Thoughts From My Quiet Time: The Power of Letting Go

I surrender all. I surrender all. All to thee, my blessed savior, I surrender aaaaalllll.”

So the song goes. But…am I really doing it? Am I really giving everything over to Him? Or, am I still holding on to a few things I plan to handle for myself?

Why do we sometimes cling sooo tightly to a favorite fear, or chose to continually re-live the same past trauma, or dwell forever on that one special mistake we made way back when? It’s like some ragged stuffed animal that’s been with us for so long that we just can’t quite seem to let it go.

MINE!” we yell.

So, inevitably, that’s precisely where God is going to focus his attention; because it’s the very things that we hold on to the most tightly that are the most important for us to let go of.

It’s those learned responses, those conditioned reflexes, those programmed behaviors, those things where we stubbornly insist, “It’s just the way things are!” Even if they aren’t pleasant, they are comfortable, they are familiar; they are what we know.  And they may even be true…for now.

But…just because that’s the way things are, doesn’t mean that’s really how they have to stay, is it? God is all about taking what is…and changing it into what can be.  HOWEVER…

…we have to let go of it first.

It’s those very things that we “know” with such certainty that too often get in the way of discovering the real truth of things.  It’s only when we stop trying to tell God how things are, that we become open to the possibilities of what they can be!

Problem is, that means letting go of our illusions of control, of our carefully nurtured victim-hood, or of any of 101 other things that we tend to put in place of a complete reliance on God and an unwavering trust in His sovereignty over our life. And that’s hard. Real hard. Because we really like our little teddy bear.

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  1st Cor. 13:11-12

If I hold on too tightly to those artifacts of the past, if I cling too tightly to that ragged old teddy bear, I can never really grow up the way I am supposed to, the way God wants me to. I stagnate, I get stuck, and I don’t grow. So, before I can move forward, I have to stop looking back. Instead of focusing on what was, I can start seeing what new things God is ready to lead me into instead!

Challenge:  Lord, what are those things in my life that I haven’t let go of yet? What are things I need to put into your hands? What are the fears I most need to trust you with, and the places in which I most need to be the most open to change?

Thoughts from my Quiet Time: Sometimes, It’s Really Not About You.

Going through my Oswald Chambers for today and he takes on the concept of “suffering” in terms of God and the Bible, referring to 1st Peter Chapt. 4 &5. Reading through all that really got me to thinking.

God repeatedly speaks of suffering as though it is a good thing!? That is not only inevitable but desirable?!  Why it this?

Because if we understand that it is inevitable, we will have a different attitude about it. We will be better equipped to face it rather than surprised by it.  And more importantly perhaps, we will have the awareness and foresight to look beyond our immediate circumstance and our own condition, and begin to look for the purposes of God in what we are enduring.  Why has he led me here? What purposes are being served?

This trial, this suffering may not even be about me. I may have been placed here to minister to someone else, or accomplish a mission, purpose or goal far beyond my own narrow vision.  And if I am only looking at myself, focused so completely on the depths of my own personal inconvenience, I may miss that opportunity entirely!

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. 1 Peter 4:12-13 (NASB)

Challenge: Am I so focused on my own condition that I may be missing the work God is doing around and through me? Lord, help me to daily remember that even in times of sorrow, suffering or persecution, you are there. Help me be open to your will, no matter the circumstance.

And He Will Heal Their Land. Maybe.

I’m sure we’ve all heard this one.  The time-worn favorite of the armchair evangelical who exhorts us to pray for our nation in that email you are supposed to forward to 25 friends.

2 Chron. 7:14 – “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. “

We see this verse again and again when it’s time for the National Day of Prayer, “See You At The Pole,” or a variety of other times and events when people need to feel like they are DOING something.

However, like so many other things in modern day eschatology, I think we tend to skip over a lot in this verse and focus on the “easy” stuff.

Keep in mind that praying is only ONE of the things that the verse exhorts us to do.

Another is to humble ourselves, a third is to turn from our wicked ways.  Understanding that “wicked” simply means “un-Godly.”  We tend to think of wickedness as those “evil” things like adultery and murder and stealing.  But in God’s eyes, “wickedness” is anything we do outside of His will.  Anger, strife, jealousy…delusions of self-sufficiency.  Even “good” things done with the best of intentions, if they are done based on our human (and thus flawed) intentions might ultimately be considered “wickedness.”

Isaiah 46:6 – “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

It is hard to truly understand “humbling” ourselves when we’ve never really lived under a King.  We’ve never had to physically kneel before a throne, before a man who has the power of life and death in his hands, and whose very words become law the moment they are spoken.  Humbling ourselves means giving up everything that isn’t of God; giving up the demands that we get to live life like WE think it should be lived.  It means giving up being mad at God when I don’t get my way or don’t understand my circumstance, and committing myself absolutely to accepting His sovereign authority over my life. “Seeking His face” involves a lot more than invoking his name like a spell from Harry Potter that will magically fix things.  It means daily, moment by moment, wanting to know more about WHO God is and what than means to my life.

