Sunday, September 4, 2016

"It Can't Be True, Because I Don't Feel It."

Often what we think to be small or mundane decisions in our lives turn out to be the ones that affect us the most. One of mine reminds me of the always-quoted Robert Frost poem about the two roads in the woods. I just didn't realize that I had been at a crossroads until years later.

It was Fall break at Grove City College, and most of the campus was empty. My suitemates and I had decided to stay at school to soak up the days that we knew were numbered, in a place that felt enchanted because of the gorgeous turning foliage. We laughed and sang to John Mayer's new album on the 45-minute drive to the closest Starbucks where we got a little bit of studying and a lot of talking in, watched movies  at night, played Dutch Blitz and ate peach ring gummies after dinner, and generally enjoyed the more relaxed pace of a break. It was not exactly the setting I would have imagined for one of the most defining moments of my life.

One night during this break, however, found me sitting in the always-open Harbison chapel. Well, not exactly sitting. I was in the upper balcony of the chapel, wedged underneath the front corner pew, hoping that whoever was playing the piano would continue filling the chapel with sound so that nobody would hear me weeping and find me. The only light was the stained glass window at the very front of the chapel. As I lay there on the cold chapel floor, I knew the chances of anyone finding me were very slim, and that made me both grateful and sad. I wanted to be found and comforted, but I also knew that that heart healing simply takes time, and any comfort couldn't ultimately erase the hurt that would just have to heal.

The reason for the tears was simple - tale as old as time. Boy meets girl. They date. It ends. Nearly every human has experienced the bitter anguish of this, but the commonness of that experience doesn't lessen the pain. I poured out a mixture of thoughts and prayers into my journal with a pen. Even now, six years after graduation, I can feel a touch of that anguish when I read those words that my younger self wrote. But not for a second do I wish that I had the power to take that pain from her.

As I lay there, crying and praying and writing, I knew in my head that the only place to find comfort was God. Theology majors know a lot of things from the books they read, but when the rubber hits the road, those words can do little if they remain in the mind. I mechanically turned to passages of Scripture that I had given to others in their hour of pain. It wasn't until I turned to Psalm 34 that I found what I didn’t know I was looking for:  "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit" (Ps. 34:18, ESV). I couldn't believe it.

My eyes widened, cheeks got hot, and eyebrows shot up. Gone were my tears. "Yeah Right!!" I said loudly enough to be heard. I think the pianist fumbled for a moment after realizing she wasn't alone in the chapel. I quieted down, but I was full of anger on top of my sorrow. My mind and hand operated furiously as I wrote. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted. What in the world?!?! There's no way that's true - I can't believe that the Bible would say this when I so clearly can assure anyone that that simply isn't true! If God is "near to the brokenhearted,"  I would know it! If God is "near to the brokenhearted" then I would be comforted! I would feel him near to me!

And other thoughts (that clearly didn't belong to me) began to gently argue with me:

But is that true?

Yes. I retorted. Yes. If God is near to the brokenhearted we wouldn't be brokenhearted anymore.

But is that what the verse says?

Well, no, it says that God is near to the brokenhearted.

And what does that mean?

Just that, that he is near to them.

Why do you think David wrote that?

Because he felt like God was near to him. Good for him.

Any other reason?

Well, so other people would feel that way too. So they would know where their comfort was coming from.

Why would David write it if other would already feel it too?

Well because brokenhearted people feel that there is no comfort to be had - that's what we mean by brokenhearted. And because they don't naturally know that God is near them in those moments, David wrote it so they would know it was true.

But their feelings tell them that God has forsaken them!

Right, but when it comes down to it, that's why it's in the Bible - because the Truth is truer than how we feel. We have to decide to trust God over our feelings.

Yes, we do.

Oh my goodness.

Yes, go on…?

Yes. God is near to me. I can't feel it. The ONLY way I can know it is through believing this verse, because my emotions are telling me the opposite. But when it comes down to it, and I have to choose between trusting God and trusting what I feel, I choose…God.

Quieted, but still sad, I dried my tears. Within me, though, I knew this was an important decision - I just didn't know how important. I could walk through this sorrow, knowing that God was with me. And I didn't even have to feel that he was, because his Word said that he was near to me. His Word didn't need my feelings to confirm it. It was true regardless of how I felt. I thought I had made a grand discovery about brokenheartedness - that God put that verse specifically in the Bible for hurting people to read and find some comfort.

It wasn't until years later that I realized that that evening, I had reached a fork in the road. Two paths had presented themselves to me - the path of trusting my emotions/intuition/feelings, and the path of trusting God regardless of how I felt. I didn't know that I would later see them as they really were - the path of deceit and the path of truth. The path of me, and the path of God. The path of living my life and the path of dying to myself. But that night, thanks to the Holy Spirit at work in my heart and in my mind, I took one baby step on the path of Truth. Many times I have wandered off of it in search of the path of trusting my emotions, but the Holy Spirit has led me back to trust Him and His Word. As I crawl down this path, I look ahead of me to the men and women who have gone before me.

There is a sword at the end.

To stay on this path is to choose to trust God's lead even when I feel like I would rather hold on to my life. The sword is the sword of martyrdom, and that is at the end of this path. Earthly death may overtake me before I reach that end, but to step on this path at all is to die to myself.  The only reason I can do that at all is because the Spirit of the one who died and was raised again lives in me.

Those who have crossed the finish line through the sword of death cheer me on. Jim Elliot and his four friends, Blandina, Polycarp, Stephen, William Tyndale, the Coptic Christians executed by ISIS, Dietrich Bonhoeffer - all of them make up the cloud of witnesses that declare with Scripture that "[God's] love is better than life!" The memory of these who reached the end of the path and who chose Christ over their lives and endured the sword call to me:  Run, Elspeth!  Run with joy this living death! You already have the prize - God Himself - so run!

And in those moments when my legs tire and my lungs burn, and I can't look forward anymore, and I'm tempted to trust my emotions over the Truth, I turn around, rest my hands on my knees, and look back. I see in my memory two paths . I see a girl crying under a pew in a dark chapel in Pennsylvania, and I remember that pivotal moment when I first took a step in trusting God over my feelings. I think through all the thousands of times since, when my emotions have lied to me about my God, and how I am (still) learning to trust Him over them. Those two roads presented themselves before me, and I took one of them.  Maybe this is why Frost's poem has stuck around for so long - because so many of us have tasted the truth in the last stanza of it:

"I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference."


