Unwrinkling The Soul – Part Two

When you begin to take the time to unwrinkle your soul you find yourself in a war. As your spirit begins to settle and the Holy Spirit begins to bring supernatural peace to your soul, your flesh will rise up and fight everything that you are experiencing with the goal of shutting you down. If your flesh succeeds then your soul remains wrinkled and you continue in that deep hole feeling frustrated, disappointed, cynical, annoyed, and tired. (see yesterday’s blog – Part One)

Your flesh will begin to speak loudly … time to watch the news and catch up on what is happening in your world. You ought to go and find some cookies to munch on. You know you are missing the next instalment of your favourite sitcom. Some agitated place in me starts clamouring for relief. Even as you are seeing and feeling your soul unwrinkle and you are allowing your thoughts and feelings to untangle as you begin to experience peace and even God’s presence … desire starts jockeying for attention. I think there is some ice cream in the freezer. 

It feels like two kingdoms are vying for your soul at this point. The flesh is offering instant relief. Nature is offering long-term restoration. And the two are seriously leagues apart. 

Relief is momentary; Ir’s checking out, numbing, sedating yourself. Television is relief. Eating a bag of cookies (I’m guilty) is relief. Alcohol is relief. Coffee can also be a relief. And let’s be honest here — relief is what we reach for because it’s immediate and usually within our grasp. Most of us turn there, when what we really need is restoration.  Nature heals; nature restores. 

Think of sitting on the beach watching the waves roll in at sunset and compare it to turning on the tube and vegging (bing watching) the reruns of Star Trek, The Next Generation. The experiences could not be further apart. Remember how you feel sitting by a small brook, listening to its little musical songs, and contrast that to an hour on your favourite video game. Video games offer relief; nature offers restoration. 

This is what David was trying to put words to when he reported finding God in green meadows and beside quiet waters, emerging with a refreshed soul. Or as another translation has it, “He renews my strength” (Psalm 23:3 NLT). The world we live in fries the soul on a daily basis, fries it with a vengeance (it feels vengeful). We need the immersion David speaks of.

I was recently sitting out back in front of a roaring fire in my new fire pit (a summer project). I was unwrinkling my soul after an especially hectic and cluttered day. I was choosing to ignore the chorus of vendors trying to get me to leave in search of some relief (Your favourite show is on; maybe a strong Starbucks coffee would go good right now… ) I knew that if I left all I would find was relief and some sugar and caffeine. My soul would be no better off because of it. So I chose to let the evening and the fire in the fire pit continue to have its healing ministry. Remember, God doesn’t like to shout. His invitations are much more gentle.

Sunset was over; night had come suddenly into focus. Still I sat there. The night chill could be felt. It felt good. Over in the distance I could hear the birds settling in for the night in my neighbours tree. And, I could feel my soul settling down even more; the feeling was like unwrinkling or disentangling on a soul level, as your body does in a hot tub. Thanks for the gift of nature and this fall evening in front of the fire, I said, I receive it into my soul. 

Darkness, crickets, coolness, quiet, and the crackle of the fire as it was dying down for the night. I felt like I had been through detox. When I fell into bed that night, it was as if the hellish day had never even happened. Restoration. So much better than mere relief. 

Unwrinkling The Soul – Part One

Rarely are my days calm and restful. I would describe the vast majority of my days as hectic, demanding, with serious involvement in people’s life issues. Not just locally but around my nation and in other nations. The internet allows me to touch lives in many places without leaving home. Don’t get me wrong – I love every bit of what I do for the Lord, His people, and the lost who have yet to experience the love of God found only in Jesus. But it, at times, leaves me feeling exhausted. A favourite author of mine would describe it as a “fried-soul kind of day.” I am sure you can relate. It happens when you have a day where everything seems to go sideways from the moment you get out of bed.

Let me describe such a day…

There’s no milk, so there’s no cereal;, and you’re late anyways, so there’s no breakfast. You’re halfway to work when you realize you forgot your phone — and who can live without their phone these days — so you’re late to work because you went back and got your phone and now you’re behind on everything. People are tweaked at you. You can’t answer that urgent email someone keeps asking about, because you’re waiting for an answer yourself, but the person who has the answer took the morning off for a “doctor’s appointment” (Sure you did, you think, you’re out for a ride, you slouch). On it goes.

You look forward to lunch as your first chance to come up for air; but the line at your favourite taco joint is out the door, and though you should have stayed, you’re already well on your way to totally fried, so you leave in frustration, which only makes you skip lunch, which justifies your use of chocolate and caffeine to see you through the afternoon. But that completely takes your legs out from under you, and all you end up accomplishing is making a list of the things that you need to do, which overwhelms you. By the time you get home, you are serious fried. 

Of course, I work from my home office and study (two separate rooms) but my days can be just as hectic and frustrating even if I don’t commute. I can end the day – and there are a few each week like this – strung out. I feel like I am sitting in a vat of frustration, cynicism, fatigue, and exhaustion. It is a dangerous place to be. Staying there will ruin the evening and impact how the next day goes as well. So, I go for a walk in the park around the corner from the house.

There is something about nature that allows me to unwind, refresh, reboot. But first I need to allow mother nature to touch me physically and emotionally. I listen to the crickets. The sunset is amazing as it lights the shy up with pastel reds, oranges, and yellows mixed into the background of gentle blues and white. I can feel my body and my soul beginning to relax. It’s like they are taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. I call these “Spirit sighs.” And I can feel my soul beginning to unwrinkled. 

