Knowing about God is NOT Knowing God

anchor_dadContinued from here.

Another area in my life that made me a miserable Christian for decades was knowing a lot about God without knowing God. This was an issue for me for decades. I read the Bible cover-to-cover twice. I was active in Bible studies regularly. I prayed every day, which consisted of me telling God all the things I needed Him to change in my life for me to be happy. From the outside, I seemed like a very strong Christian because I knew a lot ABOUT God. However, I did not know Him.

One of my seminary textbooks used this analogy. Imagine a foster child who has grown up without a father who decides to write a dissertation on fatherhood. He can interview multiple fathers, read books and peer-reviewed articles about fathers, and even follow a father around for a month to learn all he needs to know to write his dissertation. However, he will never reach the level of understanding about a father as a five-year-old boy who has grown up with a father who loves him. You can do all sorts of research about a person, but to actually know the person, you must engage in a relationship with Him … and that’s what was missing for me for decades.

How does a little boy know who his father is? It comes from spending time with him as the relationship grows. A boy learns through experience what a father is and that he can trust his father to take care of him. Each time his father acts as his son’s protector, the boy learns that a father is a protector, and he trusts that he is safe as long as his father is around. The son rests securely in knowing that his father will meet his needs as his father provides him with food, clothing, and shelter. Fear of being without is not even on the son’s radar because he has learned through experience that his father will care for his needs. This doesn’t mean the boy has never had a meal served late. Even when he must wait to be fed, he knows nourishment is coming because he knows and trusts that his father will provide for him.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing on an anchor, wrapped in a banner that says, “Dad.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Saying “No, Lord” is not an Option for a Disciple of Christ

Continued from here.

In his book, Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God, Henry Blackaby says that two words can never go together: “No, Lord.” If Jesus is your Lord, then your response must always be yes, such as saying “Yes” to losing a friendship, being rejected by extended family, or being fired from a job to follow Jesus… all of which I have personally experienced. If you say “No,” then Jesus is not your Lord. Either you are Jesus’ disciple, or you are not. If you are his disciple, then your response will always be “Yes, Lord,” no matter how heavy the cost. The point at which you say “No” is the point at which you cease being His disciple.

That’s a hard truth to process, but I believe it’s pivotal to understanding how someone can be a “miserable Christian.” I’ve been there myself! Several years ago, I saw a way to fix a longstanding problem. I did not pray for God’s leading. Instead, I told God that I am going to do X and asked that He bless me. His response what deep conviction that this was not His plan for me, but I didn’t care – I wanted what I wanted, and I was determined to do it whether God liked it or not. In other words, I said, “No, Lord.” I arrogantly believed that I knew better than God, and I ceased being His disciple.

Keep in mind that I knew the Bible very well, was leading a Bible study in my church, was praying to God regularly, etc. From the outside, I was a very strong Christian. However, I was MISERABLE on the inside because God stopped “talking” to me. I had reached a place in my relationship with Him where I could sense His “yes” or “no” to guide me through my life. After I made the choice to say, “No, Lord,” He grew silent. For one miserable year, I continued to pray, lead Bible study, study His Word, etc., but I refused to obey Him, and He remained silent. And that thing I wanted that I thought was worth disobeying God over never brought me any satisfaction. It was a sham that I could have avoided by saying, “Yes, Lord.” God broke me down that year, and I refused to repent until I was bedridden with an ailment that perplexed the doctors. That was one of the most miserable years of my life, and I learned from that experience that my response to God will always now be “Yes, Lord.”

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

Why are Some People Miserable with God?

Ccostontinued from here.

Before you flood my inbox with outrage over this topic, let me assure you that I believe that having a close, deep, personal, and intimate relationship with God is worth any cost. I have paid heavy costs for my own relationship with God. I have lost friendships that were dear to me. I have been rejected by extended family. I have been fired for refusing to violate God’s law and look the other way while my employer did something unethical. God has richly blessed me for all I have lost to follow Him. I have found that following Jesus is worth any price I must pay.

