Tag Archives: John

Waiting

Waiting:  it is perhaps one of the things we like the least but do the most.  Each day, we find ourselves forced to pause while someone or something completes a task.  Perhaps we find it frustrating because we are used to going through life at our own pace and find the imposition of a different pace to be both uncomfortable and irritating.  Or maybe it is because we feel that, as we are waiting, we are being cheated out of our time because we don’t have control over how long we must wait.

As frustrating as we find waiting to be in situations we do not think of as spiritual, it is no surprise that we are similarly irked when we find ourselves forced to wait in our Christian walk.  This may take shape as hitting a spiritual plateau in which we do not feel the same sense of growth that we used to.  We may also encounter waiting as a sense of being distant from God.  Nonetheless, from this handful of examples, we can see that waiting is an inseparable part of our spiritual journey.  It is part of the undulating road that we walk as we seek to draw closer to God.

Waiting, itself, is no novelty in Christianity:  after Christ’s ascension, the disciples were told to wait until they had received the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49), the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom had to wait until morning for the ditches that had been dug to fill with water (2 Kings 3:20), and we live our lives in anticipation of eternity, just to name a few examples.  Though we are forgiven the moment we repent and turn to Christ, Christianity is not of religion of instant gratification; it is a religion that is founded on relationship, and sometimes that means waiting and remaining faithful.  One of the most poignant examples of waiting on God is the story of Abraham being called out of his homeland by God (Genesis 12:1-9).  Abraham (then called Abram) was told to pack up, leave his home, and go to a land that God would show him.  In many ways, Abraham was being asked to go and wait.  It is one thing to wait while we are secure in the midst of familiar surroundings and quite another to wait while outside of our comfort zone.  Such circumstances bring to mind the question of exactly how we wait:  what do we do when we are waiting on God?

One way we may go about waiting on God is to push our spiritual life to the side.  There doesn’t seem to be much going on there, so why attend to it?  Surely our time is better spent on something else at the moment.  While such a mentality can assist us in becoming better multitaskers, it can also be a detriment to our spiritual growth.  Another way that we might approach waiting is to very simply refuse to do it and give up on our spiritual walk altogether.  After all, is it really worth the time and hassle if we’re just going to have to wait?  This, too, is spiritually unhealthy and cause for us to reconsider where we stand with God (Matthew 13:20-21).

So what are we to do when waiting on God?  Above all else, we must remain faithful.  This means continuing to be diligent in our daily lives:  maintaining our times of devotion and prayer and continuing to live our lives according to Christ’s example.  Our obedience to God and acts of devotion are responses to God’s love for us (1 John 4:17-5:5).  As such, they are not dependent upon immediate feedback because they are based on something far grander in scale.  Love is more than a feeling:  it is obedience, commitment, and selflessness, among other things.  When we love someone, our attitudes and actions towards them ultimately proceed not from temporary feelings (though these may certainly have influence), but from deeper within our hearts, from a deep-seated desire for them to be truly happy.  Love does not consist solely in doting and being doted upon, but also of making hard choices for the betterment of the other party.  This is why, for example, parents discipline their children:  it is not pleasant for any involved, but that discipline teaches the children valuable lessons and is instrumental in their continued healthy development.  When we are waiting on God, we continue to pursue Him and remain faithful, not because it is particularly pleasant at the time or we are trying to earn His love, but because He loves us and we love Him.  Perhaps we wish the answer was more complicated than that, but that is the heart of the matter.  Our response to God’s love persists even when we are not filled with the warm glow of affirmation.

It would be remiss to overlook why God sometimes makes us wait.  As stated earlier, when we love someone, we seek for them to be truly happy.  As God works in us to grow and shape us, sometimes He steps back to allow us to stand on our own.  It is not unlike a child learning to feed itself.  There comes a point when it must learn to convey food to its mouth on its own.  Even though the parents are no longer spoon-feeding it, they don’t love it any less; as a matter of fact, it is because they love it that they put it through the ordeal in the first place.  Likewise, when God asks us to wait on Him, it is because He is teaching us to feed ourselves:  to take what He has given us and be nurtured by it, rather than being spoon-fed.  It helps us to grow and mature spiritually.