What is a “Spirit sigh?” It means your spirit is breathing in and recognizing the Spirit of God and you find yourself letting go of all the mess, letting go of everything. They are not cynical or defeated sighs; they are “letting it all go” sighs. My body relaxes, which makes me realize how tense I had been all day. My heart (spirit) starts to come to the surface, as it often does when I can get away into nature and let beauty and the subtle “stillness” touch my soul. 

This happens best during my annual three week camping and kayaking trip where I get alone with God and nature (away from people) and simply let my heart and soul breath. An annual and lengthy ‘deep breathe.’ But it can be just as powerful at the end of ‘one of those days.’ It can happen sitting in my back yard watching a fire burn in the fire pit. It can happen on a slow and gentle walk on a warm summer evening or a brisk fall morning (like this morning when I am writing this). It is simply a time to reconnect to the eternal and letting go of the temporal – the every day rush of demands and details. 

It is life changing and life giving.

But — and it is a big but – we need to learn how to overcome the desires of the flesh that will rise up large and powerful as your soul begins to unwrinkled. 

More on that in Part Two tomorrow.  

 

Remember What It’s All About

Because societies have a need to remember, we fill our world with monuments. The Statue of Liberty reminds us about the beauty and grace of freedom. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier helps us never to forget the countless numbers of soldiers who gave their life for that freedom. Take a walk through your city or town and I imagine you’ll find monuments and historical plaques placed there by your city officials.

Naturally, we like monuments that inspire us — the general on his stallion, sword in the air, his horse rearing backwards; the pioneer’s open hand raised to the heavens. Our statues commemorate larger-than-life heroes — or, in one case, a smaller-then small insect. Enterprise, Alabama, United States of America, has on its main street a tall statue of a boll weevil. Of all  creatures, an insect; and of all insects, a particularly destructive one. Why would the town want to commemorate a six-legged parasite? The answer is that those who erected the statue were not celebrating the insect but the God whom they believes used the small beetle.

Like much of the south of the United States, this part of the state of Alabama was once cotton country. The region was totally dependent upon King Cotton. But then in 1915 came a pestilence from the direction of Mexico — the little insect that averages one-quarter of an inch in length but can destroy thousands of acres of cotton by puncturing the boll, or pod, of the cotton to lay its eggs. In no time, the region lost its ability to bring its crop to maturity. The city of Enterprise was looking economic distastes in the face.

But necessity is the mother of invention, and a number of scientists were roused to investigate alternative crops. The peanut, it was discovered, could be planted and harvested very efficiently. Farmers diversified in many other directions, and the economy was better off than ever before.

Many people saw the hand of God in this trial. They felt that God had used the little boll weevil to guide them towards the demands of a modern economy. And in 1919 the monument was placed in the town’s central location so that people might never forger — a towering statue of a woman holding a large boll weevil over her head.

Monuments are important not only to us but to God. Without the lessons of history, we are helpless to face the challenges of the future. Throughout the Bible, God led His people to memorialize the great moments. Here are some of the highlights of biblical monuments:

    • Offerings and sacrifices, which were tangible reminders of an element of God’s relationship with the people of Israel.
    • Blue tassels, placed on the corners of the people’s garments at the Lord’s command that they might “remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them” (Numbers 15:39).
    • National festivals, such as Passover. These celebrations reenacted God’s miraculous activity in Israel’s history (see Exodus 1:26-27).
    • A riverside monument upon crossing the Jordan River into Canaan, built with stones pulled from the dry riverbed. It was to help people remember how God dried up the river, facilitating the invasion into The Promised Land (see Joshua 4:4-7).

Perhaps the most significant memorial of all was instituted by Jesus in the Upper Room the night before He was crucified. Jesus served His disciples bread and wine, representing His broken body and shed blood, commanding them to partake “in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). The apostle Paul instructed the Church to continue this practice to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). Communion in worship, the Lord’s Supper, is a living memorial to pass the Upper Room experience from generation to generation.

God knows that our life is “but vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). If our life is a vapour, our memories are misty at best. Our Lord works patiently to remind us, because in the wealth of experience comes the wealth of wisdom. When we forget, we are like children prone to every poor decision imaginable.

That kind of stumbling, fumbling life without memory drains us of all passion. To put the pedal to the metal and live life wide open with passion, enthusiasm, anticipation, and excitement, we need good rearview mirrors — and to remember, as those mirrors tell us, that “reflected objects are larger than they appear.”

The Rescue – Part Two

We are looking at the lack of personal time and space in today’s world of constant demand and connectedness. In a world where your soul just can’t do life at the speed of smartphones. And how that leaves our souls feeling exhausted and out of touch with who we really are. So, let’s add God into the issue we looked at yesterday and see if that might help.

I’m a Christian and so I believe that if we had more of God, that would really help. We could draw upon His love and strength, His wisdom and resilience. After all, God is the fountain of life (Psalm 36:9). If we had more of His lavish life bubbling up in us, it would be a rescue on this soul-scorching hour. 

But this frantic, volatile world constantly wilts the soul, dries it out like a raisin, making it almost impossible to receive the life God is pouring forth. How true.

I have tried to find more of God, knowing that if I only had a greater measure of His life in me, I’d be able to navigate this rough terrain. I was practicing the usual stuff — prayer, worship, Scripture, sacrament. But still I felt shallow. Sipping God with teaspoons, not drinking great gulps; wading not swimming. My soul felt like a shallow rain puddle (it’s raining today as I write this). But I know the soul isn’t a shallow puddle at all; it’s deep and vast, capable of symphonies and heroic courage. I wanted to be living from those deep places, but I was trapped in the shallows.

