Wednesday, September 28, 2016

How God Uses Discouragement to Grow Us

When growth seemed to elude me, in a second’s madness of exasperation, I threw my hands in the air and asked God, “What’s the use…? I can’t do it, Lord. I have not grown! I cannot please You with my growth.”
And His Holy Spirit said, “Oh, be gentle… you, however, are correct, of course. You cannot please Me with your growth… you can only please me by My growth in you.”
Subtle and significant difference.  Massive course correction.
We cannot please God with our growth;
we can only please God by His growth in us.
It occurred to me recently that there are two forms of growth in a Christian’s discipleship: 1) instant growth through a commitment to change — classic repentance; and, 2) slow, arduous, painful growth over usually two to five years — classic transformation.
Repentance begins in a moment; the outworking of repentance brings transformation.
It’s to the second form of growth we find most discouraging, having obeyed God in the first place to turn from inappropriate practices. But discouragement has its place. It’s vital. First, before we can grow, in this new area of flawdom, we need to come to the end of ourselves. God needs to crush that self-reliance out of us. Or, we need to experience the burning rage of our ‘disappointing’ God, first hand. Then He shows us our folly. Sure we’re a disappointment to Him, but not for the reason we think. God’s not disappointed by our lack of growth. He’s disappointed because we aren’t trusting Him. He’s disappointed because we regarding Him so lowly that we think that through our pride we can do what only He can do. He’s disappointed because we’ve bought into a lie.  
Our growth is not about us!
It’s about Him. It always is.
If growth was easy, and could be achieved quickly, we’d take credit for it. God doesn’t need the credit, but He knows if we don’t give Him genuine credit by hiding our acclaim, we become conceited. This is why growth is hard and takes a long time — so we don’t become conceited. We might still get conceited, but God knows how unimpressive our own perception of our growth is to all around us. Nobody believes us. It backfires. So why bother to endeavour to convince them?
Genuine growth takes years because that’s the only way others can see change in us. It’s how God works — not over the months, but the years.
It’s as if God is saying to us, “Please stop stressing so much about your growth. If you’ll allow Me to do a work in you, I will need time, because I’m working with you — a flawed human being.  So please be gentle with yourself… take the pressure down… and don’t hide behind your false humility of, I can’t do it, Lord. I have not grown! I cannot please You with my growth.  I will show you your growth over the years. Please Me simply by trusting Me. I have promised You to complete the work.[1] Trust Me to do it.”
So, in a mood of personal reprisal — a man in receipt of God’s rebuke — I commend to you what I believe God is saying to us, by way of personal example, in our frustration for a lack of growth.
To repent takes a decision,
but to grow takes thousands of them.
Discouragement in our growth in God is a sign; that we’re anticipating growth in our own power. Discouragement shows us our lack of relying on God. But growth is impossible in our own power. It’s only possible in God’s power.
May God truly bless you as you expect less of yourself and expect more of His grace,
Steve Wickham.

[1] See 1 Thessalonians 5:24.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Believing in them as Jesus Believes in them

I believe in the Principle of 10 out of 10.
Believing in people as Jesus believes in them is about investing time in them as He would.  It’s not about drawing attention to their faults.  It’s about entering into the material of their lives.
Seeing others through the lens of grace is viewing persons in our midst as image bearers.
Only one image is borne upon the mind; this person, right here, with us, in living, breathing, thinking, feeling form, is a being made in the Creator’s image.  The One who created this one created everything else.  They’ve been made in His perfect image, priceless in value, inestimable in worth.
It doesn’t matter what they’ve done.  Jesus’ first interaction is encounter.  In encountering Jesus, a person sees their sin for themselves.  It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convey an understanding and convict a person of their wrong.  Being their Jesus, as all Christians are called to be, we focus on loving them, and there is no condemnation in love.
Believing in a person as Jesus believes in a person soon necessitates action.
Having gotten to know us, and indeed having found safe harbour, the person soon shares a fear, a vulnerability, a burden, a sin; something they feel guilty for and ashamed of.  Even then it’s not the case of giving advice.  It’s the opportunity to listen intently, to thank them for their trust, to enjoy the sign of a newfound intimacy.  To just sit there in the wonder of relational confidence.  The person won’t continue to share if they find us giving them advice.  They could get that from anyone, but never from Jesus.
Only having been convicted from within about an action they need to take can we endorse it through encouragement — “Go and do likewise.”
At all times, never is a person out of Jesus’ loving care.  We’re called to go and do likewise.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Why God’s Gospel Makes More Sense In Suffering

