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Faith vs. Fear January 24, 2011

Posted by orualundone in Change, Faith Journey, Fears, Promises, Trust.
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I’ve been listening to some old sermons from the church I used to go to (and still would if it weren’t much to long of a drive). It’s a nice way to start the day with my morning bike commute, and the pastor there is a truly gifted speaker. I haven’t been there in the past three years, so I have plenty of sermons to keep me occupied. The ones I’ve been listening to lately seem to have a very apt theme for my life (and no, I didn’t know what they were about when I downloaded them!) They all seem to be about change, upheaval, stepping out on faith, following God even when it seems crazy, depending on God even in our darkest and most frightening times.

We are now at the 15 week mark from our proposed departure and frankly, I am terrified. I question if this is the right thing to do, if we’re being stupid and reckless. I wonder if I’m being ungrateful by throwing away the good job and health benefits God has provided me with, by leaving all the friends and the support network he’s given us. I fret over how there always seems to be less money than I thought there would be, and worry about how will I ever get a job, or without one, how we will find an apartment with 3 cats and only so-so credit.

In fact, I am currently in a state of panic so acute that it drives out nearly every other thought in my head. It paralyzes me and tries to prevent me from doing nearly everything that I need to do in order to prepare for this transition, including write and look for a job. It’s hard to overcome, but the words I’ve been hearing on my ipod every morning have been a great help to me in combating it.

Three things I’ve learned from my recent sermon-listening that really came home to me in this time of fear and worry:

1) Fear and faith are two sides of the same coin. They both involve believing in things that haven’t happened yet. But fear means you’ve let your mind assume the worst will happen and that God won’t save, while stepping out on faith means that you are believing that God will come through just as he promised. So why do you think the fear option is more likely to come true than the faith option?

2: If you are facing opposition, either mental or physical, then you are probably on the right track. I think about stepping out on faith and I hear whispers telling me I’m being ungrateful, foolish, wasteful. I hear that no one will want to hire me, ever, and that I’m making a huge mistake. I should stay where I am and be grateful for what I have. Don’t rock the boat, make a fuss, or try to chase silly dreams. But I don’t think those whispers are from God.

You see, my fear and uncertainty has forced me to turn to God in a way that never would have happened if I were just continuing on with my life and my soul-crushing job. In fact, I probably would have continued to drift further away from him. The enemy knows this. The last thing he wants is for me to put my life on the line and to turn to God whenever I feel fear and uncertainty. He would much rather have me stay where I am.

3: He will be with me, wherever I go. Scripture records at least 46 references to God, Jesus, his Spirit, or his grace being with his people. I don’t think it matters as much where I go, but rather that I have God with me. He has always provided for me exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it, in such a way that I knew that it was credit to him and not through my own work. And the times when I have been closest to him have been the times when I was closest to the edge.

It’s hard to get past the fear, and even harder not to give credit to the whispers telling me I’ve misjudged everything. But I know in my heart that God is the one leading me. That may not end up looking like what I think it will look like, or even put me where I think I’m headed, but I know he’s leading me and the more fear I feel the closer it will drive me to him.

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But You, O Lord, are a shield about me. December 9, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Attitude, Pain, Salvation, Trust, Worry, Worship.
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I can’t believe we’re already into December and nearly done with 2010. I am not sure where the time went, but I am pretty sure it mostly did not go where I wanted it to. This year flew by more quickly than any other I can remember, and despite some exciting things happening I feel like I’m nearly the exact same place at the end of the year as I was at the beginning of it. But I also feel like big changes are just around the corner, which is both thrilling and frightening.

The high school girls that I do Bible Study with recently chose a book on praying the Psalms as our newest study guide. I wasn’t sure about it at first – it’s one of those thin little Bible study guides, almost a pamphlet, with few frills. Just two pages of stark, uninspiring questions and little guidance or personal insight. But it’s proven to be quite an interesting and thought provoking journey through psalms I had largely ignored. This week was Psalm 3 “Praying your trouble”.

O LORD, how my adversaries have increased!
Many are rising up against me.
Many are saying of my soul,
“There is no deliverance for him in God.”

But You, O LORD, are a shield about me,
My glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I was crying to the LORD with my voice,
And He answered me from His holy mountain.

I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the LORD sustains me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me round about.
Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God!

For You have smitten all my enemies on the cheek;
You have shattered the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the LORD;
Your blessing be upon Your people!

Psalm 3

There’s a lot to unpack in this little song, but I just want to write about the one thing that struck me for what I needed to hear this week.

David is being pursued by the army of Absalom, his own son, who is trying to overthrow him and looks like he actually has a decent shot at doing so. As David does so many other times in his life, he cries out to God – first in despair and then later in praise. This psalm follows a familiar progression for David in many of the songs he wrote in times of strife.

He starts off by voicing his complaint, fear, or problem. He does this loudly, without restraint (in other psalms he even accuses God of deserting him or being the cause of his distress). Then he remembers aloud the things God has done for him in the past, surrenders himself to the Lord, and then praises God for what he is going do in total assurance that God will save him. This is an excellent way to pray when we are under attack, but it is the middle part of the process (verse 5 in this psalm) that really struck me.

Not only does he express his trust and surrender to God, but at the very time where he should be fleeing or fighting or doing something to stop Absalom’s onslaught, David lies down and goes to sleep! He reminds himself that God has done great things for him before and then goes to bed – helpless, defenseless, protected only by God’s will.

