If you’ve studied physics (or ever played QBasic Gorillas), you know it only takes a slight difference in launch angle to completely change the trajectory of a moving object. Likewise, in the Christian life, there are many seemingly subtle nuances which actually have massive impact on our worship of God and lives with him.
I enjoyed this devotional from Charles Spurgeon on “Looking Unto Jesus” and am struck by the fact that though there is a world of difference between looking to Jesus and looking to ourselves, sometimes the initial shift feels so slight we don’t realize we’ve turned our gaze inward.
Sometimes, it isn’t until we find ourselves despairing, doubtful and discouraged that we trace back our struggles to trying to find hope in ourselves and our own faith or spirituality. And sometimes, we need to hear someone articulate for us the difference between hoping in Christ and hoping in self to make that connection.
So, here’s an excerpt from the prince of preachers today:
“Looking unto Jesus.” (Heb. 12:2)
It is ever the Holy Spirit’s work to turn our eyes away from self to Jesus; but Satan’s work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ. He insinuates, “Your sins are too great for pardon; you have no faith; you do not repent enough; you will never be able to continue to the end; you have not the joy of his children; you have such a wavering hold of Jesus.” All these are thoughts about self, and we shall never find comfort or assurance by looking within. But the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: he tells us that we are nothing, but that “Christ is all in all.” Remember, therefore, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee–it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee–it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument–it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to thy hope, but to Jesus, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of thy faith. We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul. If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by “looking unto Jesus.” Keep thine eye simply on him; let his death, his sufferings, his merits, his glories, his intercession, be fresh upon thy mind; when thou wakest in the morning look to him; when thou liest down at night look to him. Oh! let not thy hopes or fears come between thee and Jesus; follow hard after him, and he will never fail thee.
“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness:
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”
(June 28, Morning by Morning. Tip: Access Charles Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening daily devotional at Biblegateway.)
The Christian’s hope is not how much faith he has. It is in Jesus who trustworthy.
It is not in the progress in sanctification she’s making or how she is doing spiritually compared to others. It is in Jesus who sanctifies.
It is not in yesterday’s experiences or our own “decisions for Christ.” It is in Jesus’ finished work on the cross and his ministry of intercession for us today.
It is not in our promises to “do better next time.” It is in he who finishes the work he began in us.
It is not in our penitence and sorrow over sin, but he who receives and purifies repentant sinners.
It is not in our fruitfulness as branches. It is in the life-sustaining vine.
It is not in our faithfulness as sheep, but the Shepherd’s steadfast care.
Dear Christian, look to Jesus today.
And take heart. Because in the final count, what matters most won’t be how well you did looking to him, but that his gaze was ever upon you.
I don’t normally talk to inanimate objects, but there’s this one time I got mad at a flower.
During this particular day, I was standing on the sidewalk waiting for a ride and happened to look down. That’s when it did it. Or at least, that’s when I noticed what it was doing. A tiny flower, no taller than 2 inches or so, had bloomed in the little patch of dirt. It was pretty and colorful and it was just standing there, being all flowery, and as far as I could tell, happily so. I, on the other hand, completely drained and empty inside, exploded, yelling in my mind, “Why do you even exist??!”
Here’s the context: though only in my early 20’s, I was burning out in ministry and probably showing signs of depression. For me, life had been boiled down to what I accomplished in ministry and the purpose of life was being fruitful (ministry-wise). I was laboring for the sake of what I understood as eternal (visible conversions, explicit discipleship), seeing other parts of life as superfluous and worldly, and by the end of two years I was running on fumes. Continue reading “We Quickly Fly Away, But…”→
One of the more difficult parts of the holidays to navigate is the expectation to make happy memories and for things to be cheery. It doesn’t really make sense that a date on the calendar or a few weeks declared the “holiday season” would magically make things wonderfully happy, but for whatever reason we expect or hope for it which deepens the disappointment when things are not merry and bright— when instead of peace, there is strife in our family and hurting relationships. When there are unfulfilled secret hopes in our hearts or we are in the midst of grieving loss. When we’re burnt out from serving and maybe just tired from normal life and don’t feel particularly Christmas-y.
