Tuesday, August 4, 2020

A 12-step prayer for the authentic follower of Jesus


God of my redemption,

There was a time in my life when I believed I could live without You, that I didn’t need You; now, I’m so glad to recognise my life was unmanageable without You.  This was my first step to life in You.

It was at that time that I came to more fully recognise that You really did exist, that You are the essence of power for life, and that Yours was the power that I truly needed.  This was my second step back to You.

Finally, having come to the precipice, having become sick and tired of being sick and tired, I gave my will and my life into Your care, to follow You, Jesus, every day and every moment of the remaining days of my life.  This was my third step as I accepted Your offer of redemption.

But as soon as I took that third step, I knew there were more.  I came immediately upon a crisis.  Having lived so far apart from You for so long, I sensed I was so far from Your will.  Convicted by Your Spirit, I was compelled to undertake a fearless moral inventory — a full search history of the sins I’d committed.  This was not easy, but it was my fourth step, foundational in following You.

Having taken that fourth step, having invited Your Holy Spirit to illuminate my greed, pride, anger, sloth, envy, lust and gluttony, I did sense an enormous struggle, but also an incredible amount of relief, as I genuinely faced the truth in my life.  In following You through this step, my fifth step to life, I showed You that I was indeed following You, Jesus.  It was in doing this step that You showed me what You’re most interested in for me, personally.  But I was not complete in doing this step until I was able to admit the exact nature of my wrongs to You and to another human being — a wise mentor — that I trusted.

It was in doing this fifth step, Lord, that You endeared to me Your presence and Your pleasure.  I was on the journey of letting go of that past, to embrace a future that I hoped for.  It was my sixth step on the journey of following You.

I hammered a stake into the ground, my Lord.  I had come too far to go back now.  I genuinely prayed at that moment for You to relieve me of these sins.  And by the mystery of Your spirit, You washed me clean of these marks.  It was my seventh step, and in many ways, it was a step of completion of the inner work You were doing in reforming my heart.

Then You compelled me, once again, and forged within me the desire to get practical.  Again, I got out writing materials and began a list of all the people I had wronged.  Something deep inside me seriously wanted to make amends to all I’d harmed.  This eighth step was enormously empowering.

In making amends to all those I could still reach, without hurting a single one or anyone else, You gave me new life, Glorious God, as one conversation after another I was able clear the debt, freeing them and I of the shards of bitterness that had previously constrained us.  This ninth step was the gospel of love and peace in action.

Suddenly I found myself in a place in life where recovery met maintenance.  Being well fearful of backsliding, I decided to continue following Jesus, and continued to take inventory.  The key to this tenth step was to remain humble enough to admit when I was wrong.  Every.  Single.  Time.  Insight and Awareness were to become Your Guides.  Although this wasn’t easy, God, You showed me I could do it, one courageous moment at a time, even as I poured contempt on my pride each time.

It was when I arrived at this eleventh step that You showed me how I was to pray from now on.  You showed me, my Eternal Guide, that I was to seek to improve my conscious contact with You, to learn how to be led by Your Spirit, and how I was to know Your will.  You convinced me that my prayer from now on was to simply attain the knowledge of Your will, and to beseech You for the power to carry it out, knowing that You would give it as I asked.

The twelfth step became obvious at this point; You wanted me to keep abiding in these steps and to carry the message of this program of spiritual renaissance to all who are in need.

I thank You for these steps, Lord.  Without them, I could not have experienced Your life.

In thankfulness to Jesus for his love, power and presence in my life, through the Holy Spirit, I pray,

AMEN.



Photo by Rosie Fraser on Unsplash

Sunday, August 2, 2020

What people really appreciate about their pastors


Life is in stories, so let me share a few with you.  The first one is about a woman with a horrifically traumatic past coming back to the church and being met by a pastor who listened, who assumed a few things, and who was actually found wanting.  He messed it up initially.  The whole event left the woman quite triggered.  But amazingly, in the process of her tearing strips off him, he showed his poise, was not the least bit offended, and indeed listened humbly and sincerely apologised.  That event was this woman’s first experience of a church leader ever apologising.  Simple as it might sound, it was a powerfully healing moment.

