From a young age, I’ve asked God to please teach me His truth and His ways. I also asked Him to make me Real. For years my family has prayed together that God would “teach us His truth and help us follow Him no matter where He leads us or what it costs us.” Such prayers are what I call “dangerous prayers” because they result in being led out of our safe Hobbit Hole in the Shire and into all sorts of Adventures that change us forever. It’s hard to explain, but the Adventure can be terrifying, and yet also good. Sort of like an Adventure with Doctor Who, which is life-threatening and very scary, but when he invites us for another Adventure we leap at the chance to be with him. We learn that we travel with a Lion who is very good, but not tame. Ok, I am mixing stories, but they all fit.
These days it seems that if a person disagrees with someone’s beliefs, that person is called nasty names like “intolerant” or “hater” but I think that’s totally illogical. Not every belief is true, and there ought to be room for disagreement, dialogue and debate about ideas while also respecting and caring about people. (There is a thought-provoking article about this called When Tolerance is Intolerant.)
I’ve always asked questions, but the trickle of questions have become a flood over the years. I don’t think any of us correctly understands everything, and so I try to honestly ask myself if a belief is true or not, rather than if it lines up to what I already have been taught or believe. It’s challenging to ask and explore questions, twisting a belief this way and that, like a Rubic’s Cube, holding to what I have found is true, letting go of what I have found is not true, seeing that I have more questions than answers, but also accepting that I might never find the answers to many questions. Being willing to ask questions is sort of like letting go of a safe shore where I know everything, and launching out into the vast unknown ocean.
I think there can be a temptation, as a person asks questions and uncovers awesome treasures that he wouldn’t have found if he had not asked, to become frustrated and arrogant about “those ignorant people” who do not seek or find. I remember several years ago, I learned something life-changing, and I was getting frustrated because those around me didn’t live it. A friend said to me, “Tell me: How many years did it take you to learn this truth?” I sort of said, “Mumble, mumble years.” “It took you that many years to learn this,” my friend said, “and yet now that you know it, you expect others to learn it overnight????” I felt brought down a few notches, and rightly so. I now try to keep in mind that we are all different, and we are all in different places, and God deals with us differently, so who am I to say “You should be in the same place as I am at this time?” I believe I am not wise enough to know what God is doing in others’ lives or how they ought to be. I might be further along than some people, but there are thousands and thousands ahead of me, being patient with my ignorance.
I love when Jesus (Yeshua) was telling Peter in John 21 what would happen to him in the future, and Peter pointed to another disciple and asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” In other words, stop looking at others and focus on following Yeshua yourself. Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia often said it this way: That’s his story, not yours.
I wrote all this because I want to share some thoughts and I want you to know that my questions are things that I began to ponder a long time ago, and which I continue to ponder. My questions reflect where I am at, not where anyone else is. If you can learn from them, fine. If they stir up questions in you, maybe you can start exploring them yourself. If not, I’m fine with that too.
So here goes:
Some things I have been taught and believed all my life no longer make sense to me. I think often people–me included–say we believe something, but it seems to me that we live the opposite.
Some of those beliefs are things like: “Waiting for God.” There have been times when I felt most definitely that I should “wait on God,” as in “not move forward until God tells me to.” But I’ve often heard “How can God direct you if you are not moving? We need to put feet on our prayers.” Is this true? When did waiting mean moving? When my son was very young and he ran ahead of me as we walked down the sidewalk, I often shouted, “Wait for me at the corner.” I didn’t mean keep going. I meant stop. Could it be that waiting means waiting to God too? I love Numbers 9:16-23 which describes how God led His people with a pillar of cloud and fire:
That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp.When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out. They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses.
In other words, the Israelites didn’t keep moving if God didn’t move. They kept still. So I think that to God waiting means waiting. Not move. Not go run ahead. Wait. Period.
These are the types of questions I ask myself all the time. Are the things I believe really, really true? Do I live what I say I believe?
Other questions I have relate more closely to suffering.
I Corinthians 1 says: “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:10 that “when I am weak I am strong.” However, when a person actually reveals weakness, people tell him that he must be strong, so it seems to me that we really don’t believe that when we are weak we are strong, but that when we are weak we are weak and when we are strong we are strong. Myself included.
Many times I have heard people describe how we need to live in brokenness. Do we ever stop to ponder what this means or looks like? Would we appreciate it if we saw it in a person?
I sort of think brokenness might look like being real, as the Skin Horse described it to the Velveteen Rabbit:
“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
But, honestly, I think that when we see people whose hair has been loved off, and eyes dropped out, who are loose in the joints and very shabby, we think they are ugly and weak in faith, not beautifully real. So I agree with Larry Crabb, who wrote:
“We often hear that brokenness is the pathway to a deeper relationship with God, but we rarely see it modeled. I sometimes think we want others to believe we know God by demonstrating how unbroken we are.”
Brokenness is the realization that life is too much for us, not just because there is too much pain but also because we’re too selfish. Brokenness is realizing He is all we have…
I often ponder if Real Faith doesn’t look at all like what we expect. For example, I heard all my life about the patience and faith of Job. But have you ever really looked at what he said? He said things like this:
“My sighing serves in place of my food, and my groans pour out in a torrent; for the thing I feared has overwhelmed me, what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quiet, no rest; and anguish keeps coming.” Job 3:23-25
“Therefore I will not restrain my mouth but will speak in my anguish of spirit and complain in my bitterness of soul. Am I the sea, or some sea monster, that you put a guard over me? When I think that my bed will comfort me, that my couch will relieve my complaint, then you terrify me with dreams and frighten me with visions. I would rather be strangled; death would be better than these bones of mine. I hate it! I won’t live forever, so leave me alone, for my life means nothing. Job 7:11-16
Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say to me. Job 23:2-5
If I said that to you, would you think I had faith? If you said it, would I believe you had faith? Probably not. Yet, at the end of the book, God said to Job’s friend, “My anger is blazing against you and your two friends, because, unlike my servant Job, you have not spoken rightly about me…My servant Job will pray for you — because him I will accept — so that I won’t punish you as your boorishness deserves; because you have not spoken rightly about me, as my servant Job has.”
