Sunday, 23 March 2014

When Hope Looks Lost

 Sometimes I am filled with a great weariness. There is, all around, brokenness and emptiness, and my own dissatisfaction and my gaping failure, and the yet-unfulfilled promises of God. My despair is the more deep because my hope is high, and I hope still, but I am weary with the wait, and hope's joy has gone out into the vast dim.

But I have seen prayer answered unexpectedly this week - a small, pale prayer offered despondently, then answered swift and sure - and some winged thing in me has got to fluttering again.
The Son of God hung on the cross, and the Father had his hands in his pockets, so it seemed. Even the Messiah was not out of the enemy’s reach. Or was he?
See, it was in this moment of disarray — in this Chaos of chaos — that everything “looked” destroyed and turned upside down. But it was here, by all visible accounts, when things were the most over, that in fact they were the most not.
It appeared evil had won. That God was dead. That his enemies triumphed. But no.
It was in his dying, when our hope looked lost, that Jesus was actually securing it. It was when darkness covered the land, over against the Son’s forsaken cries, that light began to dawn and the Father realized his eternal purpose for the world. Beyond what it seemed, beyond what the circumstances would suggest, God was the one in triumph. Sunday morning made it sure.
So just when we thought he’d be gone forever, he was actually lifted up as the one who would never leave us, nor forsake us — the one who would say, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20)
- from Ten Thousand Things We Can't See, by Jonathan Parnell
I keep waiting, child that I am, for my own personal Messiah to come riding in on his white horse and sweep me up in glorious triumph and vindicate me...and, after all, preserve my pride. But the truth is this: I haven't bargained for the kind of life that is held firmly in hand. I "have bargained," with Jim Elliot, "for a cross". And after all, I do want a life that lifts up Christ, not me. I do want to follow the Man of Sorrows. I want to bend myself down before him, to kiss his lovely feet.
One Sabbath morning, I preached from the text, “My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?” and though I did not say so, yet I preached my own experience. I heard my own chains clank while I tried to preach to my fellow-prisoners in the dark; but I could not tell why I was brought into such an awful horror of darkness, for which I condemned myself.
On the following Monday evening, a man came to see me who bore all the marks of despair upon his countenance. His hair seemed to stand up right, and his eyes were ready to start from their sockets. He said to me, after a little parleying, “I never before, in my life, heard any man speak who seemed to know my heart. Mine is a terrible case; but on Sunday morning you painted me to the life, and preached as if you had been inside my soul.”
By God’s grace I saved that man from suicide, and led him into gospel light and liberty; but I know I could not have done it if I had not myself been confined in the dungeon in which he lay.
I tell you the story, brethren, because you sometimes may not understand your own experience, and the perfect people may condemn you for having it; but what know they of God’s servants? You and I have to suffer much for the sake of the people of our charge...
You may be in Egyptian darkness, and you may wonder why such a horror chills your marrow; but you may be altogether in the pursuit of your calling, and be led of the Spirit to a position of sympathy with desponding minds. (Charles Spurgeon, - from An All Round Ministry)
But what of all the "hurrying, eager longing" that will not be stilled? What of all my deep heart hurt? Who will guide me? Where shall I find a vision?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
(Isaiah 58:6-11)
There is a God who hears. He is there and he is not silent. He knows this heart of mine, and he could change it if he chose.
Desire is not merely a simple wish; it is a deep seated craving; an intense longing, for attainment. In the realm of spiritual affairs, it is an important adjunct to prayer. So important is it, that one might say, almost, that desire is an absolute essential of prayer. Desire precedes prayer, accompanies it, is followed by it. Desire goes before prayer, and by it, created and intensified. Prayer is the oral expression of desire. If prayer is asking God for something, then prayer must be expressed. Prayer comes out into the open. Desire is silent. Prayer is heard; desire, unheard. The deeper the desire, the stronger the prayer. Without desire, prayer is a meaningless mumble of words. Such perfunctory, formal praying, with no heart, no feeling, no real desire accompanying it, is to be shunned like a pestilence. Its exercise is a waste of precious time, and from it, no real blessing accrues.
A sense of need creates or should create, earnest desire. The stronger the sense of need, before God, the greater should be the desire, the more earnest the praying. The "poor in spirit" are eminently competent to pray.
Hunger is an active sense of physical need. It prompts the request for bread. In like manner, the inward consciousness of spiritual need creates desire, and desire breaks forth in prayer. Desire is an inward longing for something of which we are not possessed, of which we stand in need -- something which God has promised, and which may be secured by an earnest supplication of His throne of grace. (E. M. Bounds)
I will seek the glory of One whose name is Merciful and True. I will offer him my aching wish for direction and warmth and belonging. I will pour out before him all my emptiness and confused desire, and he will turn it into a prayer. I will turn to him in frantic moments, and I will seek him in my bewildered wanting, and I will make this heart-gap his, and all my hurt and hope will become supplication and praise.
"...And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings." (Gerard Manley Hopkins) 

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Let Your Love Be My Companion

“What we have to do is love these people who hate us—love them, pray for them. These people are wounded people who have hate in their hearts. They need forgiveness. They need the Lord. That is the answer we must give.” (Corrie Ten Boom)
 This is what I am hungry for.