Photo Credit 1: Two Paths Diverged in a wood, by NathanWert Source site
Photo Credit 2: Harbison Chapel, by Paul Vladuchick Source site
Frost, Robert, Helen Vendler. Poems, Poets, Poetry: An Introduction And Anthology. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2002.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

My Dear Bandersnatch...(or Screwtape Letters about a single girl)

This was written the spirit of C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, a collection of letters from a more experienced demon to a younger demon in the art of temptation and human soul-winning for "our Father below."

My Dear Bandersnatch,

I am pleased to read your last letter. The young woman you mention is right where she is most open to your influence, and the best of it is - she thinks she is nearly immune to it because of her "Christian" faith. Your work has been most excellent to bring her to this place. A young single woman, living on her own in a tiny, affordable flat. Attractive male friends. A job she adores that she considers "ministry" within the community of other Christians. And a romantic heart that is relatively undiscerning about is own nature. The juicy morsel is right before your lips, Bandersnatch. Guard it carefully, guard it carefully lest the Enemy slip it out of your hands.

Let me explain just how perfect your young woman's position is. (One of the annoyances I often have with younger demons is that because you have such little experience, you can't appreciate the fine-tuned work that has gone into this position, and you often don't know how fragile this position is because to you, it was rather effortless. How I wish our Father Below would assign you initiates to tasks where you must really cut your teeth on harder work…) First, let me explain about her heart. Take heed, Bandersnatch - you think you are responsible for this (and in a very small way, you are) - though you think you know about human hearts, you must be sure you always understand how they work in order to better use that knowledge to your advantage.

Human hearts are probably the closest thing to the human condition that we can understand. Though that makes us thankfully very different from the varmints, it does make our task more difficult since we have never experienced life in the nasty flesh as the Enemy has. But we are spiritual, and since their hearts are also spiritual, we can understand some of this. You are not locked in the prison cell of time. Human beings are. This means that they believe reality is sequential. (Pay attention, B. I know your habits of skimming things that bore you, and your recompense may be losing the soul of this woman!) 

Try to imagine, if you can, believing that every event is a. caused by a previous event and b. causes future events, but that each of those events are entirely natural, with nothing to do with the spiritual reality. (This thinking pattern is, might I add, one of our proudest accomplishments - thanks to the work of your predecessors in the period we have named - it just tickles me - the Enlightenment.) Therefore, the human creatures think that everything has a natural (not a spiritual) cause. Most of the ones in America don't even think that humans are spiritual beings. Those that do recognize this spiritual dimension are often our easy targets for pride, since they can easily think themselves better than others for this "discovery" of their true nature.

But I digress. Back to the heart of the human creatures. As I was saying, the American humans are scarcely aware that they are spiritual beings, and so it follows that they do not well recognize that their heart and desires are the pulse of their spiritual desires. This makes our work so much easier. You see, the Enemy has aptly said in his filthy book that he has set eternity in the hearts of men, yet so that they cannot find out what the Enemy has done from the beginning to the end. (It is amusing to me that the Christians praise him for his wisdom, since putting them into this paradox seems to me the height of stupidity…) So their hearts desire the spiritual, yet they are trapped within time and flesh. They rarely ever think that their desires come from the spiritual dimension of their hearts, and yet that is the very seat of their desires! The reason they have desires at all is because they are spiritual! Because of this impeccable deception, they can easily be persuaded that these spiritual desires are really not spiritual at all, but can be attributed to something as unspiritual as a lousy egg sandwich.

So, back to your young woman. Looking at her education records, I am encouraged, and yet we must be cautious. She has studied the Enemy's book extensively, and continues to do so for her job as well as on her own. She must be guarded from the reality of her heart's condition. I'll attach a few simple yet tried-and-true tips that you can use to keep her from the Enemy's book later on. Here's the crux of it - her heart longs for the spiritual, and desires things that nothing in the world can satisfy. Your task will be twofold - first make her believe that those desires are for things in the world that are attainable, and second, encourage her to pursue all of those things in order to satisfy her, but keep them nearly always out of her grasp so that she never finds out by experience that they don't actually satisfy. (If she does happen to acquire some of them and discover that dissatisfaction, then you can always tell her that the ones she has are not quite right, that conditions need to be a little different, the people she is with are the problem, etc. The ultimate goal is to keep her from realizing that her heart's desire is outside of the physical world.)

I took the liberty of reviewing her life file the other day, and was able to see that she is 25 years old and single. This age and condition, Bandersnatch, is ideal for telling her heart that the cause for her spiritual hunger is her lack of a man. Get her to believe that the one thing that will satisfy her completely is a husband. It is the real nature of the human women to desire companionship - this is a desire that we can use. It is also factual that biologically, her body is at its prime to bear children. She is quite aware of this, both due to her own biology, and due to watching her other female friends marry and reproduce. Because of these ideal conditions, she does have a natural desire for a man. But her deeper desire is spiritual, and it is easy for us to cause her to confuse those things. Watch her closely, for example, to see what makes her feel the longing. Does a sunset? Watching the leaves fall down to the ground in all of their different colors? Watching a young wedded couple look deeply into each others' eyes? Seeing families with children? All of these things should evoke in her the longing. 

Now, you and I know that beauty, seasons, loving marriage, and families are all pictures that the Enemy has made for his silly and senseless humans to see and to remember and long after him. But thanks to our Father below, their minds are darkened, so that intellectual connection is not as easy as it used to be. Every time she sees one of these things and feels the longing, tell her, "If only you had a man to share this 'romantic' (don't ever let her define that word - it has excellent connotations for a lonely heart) moment with, it would be better." You will then make her believe that this spiritual longing is not, in fact, spiritual, but a very natural longing for a man. This, combined with her natural female condition, will most assuredly redirect her affections. But the best part is that she will begin to associate that spiritual longing with man-longing. If you are as intelligent as you assure me you are, you will, undoubtedly, see the advantage of this kind of thinking.

