Category: Friend to Jesus

Nov
26
2013

The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Exodus 33:11

I want to be like water. I want to slip through fingers, but hold up a ship. Michelle Williams

photoI have a picture in my office at home that might be the one thing that I own that I treasure the most. It is a picture taken in 1972 of me and my grandfather. He and I are sitting snuggled tight in his favorite chair. He is wearing a plaid, blue and white checkered short-sleeve shirt; he has on his Saturday khakis that he would wear while working in his enormous garden; and he is sporting some glasses that kids today would say are hipster and cool. I am wearing some blue shorts, an orange shirt, and the biggest smile a five year old could have. Why is this picture so important to me? It is the perfect image of who Jesus is to me today — me sitting in his lap.

My grandfather was easily the most important person to me when I was growing up. I could argue that there has not been a deeper influence on me in all of my life. Let me share a little back ground. The year that picture was taken is when my biological dad left my mom and I. One day, he just picked up and left and never turned back. I don’t really have any memories of my dad in those years and it wasn’t until I was nineteen that I went and searched him out and finally met him. At that moment in time, when I was just five years old, it seemed as if I was left fatherless. How untrue that really was.

When my dad packed his bags and left, it left my mom in a serious bind—she was now a single mom, she only had a part-time job and a mortgage to pay. We were always close to my grandparents and so the most sensible thing to do was to move in with them. We moved just a couple of miles away and for two years we lived with my grandparents in their small two bedroom home with its one bathroom. I think at best its size would be about 750 square feet—in today’s standards, it would be considered a small apartment. For the entirety of their fifty-five year marriage, my grandparents lived and died there. Though it was small, it was the perfect home.

As you can imagine, with this sort of background, my grandparents had a humble and simple life. To this day, I am so grateful for that heritage. My grandfather worked for over forty years at the local Roper plant making refrigerators and stoves. My grandmother worked as well—second-shift at a factory that she also gave forty years of her life. I have vivid memories in that fifth year of mine, when my mom and I lived with my Grandma and Grandpa Stutz. Every week night my grandfather and I at ten o’clock at night would drive and pick up my grandmother from work, because she never learned how to drive. When we would awake the next morning, I can remember an early breakfast being made by my grandmother’s hand—always an egg, two strips of bacon, a piece of toast and some sweet orange juice from the carton. And most importantly, I remember my grandfather, a solid place to stand in a time of confusion and tumult.

My grandfather was a simple, but an extraordinary man. He served on the board of his church for many years. He was an extremely devoted family man, where even to this day, not just I, but most of my cousins would also tell you that he was one of the most important persons also in their lives. And he had two vices—he loved the Chicago Cubs and he enjoyed wearing nice clothes. My grandfather was the sharpest dressed man at his church, and you would have never guessed that during the work week he was getting his hands greasy and grimy working under a factory roof. He bought some of the finest suits, fedoras and ties, and he taught me early on that “it’s the clothes that make the man.” And he loved the Cubs—a “gift” he gave to me which to this day I will never forgive him because they are always losing. On many occasions, I remember driving up to Wrigley Field, both just he and I, or with some senior group, and we would sit in Wrigley Field and watch the Cubs lose another baseball game. Here is a fitting antidote—I think in all of the games I personally went to—the Cubs won only one game…

As I have alluded to, my grandfather was one of the hardest working people I have ever known, but beyond that, he was a good man. I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. He was always honest, even to the point that on one occasion I remember him returning to the bank teller because she gave him an extra five dollar bill. He was an ever-faithful and loving husband. That was what my grandfather was to me—he was solid, like a branch of a tree that you could hang onto and know it would never break. Everyone should have a person like my grandfather in their life, because for me, in a way, he is a picture of what God must be like—generous, kind, caring, wise, faithful, sacrificing, humble—I could go on and on.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Jesus can be this person for us and we can have someone even more solid than what my grandfather was for me. When Jesus spoke about himself, he clearly emphasized that he desires a deep relationship with us, even to the point of calling it friendship (John 15:15). He wants to be a safe, secure place for us where we can learn more and more about him and where we can learn just as much about ourselves. In our relationship with God, we can ease our lives into His and become who we were meant to be. This is what he told us it would be like. We will look into his face, friend to friend, and it would be as natural as anything we have ever experienced.

But for any of this to begin, we need to seriously look at our lives. Are you caught in that believer stage of faith? Is God distant from you because it is you that has moved away from him? Could you care less about how you live life and you truly think that the choices that you make don’t matter? Have you grown up in the church, but never made a genuine commitment to God, making the claim that you were going to live for him and him only? Perhaps you are the type of person who at the end of the day, you live your life as if you don’t need God. Is that you—are you so self-sufficient that God is a nuisance in how you want to live? But with all of this, you also know that your life is not on track and that just around the corner a crisis of some kind could overtake you. Are you in a place in your life that when you look at yourself in the mirror, you realize that your whole life needs a significant overhaul?

For others, perhaps you grew up in the church, but this thing about friendship with God is entirely foreign to you. Does everything have to be perfect and in its right place in your life, but in living this way, you never seem to add up to this standard? Have you when you look back over the years, you have served in many different ways, but almost always out of obligation and not because you really wanted to? And there is something else—deep down, something is missing, and also something is hidden in you that is dark and secret. Instead of being in friendship with God, you really have become just a religious person. Yes, you can speak eloquently about grace or forgiveness, but to know this deep down in your soul, you’ve never really experienced that (and somehow, someway you would really like to). Perhaps a common theme for your life is control—to control your relationships, your marriage, your kids, even your relationship with God.  If this is you, Jesus is waiting for you—grab his hand and learn how to become his friend.

There are many shapes and sizes to being a Christian. But with this, we need to make our days count and attempt to develop our relationship with the One who created us. The choice is ours—whether it is living indifferently or ungraciously toward the seriousness of our lives. Life is short and we need to make the most of it, especially as it relates to becoming a friend to God. In our kitchen for about sixteen years has hung a picture that quotes a Psalm: it says this:

 Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

We need to count our days and the wisest thing we can ever do is move into a friendship with Jesus. For the person who keeps God at a distance in whatever way they do, they miss out on so much. Remember, he wants all of our lives, not just the edges or the crumbs of our lives. Some years ago, I came across the beautiful epitaph that the poet Gregory Corso wrote for himself. It lies etched on his gravestone in Rome. It simply reads:

                                          Spirit                               

            is Life

            It flows thru

            the death of me

            endlessly

            like a river

            unafraid

            of becoming

            the sea

On some level, we are all afraid to come to God. No different than Adam and Eve after they had wronged the One who had created them, each of us looks for all kinds of ways to run and hide. But in every situation in our lives, he is right there trying to find where we are hiding. For each and every person, no matter where they are, where they come from or what kind of lives they lead, he is waiting for each of us to courageously pursue him. Each and every day, he is speaking to us in a singular way. Just as he wishes to be sought after, he will pursue us in creative ways—we just need to have our eyes open to his coming. Just like that river in Corso’s epitaph, we have to decide to be unafraid of moving into the sea. To be unafraid of the most daunting thing we will ever do—to learn how to be friends with God, to truly be in relationship with him. When we do this, when we make that decision—we will then be able to swim out to him into the waves that at first we thought would overtake us. But here was the reality of the situation—we didn’t need to swim at all. We could actually walk on the waves, because he already had showed us how. In the end, we learned how to take his hand, and we learned how to look him squarely in the face gaining a confidence we never had before. We were unafraid of what might happen when we took that first step—we were unafraid of the waters that now we could walk on with ease.