Because of the internet and television we are losing our ability to focus and pay attention longer than a few moments. We live at the depth of the text, the swipe, the “like.” This isn’t just an intellectual problem; it’s a spiritual crisis. It pretty hard to hear “deep calling unto deep” (Psalm 42:7) when we’re forced into the shallows of our own hearts and souls by this frenetic world. 

So, this past summer (June to August) I unplugged and stopped the frantic pace at which my life was being lived. I removed all my schedules and just let life happen. I took my calendar that I use to plan each day to make the most of it and removed all the preset events and activities. I simply stepped out of the “Christian rat race” and worked at doing life differently. I wanted above all else to “experience the ‘more’ of Him. And, in the process I began to get my life back.

God wants to come to us and restore our lives. He really does. But if our soul is not well, it’s almost impossible to receive Him. Dry, scorched ground can’t absorb the very rain it needs.

As C.S. Lewis explained, “The soul is but a hollow which God fills.” In place of hollow I let the word vessel, something beautiful and artistic. Our souls are exquisite vessels created by God for Him to saturate. You can picture the round, curved basin at the top of an elegant fountain, with water spilling down all sides, running over with unceasing life. Isn’t that the promise? “As Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:38).

And so it follows that if we can receive help for restoring and renewing our weary, besieged souls, we’ll enjoy the fruits (which are many and wonderful) of happy souls and also be able to receive more of God (which is even more wonderful). We’ll find the vibrancy and resiliency we crave as human beings, living waters welling up from deep within. And then — we’ll get ur lives back!

But the process needs to be something the Lord leads you into. There are no preset packages or prepackaged programs that you can buy into that will guarantee success and a deeper spiritual life resulting in a more meaningful life lived to the fullest. We have all tried exercise, diets, Bible study programs that began with vim and verve but over time got shoved to the side, lost in the chaos. So, don’t look to a pre-packaged regiment or process or program. You are a unique individual and God will meet you in a way that is specifically designed for who you are and where you are at in life.

All you need to do to get started is to recognize that you are living on the surface and that your life lacks meaning – real meaning and true depth. It has lots of activity and important things to do. But, meaning and true life does not come from the “do” in life. It comes from the “be” in life… and so you need to be … be who you really are; be in His presence; be still and know that He is God; be comfortable with who you are right now and where you are at …. Simply come to Him as you are and let Him guide and direct you on this new and renewing part of your journey.

God wants to strength you and renew your soul; Jesus longs to give you more of Himself. Come, you who are weary and heavy laden. “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life … and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message). You can get your life back; you can live freely and lightly. The world may be harsh, but God is gentle; He knows what your life is like. What we need to do is put ourselves in places that allow us to receive His help. 

So simply come to Him. Ask Him to help you; lead and guide you. Tell Him that you want to know Him more. That you want to experience Him in fresh and new ways. You will be amazed at what He will do.  

The Rescue – Part One

There’s a madness to our moment, and we need to name it for the lunacy it is. Because it’s taking our lives hostage.

First, there is the blistering pace of life. It seems that we are busier than ever. People send you an important text message where they are expressing what is happening in their life and we respond with thumbs-up emojis. I experience this personally on a daily basis as I send out a group text to everyone in my local house church. Worse than an emoji is simply total silence. People no longer interact with texts. At one time emails felt so efficient when it replaced the letter. Texting seemed like rocket fuel when it came along. But it didn’t give us more space to live life. It didn’t make our lives more spacious. We simply had more to keep up with, respond to.

Even as I write this I just had an email from a pastor I don’t know who visited my web site. He lives in Africa… then a phone call followed by a text. He is looking for immediate attention. He is impatience. He is expecting me to jump and respond. I didn’t. I deleted. This is a daily event in my life. And, I admit that I struggle to keep up with all the messages that come in daily via numerous apps. So, I delete the ones with whom I have no relationship and have not initiated the conversation. I currently don’t need more contacts, more relationships, more open doors to minister.

It seems that we are living at the speed of the swipe and the “like,” moving so fast through our days that typing a single sentence feels cumbersome. I feel busier than I have ever felt before. And, time for what is important seems to be lacking. For example, reading a book, writing in my journal, spending time reflecting, praying and reading Scripture. Coffee with a friend.

It seems that we have been sucked into a pace of life that nobody is enjoying.

Second, there is the deluge of media coming at us. We are spending three hours a day using apps on our phones, ten hours viewing media, consuming enough informations each week to crash a laptop. As someone recently wrote: “We talk about unplugging, but we’re enchanted — by the endless social media circus of love and hatred, the vapid, alarming, sensational, and unforgivable. We’re snagged by every new notification. And while we’ve always had our individual struggles and heartbreaks to deal with, now we have the tragedies of the entire world delivered to us hourly on our mobile devices.”

This is very hard on our soul.

Traumatizing, in fact. Exposure to traumatic events can traumatize us, and we’re getting lots of it in our feed. It’s like we’ve been swept into the gravitational field of a digital black hole that is sucking our lives from us. 

So, I get this text from the pastor in Africa and then an email and then a phone call on an app. And, I find myself totally ignoring every attempt to communicate with me. There are simply too many people wanting a piece of my time to add another demand to an already busy day. A day that has me feeling somewhat overwhelmed with just the basic demands and needs. 

