My “Defining” Books; The Popular Titles

 

books
William Barclay said that there are two kinds of minds – “springs” and “cisterns.”  Springs are constantly bubbling up new thoughts.  Cisterns conserve and convey those thoughts.

I am a cistern.

My experience of life with God has been deeply shaped by others, many I have never actually met face to face, but who have nonetheless been my “companions” (Latin: “com” – “with” + “pan” – “bread”).  I have known them through their books.  C.S. Lewis liked to say that he read “to know that he was not alone.”   And I know that I am not alone spiritually because there are people who came before me and who surround me still who struggle with the same questions and fight the same battles that I do, and some have written about what they have discovered along the way.  Some of them have become treasured friends of mine, and I would like to introduce them to you.

This week I want to introduce you to the ten popular spiritual books that have profoundly shaped my thinking and believing.  Next week I will introduce you to ten of the academic or scholarly books that have had a direct and strong hand in arranging the architecture of my soul, but this week I want to start with the books that first got me going spiritually.  These are mass market books, books that you can readily find at Barnes and Noble or at Half Price Books. They are not technical.  You don’t have to have a University degree in history or philosophy to be able to read them with understanding.  In fact, I had read all of these books between my 12th and my 18th birthdays.  They are foundational, the veritable building blocks of my spiritual life.  Just as Picasso couldn’t paint until he knew his colors, and Shakespeare couldn’t write sonnets until he knew the alphabet, and Brahms couldn’t compose symphonies until he knew the musical scale, so, spiritually there are some things we need to know, or at least have given some thought to,  before we can soar.  These books were my colors, letters and notes.

practice
My spiritual awakening took place on a silent retreat at a monastery when I was 13 years old.  The little booklet I read that weekend was Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God.  This is what spiritually primed the pump of my awakening for me.  When the Presence of God broke in on me powerfully and personally that weekend, it was what Brother Lawrence had explained about what it means and how it unfolds that created the categories for my own expectation and experience of it.  This book opened up to me the possibility of a personal encounter with the living God.

Pbook

It’s not so much this book as it’s teaching that has been spiritually decisive for me.  Being raised in a spiritual tradition that “prayed by the book,” Rosalind Rinker’s invitation to and explanation of “conversational prayer” in Prayer: Conversing with God was liberating to me.  A few years back, when Christianity Today polled its readers about the most important books in their spiritual formation, this one was the most frequently mentioned!  I know it’s had that kind of impact on me.  This book gave me permission to talk with God in Jesus Christ as a friend with a friend.

New Book
Not long after my spiritual awakening, I began to read the Bible; “devour” it might be a better description.  I knew that it mattered and I knew that I really needed to be conversant with its teachings as a Christian, but I didn’t really know why.  It was reading F.F. Bruce’s little book on the reliability of the New Testament documents that helped me come to terms with why what the Bible said mattered, and why it could be trusted in what it told me about God in Jesus Christ.  As you know, I regard the authority of the scriptures to be a watershed issue for Christianity, and this book sent me in the direction of having some real confidence in what the Bible says rather than beginning with suspicion and doubt. F.F. Bruce provided me with the example of a reasoned and intelligent defense of Biblical authority.  This book provided me with the map that I needed to help me navigate between the fundamentalism of Scylla and the skepticism of Charybdis.

Damien

I read a series of Christian biographies published by Image Books when I was in middle school, and this one made the deepest and most lasting impression on me.  Fr. Damien, the Beatified leper priest of Molokai, became one of my spiritual heroes and pastoral role models as a result of this book. The example of his sacrificial commitment to his Lord and Savior and his willingness to go wherever Jesus Christ needed him to be no matter the cost has challenged and inspired me to live my life by the same sort of commitments.  This book honed my sense of call to ministry.

god small

This was the first “theology” book that I ever read.  J.B. Phillips was more familiar to me for his modern translation of the New Testament – the first “contemporary” version of the Bible that I ever owned and read, but it was this book that had the greater and more enduring impact on me.  His description of the “unreal” gods that we hold dear and the urgency of finding the real God was the first exercise in critical thinking about God in which I ever engaged.  And when J.B. Phillips went on to explore the basis for knowing who the real God is because of how He has gotten focused for us in Jesus Christ, the excitement I felt as I watched the unfolding of the theological argument was plapable, and became the itch that the rest of my life has been spent scratching.  I still love this little book, and read just about every year as a way of getting back in touch with what it was that first ignited the great passion of my life – faith seeking understanding.  This book introduced me to the joy of loving God “with all my mind.”

 

The Christ
This book was a text for the “Life of Christ” course that I took in my first semester of Christian College.  It is E. Stanley Jones’ exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, and his argument that it was how Jesus Christ lived and not just what He taught.  It’s argument that Christianity involves both creed and deed, both belief and behavior, both an orthodoxy of conviction and an orthopraxy of character, both a redemptive side and an ethical side, was absolutely compelling to me them, and now.  I have turned to this book so often in the past 40 years that I have literally worn out copies of it.  This book cast the vision of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ for me.  It has been a blueprint for my Christian life.

conscience

Billy Graham gave me this book, actually it was his Evangelistic Association.  They would occasionally send books to people who supported them financially, and not long after I had sent them a small financial gift, this book showed up in the mailbox.  Sherwood Wirt was the editor of the monthly periodical of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Decision, and this book spelled out a perspective for Christian involvement in social concerns that was deeply rooted in one’s conversion to Christ and that was a consequence of one’s sanctification by the indwelling, empowering Spirit.  Neither a substitute for nor a rival to the personal Gospel of salvation, this book created the category in my thinking for the Social Gospel as its full partner and necessary consequence.  This book forced me to think in “both/and” ways when it would have been very easy for me to slip into an “either/or” way of thinking.