The second story is about a young family who was moving home, from a share home to another more spacious.  Their pastor, a woman 10 years further along in life, was quite prepared to help coordinate a small team to help out; the pastor and a few young (and not-so-young) guys and gals who helped with both moving things and cleaning.  They all had fun doing something productive together, and they helped mates out who literally couldn’t have done it without them.  Many pastoral moments were had during this time.

The third story is of a country pastor who found himself giving trauma therapy to a parishioner due to the issues of distance and the non-availability of a suitable professional.  You might ask how?  Surely he was unqualified.  Well, it seemed that he was God’s pick to assist, and the assistance he gave was profoundly simple.  He didn’t speak much.  The parishioner would do most if not all the speaking, and in sharing his story, precious therapy was received.  This pastor simply had a gift for both integrity and of getting out of the Holy Spirit’s way.

The fourth and final story was of a person who came to a church desperate for help.  Food actually, and a little money.  This person had no idea the interest the pastor would take in the deeper issues in her life.  When she simply asked, “You seem anxious and unhappy; is there anything else bothering you other than a lack of food and money?” it was quickly identified that a bureaucratic bungle had significantly affected the young woman’s life.  The pastor was able to not only connect the young woman with advocacy help to correct this injustice but committed to a journey walking with her during the ordeal.

You know I could go on, but I think you see where I’m going with this.  Being a minister for God is not only about teaching people the ways of God, it is just as much being the person of Jesus, and being an exemplar to that end, as it is anything else.  This is what I call ‘incarnational ministry’ in that, as ministers, counsellors, chaplains, we are the very Presence of God.

Much of this is about getting out of God’s way, which is paradoxically not just a passive activity.  It is the skill of knowing the timing and method of making ourselves small so God can be bigger in the picture of another person’s life.

I have always found it amazing the ways that God honours the servant who makes themselves small for divine service.  This smallness is not about being bashful; it’s purely about so other-focused that God’s Spirit works through us as if we ourselves weren’t even present.  But of course we are present, and our presence just adds to the mystique of the Presence of God amid the life of the one seeking communion with the divine.

It’s easy to forget that pastors are not centrally administrators or managers, but they are shepherds guiding the flock, prophesying encouragement, teaching the leadership of the Spirit, and perhaps most of all, discerners of what God is saying (and very much mostly to themselves as models of this).  A little like a relationship with a counsellor or chaplain, the relationship with a pastor is a unique and always to be the most platonic relationship.

As a pastor anticipates the eternal Presence of the Spirit amid any and all pastoral situations, they are blessed to receive the only help they will ever need; help that the person they’re helping needs and is looking for; help that will heal.  The help of the Helper, the Holy Spirit.  It’s all that matters.



Photo by Mohamad Babayan on Unsplash

Saturday, August 1, 2020

The thing about people with good hearts


“Here’s the thing about people with good hearts. 

“They give you excuses when you don’t explain yourself. They accept apologies you don’t give. They see the best in you when you don’t need them. At your worst, they lift you up, even if it means putting their priorities aside. The word ‘busy’ doesn’t exist in their dictionary. They make time, even when you don’t. 

“And you wonder why they’re the most sensitive people, the most caring people, why they are willing to give so much of themselves with no expectation in return. You wonder why their existence is not essential to your well-being. It’s because they don’t make you work hard for the attention they give you. They accept the love they think they’ve earned and you accept the love you think you’re entitled to. Don’t take them for granted. Let me tell you somethingFear the day when a good heart gives up on you. Our skies don’t become grey out of nowhere. Our sunshine does not allow the darkness to take over for no reason. A heart does not turn cold unless it’s been treated with coldness for a while.” 

— Najwa Zebian (Emphasis added)

Good hearted people will always prosper.  Eventually.  The process will, however, involve a great deal of pain.  For good hearted people there’s the need to fortify the heart against being crushed by the pain that is part and parcel of life.

The most important thing for a good-hearted person to remember is, to learn to be with those who are like them, because it’s far too easy to become ensconced with people who are not good hearted; to become subservient to others who will never reciprocate.

Good hearted people consistently think more about others than themselves, even if they still notice how and when people don’t reciprocate the love they so willingly extend.  This is why they’re able to overcome disappoint after disappointment, not that disappointments and exploitations don’t get them down; for they actually can.