I find myself flinching when a friend texted and asked for some time. I didn’t want to open email for fear of the demands I’d find there. I have a shorter and shorted fuse in traffic. I feel numb to tragic news reports. It makes me wonder — am I becoming a less loving person? I have little capacity for relationships and the things that bring me life —- a walk in the park, a quiet coffee with a friend, a day to paddle board and enjoy the water. And when I do steal a few minutes for something life-giving (like reading by an open fire by my fire pit), I feel so overwhelmed, so distracted, so exhausted that I can’t enjoy the time. I can’t focus.

It isn’t a failure of love or compassion. These are all symptoms of a soul pushed too hard, strung out, haggard, fried. My soul just can’t do life at the speed of smartphones. But I am asking it to; everybody’s asking theirs to do so as well.

I’m guessing that you have experienced something similar. I am not alone. I am not unique. And, like me, your soul its looking for something. Are you aware of what it is?

How would you score your soul these days:

      • Are you happy most of the time?
      • How often do you feel lighthearted?
      • Are you excited about your future?
      • Do you feel deeply loved?
      • When was the last time you felt carefree?

Our souls are bleary, seared, smeared. Still able to love, yes; still able to hope and dream. But at the end of any given day most people come home in a stay of exhaustion. Numb on our good days, fried more often than we admit. We feel stretched and living life on the surface. Stretched so badly that we can’t give our full attention to anything or any one. “Like butter that has been scraped over too much bread” as one author states it. 

The world has gone completely mad, and it’s trying to take our souls with it.