We never wish suffering on ourselves, but suffering will take us into the heartland of the gospel, and when we suffer enough, we’re taken into the inner sanctum of maturity.
On one condition: the response that pauses, reflects, and absorbs hurt, determined not to react, but to learn unknowable lessons which can only be learned by faith.
We must participate in Christ’s sufferings[1] if we’re to ever understand and truly embrace His gospel.  It doesn’t mean we don’t or won’t get His gospel if we haven’t yet suffered, but a promise remains for us in the prelude to suffering, as we participate like Christ.
We always underestimate what Jesus will call us into so far as participation is concerned.
Horrified are we to consider the standard fare: anything from having our dreams destroyed, crimes against or the loss of loved ones, death ourselves, false accusation, defamation.  And there are a million and more lesser sufferings that plague us either in potentiality or reality.
It may seem a sadistic compensation that to come closer to God and to understand His gospel much more requires us to suffer.  But think about Jesus for a moment.  He suffered.  His teaching centred on suffering well, by taking heart; He had overcome!  He suffered the ignominy of rejection from all quarters.  His death involved the most suffering any of us can imagine.
Would we be spared from some of this?  We’re spared from almost all of it!
But we’re still called to suffer, and to glory in our sufferings.[2]
And as we do glory in our sufferings, in the hope that there’s something good going on in the process, the gospel makes abundantly more sense.
The gospel is a break-glass reality, a construct for life when life is turned upside down.  It’s a way an upside down life can be turned right way up.  Then it becomes the only true and right way we can live.[3]
As we suffer, may we give in to the mystery of Christ who uttered not a word of reprisal.  In act of being executed.  Yet, when we do react, let’s forgive ourselves as Christ forgives us.  He is perfectly patient and kind and we’re nothing like perfect.
The gospel of God as it lives in us is a reality that becomes clearer the more we suffer.
Grace of the Lord to you,
Steve Wickham.

[1] See Philippians 3:10 and 1 Peter 4:13.
[2] See, for instance, Romans 5:3-5.
[3] See John 14:6.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Says Jesus, Come Into a Faith of Trust Beyond Hope

“We can hope that God’s real our whole lives, but why not know that He’s real.”
— Kristene DiMarco
It is only my faith in God that can explain how life-shattering sorrow can be turned to a deep abiding joy.  Or, that gripping fear can flip into courage tantamount to conquest.  Or, that guilt and shame would make way for gracious forgiveness that emanates from the soul — something that could never be truer.
The faith we’re invited into is a faith that looks beyond hope, knowing that it knows that it knows, that God is real, and because He’s real, His will comes to pass.
His will is all that matters.  That’s our outlook when we really know God is real, by faith.  When God’s will is welcomed at every juncture of our lives, suddenly Scriptures like Psalm 37:4 make sense because we see them in the light of Jesus’ imperative of Matthew 6:33 — “Put first the Kingdom and His righteousness, and all else will be given to you.”
Faith is that cherished attitude of self that forgets self, almost as if the hurt part of our hearts can no longer hurt, because we’ve resolved to place our self into His hands, by faith.  Such a state of being must stem from being encountered by God.
Faith is something that transcends hope, for hope is still something that must lift faith, and true faith needs no such help.
A faith that has transcended hope is a faith that has decided to follow Jesus, whatever the cost.  This is a faith that is possible, and never easier is such a faith when we know God is real.  Trust God because He is real, and the faith He supplies shatters the moment’s doubt.
Needing to hope suggests a doubt-sullied faith.  Not that that’s a bad thing.  Much of the time it’s all we’ve got.  But faith that needs no reliance on hope is faith on conquest for Jesus.
Nothing better than a Jesus faith is worthy of Jesus, and in all-out surrender we ought to strive for it.  In the peerless surrender of our strength for His.  Such a faith would be reckless if it weren’t haemorrhaging in trust.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

