Planning for Growth

Isn’t it interesting that when you look at seasons of intense personal growth in your life, one constant theme is intentional alone time with God? This doesn’t necessarily mean you increase your devotional time by X minutes (and it might mean that)

Rather it’s more a way of life, where, like how you usually think of a lover, your mind is rested, often, on God or at least pulled towards him (Josh 1:8, Isa 30:15, Ps 26:3-4, Ps 16:8, Luke 6:12, Luke 5:16, etc.). A simple analogy is how a compass points to the north, in the absence of strong magnetic presence (read that as the busyness of our lives), and once the magnetic presence is gone, it returns back to the north (read it as our minds returning back to God)

Even in scriptures when you look at when people who have had true growth, you see this theme of increased and intentional alone time with God (again not necessarily specific times but a way of life).

I use the word “alone” in preceding statements because there has to be a personal intimacy and dimension to it. Just like how you get to know an intimate friend “alone” or at least you have those private moments and that is what deepens the friendship

Unfortunately, we generally do not plan for this, rather we are in some ways forced into it hence the need for affliction and sufferings that drive us to the end of ourselves. For that is when we are truly ready to strip away religion and what we think we know and get to the “address of God.”

Solitude and Silence: An example

Coming across the excerpt below was the trigger for this post, as it reminded me of how poorly I am planning for my growth and development, for the sake of actually becoming an apprentice that does his will, naturally and routinely:

Among the practices that we learn to engage in to enable effectual focus upon Christ is a combination of solitude and silence. You have only to look at the lives of those most successful in living with Christ to see that this is so. To go into solitude means to be alone and do nothing for lengthy periods of time. That is necessary to break the grip of a God-alienated world over us at the level of our constant habits and preoccupations. Silence means to eliminate noise, including the noise of our own mouth. It further frees us to move into the life that is eternal. We need to combine solitude and silence on some occasions to gain their full effects. They must be practiced intensely and extensively.

These are root-reaching practices that slowly bring us to an understanding of who and what we really are—often producing occasions of profound repentance—and that allow God to reoccupy the places in our lives where only he belongs. They require lengthy times and extreme intensity to do their work, though at the beginning we must ease into them in a gentle and non-heroic manner. Once established in our mind, soul, body, and social involvements, they go with us wherever we are and need to be renewed only periodically by special times of practice. Irritability and anger, loneliness and busyness, are signs that they need renewal.

Excerpted from Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge by Dallas Willard

Since Jesus is our model and the one we strive to be transformed into (from the inside out, not by straining or flexing our Christianly acts), it is interesting to consider his way of life.

Please see the link below to see the multiple scriptures that describe Jesus’ way of life. Consider, then, that if he, being the second person of the Trinity did all this frequently, how often should we do it:

http://www.soulshepherding.org/2013/02/jesus-solitude-and-silence/

May we be people that plan to develop our relationship with God and we work that into our lives the way we work appointments and give priority to important things

May we learn to step back and embrace the love of the father and who he is to us. May we see that he more than ever invites us into friendship

Side note: You’ll be shocked by how much our relationship with God is described as friendship or alluded to in scriptures.

Thinking about how we develop normal friendships can be very helpful in developing our friendship with God and even our times of speaking to him (prayer).

Isn’t it funny that we rarely start a conversation with God asking about what He wants to talk about?

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Aside

Identity and Humility

I recently came across a beautiful poem that I would love to share with you:

IF – Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

    And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

 

This powerful poem brought to mind two key constructs  – Identity and humility, and by humility, I mean a real and intent filled preference for the will of God

By myself I cannot simply be all that this beautiful poem embodies. I personally do not think anyone can attain to it

I look at the essence of the poem and the only way I can get there is through Christ, through my identity being rooted in Christ’s sacrifice for me. Why? Because the essence of “If” points to an identity that is firm and not tossed to and fro by the whims of life.

Without the right identity, “If” is simply a collection of noble words that rings hollow, just like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal

When I start grasping (which implies more than head knowledge) what Christ has so graciously done for me, I start becoming the type of person who wears this world loosely and carries myself lightly  i.e. I start morphing into Christlikeness.

Essentially, I become the one who denies himself, picks up his cross and follow Christ. And what is this posture if not that of humility?

Therefore, the leanings of my identity is a foundation for the posture of my heart, which is an expression on the continuum of pride and humility.

“If” reminds me of my desperate need for Christ, and calls me to redefine what I value and esteem. I am reminded that perhaps the success metrics I employ are deeply flawed.

Instead I am nudged to make Christ my ultimate treasure! So help me Abba

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

“Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up…Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.

Identity and Humility

Do not waste your weaknesses

Ps 46:1-5

1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.

5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.

Do not waste your weaknesses and flaws. As much as it might be hard work re-orienting how we see our weaknesses, do not hide from them or quickly shuffle them under nice categories in your mind.

