Let's learn to throw off all unnecessary weights and shed a few ugly "spiritual pounds." I don't know about you but for my heart to float upwards into joy and drift languidly on the river of peace as I go through my day, I need to make sure that "heavy" thoughts don't start sinking the "peaceful, easy feeling" which the Holy Spirit so willingly supplies. Heavy thoughts can be grouped into a few basic categories: fear, bitterness, hurt feelings, hopelessness and guilt. The Gospel of Grace works on them all, but for now let's take that last entry--guilty thoughts--and really throw them off!
Have you noticed that there is almost always an undercurrent of guilt or inner accusation, seeking to attach itself to the main current of our thought life? ("Could have done this, should have done that, how can you be thinking that, what kind of Christian are you...") Have you noticed that when a police car suddenly shows up in your rear view mirror it often sends a shock of fear/guilt through you? This is the unrelenting work of the Accuser of the brethren (see Rev 12:10) which ranges from "thunder and lightning strikes" in the conscience to "overhanging clouds" blanketing all with blame. You and I will never be good enough, or do good enough, to silence the accusing voices. There is always an arguable element of legitimacy--we are, after all, sinful ones being saved by the Graceful One. And sometimes, of course, we are actually guilty and need to confess it.
Typically, we try to cover ourselves to keep from having to be dragged down by this inward assault (remember Adam and Eve?). None of us wants to feel weighted down. None of us wants to be rained on by guilty feelings. So we hold up different "umbrellas" as modern fig leaves to cover our "nakedness." Consider these standard strategies:
There is a "rest" promised to the people of God..
Living in the "neutral zone" comes with a tremendous price tag--a loss of purpose. Just to review, we have three leadership domains we could pursue: Satan, Jesus or Self. Chasing sin, puts us under the direct leadership of Satan (and his dark kingdom); passionately seeking Jesus puts us under His leadership (characterized by peace, joy and freedom); pursuing neither leaves us in the "neutral zone" under the default leadership of Self (inevitably living stressed up or depressed down).
Please God, save us from this..
There is the "passion-less" or neutral zone that former addicts enter and sometimes remain in as Christians. Unless they reconnect their passion-driven lives to the True Passion (Jesus!), many of them eventually drift back into the addiction. But what about regular believers? Those who know Christ and (thankfully) have never passionately chased after something the devil offers? Is it possible to know Jesus and not passionately pursue Him? Sadly, it is.
Don't make the mistake of stopping here...
I learn so much working with men struggling to become free of addictions--they experience in titanic conflict what we all experience to a lesser degree. This gives clarity to issues in the Christian life. Here's one: many are so glad to come to Jesus and find freedom from the addiction and a hope of heaven that they simply camp out in what I call "the Neutral Zone." This never works!
They fight off all desires to go back to Satan's dominion over them represented by the addiction, but they seem to make no real attempt to go forward into the radically new way of life that Jesus offers them. They have "unplugged" their passionate attachment to the addiction (not necessarily other things of the world) But they have not reattached their passion to Christ.
How did we ever get snookered by this one...
Jesus is simply the most amazing and beautiful Person in the universe! How can we not be passionate about Him? Why do we not live absorbed and fascinated by Him--all day long? There has to be a good answer for this, for this is surely the enemy's number one problem: how do you keep people from seeing the beautiful God and running to Him? What is the enemy's strategy to defeat our natural, nearly automatic, passionate embrace of Him?
If you are the enemy, then you have to give the people a counterfeit deity: a god that they will find endlessly fascinating, one who will absorb the majority of their thoughts and concerns. Voila! Self is born! What an ingenious ploy: forget about all those idols of wood and stone. They're history now! They were cumbersome and you couldn't put them in front of people everywhere they went (though smaller pocket size idols were carried about in the ancient world).
Do nothing! Oh, how that rubs counter to the grain! Sure there are plenty of times when my lazy bone is acting up and I just want to lay back, roll over and do nothing. But those are never the times (so to speak) when my house is on fire! In such situations of pain or perceived danger I want to do all that I can to alleviate the problems I face.
And yet sometimes the best thing for me to do is to do nothing. Nothing? Well, not exactly: in these situations I need to trust to the point of freedom from care and to do that I need to pray the full release of all cares to the Lord. According to Jesus this is actually the "work" that is required of me! (see John 6:28-29). We have a God who is so concerned about us that He wants us to rest our hearts fully upon His ability to work for us. Isaiah asks if any of us have known a God like this who "acts for those who wait for Him."