Most of all, the good hearted person ought to experience God’s pleasure; that God is pleased how much the good hearted person takes God’s Word to heart; that they consider others before themselves even if others show scant regard for them.  And God vindicates the action of the good hearted person who is compelled to love others with boundaries.



Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Friday, July 31, 2020

It’s not just realities suffered that affect abuse survivors

Some of the more powerful principles in life are very subtle.  The one I’m discussing here might not be obvious for everyone, but once you have experienced it personally you recognise how powerful this principle is.

The problem of abuse doesn’t just surround the realities of abuse that are actually suffered.  It is just as much (and oftentimes more) about the potential future suffering, the unknowns, that many survivors of abuse must deal with.  The weirdest things can trigger memory of previous trauma.  But besides this, the potential for worse acts lingers large on the palate of the survivor’s mind.

Acts of abuse are often horrendous, but it’s the frightening potential that overwhelms the sufferer even more.  Such thoughts leave the sufferer of the abuse, without assurance of safety, in the land of torment for what might flow on, given that they and/or others have often been groomed (and I mean gradually ‘seduced’ i.e., systematically and intentionally deceived) and brought along in such a way that the sufferer of abuse can detect a trajectory that rivals nightmare proportions.

For those who have never suffered abuse, and particularly the kind of abuse that is hidden from others, as a lot of abuse is, it can be hard to comprehend or even to convince you just how palpable the power is that sees anxiety in the survivor reach overwhelming proportions.  There are visceral and bodily responses that cannot be avoided.  There is the constant overwhelm in the mind of the survivor, as they can’t escape scenarios of greater harm.  There is a sense of hypervigilance not only in the presence of the offender, but also just about much more in their absence, because even through absence the thought of future offending/suffering breeds anxiety.  There are knowns with presence, and with absence the unknowns are often worse.

It’s not just the reality suffered that affects abuse survivors; it’s the potential harm that could occur at any time in the future, and not just the harm from the person who has harmed them, but other more generic forms of harm are feared.  Indeed, hypervigilance comes to be trained into the body, and the mind is so often very unaware.

The mere possibility of a threat is often enough to cause enough angst in a survivor that bleeds out into bodily responses borne of anxiety and mindful escapades of preoccupation which all equate to the resonance of pain.

This is something that the broader world needs to understand more about.  These are the untenable effects of trauma suffered by survivors of abuse, where the only way that the sufferer can be served is through careful attentiveness and listening; through abiding and believing, and through processes of unequivocal respect that build trust upon trust — safety in a word.

Through such a trusting process to respect the sufferer in believing them and just to walk alongside them is often enough for them to feel safe, because there is a burning desire within most if not all of us to want to be healed of our maladies.  And even if the person we journey with isn’t interested in healing, we must accept this reality, knowing the pain may be too enormous; by accepting them as they are, we cause the least harm.  It is enough to journey faithfully with them.

If it’s ourselves, if we can find people who we can trust, who can journey with us, who can help us to heal by letting us be, we may well find a door to healing open to us.



Photo by Bjhelyn Tanacio on Unsplash

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The day my mind stopped, and my body said no


I recall it as vividly as yesterday, December 15, 2019, and yes of course it was before Covid, so I had no idea how good life really was back then, even if I was approaching a stretch of burnout, which felt stark compared with even previous experiences of such exhaustion.

It was a Sunday, and my son and I were at an international cricket game where he was due to make an appearance with a hundred other kids during the lunch break.  It was so hot, over 40°C, the third day of a heat wave, my brain was fried, and my body was listless.  I certainly wasn’t in good parent mode, and indeed there was nothing left in me really, other than a little energy left to hold an internal pity party.  Those who know me know I love my cricket, but I couldn’t stand to be at the cricket that day, and indeed I couldn’t have been happy anywhere.  I truly wanted to escape life, because I really had nothing left, and yet the needs and demands of me felt exorbitant.  I was trying to do everything.

The reality was — and this was what I couldn’t handle — I still had at least seven days of task after task to complete before I could clock off.  I remember by that stage I pined for the sanctuary of a national park for some precious quiet time, and yet by the start of this season, a mini Sabbath, I had this thumping headache that persisted for over a week, these sore feet that just ached whenever I was awake, and an existential crisis where my body just didn’t want to cooperate any more.  All this had seemingly descended overnight.  I just didn’t see it coming... or perhaps I just wasn’t listening.