 Here is some advice for what she calls "this season of singleness:"
  1. Make her continue to idealize the marriages around her.
  2. Make her feel that she has been patient for long enough - that her "turn" to get married, which is overdue, has not yet come up. Make her believe that she deserves a husband.
  3. Cause her to pity herself, and indulge other pleasures that she feels she deserves.
  4. When friends get married, convince her that she deserves that, too. If you are especially crafty, capitalize on the minor qualities in her friends that she has overlooked. Make her compare herself with her friends and find that she is the best of each of them. Make her resent them even more, and look down on her friends' husbands and fiancés for choosing her friends. If she has love for them, this might be difficult.
  5. Most importantly, do not let her focus come away from herself and her lack of a man. Be especially wary of involvement in selfless activities - every time an opportunity comes up, make her hesitate and decide to wait until she has a husband to really get invested.

The best attack, however, is to always tell her that her spiritual hunger is simply man-longing. There is some fact to this, which makes it more believable. She will slowly starve. It will be like parading a banquet of choice foods before a slowly starving man, yet watching him refuse it all because none of the morsels are potatoes. He will starve, refusing to be convinced that what he needs is right before him. If you can get him to believe the lie, you will walk him nearly into our Father Below's hands. If you can get this young woman to believe that all of her spiritual longings are man-longings, you will be on your way to watching her soul starve for the food of the Enemy, and that starvation makes her most vulnerable to listening to you.

Guard her heart closely, Bandersnatch. Do not let this one slip through your fingers…

Your affectionate uncle,


Monday, September 16, 2013 unnecessary word?

I think that up until recent years in my life, I have misunderstood "ministry" because I have misunderstood the Christian life. Though there have been clashes - moments when there has been a cognitive dissonance - when I have seen or heard something that bashed my understanding of a life well-lived in a head-on collision - it's only been in recent years that I have understood why. Here are a few of those clashes.


The setting is the second row on the left side of the room facing the theology professor who was also my pastor. While the class was focused around worship and the church, that topic is pretty broad and connects to pretty much everything. So it was no surprise when questions and entire classes seemed to meander away from the topic at hand, and yet still ended up teaching us more than we thought we would learn. A guy sitting in front of me asked, "So what is a pastor to do, say, with his own kids if they're not believers?" I can't remember the context, but the context isn't important - it was Dr. Duguid's answer, in his crisp British accent. "Excellent question. Yes. How is a pastor, or any Christian leader, or any Christian, for that matter, supposed to handle family members who aren't believers, or who aren't walking in a manner worthy of the gospel? It's quite simple. You treat them like nonbelievers." The air of surprise and concern that filled the room was evidence of the cognitive crash that was occurring. Treat them like nonbelievers? Is that loving? Is that right? What does that look like? Dr. Duguid, knowing his audience very well, had set us up for this necessary crash.

He knew that most of us had grown up in Christian homes, gone to Christian schools or been homeschooled, worked at Christian camps during the summers, gone on missions trips, and had few friends outside of our upper-middle class white protestant circles. To put it in biblical terms, he knew he was talking to salt that had never left the saltshaker. And there we were, sitting in a theology class in a Christian college, wondering what to do with the nonbeliever in our families. But he saw the bigger issue. "You're all wondering,what does that look like? Well, how are we supposed to treat nonbelievers? We spend time with them, we develop deep friendships with them, we live life with them, we love them and invite them into our lives. How else will they become acquainted with the beauty of the gospel, if it's not lived out in relationships?" At that moment, I realized that everything I had known about ministry had been wrong.


A sophomore in college, I was sitting at lunch, across from a friend who was really struggling with girl questions. The classic ones that all the women's self-help books address: Am I beautiful? Am I worth pursuing? Etc. I was trying to think of the right things to tell her, to direct her towards the right passages of Scripture, the right books to read, the right stuff to fix her problems and bring up to my level of "normal." And she was closing up as rapidly as I was thinking. Bewildered, and wondering what I was doing wrong, I did something that I used to do a whole lot, and have since become more aware of. I said some words insincerely. Meaning that I knew that they were perfect for this situation, but if I was honest, they weren't coming genuinely from me. "Becca, I'm sorry about all of this going on in your life. I love you and I want to help you, but you need to know that I don't see you as a project. You're my friend, and that's why I want to help you." She arched her eyebrows. "You don't see me as a project?" She forced a smile and gently patted my hand. "Okay then. Thanks for telling me." But her tone and her face made it clear to me that she could see straight through me. I realized the lie that I had told her when I reflected on the situation a little later on.


This summer, the night before I left for a summer construction project with a group of kids from my church, some confusion and hurt and miscommunications in a particularly dear friendship suddenly left it on the rocks, and questionable as to whether or not it could survive. Though bodily present with the kids, it was so difficult for me to focus on anything completely, because of what was on the backburner. I decided not to tell anyone except the bare minimum of details to Holly, the other female adult from my church. First, I didn't want to talk about this with anyone - I wanted to pray and hear the Lord's voice clearly without any distractions. Second, I knew the girls in my church were particularly loving and sensitive towards others' pain, and I wanted to be there for them and for the great conversations I knew we would have, without making them feel like a "burden" in any way. But that was sabotaged the first day when Holly and I were alone in the cabin and she was gently checking in on me. One of the younger girls walked in and could tell by my face that something was wrong. I told her what I had shared with Holly, and she ran across the room, gave me a huge hug, promised to pray for me, and spoke to me in a way that touched my heart.

Later that week, on a walk, I shared with one of the older high school girls what was going on when she asked about my life. We walked and talked for an hour, and by the end of that conversation, I realized that she had poured some healing balm on my heart as we discussed the situation together. I began to sort out what was going on. And I thought back to a class discussion I had had with my seventh grade students at the end of the school year.


