of spiritual receptivity could almost be said to be the same thing.

So what does it mean to abide in Him?

Scofield gives us a description of the state of abiding.

He says: To abide in Christ is, on the one hand, to have no known sin unjudged and unconfessed, no interest into which He is not brought, no life which He cannot share.

If these three things can be said of our lives, we are abiding in Christ: our lives are spiritually receptive.

Are you spiritually receptive? Do you want to take the test? Let’s look at each one of the three more carefully:

1) No known sin. A known sin involves deliberate disobedience. I’m glad Scofield says the sin has to be known. I’m sure there are sins in my life the Lord is still preparing me to recognize, but as long as I’m willing for Him to do that, I’m only accountable for the known ones. Sometimes the “knowing” begins as a niggling at the back of my conscience. When it grows from a niggle to a nudge, it’s God’s judgment, and I need to confess it—agree with Him that it’s wrong—and turn from it. If I don’t, God will turn the nudge into a sharp rap on the noggin. That rap on the noggin may be a severe dryness that is designed to drive me toward renewal. But if I know of no unconfessed sin in my life, I’ve taken the first step toward being spiritually receptive.

2) No interest into which He is not brought. Is there a room in my heart that I’ve locked Him out of? Or, more likely, is there any aspect of my life that I’ve forgotten to bring Him into? Any relationship? Any activity? Any goal or dream I’m pursuing? If He isn’t present in every component of my life, I’m not abiding in Him. A regular examination of my life in these three areas—relationships, activities, goals/dreams—cannot help but strengthen my sense of His presence and bring a fruitful, thirst-quenching satisfaction into my spiritual life.

3) No life which He cannot share. This third condition is a combination of the previous two. The only life God cannot share is one that is unholy, or unconsecrated. If there is something in my life that dishonors Him, I cannot abide in Him and He cannot abide in me. It’s as simple as that. I may belong to Him, but I cannot abide—settle down and feel at home—in Him, and He can’t in me.

Any one of these conditions could change in a day so it’s good to test ourselves on a regular basis. When this kind of self-examination becomes a habit, we won’t have to be so deliberate about it. Our hearts will automatically signal us if our receptivity needs refreshing.

As Tozer says, God planned to “rest and glow” in us—to establish the residence of His Spirit in our spirits. Abiding in Him and allowing Him to abide in us is what we were made for, and once we’ve experienced the abiding presence of Jesus, we’ll never be satisfied with anything less. We’ll have a taste of what it’s like and if it’s missing, we’ll feel dry.

When we abide in Christ, the dryness goes away. It has to. Jesus is the fountain of living water and when we plunge in, our sins are washed away, our interests are saturated with His love and our lives are filled to overflowing with His joy. This is the blessing renewal brings.

But forgiveness, love and joy will lead us into another important aspect of walking with God. This requirement of the Christian life is downplayed in our culture--even our Christian culture--and its neglect, I believe, is responsible for much of the stagnation we see in our North American churches, and much dryness in our personal lives. I've seen it in mine. We'll tackle that subject next blog.

Are you hanging in there with me? I'd love your feedback--either positive or negative about all this. Please feel free to comment.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Buttprints

Okay, time for a lighter moment again. A friend sent me this poem a while back and I think it's fits (loosely) into the current renewal idea.

One night I had a wondrous dream,
One set of footprints there was seen,
The footprints of my precious Lord,
But mine were not along the shore.

But then some strange prints appeared,
And I asked the Lord, "What have we here?"
Those prints are large and round and neat,
"But Lord, they are too big for feet."

"My child," He said in somber tones,
"For miles I carried you along.
I challenged you to walk in faith,
But you refused and made me wait."

"You disobeyed, you would not grow,
The walk of faith, you would not know,
So I got tired, I got fed up,
And there I dropped you on your butt."

"Because in life, there comes a time,
When one must fight, and one must climb,
When one must rise and take a stand,
Or leave their butt prints in the sand."

-- author unknown

My apologies to Margaret Fishback Powers, author of the emotionally powerful poem, "Footprints," for promoting this (almost)tongue-in-cheek, and not so well written parody. Margaret Powers' poem expresses a wonderful truth about walking with Jesus but this version is instructive as well, I think.