Personally, this year has been one with great joys and deep sorrows, and in light of this I am meditating on two prayers we can pray this Christmas as we face things we struggle to reconcile with the joyful celebration of Christ’s birth:
Christianity is often portrayed as unable to withstand the weight of reality, and I understand why some people would feel that way. As a younger person, I had a passion to share with others my conviction that the Bible and the Christian faith can more than take on our intellectual doubts. Having had my fair share of questions, I deeply desired for others to feel free to ask questions without thinking that Christians believe use of the mind is antithetical to faith. I still believe that the church should be a safe place to bring our questions about God, but these days, I am experiencing a deepening of another conviction about Christianity and how it relates to reality. Namely, that not only can the Scriptures withstand our intellectual questioning, but that the vision of God and life laid out in it withstands the full range of human experiences, especially suffering.
There are many wrong ways to think about suffering and trial. We may expect that as Christians, we won’t face difficulties because we are children of God, not realizing that Scripture says he disciplines those he loves and that we are meant to receive difficulty as his discipline for our holiness (Heb. 13). We may think of trials as punishment from him, not knowing that the Scriptures say there is no longer any wrath left for those of us who are in Christ (Rom. 8). We may see suffering as meaningless rather than purposefully given to us from a loving Father for our good (Ja. 1, Rom. 5). Or we may not realize that God may be purposing to comfort others even as we suffer and receive his comfort. (2 Cor. 1) We may miss the richness of God’s purposes accomplished through our difficulty in a myriad of ways, so I am grateful for the way that God has been forming my understanding of suffering through theologically sound preachers, teachers, and books.
Lately though, I am finding that as I’ve grown in the knowledge of these rich truths about God’s purpose in our suffering, I have often failed to grasp the full picture given in Scripture and thus erred in the application of some of these truths in my life. Slowly, I have begun to think that since I know these things, my experiences shouldn’t feel as hard and I tend to try to think of hardships clinically and analytically. There has slipped in the subtle wrong view that an understanding of the joyful and glorious final purpose of God in and through our sorrows means I ought not to so sorrowful, and there is a temptation to push through in my own strength.
God is showing me these days through the Scriptures that oftentimes he doesn’t expect or ask me to respond in the way I may feel I ought to. I am experiencing that as one who is struggling, I find good company in the stories and poetry of Scripture, and that there are deeper measures of comfort in it than I had previously thought. Continue reading “Being In The Waiting & Room For Sorrow”→
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The coming months are ones of transitions for our family as we step into unknowns on two major fronts. The first one involves changes regarding church and with that, Jeff’s ministry responsibilities. The other is our entering into the world of foster care where we are, God-willing, set to finish the licensing process within a few weeks. Anyone following my blog can see that I write about anxiety a lot, so unsurprisingly, “transition” in my life reads: stomach knots, an incessantly mind-reel of worst-case scenarios, and varied refrains of “what are we doing?” (in a panicky tone). But, as God often does in his unmistakable kind and gentle way, he is speaking words of life afresh to my fearful heart.
Last week, I read a post by blogger Tim Challies on journaling with suggestions from John Flavel. The third and last instruction was not to diminish past difficulties compared to new ones:
Whatever is beside us always appears most significant to us. Just as the land seems to shrink as the sailor sails away from it, so those troubling situations can seem to grow smaller as time increases the distance between them and us. By reading the accounts of God’s mercies you will remember that in the past you have faced dangers just as great and fears just as terrifying. For this reason make sure you do not only record the facts, but also your emotional and spiritual experience of them. Write them as if you will need to cling to them in the future.
With that in the back of my mind, somehow sophomore year of college came up as I remembered how for almost two semesters I struggled with despair and probably depression. It surprised me that I could’ve forgotten about those times, or at least that they’d be so far from my mind that it felt like I’d forgotten. I had forgotten what it was like to not be able to imagine things being different. Not wanting to live and having a hard time finding motivation to get up. To live with self-loathing and a constant voice of accusation in my mind, to feel that sin had the final word in my life and longing so much to be freed from my wretchedness, but not understanding what hope-filled sanctification and living out the gospel could look like. And I had forgotten the way that God miraculously pulled me out of that place of darkness. Later, as I reflected in my new moleskine journal (purchased after reading the aforementioned blogpost!), those memories, along with other accounts in my life of God’s power, salvation, and redemption, renewed my heart of trust in God for the times ahead.