We had just finished reading Homer's Odyssey, and were having several discussions about ideas it raised. Middle schoolers love to discuss their ideas, and after a year of discussions and training on how to master this art, they were eager and excited for our very last one. The question: How can theOdyssey be a picture of the Christian life that helps us to understand it better? Normally I have a plan as to where the discussion ought to end up. Rarely do I need to enter it, but occasionally I will ask a question to draw my students in the right direction. This time, I ended up with six pages of notes. The insights my seventh graders were able to draw from The Odyssey and the deep connections they made to their experience of the Christian life blew me away. The Odyssey became even more dear to my heart as a result of that discussion, and my understanding of the Christian life deepened.


There was a link between what I was experiencing with my church girls and what I had experienced with my seventh graders. It is an error of understanding, and though I don't know its exact origin, I see it very clearly in our modern school system: In first grade, the very first day on the playground, you meet a student you haven't seen before. Immediately you ask, "What grade are you in?" There are three options: 1) I'm in first grade. Me too! There is rapport, and the seeds of a potential friendship are planted. You'll probably go climb the monkey bars together. 2) "I'm in 2nd (or 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc.) grade." "Oh, I'm in first grade." And you immediately know that no friendship will likely grow, unless there is a grand condescension on the part of the upperclassman. Which, considering the age, isn't particularly likely. 3) "I'm in kindergarten." At this point, you puff up your chest and look down your wise first-grade nose and say with all the dignity the gap in your teeth will allow you to muster, "Hm. I'm in first grade." And the decision is yours - to run off and snub the little kiddies because you've moved on to bigger and better things, or to condescend, and play with the little kiddies because you're a big first grader and who wouldn't welcome the friendship of a more important person?

Maybe that wasn't necessarily everyone's experience in first grade, but I remember very clearly standing in line in my little plaid dress with my fellow first-graders, and looking over at the taller and more dignified third graders. I remember watching them, and I remember the moment when I realized, Next year I'll be in second grade, the year after that I'll be in third, but they'll keep moving up, too, and I will never be an equal with any of them. I'll never get to be friends with that girl  - the third grader who was cool because she did back handsprings on the sidelines of the soccer field at recess. And though I was disappointed, that was life, this was how things operate, and there were plenty of cool first graders. So I forgot about it for the most part.

The idea at work here, is that life is fundamentally a competition. The first grader doesn't have as many "points" so to speak, as the second grader does. Within the first grade class, the kid who can do magic card tricks has more points than the kid who has three cats, but the card kid gets trumped by the kid who scores three goals in soccer who is trumped by the kid who can run fastest in P.E. This generally is at work at every level of life. This is why there is a movie called "Mean Girls". Girls in middle school, high school, college, (and adult life if they don't unlearn it or become too good at the game) compete against one another in a silent contest of who is most attractive, most liked by others, smartest, most athletic, etc. It gets even trickier as an adult. While it's a somewhat silly example (though I've heard many versions of it), this is how a conversation between two women night go:

Lady 1 - Oh my gosh, I just love your shoes!Lady 2 - Thanks! I do too - they're so comfortable.Lady 1 - Really? What brand are they?Lady 2 - Umm, let me check… Franco SartoLady 1 - Wow, super cute. I love his stuff. Pricey, but they're such good quality. If they go on a major sale, I might be able to afford get a similar pair.Lady 2 - Actually, I found them at TJMaxx - they were having a huge sale last week. You might still be able to find them.

Did you catch the subtle competition? This could be a normal conversation, but more often than not, it's evidence of a neck and neck battle. These women have graduated from a competition of who looks better. Now they're going for the "Miss Frugality" ribbon, because that ribbon is worth more points in the Life competition than the "Cutest Shoes" ribbon. Lady 1 loves the shoes, Lady 2 tells her about them, presumably because Lady 1 would like to buy a pair. Lady 1 realizes that they are expensive, and is able to subtly point out that she is more frugal because she will get them when there is a sale. Lady 2, however, eeks out the victory because she actually didn't pay full price for them, which puts her back in the runnings for Miss Frugality.

I think this happens in all spheres of life (I could give you a different example of this unspoken competition from my seventh graders every single day) because we want to "make it" or "measure up" or feel that we are worth something. An easy way to do this is to "one-up" another person by comparing myself to him or her, and to find myself the better of the two. While this is incredibly unhealthy for a person and for any relationships, that's another issue. This is part of the root of my misunderstanding of ministry. When I was sitting in my college class, thinking about what it means to treat people as nonbelievers, I was thinking that I would treat them as if they had fewer "points" than I did because they didn't have the "right answers" and that that somehow lessened their worth. While this clashed with the gospel that I was only beginning to grasp, I couldn't see clearly how I was ranking people. When I was trying to help my friend, I saw myself as having finished ahead of her in the "Going in the Right Direction" race, and that somehow she wasn't an equal with me. When I was in first grade, I knew that the third-grade gymnast had more points than I did in the race of life, and so I never even considered trying to get to know her, because I would lose the race.

Friendship is the great equalizer that we are all familiar with. In friendship, there is no more competition, or at least, in a healthy one, that is set aside, because each accepts and affirms the other in such a way that the desire to compete subsides. Each, in a way, says to the other, "You're worth something - you don't need to do anything for me to accept you because I accept you as you are," and each heaves an internal sigh of relief. This is what is meant to happen in the Body of Christ, but in an even greater way. There is no more competition - no status within that Body - each is part of the Body and that is an equalizer, for sure. But the greatest equalizer is to recognize our waywardness, and the Father who has set his love upon us because he is a Lover. I no longer need to compete, because I've already lost the ultimate competition, but He has chosen me anyway. What could possibly trump that? When we who have been deeply loved gather together, that is another link between us. As the Body of his Beloved, we open our hearts to one another, and invite each person to walk in and out. Josh Garrels says it well in his song, "Bread and Wine," when he sings:

I was wrong: everybody needs someone to hold on. Take my hand, I've been a lonesome man, took a while to understand: there's some things we can't live without, A man's so prone to doubt. Faithful are the wounds of friends. So give it just a little time, share some bread and wine. Weave your heart into mine, my friend. Walls fall down, where there's a peaceful sound, lonely souls hang around. Don't be shy, there's nothing left to hide, come on let's talk a while of the places we left behind, no longer yours and mine. But we could build a good thing here too. So give it just a little time, share bread and wine. Weave your heart into mine and If I fall, I fall alone, but you can help to bear the load, a threefold cord is hard to break. And all I have I give to you if you will share your sorrows too, then joy will be the crown upon our heads, my friend.