In: Friend to Jesus
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Nov
13
2013

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us. Saint Augustine

But to truly to be in relationship with God, what I have learned in walking this path with many in my practice as a counselor, my work as a pastor, and in my own life, is that your relationship to him needs to change in a unique and specific way. Let me describe what I mean by this. Within psychology, there is a theory called Transactional Analysis and it attempts to explain how we can experience relationships in a mature way. The psychologist Eric Berne in the 1960’s created this theory in which he hypothesized that we use “roles” in adulthood with the different types of relationships we have, be that with our parents, our spouse, our kids, our boss—with anyone who is in our life. The theory uses the analogy of the relationship between a parent and the child. Typically, according to Transactional Analysis, there are three different personalities or roles (Berne called them ego-states) that we use throughout life in the relationships we have:

  • The Parent: the role in which you will mimic how a typical parental figure behaves (e.g., instructing, talking down to the other person, always trying to control the situation, disciplining for bad behaviors, dominating the relationship, etc.)
  • The Child: the role in which you will regress to a place in which you behave and feel as a typical child might (e.g., allowing yourself to be talked down to, often being fearful or feeling inadequate around another person, letting yourself be controlled by the other person, rarely voicing your real opinion to the other person, etc.)
  • The Adult: the role in which you are “yourself”—you offer your own opinion freely; you are able to enter into conflict and disagree with the other person; you are authentic in how you are around the person; you are confident in yourself in all circumstances.

To try to make sense of all of that is above, the premise simply refers to how we act in the relationships around us—whether it is with your spouse or someone you work with—do you act like a parent, a child or do you act in a healthy way, like an adult. A real-life example of this is when I met with an attorney as a client a while back. He was a well-known defense attorney who was highly sought after and accomplished in his work. However, one of the issues that came out in counseling is that if he was ever around his dad, he would inevitably act like the thirteen year old boy he used to be. In part, his father dominated him, but in the same degree, he would also allow the relationship to continue in this unhealthy way. When he was with his dad, he would always play the part of a child who always needs help or was never quite sure of himself. Whenever he was around his dad, he was always walking on eggshells, never said what he really wanted to say, and could never really be himself. For him, his father was not a friend, and primarily that was because they didn’t have a real relationship where they could talk to one another about anything as adults. His dad had remained the parent and he continued to act like a child.

As a counselor, we encourage clients caught in these relationships to use the premise of Transactional Analysis and to act like an adult when confronted with these types of relationships and situations. We literally ask them to change the role they are playing in the relationship. In this case, when this client spent time with his dad, he needed to stay in the character of the lawyer who he was Monday to Friday and not the apprehensive teenage boy he was so many years earlier. Around his father, he needed to be sure of himself and speak what was really on his mind. Simply put, he needed to act like an adult when he was around his dad. Often, it can be the mere recognition of the role the person is playing (i.e., in this case, this man was staying in the role of the child) that people can begin to act differently in these relationships. Oftentimes, when one begins to act the part, the change can become permanent. There is no need to explore one’s past; no need for medications; no need of lengthy counseling. Relationships in our lives begin to change because we begin to change. It’s what the Bible classifies as repentance or to change one’s thinking and move in a different direction in your life. In the situation with this attorney, just after a couple of months, when he acted like himself around his father, his dad also responded in a healthy way and today they have a relationship that is growing closer. With this little change, this man and his father have a maturing friendship in which now they both can now be themselves.

This area is also one of the major catalysts in which our relationship with God can expand. When it applies to Transactional Analysis, ironically  for us to deepen our relationship with God we need to stop acting like a child around him. For some of us, we literally need to change our relationship with God and learn how to be ourselves around him. Yes, we are his “children,” but we can also have an adult relationship to him. God wants us to be authentic with him, and to have a relationship in which we can say anything to him. Let me give you another parallel. Right now both of my sons are in high school and a significant way that I relate to them is as a parent. Often, I tell them what to do; I control when they are to be home; I guide them if they stray. However, in just a few years, both of them will be adults and starting a new life on their own. When that occurs, how I relate to them will have to change. I will have to move out of the role of the parent and they will have to stop acting like children. Mutual trust will become a part of the relationship. They will take responsibility for their lives and begin to truly act like adults. A friendship will emerge between my sons and I, and our relationship will mature and expand. This is precisely what God wishes for us as our relationship with him as it grows and expands.

As the infamous 13th chapter of Corinthians states: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) When I’m counseling the people that I work with—this is where I press them to go with their relationship with God—to act like an adult with him. By far, it is the most important mark of faith. It is more important than the day you were wed; more important than the day when your children were born; even more important than that day you decided to believe in God for the first time. It is truly the day that you really wake up and understand not only who God is, but just as importantly, who you are. You truly begin to relate to him like never before. You become his friend. This is the beauty of how this relationship grows, not only do I change in my relationship to him, but now God changes in how he relates to me. As I become more sure of the relationship, as I learn how to have a voice in the relationship (one here can think of Abraham’s relationship to God that we find in Genesis 18), God unveils who he is in remarkable ways. As the 16th century saint, Teresa of Ávila penned, “The feeling remains that God is on the journey too.” That is the truth, God wants to journey with us as we deepen our relationship together—he desires to be Friend, Lord and Papa—all in the same breath.


In: Friend to Jesus
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Nov
06
2013

We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit. E.E. Cummings

What is like to be God’s child? At different points in the Scriptures, God tells us that he wants us to know him as Papa. At many different points, Jesus refers to God as “Abba,” which in our vernacular is the word we use for “papa.” It is a beautiful word, especially when one associates it with God. There maybe isn’t a better word in the English language one could use to create a picture of who he wants to be in our lives. When I think of a papa, I think of a generous father who is always looking after his children. I think of a father who is easy to be with and one with whom you can share anything. I think of a father who you can ride on his big shoulders as you swim in the ocean. I think of a father who instructs and guides you with a smile. This is one of the final steps in becoming God’s friend—to get to know him as a Papa, as a Father unlike any you have ever met.

When one goes to this place in their life, things change and life is transformed. It’s when you become okay in your own skin; humbly, you know that you are special; you look in the mirror and see a highly valued person. The Scriptures validate and insist that we are unique, sacred and tremendous creations made by his own hand and made in his image—made like him in so many ways.  You’ve read it before, you’ve heard it before, you are special, you are a child of God. You were made with a great purpose and able to do great and tremendous things.  You are a treasured person not just because God loves you as his first love, but also because who he made you to be—even with all of your oddities and intricacies.  This truth makes me think of a quote that Thomas Lynch made about “growing up”—there is a parallel in learning to grow up and become Jesus’ friend.

There is about midlife a kind of balance, equilibrium”—neither pushed by youth nor shoved by age: we float, momentarily released from the gravity of time. We see our history and future clearly. We sleep well, dream in all tenses, wake ready and able.

God is highly relational and he wants to be in a Father-son/Father-daughter relationship with you. In this sense, I like how C.S. Lewis wrote about God’s personality and nature. He saw that God, who is triune in nature, as someone who is “super-personal.” We can’t even imagine such a person. I like that phrase Lewis uses—“super-personal”—God is personal to an extreme. Actually, he is more than a person. Think about that one for awhile. I believe there can be a comfort and an excitement that one can find in such an understanding. One day we will all stand face-to-face to this ultimately personal Person. Better yet, we can know this super-personal Person even today. This is his main joy and pursuit he wants for our lives—for us to truly know him for who he is.