When we are waiting on God, despite appearances, we are going through an important process of spiritual maturation.  We learn to show love when we don’t necessarily feel love as we are shaped into the image and likeness of Him who gave the fullest measure of love for those who hated and reviled Him.  Our growth while waiting is not restricted to times when we are waiting on God:  when we wait on others, we can still share the love of God with how we wait.  Are we patient?  Are we kind?  Do we give grace as we have received grace?  As the seed lies seemingly inert in the ground before growing into a fruit-bearing plant, so the times when our spiritual life seems inert eventually grow and bear spiritual fruit.

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Square One

There are times and stretches of time in our lives when it seems as though there is no light at the end of the tunnel and no hope of something better.  Or, even if we can envision something better, it appears to be forever out of our reach.  God seems distant and disinterested as we view our faith as more of a nice thought than anything of substance.  What do we do when everything seems so messed up and out of joint with both ourselves and the world in general?

What I wish to offer here is not any sort of quick-fix solution to magically solve all problems or a list of platitudes that just tell us to feel better, for hope is not built upon such things.  Instead, what I aim to do is present starting points, a series of “square-ones” as it were.  These are facts that help us to take our next step in the right direction and, just as important, help us to not give up.

1)  Jesus Christ is in Heaven.

 Yes, this seems like a rather vanilla statement, but we ought not to lose sight of what it entails.   Christ has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven:  He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world and was elevated to the right hand of God the Father (Hebrews 8:1).  There, having returned to His place at the Father’s side and opened the way for us to be reconciled to our God, Christ makes intercession for us to the end that we share in the fellowship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Hebrews 7:25, John 17:20-26).  We are never so far removed from God that we cannot reach Him and He cannot reach us.  When we come to God and throw ourselves upon His mercy, we have Jesus Christ as our Advocate, to speak for us and support us.

2)  The Spirit dwells in us.

 Though Christ is in Heaven interceding for us, we have not been left alone.  He, Himself, promised that a Helper, the Holy Spirit, would come to us and abide with us (John 14:15-18).  Through the Spirit’s indwelling, God dwells in our hearts so that He is always near.  The Holy Spirit comes alongside us in life to help and to guide us.  He is our advocate as we live on earth, reminding us of our true North and directing us closer to God.  In the midst of our weakness, in our hours of darkness, He also helps us by speaking on our behalf when we do not know what to say (Romans 8:26).  God is near to us even in the thick of the fray and is active in our lives even when we feel far from Him.  The Spirit helps us, speaks to us, and makes God known to us (John 16:13-15).

3)  We have the power to choose.

Because of what God has done for us, we are no longer slaves to sin or ignorance.  Instead, we have the help and tools before us to make meaningful decisions in our lives.  We can choose what kind of person we are going to be and what we are going to make of our current circumstances.  We can choose to remain faithful even when we feel so distant.  Even when we feel powerless, we are still able to make choices of eternal significance.  When we stumble and fall or are plain knocked down, there are always at least two options:  to stay down, or to get back up.  This is a choice that we and we alone can make.  We make it countless times throughout our lives and we make it especially often when we are struggling with sin or facing a difficult life situation.  No matter how many times we have to make it, it is always ours to make.

The points above remain constant, regardless of where we find ourselves in our Christian walk.  The worst thing that we can do is give up and succumb to despair, for then we have shut out hope ourselves.  However, if we can keep the above in mind, it will help us to remember the eternal hope we have and, in light of that hope, continue to put one foot in front of the other in our current situation.  This may be seeking out the help we need, it may be continuing in prayer despite being pressed by desolation, it may even be as simple as choosing to smile.

In spite of the darkness that may surround us and give us a bleak outlook on life, there is a light and power within us of great and eternal significance.  It is a light and power that is cared about by God and that He wishes to nurture and grow.  He has given us a key role in this process.  We can choose what to do with it at any given time and the hope that is thereby placed before us is a solid footing.


Real Motives

Reading our Bible, praying, meditating, etc. are all things that we are often told to do and often talk about. However, it is worth our time to step back and think about the “why” behind it all. Why do we do these things? The answer to this question is of paramount importance to our persistence in them and what we get out of them. For example, if we do these things because they are what a Christian “ought to do”, then they take on the all the purpose and meaning of chores or items on a to-do list.