church book

I cut my theological teeth on Francis Schaeffer.  This was another book that was assigned as a text for a class I took my first semester of Christian College, and the experience of reading it was intellectually intoxicating for me.   I have heard other Christian leaders of my generation say that it was reading Francis Schaeffer in the early 1970’s that showed them that you could be a Christian and still be intellectually serious and culturally engaged.   Schaeffer pushed me to go deeper than the popular, warm-fuzzy kind of Christianity that like cotton candy tastes good but dissolves quickly.  From his own spiritual struggles he came to terms with the good and sufficient grounds for Christian faith, and he challenged me to approach my own believing with that same kind of rigor.  This book convinced me that Christians don’t have to park their brains at the door of the church when they go in.

body life

The Charismatic Movement was in full blossom as I started Christian College.  The Holy Spirit had made His presence known in the life of the church and in the lives of Christians, and as has always been the case with movements of spiritual revitalization and renewal, together with the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit blowing through the staid corridors of Christianity came a fair share of excess and sheer silliness.  It was Ray Stedman’s book Body Life that provided me with balance and perspective.  In fact, it convinced me that being a Charismatic Christian was something that I myself needed to seek.  Now, his understanding of what it meant to be a Charismatic Christian went way beyond the fascination with the showy spiritual gifts like tongues and prophecy that captivated the imagination of the church in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, just as it had 2000 years before in Corinth.  His core conviction was that it is the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit with His sovereign distribution of the spiritual gifts to Christians that enables the church to function as the Body of Christ.  This book has been the foundation to my understanding of what the church is and how the church is supposed to work.

baptism book

This book by one of the great spiritual giants of the 20th century, John R.W. Stott, was what helped me make sense of my Charismatic experience when it finally happened.  A careful Biblical study of who the Holy Spirit is and how the Holy Spirit operates, Baptism and Fullness provided me with normative Biblical categories for understanding contemporary spiritual experience.  Measured and reasonable without becoming dismissive or overly critical, this book not only helped me sort out my own spiritual experience, but it also helpfully modeled a gracious way to affirm Biblical authority without being petty or becoming brittle.  In an age when the emphasis is clearly on spiritual experience, this book has helped me to appreciate and embrace the strengths of this approach to Christianity while avoiding its dangers and weaknesses.

In so many respects this is an artificial, “forced” exercise. There are other books and other authors; so many others:  Philip Yancey, Calvin Miller, George Mallone, A.M. Hunter, Thomas Merton, Elton Trueblood, Lewis Smedes, C.S. Lewis. J.I. Packer, Eugene Peterson, Henri Nouwen…  But trace back through the 50 years of my spiritual growth and change, and these ten will be very close to my roots.  DBS+

 

 

 

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Race, Faith and Ferguson

ferguson

A Little “Believing Thinking”

On the morning that we left for our long planned and greatly anticipated trip to see family in Minnesota in August of 1965, the Watts Riots were well underway in South Central Los Angeles.  As we drove east out of Southern California I remember sitting in the back seat of the family sedan with my two sisters beside me and seeing the orange glow of the city burning in the predawn sky, and being truly afraid. We are all products of our experiences and perceptions, and this is part of mine.  The confusion I felt as a 12 year old boy watching the streets of his city become a battlefield drawn along racial lines and the very real fear that I had that when we got back that there would be nothing left, that our home and neighborhood would be gone, burned to the ground by angry lawless mobs, no doubt contributed to my “law and order” mentality.

A product of the 1950’s, I was already living an “Ozzie and Harriet” life in an Eisenhower Republican household where authority was respected and those who wielded it were believed to be invariably just and fair, only looking to serve and protect, with our best interests always in mind.  These assumptions framed my perceptions then, and continue to shape them now.  And so, after a week like this one that we have just been through as a nation with the racial violence and civil unrest in a St. Louis suburb flaring up daily, I find that all of those old fears and convictions get stirred up in me once again.

Today I know that authority routinely gets abused, that those who wield it can often be cruel and corrupt, and that power in the service of prejudice and systematic oppression is utterly demonic, and yet my basic orientation is still on the side of law and order.  Romans 13:1-5 looms large in my thinking, both spiritually and politically.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.  For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.  For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

I still want to believe in freedom and justice for all, in the structures of authority for the establishment and maintenance of the social order, and that the system, while frail and flawed, will not fail if left to run its full course.  With this as my interpretive grid, I view the events in Ferguson, Missouri, in a certain way.

I truly grieve the death of Mike Brown, and I want to give the benefit of the doubt to law enforcement.  I am respectful of the constitutional right of peaceful assembly and public protest, but I am disgusted by the rioting and looting.  I want the investigation of what happened to be allowed to objectively unfold without a rush to judgment from either side, and if it should turn out in the end that the tragic death of this young man was unjustified, then I want the structures of law and order that we have established as a people to serve the interests of justice to be brought to bear and the police officer who was involved in this incident to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

In my world, from the vantage point of my experiences and perceptions, this all seems to me to be completely reasonable.  But I know that my African American brothers and sisters have a very different set of experiences and perceptions that lead them to some very different conclusions.  Where I can trust, they are suspicious.  The structures that have served me and my interests so well throughout my life have oppressed them, and the system from which I have directly and repeatedly benefited has dramatically failed them at any number of points throughout our long national history, and so while their most natural reflex to an event like this one is pain and powerlessness giving way to outrage, mine is patience and perspective grounded in the belief that justice will finally prevail.  This leaves us sitting and staring across a wide divide of differing experiences and perceptions at each other, mystified at the conclusions that the other is drawing, and perhaps even a bit skeptical of the sincerity and depth of the faith that the other asserts is at the very center of their being, thinking and acting.  So, how do we break this deadlock?  How do we move forward together as a people, especially as people of faith?

man

Theologian Miroslav Volf argues that in order to navigate this kind of social divide that we as Christians have got to come to terms with “the inner logic of the cross” (Exclusion and Embrace 214).  He explains that he had just finished preaching on Romans 5:6-11 during which he had passionately argued that “we ought to embrace the other as God has embraced us in Christ” when he was asked if this meant that he could embrace a Cetnik, one of the notorious Serbian fighters who in the winter of 1993 were desolating Miroslav’s homeland and destroying his people?  Could Miroslav, a Croat, embrace a Serbian soldier?  And his honest answer was, “No, I cannot – but as a follower of Christ I think I should be able to” (9).

