Thursday, January 9, 2020

City Notes '20 | He Speaks in the Silence: Treasures in the Darkness

"To be blessed actually means to be fully satisfied. To thrive on the inside even if life is falling apart on the outside. To be so filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit within that we are able to endure and taste the sweetness of His love even in the midst of bitter reality. Even when it hurts, even when we do not understand." + Diane Comer

To continue 2020's first set of City Notes, I'm sharing part of the story of Diane, a woman, wife, and young mother of three who prayed for God to heal her sudden deafness brought on in her 20s ... and He said, "No." Here is the link to the first post:

He Speaks in the Silence: The Fear & the Fury & the Beautiful No

Through Diane's story, God has shared a bit more of things I hold onto too tightly and can demand of Him in my own self-defensive anger. If more of what you read from her own words resonates with you, I encourage you to pick up and read her story in He Speaks in the Silence: Finding Intimacy with God by Learning to Listen.

"Where the Rubber Meets the Road ... Treasures in the Darkness" excerpt adapted from Diane Comer's He Speaks in the Silence: Finding Intimacy with God by Learning to Listen

I had been angry inside for so long, feeling intensely sorry for myself, that it had become deeply ingrained in my daily thoughts. Anger at God, anger at my circumstances, anger that God hadn't given me the perfect life I had thought I'd signed up for all those years ago.

When life goes bad and we stay mad, something terrible happens inside our souls. We lose our ability to hear, and suddenly God seems far away and silent. ...

This is why I cannot help but question the view I've heard bandied about with such impunity: "It's okay to be angry with God." Really? Are we sure? I'm not so certain. In fact, I think I was in a dangerous place when my heart was raging against Him, my soul teetering precariously close to the edge of that deadly cliff of rebellion. Crazy things happen when we willfully push away from the love of God, things that leave wounds and scars that can last a lifetime — mistakes, misjudgments, misery. Much like a child who inadvertently injures himself in a fit of momentary temper, I was working myself into a fury that could have caused irreparable harm.

That God can handle my anger, I have no doubt. ... But our souls are not strong enough to withstand the gale-force winds of intense and sustained anger. The roof is blown off, boundaries are broken, we are exposed to our own shocking ugliness. When that still, small voice of reason questions the rightness of our anger, we raise the volume, and sometimes we can't stop. 

The spark that fueled my anger was intense self-absorption, which led to self-pity. And self-pity, I have learned, is a sin that keeps me away from God. Until then, my regular forays into self-pity seemed rather benign, a means of passively protesting what I couldn't control. But I was learning, through daily doses of listening with the Word of God open on my lap, a whole new way of thinkingI was awakening to the idea that God had not so much saved me to make me better as to make me His. And not only that, but my me-centered faith had left me stuck with a whole lot of me, and not much of Jesus ... 

Self-pity is subtle and circuitous. Self-pity slips into relationships, strangling goodwill and preventing grace. More of the conflicts between my husband and me are started by "hurt feelings" (aka self-pity) than any other instigator. I feel bad for myself, and I think he should feel bad for me too. And then I think he ought to fall all over himself, making it up to poor little me. If I pout for a while, it's his just due. When I decide to indulge him by cheering up, I expect him to be ever so grateful for my renewed favor.

I believe that most of the self-prefixed words cause me to slide into sin: self-defensiveness, self-centeredness, selfishness, self-protectiveness, self-promotion. Any time I make my self the object of my (and everyone else's) primary concern, I am setting myself against God. ...

But God was inviting me into a deeper place, a chamber only accessible through the hard-to-open door of guileless transparency. Not because I was good or pure or as a reward for doing right. I was broken and ugly and utterly helpless. On that morning that God told me it was okay and He wouldn't heal my deafness, He actually rescued me from my own worst enemy: me. In that moment of spectacular grace, God rescued me from the mess I'd made for myself. I wasn't a good girl. But in His mercy, He lit up my darkness. He saved me from myself. ...

The word translated as blessing in the New Testament is derived from the Greek word, makarismos, which means "to be indwelt by God through the Holy Spirit and, therefore, because of His indwelling to be fully satisfied in spite of the afflictions of life."

To be blessed actually means to be fully satisfied. To thrive on the inside even if life is falling apart on the outside. To be so filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit within that we are able to endure and taste the sweetness of His love even in the midst of bitter reality. Even when it hurts, even when we do not understand.

According to Scripture, this kind of blessing is unknown apart from God. No one can conjure it up or fake it for long. It is something God gives whenever we choose to fully entrust ourselves to Him. James wrote, "Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy" (James 5:10-11, NIV, emphasis mine).

