Surely the most needless tragedy in the body of Christ is bored Christians. Following Jesus is the wildest ride on earth. It’s time we took off the seat belts.
I reckon this: the idol of the nice god, the safe god, has done more damage to biblical faith—more damage to people coming to faith—than the caricature of the tyrant god ever did. The despotic god, howling his rage, wielding punishment with both ransacking destruction and surgical precision, at least inspired something in us. We were afraid. We wanted to appease. But the Milqestoast-Pampering deity is nothing but a cosmic lackey, an errand boy we call on to make our golf games pleasant or to help us escape reality for a little while and then summarily dismiss. Worship him? Revere him? Die for him? Believe that he died a cruel and bloody death for us? You must be kidding.
The safe god asks nothing of us, gives nothing to us. He never drives us to our knees in hungry, desperate praying and never sets us on our feet in fierce, fixed determination. He never makes us bold to dance. A safe god inspires neither awe, nor worship, nor sacrifice. A safe god woos us to borderland and keeps us stuck there.
But God isn’t nice. God isn’t safe. God is a consuming fire. Though He cares about the sparrow, the embodiment of His care is rarely doting or pampering. God’s main business is not ensuring that you and I get parking spaces close to the mall entrance or that the bed sheets in the color we want are—miracle!—on sale this week. His main business is making you and me holy.
We want a God who provides but doesn’t intrude, who protects but never demands, never judges, never meddles. We want a God who keeps His distance and doesn’t crowd us.
I, too, operate in this pattern. I have little interest in knowing he will of God concerning my windfalls, but much interest in having the provision of Christ in my pitfalls. I want to be rescued but not bothered, comforted but never disrupted, soothed but not disturbed.
What is God mostly interested in? Strangely, anticlimactically, it has to do with concerns—with what our hearts fix on, with what stirs us in the depths and makes us rise to the heights. What are we concerned about? Is it what God is concerned about?
The worst consequence of losing our imagination, our wonder, is that we no longer see the Christward life as an adventure. We see it as a duty, a chore, a list of dos, don’ts, and how-tos.
We often treat God as the Lord of the predicament and Master of the pinch. He is there to bail us out, to whisk us away, to vindicate and rescue us. He is the God of our binds and squeezes, but rarely the God of our lives. Until a crisis hits, we really do not want God crowding in on us. We want Him to keep a safe, cool distance, hovering in the shadows until summoned, usually to assist us in being true to ourselves.
Here is a curious thing: Brokenness—a broken heart, a broken spirit—molds our character closer to the character of God than anything else. To experience defeat, disappointment, loss—the raw ingredients of brokenness—moves us closer to being like God than victory and gain and fulfillment ever can.
One of the worst manifestations of pride is self-deceit. Self-deceit is the unwillingness, even the inability, to face our own evil, and if we do face it, we can’t accept the real reasons for it. Instead, we have a large repertoire of lies to tell ourselves to ease our consciences, to save face, to explain away.
Psalm 51:6: Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
(About the above scripture) No clearer summary of holiness has ever been spoken. Holiness is just that. It is truth in the inner parts, God’s wisdom spoken into the inmost place. When we search the deepest, most hidden regions of ourselves, we find truth, God’s voice speaking.
Real holiness is truth in the inner parts, God’s wisdom spoken in the inmost place. Real holiness is being naked and not being ashamed. Real holiness is coming into the light. Real holiness is telling ourselves the truth, no matter what. Real holiness is calling sin by its real name.
Most of our drivenness and anxiousness comes from not really knowing what we must do. So we do a lot of things. We do them all with grim, fretful haste. We do them with panic but no zeal. We have to, after all, get this done and get on to the next thing. We’re not really sure what it is we must do, so there’s no time to pause over, to savor, to reflect on anything.