Burnout for me is the odious reality that I have nothing left in the tank, much to the degree that my mind literally stops working; I can see people talking, I can see I’ve got emails, and I can see there are demands of me, but I simply cannot do a single thing.

Long ago I realised it was God saying, “I’m pulling the plug here!”  Long ago I realised that if I didn’t pull the plug, and institute boundaries, that God would.  In this, I know that God is reinforcing an age-old truth for any of us who would listen — we are not human doings, we are human beings!

The day my mind stopped, and my body said no, was not the end of life as I knew it, but it heralded an important beginning.  At the end of my strength was the beginning of God’s.  God will often bring something to an end that we have previously fought tooth and nail to keep going.  Only when God is desperate enough to get our attention will God pull the plug.

Initially, because the searing headaches wouldn’t abate, and the soreness wouldn’t disappear, even though I was resting, I began to panic.  I truly wondered if there was something permanently wrong with me.  This is just another way God was getting my attention.

The long and the short of it, of course, is that I got away into the bush, journalled, and read a crucial book, called Invitation to Retreat by Ruth Haley Barton.  I re-learned some golden truths that I otherwise have known for years yet had either forgotten or had stopped applying.  These are the truths that preserve our health.

Slowly but surely as I rested, my mind started to free up again, and my body began to respond, all because I was feeding on the hope in God’s Word, all connected to Barton’s principle of Sabbath and being secluded in the bush for a few morning’s rest.

None of us are beyond burnout.  It sneaks up real quick — especially when we betray the sensible rules of work-health balance.  We are all tempted to be human doings rather than human beings.  What if the world could survive without us?  Let it.  Try it.  It is freeing.



Image: my view in the National Park on Sabbath retreat.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

When God seems distant and you may even feel abandoned


One of the commonest experiences in Christian faith is feeling that God is distant or has abandoned us.  The trouble is many people can feel that it’s their fault, or that it’s a reflection on their own faith, or that they mustn’t be good enough or that they are unworthy, or they’ve done something to displease or disappoint God.  It tends to be the enemy’s voice that contributes to this perception we may hold.  Of course, it can make it a lot worse if a Christian leader or someone we trust puts it back on us, and makes it our fault, oversimplifying the problem.

The last thing we need when we are feeling distant from God, or that we have felt abandoned, is to be gaslit, where the responsibility is put back to us to resolve.  This is a subtle form of abuse, i.e., it doesn’t help and often produces much hurt, and it tends to be quite common.

What people need most of all when they’re feeling that God is distant, or that they feel they’ve been abandoned by God, is gentleness and respect, because the problem is always very complex, and usually has very little to do with what the person is doing or has done.

First of all, we must realise that many of the saints, Biblical writers, and mothers and fathers of the faith felt these same things.  Indeed, it is much more likely, history will show us, to experience that God is distant or that we feel abandoned, if we have been a long time in the faith and have worked diligently on our relationship with God.

I think of Psalms 13:1-2, 22:1, 44:24, and 77:1-9 right off the bat, much of Job, Ecclesiastes, even some of Paul’s writings, e.g. 2 Corinthians 12:7, but there is so much of the Bible that speaks to God feeling distant and feelings of abandonment.  Abandonment is such a powerfully negative thing for so many people, and it springs back to experiences of abandonment when we were most vulnerable; when we had no other choice but to trust our most intimate caregiver who may have let us down, or worse, abused us.  It is therefore very understandable to have the deepest crisis possible when we feel abandoned by God.

Backing up the biblical witness of the veracity of feeling abandoned is someone like Saint John of the Cross, who wrote Dark Night of the Soul.  Indeed, many of the mystics, those ardent Christian writers and doctors of the church, many of whom lived in the dark ages, spoke of this most visceral suffering.  We actually are in very good company when we feel distant from God or feel abandoned by the Divine.

Rather than spend a lot of time on why this occurs, because this is a very complex subject, and entire volumes of books are written on it, can I propose a simple course of action to feel God more?

