Hearing the ‘whisper’ of God.

Elijah was a rock-star in the Old Testament. He was a prophet’s – prophet. No other prophetic life in the scriptures can compare to the astonishing events surrounding this man of deep faith. (see his story for yourself in 1 Kings 17 – 19 and 2 Kings 1-2)

He literally caused a three year drought, called fire from heaven, and never actually died on earth as he was taken up in a fiery chariot. This was a man of courage. Elijah, at the risk of his own life, called out a corrupted government and the sin of embracing openly pagan worship in defiance to God’s will and ways. (not too unlike the world we live in today) 

Yet we know this astounding man of faith also struggled with despair, depression, and anxiety. He too felt the fatigue of spiritual burnout, he got tired of all the struggles, all of the burdens that came with representing God to a hostile culture.  Much of his life he had to live on the run, a wanted man without the comfort and stability of a home or place to call his own. His life was filled with great turmoil and forced isolation.

Photo by Eric Sanman from Pexels

YET… he needed to learn to hear God’s voice, just as we do.

Elijah is the guy who hid in the wilderness, was fed by ravens, and eventually faced his fate completely alone and seemingly abandoned by God. It was in this place of deep despair that he and God had a remarkable encounter.

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” (1 Kings 19:11-13

 

It was in this whisper that God came to Elijah, in the middle of all his stress and anxiety, despair and chaos, God spoke quietly and calmly to Elijah. It wasn’t in the rush and hype of a busy work day or after a stellar worship service at church, it was one to one – alone – on the mountain of God.

If you find yourself like Elijah, overwhelmed, discouraged, and full of despair… it may be time to go to the mountain and get quiet. For some of you reading this, that may mean a literal place you need to go to. A quiet place of reflection and beauty, a place where God has spoken to you before. For others, this is a metaphor of life. It means setting apart some time to be alone in your day or week, to be silent. It will mean turning off the electronics, clearing your calendar and waiting for God to approach.

It seems that in the moments we need Him the most, God comes to us. But only after we quit trying to control the story we live in. It takes a posture of full surrender to be still, to get quiet enough to hear the ‘whisper’ of God. 

The Peace of Christ be with you.

Fr. Brad.

(for those of you with young children, this ‘waiting’ and listening is almost impossible in the normal chaos of your day to day. Ask for the Holy Spirit to provide you with opportunity, and then stick with the being ‘silent’ part until you ‘hear’ what God is whispering to you.)

Living as a Settled Soul

I need to share honestly… and I know I’m not alone or unusual. My last five years have been full of struggle and discouragements, tragic loss, and setbacks. I’ve felt the harshness of life and the ridiculously hard path of what I thought was a  simple existence.

It seemed that everything and everyone was resisting me constantly, and the weariness from the exhaustion that comes from trying again and again to get back up…is impossible to describe without going through it yourself.

The accumulated years of seemingly pointless sacrifices take their toll on our hearts. Sometimes they get so grim they choke out much of our optimism and left us more empty and numb than alive inside.  

As we ponder our lives, we have to wrestle with the point to our endless parade of difficulties and stress. We wonder, am I doing something wrong? Is God angry with me? Why doesn’t my life seem to be ‘working’?

If you’re finding yourself in a similar diminished state, weary of the struggles that never seem to be conquered… read on! I get it. I understand as much as any other human can.

Here are some hard won truths from my own private journal. Some are from podcasts I’ve listened to, some from daily devotionals, but most are from hours alone with God and His word.

Reminder #1: All difficult circumstances are not ‘God’s’ making. He doesn’t create and force disaster upon us, but when it comes… He is offering to be ‘in it’ with us.  He will redeem whatever we’re facing, irregardless of whether we deserve it or not.

Reminder #2: The places we go for comfort in our difficult days are only temporary substitutes for the true solace we long for.  Sex, Drugs, Alcohol, and Ambition can only numb us to the pain we feel inside. The deeper pain never goes away with external medications.

Reminder #3: The struggle allowed or endured is used by the Holy Spirit to remove the gunk in us and free up fresh real-estate in our soul for God’s presence to settle in and restore. Our hearts need made whole and that’s a inner work that takes time.

Reminder #4: God is good. His ways are odd to us, the solutions He prescribes seem to take the long way to our desired outcomes, but they are always the best possible route and a specific answer to each and every prayer we voice.

Reminder #5: The inner work of stillness is the mature work of a settled soul. God longs for us to shrug off our external distractions and focus on just being satisfied in Him. The bible calls this ‘abiding’ in Christ. It is the deep and permanent work of the Holy Spirit to settle a soul.

These are truths we must recall in the dark night of the soul. Those days and weeks, months and even years that we feel abandoned by God and alone in our struggle. We are not alone, it’s a lie, and the truth can be so hard to remember when our world seems to never change.