In: Friend to Jesus
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Sep
26
2013

 

Language fits over experience like a straight jacket. William Golding

But beyond learning how live in grace and truth, the other thing that some Christians have a really hard time doing is living with the grace of mystery. I remember one time my son and I were discussing dinosaurs to which he was speaking about some aspect of the issue very definitively. He demanded: “Dad, I’ve spent lots of time thinking about this and I think I’ve nailed it. I know I’m right!” While he may have thought about the issue a lot and perhaps he was right, I suggested to him that in some areas definitive thinking can also sometimes be wrong. As the infamous 13th Chapter of I Corinthians maintains, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” Those who have entered into a friendship with Jesus can live in the tension of looking through that darkened glass.

One can learn how to live a life where we don’t have all the answers.  A friend’s two year old drowns in their backyard pool—you don’t have to say a word. Silence is golden in times like these and when your friend asks that inevitable question, “Why did God allow this to happen?!” It is okay to just listen and sit with them in their pain. With some things that we experience in life, there are not always hard and fast answers. When a friend who is a remarkable and giving person, loses not one or two, but now three children to miscarriages, when she asks that same question, “Why does God allow this happen to me—doesn’t he understand how much I desperately want to be a mother and have a child of my own?!”—again, in these times, we see through a glass darkly.

In my own life, I have had to second-hand face these same types of questions. Julie’s parents were killed when she was just five years old. From what I’ve been told they were a wonderful couple—her dad a principal of a Christian school and her mom a devoted nurse and mother. But on a Friday evening while driving home to Michigan, a car veered into their lane and they were hit head on by an oncoming truck. Instantly, they were killed as Julie and her sister were left unharmed in the back seat. Instantly, life was dramatically changed forever for her as her mom and dad would no longer be able to be there for her. Some years ago, I was listening to a song and when I heard the lyrics I instantly thought of Julie and her loss.

I always knew you
In your mothers arms
I have called your name

And when you write a poem
I know the words
I know the sounds
Before you write it down
When you wear your clothes
I wear them too
I wear your shoes
And your jacket too

I always knew you
In your mothers arms

Rest in my arms
Sleep in my bed
There is a design
To what I did and said

Vito’s Ordination Song – Sufjan Stevens

When I listened to those words, “I always knew you in your mother’s arms” that was an image that Julie on many occasions painted for me of her own mother. We inherited from her grandmother the rocking chair that Julie and her mother would sit in when she was a little girl and this is the prominent memory she has of her mom. As the song ended the first time I heard it, the words haunted me as Sufjan Stevens uttered, “There is a design to what I did and said.” In an experience like Julie has lived out in losing a mother and father who loved her dearly, what was the purpose of them being killed on that Indiana highway? While there is a comfort in God saying to her that she can “rest in his arms;” there are still multitudes of questions that go unanswered. Julie, like you and I, live our lives by looking through a glass darkly.

Again, we don’t have to have all the answers to life’s questions. Life is complex, beyond our imagination and while God has a tremendous plan for our lives, each of us in some way or another will face tragedies and loss in some way. In doing so, we will face all kinds of questions that for now just do not have answers. As Albert Einstein said, “The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious.” Now that I am in my fourth decade, I have learned that life can sometimes be cruel and difficult at times. I have faced many challenges, in which I have cried out, God—why?! Why is there such extreme poverty? Why do children have to be hurt in some form or another? Why do people do such awful things? Why does my friend’s marriage have to fail? Why did that tornado have to sweep through that town and wipe everything and everyone out? Why is there disease and death? Why do I have to die? Why?!

A book like The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis can be helpful in trying to understand life’s complexities and challenges. I remember reading his infamous words that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” And this brought some form of answer, but not until I continued on and heard his words, “God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love.”—this was the real answer I sought. I am his first love and no matter what I face that will not change, and that will not alter his plan for my life and the life of my family—no matter what we have to face—good or bad.

SOME QUESTIONS TO PONDER

An important area of our lives that some of us need to grow is learning how to live in the place of mystery—the place where we don’t have to have all the answers. In what areas of your life, do you need to do this and learn to be okay with “looking through the glass darkly?” How in your life can you become a better listener to God and to others and not always have to have the final word? How can you “let God be God” and simply rest in that assurance?


In: Friend to Jesus
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Sep
17
2013

The heart is commonly reached, not through the reason, but through the imagination, by means of direct impressions, by the testimony of facts and events, by history, by description. John Henry Newman

But obviously, prayer is not just about getting what we want, and in fact, this is not even high on the list of why prayer is so crucial to our lives. At the end of the day, prayer is about fostering and growing a relationship with God. As friends to him, we have the opportunity to come into a close relationship with the One who loves us deeply. This is the central purpose of prayer—to get to know him better. Through talking, listening, responding and expecting, our relationship with God will have the ability to grow to uncharted depths. Have you ever met someone you just really like a whole lot? Someone that when you are in their presence, it is easy and fun and engaging? A person who is kind, reassuring, and listens well to your stories and concerns you share? This is who your Father is. This is the reason for prayer; to get to know this Person at his deepest levels.

Because this is one of God’s deepest drives, He wants to be known. He wants to speak. He wants to listen. And he wants to respond. If God has a desire, it is this—he deeply wants a relationship with us. This is the chief reason why he created us like himself—to be in relationship. Now, does he need to be in this relationship? If we reject this want of his, will he saunter away angry, depressed and lonely? Will he cripple under the weight of being rejected? Of course not. God is completely secure in himself and does not need a relationship with us, but in his self-giving and self-sharing nature, he wants to give himself away to anyone who would want to share in what he has to offer.
Timeline_Cover_doNotRename74

But how does one pray? How does one have a conversation with God? Of course, asking something of him is easy and straight-forward. “God, I want _____________.” But again, to have a conversation means one has to listen. How does one listen to God? The main way in which we can listen to God is through the Scriptures he gave us. But even here, the Bible is conclusive in declaring that “The Word became flesh.” (John 1:14) To listen to God on some level means that we need to engage him flesh and blood and hear the words he has to say to us personally. We want to genuinely hear his voice and while at this point in time, we cannot actually sit down and literally have a conversation with him, he still speaks. Somehow, someway, he does speak to us. Through the Holy Spirit, we can literally hear what he wants to share with us and he often does it in unique ways. In the Bible we have stories in which God spoke through a donkey, visions, an angel, even through a bush that had caught on fire. When desiring to speak with us, he will do anything to make sure that he gets his point across.

But how does one listen to God? Actually, listening to God is not complicated at all. In saying that, it does require some dedication and for you to section out time in your life to just sit and listen to him. There really isn’t a formula, but some simple guidelines would be as follows:

  • Set aside about thirty minutes each time you pray. Make sure you find a quiet place where you won’t be distracted. It sometimes can be good to find a favorite spot where you like to go (e.g., a favorite park, a comfy chair, outside on your deck, etc.)
  • To begin, take about ten minutes to read some Scripture. The Psalms or the Proverbs are a good place to start.
  • In terms of beginning to pray, ask for two things:
    • That the Lord would speak to you clearly.
    • That he would block out any voices from yourself or from any other demonic influence.
  • With a private journal that you use specially for this time of prayer, write down a question or two that would like to discuss with God. Now, wait and listen.
  • Without judging what you are writing, listen to your inner voice and begin writing down what you hear in your mind. You may be flooded with lots of words or just a few. Take about five to ten minutes to write what you are hearing the Holy Spirit say to you. During this time, some people like to use two pens of different color—with one, they use to write what their own thoughts are and with the other, what they believe God is saying to them.

