There are a lot of things I wonder about that maybe I shouldn’t be questioning. I guess that makes me an imperfect human that struggles sometimes to have faith. I wonder why God doesn’t answer some prayers when He knows the longings of our hearts. I have asked what motives are not right and pure, but I have received no answer. Maybe I have not been persistent enough, like the widow demanding justice. I am afraid to be persistent, because I am afraid that I am wanting something different than what God wants. I don’t want anything less than His will. So how do I pray? Do I beg? Do I give up and allow whatever will happen to happen? The Bible says I do not have because I do not ask. It also says whatever I ask for in the name of Jesus I will receive. It also says to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to me as well. I will continue to seek His kingdom, but the question remains: how do I pray?
Although this season in my life is amazing, I am also struggling through it. For one, I’m not finding many people I know to understand the place I’m at right now, and that is rather lonely. Most people are busy doing things and exhausted because of their responsibilities. I understand that, and I was there for years. However, God has moved me to a place of being–being in Him, listening intently to Him, and wrestling through the many questions in my heart that previously I made no time to pose to Him. This place in my life is so contrary to everything I was not so very long ago. I used to be a planner. I used to be involved in everything. I used to be overly committed to good things, like my church and Sunday School class. It scares me to let go of some things, especially when I can’t figure out what God is doing. It feels like I’m floating through outer space with light years of nothing in every direction. There is no friction, so I cannot move myself. I am just floating at the mercy of God. I have no idea where I am going. I can’t have plans. For the first time I think I understand how silly plans can be when we don’t even know what the next five minutes hold. So what is life? I haven’t the slightest idea. I used to live with the illusion that I had some control. Maybe I do, but in my relationship with God right now, I have no control. At least I have some degree of peace in knowing this is where He wants me.
I had a strange dream last night that becomes even more strange the longer I think about it. I don’t really know what to make of it, except that now I realize that I desire the kind of community I read about in the Bible. However, that kind of community, though fascinating, doesn’t make any sense within our culture. Maybe our culture doesn’t lend itself to creating communities or holding onto them. I am so thankful for our country and what we stand for. I love that we can become anything we dream of becoming. However, how do I have dreams and yet not live this life for myself? We talk so much about “balance” and having a “balanced life.” However, Jesus always spoke in extremes. He wants all or nothing from us. He told the rich young man to go sell everything he had and follow Him, not sell everything he might not need later. When Jesus sent His disciples out, He told them not to take anything for the journey but what they were wearing. I guess I am trying to grasp following Jesus within our culture, and it simply doesn’t make sense.
The desires of my heart are becoming clearer and clearer, yet I only see them at a distance. In a way I’d rather go back to only thinking of them occasionally. It didn’t hurt so much then. How do I live in expectation, yet hold on in faith? How do I dream and still trust? How do I trust God with the desires of my heart? I thought I did, but that was before I really wanted them. Lord, please help me in this.
How do I live as a child of God in a complacent world? Children are starving and dying every day and yet we are content to go to our air-conditioned jobs and complain about the weather. How do I deal with having to be in this place right now? I am one of them. The world keeps turning and it seems I have no choice. It breaks my heart.
In what ways do I still need to grow? God, please teach me, I want to learn. Please speak, for Your servant is listening. I’m tired of meaningless years. I’m tired of this selfishness. Am I ever tired of this selfishness! Lord, heal me and send me out. I will follow you forever. My heart is growing impatient. I want to jump into the deep of the ocean with you. Help me, Lord, please help me.
After I finished writing this, I opened up my devotional, and here is today’s message from the Daily God Book by Erin Keeley Marshall:
“No matter where you come from, I have beautiful plans for the rest of your story.”
“I took you from tending sheep in the pasture and selected you to be the leader of my people Israel.” -1 Chronicles 17:7
For anyone who has ever felt small or overlooked-like minor news in a top-story world-God is the best news around. Actually the best news, period. He has always found delight in taking unknowns and making headline successes of their lives.