Job was real with God. He accused Him, questioned Him, and challenged Him. Yet, God said he spoke rightly about Him while He was angry with his friends who said the religious stuff. Hmmm. It’s something I have pondered.
Several years ago, EJ told me that the best way to lose weight is to start weight-lifting. He said he would teach me. So one day we all went down to the basement where EJ’s weight-lifting equipment is. EJ told me that he’d start me with 10 pounds of weight, and when I could lift 10 pounds easily, he’d put on another 10 pounds, and when I could lift that easily, he would add another 10 pounds, constantly increasing the weight. I pondered then that every time more weight is added, a person will begin to struggle all over again to lift it. It would almost seem as if he has accomplished nothing. Yet, the struggle is over greater and greater weights and the person, despite the struggling at each new step, is actually getting stronger and stronger. I thought that if I went into a gym and saw two people lifting weights, one lifting the weights easily while the other groaned and strained, I might think that the first was stronger than the second. In reality, however, the first person might only be lifting lighter weights that he could easily handle, while the second was straining to lift heavier weights that pushed him beyond his capability so that he could gain greater strength. So who is the stronger?
That helped me understand faith better. Appearances can often be deceiving. Anyone can have strong faith while staying safe in a Hobbit Hole. It takes great faith to run off on an Adventure to fight trolls, dragons, and orcs. Who is braver? The person in the Hobbit Hole or the one fighting dragons? Yes, the person on the Adventure might feel more fear, but he’s also overcoming more fear.
I’m not saying that a person who appears strong is always weaker. Sometimes a person who appears strong IS strong because God has given him strength. However, not everyone who appears strong is strong, and not everyone who appears weak is weak. As I said, appearances can be deceiving.
I don’t know how anyone else’s faith journeys ought to be like, but I know that I have often been pushed beyond my ability to cope. If I remain “strong” during suffering and able to handle it then the problems keep coming and coming and coming until my strength is totally used up and I am crushed. But I have found that when I am pressed beyond my strength into weakness, amazing things happen. I relate so deeply to the following poem because I have found it to be very true in my life:
Pressed beyond measure and pressed to all length;
Pressed so intensely, it seems beyond strength;
Pressed in the body, and pressed in the soul;
Pressed in the mind, till the dark surges roll.
Pressure by foes, and pressure by friends –
Pressure on pressure, till life nearly ends.
Pressed into knowing no helper but God;
Pressed into loving the staff and the rod.
Pressed into liberty where nothing clings;
Pressed into faith for impossible things.
Pressed into living a life in the Lord;
Pressed into living a Christlife outpoured.
I don’t mind very much being pressured into weakness because when I am utterly weak, God takes over. Even so, the falling into weakness can be a frightening, messy, ugly thing. It can look so abhorrent to ourselves and others so that we try anything to prevent the fall. But is that what should happen? Maybe weakness is where we should be! When we fall into weakness maybe we fall into strength.
I also find that during suffering, many things rise to the top: a variety of fears, anger, dysfunctions, attitudes, and weaknesses that were hidden from view before. I don’t think this is necessarily bad. Long ago I read Psalms 66:10 which says “For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver” and it occurred to me that during the refinement process, silver is heated until the impurities float to the top where they are then skimmed off. The impurities might make the silver look awful, but the truth is that they were always there, hidden, and the refinement process merely exposed them so they could be taken away. I think the same sort of thing can happen in suffering. Because impurities rise to the top, it might look as if a person is worse when actually he is being refined. A person can’t deal with things he doesn’t know is there.
I supposed in many ways the refinement process can be like cancer treatment. Ignoring that there is something wrong doesn’t make the bad go away, it just allows it to grow and eventually kill you. But honestly facing that you have cancer means that you face the horror and you pursue healing. The process of healing can be scary, humiliating, painful, and tiring, but a person goes through treatment anyway because he hopes that in the end he will be healed and find life. So at the same time a person hates it all and yet pursues it because of the end result.
So I don’t really fear the process of refinement even though it’s difficult and unpleasant. I’m not going to pretend that it’s not sometimes scary or painful. It is. But even if (or maybe because) I struggle at times, I absolutely trust that God will work all things for my good.
Larry Crabb wrote, “We’re all struggling. Beneath the surface of every personality–even the one that seems most ‘together’–a spiritual battle is raging that will only be won with the help of community….” I have always believed that God wants me to be honest, even if it looks as messy and ugly. In my blog posts, I am merely letting you see the deep struggles and wrestlings of faith. I want to reassure my dear friends that despite what it looks like, I am not falling from God, I am falling towards Him. Into His arms. He and I have a relationship of realness with each other. I tell Him what I think and feel, even the nasty stuff. But I honestly believe that God is absolutely loving and that He is taking me on another wondrously scary Adventure. We’ve got each other’s hearts.
So don’t worry if things look messy with me. I’m where God has me.
He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. Job 23:10