I am pretty good at voicing my problems to God. And I am good at asking for his help. I’m not always great at remembering his past faithfulness without some prompting, or remembering to praise him for what he has yet to do, but I usually manage to get there. The one thing I am terrible at, though, is surrendering in such a vulnerable and complete way in the midst of crisis.

I will cry out to him, but it is nearly always as I am making my own plans to extricate myself from the situation. I might ask him to show me what to do, or to help me do what I need to – but I’m always doing. Or at least planning to do. I might leave him room to change what I do, but I need to have something in mind. It literally never occurs to me in those moments of trouble to actually stop. Stop for a significant period of time (longer than it takes to count to ten!) and allow him to take over.

This is not to say that action is always wrong and inaction is always right. Taking a nap when things get rough can just as easily be an avoidance mechanism as a sign of faith. And sometimes real, decisive action is called for. But it is also important to recognize the times when all the striving and plotting in the world will not be able to save you or change your situation one bit, and no amount of worrying or raging will do anything to help you. When outside forces you cannot control converge upon you, that is the very time you need to remember God’s miracles in the past, lay down your arms, and let him be the one to save you.

First Reactions September 1, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Attitude, Belief, Blessings, Nature of God, Trust.
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The other day I met with the two high school girls who I do a biweekly Bible study with. They’re great kids, and we’re making our way through Beth Moore’s Living Free – an excellent short study focusing on breaking free of the strongholds in our lives and learning to know God and believe him.

The chapter we were working was focusing on believing God – and the difference between believing in God (that he exists) and believing God (trusting him and his promises to us). One of the main verses was Isaiah 55:8-9:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

We all were familiar with the verse, but we spent a lot of time discussing what it meant (and the beautiful thing about Scripture is that it rarely just means one thing). There are lots of ways to look at it, the most common being that God is saying “I know what I’m doing and you don’t, so calm down”. Another is “God works in mysterious ways” or “Things that you think are bad God can work for good”. I think those are all very valid and vital interpretations, but we also came one more takeaway message from this verse.

If God’s thoughts are so much higher and better than ours, does that mean we’re always wrong? Not necessarily – everyone gets it right sometimes! But I think what God is trying to get at is that our first reactions are very often the opposite of his. We may eventually come to the right conclusion, for various reasons. But that gut instinct, that spontaneous first response – that’s the essence of “our way” and it’s usually the wrong way to go.

Here’s an example from my week, last week. Our old car broke down, to the point where it was clear that putting more money into it would be foolish. My first reaction was: “This is terrible. It’s so stressful, and now we have to eat into our savings to get another car, and it takes so much time and effort to find something and then take care of all the paperwork. This week sucks.”

That reaction is neither godly nor constructive. The way I should have (and eventually did) respond to the situation was more like “Well, that old car gave us our money’s worth. I’m so grateful that we live close enough to work that being without a car for a few days isn’t a hardship, and I’m so blessed that God immediately provided us with the perfect car that we were able to pay cash for without going into debt. The whole process of purchasing and paperwork went so easily. God is so good to us!”.

It took awhile to get there, but I believe that is the response that is God’s way, as opposed to “my way” which is ungrateful, pessimistic, and kind of bitchy – and completely unproductive since the situation is not going to change no matter how much I whine about it. I need to learn to check my responses when seemingly-not-so-great things happen and see how they line up with what I know of God’s way.

Not that I can know precisely or fully what he’s doing in a situation, but if I can learn to hold up my initial reactions to what I know of the nature of God, I will gain a more Christ-like attitude in my view of life. And the more I know about the nature of God through spending time with him and studying his Word, the more my first reactions to situations will start to mimic his, and the “higher” my thoughts will be.

My Wilderness August 22, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Faithfulness, Heart Condition, jobs, Personal, Struggles, Suffering, Trust, Wilderness.
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The summer is nearly over. Just a couple more weeks at best to get summer fun in. Even though nothing about my life changes substantially after Labor Day, and the weather generally stays warm through much of September, there’s a qualitative change that occurs over the next weeks and brings an end to the freedom and excitement of summer.

This summer went quickly, as summers tend do more and more often as I get older. Although we did some very fun things, we took no long vacation and had to cancel a lot of planned activities due to weather or finances. In some ways I feel like I didn’t have a summer at all, though my tanned shoulders and blisters on my heels speak otherwise. I just didn’t enjoy it the way I used to. I didn’t feel free.

I looked at my legs today and was still a little shocked to discover they are mostly unblemished at the end of August. Oh there are a few blisters and bruises from hiking and tubing, but in generally they’re in good shape. I should be used to it after three summers in a desk job, but I still expect them to look the way they used to when I had a good honest field job.

I used to come home everyday from work at the farm or in the forest battered, bruised, and filthy. Covered in mud, scratches, bug bites, poison ivy, and, often, blood. My legs (and often arms and face) were a mess but I was exponentially happier and a good deal slimmer – if distinctly poorer and less feminine. I was more spontaneous too, and I remember taking more summer day trips and enjoying life more even when there wasn’t a lot cash to spare.

Currently I have a very dull office job that pays decently, has excellent health insurance, and is nearly impossible to be fired from or laid off of. I live the most suburban of suburban communities, in a spacious two bed-room apartment in a nice complex that is one of hundreds of other nearly identical complexes in the area. Everything I could possibly want is within an hour’s drive, although virtually nothing can be walked to. This is very close to the American dream and I cannot stand it.