In terms of deciding if what you heard was from God, here are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • Was what you wrote clear or just an impression of something?  Sometimes what we write is for the present moment of our lives or for a later time when we piece together things from our lives. This is why keeping a prayer journal is important—it is so that you can go back and read it. Recently I was reading through one of my journals and I was astonished at something I had written four years ago as it clearly spoke into my life at that moment.
  • With what you wrote is it scriptural?  Scripture is our authority and God does not contradict his Word. (Proverbs 30:5-6)
  • If it is an important decision that you must make, you should always speak with other Christians about what you heard God saying. Do these friends confirm what you heard God say? (Proverbs 20:18, Proverbs 15:22)

This is a rudimentary framework for attempting to listen to God. If you would like to delve deeper, I highly suggest you read the classic by Leanne Payne entitled Listening Prayer. It will be worth your time. Remember, God is very inventive and creative in how he speaks to us and will use unique ways to create a conversation with us. Once you begin listening purposely to his voice, he will often speak to you in other ways, especially through others, through dreams, and who knows, perhaps even in a vision like he did with Peter. In your desire to get to know him, he will continue to make himself available to you and reveal many different things to you. Be on the watch, because again, he deeply desires to be your friend and hear from you and speak to you in evident and astonishing ways.

 


In: Friend to Jesus
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Sep
10
2013

But beyond this, Jesus also shares with us another important element of prayer—it is so that he can provide for us. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7) Not that we will move to a health and wealth gospel, but it is right there in black and white and in plain English—God wants us to have what we wish and what we need. Now, will he always give us what we want? Absolutely not. But he will give us more than what most ask for. What I have found is that most people don’t “ask” as Jesus commanded. They live meek and mildly and don’t think they are deserving of what God truly wants to give them.

What might be some of the things that the Father might want to give us? How about:

  • A restored life for a friend who has had a string of broken life-situations in their lives.
  • Our material needs where we are not always living paycheck to paycheck and can actually have enough money to get the things we need, and some of the things we want.
  • A thriving and intimate marriage that lasts beyond fifty decades.
  • An inviting home where many enter its doors and find safety, joy and rest.
  • Children who follow God in their own lives and have a future.
  • The end of a temptation which has followed us for years.
  • A long-lasting friendship in which we can be ourselves and share our joys and secrets.
  • Even something as non-consequential as when you are looking for a parking spot in a busy downtown.

Let me light-heartedly explain that last one. Ever since I met Julie, I’ve always done something which she has always thought was weird, but at the same time, she has been amazed by. What is it?  I sometimes pray for parking spots. Some may find it disrespectful or flippant with my prayer life, but in almost every case, God answers my prayers evoking his words of “asking.” Just a month ago we were in Washington D.C. and had to park downtown. Looking out at the streets, there was no way we were going to find a spot. It was a Saturday. It was 1pm and the busiest time of the day. And it was in the heart of where everything was. True to form, after looking for a spot for fifteen minutes, I simply asked, Lord, I need a parking spot. I kid you not, thirty seconds later as we neared our destination, right across the street from the National Gallery of Art sitting there was one open spot. It is true, God wishes to invade every aspect of our lives—even when it requires the need for having a spot to park your car in a crowded downtown!

At the end of day, God wants us to ask. As Robert Hamil wrote “God is not a power or principle or law, but he is a living, creating, communicating person—a mind who thinks, a heart who feels, a will who acts, whose best name is Father.” No different than me as a father to my sons, I want to give them good things and this is how the Father relates to me. As another example of this from our family, I have another good illustration.  When it comes to our two sons, they each have unique, but different personalities. As a case in point, one of my sons is always asking for stuff from me. Hey dad, will you buy _______________ for me? Hey dad, can we go to the library? Hey dad, want to watch a movie with me? Even when I am not in the mood to watch a movie, I usually consent and do what he asks. On the other hand, my other son rarely asks anything of me—he is very unselfish, almost to a fault. Even though I love both of my son’s equally and dearly, my son who is always asking me for things, probably over the long run “gets” more from me than my other son, simply because he asks for more. Now granted, my other son is not left without any clothes on his back or doesn’t get anything at all, but if he were to ask more from me, I would treat him no different than his brother. If it was good and appropriate, I would in most cases give him what he asks for.

If I apply this same concept to my life, this is how it works with our Father as well. Jesus made his teaching very clear, Those who ask, get. As Matt Redman wrote in one of his worship songs, “Nothing is too much to ask now that I have said I am yours.” So God asks you at this moment, What do you want from me? And don’t make it just one thing. Ask away and see what he does and what he gives. As the great missionary Hudson Taylor penned:

The prayer power has never been tried to its full capacity. If we want to see mighty works of Divine power and grace wrought in the place of weakness, failure and disappointment, let us answer God’s standing challenge, ‘Call to me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’


In: Friend to Jesus
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Sep
05
2013

Devotion is not a passing emotion: it is a fixed, enduring habit of mind permeating the whole life and shaping every action…and it necessitates an abiding hold on Him, a perpetual habit of listening for His Voice within the heart, as of readiness to obey the dictates of that Voice. Jean Grou


This may sound odd, but I didn’t’ learn how to pray until I was about twenty-seven years old.
As I’ve mentioned before, this was about the time I was just beginning to learn how to be Jesus’ friend. It was also at that time, he taught me how to not only talk to him, but also how to listen to what he had to say to me. Now granted, I “learned” how to pray probably when I was a toddler, but to understand prayer and how God uses it in a person’s life—I didn’t get this one until about the third decade of my life. When a person enters into a friendship with God, they begin (I emphasize the word begin) to learn how to talk to him and how to listen to him.

Prayer for a lot of people is just talking. However, when you have a conversation with a good friend over a cappuccino at a Starbucks, two things typically occur—you talk and you listen. This is typically how conversations occur. Ironically, for a lot of people, this isn’t how prayer works for them. It often can be a one way street: they talk, but there isn’t a whole lot of listening going on. It’s as if God is just expected to be the good listener.

I am a huge fan of Walter Wangerin and love his writing. If you have never heard of him, you have to go get any of his books, because they are written with an eloquence and wisdom unlike any Christian author that I know. Wangerin is a prolific writer on a wide-range of subjects; he’s written a novel that was awarded the National Book Award (essentially, the American novel of the year); books on marriage, prayer, adoption, the resurrection, inner-city ministry; he’s even got a book of poetry. His latest book is about his journey having cancer.

One book he entitled Whole Prayer, which is simply a book which discusses how to pray. The book has a simple premise, but it is also very profound. Wangerin makes this proposition about prayer:

First, we speak,

While, second, God listens.

Third, God speaks,

While, fourth, we listen.

There is obviously a lot there in those four points, full of questions for us. How does one speak to God? Is there a formula or standard in how we should speak to God? What is the process in which God listens? How does God speak to us? And in what ways can we listen? One of the most important things I learned when I finished the book was this—isn’t it amazing that God is always listening for us. Wangerin, in the book, makes this beautiful analogy of a sick child crying out for her mother and right away the mother comes into her room to take care of her. Almost as if even before the child cries out, the mother is there. As he writes, “And immediately with understanding came the active response of a mother whose love is nearly omniscient, whose heart is almost omnipresent.”

This is no different than how God attends to you and me. Even before I know what I need, He does—that is his relationship to me as a Father—taking care of me. The Lord is moving ahead of me, trying to prepare the way so that I can pass through unharmed and unhindered. As my favorite Psalm declares:

He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. Your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great. You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn. (Psalm 18: 19, 35-36)

For our purposes, I would take Wangerin’s wisdom one step farther: when one is praying there should be four essential things occurring: talking, listening, responding and then finally, expecting. Jesus offers us some important hints into what prayer looks like. Let’s walk through a couple of these. In the fifteenth chapter of John, Jesus teaches two important and astounding things about prayer. The first is somewhat mysterious, but as his friend, he will make known to us everything that we need to know. That’s an astonishing statement and it’s important to take him at this word:

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:15

What I hear in something like this is this—by deepening our relationship with God day by day, we can know and understand our lives and the world around us better. The Bible calls this kind of stuff wisdom. But in the verse above, Jesus adds this strange little phrase which foretells what prayer can also be about—“because a servant does not know his master’s business.” He seems to be inferring that if you are a friend of his, he will let you in on what his pursuits and intentions will be—again, for yourself and also for the world around you. So therefore, prayer on some level is the tool which God uses to draw us closer to not only him, but also to our very selves. We will learn who we are; who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do—today, tomorrow and twenty years from now. God through prayer will give us clarity in what our lives should look like. It’s an amazing relationship to say the least.