More next time…

Giants That Kill Our Passion

From the time he was five, Hudson Taylor was consumed by an intense passion to be a missionary to China. He dedicated every thought and action toward that desire. He learned Mandarin Chinese, studied medicine, corresponded with mission agencies, spent his money in mission training, and above all else, waited for God to send him.
The young man prayed as if it all depended on God and worked as if it all depended on Hudson Taylor. He was convinced that he would never make it unless he learned to depend on God for everything. Toward that end, he put himself under strict daily training. Her studied Latin, Greek, theology, and medicine while keeping up with his ordinary daily responsibilities. He flirted with the edges of financial disaster in order to allow God alone to meet his needs. He lived on a diet of oatmeal and rice and sent the savings to missionaries. Nobody would have questioned Hudson Taylor’s passion.
He set sail for China in 1853, filled with hope and excitement. When he arrived, he found that those who were supposed to meet his ship had either died or fled. Rebels had overrun Shanghai. There was fighting in the streets, hostility toward westerners, and not a friend in sight. His support system had evaporated. So there stood a young Englishman, Hudson Taylor, staring at the face of a giant named China. I can’t promise you that I wouldn’t have climbed right back on the boat and booked homeward passage.
But then I’m not Hudson Taylor, who not only stayed in China but committed to going further inland with the gospel. There had been missionaries around Shanghai, but no one had ever taken the Word of God to the vast, mysterious provinces of the hidden China. He faced illness, heartbreak, setbacks, hostility from the Chinese and from other missionaries, and — I’m certain — the occasional feeling of being overwhelmed. There were so many millions of unsaved people in China and so few missionaries. How could the lost souls ever be reached?
Taylor simply kept trusting God and facing down the giants. By the time he died, there was a significant and fruit-bearing Christian presence in China. Even the era of communism hasn’t driven our faith out of that country. Hudson Taylor was the superior of that giant too.
When have you felt discouraged or overwhelmed? When have you felt that all your efforts were for naught, that maybe it was useless to go on trying? It’s no fun to feel pint-sized when facing a giant. And that giant can take many forms. It could be one person or a group of people. It could be a problem. The giant could be financial in nature, or it may be something within yourself.
Anything that distracts from our focus on Christ, detours us from our service for Him, and drains us of our driving passion is a giant that must be slain. In order to live a life of purpose, passion, and meaning in response to God’s call, we must learn to take down the monsters that stand in the way of great accomplishments for God.
Who can show us how to be a giant-killer? My suggestion is that we couldn’t do better than the shepherd boy named David. He was a kid who knew nothing about military strategy, yet he went one-on-one with a grizzled warrior — a card-carrying giant. Goliath stood nine feet tall and had a snarling attitude to match. He had paralyzed Israel’s fighting force with his intimidating presence. He arrogantly mocked the children of Israel and their God. No one dared protest. With Goliath looming over them, this army — and the whole nation of Israel — was dead in the water.
Which giants have blocked your path to a life lived fully, all out for God? Which giant has robbed you of your passion for the Kingdom and the King? You many find them in this brief list of giant-sized problems that believers need to defeat so they can live passionate lives as believers.
Let’s list them and then look at them briefly one at a time …
Resentment
Fear
Discouragement
Loneliness
Worry
Envy
Guilt and shame
And then we will look at how to slay your giant.
Many different giants block your path to a life of passion for God and His purposes. A life lived passionately. You may find some of them in this “rogues gallery” of giant—sized problems to living a passionate life where you embrace each day fully and engage with all that the day brings your way.
1> Resentment
Your spouse forgets to pick up your package at the post office, and you sulk about it for hours. A church member sitting near you sings loudly and off key, and you can’t resist scowling at him. A friend hasn’t called you in several days, so you’re not going to call her either. We all get slighted. Ignored, offended, and hurt by other people. Resentment holds these offences like a sponge instead of letting them roll off our back by living in grace and forgiveness.
2> Fear
Everyone is afraid of something. Israel was pinned down in fear of Goliath. What strikes terror in your heart? Flying? Spiders? The threat of nuclear war? The death of your spouse or child? The loss of your job? To whatever extent you are immobilized by your fears, to that extent you will lack the full experience of passion in your life. Theologian Paul Tillich said, “Fear … has a definite object … which can be faced, analyzed, attacked, endured.” If you want to live a life wide open to all the opportunities God has and will offer to you, the giant of fear may be your first enemy.
3> Discouragement
It is difficult to move forward through life at any speed when we have lost courage or confidence. Things don’t go the way we plan, so we get discouraged and give up. We fail at a task or a relationship, so we shrink back from entering into the next one. Discouragement tends to pull in the sails and toss out the anchor. “If it’s going to be like this,” we mutter, “why go on?” The giant of discouragement must be brought down to live passionately.
4> Loneliness
God created us for intimate relationship with Himself and with others. We feel most alive and passionate when we are enjoying rich fellowship with the Lord, getting along well with family members, and having fun with friends. But we feel lost and cold when there is painful distance or division in our dearest relationships. The giant of loneliness scorns out attempts at living passionately.
5> Worry
British educator W.R. Inge once said, “Worry is interest paid on trouble before it falls due.” Most people worry about things that will never happen. What a waste of emotional energy! Worry levels a burdensome tax on our joy and passion. It’s difficult to charge into life enthusiastically every day when you are worried about everything that could go wrong. No wonder Paul exhorted us, “Be anxious in nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6)
6> Guilt and shame
Psychologist and educator Lewis Smedes explained, “A person feels guilt because he did something wrong. A person feels shame because he is something wrong … We may feel guilty because we lied to our mother. We may feel shame because we are not the person our mother wanted us to be.” Unresolved guilt and shame are deadly to living a life of passion.
There are many more Goliaths in the army that lines up to challenge the passionate life. You may struggle against doubt, temptation, jealousy, procrastinations, anger, rejection, bitterness, hopelessness, or another equally debilitating giant of a problem. You may be hindered from a life of passion by old scars and still painful wounds inflicted by these brutes. If you hope to break through to the passion-filled life, you need to meet your Goliath head-on.
Most of us need our soul restored before we can become fully engaged in a life of passion. All the motivational pep talks and spiritual disciplines are hollow for the person who struggles with unresolved pain from the past and unconquered problems in the present. The path to passion for wounded people begins by choosing no longer to be your Goliath’s victim and to take whatever steps God makes available to you to heal the past and help you move confidently into the future He has for you.
So, let’s look at slaying your giants.
Do you feel small compared to your present-day Goliath? Perhaps you feel  too weak or inadequate to put up a fight. Giants can be intimidating, as King Saul and the army of Israel know. But God has empowered us and equipped us to bring them down. Let’s take several points of instruction from David’s triumph over Goliath, as recorded in 1 Samuel 17.
1> Confront your giant