I’ve been thinking lately about how God sends us all through a time in the wilderness to come out the other side closer to him. For some people this a time of deep physical or spiritual suffering, for others a literal exile from home, and for still others a crisis of faith or another huge life change. But I think for me, in my cushy job and the place I’ve lived more or less my whole life, that this is my wilderness.

I’ve been trying so hard to get out of this place. To change my life, to get the job that I want in the place that I want. I fantasize about selling all our belongings, quitting our jobs, and moving out west and seeing what happens. And yet every time we make progress it seems like we slide backwards again. School drags on another year. We have to decimate our savings to pay for a car repair.  We get trapped in a lease that make its difficult to save. A freelance job falls through.

I feel in my heart that God has a plan for us that is not here, but it also seems like it’s not time for us to leave just yet. And that is hard to accept. This is my wilderness, and I know he must have us here still for a reason, but it is difficult to know what the reason is, what lesson I am to learn before we can escape. And sometimes it feels hopeless, like we will always be stuck here.

But God has always been faithful to give us what we need, and he will continue to be faithful. However I have to accept what we need and what I want may not be the same thing. And it almost certainly will not be with the timing that I have in mind. I know that if God does provide for us to move out of here in the near future it will be in a way that will leave no doubt in our minds that it is through his provision only and not through our own striving.

My challenge now, instead of resenting the present circumstances that keep me where I do not want to be and despairing of any hope and future for us that looks like what we’ve dreamed of, is to bless God for what we do have and to try to learn what lessons he has for me in this place. Even if it is only the discipline of waiting. I believe it is not wrong to have a goal, to desire something in particular and to pursue it. But it is important to not allow that goal to eclipse the far greater goal of following God.

That means offering up my dreams to him daily and allowing him to change them if that is his will. It means opening my heart to opportunities in places and fields I may not have considered. And it means trusting him to do what is best for me, even when it feels like I am languishing in the place that is the most damaging to my relationship with him. It may be his will that I leave, tomorrow or years from now. But until then I need to ask him to show me what work I have to do while I am here.

God will be faithful whether I am or not. Whether I have good attitude about it or not. Whether I make the most of my time or squander it. But just because that is true it doesn’t absolve me of any obligation to him. In fact, it strengthens my obligation to know that even if I abandon it, he will not abandon me. So I will try, in this wilderness of Norway oaks and super-Walmarts and good dental plans, to listen for his voice until he leads me out of it – or changed my attitude so that I no longer find it a wilderness at all.

Speculations on the Afterlife August 3, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Church, Heaven, Marriage, Peace, Questions, Trust, Uncategorized.
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I know things have been a bit intense around here lately, and given where I’m at spiritually they will probably continue to be intense for some time to come. So I thought I’d take a break from the heavy introspection and talk about something a little cheerier: Heaven. Okay, who am I kidding? This involves heavy introspection too.

I don’t really know what to think about heaven. As a young child my mother told me it would be like an endless church service, which was not remotely appealing (particular since our highly-unstructured Pentecostal church services already seemed endless to me). In middle school an overly-cool youth pastor said heaven would just be this awesome place full of extreme sports where we could go “snowboarding with Jesus”. Somewhat more appealing, but seemed rather unlikely. The culture presented a notion of clouds, angels, and white robes which I found silly and insipid. And some people are apparently really attached to the idea of heaven having literal streets paved in literal gold, which just feels like missing the point.

A lot of the things I hear about heaven from mainstream churches seem to indicate many Evangelicals think of it as like earth; only nicer, cleaner, and Jesus lives in your town. But that vision of heaven isn’t really about God, it’s about us and our “reward”. It doesn’t really involve a change; just an upgrade. Derek Webb satirizes this idea of the white, suburban, middle-class heaven in a song imagining what it would be like if a homeless person made it into that version of heaven:

Paradise is a parking lot
A spot up front is your reward
And all the rest walk down streets of gold
To the house they could afford
I got lost in the swelling crowd
I could not afford to eat
You only have what you came in with
So I’m living on the street

Oh I have been to heaven
And I found no relief
‘Cause I couldn’t find a hand to hold
To keep me on my feet

I heard Jesus Christ was there
He had a car that’s bulletproof
That way everyone is safe
From the man who tells the truth

Christians can’t even seem to agree on whether we go straight to heaven when we die, or just wake up at the Resurrection to the “new earth”. Frankly I’m not sure that’s something we can answer and I don’t know that I care – I’ll find out when I get there, I suppose. Although since I don’t believe in the Rapture and am a little sketchy on the whole “new earth”/bodily resurrection thing altogether, I definitely lean towards the “going straight to heaven” camp.

In short, heaven was never a “hook” for me to be a Christian. I’m a Christian because I really don’t know any other way to live my life in the face of an omnipotent God and the sacrifice of Christ that could possibly work out for me. And I’ve never liked the mentality the this whole world is just some kind of test, or that we’re just waiting out our time here until we can leave. I feel like that leads to a really bad attitude about this life and how we should act and treat other people and the planet, a kind of irresponsibility about the world. It matters what we do here. It may not be all we’ve got, but it’s all we’ve got right now. Yes, there’s more to life beyond beyond this world, probably more than we can ever imagine. But we’re here now, and God put us here for a reason, so obviously we’re not meant to just sit back and wait for it to be over.

And as a scientist, when I think about heaven too long I get overly-analytical about things. Where is it? What is it? A physical place? An alternate dimension? How does it work? What are the physics involved? Does heaven have mass and location? Not particularly helpful questions, nor ones likely to get an answer any time soon.