In: Friend to Jesus
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Aug
27
2013

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all that you’re doing, you are probably doing more than God has asked. Henry Blackaby

The difficulty of always feeling that you ought to be doing something is that you tend to undervalue the times when you’re apparently doing nothing, and those are very important times. Brian Eno

Take these hands – teach them what to carry. U2

When you read the stories about Jesus sometimes you really see who he was as a person. In these glimpses, sometimes his personality shines through. He was intriguing to be around. He could openly be emotional. He carried with him dramatic and insightful stories. He was gently honest when he spoke to you. He was very deliberate about relationships. He was extremely bright. He had terrific compassion. He was very serious about his calling. He had great perspective about life.

And he was very conscious of his time and his limits. You’ve probably heard this one before, but one thing is certain, Jesus did not have a messiah complex. We read that at many different times you find him going to some remote place to be alone, to pray, to think, most likely to recharge his batteries (Matthew 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16). Like any of us, Jesus also needed time to unwind, re-focus his energies and be by himself. When reading these stories, it seems like this was a common occurrence for him, not just some isolated event in his life. But an important point is that when he would remove himself from the throngs of people who would follow him, he inevitably was also disregarding their immediate needs to some degree. Essentially, he was saying I will not care for you right now and it seems like he was completely okay with that. I can picture him just as he was pulling on his cloak to make his way to be by himself, there would be some person there pleading for something more of him, Jesus, just one more question? Often, because of his celebrity, he would often in these instances have to firmly, but kindly tell them that it would have to wait for another time. You cannot be as popular as he was and not have the withal to let someone know that you weren’t going to be able to help them in some way at that very moment.

If you think about it in these terms, it is remarkable to think of how many people Jesus didn’t care for, heal or offer his wisdom and insight. Jesus was purposeful in how he served others. This is what we need to do as well. When we serve others, perhaps the most important question we should ask ourselves is—should I be doing this? Now granted, when someone asks for help in some way, in many of these cases, we should move into their lives and help them. But sometimes we maybe shouldn’t. Perhaps we need to be more purposeful in how we help others.

God taught me this lesson shortly after I became a Christian. With this story, I also learned he has a great sense of humor. I was about twenty-one at the time and had taken the train into the city to meet a friend. Chicago was a bustle at that time because it was just a couple of weeks away from Christmas. Disappointingly, my friend had called and had to cancel our plans. Dejected, I began to walk the six blocks back to train in the December cold. About half way there, I heard someone yell out “Buddy, buddy!” I looked around and couldn’t see anyone. After a second, I realized it was a man in a wheelchair who was hidden behind a car, and obviously homeless. As I approached him, he shouted with no regard for politeness, “Buddy, I need twenty bucks. Give me twenty bucks so I can go sleep and shower up at the Y. I need the money, man.”

To say the least, I wasn’t in the mood to be asked for money at that point—my friend had left me high and dry, it was cold, and because of that, I was frustrated and just not in the mood.  My immediate response to him was that I didn’t have twenty bucks. However, truthfully, I had one twenty dollar bill in my left jean pocket.

He again belted out, “Come on, man, I need a place to go!”

Again, without hesitation, I lied and said I had a friend who worked up at the McDonald’s two blocks away and that I would get the money for him. Of course, I didn’t have any friend who worked at McDonald’s. I was frustrated, cold and trying to ditch this guy. I just wanted to go back home. Of course, he insisted I take him with him, and again, for whatever reason, I obliged. As I was pushing him up State Street in his wheel chair, he did something that to this day I still remember vividly. Loudly, with a multitude of people shuffling past us with their Christmas gifts in tow, he shouted, “Buddy, buddy! Pull over! Pull over!”

Confused, I pulled over to the side of the sidewalk near the curb, but before I reached it, I realized he had unzipped himself and was peeing on the sidewalk! Flush with embarrassment, the people passing by eyed us and obviously were wondering what we were doing. My first thought was, Awesome, I am going to get arrested today. After he zipped himself up, we continued on our way—I was pushing his wheel chair as quickly as I could so I could get this episode of my life over. As we reached the McDonald’s, I rushed in the doors as he waited outside. I stood there, feeling entirely stupid and wondering what I was going to do. With him looking through the window, I acted like I was talking to one of the guys at the cash register. Finally, flustered and annoyed, I went outside to where he was, pulled out of my pocket the twenty dollar bill and shoved it into his hand. Then as quickly as I could, I made my way back to the subway station where I could head back home. As I got to the cashier window, I reached into my left jean pocket and as I rustled around to find my twenty dollar bill, and then realized I had given my new friend all of my money! I had absolutely no money to get home, and therefore, had to walk about three miles to a friend’s apartment to get some money for my train ride home (remember, this is before the day of cell phones).

About three months after this incident, I was on the train heading back home from a class earlier in the day. As I was resting my eyes, I heard a loud voice exclaim, “Buddy, buddy! I need twenty buck so I can get a room at the Y.” As I opened my eyes and adjusted them to the light, sitting right across from me was my friend who I had met that December day. Slurring his words badly and reeking of alcohol, at that moment, I realized my mistake three months earlier. That day, most likely, as I was walking those three miles in the Chicago cold to a friend’s place to replace my twenty bucks, my “buddy” was not washing up at the Y and resting in a warm bed. Instead, he was huddle under Wacker Street with a whole bunch of vodka. This story has always reminded me that sometimes it can be okay to not help someone who is need.

LEARNING HOW TO SAY NO

And so therefore, this is the other lesson I learned—we can stop feeling like we have to do everything and help everyone at each instance. We should know how to say no when we need to say no. We should lose the power of the “should.” I should do this. I should call her back. I should go to church and help out. I really should go to that Bible study. I should be there for him. I probably should give them the money they asked for even though they have mismanaged their money for years. This is what happened in my own life. There was a time when I had to do it all, I was going to save everyone who came in my midst. I would immediately answer each call. If you needed to see me immediately, I could accommodate. I was always immediately available. But it came at a cost. I was getting terribly worn down. I was not myself around our home. I was losing my relationship with my sons. And with this, I was slowly developing a messiah complex—it felt good to help someone and it was like a drug. I liked it so much that it was becoming my identity. It was becoming my idol. As always, God came to my rescue and said, Dude, just stop!

But to do this you have to humble yourself. Those who know how to say no are actually not callous or lazy, they simply know they cannot be there for the person at that point in time. They might even know that they don’t even have the skills or gifts to help the person in the first place. Actually, in truth, there can be a humility in learning to say no to someone. I can’t do it, also can mean I shouldn’t do it. Perhaps you need to do it yourself. Perhaps you need to speak to someone else. Perhaps you need to find help from someone else. Perhaps someone else needs to move into sacrifice and this will be their opportunity if I don’t help you. If I do this thing you are asking of me, and I shouldn’t, I am actually robbing you or someone else of the gift of helping you.