Rather explore those weaknesses.

Become intimate with your weaknesses, which are likely symptoms. More importantly, get to know the root issues. Of course, I would ask that you apply caution and wisdom if diving into these things brings an unhealthy level of condemnation. If so, I suggest you dive into these things with someone who can help mediate the grace of God to you

Ps 139:23-24 is always helpful for me when I engage in some soul searching. I am reminded that this is not a witch hunt but a “knowing” that is empowered by the Holy Spirit. He is the one doing the searching (more like unveiling) and he is the one that determines the way we should go.

Ps 46:1 speaks of God as a companion who is exceedingly available to us, especially in the midst of trouble. It’s like he can’t wait to help but please remember that He is the Sovereign King and how he decides to help is best. He will not necessarily conform to what you want, and He acts in love not simply to play games or punish. Maybe the right approach is to be humble enough to receive his help because if we could fix things, we would’ve already.

Be humble – admit your powerlessness and cry to Him for help. There is little need for dramatics, only an honest longing is required.

This is the first step in not wasting your weaknesses. Humility is a real and intent filled preference for the way of God. Desire his way of doing things, get wisdom through the mundane routine activities you engage in.

Verse 2 to 3 aptly describes what we are familiar with and we only need look at our lives, especially our inner world and we see traces, if not the the same picture portrayed in the aforementioned verses. These verses point to the instability of the world all around us. It’s almost like things are moving in reverse of creation language in Genesis. Something de-creation like seems to be happening.

In verse 4, the “there is” is actually not present in the original language and it is added as an interpretive rendering. When you remove it, it becomes clear that the raging seas in verse 2 to 3 is what God has made into a river (and we get this impression of a calm, gently flowing, powerful, yet life giving river) that makes glad the dwelling place of the Most High.  The city of God likely refers to the temple of God, a place of worship and we have become temples of the Most High if we are in Him.

So the raging waters become an instrument in the hand of God. Now do you see why verses 2-3 speaks of not being afraid because of verse 1, where God actively seeks to be known by you?

And this is exactly why I believe we are not to waste our weaknesses

John Newton said “Everything is necessary that he sends. Nothing can be necessary that he withholds!” and I couldn’t have said it better. Yes it can be a difficult truth but it is a liberating one. All that is happening to you is to make you become more Christlike, if you would let God use it

We see a similar cry from Paul in 2 For 12:7-10

Let God leverage your weaknesses to make you into who he intends you to be.

Now, how might that happen?

Fortunately, there is no formula or x steps to take but a process, and a journey that takes place in the mundane routine acts of your life.

Here are some guidelines I am learning about on my journey with him:

1. Take time to reflect and contemplate the realities around you through the lens of God’s word and principles. To do this means you must have some margin and space in your life to be quiet

2. Hang on to the grace and truth of God. Arm yourself with truth from scriptures of his undying love for you.

3. Be objective about yourself. Be brutally honest with yourself. Apply truth rigorously to every area of your life. This you can do with God’s help

4. Know that it is a process, you will fall many times but his grace is abundant – Rom 5:17.

Trust me, you will need His grace.

You will come to see that you are more of a sinner than you ever understood (Jer 2:13, Jer 13:26, Jer 17:9, etc.) and you are more loved than you can begin to imagine (John 3:16, Isa 43:1-7, Isa 49, etc).

5. Keep moving on. God will never give up on you. I know this, for it is impossible for one who is love (not that he has love) to give up on his beloved.

Know that if there was an easier way for God to make you into who he intends you than the process you are in, he would rake that road. Why? Because he is love and love compels him to do so.

In the same breath, know that he is more than willing to take you through the wilderness (Hosea 2:14-15) if that is the way to make you into Christlikeness. Why? Because he is love and love compels him to do so.

Here is a great article that inspired this post: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-waste-your-weaknesses-in-2014

May you always be with God as he is with you

Do not waste your weaknesses

One last call to action

When I imagine Paul writing the passage below to Timothy, his protege, I imagine a gentle yet firm posture from Paul.

It is gentle because he understands the many pitfalls and opposition Timothy faces and will face. It is firm because it is what loves demand

I am reminded that if there is any better way for God to mold us into who he intends us to be without the struggles and affliction, he would do that. Why? Because love demands it. And this gives me great comfort

I imagine there is a somberness to this letter to Timothy as Paul senses his end is near – 2 Tim 4:6-8, and with that posture Paul delivers a clarion call to Timothy. It is a call to arms of sorts, a final message to keep his beloved son, on the straight and narrow

“…Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful,

unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.

Avoid such people.

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:

preach the word;

be ready in season and out of season;

reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

May we ever be so ready to take up this charge, for His sake. Amen

 

One last call to action

Owning my journey

A farmer plows his field, sows the seed, and fertilizes and cultivates—all the while knowing that in the final analysis he is utterly dependent on forces outside of himself. He knows he cannot cause the seed to germinate, nor can he produce the rain and sunshine for growing and harvesting the crop. 