How, When Satan’s Winning, Your Victory In Christ Is Assured

Killer blows, dealt to crush us in an oblivion of pain, have their purpose in taking us up to the Precipice of Presence; of Christ at the moment of His cross.
It is always God’s intention that we be accompanied in those forlorn places of soul — the paraclete coming alongside.
There, as He was raised high and vertical, the prince of darkness leapt in conquest, yet, as Christ submitted, in submission was His triumph.  So is ours.
In submission is acceptance of humiliation; a paradoxically gospel precursor to triumph.
The Christian cannot hope to attain the victory of the resurrection without coming to their cross and dying first.  Without submission there is no success in the school of Christ.
In coming close, there is the proximity of defeat, of pain beyond compare, where the enemy is quaking with glee.
Standing at the cross, ready to be raised high and vertical, in anticipation of suffocation, the immediacy of death before us — which is death to pride, self-sufficiency, and fear of being forsaken — we stand immediately before two horizontally-opposed spirits; the spirits of defeat and of victory.
The devil anticipates victory as we’re crushed by the forces of humiliation.  Satan is powerless, however, to stop Love — rendered through submission — which makes a way for humiliation to be the catalyst in resurrection.  Can you see how important humiliation is?  In the acceptance place within humiliation we side with Christ and depart from Satan.
The embodiment of acceptance in humiliation is one tangible way we can imitate Christ, when many ways of the Lord are unique to Him alone.  Satan humiliated Christ momentarily at the cross, but Christ humiliated Satan eternally in His resurrection.  See how Christ shows us how, in accepting humiliation, we demonstrate loving submission in honouring the Father, and we bamboozle the enemy?
We’re in good company any time we feel defeated,
for as we share in Christ’s defeat we share also in His triumph.
Blessed are the crushed and humiliated, for in their submitted demeanour of response they humiliate and crush the devil at His own game.
In Christ alone, with you, the paraclete coming alongside us both,
Steve Wickham.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Three Cords to Identity – Knowing, Accepting, Embracing

Frustration is something I’ve been pondering in a season where exposure to frustration has been a cherished opportunity, yet only cherished as a product of later reflection.  Gradually God has been teaching me something about frustration through my immersion in it.  Not that I haven’t had significant immersion in frustration beforehand; just that this season has sprinkled frustration throughout my experience effervescently.
This is what God has shown me: frustration is alleviated when identity is addressed in: 1) knowing our purpose; 2) accepting it; and, 3) embracing it.
Knowing our purpose in life is crucial.  Knowing and accepting are linked, but until we know our purpose we cannot accept it.  Our purpose is more fundamental than we think: it’s being a citizen (of heaven and earth), a son or a daughter, a spouse (if blessed with a partner), a father or mother (if blessed with children), a worker contributing into the world of God’s Kingdom.  Knowing is basic, yet so many never take the time to reflect on what’s right in front of them.  Knowing ourselves is central to knowing who we are in Christ.  Knowing ourselves brings us into confrontation with our purpose.
Yet, knowing our purpose brings us to a problem: our purpose may be something with which we’re not entirely comfortable.  We may not like our lives.  We may resent our pasts.  We may not like what’s coming in our futures.  Our present moments might rekindle torment, and often.  But until we wrestle with these concepts of state, we cannot accept that which otherwise proves futile.  Accepting what we cannot change is the only platform to growth through undesirable states into something abundantly better.
Embracing what we now accept is quite a simple and joyous step.  In this space, we find it an honour to live our ordinary lives to the extraordinary glory of God.  Resilient against the wiles of thuggery that this life casts our way, our joy is able to transcend the ugly bits of our identity in joining faithfully with God’s.
What a blessing it is to get beyond the desire to escape our lives, to know, to accept, and to embrace what God’s given us freely in His grace.
Identity is a cord with three ropes: knowing who God made us to be, accepting, then embracing it for His glory.  Such a cord is strong in the identification of our bearing His image for His purpose.
Purpose and identity are entwined.  Purpose gives meaning to identity and identity propels us purposefully.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.