I love the language he uses: Share some bread and wine; weave your heart into mine, my friend. And if we are doing this, this living the Christian life by weaving our hearts into one another's by sharing life, food, sorrows, and joys with one another, isn't that ministry? We minister to one another by being the Body of Christ - being a Body. A friend who was talking about this topic once said, "Being the Body of Christ means that we are to be connected to each other in the same way that my arm is connected to my chest." We weave our lives into one another's by spending time with each other. When someone chooses to spend time with me, I intuitively know that I am loved.

And so then, how do we treat the nonbeliever? How do we minister to those who don't know Christ? We treat them as nonbelievers. We love them. We spend time with them. We eat and drink with them and open our lives to them. We build relationships with them. We pray fervently for them. And within this friendship, there is no competition. I do not have more worth that a nonbeliever. To our Father, we're both his favorites. One just hasn't come home to Him yet, but his love is overflowing for both of us.

This is so different from my previous understanding of ministry in two ways. First, I had assumed that though I didn't have it all together, I knew what was necessary for any situation and was happy to direct people the same way I was going. (Oh Lord, forgive my arrogance!) Second, if I was trying to "minister to" someone, it was a one-way street. I didn't expect to receive anything from him or her, because that wasn't how ministry works.

But what I have learned since then has changed my life. And now the cognitive dissonance is a good and healthy one. I was spending time with a friend who doesn't know the Lord, and who has no interest that I can detect. She is rapidly becoming a dear friend, and I remember a moment, sitting across from her, when my heart just jumped up and cheered and said, "Ohmigosh! You too? You understand!" and my old self reacted and asked, "hmm…should you be this excited about becoming this close with someone who isn't a Christian?" And my new self replied joyously, "Yes. The Pharisees only befriended people who had enough points in the competition, but Jesus threw the game out and spent time with people who were "losers" in the Judiasm-Master competition. I am doing the things that my Father does, and in that, there is no greater joy."

So.  Ministry.  The word might be unnecessary.  Because we know the Lord, we throw out the competition because we've lost our need for competition. We freely love by living life with the people around us. Living as we are called to live as the Body of Christ - that is ministry.

Monday, March 12, 2012

He loves, therefore He afflicts

I am learning how much the Lord loves us in order to afflict us. I have recently experienced somewhat of a "thorn in my flesh" that I am unable to control, and thus it scares me. But I am finding that this is clear evidence of my Lord's love for me.

In Hosea 2, God is talking to Hosea the prophet about the nation Israel. God says basically that she is like an unfaithful wife, who has gone after other lovers who give her the things that she wants. That is naturally me, and - I assume - most of us, in life. I know what is best for me, yet often I pursue what I want above and beyond what is most beneficial to me. (Might be why I'm up so late writing this when I should have been in bed...a few hours ago...) But in this passage in Hosea, God talks to his whore of a wife through Hosea. He talks as if Israel the nation is God's own wife, and Hosea's mother:

2 “Rebuke your mother, rebuke her,
for she is not my wife,
and I am not her husband.
Let her remove the adulterous look from her face
and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.
3 Otherwise I will strip her naked
and make her as bare as on the day she was born;
I will make her like a desert,
turn her into a parched land,
and slay her with thirst.
4 I will not show my love to her children,
because they are the children of adultery.
5 Their mother has been unfaithful
and has conceived them in disgrace.
She said, ‘I will go after my lovers,
who give me my food and my water,
my wool and my linen, my olive oil and my drink.’
6 Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes;
I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way.
7 She will chase after her lovers but not catch them;
she will look for them but not find them.
Then she will say,
‘I will go back to my husband as at first,
for then I was better off than now.’
8 She has not acknowledged that I was the one
who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil,
who lavished on her the silver and gold—
which they used for Baal.

9 “Therefore I will take away my grain when it ripens,
and my new wine when it is ready.
I will take back my wool and my linen,
intended to cover her nakedness.
10 So now I will expose her lewdness
before the eyes of her lovers;
no one will take her out of my hands.
11 I will stop all her celebrations:
her yearly festivals, her New Moons,
her Sabbath days—all her appointed festivals.
12 I will ruin her vines and her fig trees,
which she said were her pay from her lovers;
I will make them a thicket,
and wild animals will devour them.
13 I will punish her for the days
she burned incense to the Baals;
she decked herself with rings and jewelry,
and went after her lovers,
but me she forgot,”
declares the LORD.

I know, it doesn't sound great. He totally takes everything away and strips her naked, and then makes all sorts of shrubbery spring up around her so she's kind of trapped. But then read this next part, as he rescues her from herself:

14 “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.
15 There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor[b] a door of hope.
There she will respond[c] as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

16 “In that day,” declares the LORD,
“you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master.[d]
17 I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
no longer will their names be invoked.
18 In that day I will make a covenant for them
with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
I will abolish from the land,
so that all may lie down in safety.
19 I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in[e] righteousness and justice,
in[f] love and compassion.
20 I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you [shall know] the LORD.
The whole point of the stripping down is so that we find no joy but in Him. Which is incredibly gracious and loving, since He is the source of ultimate joy. C. S. Lewis commented on this in an ever-overquoted (yet so worth quoting) passage:

We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Whether Lewis had recently read Hosea 2, I don't know, but they hit on the same theme: We are too weak in and of ourselves to wrench our white-knuckled grasp from the 'treasures' that bring us temporary pleasure. But when God wrenches them from us, (usually painfully), how gracious he is to do that because it frees us up to find our only joy in Him! How counter-intuitive, and yet how delightful.

This song, written by John Newton shortly after a dear friend of his went insane, expresses this concept beautifully.

