Thursday, June 30, 2016

Gems from Henri Nouwen’s ‘The Wounded Healer’

“In our own woundedness, we can become a source of life for others.”
— Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932 – 1996)
From the first moment I read Henri Nouwen I knew his mind would influence mine.  Of the pastor-writers who have shaped me most, Nouwen has loomed largest, besides Eugene Peterson and A.W. Tozer.  The Wounded Healer is Nouwen’s seminal work, par excellence.  Originally written in 1972, like the best books, its message is timeless.
Here is a brief sweep through the masterpiece:
Through four open doors we can view The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society.  These open doors are appreciative and lead us to concepts of ministry that are expansive by design.  Walking through open doorways in ministry always leads us to more questions than answers, such is the nature of the helping life, or life for that matter.
DOORWAY ONE – the Condition of a Suffering World
When Nouwen introduces us to Peter in this first foray, we find ourselves meeting someone who, in being a normal man, struggles to differentiate fantasy from reality.  He is not ill so much as dislocated historically and fragmented ideologically; a thinking, feeling person somewhat significantly estranged from his world, taunted by an identification with immortality proving he’s made in the image of an eternal God.
Thankfully Nouwen shows us that Christ amalgamates, and then transcends, the mystical tensions that seem to make no sense.  In a radicalised passion we’re able to see with the eyes of God and hear His voice, such that dislocation and fragmentation are accepted as part of living in the world that we’re happy to live in, yet apart from.
From this doorway, then, we see what God wants us to see — the fields are right for harvest; opportunities for ministry abound!
DOORWAY TWO – the Condition of a Suffering Generation
Who are the people of today, and the people of tomorrow?
The mode of loneliness is observed in the younger generation coming through.  I often think of those coming through — not least my daughters entering and living in their twenties.  It’s a tragic irony that children pine to be adult one day, then the moment adulthood arrives, so does the revelation, ‘this is a hard life’.  Any thinking, feeling person must empathise with the loneliness that accompanies a young person’s wake-up call, and the depression that accompanies their facing of raw reality.
Nouwen cites three characteristics of the ‘lonely crowd’ endemic of the seventies generation, which is somewhat emblematic of any younger generation.  The seventies young person, according to Nouwen, was hemmed in by inwardness, they were fatherless, and they were impinged by a convulsiveness.
The minister of a ‘rootless generation’ will be an articulator of inner events, skilled in reflection, having mastered their own inwardness.  Articulation is the key unlocking inwardness, making it expressible.  Compassion is the resolution that the fatherless need.  It affords an empowered position of enablement to others because it avoids both pity and sympathy, for empathy.  Compassion is… finding “our neighbour really is our fellow human being,” with which we feel safe, as an equal. (p. 45)
This is a quote I’ve always liked: “For a compassionate person nothing human is alien: no joy and no sorrow, no way of living and no way of dying.” (p. 45) All experience fits within the realm of acceptance.  Such comfort to be!
Being afforded articulation and compassion, the effective minister may be able to be a contemplative critic: in seeing things differently, and being informed, spiritually, they’re able to inform, through the embodiment of the Incarnation.  There is the ability to stay at an effective distance, whilst being able to come close with intimacy.  Such a minister is not ‘trying’ to do anything in the ministry space.  They’re not won to every political agenda, but are won alone to the mystery of Christ in their own experience, and to the extension of that experience in others’ lives they’re invited to help within.
“Contemplatives are not needy or greedy for human contact, but are guided by a vision of what they have seen beyond the trivial concerns of a progressive world.” (p.49)
This is a doorway into an empathy of connection with those in the emerging generation.
DOORWAY THREE – the Condition of a Suffering Humanity