Jesus-love doesn't come easy. I see it, and long for it, and reach for it - but it eludes me. It seems so often to glimmer through the mists of my tired thoughts - just beyond my grasp, until I reach for it. Then it recedes into the gloom, and I am left full of indignation and hurt pride and impotent rage.

Why? Where does the strength for this love come from? Why don't I have it? Why doesn't God just give it?

Maybe because he knows my deceitful heart, so willing to take credit for what comes easy. The truth he brings me back to, again and again, is that I can't do this. I can't love for wanting to. I can't forgive in my own power. He must give me this strength.

In Your justice and Your mercy
Heaven walked the broken road
Here to fight this sinner's battle
Here to make my fall Your own

Turn my eyes to see Your face
As all my fears surrender
Hold my heart within this grace
Where burden turns to wonder

I will fight to follow
I will fight for love
Throw my life forever
To the triumph of the Son

Let Your love be my companion
In the war against my pride
Long to break all vain obsession
Till You're all that I desire

Turn my eyes to see Your face
As all my fears surrender
Hold my heart within this grace
Where burden turns to wonder

I will fight to follow
I will fight for love
Throw my life forever
To the triumph of the Son

And I know Your love has won it all
You took the fall
To embrace my sorrows
I know You took the fight
You came and died but the grave was borrowed
I know You stood again
So I can stand with a life to follow
In the light of Your name

Turn my eyes to see Your face
As all my fears surrender
Hold my heart within this grace
Where burden turns to wonder

I will fight to follow
I will fight for love
Throw my life forever
To the triumph of the Son

And I know Your love has won it all
You took the fall
To embrace my sorrows
I know You took the fight
You came and died but the grave was borrowed
I know You stood again
So I can stand with a life to follow
In the light of Your name

Sunday, 16 March 2014

I Have Given Them the Glory

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. (John 17:22-27)
There are some startling truths in this prayer of Jesus:
     Jesus has given us the glory that God gave him. It is a glory we can't see. Yet.
     God loves us the way he loves Jesus. Jesus has asked God to let us have that love.

This had me asking God when he would answer Jesus' prayer. And then I realized that perhaps he has answered it already.

I have given them the glory that you gave me...that they may be brought to complete unity. 
Seen the visible church lately? It doesn't look like complete unity. But there is something you can't see. That's the invisible cord that draws all that love Jesus. They may never know each other, and if they do, they might be distracted by selfish, petty squabbles, but one thing sets them all apart and binds them together and draws them in to a single center: love for the Man of Sorrows.

That the love you have for me may be in them... 
Do we love Jesus? These days I often feel my lack of love. I am not enough drawn to the One who loved me. I am dull and slow and dim. Ah, dear, searching God who tries hearts. He sees below the bent and broken self, deep down to that part which will not be burnt off in fire. He sees the love that beats beneath. He knows all about our fears, our weakness, our selfishness, and he knows the willingness, the wanting to see and know and honor the One he has given and the One we have chosen. It's true that I am often blind to his glory, but when I am shaken and lesser loves fall, I am coming to know that there is a real and unshaken love for Jesus deep in my heart. What is love? It is longing. It is admiration. It is the desire to give good. All these I find even in my own dark self. They are too slow, too dull, too cold; but they do not waver when all else falls loose.

Love is not all comfort and warmth; it can break your heart. Even in me, there is an inexorable love for the Crucified One. Enough to break me in two.

Yet I will praise him.
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 43:5)
Lord Jesus, come hope or heartbreak, I love you. Your prayer is answered in me. In my heart is love that comes from our Father; love that seeks you and takes pleasure in you and longs to please you - but I would love you better. Open my eyes to see a little of your glory. Let me know your goodness and your beauty and your truth. And let me know, a little more, the Father's love for me.

