Continued from here.
Interestingly, C.S. Lewis’ take on pain in his book The Problem of Pain is similar to mine. He points out that pain is what alerts us that something needs to change – that the status quo is not OK. Think about putting your hand in a fire. If no pain was involved, you might allow your flesh to burn up before it finally occurred to you that a flame is not good for your hand. Thankfully, our skin has nerves that send us signals of pain when our flesh begins to burn so we will remove our flesh from the fire. If we want to enjoy a fire, we need to stay within the boundaries of keeping our body parts out of the flames. While it might feel great to move in closer to the fire, particularly when we are cold, at some point, our bodies send signals that we are moving in too close to the fire. If we ignore those signals and continue moving, our bodies use pain to get our attention so we will move away from the fire.
Lewis brilliantly explains this concept in this way:
Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Let me give you a concrete example. For four years, I wrote “emotional healing” every week as my only prayer request at a Bible study. I sincerely wanted healing, but I was unwilling even to consider obeying God’s command to forgive my child abusers. If God had miraculously healed my brokenness without requiring me to obey his command to love and pray for my child abusers, I never would have done so – I was far too angry and bitter to do so. The ONLY reason I forgave them was because my pain spurred me on to be willing to try ANYTHING to find relief. After trying many other ways to relieve my pain, in desperation, I finally did it God’s way, and that’s when He healed my pain.
To be continued on Wednesday …
[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace shouting into a megaphone. Courtesy Bitmoji.]
Continued from here.
A few years, I had lunch with an old friend who knew me both before and during my therapy years. As we talked about years gone by, I made reference to being in such deep pain during the years we hung out together. She replied, “But you know what? You were never comfortable in that pain. You were always seeking a way out of it.”
Her comment got me pondering about whether there might, in fact, be a positive side to pain. Before I continue, rest assured that I am no masochist. I absolutely DESPISE being in pain. (Just ask my family how much fun I am to live with when I have a sinus infection!) As I considered my friend’s comment, I had to concede that something very positive had come out of that pain. She is correct that I was in far too much pain ever to be comfortable with the status quo. While I looked to ease my pain in a myriad of wrong places, such as in friendships or food, the inability of those idols to ease my pain long-term is what drove me into God’s arms.
Am I better off for this? Absolutely! Had I not been in terrible pain, I might have been comfortable with eating myself into morbid obesity rather than recognizing that no amount of food could “stuff down” the pain from the childhood abuse permanently. While binge eating a family-sized bag of Dorito’s offered temporary solace, the pain always returned … along with 5 or 10 more pounds. Only in Jesus did I find a lasting source of comfort.
That got me pondering whether I, in my pain from severe and ongoing childhood abuse, was actually blessed – yes, I said BLESSED!! – because it drove me into my Father’s arms. Rather than envying the Christians I meet who grew up in loving homes, I now recognize that it’s actually EASIER for me to chase God BECAUSE of the pain of my past. When one is comfortable in the blessings and protection of God, it can be tempting to be lukewarm about your faith. When your options are severe pain or chasing God with all you have, lukewarm faith is unlikely to happen because there is no place of comfort outside the loving arms of the Father.
To be continued…
[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crying. Courtesy Bitmoji.]
The Christmas season is historically a difficult one for me – too many memories of the child abuse. I was determined not to let myself sink into a holiday depression this year, and I’ve done better – not perfect, but better. So, it’s probably no wonder I felt drawn to reading C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain.
I had taken a break from reading C.S. Lewis’ theological books while I was in divinity school, and I continued the break for a few months after. This is the first theological book I’m reading since earning my divinity degree in August. I sure have missed Lewis’ writing!
In this book, Lewis seeks to address the reason for pain, specifically the age-old question of how a good God could allow so much pain in the world. That’s the crux of the struggle that some people I personally know have in holding onto their faith. They pray and pray for God to take away the pain, and when He doesn’t, they conclude that either there is no God or that God is not good. I was once there myself, so I have deep compassion for people who wrestle with this question. I continually remind them that the story is not over yet and that God can redeem even this. After all, if He can redeem child sex trafficking, what can’t He redeem?
However, that’s a difficult concept to embrace while your soul is bleeding. It breaks my heart to see people walk away from the only true source of comfort, but I respect that they must choose their own path along their spiritual journey just as I chose mine. One of the hardest parts for me is that when people walk away from God in their pain, they tend to distance themselves from those who love the God they are choosing to reject. I have lost several friendships over the years to this dynamic, and it hurts. And yet, having been there, I get it.
Over the next couple of weeks (excluding the holidays), I’ll address my personal reaction to Lewis’ writing in this marvelous book. If you wrestle with the age-old question of how a good God can allow so much pain and suffering in the world, you might want to read his book for yourself. I cannot possible do it justice, but I’ll at least hit some of the highlights.
To be continued…
[Graphic: Cover of The Problem of Pain. Courtesy Amazon.]
A friend is going through a dynamic that probably sounds all too familiar. The Holy Spirit convicts you about something, such as to stop complaining and, instead, be intentional about expressing gratitude. This message is repeated wherever you go – in a sermon, in a book you are reading, in something a friend shares about his or her own spiritual journey, etc. You resolve to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, spend time in prayer before you interact with anyone, and step into your day, fully expecting God to bless your obedience as you walk into victory.
Instead, you walk into the kitchen and see that the dog has soiled the floor. You clean that up, which makes you late leaving for work. Traffic is backed up from a wreck, making you 10 minutes late for an important meeting. At that meeting, you learn that you are losing your biggest client … and the hits just keep coming … you get a call from the school that your child has detention … your spouse has to work late and needs you to pick up dinner. By the time you get home, not only did you fail to walk in victory, but your level of complaining and lack of gratitude is ten times worse than on a typical day. You ask, “Where was God? I was trying to obey Him, and everything that could possibly go wrong did. What did I do wrong? Does God not care?”