Enter Mr. Harrison, and John Allen, who is completing his clinical-pastoral education.  These two interacted the day before Mr. Harrison suddenly died, in the operating theatre.  John was initially pretty upset that Mr. Harrison was an unhelpful patient, who didn’t appreciate the ministry that was being given to him.  But, with a little distance, new insight emerged — crucial insight if we’re to transcend the need to be enjoyed so we might help.
Entering a suffering humanity necessitates that we go past the impersonal, revealed in our selfishness, and go into the personal realms of another person’s experience.  Mr. Harrison feared death, and yet John was not able to initially (or effectively) connect with such a palpable fear.  Then there is the paradox for many in the fear for life.  An awkward ground emerges: neither life nor death offers a suitable solution for some, for many.  Some people, indeed many, are sick of life and afraid to die, or they’re afraid to live.  How do we minister into such spaces?
What seems a conundrum is an invitation into a personal, very human ministry.
“The emptiness of the past and the future can never be filled with words, but only by the presence of a human being.” (p. 69)
In this sense, our best ministry into especially broken spaces is a ministry that doesn’t try at all.  It is just a ministry of presence, of being personal, of giving peace through connection.  No or few words.
Sometimes the best we can give is to just be prepared to wait with people as they live, and to wait with people as they die.
This is a doorway into the presence of connection with a suffering human being.
DOORWAY FOUR – the Condition of a Suffering Minister
To this doorway, we ministers walk in, some with relief, and some apprehensively, but all to be blessed.
“… the paradox of Christian leadership is that the way out is also the way in, that only by entering into communion with human suffering can relief be found.” (p. 83)
At this point we enter the nexus of the wounded healer’s method: they bind their own wounds one at a time, continually, so they’re perfectly adept at dropping their own binding in order to help someone else bind their wounds; to bind by example.
We’re encouraged to enter into our loneliness, our suffering, our laments — encouraged, as it’s necessary.  A personal and a professional loneliness; to understand that in loneliness is our identification with our Saviour.  “The Christian way of life does not take away our loneliness; it protects and cherishes it as a precious gift.” (p. 90)
By professional loneliness is meant that ministers enter into the loneliest of vocations.  We often feel superfluous to the real needs of others, especially when we may desperately feel ‘I could help!’  Then we’re praised excessively, but not nearly enough for our egos, but far too much to be helpful for us, making our loneliness worse.  Somehow our ‘call’ must say to us that we are relevant and effective, in God’s eyes.
When Nouwen speaks of pastoral method, the minister as a champion of his or her own loneliness, he speaks paradoxically of hospitality.  With a person we’re helping we must withdraw enough that they would feel open to talk.  Yet we must also validate their experience by speaking at times of our own broken experiences, and in this we will promote a community of equality and oneness of humanity.
This is a doorway into the presence of hospitality, through a shared loneliness, within the self and within community.
Nouwen, sensing the fractured time with which he lived, has a passion for the minister; to encourage the minister with an ethos for ministry that is both relevant and effective.
The wounded healer archetype is one with which I personally resonate.  Many contemporary leader pastors may not understand it — its power and effect — and some do not trust it.  If we would be a wounded healer in order to use our brokenness to encourage and challenge others in theirs, we must be ready to field the occasional barrage.  Sometimes it’ll only be those who experience our ministry — a Holy Spirit, incarnational ministry — who get its power.  Wounded healers is not the best kind of pastoral ministry; it’s just a kind of ministry, where God needs many different types of ministers.  Many people don’t require the ministry of the wounded healer, which necessitates the wounded healer to broaden their method to cater for all types.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What Driving a Delivery Van is Teaching This Pastor

