Archive for September, 2013

Silence is Golden

One lazy Sunday afternoon, several years ago, I spontaneously sat alone in the backyard doing nothing. This felt weird because I usually have an agenda for everything I do.

At first, my thoughts were crowded with current events and problems. But as time passed, thoughts from deep within began to surface.

At times, I would pray about my thoughts. At other times, I would just listen to them.

At the end of an hour, I felt refreshed and renewed. I also had a better perspective on my life. I sensed that I had connected to God in a deep way.

I liked the experience enough to repeat it on a regular basis. I called them “veg times.” I sat like a vegetable and let God bring to mind whatever he wanted. When I got to seminary, I learned that I had been practicing the ancient discipline of silence.

Why would you want to practice silence?

One reason is that silence helps us to receive God’s help and guidance. We learn to “ceasing striving and know that [God] is God”  (Psalm 46:10). We learn that God is the one who makes things happen, and not we.

Another reason for silence is to know ourselves better. God often reveals what our thoughts and feelings are deep within. This helps us know our need for him.

We also gain a better perspective of how special and loved we are to him. We would never fully realize our great worth, acceptance and being loved if we did not take a break once in awhile from trying to earn these things. Keeping busy all the time can doom us to the rat race of trying to impress and perform our way into being loved and special.

In silence, we can better receive them as gifts from God.

God promises, “in quietness and trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). Silence is a good way for us to learn to allow God to help us fight our battles.

So, how do we do silence?

We need to look to the Holy Spirit to lead the way (Psalm 139:23-24). Thoughts from our heart will often surface. We need the Holy Spirit to help us sort out our thoughts coming from our heart. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick, who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

The Holy Spirit helps us to determine which thoughts are from God and which are not. Some of our thoughts could be from Satan or from ourselves.

One big way we can know God’s voice is to determine if what we hear is biblical. God never speaks contrary to what he says in the Bible.

We also need to work hard at silence. “Be diligent to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11). It may drive us crazy at first. We feel like we are wasting our time and need to get busy. Satan will bring a million things to mind of what we should be doing.

Yet, we need to persevere. Through silence we can learn to better listen to God and to receive from him. Through silence we can grow in our dependence on God making life happen in and through us. And through silence our love relationship with him can deepen.

Read Full Post »

It was a beautiful October morning. The air was cool and crisp. The trees were bright yellow and orange. The sky was a deep blue and cloudless. It was one of those golden days of October.

We were living in a mansion on a huge estate. Miles of fields surrounded the mansion with rows of trees dividing the countryside into squares. It looked like Austria from the air in The Sound of Music.

We were about to sit down for a late breakfast. It was Saturday morning. The people in the house were all good friends. The sound of laughter and the feel of deep friendship were in the air.

I was especially looking forward to the afternoon when several of my friends and I were going fishing at one of the nearby lakes. Jesus was going to join us. We always seemed to catch more fish when he went with us.

I was also looking forward to the fish fry in the early evening. I have always felt a special satisfaction eating fish that I have caught.

Probably the thing I was most looking forward to was another strategy session that night. Jesus was meeting with several of us again. He would be sharing some of his plans for spreading his kingdom to worlds unknown. I felt especially important and close to Jesus as he described what our roles would be in working with him.

What’s going on here? Where is this story happening?

It is happening in heaven. This was my first attempt at trusting God to use the Scriptures, my imagination, and who I am in experiencing a day in heaven. I was inspired to do this after reading Randy Alcorn’s book called Heaven.

Why imagine a day in heaven? It seems so weird. But is it so weird? Is it really a waste of time?

Not when some of us think of heaven as some giant worship service that never ends. Not when others of us think of it as boring sitting around playing a harp most of the time. Not when still others of us want to go there because it’s got to be better than going to hell.

Imagining a day in heaven that is tailored to our needs can make us long for it more. It makes it easier to set our mind on the things above (Philippians 3:18-20). It makes it easier for us to “consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Jesus endured the cross by looking ahead to heaven (Hebrews 12:2). We can trust the same Spirit that empowered him to help us imagine what Jesus knew to “abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

But some of you may balk. You may say, “Using my imagination is so subjective. It is not concrete, like the Bible.”  But as we trust God to use what the Bible says about heaven, he will use our imaginations to paint a picture of what heaven would be like for us (Romans 12:1).

Let’s try an exercise. Below are a few descriptions God gives us of heaven:

  • “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which has not entered the heart of man, all that [I have] prepared for those who love [Me]” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
  • “In [My] presence is fullness of joy; in [My] right hand there are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11).
  • “In [My] house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you so; for I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2).
  • “ [I] shall wipe away every tear from [your] eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Revelations 21:4).