Although the Bible talks a fair amount about heaven, it is notoriously short on details. And unfortunately the book that mentions what appears to be heaven/the afterlife in the most detail is the one that I trust our modern interpretation of the least – Revelation. So in terms of what I feel we can be certain of about heaven, it pretty much comes down to: we will be with God, we will be with other believers, and it will be “paradise”. We can argue for ages about the return of Christ, the resurrection, the rapture, whether there is anything beyond heaven, what it will look like, etc. But it wouldn’t be productive because we just can’t know.

And I feel like we aren’t meant to. Not that it doesn’t matter at all, but that God doesn’t give us details on purpose. Perhaps for several reasons. I think one of them is that, by definition, we couldn’t really understand what heaven is like while we’re still here on earth now matte how much description we had. Words are not adequate, our human language fails. If we could really imagine it, really comprehend it, then it wouldn’t be anything we couldn’t create ourselves. The more that was said, the more misinterpretation and confusion there would be. True understanding of heaven is just not attainable for us right now.

I think another reason God keeps the exact nature of the afterlife kind of vague is that it is not the story we are living in now. We humans have a hard enough time focusing on what we should be doing now, instead of living in the past or trying to create a particularly future. The more we know about the afterlife, the more likely we are to fixate on it to the detriment of our purpose here, now, on earth. We still have things to do and lessons to learn.

Finally, I think we don’t get a lot of details about heaven because God wants us to trust him. He has promised us a place. He has promised he will dwell there with us. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t he enough for us? Now, I personally don’t think that after we die we spend all eternity sitting around with God doing literally nothing else. But I think he wants us to be able to believe that whatever he has planned for us, it will be perfect because he will be with us there.

And yet, when things down here get so hard and so complicated, and when our problems seems so big and insurmountable, I feel like it does help to be able to think of the promise of an eternal life with God and remember “This isn’t all there is. No matter how bad it gets, there’s still something more coming.” I don’t want to use that as a way of avoiding dealing with things in life, but just as an encouragement that one day it will be okay, one day we will understand all of things that happened to us and all our wounds will be healed. It’s a reason to keep on going, not a reason to give up on life.

Of all the authors who have tried to capture the idea of heaven, for me at least, C.S. Lewis has done the best job. Through his Narnia books and other writings he talks of our longing for heaven, our lack of ability to truly understand it, and a little bit about what he thinks it will be like. In “The Last Battle” one of the characters, upon reaching the afterlife and finding it be a world realer and more wonderful than the one they had come from, remarks that all of the things they had loved about the old Narnia they must have loved because they reminded them, a little, of how it was in this place. Lewis describes worlds within worlds, each more real and more beautiful than the last, calling them perpetually further up and further in (presumably to more closeness and joy and knowledge of God).

That is how I like to think of it. That heaven isn’t just a place you get to and then is always the same, but that it’s the beginning of a never-ending journey leading to ever-increasing knowledge and love and closeness to our Creator and more and more understanding of him and the universe and each other. And when I feel a sense of longing for something, or when I have to leave a place or person that I truly love, I try to remember that the reason I feel that way is because that place or person or thing reminds me of something about heaven. Not necessarily that I love the mountains because there’s a physical, Platonic ideal of mountains in heaven that I’m longing for, but that all the good things here are echos of something better yet to come there.

Even if I never live in that place or see that person again, I will someday receive that something better, which is so much more that I cannot even comprehend it except through my longing for the shadow of it on earth. And even if I do get to live in my favorite place on earth and have a perfect, close relationship with that person I love, I will still be longing for something more after that. Because what God has given us here is good, but there is still something more excellent.

I think my biggest stumbling block about the afterlife though, is the verse in Mark about marriage:

When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.
Mark 12:25

This has always bothered me. Will I not get to be with my husband in the afterlife? Of course being with God is more important, but why should it have to be a choice? That just seems cruel.

But I think (and all this is just my own personal speculation) that what Jesus is trying to say is not that marriage will be abolished, but that marriage will be obsolete. The kind of deep connection and emotional intimacy and knowledge that we can right now really only have with our spouse, we will be able to have with God in person and with all other people. Marriage now, on earth, is a promise of that kind of deep and universal intimacy to come, only more so because there will be none of the walls we put up or unhealed hurts that exist in even the best of marriages. The kind of deep and (ideally) unconditional love we have with our spouse here, as a reminder of how God loves us and how we are all to love one another, will be perfected and put into practice in heaven.

And whatever else is there, I view heaven as a place of joy and of laughter. I think we will be able to at last see everything in perspective, and look at all the things we’ve done, and the ways we tried to control our own lives, or tried to make God love us more, and see how foolish we were and laugh at them. In the same way that we can now look back on things we said or did or believed as very small children and are able to see how funny it all was and how silly we were at the time. We will realize so many of the things we put great importance on now were not really important at all, but we will not feel guilt or shame because we will know how completely loved and accepted we are and we’ll just be able to laugh at ourselves.

The same for when we meet each other in heaven. I think we will be able to look at each other and for the first time, really and truly understand each other. We’ll be able to see past all the hurts, the misunderstandings and miscommunications, the broken relationships, and be able to finally see each other as we really are and love each other as we really are. And we will laugh together at how ridiculous we were to take offense at such small things, or to not be able to say what was really on our hearts, or that we let anything at all get in the way of loving each other. We won’t condemn each other for the things that happened or the ways we wounded each other, but we will at last be able to have perfect joy in being together in the presence of God.

