Tag Archive | Holy Spirit

The War for the Intimate

file0001833018783I was glancing through a book catalog last week, a Christian book catalog, and it got me thinking. Many, many of the books were about a relationship with God. With Jesus. With the Holy Spirit. Reading the descriptions to the books, I found myself drawn in. I wanted to read all of them. I wanted what they promised. And since there are so many out there, I suspect I’m not the only one. There seems to be a longing in our culture for more, and I’m not sure where it comes from or how to quench it.

Every one of those books promised a more intimate relationship with God. Closer walks. Getting to know God more personally and having Him impact my life more fully. Lessons in prayer, again with the goal of getting closer to God. All of them suggest we are too far from God and can have an amazingly close connection with him, and all of them have ideas on how to go about this.

This post isn’t to criticize those books. I don’t have anything bad to say about them. They are right. I long for more when it comes to God. I think secretly many of us wonder why our prayers don’t look like prayers of old–how often have you prayed a dead man alive? Prayed for the beginning or end of a drought? Seen blind men healed and lame men walk? How often have you felt a closeness to Jesus like the apostles did, where He laughed in your midst, told you parables, sat with you over dinner?  Or even the relationship the Israelites had with God–have you wondered which way to go and followed a pillar of fire? Has your church filled with darkness while God’s Spirit consecrates it?

Why haven’t we? Why this longing for more and the inability to find more? I want those things. I want following Jesus to be easier. I find that I forget. I wake up and forget that I love God, that he’s central to my life, that I am loved with the most selfless, amazing love in the universe. How can I do that?

I ask for fish, and sometimes it feels like I get stones. I trust God for something, and I feel like I have the faith and the knowledge to ask wisely, to ask for something God surely desires in his heart, too, but the dead don’t rise. The broken don’t heal. What is wrong with my prayers?

I look for direction for my ministries, my relationships, my marriage, and instead of having a pillar of fire to lead my way, I stand in a drying plain with no landmarks in any direction. Where is the path? I open the Word to light my way, and yet I stand in darkness. Where is the lamp to guide my footsteps?

I have such great plans. Reading plans. Prayer plans. I attend conferences and workshops and hope to use the energy of those mountaintop experiences to develop habits that last. I want to love God without reservation. I do, with all my heart. And yet, slowly but surely, I slide back into some halfway world where God is peripheral. I skip a day of reading. Then I skip two. I pray for ten minutes. Then five. I look with longing at books about close walks with God and wonder what makes those people so special that they can be close while I feel like I’m drifting away in an ocean of distraction.

I suspect my biggest problem is that I forget I’m in battle. And wow, our enemy is special. He’s ancient. He’s smart. He’s cunning. And I don’t prepare to fight. I look at the books in the catalog and think I can find some magical way to slay the enemy once for all. But I can’t. I battle every single day. Except days when I don’t. And then I slide.

I wonder what would happen if my Christian friends and I remembered, every day, that today we were going to battle. If I peeked around every building and made every turn expecting to be ambushed. If I hid my valuables and protected them expecting someone to snatch them away. If our conversations always included new ways to fight, new weapons, stories of battlefield victories and defeats meant to prepare and warn one another about the fights ahead.

I want to be close to Jesus, but I want it simple and light. Yet my marriage isn’t simple and light. My friendships take work, too. And this relationship with Jesus–it is a thing under fire unlike any other relationship. Every moment of the day, it’s under fire. I don’t prepare for that. My friends don’t prepare for that. We forget to be soldiers. Soldiers need to be ready. Always on guard. Always a struggle. They lose friends. They need rest sometimes, where someone else holds the gun while they grab some sleep in the bottom of the foxhole. They cover each other, and they strategize. Battle is their life, because forgetting that gets them killed.

And in the end, if they are diligent and wise, they take the enemy down.

Jesus can be close. Those books aren’t wrong. Of course I can have a close relationship with Him. It’s what He wants most. But I think I have to embrace the battle required to hold onto it here. That relationship doesn’t grow easily, but it is easily snatched away if I’m not careful. The Holy Spirit is the commander, and I need to listen for his commands and never hesitate when He gives a battle cry. I hesitate. I want Psalm 23, where I can lounge by the stream. But more often than not, I’m in Ephesians in a room filled with battle gear. Only I don’t realize it, and I walk out on a deadly field practically naked and wonder why I can’t seem to win the skirmishes.