Be strong dear one, God is working… and whatever new and awesome assignment that’s right around the corner,  you can bet it requires us to go through whatever we’re currently wrestling with. God never wastes our pain or suffering, He uses it to prepare us for the greater influence and responsibility sure to come our way.

The temptation is to simply find ‘the’ solution to our angst, but in the end I’ve found the discipline of ‘stillness’ is the surest course to find Peace and a settled soul.

Pastor B.

Slow Down. Please.

I can’t help but push a little more, I can’t stop the need to check one more item off the ‘to-do’ list of my life. It’s my nature to stay busy, to distract myself from tomorrow by filling my ‘today’.

Maybe you can relate? 

The world we live in doesn’t help. Our instant communication and remarkable technologies have opened up worlds of discovery and detail that compel us to discover and ‘do’ more with each day.

Parenting is easily the hardest and best work of your life. Of any life. Our immediate desire is to protect and provide, to make sure our offspring are safe from harm and well cared for. Later we engage with our kids, teaching and mentoring them into the ways of life and the wiles of our world. We have dreams and desires for them, we have hopes that they will go where we couldn’t, do what we didn’t dare to try. (parenting doesn’t require a biological child, many parent those in need around us)

The struggle to find ‘rest’ in the world of parenthood is real. It seems the days are so slow… yet the years fly by. Our work as a parent never seems to end, we just shift gears as our kids get older, always busy, always engaged with the work of life and family. 

I have been told by almost every older parent or pastor I’ve ever known to ‘slow down’. I’ve known intellectually that life is more than a series of goals to be accomplished, but in the nitty – gritty of day to day living, it really didn’t sink in.

I imagine that many of you could say the same.

So what can we do to realign ourselves and reconnect with our deeper purpose and meaning beyond parenthood…? Isn’t there a purpose to life beyond raising our children?

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

Here’s what I’m learning as a newly minted 50 year old grandfather of two little ones. ‘Slow down’ was/ is wise advice.  I’m learning to accept and apply it over all my natural instincts to the contrary. 

Slowing down is a spiritual discipline for those who are ‘wired’ to keep moving. (not so much for those who like to stay still) It’s difficult to do without extenuating circumstances, we don’t ‘choose’ to slow down, we are ‘forced’ to slow down. God in his infinite mercy works in His mysterious ways to push us back into a proverbial corner. We may find ourselves stuck in a situation of His creation that forces us to stop thrashing and simply ‘be still’.

On first glance we feel like we’re being punished. God must be ‘angry’ with us. But as we slowly unclench our hearts and open ourselves up to His voice we soon begin to sense the exact opposite.

God is pleased with us. He wants to reveal something new and essential to our identity. We are now more than just parents or spouses, we are created children of a heavenly father. More than pawns in a cosmic struggle for power, we are invited to be a part of this divine story of redemption and love.

Not to drift too far into the theology, but we generally won’t stay ‘still’ for long without a deeper understanding of the presence of God. We need to learn to seek Him out for more than a few minutes each day. He is inviting us to bring Him along ‘all’ day. This shift from accomplishing things to ‘being’ is essential.

photo courtesy of Pixabay

The presence of God in our lives is where we find true meaning, purpose, and thus ‘Satisfaction’. Yes, the elusive sense of peace and contentment that is promised in scripture is truly out there. It just takes time to discover. 

So, be encouraged if you find yourself ‘hemmed in’ by life. God is in it. He is conspiring to bless you, to force you to rest and be ‘still’. It’s the only way forward.

Slow Down! Please.

Pastor Brad.

 

Waiting, Resting… and other ‘odd’ requests.

The Christian life in our modern world is so convoluted with the secular it’s almost impossible to sort things out.

The way our world works seems normal to us. It seems logical, even wise… but it operates on principles foreign to the Holy Spirit.

The world is about self-preservation, promotion, accomplishment, and gain.

Christ led us by example into a new way, a Kingdom built out of self-sacrifice, humility, service, and loss.

Photo by Zukiman Mohamad from Pexels

He promises that if we will follow after His way, we’ll find what we’re all searching for… a new life, one that’s abundant and free.

One of the first things we’re often asked to do by God is to ‘wait’. He doesn’t assign us a prominent role in the ministry, He doesn’t place us in positions of great influence or authority, He often puts us in a ‘time-out’. 

He’s not punishing us, He’s loving us. His voice will often urge us to ‘rest’. It seems odd. It seems out of place for us to ‘not’ pursue after our ministry, or work, or family. After all our entire life has been in ‘pursuit’ of something!

What is this weird request?

We may feel like we’re aren’t ‘needed’ for His purposes? Did we misunderstand Him. Did he misunderstand us? It’s so unusual to slow down and to actually stop running around that we feel useless, and irrelevant when we do. So we don’t.

Yet God asks us to be still.

The point I believe is we’re being ‘un-taught’ our worldly ways. In our world the harder we push the further we get. In God’s Kingdom, the way up is down. His ways are opposite of our ways, the slower we get the quieter we become. The less we do, the more we can hear. 