Our Will and His Will
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” 14 You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring — what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes.
15 Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it.
— James 4:13-17 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
God has humbled me sufficiently in the present season.  I’ve learned so much, not that I’ve appreciated it all.  Much of it I loathed, bunkered down grinding out widgets in my own little fear factory, where, without faith, I’d have been on a collision course with bitterness.  Oh, there have been those hours, and entire days!  But that little trough is now gone.
Many of the changes that forced their way into my cosy world have implicated me in my own private groaning sessions with which only my wife can fully attest.  And yet God has His will and that will, will be done.  His will out of my complaint has been to form within it the resolve that complaint has gotten me nowhere but dashing back to Him, and back to the untenable nature of the season.  No escape.  No purpose in anger or denial.  No way around but through.
At the end of complaint, there’s no other way but His way!
When complaint gets you nowhere
 in a season where complaint is appropriate,
you find God has a bigger purpose
than you ever could initially think.
Being out of paid pastoral ministry has forced me to work where everyone else works.  No time to get quality professional work.  Not called to it anyway.  Only ‘called’ to pastor.  A no-win situation, meaning guaranteed groaning and growth.  A season of learning, of new experience, even adventure, in situ.  God loves it when we’re entirely out of our comfort zones.  (And yet it would never be my, or our, first choice!)
So here is my present context:
I drive a delivery van.  As I drive my delivery van around the suburbs, dropping off meals, many to the elderly and physically impaired, God has told me, “You’re helping keep these people alive!”  Wow.  I’m not in ministry (not in a paid sense, as I’d grown accustomed) and that was a hard transition; something I’d never do voluntarily.  And yet, I had become a ‘doing’.  This season taught me that I’m more than what I do.  In my person I’m a pastor, but I’m not a pastor when I’m reduced to simply doing pastoral work.  See the irony?
A second job I have is as a school handyman.  I haven’t worked on the tools for twenty years!  Instead of going home with my head and heart ready for a rest, now I have sore muscles.  Instead of having to manage my hours and appointments, ward against burnout, manage my accessibility (in a role that has to be accessible), and guard against the negative nuances of pastoral relationships, I’m having to manage my body, and learn not to panic when many momentary different complexities flood my mind in executing a task.
And God has shown me this new thing: I’m grateful for work, for the opportunity to put bread on the table for my family.  What a blessing it is to do eight hours and feel I’ve completed something.  Working shows us that the seemingly impossible can be achieved if we break the task down.  Working well requires the expression of faith.  And what a blessed achievement is the process of work! — as we reflect on it.
But God has shown me something incredibly more important.  I may never pastor again.  And that would be okay.  In the sense that my life could be over tomorrow.  I’m a puff of smoke.  We all are.  At weaker times, I have hankered after pastoral work, but such a hankering leaves the important things of life truly neglected.  My wife.  My young son.  My beautiful daughters.  My extended family.  My friends.  My faith in the resplendence of the moment.  Being a Christian is much more important to God than me being a pastor.  I’ve learned to let go… and to let God have His way.  (And yet, I will need to learn and relearn that lesson again and again in this life.)  I may never pastor again, also, if that were God’s will, for which only the future can tell.  I offer my hand to my Lord, but it’s His choice, His will, His work, and He doesn’t need me!  And I better be okay with that.
If I’m looking too far ahead at potential pastoral calls I miss what is here, for me, and for my family, for those relying on me, including my employers.  I fail if I take my eye off the moment at hand.  I fail, and I miss the blessings availed only to present day life.
James reminds me that I have only the moment.  I have my nearly 50 years — a good life, most of it.  Younger people than I have been worthy of death, and I’m equally worthy.  It’s too late when it’s too late.  Tomorrow, or even today, could be that day.
We have our plans and aspirations, we all do.  But we presume a lot.  Our plans reveal our pride, our ignorance.  The possibilities hold God to ransom, for we require God’s will align to our hopes and dreams.  When God’s will doesn’t align, we’re horribly offended.  And again we’ve gotten life upside down.
Presumptions, plans, pride, and possibly many other ‘P’ words, among many other words, prove that we easily, and daily, get ahead of ourselves in going ahead of God.
We need to understand that God’s will is final — it happens whether we like the way it pans out or not.  This is good, because the kernel of truth is simple; no one controls life other than God.
If someone, anyone, thinks God doesn’t exist,
I show them their absolute dependence
on a trillion factors outside their control.
Entwined in God’s will is the concept of destiny; His will that will be.  At a time off in the future, what will be, will be.  That makes us feel small, and so it should.  It makes us less presumptuous that what we plan is guaranteed.  Nothing is guaranteed.
How much more obedient we’d be if we added the words, “If the Lord wills…” before every statement of plan.
Going ahead of God is as much a sin as any evil we can do.  Getting ahead of ourselves proves we have become a god.
Add the words “If the Lord wills…” before every stated plan and be in the lap of the will of your Lord. (James 4:15)
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