Today, whatever happens, I need to read the Word. Pray. Fight the powers of darkness. Jesus meets me there with a hug and a smile. With Him victory is guaranteed, and that victory is sweet indeed. But it never comes easy, and I think I set myself up for failure if I think it ever will in this life.

Not Quite a Warrior

sorrow bwRecently I felt a call to join our church’s prayer team. What this means is that during communion, I am available to pray with people who wish to pray with someone.

This sounds simple. However, if you’ve ever read any of my blog posts before, or if you know me personally, you know it’s not that simple. Praying out loud with people isn’t exactly a skill that comes naturally to me.

I’ve waffled about this ministry. Do I truly feel a call to this? I don’t pray that well in my own life. I’m reading and learning and soaking in what I can about prayer, but I still don’t make the time to do it like I should. I admitted to someone recently that I fear praying for some things because if I don’t ask, God can’t say no, and I feel like I hear more nos than yeses in answer to my prayers. I’d love to be a prayer warrior. However, I’m not there yet. Not even close.

And yet, I still feel this niggling call to do this. Go figure.

For the first few weeks I planned to listen more than speak. You know, learn the ropes. Hear how it’s done. Hide out because I was afraid to do it myself, if you want the truth. And you probably want the truth. How silly this would be if I just wrote lies to you all the time. Regardless of the logic, the plan was to listen and not speak for a while.

But someone had a prayer need, and I understood it. I related so much I wanted to jump up and down and say “Me Too, Me Too.” I didn’t do this, but I did pray. Out loud.

Funny thing, this praying out loud in the back of the church during communion. First, I have no idea what I said. Knowing my great skills at small talk (NOT!), my total inability to speak on the fly, I suspect the words weren’t elegant. Or clear. In fact, I might have spouted complete nonsense. The person with whom I prayed might have returned to her seat scratching her head and wondering if nonsense prayers count.

I, however, had an epiphany that day, because I suddenly realized yes, nonsense prayers do count. In my head, I knew exactly what I was talking about. The words might not have reflected this, but the thought was there. The idea was sound. In my head, I was speaking with complete cohesion, and He knew what I was saying.

In other words, praying with people isn’t that much different than praying alone. It’s still about God and me. When I draw close to God with others at my side, they get drawn, too, even if I say the wrong words. It’s the heart that matters. The thoughts in my head. The beliefs in my soul. When I take someone’s hand and lead them to God with me, I can’t fail. Not really.

I dislike blog posts about the wrong things to say to people. The idea that if I don’t carefully count each word, I will destroy people who are hurting, people who are single, people who have lost someone, people who are different than me. The idea is that I must always get the words right. Yes, words are powerful. Yes, I should wield them carefully. But I get them wrong enough to know that it’s not simply words that matter. If that was true, nobody would ever speak to me, because I bungle words. It’s the meaning behind them. When I lost a baby, sometimes people said the wrong words, but not one of them ever, in any way, meant to hurt me. Never. We just have limited words to express big, deep thoughts, and sometimes the words don’t cut it. I can choose to hear the words and get offended, or I can choose to hear the heart that speaks them. I tend to choose the heart, mostly because I want the favor returned.

I hope people who pray with me understand that. I might say exactly the wrong thing from my mouth, but my heart and head aren’t failing. I promise. God hears the words of my heart. My spirit and His Spirit are communing. Let me take your hand and lead you there, even if the words get in the way. And if I have no words and simply take you with me to his throne in silence when you don’t have the strength to get there yourself, God hears both our hearts. He hears our desires. He delights in us coming together to meet with him, and he will always take time out to visit with us.

Today, don’t get caught up in someone’s words. Words are silly. (Says the writer!!) They’re limited. They don’t always reflect reality. Get caught up in someone’s heart, in their intentions. Pray with someone, even if it’s rough. Love someone different, even if you don’t completely understand. The Spirit can let us understand one another and help one another if we come with love and bear with each other’s weaknesses. For me, the spoken word is my biggest weakness.

But the love in my heart, placed there by God, is my biggest strength. Probably yours, too. Be bold. Let it out. Sometimes it clashes with the weaknesses, but that’s when we have to have patience with one another and know that we are family, in this together, wanting the best for each other. Regardless of the words that might slip out. And know I will always extend the same grace to you. I get it. I really do.

Self Care and the Anxious Soul

self care anxious soulLately I’ve been hearing a lot about two things. One is anxiety, posts and books that suggest anxiety isn’t necessarily a sin, that God can use the anxious person, that the anxious person is loved.