What I wish to do here is to recall our attention to the spiritual reality underlying all religious activity. Perhaps we have heard that the word of God is living and powerful (Hebrews 4:12) or that Holy Spirit abides in us and helps us (John 14:15-18). But maybe we’ve only heard them spoken in the midst of an emotion-fueled passion and when the heat of the moment is gone, so also fades the sense of profoundness of what we have heard. The tepid haze of distraction and tedium creep in once more and we find ourselves again distant from God and quietly trying to look like we have a vibrant relationship with Him, hints of whom we only see moving behind the curtains of someone else’s experience.

But what if there is more? What if Scripture is more than a collection of Christian slogans? What if this talk of a real God who loves us, died for us, and lives in us were all true in the truest sense possible? If we start from this as the basic immutable fact of life, then our perspective of all things changes in at least some way. Focusing on our religious practices: they cease to be acts that we use to try and justify our calling ourselves Christian. Instead, they are windows through which we meet and interact with God. We engage in prayer and searching the Scriptures not because a personal label compels us to, but because we are drawn to them as a taste of what really matters and is eternal. Even when we feel spent in spirit and haven’t the slightest inkling to pursue matters of faith, we engage in our disciplines with the hope and assurance that the real and living God of the universe is with us.


The Great Commission Abridged

One of the core values of the Church and of Christianity as a whole is the Great Commission, Jesus’ command to the disciples just before He ascended into Heaven after the Resurrection: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) I think that much of our understanding of this passage boils down to something along the lines of “get people to join the church” or “get people to convert”. However, such an understanding is inadequate because it amounts to putting butts in the pews and nothing more. Other times we cut it down to the baptism part and even that we reduce down to formalities and bestowing certificates (never mind the schisms that have arisen surrounding the mode of baptism, i.e. immersion vs. anointing, discounting baptisms from different denominations, etc.). If we make the Great Commission strictly about winning converts we would do well to also consider Christ’s admonishment in Matthew 23:15: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

There is much more to the Christ’s words than a mere numbers game. First we are told, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” Before equating disciple-making to adding to the church membership list, let’s reflect a moment on what it means to be a disciple of Christ. In basic word-sense, to be a disciple is to be a learner or a pupil. As disciples of Christ, we are His students learning from Him. We strive to follow His lead and to imitate Him, hence the term “Christian” (Little Christ). As it relates to sharing Christ with others, Paul sums it up well when he writes to the church in Corinth, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) For we are all fellow disciples seeking to be more fully conformed to Christ. Just as we are invited to share in the loving relationship that overflows from the Triune God, we allow that love to overflow from us and we invite others to join in this transformational journey of growing in God’s love and grace. To make disciples of all the nations is more than just handing out certificates or trying to increase Sunday morning or Bible study attendance, it is about inviting others to travel with us as we all follow Christ.

Next, we move on to baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.   Baptism is an important part of our Christian walk. It is a vital milestone in our spiritual development because it is in baptism that we identify with Christ’s death and resurrection. “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,” (Romans 6:3-5) In baptism we are unified with Christ and, in Him, with each other. It is a public witness of our accepting Christ as Lord and Savior, but what’s more, it is a spiritual witness of our new identity in Christ, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and accounted righteous through the shed blood of Christ. With this in mind, we see that baptism is not something that we get, but it is an ordinance that we receive in harmony with the transformation that has already begun to take place in our lives by the grace and working of God. Baptism goes hand in hand with being a disciple of Christ: as imitators of Christ we identify with His death and resurrection. As such, we ought not to treat baptism as if it were a stand-alone event. We ought rather to keep it in a holistic perspective, recognizing it as a flower of grace, an outgrowth of our being in Christ and He in us.