Coupled with this, those who have found this freedom from the “should” are good at not having to be in the spotlight. Sometimes we can serve just because we want the applause or recognition and this is no reason to be serving God or anyone else. Often those who have to keep going in some way are doing it because they are serving because of the attention and for the limelight. Pride is the motivation, not a broken heart to help someone in need. Humility is not the incentive, but being seen is what excites some to keep on the go and serving in some capacity. They are motivated by the slap on the back or because of the prestige they receive.

The one who learns these things enjoys to serve when no one sees what they are doing. As Jesus challenged, their left hand does not know what their right hand is doing (Matthew 7:3). They are serving because someone is in need and they don’t hope to get anything out of it—even a thank you is not needed. This person pays attention to Jesus’ words that when they are doing something for someone else they are doing it for him (Matthew 10:42). This is so freeing when it comes to serving—I know that I don’t’ have to get anything out of the sacrifice, because in the end, in reality, I did it for the One who rescued me. That is reward enough.

When you learn how to not get caught in the “should,” you also learn how to rest. This is what Jesus models for us in all of those different passages when he seeks to be by himself. “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)  It amazes me sometimes how bad I am at this. A lot of us always have to be on the go and for us to learn how to sit and listen to God is a challenge. This is an area Jesus is continuing to implore me to learn. Is this you as well?  Those who know how to say no to others in some way are also good at finding solitary places, because when they are rested, they are able to handle the challenges that will eventually attempt to trip them up.

SOMETHING TO TRY

  • Do you have a hard time saying no to people in your life? Your friends, your family, those at work, etc.? What can you learn from Jesus that you don’t have to yes to everything? For those who struggle in this area, a great book to read on the topic is Boundaries by John Townsend and Henry Cloud.
  • Do you do a good job at getting away by yourself, and I mean totally by yourself? Or are you the type of person (like me) who always has to have noise playing or you have to be doing something (e.g., the television, a book in hand, working on a project, the computer on your lap, talking to someone on the phone, etc.). Do you have a difficult time just sitting, praying, and listening for God’s voice for your life? How often do you purposely put silence in your life to just try to listen to what God has to say to you?

In: Friend to Jesus
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Aug
22
2013

Because this is what happens when you try to run from the past. It just doesn’t catch up, it overtakes you … blotting out the future. Sarah Dessen

When the Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold, because they believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful. Barbara Bloom

Another area that a person must encounter if they wish to move to the point of friendship with Jesus is that they need to find the courage to seek healing in their lives. The major step forward in moving toward a friendship with God is looking at your past and facing your brokenness and wounds—wounds that you received from others and wounds that you have given yourself in the poor choices you have made.  Too often in our lives we can put on masks and attempt to recreate ourselves for others. It is imperative that we live as who we really are and face the past and the problems in our personal lives. As I have said many times, we should never fake or hide the reality of our lives—Jesus wants to know us at the core of our being, the real person behind all of the facades we try to erect. Sometimes we put up those facades because of our past and history, and he demands that they come down.

Here is another truth—who we are today is often because of who we were yesterday. Our past and where  we grew up and who are parents were and what happened to us in our early years inevitably influences us and often for a lifetime. While I don’t fully agree with their findings, there are different research studies within psychology that have been done that seem to suggest that what happens to us prior to the age of five forever creates who we are. While these studies may over inflate their conclusions, there is at least an element of the truth to what they state—we are very much a making of our past and upbringing.

A lot of people have some suspicions about looking at their past and for good reason. There have been pockets in psychology—Sigmund Freud, as an example—which have embellished and overstated different aspects of a person’s upbringing and a parent’s influence. However, without a doubt, how we were raised, how we were treated and nurtured, and if there was any abuse in our lives, be that physical, verbal, sexual, emotional or spiritual, can deeply influence are own mental, emotional or spiritual health. To not look at these dynamics and ramifications in our lives is short-sighted to say the least. Below are some basic questions to ask yourself in looking at how your past influences your life today.

  • Who was the dominant parent in your family, your mother or your father? Was this parent nurturing or did you not have a close connection with this parent?
  • Would you characterize your father as being a good parent? If you are man, did your father positively influence you to be masculine in a healthy way or did he condemn you in different ways verbally or non-verbally (e.g., you’re a wimp, you’re worthless, you’re such a girl, etc.). If you are a woman, did your father positively influence you to be feminine or did he not nurture that side of you (e.g., he regularly told you were beautiful, he was appropriately affectionate with you, he tried to protect you in different ways, etc.). Now address these same questions about how your mother was as a parent.
  • Here is a big question—how did your father or mother “image” God for you?
  • In your teenage years and early adult years, were you able to speak openly with your parents, or were you shut down if you wanted to discuss a problem or issue in the family?
  • With regards to your teenage years, how did your parents influence your sexuality? Were these open discussions or was the topic never discussed?
  • Were your parents too permissible (wanting to be your best friend) or too impermissible (very strict) in the rules that governed your life as a child and adolescent?
  • Did you suffer any form of physical, spiritual, verbal or sexual abuse in your childhood?
  • Did you witness physical, emotional or verbal abuse in your family?
  • In your childhood, did you suffer any serious physical neglect?
  • Did any of your primary caregivers (e.g., parents, grandparents or other family members) have mental health problems (e.g., substance abuse, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, serious depression, addictions, codependency, etc.)? Do you struggle with these same issues or similar ones?
  • Were your parents ever separated or divorced? If so, when it occurred, how did this impact you?

When asking questions such as these, we need to honestly ask ourselves how these issues impacted us. We do know this, for those who have experienced a difficult or troubled childhood, it can have differing effects on their lives as children and when they become an adult. Some children and adults, when they experience loss or face maltreatment in some way can be more resilient than others. Likewise, from numerous studies, we also know that some adverse experiences in childhood are reparable and a person can move on with their life. In that same breath, some experiences can be toxic, meaning it can take years to deal with the pain of the serious damage that has occurred. As children, when we are party to any form of abuse, neglect or abandonment, we can lose track of the person we were meant to be—our real self that is trusting of others and especially toward God. Instead, to survive and cope in a family that is broken, for some of us, we go into hiding in some way, and we adapt to new surroundings and relationships in similar dysfunctional ways (e.g., emotionally distant, distrustful of others, codependence or people-pleasing, etc.). It can be common that from these experiences from many years ago that this can be the impetus for a myriad of problems that we face in our adult lives, and often it is easier to avoid them then to courageously acknowledge and face them.

WHERE OUR BROKENNESS COMES FROM

Typically, our brokenness and our sinful patterns originate in two different ways: 1) sin is engrained into our very nature because of the fallen state of our world; 2) we fall to different patterns of sin in response to the pain that we have never healed from or faced. It is in our best interest to face these past experiences to see how they might impact who we are and look at what we struggle with in regards to our personal problems and relationships. As someone said to me recently, she said that she was learning that “Your pain has to be taken to the same cross that your sins are.” I think that says something very important to a lot of us.

A starting point in this journey of healing is beginning to share your story with someone.  A lot of people think that the only person that they need to be open to is to God.  That’s a good place to start, but that’s not the end all.  In the book of James it says “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (5:16) In this verse, it’s obvious that it is strongly suggesting that we need to seek out others who we can trust and share our faults and struggles with in our lives. But beyond this, I think what James was also stating is that it is imperative that we confess the sins that were done to us. What is the ending statement if we do this—we will find healing in our lives.