For a successful harvest, he is dependent on these things from God. Yet the farmer knows that unless he diligently pursues his responsibilities to plow, plant, fertilize, and cultivate, he cannot expect a harvest at the end of the season. In a sense he is in a partnership with God, and he will reap its benefits only when he has fulfilled his own responsibilities.

Farming is a joint venture between God and the farmer. The farmer cannot do what God must do, and God will not do what the farmer should do.

– Jerry Bridges, Pursuit of Holiness

In my opinion, the analogy given above is an accurate reflection of the tension between our responsibility in relationship with God and the part God plays. It paints a practical picture of Phil 2:12-13

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Therefore there is an ownership dimension to our walk with God. There is a responsibility that we are to take on and in love, God will not do it for us. We are to do this. It is part of what builds us into Christlikeness, into union with the Triune God.

Inasmuch as we avoid this responsibility, there can be no true transformation into Christlikeness.

Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Grace is not opposed to action, it is opposed to attitude. It is true that without God we can do nothing but you must also realize that if you do nothing, it will be without God. (Dallas Willard)

We are not waiting for God or grace. God is waiting for us. His grace, which is God coming to help us do what we cannot by ourselves do, is more than enough and in abundant supply.

May we truly be with him as he is with us. Amen

Owning my journey

The Gospel to Myself

Recently I have come to see my own depravity with certain things, not in a new light, but with a certain consistency and depth

As I mull over these things, I find the false humility waiting there to further expose my pride. It seems I can’t catch a break at all. I recall Martin Luther saying our entire life is that of repentance (or all of life is repentance).

My mind races to a story I have been coming across frequently – the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-31 and Matt 19:17-30, and the phrase that keeps coming to convict and encourage me is this:

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (ESV)

Jesus looked hard at them and said, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.” (MSG)

The truth is this phrase tires me out for I often do not know when I cross from depending on him to the prideful disposition of “I gat this”

I find that as I submit and grow in an area, and the wheels seem to be moving in the right direction, I often find that I want to run the show, and so often I find myself facing my (too) familiar depravity. and here’s the kicker…sometimes I knowingly embrace that depravity…Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me

While there is certainly a side of “owning” your journey, I do realize, it can never be done by your strength, and a coming to the end of yourself is required. You simply do not have what it takes to make “this” work out

And so I am coming to understand that I must see my own selfishness and sins as being more important than that of anyone else I am relating to. Indeed all of life is repentance, and I must regularly film my mouth with the bread of my sins, in confession to my King

And so as I recall Jesus’ famous words of “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”, I am encouraged.

Thank you Abba for being so, so merciful and loving. Words fail me to express my vastly insufficient gratitude for your grace. Thank you for being so willing to step into my world and be a part of this unworthy space.

As he so often does, I found God winking at me with this quote from Jerry Bridges:

To preach the gospel to yourself … means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means that you appropriate, again by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God’s holy wrath is no longer directed toward you.” “This is the gospel by which we were saved, and it is the gospel by which we must live every day of our Christian lives. … If you are not firmly rooted in the gospel and have not learned to preach it to yourself every day, you will soon become discouraged and will slack off in your pursuit of holiness.”

Thank you Abba!

The Gospel to Myself

Sin and Satisfaction

I sin because I seek satisfaction in something else other than what God offers. When I sin, it is because I believe there is something better than the promise of God.

Maybe I do not know what God offers; maybe I simply do not believe/trust in what he offers. Maybe I know it but I do not really believe it.

Regardless, my sin is choosing satisfaction in something or someone else other than God. And maybe this is why it is often said that pride resides at the base of most sins

Pride, here, refers to my presumption that I know what is next and/or best. It speaks to my rejection of the wisdom of the Sufficiency of All things and my dependence on finite human wisdom, if it can be called wisdom at all

This is a terrible decision on my part because of His faithfulness and eternal love for me (Jer 31:1-3)

It really is a travesty knowing that I cannot even see 5 minutes into the future yet I choose to ignore the One who created time itself

Here are two scriptures and a quote that God has been bringing to mind to convict me

Jer 31:3, AMP

The Lord appeared from of old to me [Israel], saying, Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn you and continued My faithfulness to you

Ps 16:8

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore

 JI Packer, knowing God

What matters supremely is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it — the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind.

All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is not a moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.

This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort — the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates — in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good.

There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.

Abba, help me to choose you, to be overwhelmingly satisfied in you. Please convict me more and more. Draw me nearer unto you

Embed these truths into me, by your Spirit, so that they are second nature to me – for the sake of me living a life that is worthy of you, a life that is fully pleasing unto you.

Sin and Satisfaction