God's definition of blessing is far broader and wiser and, to tell the truth, harder to swallow than the one I'd made up. It almost always includes suffering and the opportunity to choose God's way over my own self-protective tendencies to grasp for control. James assumed that everyone remembered the prophets' lives as blessed, despite the fact that their histories record agonizing suffering. Elizabeth called Mary blessed among women because she carried the Son of God in her womb, despite the fact that she would face certain rejection from those around her, not to mention the death of her child. Mary considered herself blessed, even knowing that heartache would dog her footsteps.

Another person God "blessed" was Jacob. And truth be told, I've never much liked Jacob. He was the bad boy, manipulative and pushy, a liar and deceiver. But his repulsive reaction to his wife, Leah, on the first morning of their honeymoon struck me as the ultimate meanness. I fairly felt her cringe, forever damaged by his rejection (see Genesis 29:17-30). How could he? Yet over and over, God purposely identified Himself with this man: "I am the God of ... Jacob." The God of Jacob? Really? What was it about Jacob that prompted God to promote him over and over again? To identify Himself with someone who seems like the epitome of perverseness? God comes across as doggedly emphatic when He commands, "Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another," yet He stakes His name proudly to one whose very name means deceiver. In spite of all Jacob's obvious failures and devious ways, God does not condemn him. What can that mean? ... 

What a mess! Later, when Jacob deceives and deserts his father-in-law, Laban, God intervenes by warning Laban in a dream to leave Jacob alone. After a heated argument, the two men come to an uneasy truce and Jacob moves on to face what he's terrified will be a mortal confrontation with Esau. But on his way, Jacob instead meets the only One he cannot deceive. Jacob comes face-to-face with God.

For hours, Jacob wrestles in the dark with an unidentifiable opponent. All he knows is that he is being attacked and can't win. By dawn, he is wearing out, near the end of his strength, with a growing certainty that his opponent is no mere man, but God Himself. But instead of giving up and letting go, Jacob grabs hold of Him with his last remaining strength, striving to get what he wants: a blessing. ... He holds on to God in an adrenaline rush of determination. He is desperate, single-minded, intentional.

Griffith Thomas opened my eyes to the truths imbedded in Jacob's story. "How like he is to many of us today! We do not realize that all these untoward circumstances, these perplexities, these sorrows, are part of the Divine discipline, and intended to bring us to the end of ourselves. And so we struggle, and strive, and fight, and resist, and all to no purpose. God has been trying to get Jacob (and us) to trust Him all these years."

Has God been doing the same with me (and you)? ... How much easier it is to be a rule keeper, to parrot the principles and memorize the verses without ever having to bleed sorrow over my own raw heartache and subtle sins. That, notes Mark Buchanan, "requires little or no personal engagement ... you must follow orders ... it need draw nothing from your heart, your mind, your strength, your soul. It's like paint-by-numbers: it requires no artistry, no imagination, no discipline, just dumb, methodical obedience." 

What I see now in Jacob is his daring courage to go after God. I read Jacob's story with edge-of-the-seat anticipation of his wrestling with God until he prevails and receives a blessing. For the rest of his life after his encounter with "the man," Jacob walked with a limp — a handicap, a less-than. Something most probably painful and most certainly limiting. Jacob was done in and undone. Strengthened and weakened. Satisfied and made thirsty. Something happened there by the river in wrestling with God that forever marked him, bringing him to a place of surrender and redirecting all the pent-up passion that had tripped him up so many times before. Ultimately, Jacob joined the "poor in spirit" of Jesus' acclaimed teaching from the mountain above Jerusalem — the sermon that "amazed" the crowds for its controversial content: "God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for Him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs."

This was becoming my story. All my fakery fled when I came face-to-face with the severe mercy of God. He loved me in all my brokenness. Not the me I pretended to be, not the me I wanted to be, but the me that I am right now in this moment. Though the rest of his life after God gave him a limp did not treat him kindly, in the end Jacob became a listener. And that is what I aspire to: to walk close enough to God to hear Him ... Even if it means limping my way through all the sounds I cannot hear. My own suffering and failure marked the path straight into that place I craved. When the formulas that had always worked for me failed to answer my questions or satiate my thirst, I found myself finally ready to drink deeply of the living water — that thirst quenching, soul satisfying spiritual sustenance which all my rules could never give me: To hear His voice and enter into His blessing.  

I am here and I want you to listen to Me. I am giving you a gift. I am going to teach you to hear. But first you are going to have to learn to listen.

Next post: 
City Notes '20 | He Speaks in the Silence: Leaning In ... and Letting Go

Here are links to previous City Notes books:

Soli Jesu gloria.

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike “Sully” Sullivan

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