Wouldn't you agree that the only appropriate position for a created being is to live in complete submission to its Creator? That anything less than total surrender to the Master's will is "black-hearted" rebellion? Evidently, the Lord thought so for when He discovered that Lucifer was going his own way apart from God's leadership, that rebel was cast out of heaven! Satan became to first to serve self-will and through that departure from Grace, he fell into master-minding the Great Rebellion.
Untimately, a third of the heavenly host and all of the human race joined the enemy in embracing self-will, rather than God's will as the ruling principle of their lives. Now aren't you glad that the Father has made a way for us to return to Him, despite our participation in that rebellion? We have not been forever cast out--indeed He has gone to great leangths to win us back. Yet, the quesion must be asked (again and again): Have we really broken with the rebellion? Have we really returned in full surrender to our God? Let the familiar words and tune of this great hymn run through your mind and heart as you read them:
Why did the prodigal take so long to return? Why did he linger in that pig pen which was so humiliating and hateful for him (as a Jew) to endure? Why didn't he simply head straight home to his father once the money was gone? Why did he drag it out until he was practically starving?
It wasn't pride. That's what people usually say when I ask the question in class--especially classes on recovery from addictions. We all have pride and pride is involved in every sin, but it wasn't pride that Jesus points us towards seeing as the real reason. It wasn't the lure of the world either, though that was certainly a part of what had led the prodigal off on his ill-conceived journey. But all that had been burned out of him. Like many before him and since (myself included) he had dived head-long into "the world" thinking it was going to Shangri-La and it turned out to be an empty soul-killing mirage instead. He was through with the world, but he was still stuck in it.
Jesus shows us the prodigal's real reason for delay was that he was afraid of his father. He was afraid that His father wouldn't or couldn't be able to welcome him or love him—the moral failure that he had discovered himself to be—so he devised a plan to go back and try to work his way into his father’s good graces. “Maybe he’ll take me back as a servant or a slave—at least then I won’t perish with hunger.” Next to free will, our inward spiritual sense is the most dangerous thing about us. The prodigal’s inward sense was telling him he had lost his father’s love and favor. How utterly wrong it was!
Henri Nouwen wrote in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son, “I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found. Why do I keep ignoring the place of true love and persist in looking for it elsewhere? Why do I keep leaving home where I am called a child of God, the Beloved of my Father?”
Let's take this insight one step further into the prodigal story: Why did he leave home in the first place? Pride? Love of the world? Or was it not because he failed to see that the greatest love of all was right there at his side? In asking for his inheritance, he was really saying (as any Middle Easterner would tell us), "Father, you mean nothing to me alive. I wish you were dead so that I could collect my inheritance and get on with my life without you!"
Thank God that we are those who are launched on a journey to manifest to an unbelieving world the goodness of our Father's Heart of Love! Prodigals of the world unite: we have nothing to lose but our chains!
Any text of scripture, taken out of context, has the potential of being powerfully mis-leading. From my own timid experience in my early years as a Christian, I learned to call some of the most intimidating ones, "texts of terror." Eventually, once I "got" the gospel of grace, I went back and "reread" most of the Bible in light of the Father's perfect love--in order to understand the difficult, fear-instilling scriptures from a grace standpoint. Incidentally, Martin Luther said that we must read the whole of scripture through the "lens" of the gospel. Having done that, I now take great comfort in this scripture from Hebrews, but as you read it, really listen to what it is saying about us and our God. See if you can hear the potential it has for arousing the wrong kind of fear of God:
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13).
Only a novice at seminary dreams of parishioners calling him or her to expound on books of the Bible or to interpret the deeper doctrines of the faith. What people actually want to know is what to do about pain from other people, usually people they care about. In a word: offense! In three words: hurt and offense! I certainly know what they are talking about--I get my share of it too.
How can you live without being hurt? How can you avoid being offended by the words or actions of others? The closer you live to people the more it happens--perhaps that's why so many of us live "cocooned," isolated from contact even with our nearest neighbors. Yet, it can't be avoided. We see offense happening all of the time in the close confines of our "religious community" among the residential members of the addiction recovery program at the Old Savannah City Mission. Every one is a genuine Christian, yet everyone gets hurt and/or does the hurting--usually both. Some leave angry. Some stick it out by trying to "keep to themselves."
I tell them all when they first come in that the Lord has a very different idea about spiritual growth than they do: they think living with other Christians is going to be peaches and cream. He knows better--and seeks to use the times of hurt and offense to provoke spiritual growth. I tell them that now He will want them to learn how to deal with the pain of their emotional reactions within the boundaries of substance free living and within the rules of a Christian community (no violence or threats of violence allowed). For those of us in church life: this means staying in the church despite times of offense--without spreading tales about what others have done, especially if they have done it to you!
Number One Rule? Forgive!
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