That’s just how I imagine it. And if it’s nothing like that then it will so much better the difference will be, as Lewis (again) said, like a child making mud-pies in the gutter who cannot understand the offer of a holiday at the shore. But I know we will be together, we will be with God, and it will be paradise.

Books: Forgotten God by Francis Chan – First Impression August 2, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Baggage, Books, Holy Spirit, Prayer, Trust, Worry.
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I am far too tired to coherently write what I had originally planned for tonight. However, on the well-timed recommendation of a friend, I did just finish reading “Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit” by Francis Chan. Or I should say, I finished reading it for the first time. In my eagerness to devour this fantastic book I read it far too quickly (as I am apt to do), and am going to need to go back and read it more slowly and thoughtfully (with a Bible in hand) to really absorb the meat of it. But I wanted to get some thoughts down while they were still fresh in my mind.

I have to admit, I was wary of a book about the Holy Spirit. Extremely wary. Chan understands this, and in the introduction one of the first things he says is that we all have “baggage” about the Holy Spirit. Oh, boy, do I!

I was raised by a mother who asked me at the age of six why I wasn’t speaking in tongues yet (I ended up pretending by babbling gibberish when I would pray for the next year just to get her off my case). When I was naughty and did something typically kid-like such as talk back or shove my toys under the bed instead of putting them away, she would pray to cast the evil spirits of  Satan’s influence out of me and that the Holy Spirit would give me good spirits instead. I really would have preferred a spanking at that point. When a friend’s mom had a mental breakdown she decided it was because the people who had lived in the house before them were Satanic and spent an entire day anointing all their doorposts with oil and praying for the Holy Spirit to cleanse the house. And she refused to sell our house to a nice gay couple who bred border collies because she had spent so many years getting it spiritually “clean”.

So yes, I am a bit gun-shy about the Holy Spirit. Or rather, about the ways other people try to use the Holy Spirit to do some creepy and weird crap. But while I don’t have an actual problem with the Holy Spirit doing stuff (as long as no snake-handling is involved), I also don’t really spend any time thinking about him as a separate part of the Trinity. I tend to think of him as kind of an extension of God the Father. When something mysterious happens that I know is from God, that’s the Holy Spirit. But that’s about all I give him. And I certainly don’t think about being indwelt by the Holy Spirit – isn’t that kind of a Jesus thing?

Apparently not. And Chan is right, we have neglected the Holy Spirit. Whether through ignoring him in our lives and churches as much as possible, or attributing things to “the Holy Spirit” that have nothing to do with him and are only to satisfy our own ideas of how God should be working or what we should be doing. It is neglect all the same.

Chan points out that if we were to have read the Bible knowing nothing about Christianity or church tradition and then were to walk into almost any modern day church we would be appalled at how the Holy Spirit is (or in many cases, isn’t) treated. The Holy Spirit, he says, is central to the Gospel and the scriptures. And this is true. I sat down and cracked open the New Testament at a couple of more or less random spots and neither Jesus (in John) or Paul (in the Timothys) go very long without talking about the Spirit. This is something I need to adjust my thinking on, and just spend time reading and reading with new eyes and a new perspective on the Spirit. And thinking about what it actually means to have the Spirit living with in me – as opposed to just floating around out there somewhere, intervening sporadically and unpredictably.

The other thing that really hit me was Chapter 6, entitled “Forget About His Will For Your Life”. Quite a provocative statement, given that I thought that was what we were all supposed to be seeking above all else. But Chan is not saying that God’s will doesn’t matter, only that we spend so much time asking and obsessing over getting an exact blueprint for our lives (or at least a five-year plan) from God that it becomes completely paralyzing and we end up doing nothing.

Living out of the Spirit means letting him guide us. But we are never promised a complete road map. It’s more like a flashlight, that illuminates just the next step or two ahead.

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.
Isaiah 30:21

This is not talking about God’s will for our entire lives, this is talking about just our next move. And as Chan points out, if we can’t even live today, one single day, by the Spirit, how can we possibly hope to follow a divine plan for the rest of our lives. And if we had such a plan mapped out for us, would we even bother to ask him for daily guidance?

I am so susceptible to this. I am a planner and a schemer, and a control freak. When Indy and I went on vacation last summer I literally had an accordion file with folders for each day containing directions to where we needed to go, phone numbers of anyone we might need, where we were going to stay, what hikes we would take and what sights we would see, as well as a contingency plan in case that didn’t work out.

This works fantastically for a vacation. Less so for a Spirit-filled life.

There is so much in this book I want to unpack and will need to really deal with: What does it actually mean to have the Spirit? Why do we even want to have the Spirit? And am I really ready to surrender that level of control in my life to him? And so many more things, which I will probably go into in the future as I process them.

But I think the main message for me, for now, is to wake up each day and ask the Spirit to dwell within me and show me where he wants me to go today. Just today. Do I go to the right or to the left? Because that simple act alone can lead me places I could never imagine at the moment, if I have the ears to hear and the courage to obey. I am going to try not to worry about the future, or plan and contingency plan, or beg God to show me the shape of my future life so that I can feel better about things. I am just going to try to wake up and ask the Holy Spirit: “Okay. So which way now?”