When the ‘Vision’ is an Agonising, “Wait!”

“They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia and were prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in Asia. When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, bypassing Mysia, they came down to Troas. During the night a vision appeared to Paul: A Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!” After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them.
— Acts 16:6-10 (HCSB)
God has His purpose in calling us to a halt.  Sometimes, even as we steam along the path He’s called us to, we approach a dead-end, and it makes absolutely no sense at all.  To us.  But not to Him.  Often these dead-ends are incredibly inconvenient, humbling (possibly humiliating), and even enraging… as if God’s defaulted on a promise.
But His ways are not our ways; our thoughts are not His (Isaiah 55:8-9).
The apostle Paul tried to enter Asia, to evangelise Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit prevented them.  Even if they desperately wanted to go into that region they couldn’t.  They were stuck in Troas for some time, having passed through Mysia.  That region possibly held great potential to preach the gospel, but the Spirit of Jesus (the Holy Spirit) convicted them to go to Troas instead, and there to wait for His leading.  Having been prohibited by the Spirit to preach into Mysia and then into Bithynia, it appears Paul’s party kept a low profile in Troas, choosing not to preach.  They waited on God for an indeterminate time.  Then, at the right time, His Spirit spoke: “During the night a vision appeared to Paul…”
Having to wait must have frustrated Paul, although he probably had the disposition to know that God often changes things without warning, and probably delighted in the fact of simply doing His will.
Waiting when we’re called to wait — when all the appropriate doors to go through are closed and locked — is obedience.
God is in control, even as we wait.  Even as we struggle to step forth in an arduous season where we feel we’re not only wasting our time, but we’re being wasted.
We are of use to the Lord even in the very place we find ourselves — any place.
We may hate to have to wait,
And loath nonsensical delay,
But in time God does pay,
Incoming is an inevitable date.
God wastes no wait, and uses our waiting, most definitely, for His purposes.
When you wait, wait well, waiting in the joy of contentment that the wait will be worth it, and by faith it will.  Better still, wait in the knowledge that even in the waiting there’s a new purpose to be known in this present time.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, June 24, 2016

From Adversity to Redemption Via Endurance

From the rigours of adversity, God, in His goodness, paves our path to redemption, so we can be thankful for His goodness, via our endurance.
The journey from adversity to redemption occurs via endurance, and, in that we know God is good, because, as we’re obedient, He is faithful.  He never fails to complete what only He could accomplish — our redemption that for months or years we hoped for, endured for, and never gave up for.
I know a tremendously inspirational young person who has faced the rigours of his own adversities.  Several of them he has had in his life thus far.  Each of them in their size of significance could’ve been devastating, and he has had multiples to deal with.  And then recently, redemption!  The reward for over a decade’s work.  His redemption reminded me of my own journey — of Joseph’s journey, and David’s.  Thirteen years of journeying, each one.  And then I reminded of a young lady who, too, has endured much over a similar time period — adversity endured and awaiting redemption.  She keeps stepping by faith, and I know she will get there.
Redemption we all must wait for.  In the meantime, we endure.  Along the path that God is paving, we are blessed simply yet boldly to step, as paving bricks are laid down at about the time we need to step — God’s provision, working in unison with our faith.
God knows He’s paving the entire path to our redemption, yet we cannot know, which underscores the role of our faith to believe in His goodness to carry us all the way there.
So, from adversity, we suffer it, and we grieve it well.  We cry our tears of sadness, being real about it, rather than deny it or pour our vitriol over others.  Through adversity we’re given the gift of coping.  It gets easier, more manageable, and we get used to being perfectly broken.
Then, at the right time, God grants us a redemption that He’s ever been leading us to; we see it only from hindsight, as we approach, and then walk right into, that Promised Land.  Then it arrives and we experience the bliss of the surreal.  Something we came to think would never actually happen, and yet we continued stepping in faith anyway.
It happens.  Ultimately.  Eventually.  The faithful experience redemption.  God works no other way.
Endure, for in your endurance is your hope,
for redemption, from your adversity.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