The other is self care, the idea that it’s okay, even prudent, for a person to care for his or her body, spirit, soul, by diet, exercise, rest, anything that feeds and nourishes and heals.

I have two main health issues. One is easy to describe. I’m a type one diabetic. I wear an insulin pump 24/7. Without insulin, I would have the life span of a fruit fly. So I take care of myself. I watch what I eat; I monitor the levels of sugar in my blood; I change and maintain my pump; I exercise.

If I show up at a potluck dinner and don’t eat everything, nobody ever says to me “Jill, you should just eat that cookie and let God deal with it. Have faith. You can beat this thing if you step out in faith, step out of your comfort zone, and eat whatever you want.”

Nobody says that because it sounds crazy.

My other issue is anxiety. I’m not necessarily fearful of things. It’s mostly a physiological response. If I’m with a group of people, I will walk away with a headache. Every. Single. Time. Yes, I take an Excedrin after church every week. After every meeting. After I teach classes. After I serve dinner at the homeless ministry. My stomach churns when something new is on the horizon. Panic attacks hit for no reason, often the second I wake up in the morning. I struggle to jump into conversations. Social situations aren’t comfortable and likely never will be.

However, I do it. I stock up on Excedrin and do what I’m supposed to do. Truthfully, I fake it. Sometimes I would give my left arm to walk away from a group event, but that’s not acceptable. Sometimes I can’t force myself to attend something, after which I feel guilty. Like taking insulin with every bite of food is part of my life, the unease I feel in groups of people is part of my life.

Now, anyone who has followed my blogs might remember I admitted I don’t have a lot of answers. This is one of those posts. Self care says I can take care of myself. Diabetes has taught me I have limits, and I can live around them, take them into consideration when I plan things. Anxiety, though… Can I give myself the option of staying home when attending an event makes me feel sick? What kind of self care is acceptable when a person struggles with mental issues? Are they even real?

I hear about stepping out of my comfort zone. I don’t know what that should look like. I find myself thinking that if I find an event miserable, then I’m out of my comfort zone and God is happy. I start to believe God likes my misery. It’s my litmus for whether or not I’m doing God’s will. But I don’t feel that way when my blood sugar is high or low. I am allowed to strive for a steady, healthy blood sugar level. Why do I hate myself when I strive for a steady, healthy mental state?

Sorry. No answers here. Only questions. Things to take to God. Items to drop at his feet. I’ve undertaken a few things lately that raise my anxiety to the extreme. Is that good? Will God bless it, or does he allow me to say no when something is more than  I can comfortably handle? How does that fit with comfort zones and stepping out in faith?

I’m not giving up on these questions. I want to feel decent. I’m tired of supporting the Excedrin company. But I’m also tired of supporting the insulin makers, and yet I don’t plan to stop using it. My weariness has nothing to do with it. Life is sacrifice.

What I do know is God wants me to cast my cares on him. It’s okay to wrestle sometimes and ask the big questions. The Spirit inside me wants to make things known to me. So I will ask, and I will listen. I think that’s what he wants from me most of all, a relationship with questions and concerns and depth.

I will look at the Word and ask what it means to be beloved and still struggle with issues that might be health or might be sin. Or probably a combination. I look forward to finding the answers with him. The Spirit has been speaking to me, healing wounds, and I know he wants to tackle this one with me, too, with answers or healing or something. Something big and something true.

One thing I do know, though. When the Kingdom finally arrives in full, both Excedrin and Insulin will be parts of my past. Panic attacks will never happen again, nor will crippling hypoglycemic episodes. I will have answers. I might not even remember the questions. All the brokenness, heart and soul and body, will be healed. Can’t wait for that day.

Come Quickly, Lord. And until you do, give me ears to hear and a heart that understands everything I need to know to honor you.

 

Interlude

InterludeWhenever I hear the song Cool Change by the Little River Band, I feel like crying. If you’re not familiar with the song, it talks about time alone on the ocean and how important it is in a pre-arranged life to get away for a while. For some reason, it hits me deep every time, and sometimes it takes me to the floor.

I’ve been grappling with a simple life for a while. I’ve been digging into spiritual disciplines. I dream of green pastures and still waters. I imagine a house with space, a life with wiggle room, the perfect quiet times where God and I have this amazing, life altering connection every day.