"I Asked the Lord," performed by Indelible Grace


I asked the Lord that I might grow, In faith and love and every grace.Might more of His salvation know, And seek more earnestly His face.Twas He who taught me thus to pray, And He I trust has answered prayer. But it has been in such a way As almost drove me to despair

I hoped that in some favored hour, At once He’d answer my request, And by His love’s constraining power, Subdue my sins and give me rest Instead of this He made me feel The hidden evils of my heart And let the angry powers of Hell Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more with His own hand He seemed intent to aggravate my woe! Crossed all the fair designs I schemed, Cast out my feelings, laid me low. “Lord why is this?”, I trembling cried. “Wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?” “Tis in this way” The Lord replied, “I answer prayer for grace and faith”

“These inward trials I employ From self and pride to set thee free And break thy schemes of earthly joy That thou mayest seek thy all in me, That thou mayest seek thy all in me.”)

So, let us rejoice as he strips everything away, so that we are left with Him alone. I'm so glad that He loves me enough to strip me of everything I want to cling to, that I might gain the treasure that is beyond my imaginint - My Lord himself. Truly, "at his right hand are pleasures forevermore."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Thoughts inspired by Madeleine L'Engle

“This winter for the first time I have felt beautiful. It is a good feeling, and I am glad for Hugh’s sake and also (and most important) because it frees me to think less about myself and more about other people. I am surer of myself. I know that I look well, so I don’t have to worry about it, or feel self-conscious, and I can give more to other people.” – Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

How ironic and true this is, and on so many levels. Yet how easily this notion is abused! We do feel freer to focus on others when we feel good enough about ourselves that we don’t need to constantly be looking to our own interests. I used to think that the television show, “What Not to Wear” was pretty vain. After all, the whole purpose of the show is to take a woman who is horribly dressed (or barely dressed!) and give her a new wardrobe, while teaching her to buy fashionable, flattering clothes and wear makeup well. I was always amazed at the last segment, which involved an interview with the woman weeks after her makeover. Every single one said that she had new confidence, and talked about some way in which it had positively affected her life and career. How shallow, I thought. These women have a life-changing experience because of some clothes and Maybelline. But when I experienced the same thing in a different way, I understood.

The summer I was 20 years old, I lived in Paris. That alone made it a dreamy summer, though living there does cause disenchantment with the City of Lights. I lived with three other girls – my fellow interns with a missionary organization. The very first week of the internship was spent in a gite – a rentable home – beyond the outskirts of the Parisian métro line. We lived with some incredible and inspiring missionaries to France and Italy. It was a week of intense discipleship. Entering this internship, I had two years of a degree in theology under my belt. That basically amounted to a full brain with a lot of Scripture, a lot of facts, and a lot of explanations. It is said that the longest journey is traversing the twelve inches between the head and the heart, and I was a case in point. I knew a whole lot (probably much less than I thought I knew) and yet it was not true in my heart. Though in my mind I acknowledged all of these lovely theological concepts, humans live from the heart, and I lived as if none of them were true. The discoveries that week would be fleshed out over and over in my life that summer.

One day during out week at the gite, we were given a two-column checklist, just for our personal benefit. The question at the top read, “Are you living as an Orphan?” We checked off the statements that best described our experience. One side was labeled the “living as an orphan” side, while the other side was “living as a daughter/son.” I remember one side contrasting “Feels condemned, guilty, and unworthy before God and others” with “Feels loved, forgiven, and totally accepted because Christ’s merit really clothes him.” Even though I could have probably explained the basis for that from my head, I had never truly experienced that truth in my heart.

To be known and to be loved in spite of that, I think, is the greatest human desire. I do not want to be loved at first sight. I want to be known – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and loved in spite of all that. We’ve all seen those relationships that end horribly because the people didn’t get to know each other before they started dating. When the tough stuff – the bad, the ugly – comes out, the relationship ends. “I thought it was love!” one says dejectedly. No, Shakespeare has already told us that “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.” There is no love without truly knowing a person, and willing to love no matter what skeletons come out of the closet. “Till death do us part.” When I discovered – experienced – God’s love for me like this the first time, it was life-changing. The verse in Romans became blazingly alive to me. Paul talks about how humans rarely will be willing to die in the place of another, but that some may perhaps die for a very good person. “But God,” he says, “demonstrated his love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

It may seem like a little thing. God didn’t wait until we were clean and pure, washed by the bloody sacrifice of Christ, to love us. He looked down at his beloved handiwork that we had messed up, and saw us wallowing in our messed-up-ness, and loved us so much and desired us so much that he chose to do something about it. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – complete in them/himself – wanted us so badly that they broke that perfect communion. Christ took on our brokenness and died and experienced ultimate separation from God so that we wouldn’t have to. And it was all motivated by love for us. God didn’t wait until we were clean to love us – it is because he loved us that Christ came to make us fit to be in His presence. The fact that Christ’s mission was motivated by love for something so utterly unlovable as me in my selfishness and sin, changed me. Not in my mind – these are things that short-circuit the mind – but in my heart. I, the undesirable and unlovable, was and am desired and loved by God. I’ve never really gotten over that. (I don’t ever want to.)

Back to “What Not to Wear.” These women who find that they can be attractive by simply changing their wardrobe and makeup discover a wonderful thing – they are desirable and noticeable. They feel beautiful. This changes one’s outlook on life. On the spiritual level – Christ’s work shows me that He loves me and desires me. Knowing that I am loved changes the way I live. When we know we are desirable, attractive, and lovable, we don’t feel the need to “wave our own flag” by pointing out our accomplishments, or making sure people know why we’re great. When I do those things (and we are all tempted to make sure we are noticed), it is because I am not actually believing that I am worth being loved. And when I do these things, I am in bondage to myself and meeting my needs. I can not focus on another. But when I truly, deeply have an understanding of Christ’s love for me – and not for any innate goodness that I have to maintain – it frees me. I no longer need to be noticed for every little thing I do. I am free to care for others. Just as Madeleine L’Engle wrote, when I feel beautiful and loved, I am freed to think more about others and less about myself.

This can, of course, be taken to an extreme. When I feel beautiful and secure in my physical appearance, as in my relationship with God, I am free to give myself to others – that is a full beauty. This overflows to love and give life, and does not ask to receive, but gives fully with joy. But there are two easy imitations of this.

One imitation of beauty is vanity. Vanity is not an outpouring of love, but a projection of my own inflated self-worth onto others. On the days when I am vain, I think that everyone notices the perfect way my hair is styled, the stylish outfit I have put together, or the way my makeup makes my eyes look just the right shade of blue.