From Brokenness to a Double Portion of Blessing

Those who’ve hated their sorrow,
Who’ve suffered humbly and survived,
Have cause to hope for tomorrow,
Soon they’ll see they’ve thrived!
That there is a great deal of pain in the world hardly needs to be stated.  The reason you’re probably interested enough in the title of this article to click on it indicates there’s pain in your life or in the lives of those you love; probably both; pain that cannot be assuaged through any action on your part or the others’.
Pain that has no remedy causes a depth of sorrow appended to anguish, delving into helplessness, that verges on abysmal fatigue, where giving up is seriously not only an option, but it becomes a temptation and a threat — to where we cannot afford to plummet.
Return!  To the Stronghold
The mood of the first word “Return” is imperative, a command — “Return!”  As in, those who are subject of the command.  They’re to return with wise haste, straight away, to the Stronghold — to the City of God, which was Jerusalem, but is now to God’s Presence; His face.
The assurance of God in the command to “return” mirrors what Zechariah opened up with in 1:3 — “Return to me and I will return to you” (cf. James 4:8).
Return, as we’re commanded, and we’re assured of His Presence and blessing.
You Prisoners Who Have Hope
Those who are commanded to return to the Stronghold are the prisoners, and, because they have a Stronghold to flee to, they can hope, for their hope is real.
Many people who don’t believe in Christ cannot see the hope a Christian has, for they’ve not experienced it.  It must be experienced to be believed.  And still there is further hope for the Christian — we truly have had very little revealed to us.  Isn’t that a hope, as we gaze at God as if into a mirror dimly?
We prisoners to sorrow and brokenness have this real hope emergent within us.  This hope is real possession, but only by faith, for we haven’t yet realised the fullest extent of it.
Yet.  Hope.  Expectation.  Expect great things from God (William Carey).
Today, I Declare, says the LORD, I Will Restore Double To You
Reminiscent of Joseph (Genesis 48:22) and Job (42:10), there is a promise that what was suffered will be compensated, double.
Good to His promise, God is a Lord of multiplicity.  God is generous as well as faithful.  He will complete the work He’s doing in us (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
Could it be that we may come to be amazed at the creativity and enormity of God’s restorative goodness?
That has come to be our experience!
Symbolic night, awash with tears lamenting a broken present, gives way to the dawning of joy, and peace redoubled.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

God’s Number One ‘Will’ for Your Life and Mine

“As they learned to live together, they developed into high-energy communities.”
— Eugene H. Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant (p. 19)
One honest moment I asked,
“God, where can I serve You and be Your star?
Where can I fly where I can be tasked?”
He said, “Quite frankly, stay where you are!”
Oh, this is an incredibly hard word for so many of us, most, if not all of us.  We all aspire to rise to another level of effectiveness in this life.  None of us are quite where we aspire to be — whether that be a career, vocation, family, or personal goal.
But Peterson’s point is that stability is grand in the context of restlessness — a spiritual no man’s land.  He learned this from the sixth century monk, Benedict, who added a vow of stability — to stay where he was — to his vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  This fourth vow was an exceeding wisdom that helped underpin the other three.
Spiritually, we’re restless people, and when we give-in to our inner impatience we work against the purposes of God, not for them.  We find reasons at light speed to move from one position, situation or circumstance to what we desire to be the next.
Restlessness is bred from discontentedness, and discontentedness is a spiritual crisis.  We address discontentedness by learning to be happy right where we are — the absolute manifestation of God’s will for each of our lives.  Where we presently are, is where He presently wants us to be.  It doesn’t mean God wants to keep us there, but we are where we are for a pre-determined time, according to His will.
And here is the reason we’re to stay (in our hearts) where we are:
God has given us a community to function within; a place where we will be fashioned by others, according to His Spirit, as others, likewise, will be influenced by us.  God cannot do His sanctifying work of character reformation in us any other way than through community.
God grows us where we neither give up on others in community nor do they give up on us.  We grow best where we stay where we are.
The congregation is not only the pastor’s place for developing vocational holiness, it’s also the best place for the congregation to learn piety.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