Lies I Believe, Part 2: “You’re Too Much” August 1, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Belief, Blessings, Flaws, Holy Spirit, Identity, Lies, Lifescripts, Personal, Trust, Worry.
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Part of two of my series exploring the lies in my life that Satan uses to keep me from being the person God wants me to be, and my attempt to disentangle them from my heart before they do any more damage.

The lie: You’re too much to handle; you always push things too far.

I always feel like I am just always a little bit too something. Too loud. Too aggressive. Too emotional. Too needy. Too intense. I often feel like my friends and others often just tolerate me to be nice but really wish that I would dial it back a little.

After interactions, phone conversations, emails, particularly serious ones, I usually feel uncertain of myself, wondering about what I’ve said and if I went too far.  Did I insult that person by accident? Was that joke too barbed? Was that the wrong thing to say? I know I talked too long, said too much. I could feel them withdrawing from me. I came on too strong, I knew it. I shouldn’t have been so honest, now they aren’t going to want to be around me anymore.

I’m most susceptible to these feelings with people I don’t know very well yet, but am just starting to form a relationship with. But I still experience it even in my closest friendships. And when I start to feel like that, it’s very hard to convince me otherwise, even I know I rationally they probably haven’t given it a second thought. Even if they have given me tangible proof that our relationship is still as good as ever, I still maintain this little doubt in my mind that they see me differently or don’t trust me as much or love me as much.

The result: I withdraw and hide.

I pull back on nascent friendships before they even get started because of imagined coolness on the other person’s part. I bite my tongue and avoid emotional honesty with all but my closest friends. I am circumspect about my true thoughts and beliefs, and end up agreeing with people just so they will like me. With my closest friends I often don’t challenge them like I should when I feel something is wrong, because I’d rather be supportive than risk their anger.

And when I am honest and really open up about what I think or feel, I then waste time and energy worrying over their reactions. I question everything I said and did, I doubt myself. Even when I get positive feedback from the person, I still feel shyer than before about taking that emotional risk and putting my true feelings out there. And when I get no feedback, I am sure that I have offended them.

So I make fewer friends than I want to, and I put up walls with the ones I have. I am not as bold with my thoughts and ideas as I should be, and when I am I usually regret it. I fear that even my truest friends merely put up with me. I avoid leadership because there’s just too many ways to mess that one up. And I waste time and energy on worry and fear, instead of putting my efforts towards more fruitful things, such as strengthening my friendships and loving others. I become self-obsessed and self-involved, and do not live out the freedom Christ has given me. I become a people pleaser and try to just be nice, instead of being a Christ-pleaser and striving for authenticity.

The truth: I am not too much for God, and he made me how I am for a reason.

The trouble with this lie, the reason it works so well, is that like most effective lies it’s partly true. I can be loud and aggressive. I’ve hurt or lost friendships from taking things too far or being really honest. Sometimes I am thoughtless with my words, or get overly passionate about something and push too hard. I sometimes have bad timing with what I say, or say things the wrong way. Sometimes I just plain open my mouth when I shouldn’t

Another reason it works so well is that my mother is very pushy and needy and loud and intrusive and just too much sometimes. I know I am like her in a lot of ways. And while I love my mother very much, there are a lot times when she is acting a certain ways that my feelings towards her are less affectionate than barely tolerant. I don’t want people to think of me that way.

But the real truth is that it doesn’t matter what other people think of me. It only matters what God thinks of me. He made me and the truth is, no matter what I do, I can never be too much for him to handle.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35-39

Nothing in this earth or heaven or hell can separate me from his love. Certainly nothing I can say or do, however stupid or thoughtless. And he gave me these traits that I so often dislike. He made me exactly the way I am, and has a reason for doing so.

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10

That doesn’t mean I only do good things and never cross the line, or that I shouldn’t try to be a better listener, or less reactive, or to think before I speak. But it means that there is way that my natural outspokenness and enthusiasm and honesty and passion and humor is meant to be used for his kingdom. And when I try to totally suppress them because I think they just end up causing trouble, I am only cutting myself off from the ways he may want me to use them.

Not everyone will like me. I need to be okay with that. And I will sometimes say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I may even ruin friendships by it. But despite that, I still have true, wonderful friends who love me, who God has placed in my life for a purpose and who are incredibly understanding and forgiving. And I don’t need to be afraid of being myself around them.

Most importantly God loves me no matter what. He has saved me and redeemed me and wants me to live that out for everyone to see. He doesn’t want me to live in fear, or to cut myself off from good relationships or ministry because I am afraid of screwing up. He wants me to bold in my life and in my speech, but bold for him and for the pursuit of the hearts of others and not bold out of my own desires or need for recognition.

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away.
2 Corinthians 3:12-13

I do not need to be afraid of what God has given me. I will still screw up, because people screw up. But even if I screw up every single of my relationships to the point where literally no one else wants to be around me, I will still have God and he will still love me. That is the most important relationship, and his plan for me is more important than my self-centered fears and insecurities. And I can always go to him, no matter how badly I mess things up.

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:16

How to fight it: Know my identity in Christ; trust God and trust the people he’s put in my life.

Reading God’s Word and keeping a close relationship with him is the only way to fight this one. It accomplishes two things. When I am living in his love there is no room for fear or doubt; he tells me who I am, not Satan, or my mother, or anyone else.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 4:18

And when I am filled with the Spirit I will have more wisdom and discernment about what I say, I will be less needy and attention-seeking and not always looking for validation, and I will bear the fruits of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23

That doesn’t mean if I live in the Spirit and walk with God that I will never make a mistake in my relationships, but when I stop focusing on myself and my own insecurities and focus on God and on truly loving others for their sakes, not my own, I become less and less likely to act out of selfishness. Traits that seems like curses when applied by my own judgement become gifts when I use them the way God wants me to.