Two things have spurred this strange unrest in my soul. One is a new awareness of the Spirit. Yes, being aware of the Spirit can bring unrest. I have to learn to hear his voice. I have to follow his lead. For now, I’m giddy with longing and anticipation, and that giddiness can make me restless. Continue reading

The Date: Part One

2476-a-couple-on-the-beach-during-sunset-orI read an article today about avoiding discouragement, and one of the suggestions was to take our thought lives under control.  I can relate to that.  Personally, I am very much my own worst enemy.  My head tells me lies all the time about who I am, what I’m worth, what God must think of me…  Really, there’s nothing like being victimized by one’s own head.  I have to trust what God says and not the version of reality my head holds onto.

I’ve been telling a story about drifting from God’s truths and how God brought me back around. When I left off I was reading the Bible again, looking for God’s truths, finally rowing my drifting boat back toward land, back into the right currents to lead me home.

But apparently I wasn’t there yet, because discouragement was around the bend, and it had everything to do with my thought life, with what appeared true versus what was true.  Spiritual battle hit hard.  Satan was about to lose a useless Christian.  Heaven was about to gain a warrior.  There had to be a clash.

Shamefully, I listened to the wrong side, and the narratives that had plagued me as I’d drifted hit hard.  Friendships felt lonely and false. Memories of loss and hurt were stronger than ever.  And even though I was now opening my Bible, I was reading it and seeing half truths.  For instance, Satan liked to remind me of the passage where people come to God on judgment day and he says I never knew you.  I was afraid that was me.  Was I going to call and find he never knew me?  How would I know if he knew me?

But there’s more to the verse.  Those who weren’t known were practicers of lawlessness.  I know I sin, but I seek to repent and obey.  I’m not a practicer of lawlessness, but I had been blind to that part, had forgotten it and clung to the words that discouraged me. Realizing this, I delved into the Word for the full truths, trying to negate the lies, but I was losing ground.  I don’t know why, except I think God wanted to be a little more dramatic with me.  Time for me to stop falling for the same old ploys over and over.

Spiritual battle.  The father of lies muddied the waters.  The oars were in the water, but I couldn’t quite find the current home. I was trying to find the path on my own.  The Spirit wanted to stage a rescue.  White knight, tall horse, the works.

A few churches in town hosted a conference in December.  It was a conference about the working of the Spirit.  I had again turned toward God, toward Jesus.  But the muddled mess of my thoughts–that’s the realm of the Spirit, to make truths known, to help me understand.  For me to be failing there meant I wasn’t yet listening to the Spirit.  It’s not a rare problem.  I’ve never been in a church where the Spirit was taught with any intensity, so it makes sense that my relationship with the third person of the Trinity would be weak and a great field for battle.

When I heard about the conference, I was tempted, but I wasn’t sure I would attend.  I’m not good in groups.  I don’t like new things.  I don’t often have access to a car.  Lots of excuses.  Then a man in my church stood and gave a testimony about attending a similar conference.  Long story short is that he left feeling loved, feeling an undeniable love from the Spirit toward him.  And as soon as he said it, the Spirit in me said Go.  I’d listened when told to row the boat, and now I had another word.  Go find the right currents.  Take the thoughts back.  Hear me and know I love you. Instead of letting every breeze sweep you away, it’s time for you to trust once and for all that I am here loving you.

I signed up.  I didn’t know what to expect.  There was talk of healing, of spiritual gifts manifesting in ways that were new to me.  I’d forever walked in denominations that downplayed supernatural  outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and now I was in a group that believed the Spirit could do things from the New Testament.  I was afraid.  Afraid of what I would experience.  Afraid of what I wouldn’t.  This was it.  I knew I was telling myself lie after lie.  I didn’t feel loved.  I was rowing, reading, pleading, and yet I felt darker than I had before, and I needed to find the truth.  Did God want me?  Was I a daughter?  The Bible seemed to say yes, but the doubts hounding me were making me crazy.

The evening of the first session, I spent a lot of time at the mirror.  Since I rarely dress up, don’t wear makeup, have no skill with my hair, this was very strange.  But I knew something was about to happen.  My spirit was agitated and vibrating with anticipation.  I’d put so much energy into doubting and being fearful that I couldn’t get back in any conventional way.  It was going to take something more.  And tonight, I knew that would happen.  I was certain of it.  So that night I primped like a teenager.  Before I left the house, staring at the mirror, I had the strangest thought.

It was a date.  I was heading out of the house for a date with the Holy Spirit.  And I was nervous and scared and ready and hopeful.  Tonight, I was going to meet with the Spirit in a new way.  I had to. So I walked out the door in a grand step of faith, and I went to find answers to my questions and hope for my doubting soul.  And that, of course, is the next story.