When Goliath, the jumbo-sized Philistine, taunted Israel and dared them to send someone to fight him, Saul and all the Israelites “were dismayed and greatly afraid” (Verse 11). King Saul had a history of being a mighty warrior. He should have picked up the gauntlet and confronted Goliath in the power of the Lord. Yet Saul, along with the whole army, stood there quaking in his sandals. Do you think God could have used Saul to slay the giant? Absolutely! But since the warrior-king was too fearful to confront Goliath, God had to look for someone else.
The first step to getting past your problem to a passionate life is to confront your giant head-on. Here’s a good place to start: Turn to a fresh journal page and identify in writing the giants you are facing. Write down their names: guilt, envy, fear — whatever they are. Describe them. For example, you may write something like, “I feel guilty for what I’ve done in the past” or, “I harbour resentment toward my spouse for his/her insensitivity toward me” or, “If I give myself fully to God, I’m afraid He might ask me to do something I don’t want to do.” Add specific example of how your giant has terrorized you. The more you get down on paper, the clearer your Goliath will be in your sight.
2> Remain consistent in preparation
David the shepherd may have been young, small, and inexperienced in military combat; but he was not unprepared for meeting Goliath. For one thing, the boldness and naïveté of youth was on his side. Remember some of the daredevil things we did as kids, when we didn’t know enough to be scared? Those were the days where it seemed easier to ask forgiveness after the fact than to ask permission ahead of time. As Pearl S. Buck has said, “The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it, generation after generation.” That’s probably where David was.
Long before his dynamic showdown with Goliath in the valley of Elah, David had defended sheep on the hillsides of Bethlehem. He explained to Saul that watching sheep had involved facing the occasional lion or bear; when some predator attacked the sheep, he simply killed it (see verses 34-35). David had learned courage when nobody was around to see it. It was his consistent integrity and commitment that prepared him to meet Goliath when that moment came.
As a giant-slayer, you prepare for battle by practicing consistency in your spiritual disciples, You must spend time faithfully and privately before God, poring over His instruction manual for spiritual battle — the Word of God. You must humble yourself in prayer before your “Commander in Chief,” just as Joshua did prior to the battle of Jericho (see Joshua 5:13-15). Don’t skip any of those routine steps hoping to jump ahead of God’s schedule. God desires to train you in private through consistent personal discipline.
3> Consider the cost
Author Ray Bradbury said, “:Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.” Taking on a menacing giant involved some risk. After all, this is war. In fighting for what is rightfully yours, you will still be under enemy fire. People have wondered why David carried five stones in his pouch when he needed only one to fell Goliath. Perhaps he would not presume that his first shot would do the trick. He probably expected some kind of battle, slinging stones, dodging Goliath’s big javelin. He was confident about victory, but he may have approached Goliath wondering if he would be wounded in the skirmish. At some point the shepherd boy considered the cost and took the risk.
If you want to achieve great things in your life, you’s better be ready for risk-taking. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered with failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” If you’re a Christian, you know that the “gray twilight” he’s talking about isn’t mysterious or elusive. It’s called lack of faith. We can risk the cost of battle because Jesus promised, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23)
When you go to war against your giants, it probably won’t be easy, and you likely won’t dispense your problem with one shot. You may be in for a long battle. It may get worse before it gets better. You may take a hit or two along the way. But if the skirmish gets you past this giant and on the road to the passionate life you desire, it’s worth the risk.
Giants That Kill Our Passion – Part Four
Blog for November 4, 2020
We are looking at the life of David and his fight with the giant Goliath and pulling out some personal observations to help us fight and defeat the giants in our personal lives. Giants that stand in the way of living passionately.
So, in review…
1> Confront your giant
2> Remain consistent in preparation
3> Consider the cost
There are three more observations that will help us in our battle against giants in our personal lives…
4> Be courageous in battle
King Saul attempted to equip David for battle by outfitting him in his own battle armour. You need to remember that Saul was a big man, at least a head taller than his peers (see 1 Samuel 9:2), but David was just a kid. After trying to walk in the armour, David declined the offer. He didn’t need armour and a big sword when defending his sheep. His strength and protection were in the power of the Spirit. David announced, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37). So he courageously marched into battle with the five small stones and one big God.
There have been times in your life when you have seen God knock your big problems down to size. Reflect upon those victories. Replay them in your heart and mind. Take courage and “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). As someone has said, you plus God equals a majority. No giant can withstand you when you are led an empowered by God’s Spirit.
5> Be a champion for God
When you step out boldly to confront your giant, you join the ranks of God’s army of champions. David is in that brave band, as is Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samson, Peter, Paul, and countless numbers of heroic warriors in the pages of the Bible.
But be aware that when you move out as God’s champion, you may be criticized by others, even those closest to you. Some family members and friends may feel threatened as you step out in the Spirit to pursue your passion. When David showed up on the front lines and began inquiring about Goliath, his own family shot him down. His eldest brother said, ““Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle” (1 Samuel 17:28). Instead of lauding David’s courage, his brothers chided him for abandoning the sheep.
Like David, silence your critics with your courage, determination, and trust in God. The Spirit-empowered shepherd boy strode confidently into battle armed with a sling and five stones. The first stone flew and found its mark. Goliath toppled like a felled tree, and Israel enjoyed a great victory and new freedom to be God’s people in their world.
The same God who brought victory to an underdog shepherd boy stands ready to help you conquer your giants and to free you to the passionate life He created you to enjoy. Like David, you have a choice before you: You can remain paralyzed by your pain or problems, going nowhere; or you can face them, overcome them, and follow your passions.
6> Don’t give in to the giant of false humility
There are a few confused saints among us who have taken the notion that Christians should not desire success. Imagine David saying, “Oh, but God wants me to be humble, and I’d look so pompous challenging giants.” I suggest you read these words from Erwin Raphael McManus and take them to heart:
“It is important to note that ambition is not wrong. In fact, the Bible never speaks of ambition itself as negative. Ambition is a God-given motivation. One of the great tragedies among many followers of Christ is the loss in ambition after coming to faith. They have become convinced that any personal ambition is dishonouring to God. I have met some who have gone as far as to only do the opposite of what they desire because they were so persuaded that any passion to achieve had to be rejected and overcome. The simple reasoning is “it can’t be God’s will if I want to do it.” (Erwin Raphael McManus, Uprising — A Revolution of the Soul, page 38)
If you want to do it, and it’s something you know Good wants done, then ambition is just another gift God has given you for the task. Ambition can be a very important element of your passion. So, move forward and don’t be so critical of yourself. Move forward to the glory of God, and you’ll begin the see the giants fall in your life.