If we are simply able to discern a good or kind thing to do, the exercise of patience or compassion, and doing something that is right, we may begin to feel God’s pleasure — to feel we have pleased God.  Righteousness and peace are connected in the Bible — for instance, Psalm 85:10, Isaiah 9:7; 32:17, Hebrews 7:2; 12:11, and James 3:17-18.  Whenever we do something that is right, particularly when it involves sacrifice on our own part, peace usually results.  If the cause is doing what is right, peace is the effect.  To peace, hope and joy are connected.  All this from doing what is right.

The main thing to bear in mind is that distance from God and feeling abandoned are normal within the experience of faith.  They are nothing to feel ashamed or inadequate about.  Indeed, these feelings usually precede the maturing of faith, and we usually experience these feelings when we already have much maturity in the faith already.  In other words, afterwards we may find that God allowed us a little distance to strengthen the relationship, not weaken it.

Crises of faith usually precede massive revelations and awesome epiphanies if we don’t give up.



Photo by Billy Pasco on Unsplash

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Prayer for when I don’t feel you close to me, God


God, if You are there (of course You’re there, but really I cannot feel You just now) can I please have a touch from Your Spirit, and would You please grace me with Your presence.  You have said that You would never leave me nor forsake me, and I have believed You with all my heart.  But right now, my mind is a flurry of doubt and my heart feels so frighteningly alone, much as it seems that I cannot comprehend how I could be in such a desolate place.  How could it be that it has come to this?

Could it be, Lord, that You have brought me to this place?  My mind is in backflips, and my heart is dizzy for comprehending it; the thought that You could’ve allowed this or even orchestrated this prayer from within me to reach out in desperation for Your presence.

You are a wholly good God, and there is no wickedness in You, so You cannot want me to suffer.  I get that.  And yet, here I am in my lament without You!  Could it be that You trust me to find my way back to You?  Or, could it be that You will break through any moment now, back into my life?  Maybe You trust me enough to do Your will without You constantly needing to show Yourself in being present here with me.  Perhaps as I do what is pleasing to You that You will show me that You are pleased.  Help me to trust that You are with me as I commit myself to doing only that which would please and honour Your Holy Name.

Lord, A wise friend of mine reminded me about the Footprints in the Sand poem.  Could it be that You are carrying me?  Might it be that through this period of my life You have never been more present than now — even though I cannot feel You?  I have so many questions, Lord, and yet my friend encouraged me when they shared that what I am feeling is normal—that they, themselves, have been there.  It is so hard to understand, and yet I feel there is a purpose in all of this, so please forgive my desperate desire to want to know; and, help me to accept that this present hardship is its very own pathway to peace.

It’s in Jesus’ incredible name I pray this, AMEN.

This is a model prayer for the one who doesn’t feel God, where I’m channelling a former version of myself as well as others I’ve known and worked with.  The ideal companion to this prayer is, of course, Psalm 77, a psalm that starts off in desperation for God’s presence and ends in remembering the holy and faithful character of God.

Friday, July 24, 2020

When this happens, you know you’re close to God and healing


We may hardly ever realise just how much we are pushing God out of our lives until we come to a point of accepting what God has always been saying to us.  There is always one thing or another that we want differently.  The key question for the genuine devotee is, “Where am I saying no?”

We hear God on a particular subject, and we just cannot go there, and we unconsciously say, “No; no God, not that way!  I can’t go there,” or “I won’t go there.”

I say this in a full recognition that I have been pushing a vision of what I have wanted, in the way and manner of serving God, and I have simultaneously been pushing God’s vision away.  I only saw this after God had changed my heart to accept what God wanted me to do (and be).  Suddenly I was curious as to why I was so open to this thing I was previously so closed off about.  Then, as God often does, I received a vision in the shower.

God says, “When you do this thing I want you to do, when you are the person I want you to be, I will open every doorway in your path.  And your paths shall be straight.  Indeed, you will know you will be doing my will when the doors begin to open.  I have been keeping certain doors closed for your own protection and to protect my will for you.  Thank you that you are beginning to trust me in this now.  Keep that up.”

But, of course, if our hearts have changed — and God did it, because we can’t do that on our own — and we can enter something we were previously stubbornly resistant about, walking in that way is pretty simple, because our hearts have changed.  So it is God’s timing, because until we are sick and tired of being sick and tired of insisting on our own way, we won’t be open to having our hearts changed.

