Jul 3, 2014

Authentic Prayer -- Not Anticipating His Answers

Often I don’t pray in true helplessness.  I go to God, already having formed (in my mind or even in my felt expectations) the scenario of what and how He will answer.  It’s rare that I ask, not knowing the answer (or not thinking I know how I should be answered). 

Do this when you’re a student, and you’ll be recognized as a fool who thinks he knows everything.  Do this as an adult Christian, in your relationship with God, and your intimacy with Him will be disastrously stunted – for you aren’t actually trying to know and discover Him (the one who, like a husband, thinks differently and comes up with very different solutions than his wife would), you are simply superimposing your own views of who He should be and how He should act.  This is treating Him like a non-existent person…an entity in name only…not a living, breathing, delightfully other-than, independent Thinker. 

Why might I have a boring, boxed-in life?  Because I’m not willing to let Someone outside the limited scope of my box (my intelligence, my experience, my vision) make pathways for me that will go past the horizon of my sightline.  Why might I have boring, boxed-in prayer interactions with Him?  Maybe I’m acting like He doesn’t exist as a separate person with thoughts independent from me.

For the first ­­six months of an infant’s life, they are not aware that their mother is a separate person from themselves.  I may be thirty-five years old in the Lord, but am I still acting like a five-month-old infant when I pray? 

Once we realize how different other people are from ourselves, they're fascinating.  There are certain people I love to listen to (my siblings for example, or my teachers)--incredibly intelligent people, with worlds inside them I don't have.  We each have lived whole lives, in whole realms, outside of any other's experience.  I may not have been a missionary in Kazakstan, but if I listen well, I get to experience…I get to almost live in…the riches of all that has been deposited in my friend while HE was a missionary in Kazakstan.  As soon as I realize how richly different from me each one is, I suddenly become heir to every land and life in the world.  Only close-minded self-preoccupation can keep me locked in the poverty of my own personal and thus limited intelligence, experience, vision, understanding, wisdom… 

I also may not be God (actually, I'm most definitely and happily not).  What an invitation I have to enter the world of His thoughts, His sight, His experiences, His wisdom…  Only close-minded self-preoccupation can keep me out of that exhilarating wealth.  

Praying is relating.  Relate to Him, not to yourself.  Ask, talk, and then listen.  Listen, and be ready for a conversation that might surprise you.  He’s difficult to anticipate, our delightfully-different-than-me God!

Call to me and I will answer you,

and will tell you great and 

hidden things 

that you have not known.

Jeremiah 33:3

Jun 19, 2014

Love Transcends

Only love does things that are impossible.  It alters what was unalterable.  It resolves every riddle and repairs the irretrievably broken.  Knowledge, prophecy, philanthropy, passion … they won't last.  But as my sister so eloquently texted me today:

- love transcends
Not in a rosy way
But it does

Everything of lasting good comes from love.  And love, when you get down to its core, is always between two actual people (often, one of them is God :)). It's not between two nations; not between two people groups; not between a person and an ideal, or a person and a place.  Real love is personal, because LOVE HIMSELF is a person.

Other motivations for good works put up good fronts and seem to have good results, but their fruit and their power will eventually fade (or rot). [1 Cor. 13:1-3] 

I was stunned when I read this morning that the High and Lofty One, who inhabits eternity, said "I dwell in the high and holy place, WITH him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite ones."

Who but Love Himself would take sinners (sorry ones) up to dwell in His high and holy place, so that He can revive their hearts and spirits?  He's not afraid we'll soil His pretty temple, or sin again in His holy place.  He's concerned to heal and comfort us, because He knows our fragility.  And its not just about being present with us, for He didn't just come to where we were (though He did do that) -- He's brought us to His high home to do the healing and reviving.  [Isaiah 57:15]

No "sane" human would do this.  Even a mother calls to the muddy child to stay outside on the doorstep, until she can rush to him with a damp cloth and shoe-removing hands. And she is the most loving of us all. 

Who but Love would carry me into His home, His land, without concern for himself or the mess I might make?  Love transcends—it is beyond reason and it overcomes every objection.  It is selfless, and it is powerful.

I realized tonight that of the very few men I've ever been seriously interested in, all had one thing in common.  Marriage to any of them would have necessitated, at some point, moving to a foreign country, learning a new language, and entering a second culture. 

This is rather shocking – I’m not an adventurer.  (Or maybe I am more than I think!)  There are perhaps practical explanations for this – I was always a fish-out-of-water, growing up.   Tall, white, intellectual … raised in the inner city.  I never fully “belonged”, except within the family unit and my relationship with Jesus.  So the in-between feeling of a whole new culture wouldn’t be all that strange to me.  But that’s not the real explanation for my willingness to embark on such life-altering, hazardous journeys. 

I know how to count the cost.  But I also know a few things about love. 

Song of Solomon says that a man could give all the wealth of his house to gain love, and it would be utterly despised.  But once he has gained love, once he loves, he will rightly give everything he has because of it.  God even gave His son. 