Finally we come to “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you.” We ought not to construe this as merely handing down and enforcing a set of rules. In John 14:15, Christ says “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Since our minds are conditioned to think in terms of “do this in order to achieve that,” it is often our first instinct to read Christ’s words as “If you love me, prove it by keeping my commands.” This, however, is to get the flow backwards. Our love for Christ is prompted by God’s love for us. (1 John 4:19) Our obedience arises as an expression of our love: it is a way that we go about loving God. Instead of issuing an ultimatum, Christ is helping us to respond to God’s love. (I don’t think it is an accident that in this passage He immediately proceeds to promise the coming of the One who helps us to abide in God, the Holy Spirit.) So when the topic of obeying Christ’s commandments comes up, it is not about exerting control or being controlled. It is about teaching and learning to love God as a way of life, to live our lives with God. To essentially give someone a set of rules and say “do this” is an immense disservice to the Gospel message. One might think of the giving of the Law in the Old Testament as God’s giving us a set of rules and saying “do this,” but even then God was with the people of Israel and was in relationship with them as they struggled to keep the Law and to remain in God by their own power. God is relational and teaching to obey Christ’s commands is an invitation to join in living our lives with God.

The Great Commission is much more than the missional boilerplate we often take it as. It is much deeper and something that we all take part in in various ways, beyond our typical picture of a missionary. It is Christ handing over to us, as His friends (John 15:15), His work of sharing God with others. As the commissioned, we invite and help others to be fellow pupils of Christ; with faith blooming into the flower of baptism which gives rise to the spiritual fruit of life lived with God. However, we mustn’t be too hard on ourselves or others for abridging the Great Commission. As we have seen (and speaking from my own, I believe, not uncommon experience), the Great Commission is a rather scary investment of time, effort, and, most poignantly, our heart. However, we can take peace and encouragement from Christ’s closing words, “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Following Christ requires that we become vulnerable, so it is inevitable that we will get bumped and hurt. That is part of why it is so important that we, ourselves, remain anchored in and sustained by Christ. The other part is that what we ultimately share with others in fulfilling the Great Commission is our own relationship with God. Our abiding in Christ is the light that we share with others. As we walk with God together, our lights strengthen and rekindle each other, all fed by the Lord. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)

Chibi Abridged


Slowing Down

We live in a fast-paced world that continues to accelerate. As a result of living in such an environment, we have become exceedingly good at multitasking. It’s almost become natural for us to have our minds scattered across several things at any given time. Granted, in older, more primitive times, splitting our attention was vital to our very survival and the ability remains both useful and valuable today. However, we are stretching our finite cognitive resources further than ever before and there are consequences that necessarily arise. Though the human mind is as vast and mysterious as the oceans, like the oceans, it also has boundaries and limits. The greater the area over which the mind is spread, the more shallowly it must be applied. In short, ill-managed multitasking impedes our depth of thought.

This becomes especially troubling in matters of faith and religion. We must dwell on the truths of the Bible in order for them to soak into us and transform us. In order to abide in Christ (John 15:1-8), we must spend time digesting and being nourished by Him, by the True Vine. This should not be equated to punching our time cards each week with church-related activities, for without taking time to dwell on God, on Christ, on the Bible, etc. these are like so many unopened books which never do us any good for having them. There is much to be gained from taking time to slow down and really attend to and be present to God.

Here is an exercise to help cultivate a habit of slowing down when we spend time with God:

Start by finding a place where you are able to concentrate. Generally speaking, this is a place where you can find some level of mental solitude (i.e. it doesn’t have to be devoid of people but you should be able to be undisturbed and able to focus entirely on one thing).

Pray and ask God to help you to slow down and focus on Him, to help you to listen to Him and what He has to say to you.

Take some time to just focus on your breathing. Take relaxed, full breaths. Become aware of the air as it passes into and out of you. Try not to think about anything else. It may be handy to have a paper and pen nearby as sometimes we can bothered by thoughts of what we are going to do after this. Writing them down on the paper allows us to set them aside for the time being without risking forgetting them. Feel your body begin to relax. Continue in this until you feel calm and still.

Once you have reached a calm, clear state of mind, read Psalm 4. Take your time and fully register everything that you read. When the Scriptures say “Selah”, pause from reading and reflect on what you have just read. After this, return to the psalm and continue, pausing at the next “Selah” to reflect as before. When you have finished reading the psalm, take another pause to reflect on what you have read, dwelling on what the Scripture is saying to you. From there, you may wish to repeat the reading again or perhaps there is a particular thought that has arisen from your reading that you wish to spend more time with.

Conclude the exercise with prayer. Pray out of the time you just spent in God’s word. You may thank God for some blessing you have received or recalled during the reading. You may ask God for forgiveness for a sin that came to mind. You may ask for His help and grace to stand up under some trial or temptation that came into focus or the Psalm spoke to. After praying, tuck away a bit of the quiet from this time into your heart and mind to carry with you throughout the rest of your day.