It is the case that God can be honest with us when we are ready to hear God be honest.  So gentle and patient is the Spirit of God in this way, we don’t ever recognise that God was pushing the divine will our way, but when we are honest, we recognise it was always there.  If you can’t discern what God is patiently and gently pushing your way, listen to what the wise people in your life are gently and patiently saying.

When we have received from God that thing that he desperately wants us to do or be and we no longer reject it, this is when we are close to God and our healing.

And finally, I really do need to say, my concept of healing is a spiritual concept.  If we could call Paul ‘healed’ and he suffered a ‘thorn in his flesh’ (2 Corinthians 12:7) there is a presence of peace or of wholeness or shalom, acceptance is another word, that we carry about us, as we can imagine Paul did (Philippians 4:6-9; 12-13).  This is a ‘healing’ that superintends any bargaining for physical or tangible healing we might be tempted to engage in, and I see this as a healing that amalgamates joy within grief that acceptably laments the reality of life.  THIS is what I feel many people lack in life; to experience a joy beyond any circumstance; and that’s inherently biblical.



Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Thursday, July 23, 2020

How Christians approach conflict speaks a lot about their faith


“Some might argue that the Holy Spirit makes us good people who no longer get into conflicts.  The Biblical witness [on the other hand] recognises conflict as an integral part of what God uses to grow us up!” 
— Tim Otter

I’ve met Christians who have said they no longer sin; almost as if they’ve ‘healed’ in this way.  And although most Christians would ‘pfft’ that attitude, most if not all of us who follow Christ would like to think we’re beyond sin.  Sinning is never a comfortable state to be caught in — whether it’s us who detects it or, worse, someone else exposes it.

But actually, we do sin, and this is what separates Christians from those who are not — as Christians we accept we have a sinful nature.  It takes maturity, punctuated most in honest humility, to resolve the moment of having missed the mark; to receive humiliation of the flesh gracefully in order to ‘pour contempt on our pride’ as the old hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (Isaac Watts, 1707) puts it.

The Divine Role of Conflict in a Believer’s Life

Sin is especially borne out in our relationships through conflict.  God uses conflict in our lives to grow us up!  Conflict, in its briefest definition, is the frustration of our goals and desires.  Let’s face it, all of us have the potential to become riled up in a state of conflict in seconds in any number of relational situations.  Being human is the only prerequisite.  We hate being misunderstood, for just one instance.

Now God knows we can’t be helped if we can’t admit our frailties, failures and faults; that our only hope is to admit our brokenness point blank, straight up; that we get absolutely no practise at exercising humility without pursuing reconciliation in our relationships; and, that the gospel is inherently redemptive and that conflict has a central role in all our lives, just as God pursued reconciliation (and achieved it!) with us at the cross.

Many people would prefer that they were beyond getting into conflicts.  It saves us shame and humiliation, and it gives us a lot more control and makes us feel more powerful, because, let’s face it, the ardent desire to want to be beyond conflict is often more about the issue of control and of feeling powerful than it is about blessing others.  We are innately creatures who seek our own comfort to the detriment of others’ comfort.

The Various Choices in Conflict

People can avoid conflict, have their own way, and save face, all by pretending that there is no conflict, all the while maintaining control, feigning the power they pretend they have.  But, there is no truth in this, there are no brave conversations had, there is no faith shown, there is no speaking the truth in love, there is no forgiveness given and received, only the manufacture of a set of circumstances that any of us can procure in our own effort.

People can fight their way out of conflict, imagining that they’re right, or that their aggressive actions are justified.  They can lord it over others, misusing and abusing their personal power, or their positional power, by using a coercive power that insists on controlling others.  But there is only damage done to relationships via hostility.  There is nothing of God’s power in this kind of response.

But people who actively have God search their heart (Psalm 139:23-24) for their own contribution to conflict are much more than Christian by name alone; they follow Christ’s teaching through repentance.  Their life is no longer their own; it is Christ’s.  This is because they can face this humiliation of the flesh for the glory of God.

Where the Holy Spirit has been relegated, the divine effect is annulled.  There is none of God’s power in such a life.  God is relational and redemptive in nature.  Those who refuse to deal with the truth of their sinful desire do not do the work of repentance for reconciliation, and they refuse to abide by Christ’s final command: love one another.