A note of trivia: Margaret has legally established her claim to authorship of the poem after a confusing and contradictory controversy that cast a shadow over the ministry of the poem for years. She's recently written a devotional book on the "Footprints" theme, published by Harper Collins. She lives in our part of the world. She and her husband, Paul, have conducted an evangelism ministry for years.

Now I'm going to get off my butt and do something.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Great Gulf Fixed

If you’re like me, you’ll find there’s a great gulf fixed between number one on our list of ways to prepare for renewal—relinquishment and recommitment—and number two—spending time with God. I always seem to get stuck on the far side of this chasm. It’s a puzzle. I really do believe I want God to be number one in my life, but I have a hard time actually making it happen. Making it happen is where the rubber hits the road, and I have to be careful at this point or I may find myself just adding pavement to the road to hell.

Tozer discusses this issue: Why do some persons “find” God in a way that others do not? He has no favourites within His household. The difference lies not with God but with us.

I venture to suggest that the one vital quality which the great saints had in common was spiritual receptivity. They differed from the average person in that when they felt the inward longing they did something about it. They acquired the lifelong habit of spiritual response.

Receptivity can be present in degrees, depending upon the individual. It may be increased by exercise or destroyed by neglect. It is not a sovereign and irresistible force which comes upon us as a seizure from above. It is a gift of God, indeed, but one which must be recognized and cultivated.


So why don’t we “find” God? Why don’t we find time for Him? How can we recognize and cultivate this gift?

I’ve done some pondering about this and I’d like to share my thoughts. Please be patient with this post. We won’t be sprinting or skipping through the process, we’ll be plodding, but stick with me. Plodding is good for us; it will develop patience and patience is needed on our journey.

I’ve decided I have difficulty putting feet to my faith in this area because I have been duped into believing four myths about walking with God. Maybe you can identify. What do you think? Please feel free to comment at the end of this post if you have further (or contradictory) thoughts on these ideas:

Myth #1: Once we give ourselves to God, the hard part is over. If we are fully dedicated, spending meaningful times with the Lord will come naturally.

Reality: Spending meaningful time with the Lord on a regular basis is a habit. Habits have to be developed. Developing habits involves discipline. Discipline, by its nature, is difficult. We have to dig a new groove across the grain of all the other grooves in our lives. It will take effort and it will involve a certain amount of pain.

Underlying this myth are two others, more deeply imbedded in our psyche, that must be dispelled if we’re going to be successful at developing any good habit:

Myth # 2: People always do what they really want to do.

Reality: There is an element of truth to this myth. That’s why it’s so devious. It’s true that motivation drives our actions. But the problem is that we are a hodgepodge of mixed desires and motivations, and they are often contradictory. One moment we are motivated to lose weight. The next moment we are motivated to eat a big piece of chocolate cake. One moment we are motivated to keep our lives pure and the next we are motivated to relax in front of a slutty video. When we’re sitting in church, feeling close to God, we are motivated to spend more quality time with Him, but when we get home, we are motivated to “accomplish something,” and spending time with God doesn’t seem like it’s accomplishing anything. (This secondary myth—that spending time with God isn’t accomplishing anything—is addressed at the end of this post!)

The next myth is even more subtle. It’s so hidden you might be tempted to deny it’s there, but I bet it operates in your life.

Myth # 3: We won’t have to give up anything to make time for God. We can have our Kate and Edith too.

Reality: This lie is akin to the one that says, “This piece of cake doesn’t have any calories.” The truth is, we cannot eat cake and lose weight at the same time, at least not without killing ourselves with leg-lifts and stair-steps while we’re eating it. We cannot keep our minds pure and watch trash on TV, though I’ve heard that argument: “Oh it doesn’t affect me. I just ignore those parts.” And we cannot spend time with the Lord without giving up something else that we would normally spend time on.

Living a disciplined life (walking with God) requires that we become aware of our conflicting motivations, that we set priorities, and that we consistently, deliberately put high priority desires ahead of the others. Doing what we REALLY want is hard work.

Which brings us to the last myth:

Myth #4: If we have to work at it, it can’t be meaningful. Shouldn’t worship come naturally? If it doesn’t, how can it be pleasing to God?

Reality: Nothing good comes easily. Think about it. Even love, the best thing in the world, is hard. Between the initial blush of infatuation and the deep satisfaction of a committed relationship comes years of determination and hard work. Again, maybe it wouldn’t have been this way if we hadn’t given our joy away in the first place. But the hard truth is, in this imperfect world, living in these imperfect bodies, the process of establishing a deep relationship with God is going to feel more like a battle than a party.