Christians who have been around the spiritual growth block are probably chuckling right now because we have all been there. I shudder whenever I hear someone tell me that he is praying for patience because I know he has just invited lots of waiting into his life. After all, how does one learn patience without having to wait? The same is true for the example I just shared. It’s easy not to complain and to express gratitude when everything goes your way. No effort is required for that. Spiritual growth comes from intentionally choosing to express gratitude rather than complain as life dumps all over you.
In this blog series, we will talk about this frustrating dynamic of spiritual growth and how to learn to walk in victory.
To be continued…
[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace shrugging her shoulder and asking, “Why?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]
Continued from here.
The final step needed to heal our land is to turn from our wicked ways – to repent. The Church has become so worldly that it is nearly indistinguishable from the culture around it in many ways. Sadly, many Christians only spend one hour a week with God as they attend worship services. What they learn in that one hour has little impact on their daily lives as they go about their week. Many are “closet Christians” whose daily behavior blends so well into the culture than their coworkers and associates would be surprised to learn that they are even Christian!
Jesus did not call us to receive just enough of his blood to avoid going to hell but to otherwise go live our lives however we see fit. He said that if we want to be his followers, we must stop living for ourselves and, instead, live for God:
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” ~ Mark 8:34
Denying yourself brings us right back to where we started: the first requirement for God healing our land is humbling ourselves. Humbling ourselves involves turning from our wicked ways and, instead, living our lives as God tells us to live, which is all spelled out for us in the Bible. For example, as a Christian, you don’t get to stand around the water cooler judging Nikolas Cruz or Dimitrios Pagourtzis for shooting up schools. You need to be praying for both of them because the Bible tells us to do so. You don’t get to hate those in your own personal life who wrong you: you must forgive them. This is tough stuff, but that’s what it means to be a Christian. Either you are a disciple of Christ, or you are not. If you are, then you will turn from your wicked ways and live your life in the ways that God tells you to live. Only when the Body of Christ does this will God heal our land.
If we, as the Body of Christ, want to see these school shootings stop, we need to get serious about our faith. We need to do what God tells us to do: humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways. If God’s children will get serious about doing what He has told us to do, we can bring healing to our land and shine God’s light into this darkness that is permeating our schools.
[Graphic: Cartoon of of Grace running while saying, “Nope. Nope. Nope.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]
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Sadly, many Christians regularly pray without seeking God’s face. How is this possible? Their prayer lives involve all talking and no listening. They bring their requests to God, like children bringing their toy requests to Santa Claus, but never take the next step of actually listening for a response from God. Despite the Bible being filled with stories of God talking to people, many Christians do not believe God will actually “talk back,” so they never take the time to listen for His still, small voice.
In one of her Bible studies, Priscilla Shirer asked a great question: “Why would Jesus die for you but then refuse to talk to you?” If you think about it, the Bible is one continuous story about man’s separation from God and God’s initiative in restoring that relationship. First, God communicated from afar, such as through a burning bush. Next, He lived among his people in a tent and later in a temple. Then, he came and lived among people through Jesus, and then after Jesus’ death and resurrection, He came to live inside us through the Holy Spirit. After all of that trouble, is He really going to refuse to talk to us?
God promises us that we will find Him when we seek Him with our whole heart. That’s the level of seeking that will heal our land. We must continue pursuing God until we find Him, refusing to settle for anything less. We seek Him through his Word and through our quiet time with Him. We tell Him that we will not stop seeking Him until we find Him, and we do this day after day, week after week, and month after month until God shows up. As someone who has been through this process, I assure you that God will show up, and when He does, it will profoundly change your life. If everyone in the Body of Christ would do this, it would also profoundly heal our land.
To be continued…
[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking through a telescope and asking, “Where are you?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]
Continued from here.
I hope that every Christian hearing the news about the latest school shooting is praying for God to intervene. This cannot be a one-time request, though. As the Body of Christ, we need to be persistent in our prayers like the persistent widow. We need to saturate our country in prayer, inviting God into every area of our country and culture.
I have been leading a statewide Christian prison ministry since October, and one of my primary focuses is saturating this ministry in prayer at every level. I pray earnestly for this ministry every morning in my quiet time, as is true of the leaders and many of the volunteers as well. In addition, the ministry has dedicated prayer warriors to cover the ministry as a whole in prayer as well as specific aspects of the ministry that need special attention. This is not a one-time request – we go before God again and again and again, seeking His wisdom, guidance, and provision.
This is the level of prayer that is needed if we want God to heal our land of these school shootings. As the Body of Christ, each of us individually needs to be praying for our country daily. In additional, we need to be covering specific schools in prayer, including their students and former students. We need to pray for all schools – private and public, those in different districts, and those in different states. We need to take this initiative seriously, saturating every aspect of our school system in prayer.
What might happen to our land if every local church selected one school to saturate with prayer daily? What impact might it have if every single school in the country was covered in prayer by one local church? How might your praying for a particular school day after day, month after month, and year after year affect your love for that school? Might you feel drawn to do more for that school? Might you feel drawn to mentor a student there – perhaps a quiet student who nobody notices? Might you carry the light of Christ into that school out of the love that grows in your heart by praying for that school daily? If the Body of Christ committed to covering every single school in America in prayer, this would go a long way toward healing our land.
To be continued…
[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace praying behind emoticon hands that are held in prayer. Courtesy Bitmoji.]