I have to trust him to put me on the right path in my relationships. If I stick close to him and am really living how he wants me to, I won’t be afraid to speak when I feel led because I will know that it’s really him speaking and not just myself. If there is fallout from it, I have to trust that he is in that, too.

And I have to trust the godly people he’s put in my life to love me ; trust that they will not turn away from me because of a misstep or stupid comment, but that they will love me and forgive me because they are living out of God’s love too.

But in the end, I have to accept the fact that only one thing matters: following Christ. Not my fears. Not what others think of me. Not where it might lead me. Because following Christ will at times bring pain, and loss, and even humiliation for his sake. I may speak the truth out of the most righteous of motives and have stones thrown at me. I could be exactly the person God made me to be and still lose friends or status or anything else; in fact he pretty much promises that will happen. If I truly want live like Christ, that is something that I have to embrace.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:3-8

Because in the end, its not about me. The more I worry about myself, the more I make it about me and the less I make it about Christ. But when I give up my own fears and desires, he can do great things with my life and in my relationships.

Safety and Wildness July 23, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Peace, Sacrifice, Struggles, Trust.
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I live in what is probably one of the safest places on the planet. For starters, I live in the U.S., which means serious concerns about wars, large scale epidemics, waterborne illnesses, and starvation are (or appear to be) pretty much off the table. I live in a part of the country that almost never experiences hurricanes, earthquakes, or tsunami. My state occasionally gets flooding and tornadoes, but almost never my area of it. My town is firmly middle-class, with very little crime,  and I live in a family-oriented development where kids play freely with minimal supervision. My commute to work is short, statistically reducing my chances of being in a car accident. The biggest risk I have to worry about from my job is carpal tunnel. And I have really good health insurance.

A couple nights ago we had a thunderstorm. It wasn’t that bad, a little rain, a little wind. A lot of lightning, and a tantalizing chance of hail. But as I lay in bed watching the light show outside, it occurred to me that all this safety is, of course, imaginary. Sure, statistically, my odds are better than a lot of people’s to live a long and healthy life. But lightning could strike the tree outside my window, which could fall into the house and kill me. I could get hit by a car crossing the street or riding my bike. I could get cancer. I could fall down the stairs and break my neck. There is no safety in the world, only risk management. As God said to Job:

“What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a path for the thunderstorm,
to water a land where no man lives,
a desert with no one in it,
to satisfy a desolate wasteland
and make it sprout with grass?
Does the rain have a father?
Who fathers the drops of dew?
From whose womb comes the ice?
Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
when the waters become hard as stone,
when the surface of the deep is frozen?”
Job 38:24-30

Despite all our technology we can’t even predict the weather, much less control it. There are plenty of diseases with no cure. There are terrorists, epidemics, global climate change. And that’s not even counting the more run of the mill dangers of everyday life. But we like our illusion of safety. We’ve worked so hard to cultivate it, especially here in the suburbs where we make sure everything is as pleasant and inoffensive as possible, so we don’t have to think about the dangers of the world.

There’s just a couple of problems with this. The first is, no matter how seemingly risk-free we manage to make our lives, eventually something will happen. We will have that heart attack, that car accident, or choke on that hot dog. Or if we’re really lucky maybe we just won’t wake up one day. No matter what it is, it will happen sooner or later whether we admit it or not.

The second problem is that safety makes us dead to faith. It is so hard be radically reliant on God when we have so many things around us making us feel protected and secure. It’s completely stupefying.  What do we need God for? It is only when something bad happens that we are shaken from our slumber to beg him to take care of us. When we have a house to protect us from the elements and a job to pay the bills and a fridge full of food and relative good health, it’s hard to remember the source of it all is not ourselves – and that it could be gone in an instant.

I always feel closest to God when I’m in nature, and the farther into wilderness the better. Part of it is because I am surrounded by the things he made, rather than things made by man. But I think most of it is that there is nothing between me and the world that I can fool myself into thinking will keep me safe. I am at the mercy of the elements, the wildness of the world. It is my Father’s world and I live or die at his pleasure. Of course that is always the case, whether I am on a mountaintop in a blizzard or in my climate-controlled living room. But when I am in an environment where I cannot even pretend to have the slightest grasp of control, I become starkly aware of it. I am forced to acknowledge his supremacy and my inability to save myself from anything.

But most of us cannot live in the literal wilderness. And when we come back home, or when we get over our scary illness, or recover financial stability it again becomes a struggle to remember that we are just as dependent on God in the fat times as the lean, in the safety as in the insecurity. I admit I am not very good at this. I become smug and complacent like everyone else, until something shakes me up.

Perhaps the key is to not seek out a life of safety. I don’t mean take up extreme sports just to feel closer to God. But to not make security and stability my number one motivation for everything I do. Make reliance on him my motivation and see where it leads me, no matter the apparent danger. Open myself up to emotional risks, financial risks, and yes, even physical risks in pursuit of what he wants for me.