(For a while. The victory party will come later.)

Yes, it is a battle. It sometimes seems like just a battle between the good and the best, but it’s always also a battle between you and the one who does not want you to have a deep relationship with your Creator. The more serious we become about this business of walking closely with God, the more flak we’re going to get from God’s enemy and ours. Satan will try his best to keep our times with the Lord from happening, because he knows they threaten his kingdom. When we spend time in focused worship and prayer, we rattle cages in the heavenlies. (Here’s the other myth-buster: time with God accomplishes eternal good; no accomplishment on earth is of greater value.)

When I remember this truth I want to run to my quiet place with God. When we’re on our knees we’re winning the battle—God’s battle. We’re participating in His victory. We’re winning freedom, not just for ourselves, but for His other loved ones as well. And we’re bringing great joy to His heart. This is all strong motivation. When we falter along this journey, it’s because we’ve taken our eyes off the destination. We’re forgetting about the victory party. We’re losing sight of the view from the top of the hill.

God help us to keep our eyes on the destination!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What's In It For Me?

The last two posts (not counting yesterday’s coffee break) have been heavy. I think that’s partly why I needed a break. All that business about dying to yourself—it’s kind of depressing, at least until you get past it to the peace part. So today I thought I’d climb up on a hill and look over all the humps in the road ahead and try to get a glimpse of the end of renewal. Yes, I know renewal won’t end in this life, but I need to know that things will get better, or at least that trudging along after renewal has its perks along the way.

I am a selfish person. I never do anything unless there’s SOMETHING in it for me. Even praying for the salvation of other people has a selfish motive. I love the rush I get when someone comes to know Jesus. It feels so good.

I’ve tried to fix this problem of selfishness, but so far I haven’t been able to. I’m sixty-two years old and I figure if it were fixable I’d have found the solution by now, so I’m about ready to give up. But this morning I woke up with a new, intriguing thought. Maybe selfishness is not always a bad thing. Maybe it comes from a good place and only becomes bad when it’s turned back on itself.

Maybe God wants to satisfy our “selfish” desires. I can’t think of anything He’s ever asked us to do that doesn’t have its reward. He says if we lose our lives we will find them, as if finding our lives is a great thing that He wants us to do. Maybe He wants joy for us more than we want it for ourselves. Maybe there is a good selfishness, and this deep longing in the pit of my soul is a part of that.

Remember how much God loved Jacob? One of the things He seemed to love was the grasping character of this funny little man. Jacob wanted something badly and he went after it. He went after all the wrong things in all the wrong ways, but underneath God may have seen a huge selfishness that pleased Him. Jacob’s grasping was like the cry of a hungry lamb for its mother’s milk, and in the end he took hold of God and would not let go until he’d gotten his selfish desire—God’s blessing.

I sense God’s great joy in seeing us grasp after Him. It’s like the joy on my son-in-law’s face as he wrestles on the floor with his little boy. He’s loving the closeness. The intimacy. The excuse for hugging.

I see that joy on God’s face as I write these words and it brings tears to my eyes. This is what’s in it for me.

Why do we have to experience the longing? Why can’t we just skip right over to the joy? I guess it’s because of the Fall. When Adam and Eve sinned, they gave our joy to the Devil and we’ve spent the last four or six thousand years struggling to get it back. In the end, Jesus died to get it back for us, because He loves us, and the joy is something He meant for us to have all along.

Sigh. That was a nice glimpse of the end of renewal. I think I’ll trudge back down the hill now and get on with the journey. Next post we'll continue the gruelling process, talking about the great chasm that often opens up between rededication and the actual work of putting it into practice.

P.S. My friend Camille http://www.camillecannon.blogspot.com/ posted a fun message yesterday, talking about a word contest from the Washington Post. You take any word and add or change one letter and give it a new definition. I created a new term, based on my experience yesterday. I told her I was blogged down in my writing. Cute, eh? Check out the article and try a word yourself. She’d love to have new vocabulary show up in her “comments.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Note to Those of You Who are Following this Blog Post Series

Whew! This blogging business has plunked me down onto a steep learning curve. The first thing I’ve discovered is that it takes much time, sweat and prayer to post every day. Too much. I already feel pressured to “produce” by my own self-imposed schedule of daily posting, and the pressure is going to tempt me to splash thoughtless (and prayer-less) drivel all over the place if I try to keep up with that rigorous a schedule.