He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied... (Isaiah 53:11)

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Glory to Be Helpless

For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. (Romans 7:18)
"Let us receive this as the first great lesson of the spiritual life: 'It is impossible for me, my God; let there be an end of the flesh and all its powers, an end of self, and let it be my glory to be helpless.'" (Andrew Murray, Absolute Surrender)
I have a student - Robert, who greets me with a long list of questions every class. I love his questions, and he is eager and earnest, but he is always jumping ahead of the lesson, worrying that he doesn't understand concepts and vocabulary that I haven't taught yet. He is anxious to figure it all out and understand where the things he is learning fit in among all the things he doesn't yet know. I am always reminding him that learning is a process, and the learner is necessarily left hanging between what he knows well and what he has not yet learned. It is overwhelming, especially in the beginning, to have such a body of knowledge that is yet incomprehensible, but there is no escaping that reality. 

One of the things I struggle with the most is not knowing what God is doing, not knowing what I should be doing. I am confused about so many things. It is frustrating to feel that I am thrashing about in the dark, trying so hard and seemingly getting nowhere. It feels like my efforts are wasted and my energies misdirected, and nothing is more discouraging than feeling like I have pushed myself right to the edge of what I can handle only to realize that it wasn't necessary, or I exerted myself in the wrong direction after all. I am anxious to learn my lessons and figure out what God is teaching me, and I keep looking for the moral in all of this. But it eludes me.

It seems I am just like Robert. We both hate the feeling of helplessness that learning gives us. It is unnerving to not know.

But God allows me to be helpless, not knowing. He is the one working good in my life. It is not up to me to figure out what is right and do it. I desire His way. I long to be all that He has planned me to be - but I lack both the understanding and the ability. So often I find myself trying to love, trying to give, in my own strength. It always fails, and I am left despairing. Only God can give this power.
Jesus replied, "What is impossible with man is possible with God." (Luke 18:27)
Peter knew this problem. He was all flame and promise, but he failed when it seemed most important. It must have seemed like the end to him. He had promised to die with Jesus, but instead he pretended not to know him in order to save his own skin. Andrew Murray says:
Peter denied his Lord thrice, and then the Lord looked upon him; and that look of Jesus broke the heart of Peter, and all at once there opened up before him the terrible sin that he had committed, the terrible failure that had come, and the depth into which he had fallen, and "Peter went out and wept bitterly."
Oh! who can tell what that repentance must have been? During the following hours of that night, and the next day, when he saw Christ crucified and buried, and the next day, the Sabbath-oh, in what hopeless despair and shame he must have spent that day!
"My Lord is gone, my hope is gone, and I denied my Lord. After that life of love, after that blessed fellowship of three years, I denied my Lord. God have mercy upon me!"
I do not think we can realize into what a depth of humiliation Peter sank then. But that was the turningpoint and the change; and on the first day of the week Christ was seen of Peter, and in the evening He met him with the others. Later on at the Lake of Galilee He asked him: "Lovest thou me?" until Peter was made sad by the thought that the Lord reminded him of having denied Him thrice; and said in sorrow, but in uprightness:
"Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee."
...You know wherein Peter's failings lay. When he said to Christ, in effect: "Thou never canst suffer; it cannot be" - it showed he had not a conception of what it was to pass through death into life. Christ said: "Deny thyself," and in spite of that he denied his Lord. When Christ warned him: "Thou shalt deny me," and he insisted that he never would, Peter showed how little he understood what there was in himself. But when I read his epistle and hear him say: "If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye, for the Spirit of God and of glory resteth upon you," then I say that it is not the old Peter, but that is the very Spirit of Christ breathing and speaking within him.
I read again how he says: "Hereunto ye are called, to suffer, even as Christ suffered." I understand what a change had come over Peter. Instead of denying Christ, he found joy and pleasure in having self denied and crucified and given up to the death. And therefore it is in the Acts we read that, when he was called before the Council, he could boldly say: "We must obey God rather than men," and that he could return with the other disciples and rejoice that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christs name.
You remember his self-exaltation; but now he has found out that "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit is in the sight of God of great price." Again he tells us to be "subject one to another, and be clothed with humility."
Dear friend, I beseech you, look at Peter utterly changed-the self-pleasing, the self-trusting, the self-seeking Peter, full of sin, continually getting into trouble, foolish and impetuous, but now filled with the Spirit and the life of Jesus. Christ had done it for him by the Holy Ghost.
And now, what is my object in having thus very briefly pointed to the story of Peter? That story must be the history of every believer who is really to be made a blessing by God.
(Andrew Murray, Absolute Surrender)
What will make this change in me? God's Spirit, through God's Word. He is teaching me. I cannot effect my own change, but as I wash myself in the truth of His words, I will be changed. Someday, to me and Robert both, it will make sense.
"Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts." (Winston Churchill)