Sometimes my mind simply stops to dwell on, or ruminate upon the reality of God. There are times when God seems obvious and there are times when God seems manufactured. I imagine a world with God and wonder why He doesn’t move differently, or to be more precise, why He doesn’t seem to do things the way I think He should do them. Then, I imagine a world without the grace of God, and I can only imagine what kind of existence we would have if God’s common grace were not suppressing the darkness that it is. Since we don’t truly know how much intervention is already going on, we can’t really imagine what chaos wound ensue if that sovereign hand were removed completely…hmmm, things to ponder.
So tonight I began to look back through some of my collected thoughts and quotes about God. Maybe I was looking through these words to remind myself that God is still moving. Maybe I simply needed a good grid-shift in the midst of some trying circumstances. Whatever the subconscious reason, I invite you to ruminate with me, and just maybe, we all will experience a greater capacity to trust, love and live in a God-reality.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you. ~C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
I would rather walk with God in the dark than go alone in the light. ~Mary Gardiner Brainard
Some people always sigh in thanking God. ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Surely your longings and feelings arise from the God who created you. They were created in order to be filled, not crushed. Surely we shall find peace not by eliminating desire, but by finding its fulfillment and satisfaction in the One who created it. ~Sundar Singh
I cannot imagine how the clockwork of the universe can exist without a clockmaker. ~Voltaire
You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. ~Anne Lamott
Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion. ~Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child
Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message. ~Malcolm Muggeridge
There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “All right, then, have it your way.” ~C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 1943
God is not a cosmic bellboy for whom we can press a button to get things done. ~Harry Emerson Fosdick
A man with God is always in the majority. ~John Knox
Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God. ~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you. ~ J.I. Packer, Knowing God
Any fool can count the seeds in an apple. Only God can count all the apples in one seed. ~Robert H. Schuller
The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us. ~ C.S. Lewis
God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas but for scars. ~Elbert Hubbard
A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell. ~C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
I sought to hear the voice of God and climbed the topmost steeple, but God declared: “Go down again – I dwell among the people. ~John Henry Newman
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Sometimes God allows what he hates to accomplish what he loves. ~Joni Eareckson Tada, The God I Love
The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”
~Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
Because God has made us for Himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. ~Augustine of Hippo
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? ~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
God made the world for the delight of human beings– if we could see His goodness everywhere, His concern for us, His awareness of our needs: the phone call we’ve waited for, the ride we are offered, the letter in the mail, just the little things He does for us throughout the day. As we remember and notice His love for us, we just begin to fall in love with Him because He is so busy with us — you just can’t resist Him. I believe there’s no such thing as luck in life, it’s God’s love, it’s His. ~Mother Teresa, A Simple Path: Mother Teresa
The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God. ~Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. ~A.W. Tozer
In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there’s no danger that we will confuse God’s work with our own, or God’s glory with our own. ~Madeleine L’Engle
There is a deep and natural craving in the human heart that can be satisfied nowhere except in God. Our being in this world is a test, a preparation for the deepest state of spiritual communion. But most of us, suppressing our deepest longings and disdaining God, seek satisfaction from this world. Such a path can lead only to despair. ~Sundar Singh
God moves in a mysterious wayHis wonders to perform;He plants his footsteps in the sea,And rides upon the storm. ~William Cowper, Olney Hymns
We are but a point, a single comma, and God is the literature of eternity. ~Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit
The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be. ~Anne Frank
God will not permit any troubles to come upon us, unless He has a specific plan by which great blessing can come out of the difficulty. ~Peter Marshall
God has given us two hands, one to receive with and the other to give with. ~Billy Graham
Dark nights happen to everyone. Some people’s dark nights are darker than others. Some seem so dark that light is a distant memory, a possible embellishment of the imagination. Some nights seem so dark that you question everything you believed to be true about yourself, your life and even God.
It’s in those deeply pigmented places that platitudes and cliche’s have a retching effect on the receiver. They sound shallow, hollow, devoid of life, empathy or reality. These are when prayers from the belly of the fish come forth from the belly of the soul.
When Jonah found himself in the belly of the great fish, he began to pray. Perhaps it was the first real prayer of his entire prophetic career. A prayer of earth. A prayer of terror. A prayer of surrender. When we finally pray a prayer born in the dark, we are at that place where we know we have no control, no escape, no salvation apart from divine intervention. This is where real life begins.