I don’t want to do that. I’m humbled to think that anyone is reading this. I know how busy you are. I’m determined to make it worth your while. So, here’s the plan: I will only post when I’m ready to pass on something I think will be valuable to you.

I sent some of you an e-mail with instructions on how to know (without looking) when there’s a new post. I told you to go to the orange “feed” icon at the top of the blog and sign up for it—that it would e-mail you when there’s something new. That bit of information was thoughtless drivel. It doesn’t work. I didn’t know what I was talking about when I sent it. I’ve come up with a better idea (which is not saying much, I know) so if you do want to follow the blog, try this:

Go to Feedblitz.com on the internet. Scroll down and click on the green box on the left that says “Subscribe to Anything!” Type “something-about-the-joy.blogspot.com” in the box (or you can copy and paste it from this site if you want). Then follow the instructions to complete the subscription.

Don’t let the word, “account” scare you. You’re not signing on to pay for anything. This service is easy, safe and free. You can use it to send any blog or website you want to check regularly directly to your mail box.

Thanks for reading. I'll post again asap.

The ox is slow, but the earth has time.
Old Chinese Proverb

Monday, January 5, 2009

Relinquishment

Every journey begins with one step. The first step in preparing our hearts for renewal seems simple. “You must Choose. Make a decision to rededicate your life to God.”

Easy, right? Not necessarily. When you really think about what it means to “dedicate your life to God,” it becomes harder to take that first step. There is a cost involved and the cost is high. Jesus says choosing to give our hearts to God (he calls it becoming a disciple) will cost us everything we are and have. He says it means losing your life--dying to yourself. Dedicating our lives to God involves relinquishing things, and even if we’ve made the initial decision before, every time we renew it there will be new things in our lives to relinquish.

Jesus urges us to count the cost of discipleship before we decide to follow him (Luke 14:26-33), and A.W. Tozer challenges us to do that by asking a number of sobering questions. He speaks of being filled with the Spirit, which is another aspect, or way of talking about surrender to God:

Before you can be filled with the Spirit you must desire to be filled. Are you sure that you want to be possessed by a Spirit other than your own? That Spirit, if He ever possesses you, will be the Lord of your Life! Do you want to hand the keys of your soul over to the Holy Spirit? . . .Again, are you sure that you need to be filled? Can’t you get along the way you are?. . .Are you ready to present your body with all of its functions and all that it contains—your mind, your personality, your spirit, your love, your ambitions, your all?

That’s heavy. What if you give your all to God and he takes you at your word? What if He takes something away that’s very important to you? What if He takes the thing you love the most?

The sobering truth is, He will. Because it’s the thing you love the most that will come between you and God, and if there’s anything between you and God, he is not Lord of your life. You have to give up everything if you want to dedicate your life to God. “If He is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.”

If that’s the case, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would do it. Why wouldn’t you just go on as you were, following Christ at a comfortable distance, keeping the things you don’t want to give up close to your heart?

For some reason, God doesn’t allow us to do that if we truly belong to him. He nudges us. He makes us “feel things” in our hearts. Tozer says: But maybe you feel in your heart that you just can’t go on as you are. If you feel that there are levels of spirituality, mystic deeps and heights of spiritual communion, purity and power that you have never known, that there is fruit which you know you should bear and do not, victory which you know you should have and have not—I would say, “come on,” because God has something for you.

God does have something for us—something wonderful. Relinquishment is just the first step. When we give him our all, he takes it, sanctifies it (sets it apart for holy use), and gives it back for us to use for His glory and our good. Tozer says that what God gives us back is . . .a full and wonderful and completely satisfying anointing with the Holy Ghost. It’s this full anointing, coming only after a full surrender, that opens the door to spiritual blessings in our lives that will overflow to bless the world around us with eternal good.

That’s strong motivation. The farther I go in my walk with the Lord, the more terrified I become of missing, because of my selfish refusal to relinquish something to God, the full ETERNAL blessing of fulfilling his ETERNAL good purposes for the ETERNAL lives of people in the world around me. The stakes are high. If we decide not to sell out totally, we are sacrificing eternal blessings for temporary ones, not just in our lives, but in the lives of people God longs to bless through us.