There is an imitation of beauty that, rather than pouring outward, draws inward, needing to be filled. It takes and empties, and rather than evoking love in its beholder, it invokes the insatiable thirst of lust that pretends to give while it ravenously takes and empties. Maybe lust isn’t the right word, because I don’t just mean this in a sexual way. I think of lust as something that is empty and sees and desires to be filled by something. Like a vampire, it takes drains the life from the very thing it is satiated – never satisfied – with. In this sense, girls can lust after popularity. Joanna can become friends with Rita so that she can get in the right group of girls that includes Debbie and Susan. Once she’s in, she hangs out with Susan so that she’s “in” with the cheerleaders, etc. Joanna doesn’t care a whit about Rita or Susan, but about getting to be “in” with the cheerleaders. They were just another rung up the ladder. Christians can build marriages on lust. A man and a woman who are looking to be completed or satisfied by each other will find that she does not love him but is using him to get emotional and relational fulfillment. He does not love her but is using her to get sexual fulfillment. For both of them – this is lust.

But true beauty is felt in the soul, and it is a gift. It is received from Christ – and it is full and overflowing. We may be easily deceived to mistake the one for the other, but when we do that, it is not our naïveté that confuses us – it is our own emptiness desiring to take. True beauty fills and satisfies, and the only response to it is to overflow in love. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did to demonstrate his love in the incarnation? His love overflowed and he took on flesh, while we were yet sinners.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Desire, Longing, Satisfaction and Delight

I find it very interesting that God made us the way He did. And sometimes I don't like it. These thoughts aren't original - they're inspired by one of my favorite author's books - Hunger for God by John Piper. The introduction alone is enough to make you want to read the whole book. Even if they're not original, here they are, all the same.

All of life could be summarized into two categories. Desire or longing, and then satisfaction. Generally wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you are either wanting something, or you are satisfied that a desire has been met. Related to that is the fact that we as humans have never (well, with a few being kidnapped...) done anything that we didn't want to do. It sounds crazy, I know. But when I think about it, it is a true statement. Every single thing that I have done in my life, I have done because I wanted to.

I may have only wanted to do something with the tiniest tinge of desire. But even if I said, "Ugh, I don't want to do that," I actually did, because I wanted to do (whatever that was) more than I wanted the alternative. It could be as simple as, "Well, I don't really want to get up this morning. But I want to get up more than I want to be late for work." Or "I really don't feel like finishing my schoolwork tonight. I don't want to get those papers graded. But I actually do want to do those things more than I want to put them off, so I guess I will do them."

Or another more complicated example - I had been organizing a social event for my students, and had missed some fine print in the menu options. That fine print said that 20% gratuity and 7.25% sales tax would be added on to the price of the food. I totally missed that. Or perhaps I didn't, but it didn't totally register in my brain... Anyway, the day came when I realized we weren't charging enough to pay for the food...and the deposit was due the next day. If we paid the deposit (a week before the event), we would be putting the school at least $850 in debt...and there was no budget for the event beyond what the ticket cost raised. I didn't want to write to the principal who is my boss to tell him that this was a possibility (because I am prideful and hate to be seen having made a mistake...) but I wanted him to know more than I wanted him to be surprised by a massive bill. (By the way, after many tears and faithless prayers, God pulled off a miracle that showed me that he is truly able to do more than we can ask or imagine!)

Anyway, all that to say that we humans have the natural rhythm of desire - fulfillment built into us. Sometimes I truly hate this system. Whenever there is an unmet desire, I become impatient and either throw a pity-party for myself, thinking I deserve to have this desire met, or I take on the "heroic" I'm-going-to-suffer-in-silence-and-hope-someone-notices-my-incredible-patience-and-endurance stance. When I am hungry and have missed a meal, when I am starved for sleep and am staying up to finish just one more lesson, when I am lonely and watch a couple hold hands as they walk into one of those wedding registry stores, when I get a craving for some food or hazelnut coffee that is out of my budget, I could go on and on and on...

Sometimes I get really frustrated that this is the way we are wired. I wish that I didn't long to get married, or that I didn't desire to go to bed when I still have hours of work left. But if God hadn't made us with desires, we would never know Him. By nature, he satisfies. This is not to say that I am satisfied by him always. In fact, I am often not satisfied in Him. At the top of my list of desires is always comfort. And what is comfort but all desires fulfilled? I can't think of a definition of comfort that doesn't include the fulfillment of every desire. A warm blanket and a cup of coffee (or tea or hot cocoa) on a cold day satisfies my cold and shivering self, my tastebuds, and my romantic sensibility that cold days demand warmth and coziness. When I am in that comfortable state, I imagine that I will feel that I lack nothing. But every time I have tried that - curling up in my cozy papasan chair with fuzzy socks, a good book, and some delicious coffee - I have found myself never completely satisfied.

Again and again, there is a restlessness that reappears when I think I should be most satisfied. Though I have imagined that I will lack nothing, I feel as if I lack something...and I am not perfectly satisfied. One summer I was dating a guy. I arrived at the painful conclusion that the relationship needed to end. I don't like making waves at all, and my desire was for an amicable end to the relationship while preserving the friendship. One complication - it was a somewhat long-distance thing. So I couldn't see the young man until the end of the week, though I knew what was coming. I sought comfort in every major way - chocolate, a drink and a leisurely book reading at Starbucks, pouring myself into a Francine Rivers book, obsessing over some project or work item, distracting myself by watching a movie, etc. I found none. I was always lacking, and I was lacking that desire for something out of my control to be fulfilled.

It's funny how the things you learn as a child come back to you years later with a much weightier significance. I remember learning Psalm 23:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

I can just stop there. I shall not be in want. Another translation says, "there is nothing I lack." How interesting - when I seek comfort, I seek to lack nothing, and the Word says that with the Lord as my shepherd, there is nothing I lack.

Here are some other parts that really have stuck out to me:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
Delight yourselves in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.
For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.
For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.