It was the tension between his allegiance to the God who on Calvary’s cross set out to embrace those who were estranged from Him, and his own personal and painful experience of estrangement from the Serbians, his people’s despised enemies, that caused Miroslav to reflect deeply on how we can embrace those from whom we are estranged.  And he concluded that the only way we can do this is by learning how to “enlarge our thinking.”  He said that “in a creaturely sort of way” we need “to emulate God’s way of knowing” in Jesus Christ (251).  This is what’s at stake when we talk about the Incarnation, about how God became one of us, about how Christ was “fully God” and “fully human.”  In the mystery of God putting Himself in our place and carrying the full range of our experiences as human beings from birth to death into God’s very own heart, we have a model for how we can and must move from hostility to hospitality ourselves.

While not denying our own individual identities, experiences or perspectives, we have to risk taking a step outside ourselves just like God did in Christ.  We must cross over the dividing wall of suspicion and hostility that separates us from each other.  And we must enter the world of the other deep enough to be able to hear with their ears, to see with their eyes, and to feel with their hearts.  And then when we cross back over the divide that separates us from each other, we must then be prepared to bring bits and pieces of their world back with us into ours so that the perspective of the other always stands beside our own, in dialogue with it.

hands

This is how the stranger, the other, can become the familiar, the friend.  But to do this the barrier of fear must be deliberately breached.  The wall of suspicion must be consciously stepped over.  The divide of enmity that separates us must be crossed.  New possibilities in our relationships with each other must be envisioned.  And Miroslav Volf says that it’s the cross of Christ that inspires and empowers us to be able to do this.  In the outstretched arms of Christ on Calvary we can see the embrace of God taking in those who were once separate and strangers, and it pushes us to do the same thing.  “God’s reception of hostile humanity into divine communion is a model for how human beings should relate to each other” (Volf 100).  It takes effort, and it takes time, and it takes sacrifice, but as followers of Jesus Christ we really have no other choice. “The love of Christ constrains us” (2 Corinthians 5:14).  DBS+

mike

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Robin Williams, Depression and the Church

robin

                                                    

My last two postings have been on the Dark Night of the Soul. This week, after the second posting, the news of Robin Williams’ suicide broke, and since then there has been a wide-ranging and nonstop conversation throughout our culture about depression, and while I deeply grieve the trigger, I gladly welcome the result. It’s long overdue. Depression is not well understood either by those who suffer from it, or by those who know and love people who do. And as the tragedy that is Robin William’s death so painfully shows, this kind of ignorance has devastating consequences.

Because everyone has periodic episodes of reactive or situational depression, stretches of feeling “blue” when things have not gone your way that becomes the interpretive grid that most people use to understand what depression is all about. It’s part of the inner response to an outer experience of loss, disappointment, failure, betrayal, sickness, discouragement or struggle. Something negative happens to us and depression is one of the things that we feel as we process the experience. It’s one of the phases or stages of adjustment; think of the way that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross mapped the grief experience in her seminal work On Death and Dying – Shock, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. Depression is just part of the journey, one of the steps along the way to healing. It’s real and it hurts, but it’s temporary, it passes. The circumstances change and we start to feel better. In fact, people in situational depression are often encouraged by their family members and friends to “get out,” to “do things” and “go places” in order to start to feel better.   Because it was a situation or a circumstance in your life that made you feel bad, just engineer a change in your situation or circumstances and you will start to feel good again, or so the conventional wisdom goes.

 

snap
We used to have a Mary Englebreit illustration printed on a piece of fabric and hanging on a wall at the house. It showed a rather stern looking little girl with her feet firmly planted, her hands on her hips and a set to her jaw with the words in the text box over her head reading “Snap out of it!” And that’s what depressed people are expected to do. Because experiences of reactive depression pass with time, when it is perceived that someone is staying too long at the fair – that one is wallowing in their misery – this impatient little girl shows up with her scowl and her screech. And while this kind of “shock” therapy, this swift sharp whack up the side of the emotional head might work for someone who is situationally depressed, it can’t touch the other kind of depression that there is, “clinical” or “endogenous” depression.

If reactive depression starts outside of us with a difficult circumstance or a bad situation, constitutional depression starts inside of us. While reactive depression is triggered by something that happens to us externally, clinical depression is just part of the way that some of us are wired internally; it’s part of our state of being. The way that I have sometimes described my own experience of being clinically depressed is to say that while we all fall into deep, dark holes from time to time that we then have to climb out of, that there are some of us who find ourselves in holes so deep and dark that they can’t be climbed out of. They are not a temporary state, a passing emotion that we can “snap out of,” they are where we live.

Since his suicide, I’ve heard people in the media wonder about what could have been so terrible in Robin Williams’ life to have prompted him to do this. I’ve heard the speculations that he was having money problems, or relationship problems, or career problems – a cancelled television series, or a health problem – more heart disease, or a substance abuse problem, and that it was this problem, whatever it was, that prompted him to take his life. But that’s reactive depression thinking in a clinical depression life. Something didn’t happen to Robin Williams this week that resulted in one desperately bad and irreversible decision. No, Robin Williams was sick; had been for a long time, and it was that disease – clinical depression – that killed him. Like any disease, you can live with clinical depression, function at a very productive and creative level, even while you are desperately ill. Think Abraham Lincoln. Think Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Think Vincent Van Gogh. Think Ernest Hemingway. This is what has confused so many people about Robin Williams. We saw his genius. His gifts were obvious to us. His accomplishments were great. But all of this happened against the backdrop of his very real suffering from a very real disease.