Tozer says, For every one that actually crosses over into the Promised Land there are many who stand for a while and look longingly across the river and then turn back to the comparative safety of the sandy wastes of the old life.

How tragic. Lord, I do choose, once again, to give myself totally to you. Thank you for giving me that choice.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Beginning a Journey Toward Spiritual Renewal

Ten Ways to Prepare your Heart for Renewal began a series of regular postings on this topic I plan to publish over the next few weeks. In a blind leap of faith, I’m going to suggest that some of the words I write will not be FROM me. They will be THROUGH me—and TO me, as well. I’m determined to be painfully honest as I share my own faltering, hesitant steps on this journey toward personal spiritual renewal. It’s so easy to become stale and stagnant. I’m a beginner, again, after all my years of walking with Jesus. It’s a new year, and I’m making a new start at personal renewal.

I trust you will be able to discern the difference between my words and His as you visit this site. Expressions of my faltering walk are my own. Any words that ring with a greater Truth are from God, to all of us. So let’s travel together on this path toward a deeper relationship with Him. I’d love to have you comment on posts, adding your own insights and encouragements—your own words from the Lord—for the edification of all of us.

My words: Yesterday I took one small step along this path to renewal. The seventh way to prepare your heart, according to Thursday’s post, is to listen to worship music, so I spent all day cleaning my office for the sole purpose of making a place near my mini-boom box for my worship tapes. Aren’t you impressed? Finally, in the evening, I sat down and listened to one of those tapes and got a brief, refreshing taste of the fruit of the Spirit. A great supply of tapes are now sitting over there against the wall waiting for my next visit.

But this morning I forgot all about asking God’s blessing on our worship before I went to church. I was too busy thinking up blog post ideas ABOUT renewal to ask for it. Thankfully, our worship leader led us all into God’s presence at the beginning of the service and I was blessed in spite of myself.

God’s words: In cleaning out my office I uncovered, dusted off, and opened up a little book that immediately rattled the foundations of my already shaky spiritual complacency. It’s called, Gems From Tozer, and I’m going to share some of those gems with you over the next few weeks. These words are truly from God. A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) has been called “a 20th Century Prophet” but his words ring truer today than they did when they were written in the 1900’s.

I have to warn you, as with most prophecies, these gems don’t just sparkle, they’ve got very sharp edges. I can already feel them cutting through my phony self-righteousness and exposing my spiritual poverty. Hmm. This renewal business might just have to start with repentance. I hadn’t figured on that.

Oh well. If I have to go there I won’t go alone. I’m dragging you with me. We’ll start, tomorrow, with Tozer’s thoughts on the first step in opening our hearts to renewal. Please don’t run away. Once we get through this “repentance” business we’ll begin to get to the “joy” part. I’m pretty sure of it. So please come back. I need your companionship on this journey.

Almost every day of my life I am praying that “a jubilant pining and longing for God” might come back on the evangelical churches. We don’t need to have our doctrine straightened out; we are as orthodox as the Pharisees of old. But this longing for God that brings spiritual torrents and whirlwinds of seeking and self-denial—this is almost gone from our midst.

A.W. Tozer

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Ten Ways to Open Your Heart to Renewal

The beginning of a new year is a natural time for thinking about renewal. We say good-bye to an old, tired year and look with hope and expectation to a new one. A clean page. A fresh chance. A time to think about how to make our future better--more productive, more significant, more successful, more joy-filled.

For Christians, thoughts of renewal usually revolve around God. We belong to Him forever, but we are vacillating human beings, and our relationship with Him can easily stagnate. We need times of refreshing. We need to come again to the fountain of living water. We need to long for Him so deeply that it drives us back into His presence. Thankfully, God prompts that longing. He never forces Himself back into our lives, but the restlessness we feel without Him invariably draws us.

So what to do when we feel the restlessness? When we become aware that something's not right in our spirits? God is the One who must rescue us from the doldrums of spiritual lethargy, but there are steps we can take to make ourselves available to Him again. If you are feeling this restlessness today, here are ten ways you can prepare your heart to receive Him anew in this new year:

1) You must choose. Make a decision to re-dedicate your life to God. Pray a prayer of submission to Him. Affirm your commitment to His lordship in your life. Give Him permission to touch you in a fresh way. Choose to die to your own agenda for your life. Mark this recommitment decision in your journal.