(Note: You can use this sequence when reading any selection of Scripture.)


Still Waters

Today, more than ever, our time seems to be at a premium. There is never enough of it to do everything we want and the time we do have is often split between any of a number of activities. With this being the norm, it is no surprise that our relationship with God is also dealt with in a similar fashion. Being with God is often something that we do rather than something we are. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t engage in spiritual disciplines (which are definitely things that we do) but that we shouldn’t lose sight of what we are striving for in them: to be shaped and grown by God into the image of Jesus Christ. God has already given us the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us and works to bring about this formation within us.

However, Paul admonishes us, saying, “Do not quench the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) Our struggle, in many ways, consists in striving to still the waters of our internal life so that there isn’t interference to cloud our ability to receive from the Spirit who wants to make known to us the things of God and to lead us into all truth. (John 16:5-15) If we wish for water to still and settle so that it is clear, we cannot force it to do so. Any attempt to manipulate the water with our own wills only stirs it up. Additionally, we can very easily cause the water to churn up once more if we immediately and violently start back into our regular routine. What is within our power is to make the time and the space for the water to still. We also have the ability to strive to keep the water still even after we have moved on from our devotional time.

As we persevere in our quest to still the waters of our soul, we will find that spiritual inertia begins to work in our favor. The default status of our water drifts toward being still and calm. This, however, is not a signal for us to slip into complacence. For our enemy is tireless in his efforts to draw us into his own ruin. Therefore, we must remain vigilant and constantly drive away the thoughts and temptations that attempt to bring confusion to our hearts once more. For it is that confusion, disorder, and general static that we allow to come between ourselves and God. Working with God to do away with this interference allows us to live more closely to Him by letting His Spirit speak clearly to us and be present to us rather than being obscured and quenched by turning our attention elsewhere. Being clearly connected to God and mindful of Him as a general rule of life is what we seek when we aim to follow Him and live our lives with Him.

Chibi Calm Waters


Godly Guru

The wise, old guru, with his wizened appearance, perched atop a mountain in solitude, is a familiar image to many of us.  We most often encounter this character in conjunction with the pilgrim who makes the arduous climb up the mountain to seek wisdom or advice.  As a matter of fact, we rarely picture the guru without such a pilgrim in the scene, sprawled on the ground, exhausted from the journey and eager to soak up the guru’s wisdom and tranquility.  If only we, too, had the opportunity to meet with such a guru, then we would have the peace and guidance in our lives that we so desperately seek!  The fact is that we have access to One who excels all gurus and wise men in knowledge, wisdom, and peace.  It is God who knows all things and from whom all wisdom proceeds and whose peace surpasses all understanding.

If we have access to such a Counselor, why do we not turn to Him more?  Perhaps it is because we don’t view Him in that light.  If we only ever encounter God in a church or Bible study setting, it makes sense that we would perceive Him as a God who is only relevant in such settings and speaks only to such settings.  Therefore, we are only inclined to seek His wisdom for matters specifically within that context.  We must be in desperate straits to ask His guidance outside of what we think is His area of expertise.  However, God speaks to the entirety of our lives, not just the part spent in a church building.

Let’s consider what wisdom is.  Generally speaking, wisdom is knowledge for good living.  That is to say, knowledge for doing what is right, finding peace and contentment, etc.  These are characteristics of a life lived with God.  (Not ignorant of, not near, not around, but with God.)  God’s wisdom applies to all areas of our lives and is instruction for good living because it tells us how we go about living our lives with God.  As God’s written account of His involvement with humanity, the Bible communicates this wisdom via many genres of literature.  The Gospels in particular provide us with an account of the life and teachings of God in the flesh:  Jesus Christ.

Coming to grips with this fact that God’s wisdom is wisdom for life is one of the greatest hurdles we encounter in our Christian walk.  However, when we begin to grasp this, we become able to say with Peter:  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)  This conviction is what motivates us to seek God as ardently as the pilgrim seeks the guru.  For we seek to hear more than trite sayings and clever words.  We seek His words of eternal life that will transform and uphold us.  We seek to rest in His presence which gives us peace beyond all understanding.