How to Face our Brokenness

Hiding_IconIn part 1 of this discussion we looked at the verse:

Romans 12:3 “…Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”

Most of the time this verse is offered as a warning against the sin of pride, and so it should be, but it has more to say to us than that.

Sins and failures are of two kinds; sins of commission and sins of omission. Perhaps when we fail to consider our weaknesses, doubts and fears we are failing by way of omission. It might be that we are doing quite fine in not thinking of ourselves in prideful terms and yet still be missing the point of the verse, because we have failed to consider ourselves in our totality – good and bad.

At this point in my argument someone might say, “All that matters is that I avoid sin. By not being prideful I am obeying the verse, so who cares about facing my weaknesses as long as they are not sin.” This is the sort of response one can expect from a sin-based faith, but could God have more in mind that that we avoid sin? Jesus said He came to give us abundant life. Surely abundant life is more than a life of simply avoiding sin.

So here is the question;

“could failing to address the hidden negative aspects of my life be coming between me and abundant life?”

Is it possible that failing to think about the negative aspects of my person could negatively affect my relationship with those I love, or even my relationship with my Father God?

We have an expression we use as a compliment. We say, “she is really real.” Or we say, “he is really genuine.” Or possibly, “With her, what you see is what you get”. What we are complimenting is their transparency.

We are saying that what we enjoy about them is that we are seeing the real person, both the good and the bad. The truth about relationships is that they are only as deep as they are honest. What I keep hidden about myself can never be a part of a relationship. This means that not all of me is a part of the relationship, and so the relationship will suffer. The more I keep hidden, the shallower the relationship.

The shallower the relationships the less abundant is my life.

And the same applies to my relationship with God.

Whatever part of my personhood that I refuse to bring to God is not a part of our relationship. What ever part I refuse to look at in myself is not available for God to heal. He never forces His healing on anyone. He waits until we will be honest with Him and then He begins to address our fears, doubts, and failures with us. Divine healing is a two-part process. We bring our pain to Him by being honest and He brings His truth and love to our pain.

What we need to note is that much of the time God’s healing comes through others. There are many blessings He chooses not to do directly because He values giving us significance in His Kingdom. We really are allowed to be His hands and feet, ears and mouth. And this brings us to the answer to the question; “Can I know others without knowing myself?”

The answer is no. Whatever I withhold of myself in my relationships with others will not be available to be healed through that relationship. Not only that but the relationship will not be “real”, because I am not being real. The more honest we are with ourselves and others, the more of God we will experience. And vice versa. The more honest we are with ourselves and God, the more of Him we will experience through others.

Relationships are the most valuable things we have. Our joy is tied to our relationships, first to God and then to others.

Relationships thrive on transparency like plants in the sun, so let’s open ourselves to the light.

To see the video of this talk visit Reluctantly Youtube Channel – https://youtu.be/CyywAatR2FI

 

Facing my Brokenness

Romans 12:3 “…Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”

Most of the time this verse is offered as a warning against the sin of pride, and so it should be, but it has more to say to us than that.

The first thing to note is that Paul is not giving us advice he is giving us a command – two commands actually. The first is a negative command; not to think of ourselves more highly than we should. Paul words this as a command rather than as advice because it is a human tendency to avoid addressing our shortcomings. Our default position is self-protection and defensiveness.

Think of the times you have had to bring correction to a close friend. How many times has their reaction been to say, “thank you so much, I really needed to hear that!” Not often. Usually we are met with some sort of excuse, deflection or counter attack. And we all do the same thing automatically when we are confronted with our weakness.

The second command is a positive command; think of yourself with sober judgement. It is the solution to the usual failure to be honest with ourselves. So far so good, but my question is; “honest with myself about what?”

The easy answer is “my sin”. But, sin is not the only problem we choose not to be honest about.

The fact is, sin is not our only problem.

There are many aspects of my personality that I do not want to think about. Many failures that I would just as soon forget. Many fears that only come in the night and leave me sleepless and anxious. Many doubts I hate to say out loud. Could it be that when Paul tells us to think of ourselves with sober judgement he might be including all these things we hate to confront?