In the Old Testament, the Israelites were rebuked over and over again for their lack of remembrance. Their lack of faith in God in trial was a reflection of the state of their forgetful souls. They forgot the deliverance of God from Egypt and so lamented that God wanted to starve them in the desert, pining for their former lives as slaves. They panicked and created a god of their own to worship when Moses was taking too long to come down Mt. Sinai. They refused to enter into the land of promise because of the bad report of 10 men. The incredulity of the Israelites is almost unbelievable because this wasn’t just about a random person telling them where to go or what to worship. They had seen with their own eyes God’s deliverance, tasted the salt in the air as they walked through a sea that parted for their feet alone and swallowed up their pursuers. They had carried the gold their former masters gave to them as Pharoah finally had them leave after the last of ten mighty acts of God. They had known the works of God, his salvation– and still they did not trust him.
Properly speaking, the Israelites didn’t really forget, did they? They must have had the memory of the experiences, just somehow it didn’t connect to what they believed and thought about God as they faced their more current, pressing situations. Unbelief took root to twist their interpretation of their past, reflecting hearts that didn’t respond to the knowledge of God’s works with an accurate, rightfully earned trust in his character.
And I am seeing once again that I am prone to do the same. I forget that the dangers I faced in the past were just as great, fears just as terrifying as those that I am encountering at present. I forget all that God has shown me about himself in those times and how that remembrance is what I need to strengthen my trust as I face the future.
So, I recall and recount. How God has delivered me from the emptiness that I often felt as a high-schooler. How he brought me through the subsequent times of doubt and questioning. He heard my cries for deliverance from sins I thought were unconquerable and has set me free from the constant cloud of condemnation I used to live out of. He has healed my heart from lies about myself I’d believed for years and carried me through heartbreak over relationships and ministry. He was with me when I was stuck in a shady casino hotel in Las Vegas after missing a connecting flight to LA– a timid new graduate going to join a ministry in a city where I barely knew anyone. He was with me on the gut-wrenching flight and transition back home after the two years I’d grown to love the people I served deeply.
I think about how the years since then have flown by, packed with decisions that carried no risk-free guarantee, but full of blessings immeasurable both seen and unseen. Two daughters and motherhood have brought more things to be fearful about, but breakthroughs in perspectives of and trust in God. Being newly initiated into ministry in the local church, we have already seen God growing us in hope through times of deep discouragement, molding us through the daily grind of learning to pour out our lives on behalf of others because Christ did the same for us. I have seen him redeem places of shame and guilt in my life by taking those experiences and making them the ones that I can most use to minister to others. And I have rejoiced at truth breaking through to others coming out of the same places I had been in, in awe of how he delights to take and use us not just in spite of but because of our brokenness.
What’s most important about these memories are not that I am promised quick deliverance in the future because of them. No, infinitely more precious than that type of guarantee is what I have come to know of my Savior experientially, how I’ve had glimpses and moments of faith becoming sight. I have seen his salvation, experienced the power at work in me that raised Christ from the dead. I have seen his faithfulness to me to carry me through trial and shape my character in ways that I would never be shaped had I gotten exactly what I wanted when I wanted it. I think about how I’m not who I used to be and how if you told me what it would feel like now, living unto God imperfectly but by grace and with joy, living free from the things that bound my heart, living increasingly out of love and not duty or guilt, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine it. And, still, there is more of Christ to know, more of his deliverance to come. These remembrances remind me that he is indeed kind, powerful, good, and worth my life. They take away some of the power of fear of the future over me and even– how is this even possible?– stir in me a new joy, an anticipation of what he will do around, through, and in us as we step into the unknown.
Yes, the very definition of faith is that it does not and can’t see everything, at least not right now. But ours is not a faith ungrounded. On the contrary, it is my unbelief and fearful dread that I ought to question more skeptically in light of all that I have come to see and know of God, not taking my own word of doubt as authoritative. The cross has shown me the greatness of his mercy. The empty grave has proven his power over death and sin. And if I incline my heart to, I can recount the ways I have experienced this love and power in countless ways through the years. It was never, and isn’t now, blind faith that God asks for from his people, from me. Rather it is trust in One who I’ve proven, as we sang on our wedding day, over and over. Oh for grace to remember and trust him more!
Note: As I’ve been thinking through these things, I’ve also been reading Ed Welch’s “Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest.” On a Chapter called “The Manna Principle”, he writes about this idea of trust and remembrance, and much of my thoughts as I’ve written may have what he’s written mixed in there, without me knowing exactly where my thoughts were “original” or from the book. So, I want to give credit where it may be due. And also note that I’ve been helped by the book in how it is getting to some of the root of my anxiety and defanging it.