The deeper difference between Jesus’ ethic and that of the Pharisees was this: The Pharisees had an ethic of avoidance, and Jesus had an ethic of involvement. The Pharisee’s question was not, “How can I glorify God?” It was “How can I avoid bringing disgrace to God?” This degenerated into a concern not with God, but with self—with image, reputation, procedure. They didn’t ask, “How can I make others clean?” They asked, “How can I keep myself from getting dirty?” They did not seek to rescue sinners, only to avoid sinning. Jesus, in sharp contrast, go involved. He sought always and in all ways to help, to heal, to save, to restore. Rather than running from evil, He ran toward the good.
We instinctively define Christians by what they are not, by what they avoid.
The question Christ would have us ask is not, “How will this or that act affect my witness?” His question is “What can I do have effective witness?” His question is “What can I do to have effective witness? There is a vast and fundamental difference between those two questions. One is an ethic of avoidance and the other is an ethic of involvement.
I contend this: Scratch the most vigorous, authentic Christians you know, and he or she will bleed love—love for God, love for others, and a deep conviction about God’s love for him or her. And the opposite: Scratch the sourest, most sedentary Christians you know, and he or she will bleed guilt.
Holy habits are that: the disciplines, the routines by which we stay alive and focused on Him. AT first we choose them and carry them out; after a while they are part of who we are. And they carry us.
But grace and effort are not opposites. Grace and earning are opposites. Working for you salvation is heresy. Working out your salvation is basic Bible. Grace and effort are allies. There are 8 New Testament scriptures that tell us that because God has already given us all things, we therefore must make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification; make every effort to enter through the narrow door, make every effort to keep unity; make every effort to be holy; make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with Him.
The touchstone of whether you’re rightly engaged with any discipline is to ask, “Is my love getting stronger, deeper, and richer?” Something is wrong if you find that any discipline or habit you practice is making you arrogant, self-righteous, contemptuous, and judgmental.
Our sanctification does not depend as much on changing our activities as it does on doing them for God rather than for ourselves.
Confession is presenting our real self to God. It’s bringing before God not the person we hope to be, but the person we actually are.
Confession is when we quit all the deal making, the sidestepping, the mask wearing, the pretense and preening, and we get bone-deep honest before God: I am the man!
But now here’s a subclause: In order to present our real selves to God, we need to be honest with ourselves about ourselves, and honest about ourselves to at least one other trusted and godly person.
In general, it’s best to speak when tempted for selfish reasons to be silent, and it’s best to be silent when tempted for selfish reasons to be speak. When you are tempted to justify, explain, excuse, exalt, gossip, or scold—it’s a good signal to button up. And when you are tempted to just lay low, let things sort themselves out, don’t rock the boat, don’t say anything that might cause trouble—that’s a good signal to speak out. Both speaking and silence should be costly, and at their heart should be self-giving.
Deuteronomy 8 indicates that there are three main purposes behind a God led and Spirit-driven experience of hunger (Fasting). God orchestrates and engineers hunger to humble His people, to test them and to teach them. A fast is a God-led or Spirit-driven hunger whose purpose is to humble us, to test us, and to teach us.
Fasting is meant to humble us, to make us understand how small and frail and needy we really are. It should increase our sense of dependency, not become a way of lauding our spiritual superiority. It is not, a demonstration of superhuman strength. It is exactly the opposite; a demonstration of very human weakness. If fasting—or any other spiritual discipline—is not producing in us genuine humility, if it only proves breeding ground for self, it’s gone awry.
Prayer and waiting are intrinsically linked, joined at the hip. Prayer makes no sense apart from waiting. Prayer is about being made in the likeness of Christ. Conformed, reformed, transformed. If prayer was only about getting things—getting even, getting rich, getting well, getting justice—then we would call it something else. We have lots of names to describe the quest and method for getting those things; magic, medicine, capitalism, lobbying.
Waiting is, in God’s paradoxical economy, not the cause of weariness, but the pathway to renewal. God intends for waiting to invigorate and replenish us rather than debilitate and deplete us. He desires that it would have exactly the opposite effect it often does. But how so? Only if waiting is actually a shortcut or catalyst for some deep purpose of God, something intimately close to His heart, something tightly aligned with His creational and redemptive purposes.