It’s easy to say we will pray every day.  It’s easy to say that if the rest of the country would just straighten out and clean up their act…

However, is it as easy to say that we will pray…AND seek His face AND humble ourselves AND turn from our wicked ways? It’s about more than praying for our leaders, it’s about changing the way we live our lives in a very real and personal way.  ONLY THEN does this scripture promise that God will heal our land.  Prayer is certainly a great place to start, but I think it’s a lot taller of an order and a lot more work than most people want to think.  Myself included!!

I think it’s important to remember that the context of this verse is God speaking to Solomon just after the completion of the Temple.  God is actually speaking in the past-tense here.  Because the people, after they had already endured droughts, plagues and disease, humbled themselves, turned from their wicked ways and turned their face towards God, He heard their cry and restored them as a nation, complete with a fantastic new temple.

However.  Comma.

God IMMEDIATELY goes on to warn Solomon that (based on Israel’s history I’m sure) their new-found providence is still very conditional (I paraphrase slightly here):

IF, and I repeat IF you walk before Me as your father David walked, even to do according to all that I have commanded you, and will keep My statutes and My ordinances,  then AND ONLY THEN I will establish your royal throne as I covenanted with your father David, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man {to be} ruler in Israel.’ (vs 17-18)

And then he drops the other shoe….

“BUT!  If you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them,  then I will uproot you from My land which I have given you, and this house which I have consecrated for My name I will cast out of My sight and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.

“As for this house, which was exalted, everyone who passes by it will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land and to this house?’

“And they will say, ‘Because they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers who brought them from the land of Egypt, and they adopted other gods and worshiped them and served them; therefore He has brought all this adversity on them.’ (vs. 19-22)

And you know what’s sad?  We see in Isaiah 64:10-11  that that’s exactly what happened:

Your holy cities have become a wilderness, Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.  Our holy and beautiful house, Where our fathers praised You, Has been burned {by} fire; And all our precious things have become a ruin.

So what we have is a pretty clear “Either/Or” proposition. God says that either you humble yourself, acknowledge HIM and ONLY HIM as your God, or your land will be made desolate and your people scattered.

No middle ground.  Not a lot of ecumenicalism or mutli-culturalism there.  Doesn’t seem to support the whole, “we all worship the same god, just with different names” thing.  Kind of “intolerant” and “divisive” isn’t it?

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  (Heb 4:12 NASB)

It’s almost like God KNOWS the wickedness of our heart, the darkness of human nature, and our nearly inevitable tendency to follow our own hearts rather than His will.  Almost like a theme, running throughout the Scriptures, as if some things never change.

Something to think about.  And tell 25 of your friends.

Thoughts on Malachi

My studies took me to the Italian prophet tonight.

The book of Malachi is essentially God slapping the Israelites right upside the head because of their shallow, insincere, and downright insulting attitudes towards Him.  The sad/scary thing is…I saw waaaaay to much of the modern Church in these passages.

Through Malachi, God rebukes His people for the crap they are bringing Him as offerings.  A harsh word? Not really.  They were bringing junk, garbage, crap…and offering it to the Lord of Lords, King of Kings.  To say that He was a little put off is putting it mildly.

God asks if they would ever give such poor offerings to their local governor or magistrate?  The answer would be heck no!  Because they’d end up in shackles or picking up garbage around the village square on trash detail if they tried.  But with God?  Eh, whatever I’ve got lying around ought to be good enough…

God’s chosen people were offering tarnished trinkets, their lame and blind animals, rotten fruit and stolen goods as their offerings on the altar of Jehovah in the temple.  And then they seemed to be confused and surprised when God condemns them for it.

It seems a lot like the father of a clueless teenager who can’t understand why he’s in trouble when you told him to mow the yard, and then he only did half of it and quit to play X-box with his friends instead.

Then I thought about the kinds of “donations” I’ve seen people give to the churches at which I’ve been a member.  Heck, let’s be honest here, the kind of donations I have given to my own churches.  Stuff left over from the garage sale.  Stuff I found in the back of the closet or the attic, some of which doesn’t even work.  I pawn it off on the church figuring, “Maybe somebody can fix it, and anyway, it’s finally out of MY house!

I know for a fact people have used church donation drives as a convenient way of getting out of paying the dumping fee at the county landfill.

What does that say about us?  That we’ll give stuff to God that even WE don’t want anymore!?

The words of the prophet Malachi make it pretty clear that God WILL NOT BLESS YOU OR HONOR YOUR PRAYERS if you come before His altar with this attitude.   As a matter of fact, these token gestures of piety really anger our Lord, and He actually promises a curse for those who continue to do it!  I, for one, was very convicted about my peevish frustration that an 11:30 service “takes up half my day” on Sunday, instead of being able to get in at 9:30 and be out before noon so I can “get on with my day.”

Sound familiar to anyone?  Hmmm?  To think, I begrudge God two hours of worship.  I can’t spare two hours out of “my” day, to go with a willing heart to lay my offering on His altar.  I should be frustrated and disappointed that that’s ALL I get, wishing it were more, not less.  Like I said, Malachi has been hitting a little too close to home!