Muddy Waters

The Bible consistently reminds us to check our spiritual diet for toxins. Proverbs 25:26 says, “Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked.” How muddy is your water right now? Is your well – your inner life, your heart – polluted by all the cultural toxins seeping in? Maybe it is polluted by your thoughts, your actions, and your lifestyle. Or does your spiritual well draw on Living Water as its pure thirst-quenching source? Maybe you’re a Christian — you’ve been made righteous by Christ — yet you’ve become a muddied spring or a polluted well, and you don’t even know it.

You might believe, “My thoughts don’t matter. As long as they stay tucked away inside my head, they’re not hurting anyone. We all think about things that we’d never do, right?” All the while your negative thoughts are silently poisoning your soul, pouring lies into your spiritual water supply. Unfortunately, our thoughts don’t just stay in our head, disconnected from our words and our actions. Unhealthy thoughts often lead to unhealthy words. Without even knowing it, you might be talking yourself, and others, out of God’s best.

Or maybe it’s the people that you hang with regularly. You know they aren’t full-on for God, but no big deal. You don’t want them to think you’re some kind of religious freak or anything. So you keep doing whatever they do, going wherever they go. Though you believe one thing, you live a totally different way.

Maybe you’ve resigned yourself to certain struggles in your life — anger, lust, discontentment — as nothing more than your personal quirks. “It’s just the way I am,” you tell yourself, all the while your spiritual enemy laughs at the cancer you continue to feed in your soul. You continue to muddy the waters. 

Rather than experiencing the richness of a dynamic, intimate relationship with the righteous One, you put God in a little box that you can check off your to-do list each week. By settling for rules and religion and feeling pretty good about how much you’re doing for the church and those less fortunate, you become blinded to legalism and self-righteousness. Your water becomes muddy

It’s time to come clean.

If you’re tired of the stain of sinful habits discolouring your life; if you long to breath the fresh, clean, life-giving air of God’s holiness; if you would love to detoxify your soul from guilt, fear, regret, and all the impurities that pollute your relationship with God; then it is time to come clean. You’ve been breathing smoke-polluted thoughts, life-draining words, and sin-filled actions without realizing the toll they are taking on your relationship with God. Deep down, you know there’s a truer way to live, a deeper, purer way to love, and a larger impact to make on the world around you. It’s time to open your eyes, your heart, and your mind to the cleansing power of God’s truth.

His Word is filled with stories of men and women who needed to come clean, who longed for more. One of my favourites is David, who’s described as “a man after God’s own heart” but, as you may know, was far from perfect. Shortly after he committed adultery and murder, David experienced a soul sickness that affected him on every level – physical, emotional, and spiritual. He knew his sins of lust, entitlement, and deception were killing his heart. He was drinking from “muddied waters” of his own making. He knew the only way to be restored and experience a joyful, fulfilling life again was to come clean before God. In his prayer of repentance, he wrote, 

“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

and cleanse me from my sin!

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:2, 7, 10, 12)

You can pray the same prayer. As you do so from your heart and not just your head, God will bring healing and deliverance so that the muddied waters become fresh, life-giving, life-producing waters. He will renew your relationship with Him. And, you will experience a deep peace and contentment as He floods your heart with His love and sets your focus on Him and His Kingdom. 

Pick a Verse, Any Verse!

I have recently run into several situations where solid, mature believers and disciples of Jesus have suggested I claim a verse. 

In one situation it was for the deliverance and salvation of a young man I relate to in another city and whom I have connected to an apostle there that I know. He is receiving personal, loving care from someone who knows who he is and what he is doing. And, the local church I belong to is simply called to pray. However, someone believed that we needed to pray over a clothe and mail it to him so he would be free. You know, like Paul did once in the book of Acts.

The second situation was for a personal healing I was seeking. They “commanded” that I simply claim the verse in Peter’s writings where he declared that by His stripes we were healed (quoting from Isaiah the prophet where it states that by His stripes we will be healed.) As if I am not walking in faith and don’t believe God’s Word and what Jesus accomplished on the Cross for each of us who believe.

I appreciated the heart and the motive and intent of both of these people. They were suggesting what they believed would help because they care deeply and love to see Jesus touch people physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But there is one simple flaw in their suggestions.

You cannot randomly select a verse out of context and claim it for yourself or for someone else. Pick a verse, any verse” simply is not biblical.And life and faith simply just don’t work that way. This is part of the heresy called The Prosperity Gospel fondly known as “Name it and claim it” or “Blab it and grab it.” As if you get to choose what you are claiming and by speaking it bring it to pass in your life. Does not work. Is not biblical. And, this teaching destroys people and churches worldwide. Not to mention making born again believers look like they are out of their minds and thus not a good witness to others who don’t know Jesus. 

So, just because Joshua marched around the city of Jericho for seven days and seven times the last day does not mean we should be marching around our city. God told Joshua to do that. A specific series of actions in a particular place and time. And in obedience it worked. God did not tell anyone else to do this. Jesus never did this. And, we can’t just pick it up out of context and apply our faith towards it. Doesn’t work that way.

Paul was directed to pray over some handkerchiefs and sent them to people who were sick and unable to be with him in his teaching times. Peter never did this. Timothy, a disciple of Paul and a spiritual son, did not try this. Jesus was never involved in this “mail order” healing ministry. We cannot simply pull it out of context and  think it is going to work. He didn’t tell us to do it. And, in the case I mentioned above – much better to have someone in person pray for them, care for them, and love them. 

Listen to offerings being taken and they tell you that if you give it will be returned to you 30 – 60 – 100 fold. And, your cup will run over. You will prosper and have more than enough. The verses they use for this false teaching are about “love.” Not money, not your tithe, not an offering… You can’t lift the verses out of context (the surrounding verses, the chapter, the book, the Bible) and simply apply it wherever you wish. Well, actually you can do that but it would be outside of the Gospel of the Kingdom and cause you to fall into heresy. 

In the midst of the global pandemic we have believers not taking precautions like wearing a mask, washing hands, and maintaining social distancing. They often quote “no weapon formed against them (deadly thing) shall harm them.” Again, a verse out of context. A total misuse of the verse.

There are many other examples I could share of “Pick a Verse, Any Verse” but you get the point. And, not to insult anyone, but really God would like us to use our common sense when it comes to living life in our fallen world. Common sense that He gave to us. Common sense which, when applied, would prevent this misuse of Scripture and help us to be better examples of what it means to be a disciple and true born again believer. 

The Lord Said! Really?

As I work with believers I often hear them say “the Lord told me…” or “I heard the Lord say…” followed by some nice thing that He is promising. Something He plans to do for them. An adventure that He is sending them on. A vacation. A blessing. A financial breakthrough. A calling. A ministry. The list is endless.