Signs of a Pathological Belief

Self-righteous Christians are dangerous Christians, because they believe in a falsehood of power and control, and what often underpins this belief in a falsehood of power and control is that, deeper down, they think they’re better than others.

They therefore avoid conflicts, not out of doing the other person a favour, but out of face-saving, and projecting that they have power and control, which is all rooted in fear.  Their motive is not about the other person at all.  It’s actually very self-serving.  Their motive is to curate their image and manage impressions.  Their god is anything but God.  And yet, we all must face the fact that at times we’ve fallen for the sin of not acknowledging our sin.

If someone ever says, “I no longer sin,” or, “If there are any problems between us, you must be the one at fault,” and “If you have a problem, that’s your problem; it will never be mine,” we have a big problem.  Find yourself in such a situation and you quickly find the other person does not love to the extent that they’re prepared to work through the conflict.  They would as much abandon you than do the hard graft of collaborating with you in getting the relationship genuinely back on track.  Such relationships are unsustainable.

You may think this is fanciful, but there are very many Christians that live this way, based in such a belief that they have overcome their sin, and been healed summarily.  (And they may be so deceived as to think, “You may not be healed, but I am,” which projects superiority out of pride, not virtue.)  On the contrary, they have fallen for a massive lie.  And to the end of their relationships, they will only be a source of damage, betrayal and pain.

Sometimes we are led to think that these situations don’t actually occur; that there is no such thing as a Christian who thinks they know longer sin.  I think that can be a reflection of who we have come to associate with.  It may actually be a healthy affirmation that our social circle is full of Christians who are living an authentic, repentant faith.  We may quickly forget the Christians who think the sin problem has been addressed.

Think about it.  People who think they don’t have a sin problem create many problems for others and are basically impossible over the long run to relate with.  When, from the context of our relationships, the problems we have can only be ‘our’ problems, we can have no sustainable relationship with such people, because, let’s face it, it’s only a matter of time before any closely connected relationship faces some crisis of conflict — relationships must be a two-way street.

I guess the converse of this is a situation where you find yourself in conflict with a Christian and they absolutely cannot see their own contribution — even if it was only 10 percent of the fault.  When they say, “It’s all your fault/none of this was my fault” they are really saying they don’t sin.

When Christians approach conflict demonstrating the capacity to see their own contribution, and the other is capable too, the hope of Jesus’ gospel of peace is a living possibility, where even situations involving great pain between parties to the conflict can be reconciled.

Christians who live out the gospel in this way show that they’re, “blessed to be a peacemaker,” because they justify the tag, “child of God.”  (See Matthew 5:9)



Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Prayer for help from the belly of sheer exhaustion


God, You know where I’m at!  I don’t need to convince You.  I won’t humour You with the boring details, but at the same time I feel I must share the things that antagonise me, that I just cannot seem to get free from.  Life has been a flux of change for so long now that I wonder if it will just continue to be that way, but I do hold out faith that peace and stability will come at the proper time.

Lord, can I just say — and I know that I can, so I will — please, take the edge off this pain, because I find it unbearable.  How could a pain like this be so excruciating?  There was a time when I had no idea, but I have too much of an idea now.  Part of me wants to go back to that ignorant place where I knew nothing about pain.

You know how exhausted I am, my God, and You know how easily triggered I am right now, so I pray Your protection and help in this my highest point of need, at my lowest ebb.  I pray for spiritual help, for Your presence to sweep through my life, and for practical help, so I don’t feel so guilty about burdening others with my problems.  Others say they want to help, but when I’m at my rock bottom point, I find it so hard to reach out.  Help me to take the risk I need to take when I most need help, Lord.  Help me to trust the people I know I can trust when I least want to trust.  Compel me to take that risk when everything inside me wants to hide.

People say that this will pass, and I have to believe them, even if they sound cliched, God.  Help me to not think bad thoughts about people who are only trying to help, when I think they have no idea about what I’m going through.  Impel me forward by the powers of Your grace, to endure these frightening moments right now.

Jesus, I know I can trust You, even though there are times when I don’t want to live, even though I cannot and will not end it.  You remind me, Lord, that there is far too much at stake to do something regrettable.  Help me in those moments when I feel most vulnerable to remember these things, when I have no will left in me to want to breathe any more.  Come beside me and comfort me when I’m tearful, ease the pain in my heart, and give sleep and rest to my eyes at times when being awake is too painful.

