One of the books I routinely recommend to people is the collected letters of Jack Miller. Last week reminded me why. In one letter, Jack offers some advice to his daughter and son-in-law, who are seeking to discern whether they should serve as missionaries to Ireland. After months of prayer, they still had no clear guidance. Here’s Jack’s advice:
“Perhaps my thoughts may not be all that helpful. You can sift through them to see if they have any worth. But when I find myself without guidance from God, one of the first things I check out is the question whether or not I want guidance from God. That is often the big issue for me. Put simply, why should God give me guidance when my mind is closed to some aspect of His will? I may have reservations in my heart about a path that I suspect He may want me to take. Or I may fear that He wants me to undertake a work that is beyond my capacity to handle. . . . Tied in with this can also be a fleshly love of comfort and honor, or the security of a life where it is clear that I have things somewhat under control. In other words, my attitude is: “Don’t disturb me, God. Don’t call me to walk on water or something else that is contrary to good sense.”
Reading those words, I thought to myself, “Is there any part of my life that is closed off to God? Am I opening myself up to God and saying to him, ‘Do with me as you please’?” If not, why not?
Dear friend, what about you?
I think God wants us to pray a prayer similar to the one Jack prays: “God, change me in the depth of my being! Fill me with your holy presence until Your will is my chief delight.”
If you’ve been at Crossroads in recent years, you have heard the name Peter Scazzero. His books The Emotionally Healthy Church, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality have helped the elders, Pastor Vinnie, and me think about the kind of disciples we want to be and form here at our church. One phrase that has entered my vocabulary since reading The Emotionally Healthy Church is “embracing the gift of limits.” It’s a freeing concept, but I know it’s something I need to come to terms with.
These thoughts surfaced recently as I read Ashley Hales’s book A Spacious Life: Trading Hustle and Hurry for the Goodness of Limits. Here’s a section that spoke to me:
We are invited to name our limits with God. We bring them to our unlimited God and ask that he would work in and through them. I practice thanking him for my local life (even as I struggle with wanderlust), for the ways that the limits of ministry have helped me love Jesus and his church even when I didn’t feel like it. My biggest growth point in parenting is realizing that though it has narrowed my “free” time, attention, and availability, it has also helped me grow in empathy, to practice asking for forgiveness, and it reminds me I cannot meet everyone’s needs. This is a gift.
A ”do more” life drains us of energy, compassion, mission, and peace. The magazines and self-help books tell us this is the good life, but the kingdom of God says otherwise. The kingdom of God is a net, a pearl of great price. It is yeast, a hidden treasure, small as a mustard seed. These are small, limited things created to do something: to feed, create beauty, to transform ordinary elements into what they are supposed to be. To get this spacious life in us, we start by reckoning with our own designed smallness and thanking God for it. Jesus embraces the small and dignifies it (20–21).
So here’s a question: What if our limits aren’t a hindrance to God, but serve as the avenue through which God wants to teach us to depend on him? And what if they are the means by which God advances his kingdom? As Hales points out, “If the gates of hell cannot prevail against God’s kingdom, our limits are not barriers that God cannot work through.”
Amen to that.
- Since Carl Trueman is one of my favorite writers, it’s no surprise that I like his article over at World Opinions, titled, “The Third Great Awakening?”
2. I liked the following section of Charles Spurgeon’s sermon, “Israel’s God and God’s Israel“:
“Christian, stand you to your God. Be it your life to live for Him that made you, to live in Him that bought you, to live with Him that chose you, to live like Him who lived and died for you. You shall find that such an object of life will satisfy all the powers and passions of your soul, for to this end your soul was formed and suited. You shall run in this race without weariness, and walk without fainting, and if you get the prize, it is one that shall not wither in your hand like the ivy wreath of Greece, or like the laurel crown of Rome, decay upon your brow, for you shall win a crown of life that fades not away.”
3. I “liked” Marilynne Robinson’s observation in The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought that cynicism pervades our current cultural moment. We assume the worst of everybody. (I put the word liked in quotes because it’s lamentable. But I want to share it here so that we repent quickly when we’re guilty of what Robinson describes.)
“When a good man or woman stumbles, we say, ‘I knew it all along,’ and when a bad one has a gracious moment, we sneer at the hypocrisy. It is as if there is nothing to mourn or to admire, only a hidden narrative now and then apparent through the false, surface narrative. And the hidden narrative, because it is ugly and sinister, is therefore true” (78).
- As is typical around here, I liked something Charles Spurgeon wrote. It comes from his evening devotional for March 8:
Sad hearts have peculiar skill in discovering the most disadvantageous point of view from which to gaze upon a trial; if there were only one swamp in the world, they would soon be up to their neck in it, and if there were only one lion in the desert they would hear it roar. About us all there is a tinge of this wretched folly, and we are apt, at times, like Jacob, to cry, ‘All these things are against me’ [Gen. 42:36]. Faith’s way of walking is to cast all care upon the Lord, and then to anticipate good results from the worst calamities.
2. I liked an article I re-read this week from Fergus Kerr, titled, “Tradition and Reason: Two Uses of Reason, Critical and Contemplative,” published in the International Journal of Systematic Theology 6:1 (January 2004): 37–49. In the essay, Kerr argues (convincingly in my view) that theology is an ascetical discipline. Why? Because it involves “the intellectual discipline of eradicating temptations to idolatry” (43). Then he writes:
“In this conception of theological reasoning, intellectual discipline cannot be separated from moral practices: both require an ascesis, a self-humbling, a conversion of self-centered to God-centeredness. Put another way, overcoming idolatry requires both intellectual and moral conversion” (43, emphasis mine).
Here is my main takeaway from the article: Contrary to what most people think, our innate ideas of God are not morally neutral. Consequently, as we engage with and contemplate the self-revealing God in Holy Scripture, our idolatries are exposed, which requires intellectual repentance, moral contrition, purgation, and self-displacement.
3. During my sermon preparation this week, I came across this brief sentence in Richard Phillips’s commentary on Hebrews:
“Sin advertises pleasure but delivers pain” (111).
Psalm 40 is a song of triumph and a cry of distress. God’s past deliverance (vv. 1–3) infuses David with hope for the future (vv. 11–12) and informs his present request: “O LORD, make haste to help me!” (v. 13).
At an unspecified point in David’s life, God extracted him from a “pit of destruction” (v. 2). This leads him to praise God. Verse 5 is the crescendo:
You have multiplied, O LORD my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
yet they are more than can be told.
Yet verses 11–15 indicate that David is waist-deep in a pit of destruction . . . again. Take note: God’s grace in David’s life didn’t make him impervious to attacks. So how did David persevere through these adversities?
The answer is found in verses 7–8:
Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart” (vv. 7–8).
In response to God’s deliverance, David offers himself to the Lord. He viewed his trial as a fresh opportunity to consecrate his life to God. We must do the same.
But there’s more going on here: The author of Hebrews places David’s words in the mouth of the greater David—Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:5–10). Unlike David, Jesus offered his life to his Father with sinless perfection.
He said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). For the rest of us (including David), there is always some reluctance to obey. Our motives are rarely, if ever, entirely pure. Not so with Jesus. He loved God’s law and found a deep and abiding joy in keeping it. Why? “[F]or the joy that was set before him he endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). The joy on the other side of the cross was the glory of God in the redemption of his people. That’s you and me.
Psalm 40 reminds us that God’s grace doesn’t make the hard things go away. Instead, God calls us to a life of trust-filled surrender and promises to deliver us from evil.* The death and resurrection of his Son prove it.
* The beautiful phrase “trust-filled surrender” comes from Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 105.