I remember in a small group I was in some years ago, I went with a bunch of guys up to a cottage in northern Michigan for a retreat in which the main purpose was so that we could come clean about the problem areas of our lives.  It was a couple of days in which we just got away by ourselves and we could open up and share our dark secrets and some of our past.  I remember a good friend telling us prior to us going that if the stuff we were going to share wasn’t painful, it probably wasn’t the stuff that we were supposed to share.  Sharing our true souls in this way is almost always a difficult process.  In a certain sense, it’s like when we get sick—you have this awful thing inside that has to come out and the only way you are going to feel better is through a really messy and sometimes painful process.  That is what accountability is in most cases—it’s going to be uncomfortable and it’s really not going to be something you jump to do.  But that’s okay, because if you do, in the end you will find deep healing, just as the book of James promises.

So with this type of sharing, with whom should you open up?  This is the danger I have found some experience—they share their troubles and darkness with people they just should not trust. There are two dangers with this. First, you have the risk of sharing something deeply personal and the person you opened up to tells someone else all of the sacred stuff you’ve uncovered. They do not make what you shared confidential and carelessly share your secrets with others. Another danger is that the person you open up to is not a person of grace and after you have shared with them, their face shows a look of disgust and you walk away feeling dirty and terribly exposed. Without a doubt, these are not the ways in which you share your woundedness. We need to search out people we know and trust. They will be people who will be merciful with us because they are no different than you, and they have done things which they also deeply regret. They know that place well in which they are a wreck no different than you.  A passage that comes to mind is when Jesus was offered to have dinner with a notorious prostitute. Many around him were astounded that he would accept such an invitation. He says this about her, Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little. (Luke 7:47) I love that passage. Those who don’t know their sins well, don’t love very well either. However, in the reverse, we can also say, Those who have been forgiven much, love much. Seek out people in your life who have been forgiven much.  Seek out those who know their brokenness well and at the same time, are also seeking their own healing. These are the safe people who you can pretty much share anything with them and they wouldn’t even bat an eye.

Another thing that you can do is seek out professional help. I have never met a person who at some point in their life could not benefit from having a gifted counselor walk with them for a season. Too often people think that counseling is only for crazy people. Not at all.  Counseling offers some advantages that some friendships just cannot provide. First, the conversations you have with a counselor or psychologist are guaranteed to be confidential. I cannot tell you how often in my practice that I have heard stories that a person had never shared in their life before simply because they knew I was bound to keep what I heard confidential.  The security of knowing that what you share will never be revealed to anyone can give you the power to seek out help. Where in the past you perhaps have been afraid to open up about your story, now you can freely share everything about yourself because all that is said is going to be private.

Second, when you seek out a professional, you are being offered something that is invaluable and is sometimes hard to come by, and that is, you are receiving unbiased counsel. Too often, when our friends or family are offering us some advice or their opinion, it comes from a place of bias and partiality. Either they know us too well or they just do not have a good perspective on the situation, because what is often the case, they themselves are somehow involved in the issue that we are facing. For example, if you are having challenges in your marriage, your sister or best friend either wants to somehow stop the pain you are feeling or can’t see how you are a part of the problem in your relationship. Sometimes our family and friends have a difficult time speaking a hard word or they want you to not suffer anymore and therefore, offer a quick solution. Yep, HE is THE problem, isn’t he?! Maybe you should just leave her—she was never good for you anyway. A competent therapist can speak words of truth and challenge to you and they don’t have to worry if you like them or not. After they refute your perceptions and your own biases, they don’t have to go home with you and they can offer straight-forward advice.

Finally, counselors are trained and have experience in working with a myriad of problems. Good ones know what they are doing. Because counselors work with so many different situations and individuals, they garner an experience that overtime they learn what works for a given situation and what doesn’t work. I know counselors who are great at working with marriages, others who know how to help someone with depression, and others still, who are expert at helping someone face a past trauma. Accomplished and trained counselors have a wealth of knowledge, and this can make the process of healing and growth happen more quickly because of their wisdom and experience. As a parallel, for years I tried to teach myself the game of golf and very slowly got better. A couple of years ago I sought out a golf teacher and professional. With just a couple of lessons, it was as if I improved overnight. He quickly saw what I was doing wrong and offered simple, but helpful suggestions in how I could improve my game. It’s the same way when facing our personal struggles and problems—working with someone who knows what they are doing can make all the difference and sometimes healing and change can come rather quickly.

SOMETHING TO TRY

  • Are there things you have never told anyone? Perhaps this was something that happened years ago or perhaps it’s something that is on-going in your life at this time? What would it be like to be able to share these stories and events to someone and they would not tell a single soul? What would it be like to lift that burden off your shoulders?
  • Are there areas of your life where you just can’t seem to get “over the hump?” Perhaps in your career you haven’t gone anywhere and you can’t figure out the root of the problem. Perhaps your marriage has never been really that satisfying since the second year. Perhaps you and your kid just can’t seem to get along. What would it look like to get another person’s perspective and see what they suggested?

 


In: Friend to Jesus
Tags: , , , , , , ,
Aug
14
2013

Man, when he does not grieve, hardly exists.  Antonio Pochia

He who has not forgiven an enemy has not yet tasted one of the most sublime enjoyments of life.  Johann Lavater

The second aspect of this process of facing the reality of our lives is learning how to apply forgiveness to your life. As a start, I like what Lily Tomlin said: “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.” I like that because the truth is that I can’t change what I’ve done, be that twenty years ago or just today when I hurt someone close to me with some blunt and harsh words. Yes, I need to take responsibility and then to attempt to change how I am acting, but I can’t alter the past and make that ugly event (whatever that was) just disappear and go away. Again, we are sinners through and through, and there is only so much we can do to change that truth.

When forgiving ourselves of the sin that we do, we first have to see it and acknowledge it as we discussed above, but the next part is that you need to forgive yourself and begin to let it go. Earlier I discussed the negative cycle that we can perform—below is how the cycle of sin, guilt and forgiveness should go:

  1. We do something wrong.
  2. We feel guilty about what we did.
  3. We acknowledge what we did to God and ask for his forgiveness.
  4. In most cases, we apologize in word and action to the person we wronged. We communicate to them that we will try not to hurt them again in this way.
  5. We make active changes to stop this specific failing in our lives.
  6. We forgive ourselves of the wrong we have done to God and/or to the person/s we hurt.
  7. We relinquish the ability to change ourselves and allow God to help us make these changes.

Let’s walk through a living example in my life and discuss this process a bit. Prior to getting married, I was a fairly laid back guy, nothing frustrated me much and emotionally I was usually calm when things got a little tough. This changed noticeably the day I got married, and especially after our sons were born. Almost overnight, I became this Type A person, where everything had to be in its proper place and now even little things began to bother me in dramatic fashion. For the most part my life was stress-free and now the responsibilities of “real life” began to take over and I reacted like a lot of people do. Outbursts of anger became a natural occurrence and became my companion in the way that I would handle tension and troubles. If something was wrong—the dishes hadn’t gotten done, money was overspent, my relationship with Julie wasn’t what I thought it should be—those closest to me knew my temper too well. Over time, I became very adept with the emotions of anger and rage.

With one occurrence, my sin was exposed in a way which even to remember this event today still reminds me how my brokenness can be so damaging to others. One hectic day which seemingly was busier than most, I backed up our Toyota Sequoia into our garage door, and initially I thought it was my youngest son’s fault because of his negligence. In a sudden outburst, I screamed at him like never before. I saw a look of fear and insecurity on his face that is etched in my mind to this day. That was the day I knew things weren’t good with me. By looking at his little face, at that moment I saw in clear view what my sin had done and what it could do.