Listen to Jonah’s prayer from this dark place:
…“I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple. ‘The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit,O LORD my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!”
Sheol means “the realm of the dead.” Sheol is a land of hopelessness. A place disconnected from God, hope, life. Sheol is a place where we cry out to God with groans that are to deep for language. What has been your Sheol?
We cry out…we shout…we argue…
We feel that God is nowhere to be found…
BUT…when all seemed lost, when the waters were covering us…
When the light was diminishing like a candle depleting its wax…
As the jail bars closed shut with a loud click and clang…
Then I remembered…
Then I prayed…
Then my prayer came to God…
When Jonah changed his focus from “Sheol” to the sovereignty of God, not only did His thinking shift, but his circumstances changed. As his words moved from self-focus, in the depths, to God-focus, who dwells on high, he was able to offer words of thanks and gratitude to God.
Prayers from the belly of a fish are spiritually defining moments used by God to form us. Even when we walk through the dark places, God is with us. Even when the valley seems endless, God reminds us that there is light. Even when the jail bars of Sheol click tightly, God’s voice shatters the cage.
Maybe, the reminder we need is that there is no big fish that is bigger than God.
The first time I heard The Prayer I was visiting Saddleback Church with my family. The Gunns ( an incredibly talented couple) performed it with a great pit orchestra and band. It was truly one of the most powerful songs and performances I had ever experienced. I have heard many people offer their version of The Prayer, and none, including the pairing of Celine Dion and Andre Bocelli as well as Josh Groban and Charlotte Church, were as impressive to me as the performance by the Gunns.
Then, I landed upon this version by Peter and Evynne Hollens. I really enjoy Peter’s work. His songs are generally composed completely of voices to make the music and then his singing voice brings it all together. I wondered if I would like he and his wife’s version of The Prayer…I have t admit, I really do. Not only do they shine in creating the music behind the lyrics with their voices, but they also sing it cleanly and beautifully. I hope you you find it as incredible as I do!
Ken Robinson’s recent TED talk on “How To Escape Education’s Death Valley” is absolutely brilliant. He addresses some key problems in American education, and more importantly has some great reminders about learning vs. teaching, and the diversity of students in the classroom today. When a standardized test becomes the measuring rod instead of a key diagnostic, we move towards conformity and forget that our children are different and diverse, and there is more than one learning style.
This is actually a problem in the church too. When we believe there is only one way to teach/preach, and we think that spiritual growth is about conformity and not maturity (and there is a vast difference between the two),we will continue to see people leave the church in search of a spiritual experience that better aligns with the way God created them.
In one chapter of my book, Sacred Space, I merge the thoughts of Gordon MacDonald and Gary Thomas who have written about sacred pathways, or leading instincts. These exist within all humanity and are demonstrative of various ways we best connect with God such as:
1. The Student: Loves to study, discuss, expand knowledge, a searcher of truth.
2. The Aesthetic: Loves formality and tradition. Learns best in an atmosphere that reflects beauty, symmetry and respect.
3. The Activist: Loves to learn while doing. Needs to transform information into action.
4. The Charismatic: Loves hands on, tactile experiences that united body, soul and spirit. Learning through all the senses.
5. The Contemplative: Loves to think and chew on process, knowledge and learning. Learning is multiplied through meditation and rumination.
6. The Relational: Loves group activities, group learning, group experience…Learns best in team environments.
It would seem education and the Church behave as if “The Student” is the only pathway that exists. This is not the only pathway and it isn’t the “right” pathway, it is simply one of the pathways that exist. However, those with this leading instinct/pathway seem to be the ones in charge, both in the Church and in the University.
If our endgame is learning and spiritual maturity, we need to leave behind a “No Child Left Behind” mentality that focuses on one type of person and measures success in such a “standardized test” way that ensures success will never happen in light of the diversity of people’s wiring. How do you best learn? Scan that abbreviated list, you will get an idea of the environment in which you best learn.
Let’s acknowledge that all children are different, and therefore one of the most important things we can do to raise the bar in education is to revisit the art of teaching and preaching. As we look at people and students as individuals, and equip teachers to become unleashers of learning, I believe we will see our educational system skyrocket, and people in churches better reflecting the beauty and love of God. Check out the TED Talk.