King David is just one example. His headline could read many ways. How about “Shepherd Boy Makes It Big”? “Country Boy Takes Over Palace Duty”? “Stone Slinger Sings Psalms from Throne”?
God excels at creating beautiful stories with people’s lives. Yours is no exception.
Far from leaving us trapped by the limitations, mistakes, and even the sins of our pasts, God wants to use those events to shape us into people suited for His specific plans for us.
No one has your experiences. No one has your heartaches. No one has grown exactly as you have through them. And because of them, no one else can go exactly where God wants to take you from here.
Your history does not define you. What you think of as hindrances to your future God sees as opportunities to make an even greater difference in your life and to send a greater message to the world about His goodness and power.
God chose a shepherd boy to be king in the line of His Son, Jesus, our Savior. Regardless of whether you came from the lap of luxury or from the wrong side of the tracks, God has a wonderful story to tell through you.
Your beginning was only a blank page, far from the whole story. Let God have the keyboard and write the rest of your life.
It’s sure to be a page turner.
Lord, there are parts of my past that bother me, even though I’ve tried to release them to You. Please heal the areas that need it, reform the broken parts, and piece together a story that shows others Your skills at authoring a beautiful life.”
Lord, let it be so.
- My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign;
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
- I love Thee because Thou hast first loved me,
And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;
I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
- In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
For extraordinary pain
Struggle greets you on the mountains that you climb
A war within the soul – for every step you gain
Remember when the winds of sorrow strike you down
And leave you hopeless and afraid
The proof of battle is the wounds that you will bear
The scars that build you strong for the journey that you make
There’s not a victory without a fight
There’s not a sunrise without a night
There’s not a purchase without a cost
There’s not a crown without a cross
No greater anguish ever came upon a man
Than when the Son of Glory died
The sins of all of us were nails that pierced His hands
An act of sacrifice – the pain within the price
His crown was fashioned from his suffering and travail
Shone like the Son when He arose
He showed us triumph even when all hope was lost
He carried out a plan so that every man would know
God will guide you when you cling to His hand
Strength will find you when you learn how to stand
To persevere to the end
This is going to be a really short blog post (and everyone shouts Hallelujah!), but what God has been doing in my life today is causing me to have a more tender heart. I am beginning to realize all the people around me that I take for granted every day. How many times have I told the receptionist that I like her smile, or my boss how much I appreciate him? It seems like there is a lot of negative talk that goes on everywhere, and it’s easy to get sucked in and join the crowd. Sitting around the break table or passing conversations in the hallway often tend to tear others down rather than build them up. However, if we are to follow God’s calling to live grateful lives, then surely that involves more than simply staying away from the bad things. What if we were to recognize the good in people and call special attention to it? What can we do to encourage someone around us every day? It could be in the simplest way, like a card in their mailbox. It seems to me that if we set for ourselves a lifestyle of looking for the good in others rather than complaining about the bad, not only would we be more pleasant to be around, but our world would be a better place. Please join me in this prayer: Lord, please give me a tender heart to recognize the good in others around me, and the creativity to know how to encourage them best.
Here are the reflection questions for the second mansion:
-Where are you experiencing conflicts between God’s way and the world’s way in your life at the present time?
-What lies is the enemy using to attempt to convince you that these instances of the world’s way will best meet your needs, or that there is no real alternative?
-When you talk to God about this battle, do you ask for help doing it His way, or do you make excuses, defending the devil’s lies?
-What steps is God asking you to take now?
I really really struggled reading this chapter, because my “second mansion” experience was DRASTICALLY DIFFERENT than the ones described. I saw some similarities, but only vaguely. Here they are:
-Although I didn’t really have a desire for “worldly things”, I started to discover ways that I had “failed God.” Satan (I use this term loosely) reminded me of those every day. I couldn’t possibly follow God further, because I wasn’t “strong enough.” I may be getting into the third mansion with this statement.
-I really believed deceptions thrown at me when they had to do with my self-worth and fear (I’ll talk more about this later).
-I can understand to an extent the “mixed motives.”
-I agree that many churches don’t encourage people through this time of spiritual growth. New believers are told to “shape up”, but in this, I have only observed this in others. My journey has been very different.