By interpreting this verse as nothing more than an admonition against pride we can avoid the hidden aspects of our personality and history, that sabotage our peace and wellbeing. I doubt this is what God had in mind for this verse.

Check back in on Monday for the conclusion of this discussion and hopefully a video of Mark explaining it as well.

 

Can we say no to God’s love?

love and freedomIn order to love, we must be free to choose not to love. If we are forced to love then our love is not love at all, it is just robotic or forced. Love requires freedom.

For this reason, we were all created with the ability to say “no” to God’s love. Unfortunately saying no to God’s love means opting out of His plans for our lives. When we do this, bad things happen. We call these bad consequences “sins”. The literal meaning for “sin” is “missing the mark”.

In other words, when we opt out of God’s plan for our lives we miss the mark of His perfect will for us. This means that we experience something other than His perfect protection and blessing – we experience suffering.

In human history sin was like a snowball. It started small but over time it compounded its size and effect until the whole of creation was affected by it. Even nature was damaged. One of the most painful diseases we can experience is cancer. Cancer is rebellion at the molecular level against God’s design for our bodies – cells multiplying at a rate far beyond that which He designed for them.

Our failure to steward the natural world has resulted in the pollution of our water, soil, air and food. These pollutants are the cause of much of the suffering our world is currently experiencing. None of this was by God’s design. It was and is, a consequence of our ungodly choices.

Some of you might be thinking, “well if he really loved us He would step in and fix the consequences of our bad choices.” But think about it; if every time you did something wrong, God stepped in and immediately altered the consequence, would your action be “free”? Actions over which there are no logical consequences are meaningless.

When we remove the ability to complete a wrong action the the actor is no longer free.

What all this means is that for there to be love, we must be free to say “no” to God’s love. Love requires choosers not clones. Suffering is the consequence of freedom and freedom is the necessary pre-condition for love. Love is the paramount value in God’s world and in our lives. For the sake of love God will allow suffering. For the sake of love, we will even choose suffering. Soldiers do it in every war simply for the love of country. Love is the highest state of experience we humans are capable of. Love is what gives our lives purpose and meaning. Without it we are just clever animals.

So where does this leave us regarding the conundrum of the all-powerful and all loving God who allows suffering? The palmist Asaph gives us the answer in Psalm 73 where he is overcome by the success of evil men all around him and the suffering evil brings.

Vs 2-5 “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.”

Vs 16-18 “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.”

Finally, he comes to one of the most profound truths in the Bible and the place of true peace:

Vs.25 “Whom have I in heaven but you? And being with you, I desire nothing on earth”

Asaph is saying that the answer to our deepest questions and doubts is often not a propositional truth, but a presence. In the presence of God, the question is no longer of concern. If we can find Him in our suffering then we have found the comfort we need, and He can always be found in our suffering. Our God is wonderful because for the sake of love He allows suffering, but He will always enter into it with us. He is the God who can be found in our suffering. He feels what we feel, and He shares our pain. What an amazing God!

How can an all-powerful, all loving God allow suffering in His world?

loveAt first glance the nature of God presents us with a logical impossibility.

The Bible tells us that God is infinitely powerful [there is nothing he can’t do and nothing he can’t fix] and he is infinitely loving. When we suffer, and our immediate prayers are not answered, we are tempted to believe either one of these statements:

  1. God is not powerful enough to help me, or
  2. God does not love me enough to help me.

On the face of it, it appears to be an inescapable conundrum… until we ask another question…

If you had to choose, which would you choose; a world in which there is love, but some pain or, a world in which there is no love, but no pain?

Or put another way, which is more important to you;

a world with love or

a world without pain?

Most of us would choose a world with love and some pain. Love is just too wonderful and important to us to give up for the sake of avoiding pain.

“Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved” Alfred Lord Tennyson

“Love makes the world go ‘round”- song from the musical Carnival. “All you need is love” The Beatles… and on and on. There are very few songs about life without pain, but 100’s of thousands about love. You get the point. It seems I am suggesting that you cannot have love without pain. Is this true? Does love always come with the possibility of rejection/pain?