Because our God is many things, but he is not safe. The Lord is a warrior, Exodus tells us. He is wild. He is unpredictable and, on some level, unknowable. He does not think like we do. And he doesn’t promise us safety. In fact he promises us trouble and pain and conflict in pursuit of him, even unto death in some cases. So if we’re focusing on our own safety we are, by default, not focusing on him.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:8-9

I am not sure what following God’s thoughts instead of my own looks like in my life yet. Am I supposed to give up my apartment and live barefoot in the street? Sell all my possessions and move to Ethiopia?  Maybe. Or maybe there are other things he wants me to risk for him. There are things that I find more frightening, certainly – for me giving up and running away is much less scary than sticking around learning how to live honestly where I am. But I am only starting on this journey, and what risking things for God means may change many times over the years. And I am not great at giving up control, or taking risks that weren’t my own idea.

But I know I don’t want to let my relative prosperity or imaginary security lull me into insipid lethargy or a false sense of self-reliance. Or to let my attachment to the safety I seem to have now become more important than seeking to know God’s wildness better. And I will try to cherish the thunderstorms and the steep mountains paths and the crises in life, big and small, that remind me of the glorious unpredictability of the world and force me back into spiritual dependence on my heavenly Father just as soon as I start to think I can take care of myself.

On keeping a soft heart June 13, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Belief, Fears, Heart Condition, Struggles, Trust.
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Some weeks back at church the speaker talked about not allowing one’s heart to be hardened. Honestly, that is all I remember about the sermon that week because God spoke to me so loudly and forcefully when he said that that I was deafened to anything that came after.

Hardening my heart is something that I struggle with to an incredible degree. Or rather, too often, I don’t struggle with it  – I allow myself to to take the easy way out, to put up the walls, to disengage when things start to get difficult or intense. I often regret this, feeling the wash of emotion and remorse much later when I realize how callous my immediate reaction may have been. Sometimes I am able to remedy this and clarify what I really meant to say or do; often I just feel bad and guilty and this makes me more resistant to allowing myself to be effected in the future.

Not that I am a cold person by nature, or even in most of my daily interactions. I am usually friendly and outgoing. But I grew up with an extremely emotional parent who had a distinct lack of boundaries so I learned to put my own up hard and fast. My sense of humor is sarcastic and teasing. And I’ve felt the injury many times in the past when I put my heart out there for all to see and faced rejection or ridicule.

The Bible mentions various times people’s hearts were hardened and the results are never good. Death, destruction, turning away from God. The author of Hebrews alone begs the readers four times to not harden their hearts to God. When we do this we leave no room for God to work on us, to change us. We have no pity, compassion, or empathy for other people around us. We close ourselves off to grace and to love, which is the currency of God’s relationship with us.

It’s a scary thing if you think about it. God will continue to love us, continue to call us, continue to send us events and people in our lives to soften our hearts and bring us back to Him. But He also gave us free will. He does not force us to love Him. And if we truly, obstinately close ourselves off from Him, He will let us go our own way. Not that He ever abandons us, but we may find that our hearts have becomes so hard that we no longer know how to get back to Him, that we can not even bring ourselves to call out to Him anymore.

That is an extreme case of course, but it helps to remind myself how dangerous it is to just automatically throw up those walls when I am confronted with a painful topic, a negative interaction, or a frightening truth about what God might want from my life. My heart is not dead; I still feel things very deeply. But am an expert at dodging those unpleasant feelings, deflecting them, and skirting subjects I know are likely to make me feel too poignantly. And I’ve noticed over the past few years I do it more and more often. My fear is that one day I will discover that I am incapable of dealing with any of those thoughts and feelings at all anymore.

So what does it mean to keep my heart soft?  I think right now it means heading towards the pain and towards the joy. I am often embarrassed by outward displays of extreme emotion – I don’t like other people to see when I am deeply moved by things. I’m far more comfortable in writing, telling how I feel with words rather than showing it in person. And even then I often underplay the depth of what I am feeling, or, often, trying not too feel too strongly.

When I find myself turning away from something, be it a thought or a feeling or a prayer or an interaction, I need to stop myself and analyze why. Why don’t I want to talk to God about this area in my life that I’m struggling with? Is it because I know I need to change something? Am I avoiding this person because I know we have unresolved issues and I’m afraid we start talking I will find out how much I hurt her? Do I not want to talk about that topic because I know it will force me to think about my faith and my life in a way I’m not comfortable with? Do I not want to listen to that music that I know I love because it fills me with such joy and such longing that I don’t know how to handle or express it, and fear that I will never truly be that happy in this life?

Every time I harden my heart like that, I lose a chance for God to do something in my life. Not that He can’t still ever use me, but when He gives me an open door and I turn and walk the other way something is still lost there. Sometimes I may have another chance, but sometimes that particularly opportunity is lost forever. And each time it gets a little more difficult to keep myself open to the next set of chances. The hardness gets a little more ingrained because, frankly, it’s so much easier than the risk and the pain and the longing.

But the only chance I have is to fight when my heart wants to shut down. To run towards whatever it is that I am avoiding, whatever I think is too difficult or painful or scary and pray for God to help me to keep my heart open even if it is going to be pierced. To feel the empathy with a friend who is going through a hard time so that I can cry with her, to be convicted in my life so I can change the things that are wrong, to feel the joy or the sadness or the longing and let it draw me closer to the heart of Christ, to face the difficult questions even if they move me away from my comfort zone.

It is natural to want to protect ourselves from that which is hurtful. But sometimes the instinct of self-preservation really just prevents us from growing and receiving what is good in the long run. So I will be praying for a soft heart, an open heart. And when the slings and arrows come, as they do, I pray that I will have the courage to trust God to turn them to good, to use them for my betterment and for His glory.