When we learn to ‘hear’ clearly we can proceed with conviction and confidence. If we’re learning to live and work in ‘his’ strength, then knowing His will and way is far more important than working out the ways we’re going to accomplish things, or pondering the “how to’s” of our ministry.

God is speaking to us, it’s essential that we learn to slow down and stop. To rest and be quiet, it’s in these moments that we learn the most. His will is all that matters.

Blessings, Pastor B.

Isaiah 30:15 (ESV) “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling,” 

The Stillness of Intimacy – a gift from the wilderness

 

In the Wilderness… we can grow into a deeper ‘Intimacy” with God. 

The process of the Holy Spirit is persistent and subtle in our wilderness season.

  • He asks us to follow the voice of God – to walk the path we have been shown despite our limited insights and understanding of the “purpose” or plan.
  • We are gently forced to let go of our stuff – our crutches that have propped us up. (Career – intimate relationships that hold us back from growing in faith – confidence in our financial strength – friendships – ministry roles) things that affirm us or give us perceived value. Things “other” than God.
  • We must willingly surrender these “other” things as we choose to “stay” in the place and path Gods spirit has led us. We cannot run away or hide – we must allow the work of the Holy Spirit to persist in our weakness.
  • Our dependence on the flesh for support and affirmation is reduced the longer we allow ourselves to be reduced. Our need for the flesh is weaned – and we grow in hunger and interest in the things of the Holy Spirit.
  • The loss of self is astonishingly difficult, but it removes our false confidences and pseudo identities and replaces them with a transparency of the soul. We block less of the Spiritual light within and begin to assume more and more of our identity from the one who inhabits our heart.
  • Here habits can be broken and false assumptions revealed. Here in this place we can be changed and transformed from what we were to who we are destined to be.
  • It’s also here that we can begin to hear and understand the work of the Holy Spirit within much better than we could otherwise. We can gain insight and wisdom from the suffering we’re experiencing.

The process* of growing in Intimacy requires us to become “still”. To learn to stop doing things to change our circumstances. God wants to teach us how to wait. He wants to train us to trust His plans more than our own.

2 Chronicles 20

This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”

 The struggle to draw near to the creator is real – everything in us resists approaching His presence. Our minds endlessly inventive for finding “other” options to pursue.

Photo by Lucas Campoi from Pexels

Apprehension at His knowing gaze tempts us to run, to avoid being exposed for what we truly are. Our external and superficial defenses are powerless before Him. We desperately assemble something to prop ourselves up… we use our self invented identities and lean on personal successes to offset the weakness His gaze is revealing about ourselves. Lacking the strength to withstand or endure the penetrating power of His words to us, we are tempted to just keep retreating and hiding from the painful truth. Just like our forefathers we look for whatever fig leaves we can find to cover our nakedness.

The active effects of our wilderness circumstances and of His approach are effective in forcing a “sorting out” of our past presumptions and false assumptions.

We cannot retain our pride and false bravado for very long in the definitely engineered circumstances of His will. There is no room for the baggage of our past in the present, we are unable to deny the truth of our weakness and incompleteness. We must admit our need – accept His conditions or we must flee forever.

This process of growing in Intimacy requires a form of “sorting out” or refinement. Consider your life as you would a precious metal like Gold, Platinum, or Silver, this is how God sees us. The purification of this treasured substance (our hearts) is a large part of the human condition as experienced in Christ.

We are in nearly constant transition as we experience the fire and flames of being heated and then the abrupt change of being thrust into the icy waters. The repeated heating to the point of melting and then being plunged into one more baptismal trial after another is the tempering way for every believer to proceed in their faith. No other path will prepare us adequately for the prize we seek.

Pexels.com

It’s in this season of refinement, in the pain and suffering of our fearful transitions and abrupt life changes that we risk giving ourselves over to the darkness of despair and discouragement. Make no mistake, this is a choice! We have the capacity to chose life or death, Hope or despair and it’s in this that our life trajectory will rise or fall.

No one of us can endure the strain indefinitely, we are subject to the mortal nature of eventual fatigue and exhaustion, but this too serves the masters purposes and realign’s our understanding from fantasy to faith. We cannot continue to pretend or fake our way through the Christian life, we must dig in or bug out.

Despite all of the insight and growing personal awareness of our condition, we cannot remain myopic and self obsessed for long if we are to move forward. The journey is “upward” and if we keep clinging to Jesus, we will wind our way to greater heights and better perspectives than we have ever yet experienced. This isn’t a test of our strength, but rather our wills. Surrender is hard.

The Wilderness isn’t about being abandoned by God, it’s all about learning to be more intimate with Him.  An unavoidable place and space in every Christians story, the journey of faith expands for those who choose to stay in His presence, for those who trust enough to be still. 

Pastor B.