I sent out a link to a survey a week or two ago and a few answered the four questions. I’m trying to find a way to address the concerns that came up in the survey through my blog posts. After all, I want to know that these posts mean something to you, the reader. (I have journals for things that only mean anything to me.)
One of the things that I struggle with is that the answers to several of the questions are really very closely related. Sometimes we feel alone, as though even God has abandoned us. Sometimes we feel like that’s what we deserve! And if we’re honest, that’s probably actually what we do indeed deserve.
The Bible says that if we have hatred for our brother, we might as well have already committed murder (1 John 3:15). There are others, but this is a blog post, not a book and if I pile it on, I have to dig us back out of it. The point is that no matter our outward behavior, it is our heart that really matters. Yet, we humans find it so hard to truly be loving all the time (especially on the inside). I’m not immune, as a caregiver and advocate for my wife, she congratulates me when I hang up the phone after a call with a difficult office and she had listened to me catch myself halfway through the call. My voice and my words would be getting harsher, then I would remember that the person I was talking to was not to blame, at least not completely.
But, by nature, I am an angry, uptight person. I’m not the guy that says, “Listen, I know it’s not your fault, but I really need you to help me fix this.” No, by nature, I’m the guy that gets hung up on! That’s by nature. Our human nature is so broken. Whether you believe in Original Sin (that even infants are born into sin) or not, if you are reading this, you live the battle. Paul starts in Romans 7:15 and continues well into Romans 8 (let’s call it verse 4 for now) talking about the battle between our flesh (us by nature) and the Spirit.
When we live in the flesh, God will feel very distant, and being a ‘good Christian’ will be nigh impossible. Now I admit, this passage is among Paul’s most wordy and convoluted, but it is, for me anyway, one of the central passages that provide direction to living in Him, which includes knowing we’re in His presence. I hope you read it on your own in your favorite translations. Go ahead and do it now, I promise not to go anywhere.
The essence of this is that the only way to get this unruly flesh under control is to LEAN IN to the Spirit. Now, some people cock their heads when I say that, but it’s the best way I know how to convey the message in any concise manner. As we do (and yes, it might take a little practice) we will find the strength to be who we want to be and we will do so because we have put ourselves in His presence. One of my pastor buddies likes to say, “God is a gentleman, he’ll never force Himself on you.”
But, just as He won’t force Himself on you, He is always right there. Toby Mac, during a concert monologue years ago, said that all that stuff that was separating you from God, well you don’t have to walk back through it all to get to Him. It’s so true. There is a point I must concede though. Our world, including many of our friends within the church, encourages a very different life. We value the ‘self-made man’! He’s a hero, an idol, in our culture. That’s the complete opposite to leaning in to the Spirit.
I had a young teenager in my counseling office once. On my intake paperwork, she had checked the box next to “Fear of men or women.” When I asked her about that, she said she didn’t like old men, There I was, sitting there with my fat belly and silver beard and hair. It was all I could do not to burst into laughter. I think I did grin a little when I said, “Well, what about me, I’m an old man?” She replied, “Yeah, but you’re chill.”
I know that if I met my natural self on the street, well I probably wouldn’t like me very much. But then, it is in that weakness that I allow Him to be strong on my behalf. And that is when I can rejoice that I am in His presence.
I never want to use these posts to plug my book. But I do address these issues in much more depth in “How to be a Christian in Today’s World: Shame or Fear of Failure vs. Living Confidently in God’s Love.”