A few years ago we admired the strength of Patrick Swayze as he continued to act while battling terminal cancer. And when his disease finally claimed him, in the sadness of his death there was a widespread recognition of the courage that he had displayed in the way that he had continued to ply his craft when it would have been so easy for him to just have rolled over and quit. He “played hurt,” and we greatly respected it, even saw it as “heroic.” Well, so did Robin Williams, only it appears that he “played hurt” for his entire career. But because his terminal disease was mental rather than physical, it’s unlikely that his passing will be viewed by society at large in the same way. But I do. For all of the sadness of this week, I want to go on record here with my admiration, respect and honor for the courage and strength of Robin Williams.

Some of the most courageous people I know are those who battle mental illness. There are men and women all around you every day in the cubicle next to yours at work and on the pew next to you in worship who have to muster every last ounce of strength they have just to get out of bed in the morning to step into another day. They carry burdens and fight battles that we can’t even begin to imagine. And because we just don’t “get it,” because we don’t understand mental illness as a disease that is just as real and devastating as cancer, diabetes or emphysema, we think that these people could “snap out of it” if they really wanted to. Tell that to the next person you see having a heart attack!

It was in a class on ministry that I took in seminary taught by Dr. Charles Kemp that I first heard the quote: “Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” He said that this was one of the most basic principles of pastoral care. And if Robin William’s tragic death this week is to have any enduring impact on us, I urge it to be this.

In Matthew 12:20, it was said of Jesus Christ that “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” In the history of interpretation these descriptions have been applied to the discouraged and the disheartened, to those who have been overwhelmed by their lives and are just barely hanging on. And it seems to me that the stance that Jesus took toward such people should be the stance that we as part of His church ought to be taking as well, and this begins with simple kindness, and a recognition of the depth and the darkness of the fight that so many find themselves in every single day.  DBS+

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I highly recommend -

Robin w

 

http://calvarychapel.com/resources/article/view/robin-williams-and-secret-suffering/

 

 

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A Good Companion for the Dark Night

St. Paul of the Cross (1694-1775)

St. Paul of the Cross (1694-1775)

 

Alister McGrath in his book The Journey wrote about spiritual “hitchhiking” (Doubleday 2000).

The journey is long and tiring… There will be moments when we sit down on the side of the road in dejection and wonder why we even bothered setting out in the first place…  But there is another thought… Others have made this same journey before us.  They have experienced its highs and lows firsthand. They developed ways of coping with the tiredness, cynicism, and downright waywardness they knew on that journey.  Its milestones are stained with their tears. And some of them have passed on their experiences and insights to those who follow.  We are not alone; we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1-2) who are shouting encouragement and advice to us as we struggle onward.  So how can we make the best use of this wisdom – wisdom that has been quarried from the living stone of past lives of faith and tested on the journey of faith?  And one answer is to hitchhike, to catch a ride with others who are much better at this kind of thing than we are…  To hitchhike is to get a free ride and travel in company.  By the end of our ride, we are farther along the road than when we started, and we have enjoyed company along the way.  To hitch a ride is to learn more about people and life as well as move along the road to our destination.  It is to learn from the wisdom of others, who accompany us for a while along the road before dropping us off. (29-31)

Last week I wrote about “The Dark Night of the Soul” and how I learned make sense of my own experience of it.  This was one of the most important discoveries in my spiritual life.  And this week I want to introduce you to a good friend of mine whose experience with and insight into the Dark Night of the Soul has carried me farther along the road than where I started.  His name is Paolo Francesco Danei and he was born the son of a wealthy merchant in Northern Italy.  He was a contemporary of many our nation’s founding fathers, albeit, living half a world away.  His spirituality is summarized by the prepositional modifier that’s traditionally been attached to his name.  Paolo is known as St. Paul “of the Cross,” and the brothers and sisters of his Order are called the “Passionists.”  All of this “fits” because Paolo believed and taught that the Passion of Jesus Christ is the greatest “work and sign of God’s love.”  Not just an event of ancient history, St. Paul of the Cross regarded the Passion of Jesus Christ to be a present experience of God’s love that we need “to contemplate and allow to penetrate us.” This why “Passionist” brothers and sisters wear an embroidered cross over a heart on their black habits with words in Hebrew, Greek and Latin that say “The Passion of Christ.” This is their mission in a nutshell, to show people how to live their lives with the Passion of Christ constantly in their hearts.

 

crosses

 

For Paolo this became especially important because of the extreme spiritual and emotional hardship that he faced.  Beginning approximately a dozen years after his ordination to the priesthood and lasting for the next 45 years, St. Paul of the Cross knew nothing but the desolating experience Dark Night of the Soul.  He actually died with his brothers gathered around his bed reading the Gospels’ accounts of Christ’s crucifixion -

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is to say, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27: 45)

And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is, being interpreted, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” (Mark 15: 33)

And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. (Luke 23: 44)

It was this sense of forsakenness and experience of darkness that was Paolo’s daily bread.  But rather than leading him to utter despair, Paolo’s long experience of the Dark Night of the Soul taught him instead how to commit himself more completely to the Father’s hands and to trust Him no matter what he felt or didn’t feel.  His sustained meditation on the Passion of Jesus Christ, and his keen personal appreciation of everything that Christ had suffered on his behalf – the inner anguish, the terrible fear and depression, the abandonment by His friends, the betrayal, the deprivation of His freedom, the injustices, the lies that were told about Him, the bodily pain and utter fatigue, the misunderstanding, helplessness, powerlessness, sense of failure, the feelings of being abandoned by God the Father and finally death itself – provided Paolo with the strength and the grace that he needed to see his own journey of faith through to its end.

Writing the Introduction to a study of “The Mysticism of the Passion in St. Paul of the Cross,” the Protestant Theologian Jurgen Moltmann observed –

We need nothing so urgently as the “wisdom of the cross” …since it is the liberating and redeeming truth of God and of man. …The cross… is the revelation of God’s love…  Whoever recognizes the Crucified One recognizes the abyss of God’s love, so full of sorrows; (and) whoever recognizes the Crucified One will recognize that people for whom He suffered and died.  …The cross does not belong to an elite; it leads rather to a solidarity with abandoned people.