In God’s world the answer is yes. Let me explain…

As far as God is concerned love is everything. God does not just value love, He is love! His quintessential nature is love. He is a relationship of love between three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Because His love is infinite He is always looking for more people to love. We were created by love, for love. So far so good, but this creates a problem.

We will explore the problem and solution in the next blog.

Opening Your Mind to Open Your Ears

hh-animals-deer-4In my last blog post I mentioned that we have a cultural communication bias against hearing God’s “voice”.

Our culture shouts at us and God whispers.

It is not simply that the subtlety of God’s communication occurs because He speaks softly, it is also the ways that He speaks softly.

He does not always speak in perfect sentences when He drops a through into our minds.

  • Sometimes He speaks through riddles.
  • He may begin a message with a strange question.
  • He may not even use a thought at all. He may use a mental image appearing in our mind’s eye.
  • Or perhaps a powerful emotion rising up unbidden.
  • Or perhaps a Bible reference to a book, chapter and verse.
  • Or even through a physical sensation arising without apparent cause.
  • And of course, through a dream.

Sounds rather complicated doesn’t it?

Thankfully, recognizing God’s voice is simplified when we know what to look for. Let’s look at some of the ways God communicates with us in more detail.

  1. Mental images

Many times, I have been praying for someone and my well-crafted, intelligent and very literary prayer was interrupted by some strange unbidden mental image appearing in my mind. In the beginning I dismissed these random images as the probable result of indigestion.

At some point someone told me that God communicates this way and that I should pay attention to these mental pictures and find out if they might be from God. I did, and they were. These mental images were the beginning of my prophetic ministry. Of course, not every random mental image that comes to us during prayer is from God, but the only way to find out is to share it and find out if it means anything to the person receiving the prayer. Risky business.

  1. Random Thoughts

Have you ever had the experience of praying for someone and a random thought about them comes to your mind? Perhaps it is a thought about their mental or spiritual condition e.g. unforgiveness, fear, anger, sorrow, anxiety, joy, peace, etc. Perhaps it is someone’s name. I was praying for an older lady who came forward for prayer for her arthritis. The name “Frank” came to my mind very clearly. I asked her who Frank was and she said it was her brother who died by being hit by a train. It turned out she had never forgiven God for the death of her brother. Bitterness was her spiritual condition – arthritis was merely it’s physical effect.

  1. Unbidden Emotions

God can communicate to us about someone by allowing us to feel what they are feeling. It is a strange thing to be in a group of people and suddenly experience a powerful negative emotion which has no connection to the state of your own life – happy one minute and feeling deep sadness the next. We usually dismiss this kind of negative experience as soon as possible, maybe even attributing it to Satan. But what if it is God trying to get our attention to pray for someone? And if it is Him, what do we do with it? Risky business.

  1. Unbidden Bible Verses

Have you had the experience of thinking of someone and then having a Bible verse come to your mind? Most of us have. What did you do with that verse? Did you;

  1. Ignore it?
  2. Pray it for them? Or
  3. Phone them to give them the verse?

Notice the increasing degree of risk from 1. – 3. Risky business.

  1. Unbidden physical sensations

What could a sudden pain or unusual physical sensation have to do with a communication from God? Probably nothing most of the time, but what if God is trying to tell you who to pray for? Just as God can share someone’s emotional state with us to facilitate prayer for them, so can He share their physical state. I have had the experience, and witnessed others have the experience, of sharing a sudden specific pain in a meeting, announce it and have someone healed of that specific pain or condition.

A friend of mine used to attend a street church frequented by lots of homeless people. He entered the meeting late and the only seat available was near the front, beside a homeless guy. My friend was a neatness and hygiene freak. When he sat down he noticed the smell coming from his homeless neighbor. It was overwhelmingly bad. He decided to leave but before he stood up to leave God told him [with a very clear thought in his mind] not to leave. He tried to stay but the smell was making him sick. He cried out to God, “Do something, I’m going to be sick!!” Immediately, a wonderful strong scent of flowers overcame him! He could smell nothing but the flowers. He looked around to see who had just brought flowers into the room, but no one had. He said he had never smelt anything like that wonderful smell. It lasted the whole time he was in the meeting. More wonderful still was the love that overcame him for the homeless man he was sitting beside.