Jesus himself told us that there would be a cost to following him. He advised us to estimate the cost and decide whether we were willing to pay it to follow him. What is that cost? EVERYTHING!

In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Luke 14:33).

I don’t think most people take the time to estimate the cost before receiving Jesus as Savior. They come to a place where they realize their current eternal destiny is hell and don’t want to go there. Receiving Jesus as Savior seems like a better option since then they can avoid hell and go to heaven when they die. (I’m sure it’s less than flattering for God to know that so many people choose Him solely as as a better alternative than hell.) But Jesus wasn’t looking for people to change allegiance solely to avoid hell. He said,

And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).

I see no option in the Bible to receive just enough of God to avoid going to hell but otherwise return to living your life however you feel like it. And carrying your cross and following Jesus is not simply warming a pew for an hour on Sunday mornings. Carrying your cross and following Jesus means you no longer get to live your life however you want, and yet I don’t think many Christians get this memo before deciding to receive Jesus as Savior. I believe far too many people are seeking to call Jesus Savior without calling Him Lord, and that is the underlying reason for their misery.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking into an empty wallet with insects flying out of it. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Getting Just Enough of God to be Miserable

I’m reading Wayne Jacobsen’s book, In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness. Chapter One opens with these intriguing words:

My dad used to say that most people only get enough of God to be miserable. The longer I live, the more I am convinced he’s right.”

I have been thinking about these words ever since I first read them a couple of weeks ago, and I must agree with them. After all, that was my story for decades. I knew the Bible better than most people and could even quote many verses from memory, but I was not experiencing the promises held in those passages. Some of the most miserable Christians I have met are very well-schooled in what the Bible says without actually doing what the Bible says to do.

A few years ago, I spent a weekend with two of my friends who had not met each other before. One of those friends has the spiritual gift of discernment, and she made an observation about my other friend that threw me. She said she felt sorry for my friend because she thinks she might actually be better off not having a relationship with God because then she would at least have hope. Instead, this person has filled up with head knowledge of God without actually applying it in her life, and now she has lost hope because she mistakenly believes that what she now has – a head filled with Bible verses – is all there is to a relationship with God.

My first reaction was to bristle at the notion of someone being better off without God. How could someone possibly be better off without Him? A dominant theme in many churches is the importance of “saving souls.” Isn’t receiving Jesus as your Savior better than not? And yet, as I thought about it, I began to see what she meant. My friend wasn’t saying that it would be better for my other friend to go to hell when she dies: she was merely pointing out that my friend only got enough of God to be miserable and that it might be an easier journey for her if she could go back to that place without God in her life and start over.

How can someone actually be more miserable with God than without Him? That’s the focus of my blog this week.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

Looking Forward to Heaven

haloContinued from here.

I’m not sure how good of a job I did in explaining C.S. Lewis’ views of heaven in his book, The Problem of Pain. I encourage you to read his book for yourself – it’s one of the most profound books I have ever read!

As I said when I started this series, I don’t generally spend much time thinking about heaven. I have enough to keep me busy here on earth, and all I need to know is that heaven is going to be good. I have never really seen the point in speculating about it. However, after reading Lewis’ perspective, I have a different mindset because what he shared resonates deeply with me.

I have experienced much pain in my life. Yes, I know that everyone experiences pain, but I have lived most of my life believing that God went overboard in allowing as much pain into my life as He did, particularly in my childhood. It seemed so unfair. However, when I can view what I am learning here on earth through that pain as preparing me for the rhythms of heaven, I am able to view my circumstances and experiences differently. God isn’t “picking on me.” He has actually given me a gift that drove me into His arms, and that yearning I feel inside for something just beyond my reach will one day know fulfillment.