And, they are so sure that they have heard the Lord speak to them that they begin immediately to make decisions based on what they believe they have been told. And some of these decisions are fairly life-changing affecting family and friends. 

However, often what they believe they have heard simply justifies their existing lifestyle or the sin they are living in. Thus they don’t have to change and believe they are in the Lord’s will and thus He is blessing their current situation or circumstance and the decision they have made.

They don’t test what they are hearing to the Word of God, the Bible. They don’t seek the wisdom of more mature believers with whom they fellowship. They don’t take into account the timing of what they think they have heard. And, they don’t question that what they heard might not even be the voice of the Lord for them – but more their own desires and emotions. 

I have found over my 50+ years of walking with Jesus and listening to what people think that He has spoken to them that 90% or more of what they hear is simply their own emotions, desires, and dreams. It is their soul speaking to them and not the voice of the Holy Spirit living in their spirit. 

If God is truly speaking to us then, again by experience, I have discovered a number of things…

      • What He is saying will stretch you and make you somewhat uncomfortable and is usually life-altering.
      • Whatever He is asking you to do will be greater than what you are able to do on your own. You will need to join with others and work as a team.
      • You will need to go through a season of learning and growing; developing new skills and understanding.
      • What He is calling you to is most often not something you would desire in the natural.
      • It will cost you something. It comes with a price. You will be taking up your cross.
      • It will challenge what you know and cause you to grow spiritually before it begins to come to pass.
      • You will need to build new relationships with people who can help you to achieve what the Lord has spoken – someone to disciple you, mentor you, and walk with you in this stage of your journey. This will require you to submit your life to others and be accountable.
      • There will be many tests and trials along the way which you will need to go through so as to grow into the calling and be strong in your faith. Joseph, in the Old Testament, went through ten different tests before reaching the fulfillment of what the Lord said to him. (See “The Ten Tests” article in the resources section of ralphhoweminsitries.com)  
      • It will involve hard work and a good length of time to see what the Lord has said come to pass. 

So, my observation is that what most people think “the Lord said” is not Him at all. And, because people are fairly vocal about what they think the Lord said to them the world gets the impression that believers are unbalanced and not to be taken seriously. 

We need to be really careful with “The Lord said…” and make sure that He really did!

 

A Slower Walk

We are well into the fall season and stores are beginning to put out Christmas decorations and signage … fighting for space with the large Halloween displays that are up in most stores. Interesting to see them side-by-side in some of the larger stores. Not an ideal time to mention slowing life down and living life at a slower pace. 

We are so use to living life in the fast lane that we fail to read the Gospel stories of Jesus, His life and ministry, in the context of the first century. We fail to see all the in-between times when Jesus and His followers were walking from one town to another. When the record states, “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee (John 1:43), we project our own pace upon it, not realizing that it took the disciples three days by foot to get there. 

Three days just strolling along, talking, or sharing the silent beauty; the pauses for lunch or a drink from the well; the campfires in the evenings. Even as I write this, it sounds luxurious. Christ does not move immediately from one dramatic story to another; there was down time, transition time between these demands. Time to process what had happened (these are the moments you see the disciples asking questions; “what did you mean by…?”). Time to catch their breath before the next encounter.

That was the pace Jesus felt was reasonable for people engaged in important things and wanting a life with God. Time we would categorize almost as vacation time, for those are the only periods we allow ourselves a stroll, a lingering lunch, a campfire conversation. We highly progressive moderns try to keep up without any of these intervals and transitions. 

The things that we require of ourselves — we go from a tender conversation with our eight-year-old anxious about going to school to an angry phone call with our insurance company as we drive to work, followed by a quick chat with our sister ending a decision about our aging parents’ “memory care unit.” Then it’s straight into a series of business meetings (during which we multitask by trying to bang out some email), firing an employee, interviewing another, making dinner reservations for our spouse’s birthday, fitting in a conversation with our boss because we can’t say no, and showing up late and haggard for dinner.

And we wonder why we have a hard time finding God, receiving more of Him, feeling like we’re overflowing with life.

The EMS technician, who leaves the scene of a terrible accident, races to get to his Bible study group, but wonders afterward why he couldn’t find God there. The school teacher, who come home exhausted from a day herding a riotous classroom, tries to be present to her own child, but can’t seem to find the right gear to do so. The modern pastor, who needs to be a real estate expert on one meeting, a brilliant trauma counsellor in the next, and a caring friend over lunch, only to shift gears into the role of savvy corporate CEO for the meeting that follows.

We are forcing our souls through multiple gear-changes each day, each hour, and after years of this we wonder why we aren’t even sure what to say when a friend genuinely inquires, “How are you?” We don’t really know; we aren’t sure what we feel anymore. We live at one speed: go. All the subtleties of human experience have been forced into one state of being.

Mercy. No soul was meant to live like this. 

What sort of madness have we come to accept as normal when just taking a minute to reflect and rest feels like a luxury? We need time to process as we move from one event to another, one demand to the next. We need time to transition between what we are doing now and what is next being demanded of us. Not a long time – just a brief moment or two. A few minutes to process what you have just been involved in and to prepare for what you are about to focus on. A brief pause that you take to process and reflect; to sense and to learn. And, no one is going to offer this “pause.” It is up to each of us to learn how to slow things down a bit allowing us the needed time to pause and ponder and to sense God in al that we are involved in. To walk at a slower pace allowing us to live life as God intended.