-I do agree that the best advice for anyone in this stage is to draw close to other Christians further along in the journey. Everyone needs encouragement through this phase.
I don’t feel like I ever identified with the reflection questions at the end of this chapter. In my mind, I can’t remember ever wanting anything other than to follow God. That’s not to say that there weren’t times when I didn’t understand what I was going through (and in fact I still don’t understand some things). The battle in my soul was never for my allegiance; it was for my effectiveness.
I am about to share something that is highly difficult to share, but is a very real part of my journey. Please don’t lock me up; I’m not insane. I have met VERY FEW people who can understand what I’m about to explain.
Spiritual warfare means something entirely different to me than it does to most people. I once had a college professor say something to the effect of “Demons don’t act the way they used to in Bible times. They don’t show themselves, at least not in our culture.” Maybe for the most part, that’s true. I find for a lot of people, the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis to be very helpful. For most people, spiritual attacks are subtle and disguise themselves as other things, even God. However, I can’t identify with that, and it’s really hard for me.
Since I was little, and I can’t remember a time when this wasn’t true, I was very aware of the presence of demons. I’m not going to go into detail about this. I say this only to explain that for some reason, God has allowed my eyes to be opened to spiritual realities, at least in ways that He has determined “safe” at the time, but I never felt safe. It was only after I journeyed much further into the mansions when I finally grasped what it meant to “feel safe.” Spiritual warfare for me was literal and physical, and still is, but to a differing degree. I understand Mansion #2’s defenseless feeling, because as a young child, teenager, and eventually college student (because I don’t think I started to explore Mansion #3 until college) I did not yet understand how to defend myself against attacks. These were very terrifying years of my life. I have struggled this past year with some serious emotional wounds from what I experienced so young, and many questions have arisen in my mind as to why God would allow something so scary into the life of a defenseless child. Yesterday God asked me to follow Him down the dangerous path of discovering why He has given me this “gift” (I refer to it as a curse, but often there is a fine line between the two). And I need to add a disclaimer to all of this that you MUST READ.
I do not share this as a means to “sensationalize” evil. What I mean is this: I am not being open about this so that others can ask questions like “What do demons look like?” I will not answer questions like that, and as far as specific attacks and what was felt or done I will not share but with very few as the Lord reveals to me that they need to hear. I share this to pose that there are other dimensions of spiritual warfare than the typical experienced by Christians, and understand that my faith has come in a drastically different way than presented by the book will help you understand why I answer some questions the way I do.
That’s all for now.
Q: How would you characterize your years in the first mansion?
Honestly, in many ways it is hard to remember that time in my life, though some aspects of the first mansion I can definitely see in myself and those around me. I’m not sure I ever saw God as out for my own interests in giving me things or blessing me. I think I found myself on the opposite end of the spectrum in the shame category. I didn’t think God would give me what I asked for, because surely I had so much to learn. I bordered hardly ever asking God for anything at all, not because I thought He didn’t care, but because I didn’t think I had earned a right to ask yet. I had not been faithful enough yet. (Amazing, in a lot of ways, I still think that way). Plus, I was a nobody. I was just content with salvation. That was more than I deserved. Why would I ever ask for anything else? How prideful of me!
I can definitely relate to the honesty of the prayer life in this mansion. I was so thankful there was somebody interested in listening to me ramble, could handle my questions, and cared about the details of my life. I don’t really remember being tempted by “earthly pleasures” as much; probably because I was taught those things were wrong. My faith was very rigid and rules based; everything was black and white, but this probably corresponded with my age during this mansion.
My prayer times were pretty random, and I went in phases. I would talk to God every free moment I had for maybe a week, then another week would go by and I would realize I hadn’t even thought about God, and I would be filled with guilt for being such a “bad Christian.”
I should also mention my relationship with God was very “me” based. Even though I wasn’t asking for things for myself, my concept of humility was incredibly flawed. I believed a lie that I was worthless, despicable, and unworthy of anyone’s love. This was selfishness on the other end of the spectrum, as I constantly refused the idea that I might have worth in God’s eyes. That works for everyone else, but not for me. I was somehow exempt from the whole “for God so loved the world” thing. In the end, it was still all about me.