5 Heart Cries From the Psalms

The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare.  And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
— Psalm 29:9 (NIV)
Praise!  Not all the cries in the Psalms are of lament.  Some are those we’d bellow as if we’d already arrived in God’s eternal house.  Power, glory, and blessing are His, our eternal, Sovereign God.  None is due this accord but Him.
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.
— Psalm 34:17 (NIV)
Delivery!  The righteous He delivers.  Not when the righteous want, nor in the circumstances they can even predict.  Only a Sovereign God could deliver as and when and how He wishes to deliver.
“Hear my prayer, Lord, listen to my cry for help; do not be deaf to my weeping.  I dwell with you as a foreigner, a stranger, as all my ancestors were.
— Psalm 39:12 (NIV)
Silence!  How else is a faith to be tested?  If we give up when God is silent, how little do we believe He is Sovereign.  And yet, there are times when we feel vanquished.  We do give up, for a time.  Thank God He is the God of the second, and 490th chance.
For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.
— Psalm 72:12 (NIV)
Promise keeper!  Many verses in the Psalms attest to the truth that God hears the cries of His afflicted.  We must have faith when He seems silent.  Only a Sovereign God can keep His promises.  If we don’t give up, He will keep His promises.  God is the only real help we have, yet He’s all we need.
Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.
— Psalm 142:6 (NIV)
Help!  Some people and situations overtake us, overwhelm us, and overcome us.  It was always designed to be this way.  Somehow God must convince us that we’re not sovereign.  Our faith is ever contingent on falsity until we realise this.  Only God is Sovereign.  We’re not in control.
There are many different cries that ring out of the Psalms in God’s holy Word.  As many cries as the human spirit is able to feel and express.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Trusting God’s Sovereignty When God Is Silent

“Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”
— Romans 9:18 (NIV)
When our lives are turned upside down we could be forgiven for wondering just how God can watch on, having seemed to have had a hand in designing our fate.  Does He not care as the Scriptures say He cares; we may ask?  Can’t He see how much we’re suffering?  Doesn’t He care that life seems hellish some, much, even most of the time?  What is possibly the point of this seemingly sadistic life?
If we trek back to ancient times, we could ask the same theological questions.  Why did God let the Hebrews suffer at the hands of Pharaoh so much, and for so long?  God saw fit to harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 9:16), and this only made life harder for Moses and the people.  Did He do this to punish Moses and the Israelites?  What was God’s purpose in using Pharaoh against those who were His covenant people?  Where is God’s mercy?
These all seem valid questions.
In Romans 9:1-29, the apostle Paul speaks of God’s sovereignty: “God rules and works according to His eternal purpose, even through events that seem to contradict or oppose His rule.”[1]  Paul states matter-of-factly, nobody has a right to question God about what He creates, ordains, and allows.  We rally against that saying, “If only God would love me” — well, He gave us breath and hope and life, didn’t He?  We always want more.  That’s the truth that God’s up against, and life just wouldn’t work if everyone got what they wanted because of some skewed idea that God is that kind of merciful God.  And still we’re cast against the wall of real trials that do seem so unfair at times.  Even when things are going well, we cannot know, definitively, God’s sovereign purpose, though we may think we know.
Let’s explore the enigma of God’s sovereignty:
God has plans we know nothing about,
Who are we with which to utter a doubt?
God will do just as He pleases,
If you want proof, look how He treated Jesus.
God has plans beyond our control,
We still have no idea what is His goal,
Yet we must trust Him to His Decree,
In eternity it’ll be, we’ll finally see.
God has plans that we can’t change,
Nothing we can do will cause Him to rearrange,
Why should we trust Him when this is so?
It’s because there’s no changing; He’s never our foe.
God has plans, and it’s because He’s king,
That as His subjects we can sing,
Not because of the hardships that we must bear,
But of the compassion within His eternal care.
God’s sovereignty is an enigma when we look at it through the lens of our human sensibility.  That’s why His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).  God is inscrutable.  Only when we accept this can we go on in our growth with, and toward God.
Then we might come to accept something really chastising:
How God Uses the Hardened Heart
God has set some people against us.  Some, for His purposes, are hard of heart.  Others are just loving us tough, when we need it, though it seems they’re hard of heart.  It’s difficult to know where God’s mercy starts and whom He hardens and why.  Only God can truly know.  Our role is simply to trust.
But we can know that He showers us with mercy as we bear up against those who seem to be acting as if their hearts have been hardened.  We may not experience His mercy via our perception, but His mercy is very real alright, and we shall know it when He gives us that crown of righteousness in heaven.  Yet have we not His mercy through the grace of a humble response in our suffering?  That’s a real mercy that can only be known through obedience.
What is most important is that we don’t harden our hearts.  God’s Word promises us trouble where we harden our hearts, for it is blessed rather to tremble before God (Proverbs 28:14).
God is “raising up” those who have or will harden their hearts against us.  He is doing this for our testing.  If we resist hardening our hearts, we will experience His mercy ultimately.  And God is showing us who are the trustworthy people in this life, in the midst of our lives, and few do they seem when the chips are down.
So this is worthy of our trust: to rely on God’s sovereignty by obeying God.
Only by faith can we please God by trusting His divine will and purpose in allowing Him to be Sovereign in our lives.
Let us be found worthy of God’s mercy, first by accepting Christ, then by accepting His way, day by day.
Show us Your mercy,
Lord, of our being,
Help us in the seeing,
To trust You, and be free.
That God is silent is a sign that He is Sovereign.  Trust Him in the silence and peace is yours.  There is no sensible option to not trusting God.
By faith there is hope.
By trust there is peace.
In weakness there is strength.
In acceptance there is restoration.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