Ask God to use your imagination to experience a day in heaven based on the above Scriptures. After this experience, do you long for heaven more?

Read Full Post »

Dare to Go Deep

As I studied spiritual formation in seminary, I became excited about how this information could revolutionize the spiritual lives of my Christian brothers and sisters.  That is, if they practiced it.

Before seminary, I wondered if I even knew I had a heart. Now, I was learning that from my heart “flowed the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Thus, the condition of my heart was vital to my life.

I learned that my heart is what God wanted to change the most. “This people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me” (Matthew 15:8). God did not want me to just look good at the surface, but also wanted me to look good in the deep. He wanted to change my heart (Psalm 51:6).

Therefore, you can understand why I have been disappointed over the last few years as I have discovered that few Christians want to go deep. Do they know what they are missing?

I knew how my life had gone deeper, and I knew that theirs could too! This would be for their great benefit, and God’s honor (Luke 18:29).

So, why do so few of us want to go deep? Why do we cling to the surface, even if it isn’t working very well?

One reason that we do not go deep is that we are scared. We would have to give up some of our idols. We are not like Moses who “chose to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, rather than enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25).

We have often settled for a largely legalist, comfortable Christianity. We “are already filled, we are already rich, we have become kings” (1 Corinthians 4:8).

Little do we know that we could be  “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelations 3:17) like the church in Laodicea. The reason we may be deceived is that we do not dare go deep.

We need to go deep with God to get to the root of our sin and false beliefs that keep us from living a powerful life. We have deep internal structures that are hell-bent on opposing any transformation God wants to bring to our lives. These include false beliefs, bad feeling habits, and substitutes for trusting God that we have had for many years.

If we ignore this deep structure, we will be constantly tripped up in living the good truth that we get Sunday after Sunday in sermons. “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).

Jesus is who sets us free from this body of death and fills us with his joy, peace, and love. But we have to go deep with him. We have to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” with him at a deep level (Philippians 2:12).

We will need to do more than just know truth. We will also need to become doers of the truth at a deep level (James 1:22).

We can dare to go deep because we are not alone. In the deep, Jesus’ Spirit reveals our sin to us and then empowers us to live the truth that we often already know. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24).

Therefore, I encourage you to go deep with God today by sincerely asking him to reveal what is going on in your deep. Then, ask him to help you live his way in the issues that he reveals.

Read Full Post »

I was talking to a friend the other day and asked him to imagine how his life would be different if he believed that he was always important. He immediately responded and said that he would be more of a risk-taker. He would be more honest with himself about the condition of his business and be willing to fail in trying to grow it.

You see my friend did not view himself as always being important. He felt that his worth was on the line everyday. He was not living in the reality that he will never be more or less important than he is today (Isaiah 43:4).

He is like a lot of us Christians. We are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (1 Peter 2:9), and yet we live like we still need to prove ourselves everyday. Can we imagine how our lives could be different if we saw ourselves the way God sees us?

If we were to imagine it, here are some examples of how our lives could be different:

  • We could better stand up to bullies knowing that they can’t lay a glove on us as to our worth.
  • We would have much less fear in our lives living in the presence of God’s loving gaze.
  • We would be free to fail knowing that our worth will never decrease.
  • We would be free to lose control knowing that he is carefully watching out for us.

Yet, most of us live like paupers when we could live like royalty. We refuse to see ourselves as God sees us. Why is this so?

There are several reasons. May I suggest three:

One is that we have failed to reckon that a lot more changed at salvation than just going to heaven someday. God also gave us the challenge of seeing ourselves as having great worth and being deeply loved. It is ours for the living. But most of us won’t live it. We are lazy. It takes too much work to see ourselves differently.

We are also afraid. This business of never losing worth no matter how many times we fail seems too “pie in the sky.” It is scary. So, we refuse to follow God into the Promised Land and fight the giants that resist our living like royalty.

A third reason is that we are fooled. “There is a way that seems right to man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12). We think that our collection of idols will do a better job of making us feel loved and important than accepting God’s gift of love and worth. The great Deceiver has fooled us along with the rest of the world (Revelations 12:9).

So, if we do not want to be like the rest of the world, how can we better see ourselves as God sees us? One thing we can do is to start with a vision. “Without a vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). We can be motivated to seek living in this reality, as we can imagine it. Imagining and then living in the reality of always being loved, valued, and accepted will change the way we do life.

Another thing we can do is to wage war over the habits and spiritual forces that hold us in bondage to our low self-esteem. We are royalty! We need to live that way.

We need to ask God to take away our self-image that needs to succeed and always be approved of. We then need to ask him to replace it with living in the reality of always being loved, special and forever accepted. “If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).

Read Full Post »