Lewis Smedes’ quote really struck me: “If you wonder where God’s grace can be found, find yourself a critical friend. A friend who wants you to be as good a person as you can be, a friend who dares to confront your flaws and failures, and then accepts the whole of you in grace.” I don’t remember having anyone in my life growing up that I felt loved me just because of who I am. Now that I am older, I realize that my perception was a little skewed, but I believed that I had to earn everyone’s love, acceptance, and respect. My philosophy was “guilty until proven innocent.” Working hard (first water phase) I could definitely identify with. Although I would say that grace was something I couldn’t earn, I lived the philosophy that I needed to prove myself deserving, and I didn’t even realize I was living that way. I needed to respect myself before God could respect me, and the former was just never going to happen. I had set the bar at perfection, and boy, did I ever fail!
1. Which of the dead-end roads of holiness, service, wholeness, or enlightened understanding have you been most tempted to pursue? What was your result?
I would have to say all four of them to some degree, but the most temptation I have is to walk down the holiness road. A lot of this probably comes from my background in the Church of the Nazarene, where the subject of “holiness of heart and life” was literally the denominational emphasis and goal. This has always been a struggle for me, for many reasons. First, even in our short life as a denomination, the Nazarene church has changed so much in its description of what a holy life looks like. We started out saying it was wrong to dance, wear jewelry, wear pants, play cards, or go to the movies. Now, the Church of the Nazarene just released “The Grace Card” which came to a lot of theaters around the country. I wear jeans to church (and basically every other day for that matter), I play cards, I wear jewelry, and I dance in the comfort and secrecy of my bedroom. Also, something that I could never seem to get out of anybody was the definition of “righteousness.” It always seemed to me that there was a lot more to it than that. However, when it came to the subject of the Trinity, everyone got flustered and started talking about eggs and the fact that my grandpa played different roles depending on who he was with. However, intellectually, none of that made sense to me. I would say confusion and emptiness were the results.
2. What is it that makes it hard for you to really accept personally that God’s goal for you is simply a deepening love relationship?
Honestly, it’s not difficult for me to accept this. However, the hardest thing for me is feeling like I need to justify my actions and priorities to those around me who see themselves as my spiritual elders. Maybe it’s the mindset of proving myself that I’ve always had, but when I feel that someone is looking down on me or seeing me as going in the wrong direction, I think I need to prove to them that I am right or at least my heart is right. In my mind, this goes beyond testifying to what God is doing in my life because I am placing the priority on my reputation rather than on obeying the voice of God. I think this is something that God has been working on purging in my life. He wants me to know that all He desires from me is that my sense of responsibility lies only in Him. He doesn’t even want my responsibility to lie primarily in Him; rather, my entire life and allegiance should find their meanings in my relationship with God. This has been a lot harder of a concept to grasp than I initially thought it would be.
I am reading the book called Mansions of the Heart by R. Thomas Ashbrook. This is an intensive book on Spiritual Growth (and when I say intensive, I don’t mean it lightly) and should be handled and read very carefully. This book is exactly what God has been preparing my heart to read, and I know that He will transform my life through reading this. At the end of these chapters, there are several reflection questions. I don’t know what kinds of questions will be asked in the future, but for now, I am going to be posting my responses, because as I journey deeper into the heart of God, I wish to be transparent and to encourage others to journey along with me. So, deep breath, here we go.
1. What has God used, most powerfully, to increase your hunger and thirst for spiritual growth?
I am not quite sure how to answer this question, but the first thing that comes to mind is my illness. If I had not been sick these few years, it is very possible I would have continued with my busy and world-conquering lifestyle. Because of the nature of my illness, I have had to slow down my life and face some serious questions, like: What if I die today? I could write a book of questions. It has also led me to evaluate what things are most important in life. As I have searched, I have discovered the answer in Jesus’ commands to: Love God with all that I am and love others with the same intensity. This has caused me to put some things on hold in my life (and I think most people think I’m crazy) and truly focus on knowing God. I don’t know how long this intensive season will last; maybe it will be for the rest of my life. However, the greatest and deepest desire of my heart is to know God more.
