Giving Up Too Soon


The caves of Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were first found.

“One of the greatest tragedies of a divorce is that just when the pain of the clarifying process is most acute, when both unconsciously know that they must mutate or perish, the work is stopped and the partnership breaks off. Instead of the painful breaking through to the deeper level of understanding and responsibility for each other which may be within reach, they make their escape and have to start all over again if they enter marriage with another.” (Steere, Douglas. Work & Contemplation. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, p. 139).

To the tragedy of divorce, one could add so many others—lost faith, abandoned ministry or mission, left churches. If we don’t learn to stay with hard things for at least a while, we’ll never grow past a rather juvenile view of the world that must always feel good to me. “It isn’t meeting my needs” is usually a precursor to a restart that takes us back to the starting line. I wonder how many times I’ve given up on something, not realizing a finish line was just around the next corner.

Suffering can be a means of gaining clearer, simpler perspective. Breaking through to deeper places of faithfulness and fruitfulness rarely occurs without some hard digging into deeper soil. Starting over at a new church, ministry, marriage (or fill in the blank) is exactly that—starting back at the beginning. There is no long and challenging obedience in the same direction that takes us far. We end up doing little loops around the same familiar little territory and wonder why we haven’t made much progress over time.

For Reflection:

  • Where is one hard place in your life where you are tempted to call it quits and start over elsewhere? How might God be encouraging you to stay a little longer?

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Trusting God Even Though…


Recently read this good word by Philip Yancey:

“I have served in the ministry thirty years, almost thirty-one. I have come to understand that there are two kinds of faith. One says if and the other says though. One says: ‘If everything goes well, if my life is prosperous, if I’m happy, if no one I love dies, if I’m successful, then I’ll believe in God and say my prayers and go to the church and give what I can afford.’ The other says though: though the cause of evil prosper, though I sweat in Gethsemane, Though I must drink my cup at Calvary – nevertheless, precisely then, I will trust the Lord who made me.  So Job cries: ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust Him.’” (Yancey, Philip. Reaching for the Invisible God. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000, p. 52-53).

If is conditional faith. Though is unconditional faith. If carries its own agenda. Though submits to God’s agenda (a good one, by the way!). If trusts God based on favorable circumstances. Though trusts God Himself regardless of the circumstances.

What are some of the ifs that linger in my faith? If our finances are strong. If no one in our family has any physical illnesses or injuries. If my emotions are always up and never down.

Father, enable me to translate my ifs into thoughs. Teach me that You have always been, are now, and always will be reliable. Period. I don’t have to wait for circumstances to be what I prefer them to be.

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The War of Art


Came back across this helpful counsel on writing and resistance this morning in Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years:

“I read a book a couple of years ago by Steven Pressfield called The War of Art. The book is about writing, about the process of getting words onto an empty page. Pressfield said a writer has to sit down every day and write, regardless of how he feels. He said you can sit around and wait for inspiration to come, but you’ll never finish your book that way. ‘The muse honors the working stiff,’ Pressfield says. He also says that every creative person, and I think probably every other person, faces resistance when trying to create something good. He even says resistance, a kind of feeling that comes against you when you point toward a distant horizon, is a sure sign that you are supposed to do the thing in the first place. The harder the resistance, the more important the task must be, Pressfield believes.” (Donald Miller. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009, p. 15.)

For Reflection:

  • What creative work have you wanted to do your own life? Writing? Music? Landscaping? What? How might you take this counsel about simple, daily faithfulness to heart?

Buy a copy of A Million Miles… on Amazon.com

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What is the Christian Life?


I have often read and appreciated the insights of Thomas Merton. Below is a quotation from one of his letters in which he complains about some of the innovations in the monasteries that followed Vatican II:

“We have been through one thing after another here, worked on this and then on that, and then dropped all of it to start from scratch on something else. Many in the community have been soured against all of it by this continual whipping up of new enthusiasms over something that will be dropped in six months–for the next big enthusiasm….” (Thomas Merton. The School of Charity. Selected and edited by Brother Patrick Hart. New York: Farrar Strauss Giroux, 1990, p. 324.)

This “big enthusiasm” thing sounds very much like my experience of church at times. We get excited about some new movement for God (small group communities, evangelism, spiritual formation, spiritual direction, multi-site church designs, whatever). Maybe it’s the latest author, conference, or resource.

This is how I describe my ministry during the first few years of seminary. For me, the whole Christian life and ministry was, in one season, manuscript Bible study, then spiritual gifts and ministry, then intercessory prayer, then short-term missions, and so on.

Do we make the whole Christian life about some particular emphasis or program? These days, it is possible to make the whole Christian life about spiritual formation as a program (and not a way of life). This is subtle. How many will still be excited about spiritual formation two or three years from now?

I’m glad for the focus, but it often seems to be more on the practices and insights of spiritual formation, rather than on the One Who forms (and transforms) us. There are many “God things” that become a distraction to us from God Himself.

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A Good Word: The Hard Habit of Regular Prayer


“[The] habit [of a life of regular private prayer] is built not in talking about prayer, nor reading pamphlets and books about it, nor hearing lectures about it, but by appearing day after day at the appointed place, at the appointed time, and staying put as we pour out our hearts and as we hold them cupped and open for His direction. Any man who is past the romantic honeymoon stage in the life of prayer and has settled in for the long pull, knows how profoundly the very practice of this exercise itself differs from the high and luminous moment when in worship he may one day have felt how gloriously glad he would be to have time to spare for God. He knows that he has been beaten down and has stopped his prayers completely a hundred times and more. He knows how often he has drowsed his prayers, day dreamed them, roted them, or even hated them with, an intensity that might almost have tipped him off that he was wrestling with demonic forces.” (Steere, Douglas. Work & Contemplation. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, p. 135).

Buy a copy of Work & Contemplation on Amazon.com

 

Classic Prayers: Augustine for Perseverence


A prayer of Augustine of Hippo (354-430) for perseverance (lightly edited):

“I know, O Lord, and do with all humility acknowledge myself an object altogether unworthy of Your love; but sure I am, You are an object altogether worthy of mine. I am not good enough to serve You, but You have a right to the best service I can offer. May You impart to me some of that excellence, and that shall supply my own want of worth. Help me to cease from sin according to Your will, that I may be capable of doing You service according to my duty. Enable me so to guard and govern myself, so to begin and finish my course, that, when the race of life is run, I may sleep in peace, and rest in You. Be with me unto the end, that my sleep may be rest indeed, my rest perfect security, and that security a blessed eternity. Amen.”

The War of Art


Came back across this helpful counsel on writing and resistance this morning in Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years:

“I read a book a couple of years ago by Steven Pressfield called The War of Art. The book is about writing, about the process of getting words onto an empty page. Pressfield said a writer has to sit down every day and write, regardless of how he feels. He said you can sit around and wait for inspiration to come, but you’ll never finish your book that way. ‘The muse honors the working stiff,’ Pressfield says. He also says that every creative person, and I think probably every other person, faces resistance when trying to create something good. He even says resistance, a kind of feeling that comes against you when you point toward a distant horizon, is a sure sign that you are supposed to do the thing in the first place. The harder the resistance, the more important the task must be, Pressfield believes.” (Donald Miller. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009, p. 15.)

For Reflection:

  • What creative work have you wanted to do your own life? Writing? Music? Landscaping? What? How might you take this counsel about simple, daily faithfulness to heart?

Buy a copy of A Million Miles… on Amazon.com

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