The list goes on, but this blog is already too long. If you are intrigued with the subject of the varied ways God speaks to us, then Reluctantly Supernatural in an Age of Reason might be the book for you. Give it a read and join the discussion with a blog post or question of your own.

In the meantime, go out and take some risks listening for God’s momentary guidance in your life! Risky business…

 

 

What is “hearing God’s voice” anyway?”

No-JargonOne of the biggest problems we religious folk have is our jargon.

Sometimes I wonder if we have any idea what we are talking about. Has it ever occurred to you that our speech might be incomprehensible to our average non-religious neighbor or co-worker?

Probably not. I say “probably not” because much of the time our highly specialized religious jargon is not even comprehensible to other Christians outside of our particular [and sometimes peculiar] Christian sub-subculture.

Take the phrase “God told me” as an example.

I use that expression allot, and I hear it allot in my circles. So much so that the scandalous nature of the phrase has lost its scandalousity …. Is that a word?

Seriously, what do I mean when I say, “God told me…”?

How did He tell me?

And how do I know it was Him speaking?

And was He really speaking? Out loud?

And how often does this other-worldly phenomena happen? Is it the rule or the exception?

So many questions, so few brain cells…

Jesus promised us that His sheep would hear His voice. This suggests that He is speaking but the questions remain, how is He speaking and how do I know it is His voice? Let me try to explain His voice as I have experienced it.

First, let me say that my experience of God’s voice has never been audible. To the best of my recollection, I have never heard the audible voice of God. I have talked to a few credible people who have told me of the experience of hearing the voice of God as a sound in their ears but, all of them agree that this was a very rare occurrence in their relationship with God.

Perhaps a better question is, “How does God communicate with us apart from the Bible?”

I say, apart from the Bible because the Bible is the principle way that God communicates His truths to us. It must always remain our primary source for understanding God’s messages to His children. But, there are many questions that the Bible cannot answer, e.g. which job to take, which house to buy, which city to live in, and most importantly, which person to marry. Many of the questions that keep us awake at night cannot be answered by studying the Bible.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God could simply drop His thoughts directly into our minds? Imagine having a troubling question about something really important and being able to ask God for the answer, then to have His answer come to your mind as a random thought. Wouldn’t that be a comfort! Some say that this is impossible. They argue that God stopped doing that when He finished writing the Bible. The idea is that once we have a book of His thoughts we no longer have any need to hear from Him directly.

Can you imagine a marriage working that way?

She says, “tell me again right now that you love me and are happy you married me!”

He says, “I wrote that in a card 10 months ago for our anniversary, I’m not going to say it again!”

They say the secret to a great marriage is communication, how much more a great relationship with our Father God?

What I find ironic is that the same people who tell me God will not drop one of His thoughts into my mind tell me that Satan routinely drops his thoughts into my mind – many times each day! And we call that phenomena “temptation”. If I am to believe them, I must conclude that Satan has direct access to my mind, but God chooses not to. Why would a good Father allow that to happen? I just can’t see Him doing that. I believe He speaks to us far more often that we realize.

The problem we have is not His lack of communication, but rather our difficulty in recognizing how He communicates to us.

One of our biggest hurdles to overcome in recognizing His communications is overcoming our cultural communication bias. Our culture of communication is big, loud, aggressive, pushy, and manipulative [think advertising]. God’s culture of communication is the opposite of all of these… a still, small voice. We are listening for a message coming with special effects and He is whispering. We expect a message that cannot be ignored, and He is speaking with a voice so subtle that should we be of a mind not to hear Him, we won’t.

When God drops a thought into our mind it usually sounds like one of ours – easy to dismiss. “What an unusual thought… I wonder why I just thought that? Oh well, it can’t be important…” And on we go, missing His momentary guidance.

The truth is that if we are going to recognize His direct communication we are going to have to pay much more attention to our thought lives.

How to do that and what to pay attention to will be the subject of my next blog post.