I think my physical battle has been a real object lesson to me of my spiritual battle. Both are very painful and plagued with questions. Both involve other people, though I long to not be a burden on someone else. Both go much deeper than I have dared to tread, though I am getting the feeling I will be led deeper into these mysteries very soon.
I have always felt that my illness had a deep spiritual purpose in my life, but I did not know how to go down the road of figuring out exactly what it is. Hopefully through this book I’ll be able to understand the Refiner’s fire even more.
2. When you think of the “ultimate” in a relationship with Jesus, what things come to mind?
I think about a “closeness” and a “oneness” with Him. I think about being responsive to each other and knowing each other’s heart so deeply that we are aware of it every moment. I want to be His trustworthy confidant, a keeper of His secrets, a lover of His soul. I imagine basking in His love, confident of His presence regardless of the emotion of the moment or the present circumstances. I long for the deep joy and peace that permeates my very being in every way, creating in me a light that shines so bright that no one around me could possibly miss the presence of Jesus in my life.
3. What might backsliding look and feel like in your spiritual journey?
I feel like the subject of backsliding has been big in my life recently. I remember telling my friend years ago that sometimes we need to backslide in order to draw closer to God. That wisdom, at 19 years of age, could only have come from God Himself. I have discovered lately, through my own “backsliding” of sorts, that this is so very true.
I grew up in a family that went to church every time the doors were open, and we even had keys to the church, so we would go other times as well. The idea of ever missing church except for the occasional out of town vacation (very, very, very occasional, like twice) or road trip was a no-no. Real, growing Christians go to church. Lately, as I have been reevaluating my life, I have been led by God to do some things that have seriously concerned those around me, especially my boss. There have been a couple times when I simply did not go to church (for reasons other than illness). I think he believes I’m turning heathen or something. I have not been participating in the denomination-wide Ashes to Fire devotional for Lent, and trying to explain that to my pastor was no easy task. My heart is searching to grab hold of what is real in the midst of so many fakes all around me. I need to know that I am listening to and serving God, not my church, or my pastor, or my boss. Previously as well, I was on track for ordination in my denomination and planning on going to seminary. I recently backed out of both of these, and this has led many people (including myself) to believe I am backsliding. I have not made much sense at all recently, but I know God is smiling, because in all this I am seeking to know His heart more.
4. What frustrates you most about your own spiritual growth?
Right now, I am frustrated with a lot of things. First, I am frustrated it took me so long to wake up and smell the roses. I was so disillusioned in a lot of ways to the meaningless things that I was remaining faithful to. I have been so selfish in my desire to be holy. I wanted to look good to those around me (which is ironic that everyone thinks I’m crazy right now, as I am closer to God than ever before). I am frustrated by the lack of time I have to spend with God, though I fully believe 24 hours a day, 7 days a week could never satisfy that hunger. Sometimes I don’t want to go to work, because I really want to pray, which is downright insane but I think that’s ok. I am frustrated that I don’t have a love and passion for those around me like I think I should, and I don’t have a strong desire to read the Bible right now. That takes guts to admit publicly, believe me. I am frustrated with my exhaustion (which has a lot to do with being sick). I have had to basically focus on just my job and spiritual growth, and I am completely wiped out. I am frustrated that I disagree now theologically and philosophically with some important people in my life. Some people that I look up to don’t hold the same values I have anymore, and that kind of scares me, but at the same time I am coming across others who share my convictions and desperation for the heart and presence of God. Life is turning out a lot differently than I ever imagined or expected it. God is so different than I thought He was in my very limited understanding of Him. It’s kind of rocking my world. I am frustrated by the lack of a spiritual community around me. Except for the scattered souls I regularly talk to, I feel like I’m basically on my own. I guess that is starting to scratch the surface of the mansions of my heart.