Pray without ceasing on behalf of everyone. For in them there is hope of repentance so that they may attain to God. Permit them, then, to be instructed by your works, if in no other way. Be meek in response to their wrath, humble in opposition to their boasting; to their blasphemies return your prayers; in contrast to their error be steadfast in the faith; and for their cruelty display your gentleness. While we take care not to imitate their conduct, let us be found their brothers in all true kindness.
~Ignatius of Antioch, A.D. 50 – 117 (Letter to the Ephesians 10)
I have continued to ponder this closing quote from my talk about redefining the goal of spiritual conversations. Ignatius of Antioch was a disciple of the Apostle John, and was the 2nd (or third) Bishop of Antioch when the church was centered there. Ignatius was martyred in the Colosseum in Rome and as you can see by the painting, it was a gruesome death. Under the tutelage of John, the heartbeat of Jesus was a thin veil away and is easily encountered as you read his words and meditate on his willingness to die for his faith.
The responses of Jesus towards His accusers and executioners is hovering close to the surface of this statement…
The commands and interactions of the rabbi, that we so easily dismiss as possible for Him because He was God, seem to become enfleshed in Ignatius’ words leaving us no room for escape but plenty of room to squirm.
Broken down, each thought is completely others-centered, a sort of self-amnesia that majors on compassion unattached to self-need or self-promotion.
1. Praying all the time for everyone.
2. Your prayers can help those who are far away from God move towards Him because there is hope for everyone to turn towards God.
3. Preach to people by serving them, doing good, demonstrating compassion and godly service.
4. Control yourself when others unleash their anger on you.
5. Seek the higher road of humility when others fill the air with self-promotion.
6. Pray for others when they accuse, belittle, condemn or slander you.
7. Stay committed to what is true when others fall for all the false and empty philosophies of the world.
8. Be gentle when others are merciless.
9. Don’t imitate their path, but love them on their journey regardless of where they are at… exhibiting kindness and brotherliness.
These are powerful thoughts…
In fact, these thoughts are alarming because they promise pain and suffering without recourse, justification or a necessary happy ending. Instead, they offer us invitation into the sufferings of Christ, where our soul will be forged in ways that we don’t want, can’t handle, and will probably try to escape from.
Trust is the only response that will work. But trust is not something that can be conjured up like a late-night snack or story to cover your tracks, no, trust is something birthed between the worlds of chaos and confusion in that thin space where the voice of God speaks to the follower of Jesus who is forever doubting, struggling, running, ducking and hiding from the Voice of Love.
Trust says, “not my will but yours be done.” Trust cries “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Trust sighs, “I believe, help my unbelief.”
This desolate place is where Jesus rescues the bedraggled among us. The ones who have no option other than God. The ones who know their default system-setting is to try to create their own trust, build their own reality, convince themselves and others that they are someone they are not, and then wake up sweating in the night knowing the false world they have created is a silly sham that the Big-Bad-Wolf could easily huff, puff and blow down.
These are the ones Jesus came for. Brute honesty has a way of surfacing when we sit among the displaced straw, and God always responds to our honesty by increasing our faith which intensifies our hope that welds handles onto trust so that we can grasp it firmly. This is the great trial of the soul. Will I believe and hold onto the truth that God loves me even at my worst? Will I define myself, not by my mistakes and blunders, but rather as one unconditionally loved by the God who created black holes, raging seas, distant galaxies and human DNA?
The presence of Trinity dwelling within us by faith is not myth, idiocy, theological gymnastics, a last-ditch hail-mary nor the conjecture of weak-willed people. Jesus brings about God’s presence within us which is the most real part of me, the only solid ground in a world full of shadows.
So while I might want to run away, hide, pretend or shrink into the shadows, the gift of trust, born from the love between the Father and the Son revealed on the cross of Calvary, will rise laying ahold of me even as I lay ahold of it.
And all of it is a gift…
All of it is grace…
All of it is divine love…
Trust removes our fear of God and our fear of ourselves. He smiles as we approach Him with all our broken pieces because He knows we have finally allowed ourselves to be loved just as we are not the way we think we should be…
Here, in this sacred space, we choose to go beyond the extra mile extending to others the very same grace and acceptance we have received from God. We offer it willingly, sacrificially, and fearlessly because we finally know that God is good, even when the path is dark.
Father, help me trust.