[1] Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary.

Monday, June 13, 2016

When God Breaks Us for His Glory

“When God wants to do an impossible task, He takes an impossible person and crushes him.”
— Alan Redpath
I quiver with fear and trembling that I believe is from God, even as I broach this topic.  It’s a topic with which I can presently speak.  God has reason to break me for His glory this season… get that.  I don’t write these words for my glory… I write them because I still rely too much on the things of this world and on my flesh.  We all tend to do the same thing.
Here is a prophetic poem, fashioned in the present, but with a wish for future’s present:
Till God stripped me bare of all I had but Him,
Every vanity of my flesh He sought to vanquish,
His purpose, in Him, was to make me cling,
So in clinging to the world I’d languish.
Grieving in anxious despair,
Within abject poverty of soul,
I could not know how much I now care,
For me to be without I know is God’s goal.
Having no other support, no, nothing at all,
Only then was He prepared to fill,
My hands with His glorious call,
Equipped finally to do His will.
Life’s living purpose is in simply one thing,
To make us to depend on the Lord,
And only when with emptied hands can we bring,
A readiness to be restored.
Another take:
When God stripped me bare of all I had but Him,
Every vanity of my flesh, every sorry and sordid sin,
It was in that very place of bitter and dour anguish,
That He granted me cause again to cower there and languish.
Pathetic in my lack of resolve to courageously bear,
I did not see in that horrid place the blessing of God’s care,
But the Potter of my mineral was there to care alright,
I am the clay and I do not have God’s sight.
So, as I lay there, barren of hope to try,
There as I lay, even as I began to cry,
His Spirit came before me, in the silence of the still:
“I will give you My favour if you just ascend My hill.”
Now every time I make my cause to lament,
I just remind myself from Whom I’m verily sent,
It is this chalice of suffering that makes me again to agree,
I exist in all my being to confess Him and then to bend the knee.
There are three kinds of people within the community of God: 1) those who are quick learners, who wisely heed warnings, and they prosper — they’re fleetingly broken; 2) those who are slow learners, who learn the hard way, but they do inevitably learn — these are broken much; and, 3) those who resist learning, refuse to be crushed, and end up remaining unbroken.  And there are phases of all three kinds of these people within each one of us.  It’s to positions two and three that I confess I’m radically conversant.
God transforms us in the crucible of crushing.  He does what’s impossible by dealing with our impossibility.
The more we let God deal with our stubborn, impossible parts, the more He will make transformation possible by His grace.
Let’s not be discouraged by our impossibility.  It is as it is.  To see our impossibility is to encapsulate the chance to let it go.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.