You'd think that once I've learned something, I will have learned it for good. But no...I forget God's goodness, God's presence, God's ridiculously extravagant love for me, and the good news that I am accepted as a daughter of God because of Christ's work EVERY SINGLE DAY. God made us with this rhythm of desire and fulfillment so that we could truly taste and see that He is good - so that we could know what it is to delight in him. The ability to long and to be satisfied is the fundamental requirement for knowing God. We have no better "receptors" for his glory in our lives. If he hadn't made us this way, it would be like giving a Turtle Fudge Brownie Sundae to a child who has no mouth, no tongue, and no tastebuds. "Well, isn't this nice! I can look at this thing while it melts into a puddle before me!" That is about as delightful as watching grass grow. Or paint dry. Or water boil.

But he has made us with this rhythm. Not only that, but he has given us the one thing that does satisfy. Himself. In some crazy spiritual way that I can never understand, he satisfies more than anything else can. Let me be embarrasingly honest. Tonight, I felt very lonely. I watched my adorable students dance with each other last night, and wished that I was in a place where there were more men my age. (Not that it needs to be easier for God - if he's going to bring a husband to me, he doesn't need my help!) Tonight when I came home, that lonely feeling persisted. So I decided that I would meet this desire by watching "Emma," a Jane Austen story that has a very satisfying ending to the longing-to-marry-dilemma. But it didn't work. Neither did watching sweet proposal videos on YouTube. Neither did thinking through the amazing couples that I am thrilled are getting married this sumer (5 weddings this summer, and I couldn't be happier for each of them!) and reminding myself that if God scripted a beautiful love story for them, he is totally capable of doing that also for me.

I cried out him and said, "Lord, I hate this. I long for something that I cannot have, and I know the one place that that longing can be met - never in a man, but in You. And you know what? That makes no difference to my heart. I don't want to come to you for satisfaction. I want what I want when I want it. I need your help to make me want to want you. And I do want to be satisfied, but in my way, and right now."

Truly he knows how weak I am and how he made me. Because at that moment of incredible weakness - of admitting that I don't even have the faith the find satisfaction and delight in the most delightful thing in existence - he satisfied my heart. I can't fully explain it, but my soul truly found rest in Him. And not because I did something right. It was because in utter frustration and weakness, I told him that I just couldn't do it. That's exactly what he wants.

I used to pray like this: "Lord, I am so sorry. I just thought an arrogant thought again -fluffing myself up while putting others down. Please help me. I'm sorry to ask for help - sorry I need to come to you yet again. Hopefully next time I'll get it right." I can't imagine now, how much God hated those prayers. He says "Come to me, all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest." He says "Come all who are thirsty, come to the waters, and he who has no money, come buy and eat. Come buy wine and milk, without money and without price."

He gives us the free gift of himself. No matter how weak and faltering our faith is (mine is high up there on both of those counts!) he loves to come to our aid in weakness. He says that his strength is made perfect in our weakness. Psalm 107 is one of the best Psalms ever written. It tells the story of a bunch of people who desired something, got themselves in a terrible fix, and then called on the Lord, and he delivered them. AND IT WAS PRETTY MUCH ALWAYS THEIR OWN FAULT! Here is Psalm 107:

1(A) Oh give thanks to the LORD,(B) for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
2Let(C) the redeemed of the LORD say so,
whom he has(D) redeemed from trouble[a]
3and(E) gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

4Some(F) wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way(G) to a city to dwell in;
5hungry and thirsty,
their soul(H) fainted within them.
6Then they(I) cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
7He led them by(J) a straight way
till they reached(K) a city to dwell in.
8(L) Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
9For he(M) satisfies the longing soul,
(N) and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

10(O) Some sat in darkness and in(P) the shadow of death,
prisoners in(Q) affliction and in irons,
11for they(R) had rebelled against the words of God,
and(S) spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
they fell down,(T) with none to help.
13(U) Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
14He brought them out of(V) darkness and the shadow of death,
and(W) burst their bonds apart.
15(X) Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
16For he(Y) shatters the doors of bronze
and cuts in two the bars of iron.

17Some were(Z) fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
18(AA) they loathed any kind of food,
and they(AB) drew near to(AC) the gates of death.
19(AD) Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
20He(AE) sent out his word and(AF) healed them,
and(AG) delivered them from their destruction.
21(AH) Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
22And let them(AI) offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and(AJ) tell of his deeds in(AK) songs of joy!

23Some(AL) went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
24they saw the deeds of the LORD,
his wondrous works in the deep.
25For he(AM) commanded and(AN) raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage(AO) melted away in their evil plight;
27they reeled and(AP) staggered like drunken men
and(AQ) were at their wits’ end.[b]
28(AR) Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
29He(AS) made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30Then they were glad that the waters[c] were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
31(AT) Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
32Let them(AU) extol him in(AV) the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

33He(AW) turns rivers into a desert,
springs of water into thirsty ground,
34(AX) a fruitful land into a salty waste,
because of the evil of its inhabitants.
35He(AY) turns a desert into pools of water,
(AZ) a parched land into springs of water.
36And there he lets the hungry dwell,
and they establish(BA) a city to live in;
37they sow fields and plant vineyards
and get a fruitful yield.
38(BB) By his blessing they multiply greatly,
and he does not let their livestock diminish.

39When they are diminished and brought low
through oppression, evil, and sorrow,
40(BC) he pours contempt on princes
and(BD) makes them wander(BE) in trackless wastes;
41but(BF) he raises up the needy out of affliction
and(BG) makes their families like flocks.
42(BH) The upright see it and are glad,
and(BI) all wickedness shuts its mouth.

43(BJ) Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things;
let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.

Right now, I want to thank the Lord for giving me the receptors for knowing him - the ability to long and to be satisfied, to desire and to be delighted when that desire is fulfilled. May we always grow in our desire for him and our satisfaction in him. He is the only place of true satisfaction. The most loving thing that he could do is to make us able to taste and see that he is good. He has done that, and he has given us the source of delight - Himself.

Let us thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men. And let us drink deeply and find satisfaction in him. Over and over and over. We come empty and weak and with little desire, and He gives us Himself - the living water that fills us, strengthens us, and satisfies as it grows our desire for Him. If you are longing to know this, cry out to Him in your weakness and ask him to satisfy you. Remember the chorus, "Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress."

Taste and see that He is good.