I love the notion of being able to experience God in a deeply intimate way that that takes nothing away from your ability to experience Him in an equally intimate, and yet different, way than I do. That’s a concept I don’t have to wait to get to heaven to start applying – I can do that now. In this earthly body, it’s ingrained that whatever is given to you must be taken away from me and vice versa, but you and I can both become our truest selves with deeply personal and intimate relationships with God that are very different from one another. What’s even better is that I benefit from your deepening relationship with God just as you benefit from mine. This helps me better understand the Body of Christ and my role in it. Thanks, C.S. Lewis!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace wearing a halo. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Creating a Heavenly Symphony

saxContinued from here.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis uses the analogy of a heavenly orchestra in which all of the individual instruments play together in harmony as one to create beautiful music together. If you, I, and everyone else in heaven were the same, it would be comparable to all of us playing a C# on a flute. That would not be a very interesting piece of music to listen to. The beauty of a symphony comes from many different types of instruments playing different notes in harmony, creating beautiful music that wouldn’t sound that great if you only listened to one of the instruments in isolation.

The music we create comes from continually giving of ourselves so we may fill up with God. The process of emptying ourselves creates the music that we add to the harmony of heaven,

…and the great master Himself leads the revelry, giving Himself eternally to His creatures in the generation, and back to Himself in the sacrifice, of the Word, then indeed the eternal dance ‘makes heaven drowsy with the harmony.’”

Lewis then ties this concept in with the premise of his book by pointing out that the suffering we endure on earth is preparing us for the dance of heaven:

All pains and pleasures we have known on earth are early initiations in the movements of that dance: but the dance itself is strictly incomparable with the sufferings of this present time. As we draw nearer to its uncreated rhythm, pain and pleasure sink almost out of sight.”

I have even considered the orchestra in my own life. My life has had many low notes on the bass and tuba from the painful experiences I have been through, but I have also experienced the high notes of the flute and violin through the joys. As I look back over my life, I have the ability to see both the joys and pains from the perspective of the totality of my life that I have trouble grasping during any particular season, whether joyful or painful. Every experience, woven together, has created a song that is my own – one that only the Father hears. As I continue to learn to empty myself and fill up with Him, I prepare myself for the dance of heaven.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace playing the saxophone. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Union Rather than Sameness in Heaven

sameContinued from here.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis goes on to point out that “union exists only between distincts.” In other words, if you and I were exactly the same, there would be no need for union: we could simply merge into each other and become one, which is the belief system of some religions … that we are each one drop of a large ocean and that we return to oneness when we die. However, as Lewis pointed out,

God created: He caused things to be other than Himself that, being distinct, they might learn to love Him, and achieve union instead of mere sameness.”

So, Lewis believes that when we get to heaven, we will become the best versions of our distinctive selves, more “ourselves” than we have ever been with our sin nature removed. And it’s in that distinctiveness that “the union of reciprocal love” brings us into unity with the Trinity – parts that are different and yet One in their distinctiveness through reciprocal love. So, according to Lewis’ theory of heaven, we aren’t all going to be doing the same thing in the same way – no rows of us sitting on clouds playing our harps. Instead, my “job” in heaven will be perfectly suited for me, and your “job” in heaven will be perfectly suited for you as we love another along with everyone else in heaven as we do their own distinctive “jobs” and bless one another in unity, sealed in harmony through reciprocal love. How amazing does that sound!?!!

And, interestingly, we will become our best selves as we pour ourselves out. Relish these beautiful words by Lewis:

And as to God, we must remember that the soul is but a hollow which God fills. Its union with God is, almost by definition, a continual self-abandonment—an opening, an unveiling, a surrender, of itself.”

I will fill up with my own intimate understanding of God and pour it out for you and everyone else in heaven, and you will do the same. As we do this, we will simultaneously because the truest versions of ourselves we have ever been as we sweetly surrender ourselves to God. As Lewis puts it, as we surrender ourselves, we become our truest selves, continually emptying ourselves as we become more ourselves as we fill up with God.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace pointing to herself and saying, “Same!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]