2) Time is of the essence. Follow up your decision with determined action: choose to spend time with Him. Not just a few moments at the beginning or the end of your day, but an extended time, over a period of time. This will require a measure of sacrifice. You’ll have to make the time or it won’t happen. The sacrifice might involve some kind of fast—giving up food, or a particular pleasurable activity you habitually enjoy (coffee time), or a time-waster you’re used to indulging in (TV or computer games). As you choose to remove something from your schedule, deliberately decide to put Him in its place. Spend the time you would normally be indulging in your sacrificed activities in quiet prayer in His presence. Ask Him to lead you in this process.

3) If you build it, He will come. But be prepared to wait. He might not meet you powerfully in the beginning. He sometimes has to test our commitment, not to find out how committed we are—He already knows that—but to strengthen our hunger for Him. Trust Him with the process. Just continue your discipline of spending time with Him, approaching Him on each occasion with the expectation that He may be ready to announce Himself to you in some new way. If he doesn’t, go away with anticipation that the next time He might. Let Him come in His own time.

4) Take encouragement from others. To jump-start your time of renewal, you might want to read an inspiring or challenging Christian book. Check out the church library. Go in and look around, asking the Lord to put your hand on a book that He wants to meet you in. Then browse until one strikes you as being valuable.

5) Promote a spirit of worship. That’s what this whole process is about. It’s not about personal discipline. It’s not about coming out of the doldrums in your life. It’s not even about intercession or evangelism. It’s about worship. Totally. All other benefits will come as a by-product of your focus on Him. How do you promote a spirit of worship? . . . . .

6) Focus on His attributes. You will find them in the Bible. Nowhere else do we learn what He is like. Make a list of His attributes. Rearrange the items on the list, from the most important (to you) to the least. Look up each attribute in a Bible concordance and write the Scripture references beside each. Read the references, looking for the one you connect with the most for each attribute. Memorize at least one sentence from the passage you have chosen for each attribute. Repeat the sentence off and on during your day, until it becomes a permanent fixture on the screen-saver of your mind. Note: The Psalms are great places to find such passages.

7) Listen to worship music. Find songs or a style or an artist you like—one that moves you toward worship—and play the music as you begin your time with Him. Sing the words to Him as you listen.

8) Don't miss worship time at your church on Sunday mornings. Note: This activity will not be useful to you unless you take time to pray before you come to church, asking God to touch you in the service and to bless others with His presence. It will also not be useful to you if you are not willing to let go of your irritation about any of the following: 1) the style of worship; 2) the selection of songs; 3) the loudness of the music; 4) the repetition of what might seem, at first glance, to be shallow messages. There is only one thing that can ever ruin worship, and that’s your attitude toward it. God doesn’t care how loud the music is, or who’s singing, or even what the words are. He cares only about the heart attitude and focus of the worshippers. Determine to look beyond anything that would distract you from loving God. Focus on the truth in the worship songs and love the people around you, for Jesus’s sake.

9) Let worship lead you into intercession. Intercession--praying for the needs of others--will lift you out of your stale mindset and put you down in a wider space. It will also place you right where the heart of God is. When you begin interceding for others from a place of worship, you will pray with strong faith and great authority, because the greatness and goodness of the One you’re petitioning is right before your eyes. You will have no doubts about his ability or willingness to answer your prayers. Praying with your eyes on God will also put you in a place of hearing from Him about how to pray. Ask God to bring specific people to your mind and show you specifically what to pray for, then pray for them that way. If appropriate, call or e-mail those people and tell them how you’ve felt led to pray for them. They will be encouraged that God brought them to your mind, and you may be encouraged to discover how appropriate the specific thing you asked for was.

10) Share your experience of renewed fellowship with God with others. Renewal must spread past the realm of individual experience before it can accomplish God’s complete purpose, and nothing is more stimulating for corporate renewal than hearing how God is working in individual lives. God’s desire is that His Church be renewed and that the world be blessed through His Church. Renewal must start with each individual—with a fresh commitment to Jesus as Lord and a leap of faith that leads to an expectation that He will meet us in a significant way. But when we come to him as individuals, and share our experiences, the fire spreads. God’s Church is revived and the world is redeemed.

Let’s pray together that God will pour out a spirit of repentance, of renewal and of hope on each of us as we move into this new year.