My feelings are way too fickle and fleeting to be the foundation of my faithfulness.  If I only loved God and my neighbor when I felt like it, then believe me when I tell you that with my wintry soul by spiritual temperament and my diagnosis of clinical depression with which I struggle every single day, that there would be long stretches in my life when I would do nothing.  But rather than depending on my subjective feelings for spiritual motivation, I have resolved with St. Paul of the Cross to be driven instead by the objective facts of what God has done for me in Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus on the cross

 

Emotions are not a means of grace.
The preaching the Word is.
Baptism is.
The Lord’s Supper is.
The Lord’s Day is.

Each of these Gospel Ordinances in their own way anchors us to the “hard historical facts” (Alister McGrath) of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. This all really happened, and it happened “for us men and for our salvation” as the Nicene Creed put it so concisely.  And this is true not because it makes me feel this way or that way.  It’s objectively true apart from whatever I might be feeling, or not feeling.  And it is from that firm place that I try to step everyday into a life of love – love for God and love for neighbor.

Whenever George Tyrell of 19th century England grew weary in his mission of trying to change the thinking of the church in his day, whenever he found himself tempted to give up the struggle, he said that he would look at crucifix, and “always the figure of that strange man hanging on the cross sends me back to my tasks again.” And this is what my friend St. Paul of the Cross has taught me to do as well.  “God can work in us,” he said, “only when we pass through the door which is Jesus Christ and His most holy Passion, which is the greatest and most stupendous work of His love.”  DBS+

 

 

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The Dark Night of the Soul

dark

 

In May of 1975 I came across an article in Christianity Today (May 23, 1975; 7-8) by Stanley Lindquist, a professor of psychology at California State University in Fresno, that has been defining for my life and ministry ever since.  Called “Dishonesty on Cloud Nine,” Dr. Lindquist said that Christians are just being “dishonest” when we “give the impression that God’s presence keeps us always on ‘cloud nine,’” when we act as if we are living lives of perpetually “exalted mood and no defeat” (7).

Dr. Lindquist described his own life as being immensely “interesting and rewarding.”  He said that his life’s assignments were truly challenging, and that his life’s accomplishments were deeply satisfyingly.  “Yet at times,” he still confessed, “I am caught up in feelings of hopelessness, defeat and horrible despair.  Sometimes nothing goes right.  Mistakes accumulate in rapid succession, and I feel ready to give up.  Life seems not to be worth the herculean effort I am making to keep things going” (8).  And Dr. Lindquist insisted that it was our emotional dishonesty as Christians, the “false picture of a (continuously) victorious Christian experience” that we try to paint for others that perpetuates the distorted view of Christianity as the “bubbling function of life.”  

This was the very first time that anyone gave me a “heads up” about the seasons of dryness, discouragement and darkness that are just a natural part of the genuine spiritual life.  Oh, believe me, I’d already had some.  By 1975 I’d been spiritually “awake” for nearly a decade, and in that time I’d known some stretches of spiritual bareness when it felt like God was absent and silent. A familiar preacher’s illustration was the only wisdom that I’d been given up to that point to help explain my experience before finding that article in 1975.

An older couple was sitting in their car at a red light one day. The wife looked over at the car next to them and saw a young couple, obviously deeply in love, sitting close to each other. The woman looked over at her husband and said, “I remember the days when we used to sit that close to each other.”  And her husband just grunted and said, “Well, I didn’t move.”

The truth of this narrative was that any distance that I might be feeling in my relationship with God was my fault.  If God wasn’t close then it was because I’d “moved.”  Believing this, Psalm 51:10-12 became my frequent and heartfelt petition –

Create in me a clean heart, God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Thy presence, and do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit.

Beginning with a “cloud 9” assumption that my life as a Christian was supposed to be one of “exalted mood and no defeat,” when my experience proved to be otherwise, my first response was always to just automatically assume that I had done something wrong that needed to get fixed before the joy of my salvation could return.

I “Job-ed” myself.

In the book of Job it was Job’s friends who explained his misery by arguing that because bad things only happen to bad people, that he must be bad.  And so, when my spiritual life turned barren, I scolded myself using the familiar scripts of Job’s friends.  Obviously it was because I’d “moved” that God was suddenly distant.  And there were times when this assessment proved to be exactly right.

St. Francis de Sales in his Introduction to the Devout Life observed –

It is ourselves who are often the cause of our own sterile, arid state… God holds back consolations from us when we have foolish compliance in them and are subject to the worms of presumption… When we neglect to gather the dear delights of God’s love at the proper season, he takes then from us in punishment for our sloth…

Psalm 51:10-12 is exactly the right thing to pray in this situation and under these circumstances.  Repentance, confession and the renewal of faith in Jesus Christ as our “Advocate with the Father” (I John 1:5-2:2) is the right course of action to take when the distance that you experience between yourself and God is the result of your own spiritual negligence, rebellion and infidelity.  In words that ought to send a shudder through our souls, God tells us that there are a variety of circumstances and conditions of heart when He won’t listen to our prayers or respond to our cries (Isaiah 58; Malachi 1-2; I Peter 3:7).  There are times of spiritual desolation when we, in fact, have “moved,” and the only way back is by penance and forgiveness.

But there are also times of spiritual desolation when we haven’t moved, and that’s what Dr. Lindquist alerted me to in his defining 1975 Christianity Today article.  There are seasons of the spiritual life when it is God who “moves.”   Known in the spiritual literature as the “Dark Night of the Soul,” and/or, the “Dark Night of the Senses,” this is when God purposefully withdraws His “consolations” (the “felt” dimensions of God’s presence – e.g. “peace,” “love,” “joy”) from us in order to deepen our faith.  A good Biblical illustration of this dynamic of the spiritual life was the end of the miraculous provisions for God’s people in the wilderness and the beginning of their responsibility to have to farm and herd for themselves in order to meet their physical needs (Deuteronomy 8).  Another illustration of it was Jesus’ instructions to His disciples in the Upper Room when it was time for Him to go away and they were going to be left feeling “orphaned” (John13-17).  Ralph Martin in his masterful book on the spiritual life The Fulfillment of all Desire (Emmaus 2006) writes –

When we continually “see” the work of God in our life, there is less need for faith.  When the perception of blessing or presence is removed, there is an opportunity to exercise faith on a deeper and purer level, which is very pleasing to God and unites us in a deep way with Him, even when His closeness to us might not be felt. (170-171)

If the way “back” from the dryness and darkness we experience when we have moved away from God is penance and forgiveness, then the way “forward” through the dryness and darkness we experience when God moves away from us is to “trust and obey” as the old Gospel hymn puts it.  The Divine purpose in the “dark night” of the soul and/or senses is to teach us how to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), and so when we find ourselves in the middle of one of them, the best strategy is to plant our feet on what we know to be solid ground.  As another old Gospel hymn instructs –

When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale, My anchor holds within the veil.

When things go dark for us spiritually, this is when the spiritual disciplines that have been honed in the light pay their best dividends.  The disciplined engagement with Scripture, the daily habit of heartfelt prayer, the hard work of being in community and the weekly gathering at the Lord’s Table are where we find the solid ground where our anchors hold in the high and stormy gales when darkness veils His lovely face.

For me, the most powerful declaration of faith that I find in Scripture is the one that comes at the end of the book of the Prophet Habakkuk –

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (3:17-18)

This is the kind of faith that is born of the experience of spiritual dryness and darkness, and it is the kind of faith that will see us through. DBS+

 

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I believe in the sun even when it isn’t shining.
I believe in love even when I am alone.
I believe in God even when he is silent.

These words were found scrawled on a cellar wall where
Jews had hidden in World War II in Cologne, Germany.

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“Blessed are the Persecuted…”

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Christians have had a presence in Iraq for 16 centuries. Some have even argued that the Apostle Peter’s reference to “she who is in Babylon” (I Peter 5:13) is Biblical evidence that Christianity was present in the region of present-day Iraq as early as the first century. There are ancient church traditions that attach the Apostles Peter, Thomas and Thaddeus (also known as Jude) to the beginnings of the church in Babylon. And while that’s not certain, what is certain is that the Christian Community of Iraq is one of the world’s oldest, and, as of last weekend, it is now nearly completely gone.

Told by ISIS – The new Caliphate Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – to evacuate or face immediate extermination, it is believed that 99% of the Christian Community in Mosul has fled in recent weeks to neighboring Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous northern Iraqi region. And as they have fled, ISIS has burned their churches and destroyed their sacred places. One observer explains that ISIS seems intent on destroying anything that has a Biblical reference or that might hold some kind of spiritual significance for the Christian community. The picture above is of the Tomb of the Prophet Jonah in Nineveh. ISIS soldiers and sympathizers are said to have recently destroyed it with sledgehammers

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Now, the irony in this should be apparent to all who are conversant with the Biblical narrative. Jonah is the Hebrew prophet of the Biblical God’s global concern. Reluctantly, Jonah was sent to Nineveh, present-day Mosul, with a message of repentance, reconciliation and restoration. God’s covenant with the children of Abraham was for the blessing of all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). It is the original version of John 3:16’s sentiment that – “For God so loved the world…” When the scope of God’s purpose was forgotten or got ignored by God’s people, dramatic consequences followed. The book of Jonah in the Hebrew Bible is a spiritual cautionary tale. Whenever people try to narrow the field of God’s concern by systematically excluding some group of people from gaining access to God’s presence, promise and provision, then God steps up to straighten things out and to set things right. Reducing Jonah’s tomb to rubble has the feel of spitting into the wind and tugging on Superman’s cape to me (Thank-you for the reference Jim Croce!). Jonah’s God is not One that I would particularly want to mess with.

As foreign as persecution is to our experience as American Christians, it is time that we in the west opened our eyes and hearts to the suffering of our brothers and sisters in those parts of the world where being a Christian is a crime and where the practice of Christian faith makes them the targets of ridicule, oppression and sometimes outright violence.

Biblically, we are repeatedly told that persecution just naturally comes with the territory of Christian believing and behaving. Paul told the new Christians of Southern Asia Minor after the first missionary journey that it is only “through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Peter warned the Christians of the Eastern provinces of Asia Minor that he didn’t want them “surprised by the fiery ordeal” that was about to come upon them to test their faith as if “some strange thing were happening to them” (I Peter 4:12). And Jesus told His disciples in the Upper Room that just as the world had hated Him, so now the world would hate them too (John 15:18). Consistently the response that Christians were told to make to those who persecuted them was to bless them, to love them and to pray for them (Matthew 5:10-12; 5:38-42; Romans 12:14; I Peter 2:21-25; 3:13-17; 4:12-19). That’s the counsel that the Scripture gives to those who are being persecuted. But what’s the duty of those of us who live in abundance and safety while our brothers and sisters in other places are suffering mightily for their commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? Biblically I can think of three things –

1. Pray for them.

Calls for prayer for the Christians of Iraq have come from every church leader from the Pope in Rome to our very own Global Ministries team in Indianapolis. The Anglican Vicar of Baghdad has asked that we pray for some very specific things in his recent call to prayer -

• That the Christians of Mosul will know the close presence of Jesus, the guidance of the Spirit and the protection of the Father;

• That those who have chosen to remain in the city would not be subjected to violent or unjust treatment;

• That humanitarian assistance would reach all who are in need, whether having been displaced or remaining in Mosul;

• That Christians throughout Iraq will know the peace and presence of Jesus each day, and will remain faithful to him and clear in their testimony;

• And that Iraqi authorities will act decisively to improve security for all citizens of Iraq.

Randy Hurst, the World Missions Communications Director for the Assembly of God Church has been in touch with church leaders in the Middle East and Iraq. He writes -

Today I received a copy of a prayer that an Assembly of God pastor in Baghdad sent to his congregation this week to help guide them in their prayers during this time of crisis. His prayer touched me deeply. It communicates so wonderfully the commitment and love this pastor has for the people of Iraq and the work God has called him to do. The prayer reads, in part –

Thank You for Iraq, our country that You have placed us in. Lift up our eyes from all the events around us and direct our eyes to You. Let us see Your glory and greatness so that we won’t shake because of the storm. Lord, You have put us in this country to pray for it, not to run away and leave it.’

Understanding the incredible pressures and constant threats the church faces on a daily basis, a prayer like this leaves little doubt that the Christians remaining in Iraq are men and women who have fully entrusted their lives to Christ. It is our honor to pray for these heroes of the faith.

As I read the things that Iraqi Christians are saying in the midst of their frightening and dangerous circumstances, I am reminded of the early church’s prayer upon the release of Peter and John from jail in Acts chapter 4:23-31 -

After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant:

“Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers have gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah.”

For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant[j] Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants[k] to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

2. Support them financially.

Every stewardship instruction and example that I can find in the New Testament relates to the support of the suffering church. The Offering for the Jerusalem Church (Romans 15:22-33; I Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8-9) and Paul’s thank-you note to the Philippians for their financial support of him while he was in jail (4:10-20) make it clear that one of the things that we must do in support of our suffering brothers and sisters in Iraq is to give from our abundance to help them in their deprivation. Our global mission partner in this work is Church World Service. Our Week of Compassion offering goes to them, and you can channel any designated gifts for Iraqi Christians through them.

3. And make their testimony known.

Finally, the suffering of Christians has always been part of the credibility of the church’s witness to the world. It was Tertullian, the early 3rd century North African Church Father, who said that “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” And while this is not meant in any way to minimize the magnitude of the very real suffering that many Christians face today by wrapping it up in the mist of some kind of super-spirituality, it is nevertheless part of the very real recognition that historically the heroic willingness of Christians not to recant their faith or deny their Lord in the face of persecution has been one of the most powerful and persuasive aspects of the church’s witness to the world.

An important subset of this point is the importance of we who are Christians not bearing false witness to Islam or Muslims in these trying times. What’s happening in Iraq today is no more reflective of mainstream Islam than were the atrocities perpetrated in the name of Christ by people like David Koresh and Jim Jones reflective of mainstream Christianity. And just so you know, the actions of ISIS in Iraq against Christians in recent days have been publically and clearly condemned by world Muslim scholars and leaders.

“The International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) condemns the forced expulsion of the Christian brothers of Iraq from their homes, cities and provinces,” the group said in a statement posted on the website of its leader, the influential cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi on Tuesday. “These are acts that violate Islamic laws, Islamic conscience and leave but a negative image of Islam and Muslims.” The IUMS urged the Islamic State to allow Christians to return to their homes, saying the forced expulsion amounts to “spreading discord”, a serious crime in traditional Muslim law. http://news.yahoo.com

A much truer picture of how Islam has traditionally viewed Christianity and treated Christians is the letter that Mohammed himself wrote to the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of My Sinai in 628 AD. In English Translation it reads –

This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world). http://www.yursil.com/blog

Standing as a perpetual witness to this historic arrangement is the cross-topped bell tower of the church standing side-by-side with crescent-topped minaret of the mosque on the grounds of St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai wilderness.

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As this has been the reality there in Sinai for more than 1400 years now, let us pray that it become the reality for Christians and Muslims living in Iraq in the coming days. DBS+

 

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The Abnormality of the World & the Sufficiency of Grace

Globe

“My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”

                                                                                                   ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9

We had a time for healing prayer in church on Sunday.  After the preaching of the Word and the sharing of the Bread and Cup of Communion, we invited people to come forward at the end of the service to put their special prayer request cards in a little basket on a table under a cross and to be prayed for by a minister with anointing with oil and the laying on of hands if so desired.  This is always such a powerful experience whenever we do it as a church.  People are usually so busy trying to persuade themselves and to convince others that they’re just fine, that when they are given an opportunity to actually let down their guard and to be ministered to at the point of their deepest wounds and greatest needs, something truly grace-filled and powerfully healing happens.

One time, years ago, a church member actually checked herself out of the hospital in order to be able to attend one of these healing prayer services, and then immediately checked herself back into the hospital when the service was over!  We certainly didn’t encourage this, but we were greatly encouraged by it, and I remember the example of her determination and effort now every time we plan a time of healing prayer in our life of worship as a church.  My heart tells me that this is a really good thing to do for people, and with people.   It is an affectively powerful experience.  People are deeply moved by it.  But I find that it is a profoundly “meaningful” experience as well, which is to say that it is an act that also closely conforms and firmly adheres to the truth of the Gospel, and it has been my experience that good things tend to happen when head and heart come together in this way.  For me the experience of Healing Prayer is like the flow of the river of the Holy Spirit between the two banks of head and heart.

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The “heart” bank of this river of the Spirit consists of our life experiences and the emotions that they generate in us.  Our hurts and hopes with their joys and sorrows firmly fix the “heart” bank of the river of the Holy Spirit in Healing Prayer.  It’s what’s happening to us and in us that directs the Spirit’s flow in this kind of praying.  This is not praying from a book or using set forms of any kind, but a praying that is by definition sensitive and responsive, more like jazz than a carefully orchestrated and well-rehearsed symphony.  You just step into its current and let it carry you along.

The “head” bank of this river of the Spirit consists of the revealed truths of Scripture and the way that the church has historically thought and talked about them.  Two of the big Biblical truths that are hard at work in the experience of Healing Prayer are the abnormality of the world and the sufficiency of God’s grace.  Part of my preparation for last Sunday’s sermon and service was listening again to Jerram Barr’s lecture on the “Basic Bible Study Themes, III” of Francis Schaeffer from his course “Francis Schaeffer: The Later Years” at http://www.covenantseminary.edu/resources/courses/francis-schaeffer-the-later-years/.  He says -

God is not responsible for the brokenness of the world. The world is not the way God created it, and human beings are not the way God created them.  Everything now is abnormal and is distorted by sin. Do not blame God for the way things are.  Human sin has made things the way they are…

(But) I hardly ever hear Christians talking about the abnormality of the world. If we do not talk about the abnormality of the world, we have absolutely no answer to give to people who have problems with suffering and evil. We end up saying that “it is okay.”  Someone dying of cancer might come to us, and we say, “This is really fine. God will take care of it.  Everything is going to work out well in the end.” This is an artificial answer that simply does not meet the person’s needs and is not true. It is not faithful to Scripture. Unless we understand the reality of the Fall, we have nothing to say to the person who suffers. Scripture forbids us to heal people’s wounds lightly or to try to soothe them with emollient words that pretend that things are not as bad as they are. One of the wonderful things about Scripture is that it takes the brokenness of our situation really seriously. It says it like it is. That is why it tells you to weep with those who weep, not to heal their wounds lightly. Just go and weep with them. Jesus is described as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. That is the way every Christian ought to be, those who really take people’s suffering to heart. We need to understand that people are having experiences that are abnormal. They are not the way God created them to be. Their reality and their experience of it is a broken one. Our call is to weep with them and have compassion on them rather than heal their wounds lightly.

And this big Biblical truth about the world’s abnormality has its direct counterpoint in the Bible’s equally big truth about the sufficiency of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  “The light shines in the darkness” is how the Gospel of John begins (1:5).  This is such good news.  There’s light and it’s shining on us!  But there’s darkness too, terrible darkness, and it’s this darkness that the light has been sent to penetrate and dispel.  70% of Christ’s public ministry reported in the four Gospels involved healing and exorcism according to the Rev. Jack Sheffield, an Episcopal priest with a ministry of healing from San Antonio.  Christ in Luke 9:2 said that we as His disciples are to preach the kingdom and heal the sick, and this is just exactly what we see Him doing throughout the Gospels.  Both by healing people’s sick and broken bodies and by forgiving their sins, Jesus Christ was God’s light shining in the darkness.  By actively challenging the abnormality of the world, Jesus Christ our Savior was forcibly pulling creation back into alignment with God’s original design, bringing wholeness to our bodies and souls.

The Biblical tension in all this is between the “already” and the “not yet” of it.   Just like the gap between D-Day and VE-Day during WW 2 in Europe, Christ’s work of dispelling the darkness has already begun but is not yet complete.   Our experience of it here and now is real but partial, substantial but fragmentary, and this shapes our believing and our praying.  Christian hope makes it clear that one day we will be delivered completely from the suffering of this world.  As Jerram Barrs puts it, “The whole goal of the work of Christ is to overcome the abnormality of this world.”  But our experience of this saving work will be incomplete until the consummation of Revelation 21 when God “shall wipe away every tear from our eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (v. 4).  And in experiences of Healing Prayer we feel this pull.  Even as we seek deliverance from the suffering that we are facing, we confess the truth that there will no permanent solution to the problem of pain until Christ returns, and so we ask for the hope that does not disappoint us that is born of the endurance in tribulation that produces godly character (Romans 5:3-5).

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The best illustration that I’ve ever come across of what this looks like is what the late Calvin Miller wrote in his fancifully imaginative book The Philippian Fragment (IVP – 1982).  In the style of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, Calvin Miller used the vehicle of an imagined correspondence between some fictional characters to explore some of Christianity’s important ideas.

In the fourth chapter of “The First Letter of Eusebius of Phillip to his beloved Friend Clement” the church’s ministry of healing was closely examined.  Eusebius met a travelling healer named Helen.  “She rarely does anything one could call a miracle,” Eusebius wrote.  “Last week she laid hands on a little crippled boy and was not able to heal him,” he explained, “but she did get him a new pair of crutches and promised to take him for a walk in the park” (24).  And then he wrote about the healing of an amputee that he witnessed.

Yesterday with my own eyes I saw her pass an amputee selling styluses.  She touched his legs and cried, “Grow back! Grow back!” In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, grow back!”  Well, Clement, I so wanted to see the legs grow back, but they did not.  Poor Helen.  What’s a faith healer to do with an amputee that refuses to grow legs on command? Well, she sat down with the little man, crossed her legs on the cold pavement, and began selling styluses herself.  Soon she was talking to him, and before very long they were both laughing together.  For an hour they laughed together, and by nightfall they were having an uproariously good time.  And when it was time to go, Helen’s legs were so stiff from disuse, they refused to move.  Her legless, stylus-selling friend cried in jest, “Grow strong!  Grow strong! Grow strong!”  Helen only smiled and staggered upward on her unsteady legs.  And then she looked down at her lowly friend and said, “I offer you healing, you will see.  It is only one world away.  Someday…,” she stopped and smiled, “you will enter a new life and you will hear our Savior say to your legless stumps, ‘Grow long! Grow long!’ And then you will know that glory which Sister Helen only dreamed for you.”  He smiled and asked, “Do you heal everyone this way?” And she answered, “It is better to heal with promises than to promise healing.” To which he replied, “You are right, Sister Helen.  But more than right, you are evidence that our Father heals the spirit of amputees – even when they will not grow legs.  And, once the spirit is healed, the legs can be done without.” (24-26)

And between the banks of head and heart the river of the Spirit flows in times of Healing Prayer.  I felt its current pull last Sunday when praying with people for their wounds and the wounds of those they love. Between the depth of their pain and enormity of God’s promise, we found that promised peace that’s bigger than our circumstances (Philippians 4:7) and experienced the way that nothing we are facing has the power to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:38-39).  DBS+

 

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