Years earlier if this same incident had occurred, I would not have gone though any of the steps I will now describe. I would have just moved on and a wake of hurt would have been left with that wave of rage that I had poured out onto my son.  If I had ignored that moment, that pain would still be evident to this day and I am positive I would not be the same person I am today, nor would my son. I would not have looked in the mirror; I would have either denied I had a problem or ignored it all together. Thankfully, God got my attention and I began to learn how to face my brokenness. This was one of the first days that I genuinely began to deal with my struggle with anger and learn forgiveness in real time. That day, I began to do things differently when I failed myself, my son and God.

LEARNING TO SAY YOU ARE SORRY

First, as each of us experiences on a regular basis when we do something wrong—in that moment in the garage, with a major dent in the garage door, I began to feel guilty. I had seen the look on my son’s face; I had hurt his five-year old soul deeply and I knew it. At that moment in time, with my bumper sitting squarely against the garage door, my son with his look of insecurity, God whispered a simple yet firm question to me: So now do you think you have a problem? In my mind’s eye, I simply nodded and in my thoughts I asked for God’s grace.  This is the first step in the process of forgiveness—I did wrong, I acknowledged it internally, and I asked for God’s forgiveness. For most, this step is very easy and one that many are used to—sadly, too many do not go any further than this. For some they can’t even see in a circumstance like this that they have done wrong; for others, the mechanics are just internal to themselves and the following steps are ignored. Now for the harder parts.

How do you apologize to a son who is welling up with tears? After seeing my youngest dissolve into tears, I realized that it wasn’t his fault at all that I had backed up into our garage door. Because of my own misjudgment, I was really the one to blame; I was the one who had been negligent. This often is the problem with an outburst of anger—in being upset, sometimes the one you should accuse is yourself. I cannot tell you how many times I have gotten angry at someone when in reality, I was the one at fault. It is sadly ironic to say the least. In this instance, as I saw Micah looking at me dumbfounded and not knowing how to respond to a tyrannical madman, I turned off the car, looked him in the eyes and simply said this, Buddy, will you forgive me for yelling at you? It isn’t your fault. It was mine and I am sorry I hurt your feelings by screaming at you. I will try to never yell at you in that way again. It became one of my first apologies I had ever done to someone other than Julie, and it surprisingly freed my soul. Why? Because in the past I maybe had said I was sorry, but I had not done two additional things. First, I had not said what I was sorry about and most importantly, that I was committed to changing my behavior in the future. Previous to this, I offered generic apologies. In all the years that I have been in private practice or in my work as a pastor, I am astonished at how few people actually say the words “I am sorry” to someone they have wronged. As a Christian, these three words should be a regular part of our vocabulary. But beyond this, it is just as important to not only apologize, but to also follow this up with stating how you will attempt to change as well. I can’t tell you how many appointments I have had in which I have explained this crucial aspect of apology and the person across my desk replies, Really, I have to actually say I am sorry, why I am sorry and that I will try not to do it again? To begin to experience forgiveness toward yourself, this is one of the essential prerequisites—you not only have to say that you are sorry, but you must also communicate that you will try not to do it again.  

MOVING BEYOND JUST SAYING YOU’RE SORRY

But we can’t just stop there. Beyond this apology, I had to get help and so I began to make active changes in my life that week. I realized how much I lived a life without peace and how this was a catalyst for my struggle with anger. If a person wants to live differently with the struggles they have, they have to make active and practical changes in their life. This is where the rubber meets the road and is the gigantic difference between the person who makes strides in their personal struggles and those who don’t. It’s the difference between the person who really changes in the areas they fail and those that don’t. The practical changes for me were many, but essentially came down to one specific area that desperately needed modifying. What was this? Through counseling, I learned that I literally had to change how I think. One of the things I had read in the many books that I had poured over about anger was this—our thinking is integrated into our emotions which eventually leads to how we act. As the novelist Elizabeth Gilbert penned, “You are, after all, what you think. Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.” One of the exercises in one of the books that I read detailed that keeping a journal of your thoughts was the first step in not only changing your thinking, but also your emotions and actions. Granted, often what we think about has nothing to do with something we are feeling, but when I tried this, it was amazing to see how often my thoughts revolved around emotions of anger and vice versa. Whether it was thinking about an incident that had happened during the day that had upset me or even just listening to a news program driving on the way home from work, I was astonished how often my thoughts triggered bitter or enraged feelings. This, I had to change—I had to change how I was thinking and where I put my thoughts.

One of the most effective ways to do this is what psychologist’s call thought-stopping.  The basis of this technique is that you consciously speak a command to yourself to stop the negative and repeated thoughts you are having. The principle behind thought-stopping is fairly simple—by interrupting troublesome thinking, it serves as a reminder and a distraction, especially if you replace that negative thought with a positive one. When using this technique, one can think of I Corinthians in its command to “renew your mind.” (2:16) This is what thought-stopping does—you become aware of unhealthy thinking and replace it with helpful thoughts instead of negative ones. As an example, if I was washing the car or sitting at my desk, I would monitor my thoughts and see if there was a negative emotion attached to these thoughts. When I realized that my thinking was pessimistic or antagonistic, I would attempt to stop what I was thinking. While seemingly simple, this change slowly began to help me adjust my thinking, which inevitably began to change how I felt about something.  Previous to this “renewing of my mind,” I would just let my mind wander and let it go wherever it wanted. By putting an end to this, my thinking began to change, which unmistakably changed my feelings of anger and the regrettable actions that inevitably ensued. I was slowly learning how to become a person of peace.

The final two pieces of this process of facing your junk are connected—we will call these aspects self-forgiveness and relinquishment. On the one hand, if a person is not fully dealing with their failings—acknowledging, apologizing, and actively changing—the first part, self-forgiveness doesn’t even come into the equation. If you can get past these crucial pieces, in the grand scheme of things, the final two might be relatively easy. The first part is that you have to forgive yourself of what you did wrong, but you must really believe and live that you are a truly forgiven person. Again this may sound strange, but for many for this to occur they need to speak these truths into their lives. Literally, they must forgive themselves with words that they speak out loud. This aspect is not typically a challenge for me, but if it was, later in the day after the incident with my son I would have later gone and literally said to myself—I  am forgiven for screaming at Micah—and maybe even spoken these words more than once. As we all know, words are powerful. When we say them aloud, they can come to life. Again, in this case, it is important that the person speak in the first person and be specific about what they are forgiven for. On paper, this may seem unnecessary or silly, but this part of forgiving oneself and owning that truth is what some have trouble learning and accepting, and can keep their relationship with God at a stand-still.

A final important piece of someone genuinely living out the cycle of forgiveness is that they must relinquish that they can even change in the first place and that only Jesus can alter the way they act. On the one hand, we must make it priority to change our lives, but inevitably it is God who completes the work within us. To this day, I still struggle with anger and the incident I described happened almost fifteen years ago. I have changed, I have learned how to control my outbursts and I now understand that sometimes my anger can even be healthy, but there have also been times when I blew it even as just as two weeks ago! For some areas that we struggle, they may never be ended, and we will have to realize that we will in the future let ourselves and others down. Here is a truth—there will never be a day that I live on this earth in which I will be able to say that I am a perfect person. In our lives, there will always be areas that we struggle with even up until our last breath. With these struggles, we need to be diligent and continue to attempt to change these aspects of our lives, but at the same time, we need to relinquish this to God and allow him to complete this work in us. Even Paul late in his life shows us two important passages to meditate on—even he struggled in certain areas all the way up to his dying day:

For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:18-19)

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25)

Again, a key ingredient in being Jesus’ friend is living in the tension that I am a saint and that I am a sinner—we need to learn that it is okay that we are both people. No different than Paul did, it is a reality that we will have to learn to live with for the rest of our lives—we live in a fallen world and we are broken people trying to get better each day.


In: Friend to Jesus
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