Lord, I don’t have much more to pray, or any more energy, but I do have faith enough to pray this prayer, in Jesus’ name.

AMEN.

This is a model prayer for the one who is exhausted, where I’m channelling a former version of myself as well as others I’ve known and worked with.

Image from Eugene Youngman on Unsplash

Run a mile from any Christian who says, ‘I no longer sin’

“Some might argue that the Holy Spirit makes us good people who no longer get into conflicts.  The Biblical witness [on the other hand] recognises conflict as an integral part of what God uses to grow us up!”
— Tim Otter
I’m not sure about you, but I can definitely say that I’ve met quite a few Christians who have said, and who believe, that they no longer sin; that they’re ‘healed’ in this way — indeed, the current president of the United States is on record for saying this very thing.  They ascribe far more to the Holy Spirit than is even in God’s interest to do for any of us — hence the second sentence in the above quote (God uses conflict in our lives to grow us up!).  God knows we are hopeless if we can’t admit our frailties, failures and faults; that our only hope is to admit our brokenness; that we get absolutely no practise at exercising humility without reconciling our relationships; and, that the gospel is inherently redemptive and that conflict has a central role in all our lives.
I know there are many people who would prefer that they were beyond getting into conflicts.  It would save them a lot of shame and humiliation, and it would give them a lot more control and make them feel more powerful, because, let’s face it, the ardent desire to want to be beyond conflict is often more about the issue of control and of feeling powerful than it is about blessing others.
People can avoid conflict, have their own way, and save face, all by pretending that there is no conflict, all the while maintaining control, feigning the power they think they have.  But, there is no truth in this, there are no brave conversations had, there is no faith shown, there is no speaking the truth in love, there is no forgiveness given and received, only the manufacture of a set of circumstances that any of us can procure in our own effort.
The paradox in this is, the Holy Spirit has been relegated, the divine effect annulled, even if people who refuse to wrangle with others in conflict claim that their lives, being so free of conflict, are evidence of the Holy Spirit’s power.  There is none of God’s power in such a life.  Again, God is relational and redemptive in nature.
Self-righteous Christians are dangerous Christians, because they believe in a falsehood of power and control, and what often underpins this belief in a falsehood of power and control is that, deeper down, they are better than others.  They therefore avoid conflicts, not out of doing the other person a favour, but out of face-saving, and projecting that they have power and control, which is all rooted in fear.  Their motive is not about the other person at all.  It’s actually very self-serving.  Their motive is to curate their image and manage impressions.
What someone is saying when they tell us, “I no longer sin,” is, “If there are any problems between us, they must be your fault,” and “If you have a problem, that’s your problem; it will never be mine.”  Find yourself in such a situation and you quickly find the other person does not love to the extent that they’re prepared to work through the conflict.  They would as much abandon you than do the hard graft of collaborating with you in getting the relationship genuinely back on track.
You may think this is fanciful, but there are very many Christians that live this way, based in such a belief that they have overcome their sin, and been healed summarily.  (And they may be so deceived as to think, “You may not be healed, but I am,” which projects superiority out of pride and not out of virtue.)  On the contrary, they have fallen for a massive lie.  And to the end of their relationships, they will only be a source of damage, betrayal and pain.
Sometimes we are led to think that these situations don’t actually occur; that there is no such thing as a Christian who thinks they know longer sin.  I think that can be a reflection of who we have come to associate with.  It may actually be a healthy affirmation that our social circle is full of Christians who are living an authentic, repentant faith.  We may quickly forget the Christians who think the sin problem has been addressed.
Think about it.  People who think they don’t have a sin problem create many problems for others and are basically impossible over the long run to relate with.  When the problems we have can only be ‘our’ problems, we can have no sustainable relationship with people, because, let’s face it, it’s only a matter of time before any closely connected relationship faces some crisis of conflict.
I guess the converse of this is a situation where you find yourself in conflict with a Christian and they absolutely cannot see their own contribution — even if it was only 10 percent of the fault.  When they say, “It’s all your fault/none of this was my fault” they are really saying they don’t sin.



Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash