A Darker Shade of Hope – Part 2


Bethlehem, Church of the NativityRomans 5:2b-5, “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

It is suffering lived in dependent trust that produces holy perseverance in us. We learn to live more stable and secure lives by rooting ourselves more deeply in God. And this perseverance lived as a “long obedience in the same direction” (a phrase taken by Eugene Peterson from Friedrich Nietzsche) establishes godly character. It is out of this established character of loving dependence on God Himself that we find hope in the midst of and as a fruit of the suffering-perseverance-character process.

Of course I do rejoice in the future hope of sharing in God’s glory—becoming more and more completely like Him. This is thrilling and exciting. But that sharing in His glory does not happen in some automatic or instant fashion. Being transformed into the likeness of His glory involves a process of seeing my character shaped by Him. His most effective tools are the places of pain, of hardship, of suffering that I face along the way.

God loves me overwhelmingly in the midst of this process. Hope that doesn’t disappoint is hope that has learned to entrust itself and the outcomes into the loving hands of the Father. I have already seen the other side of a few difficult places of my journey. My response has not been to say, “Well, that was sure disappointing. What a waste of time! How meaningless that was!” Thanks, Father, that You are at work in me like this.

So, I’m saying that I believe suffering produces joy indirectly. I experience joy in the midst of my hardships and sufferings because I know, whether by unseen faith or by reflecting back over my journey so far, that God is causing me to grow in endurance and in solid character.

Thank You, Father, for this text. Enable me to see the joy in the midst of painful crises and the long, monotonous places I walk through. Enable me to know what to embrace and what to reject. Help me to see You in the midst of all of it. Amen.

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A Darker Shade of Hope (Part 1)


Bethlehem, Church of the NativityRomans 5:2b-5, “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Paul mentions two reasons for rejoicing—both rooted in hope. Hope is seen from two perspectives. There is a hope at the end of our journey, but also the hope we discover along the way.

There is a joyful hope that comes as we envision a confident future. The very idea that we will come to share in God’s magnificence and grandeur in a more obvious and visible way brightens my perspective. 

But Paul also speaks of rejoicing in our sufferings. This isn’t a joy I identify with quite as quickly. Paul says “not only so” in verse 3. Rejoicing in sufferings does not come naturally. I have to learn to connect joy and hope in the midst of sufferings. My usual reaction to suffering is usually less noble…something like “ouch!” and “stop it!” I’m still learning to look through the hurt to the hope that lies ahead.

So, Paul’s words about rejoicing are two perspectives of the same reality. The joy we find in the hope of God’s glory is an anticipated perspective from the end looking back. We rejoice in who we hope to become by the grace of God. The joy we can find in suffering is the recognition that the trying and testing places in our journey are producing in us that which we most deeply and truly desire. We rejoice in God’s faithful shaping of our lives, even through painful means.

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Reliable Constants of Life in Jesus


Morning walk on our first morning in Singapore last week.

Morning walk on our first morning in Singapore last week.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

These simple pieces of counsel are an invitation to a steady and faithful way of life in Christ. This is how God wants us to live in Christ. Choose joy. Live in continual communion with God. See and affirm grace in every circumstance. This invitation inspires me. I feel hungry and thirsty for a life of deep joy, loving communion and faithful gratitude.

When it comes to the invitation to “rejoice always,” I find a complaint rise up from somewhere within me. I don’t think it’s an especially holy place. “But I don’t feel any joy. I feel depressed. I feel weary. I feel downcast (in the language of so many psalms).” The answer that arises in me comes from what feels like a better place, “Don’t measure or base your life on surface feelings. Those feelings are what they are. Joy comes from a deeper and more real place that has roots in eternal reality. You have more reason to be joyful than you can possibly imagine. A glimpse of the glories of God’s very presence would overflow your heart with a joy you couldn’t possibly contain.”

I also think of what my friend, Jon Byron, once said about worship. He calls it a “stimulated response” to God. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Worship is a response to a vision of–an encounter with–glory. Isaiah has a vision of the Lord’s glory and is overcome with holy fear and profound awe. Then, he worships God. Perhaps rejoicing, prayer and gratitude are also stimulated responses. Father, I welcome Your Spirit to open my eyes to see what I’m too often missing, to open my ears to hear words of love, grace and power, to open my heart to receive and express vital life. Thank You.

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The Fiery Power of Redeemed Passion


“From beyond all place and time, out of the very Place, authority will be given you: the strengths that once opposed your will shall be obedient fire in your blood and heavenly thunder in your voice. Overcome us that, so overcome, we may be ourselves: we desire the beginning of your reign as we desire dawn and dew, wetness at the birth of light.” (C.S. Lewis. The Great Divorce. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1946, p. 104.)

God intends to redeem and harness the powerful passions in me for His kingdom purposes. Often though, the powerful creative urge in me has been bent so that I am tempted to misdirect and misuse it.

How do I respond to this bent? Sometimes I deny those passions. Perhaps I pretend they aren’t there. But like any unacknowledged source of pressure, it will eventually find a way out. And having come from places of hiding, it won’t likely be good. At other times, I may follow the bent direction of these passions, injuring myself and others.

These two responses are both false. The faithful response is to welcome God’s healing, redeeming work so that “the strengths that once opposed your will shall be obedient fire in your blood and heavenly thunder in your voice.” I long for my life and my work to be moved by the fiery power of redeemed passion.

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(Repost from June 2009)

Uncontainable Joy


Looking down at the Jezreel Valley from the monastery on Mt. Carmel

Psalm 28:7-9 NIV

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him.
The Lord is the strength of his people,
a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
Save your people and bless your inheritance;
be their shepherd and carry them forever.

“The Lord is.” David doesn’t say, “I wish the Lord was,” or “The Lord should be,” or “I’m not sure if the Lord is.” The Lord is David’s strength and shield. And the Lord is my strength and shield as well. I am made strong and protected by the Lord with me. I’m not exposed. I’m not helpless. He’s reliable, and I can easily trust Him.

I read “my heart leaps for joy.” I am hungry for that kind of energizing, overwhelming joy. There are moments when joy surfaces like this for me, but so many other moments of sadness, listlessness or trouble. “Father, I ask for the gift of Your Spirit causing joy to rise and strengthen within me until my heart seems to skip a beat in celebration of Your goodness and greatness.”

Finally, I’m drawn to “be my shepherd and carry me forever.” I am one of Your people. I need Your guidance. I need You to uphold me. I need to stop assuming I’m on my own in all of this. Either You really will never leave or forsake me…or not. Either You are reliable…or not. There is no maybe here.

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The Fiery Power of Redeemed Passion


A home near La Cienega, Dominican Republic

“From beyond all place and time, out of the very Place, authority will be given you: the strengths that once opposed your will shall be obedient fire in your blood and heavenly thunder in your voice. Overcome us that, so overcome, we may be ourselves: we desire the beginning of your reign as we desire dawn and dew, wetness at the birth of light.” (C.S. Lewis. The Great Divorce. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1946, p. 104.)

God intends to redeem and harness the powerful passions in me for His kingdom purposes. Often though, the powerful creative urge in me has been bent so that I am tempted to misdirect and misuse it.

How do I respond to this bent? Sometimes I deny those passions. Perhaps I pretend they aren’t there. But like any unacknowledged source of pressure, it will eventually find a way out. And having come from places of hiding, it won’t likely be good. At other times, I may follow the bent direction of these passions, injuring myself and others.

These two responses are both false. The faithful response is to welcome God’s healing, redeeming work so that “the strengths that once opposed your will shall be obedient fire in your blood and heavenly thunder in your voice.” I long for my life and my work to be moved by the fiery power of redeemed passion.

(Repost from June 2009)

Psalm 43: The God of My Joy


Palm tree against an overcast sky in Manabao, Dominican Republic

Send out your light and your truth,
that they may lead me,*
and bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling;
That I may go to the altar of God,
to the God of my joy and gladness;*
and on the harp I will give thanks to you,
O God my God.
Psalm 43:3-4 (BCP)

“Send out.” I’m inviting God’s initiative. I want Him to enlighten my path and show me His way. I want Him to lead me to His dwelling place. I want my heart to find its way to being at home in Him. I want Him to bring me to the place where I might fully offer myself to the God of my joy and gladness.

What does it mean that He is the God of my joy and gladness? It could be that He is the One Who brings joy and gladness into my life. Perhaps He is the source of joy and gladness. Is there a connection between going to the altar and the God of joy and gladness I met there? Is joy a fruit of surrender?

I want to grow in honestly communicating what is in my heart, rather than letting truths get backlogged in my heart. When I let that happen, I find myself sluggish or even paralyzed. When I have honest conversations with God and with others, I often find myself feeling more buoyant. I want to speak real truth in the context of real love. Enable me, Father.

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Flourishing Like a Palm Tree


Psalm 92:12-13, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the LORD,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.”

What is it like to flourish like a palm tree? I see palm trees flourishing in the driest deserts as well as in the most tropical of climates. They seem to flourish under any condition. Do I flourish, whether conditions are oasis-like or desert-like? Am I able to flourish even if things get bone dry, like they are now?

Can I live a vital, joyful life when those realities seem little more than faded memory now? Can I choose peace in a place where my thoughts are often anxious and conflicting? Can I choose love when my motivation for loving others seems lost in a barren wasteland? Father, I really want to flourish like a palm tree. Even in the driest desert, palm trees look healthy and strong. They seem to have enough water, even if there is little to be seen.

Forgive me when I expect you to make my life always a rain forest! Teach me to abound in the midst of little. I get so attached to the blessings You send and start to believe that they are the source of my life. But only You provide me what I need. Give me patience and courage in the waiting, Father. I still need You. You are my highest good.

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Fully Following the Lord


Psalm 128:1 (BCP)
Happy are they all who fear the Lord, *
and who follow in his ways!

Following in the Lord’s ways is the “happy place” I’m looking for. It raises questions in my heart: “Am I following in the Lord’s ways, or am I walking my own way, thinking that it is for the Lord?” So many times I have only thought about the Lord’s whats, and given little thought to the Lord’s ways. I am interested in His teachings, His principles, His commands, but I don’t always pay attention to how Jesus lived. He lived in continual communion with the Father through the Spirit. He often withdrew to lonely places where He prayed (Luke 5:16). This is how He lived and ministered. (The Message version has, “As often as possible Jesus withdrew to out-of-the-way places for prayer.”) He came as a servant. He did not carry out His Father’s directions as a lord or king, but as a servant of all. These are His ways. Am I following in them?

For example, as I return to the description of Jesus and seek to apply it to myself, would someone else say of me, “Alan has often withdrawn to lonely places where he prayed.” Probably more easily now than 10 or 20 years ago. If I were to write that sentence as a reflection of my actual way over the years, how would it read?

  • Alan never withdraws to lonely places to pray.
  • Alan rarely withdraws to lonely places to pray.
  • Alan sometimes withdraws to lonely places to pray.
  • Alan occasionally withdraws to lonely places to pray.

Jesus’ way was often. As for how often Jesus withdrew like this, I don’t know. For me, often is taking a day a month away from people places to go instead to lonely places where God and I are alone together.

Am I walking in His way? It is a gift and a privilege. What would keep me from walking in His way?

  • A cultural pattern in which aloneness is seen as bad or antisocial?
  • A drivenness in ministry in which I believe that the more work I do, the more important I am to God?
  • Work time for God that has become more important to me than communion time with God?
  • Anxious worry about the many needs that surround me?
  • Fear about what God may say to me if I am alone with Him?

What God says to me will always be good news, even if it is hard news to hear in the moment. Fear is often the doorway I must walk through to enter into places of deeper joy, peace and life.

“Happy are they who follow in His ways.” Father, may You enable me to walk this joyful path. Amen.

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The Bouyancy of Trust


I found the following spiritual counsel in one of Friedrich von Hügel’s letters (Selected Letters, p. 194). It took me a couple of slow reads to let this sink in:

“…difficult or easy, [it is faith alone that], if and when you can win it (you have not got much of it yet), all your very faults and tumults, all your pains and disappointments, all your surprises and shocks, can and will contribute to build up a joy fathom-deep, substantial, buoying up a naturally melancholy, immensely sensitive, easily self-devouring, self-destructive, nature.”

It is the idea that gently staying in the place of faith, of trusting God, is where I will discover and grow in this deep, solid, uplifting joy to help my melancholy, overly-sensitive (at times), easily self-destructive nature. This is so descriptive of me. I keep forgetting that much of my anger at others tends to be a projection of my anger with myself, or at least unexpressed anger from the past.