Malachi also makes it clear that tithing isn’t optional.  This kind of surprised me, because I’ve always heard tithing presented either in the form of a plea from the pulpit, or as a personal decision between me and God.  According to the words of God in Malachi, failing to tithe is “robbing God.”

“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.  “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you!”  Malachi 3:8-9 ESV

It is also clear that God views the marriage covenant between a man and a women as every bit as important, binding, and sacred as His covenant with Israel.  We see here again the archetype of the marriage, and foreshadowings of the NT teachings of the “Bride of Christ.”  God promises the same sort of anger and retribution for men who deal with their wives “treacherously” as those who bring corrupted offerings to His temple. Interesting.

I ‘ve also come to see Malachi as actually a pretty powerful book about…fatherhood, believe it or not.

Despite the harsh language, it’s actually a book of love.  Huh?  Yup.  Read it, you’ll see.  When I read this book of the Old Testament, I heard a frustrated father scolding his clueless children for their disobedience.  I have BEEN that guy, frustrated nearly to tears, stating for the leventy-zillionth time what should be obvious, self evident truths to children who just stare at me in bemused surprised like I just told them the sky is green.  He threatens them with terrible consequences, but he ALSO promises great rewards.  He lays it out, in plain and simple language.  He is setting boundaries, house rules, complete with punishments and rewards, in such a way that they can’t come back later and say, “Wull… I didn’t KNOW!  You didn’t tellll me THAT!

Recommended Resource site

Every so often, I will try to post a link to a site that I think merits attention.  Most often it will be another blog, a teaching site, or a Bible study resource. 

In this case, it is a link collection that is more than just a dump-and-run aggregator. 

My Christian Blogs” is the name.

The honcho of the site has actually taken the time to link individual sites, along with selected links to their content.  I like this format.

And, in the spirit of full disclosure, I want MY site linked there because I think it’s just that cool.  Their site, not mine.  Although, I think mine is pretty cool too, but I think you get my point.  I hope.

Anyway, I would recommend adding “My Christian Blogs” to your Favorites or your blogroll.  It looks like a great “one-stop” for a pretty good spectrum of devotional and other writings.

40 Days & 40 Nights

As part of my spiritual journey, one which has ebbed and flowed at various times during my life, sometimes burning with intensity, other times smouldering with barely a flicker of flame or a wisp of smoke, I have decided to commit to a 40 day fast. 

I have come to realize that I have been putting other things in my life before God.  Now I intent to LAY them before God.  After a bit of introspection, I have identified the following three things that have become stumbling blocks or dependencies in my life:

1) Caffeine.  I put waaay too much time and effort into maintaining a level of caffeination that my body can simply no longer tolerate.   I lurch from cup of coffee to soda to coffee to “get me through the day.”  It has become my stumbling block, and I’m depending on IT when I should be depending on God.  So, for the next 40 days, no caffeine.

2)  Sugar.  Processed, nasty sugar.  I have identified some ongoing health issues, probably Candida or some variant of Celiac’s Disease, and sugar is a fermenting, yeast producing nasty that my body can do without.  And since I’ve discovered that I am a “comfort eater,” I tend to put back a lot of sugary sweets during times of stress.  Which these days is most of the time.  Again, it is my crutch, my dependency, my replacement for the work of God in my life, so for the next 40 days, it goes.

3)  Blogging.  What used to be fun has devolved into pounding out negative, critical screeds replete with the very kind of huffy-puffy indignation and self-indulgent posturing one would expect from a DailyKos’r or HuffPo columnist. And that’s not me.  At least, I certainly don’t WANT it to be me.  It has begun to take away time from work, my family, and any hope I might have of quality devotional time.  So not only will I not be blogging myself, I will not be reading or commenting on other blogs.  I need to go cold turkey.  I doubt I’ll ever quit entirely, but I need to get myself back on track, and find my muse, so to speak.  So for the next 40 days, no blogging.

prayerI once had a strong and growing web ministry via my writings.  I was touching peoples’ lives and bringing them the message of Hope to be found in Jesus Christ.  I was repeatedly blessed by emails from people who read something that God had given me, and it had spoken to some struggle or challenge that they had been facing in their own life.   How exciting, and how humbling!

Problem is, I haven’t been doing that for quite some time now.

It is what I have always felt I’ve been called to do.  I may never plant a church, become a missionary, or preach from a pulpit, but I believe God has gifted me to use my writing to touch hearts and souls, to shine the light of Christ in those dark corners we fear, or hope, no one else knows about.  But God knows, and he uses every tool at his disposal to reach into those places and do the work that needs to be done.  I like to think that at times I’ve been an instrument in his hands, helping to heal what was hurt, repair what was broken, perhaps bringing reconciliation where before there was only estrangement.

I want to begin to do that again.

So, since sundown last night, to use the Judaic model, I began my fast.  40 days, committed to the Lord, to reclaim that which has been lost, or at least buried.  To re-energize my Walk, and to rekindle the flames of ministry which I have let die.

My hope, and my prayer, is that as God teaches me, leads me, and guides me through this time, that I can share those lessons and struggles here in such a way that others can be blessed by them as well. 

So, off we go!

In Christ,
~~Steve Berven~~