I couldn’t ever give my life in order to gain love, but I would give my life because of love.  The two are vastly different.  (Here is a most helpful analogy for understanding faith and works, by the way.) 

I know that my sister was correct:  love transcends.  It transcends the cost and it transcends the objections.  This is why I am willing for love to come with cost.  The value of the love will be greater than the value of the cost.  I know it would be that way in my “little story”, because it has already been proven through my part in His Great Story.  Love has already transcended all reason in the way God relates to me – He pulls me into His house, while I am still a potential liability, with an indisputable record of sin.  Why?  Because in His love He wants to revive me, and that’s greater to Him than the price He will pay for having me there.  And I have courage to go in, even when I know I’m a potential liability and completely unworthy…because I know that in the end His love will have (and already has—hooray for the cross!) transcended every objection to my presence in His home and my place at His table. 

This is the Great Story that overarches all other stories.  It defines our lives, and has determined our eternities.  May I live this Great Story in my little story -- the Love that never fails, never ends, and transcends all else. 

Mar 16, 2014

Esther and the Black Swan

One of the things I love most about Esther's heart is this…on the night she was sent to the king, "she asked for nothing except what Hegai, the king's eunuch, advised."  Where is the pride, where is the greed, where is the human trust (confidence) in one's own beauty and strength?  Our heroines today are smart, capable, and prepared for all possibilities.  They think on their feet and creatively apply their knowledge and experience to the problem at hand—eventually gaining mastery over it.  Heroism often consists of the bravery to creatively utilize and deploy resources (be they intellectual or physical) in the face of fear.  

Never, ever, do they step back and say: “I don’t know what to do here.  Will you, who I consider wiser, please make the choice for me?”  That, we all know, is not the definition of a hero.

But this Esther—she trusted one who was wiser than she, believing that he knew what would best please that king.  It's this kind of trust we exercise when we lay down our own self-lives in favor of what the Holy Spirit says (even when, and particularly when, laying it down means real felt-loss).  And it's this sort of trust that paves the way for Him to place us in positions of power (not only does it make the opportunity, it makes us the sort who could handle that power well).  And it's only this sort of trust that creates a woman who will fling her life into God's hands and abandon herself, when the stakes are so high, and everything she’s gained is on the line. 

I had forgotten today was Purim when my thoughts slipped to Esther this afternoon.  In fact, I had spent the last hour learning about Nassim Taleb’s concept of “antifragility” and wondering what God thought; was there scriptural basis for the idea that the best way to live is to benefit from stresses and chaos, rather than to just be resilient to them (which he calls being “robust”) or negatively impacted (which he calls “fragile”)?  That we need these stresses, in order to fully live?  And if he was on to something true, what was the full truth?  Even if extraordinarily intelligent and perceptive, he is limited to the scope of human sight.  What does Divine sight see? 

It seemed there is scriptural precedent.  This came to mind immediately: For our light affliction, [referring, ironically, to our bodies being abused and dying!] which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,”  (2 Cor. 4)

That doesn't imply just surviving, but gaining.  How is it possible to actually gain from the “Black Swans” of history (unexpected and unprecedented events that change history) and the tragedies of life?  (Or, for that matter, from the smaller "tribulations" that history wouldn't call Black Swans, but that definitely rock our personal worlds!  Esther endured more of these than many of us ever will.)

Businessmen reviewing Taleb’s book pointed out one great flaw: it’s great philosophy, but how?  How were they to practically implement the concept of “antifragile” into their businesses and economics?  You can’t just become antifragile by wanting to.  You can’t just turn affliction into glory by wanting it.   

What is the how in the equation?  Esther answered me. 

Trust.  Humility and trust in someone outside herself made it possible for her to turn the worst genocidal event of her lifetime into one of the greatest deliverances ever.  The road to that victory was paved with small-scale personal-sized “Black Swans” of Taleb’s definition (improbable and unpredictable events), the “trials and tribulations” of ours, and it ended in a great upset (ethnically and economically) for that nation.  A great Black Swan.  How Esther responded each step along the way—with trust—is what defined the outcome of her predicament.  Her life has become the story of an unlikely girl who rescued an entire nation, rather than a helpless girl who endured the injustice of human-trafficking.  (After all, that’s how the first chapter of her story plays out—snatched from the possibility of a real life, to populate a pagan man’s sexual harem.)  And it was trust that made the practical difference.

That scripture I mentioned above—it doesn’t stop where I ended it.  It also gives a how:

“…while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.”

Anyone who’s ever done a trust fall will make the connection.  Looking at things you can’t see is technically impossible.  It takes faith.  It takes trust.  It IS trust.

Celebrating Esther and the great deliverance today with all my Jewish friends!  And may God use our trust to perform miracle after miracle in the coming days--to make us not just resilient, but anti-fragile, thriving in the middle of the world's chaos, and using every Black Swan we encounter (for we will encounter them) to display God's glory.