Possibilities with the Spirit

But the counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27

Real and fresh conversation
Me to child: Hey, go get your CD player, put in new batteries, bring it upstairs with your earphones and set them on the counter.
Child: CD player?
Me: The one in your bedroom?
Child: What? Why? It’s doesn’t need batteries. It has a plug. We can just plug it in.
Me: Maybe you aren’t going to be where there’s a plug.
Child: What? Where am I going?
Me: Hey. Go do what I asked you to do. (pause) Now.
Child: oooookay…
(time passes)
Child: I got the player but I can’t open it to get the batteries out.
Me: Try to do it again… as if your very life depended on it.
(time  passes)
Child: Okay. It’s all set. Now what am I going to listen to?
Me: Who said you were going to listen to something?
Child: You did.
Me: No, I didn’t. I asked you to go and get some things but I didn’t say you were going to listen to anything.
Child: Well, what am I going to do?
Me: Finish the job.
Child: How?
Me: Remembering what I asked you to do.
Child: But I can’t.
Me: Because…
Child: I don’t know…
Me: Well, do you know if you finished what I asked you to do?
Child: Uh, no. I don’t know…what did you say?
Me: Put the CD player and your earphones on the counter and back away. That is all.

Sometimes, I’ll tell my kids about something we’re going to do and even though it’s all planned, they’ll begin to re-plan the event or check on me to make sure that I’ve thought of everything. Or like in the real and fresh conversation above, they won’t even begin to listen because, I guess, I speak another language or maybe they just don’t want to buy into what I’m asking until they know and trust every detail. That could be it.

Other times, I get hurt because I’m trying to help one of them with something and they just don’t want to listen. I might remember the same sort of thing happening to me. I might wish that I had thought of or known what I did afterwards but the child sort of “oh’s” me aside.

Then there’s the feeling of frustration I often experience when there is a pattern of disobedience and willfulness that is disruptive and, possibly, destructive to others or our home. When I find myself repeating the same bit of direction over and over, that’s when I tend to lose my interest in peace and neutrality to the point that I’ll lose my cool. Everyone finds it easy to back away then.

These are real feelings and I’m becoming very glad for them. Not for the sake of indulgence though, or license. Having a number of children hanging around all the time, I can go through these different emotions and scenarios over and over in rapid succession in a short amount of time and what it’s doing is creating my own personal and private tipping point of reflection. When I get the chance to step back and think it all over again, I find myself coming up against the same blunt awareness. I am very much like them.

Last week I was reading in John 14 and read verse 27. I admit that often I have skipped the first part of the verse to get to the last part of the verse because I tend to hunger and long for peace. This time, though, I noticed the counselor-who-the-father-provided part. The following is from my journal.

While I am so thankful for the counsel of the Holy Spirit, I know I do not always listen. I don’t hear him at times, until it is too late. Sometimes, I’m aware but feel unsure how to make the change or do it differently, especially in the middle of something intense. 

The counsel is still there, though, and when I recognize it, so often it’s a balm, a salve and I feel relieved to sense it. I feel joined and strengthened in the Spirit’s direction and I know that it is good, the very best thing that’s ever touched my mind. Like a breeze that feels whole and welcome, I know that I am not alone and the fullest care is all about me. That is Presence and when I am aware, when I allow myself to acknowledge the Spirit is there and counseling me with effect, I want to laugh with joy, cry with gratefulness and never have it go away. 

And that’s the rub. I treat the Spirit as an ‘it’, a thing instead of the Holy, Pure Conscience that this One of the Trinity is. I pretend it comes at me, all disconnected, willfully against my needs or like a miser, doling out only the littlest of offerings, yet, the Spirit, like the Son and the Father are Always. Always Present. Ready. Available. Real. Full. Faithful. I am the one who leaves, who shuts out the succor, who wanders in circles, lonely. I have a weak sense of the utter wholeness of the Presence of God, and it’s my downfall.

You know the oft-used phrase about that apple and how far it falls from the tree? It applies here. Possibly, I am missing out on the peace part that comes at the end because I am too busy trying to check on God, or get him to give me all the details so I’m sure I should trust what he’s asking me to do? Possibly, for sure. What would happen if I listened completely the first time and didn’t think too hard and just followed through? What if?

Making Arrangements

“You must arrange to live with deep contentment, joy, and confidence in your everyday experience of life with God.” – Dallas Willard

I’ve read this quote from Dallas Willard many times. Often I’ve read it, given a mental “Amen” and then immediately flushed it to make room for my next urgent task. Despite such nonchalance, God continues to keep this quote in front of me. So, I’ve been pondering and praying.

When confronted with the quote again this week, I wasn’t able to get past the word “arrange.” What does it mean to arrange my life? Even more, to arrange it so I’m content, joyful and appropriately confident?

There’s a part of me that wants to look Willard in the eye and say, “Go for it, buddy! Please do ‘arrange’ my life into a blissful, tea and crumpets existence. Good luck. Knock yourself out. Rescue me from children who self-sabotage. Bring peace to the gender wars raging in my home. Fix the broken, and find the lost toys. Shield me from manipulation. Keep me from passivity. Allow me more sleep while eliminating my mid-day sleepiness. Fill my cupboards with food and please stop the dog from barking. And while you’re at it, could you arrange for someone to get that sweaty sock smell out of our minivan? Please, Mr. Willard? If you could do these things, I’m sure I’d find the contentment, joy and confidence you command. Or would I have better odds with a lottery ticket?”

There, I feel better. And just for the record, I don’t believe in luck or play the lottery. I’m also not usually that cynical. But I can be – especially when I subscribe to the belief that life is about me. When I think I’m entitled to children who don’t fight, cars that never break-down, smart phones that are actually smart or a well-funded savings account. Such misguided beliefs open the door to disappointment and life slips into disarray. Joy becomes elusive and contentment is but a dream.

So what is Willard getting at when asks us to “arrange” for a good day with God? Well, it is true that only I control my attitude and disposition. I can be joyful or bitter. Covetous or content. When I swallow a worldview of entitlement, life’s frustrations will choke me. When personal peace and affluence are my goals, I’m left disturbed and needy. Perhaps Willard’s quote could be rephrased this way: what must I do to insure I find my joy, contentment and confidence in Jesus – no matter what?

Good question. The disgruntling things of life I ranted about earlier can’t be “arranged” away. That would be wonderful, but contrary to our calling as followers of Jesus. Besides, extinguishing all life’s troubles is not what Willard is instructing. What he is commanding is a properly arranged lifestyle of discipleship. An arrangement guided by the person and character of God. An arranging that puts God’s Kingdom first.

Arranging life that way starts with a conscious, moment-by-moment engagement of our story with God’s story. All of life is spiritual and we are servants to divine authority. Everything matters. Whether changing a diaper, filing a report, watching a child’s soccer game, meeting with a client or walking the dog there isn’t anything we think, say or do that doesn’t have spiritual significance. This means our activities influence the quality of our relationship with God, and others. What we do has a direct affect on the health of our soul.

Followers of Jesus are to shape and fill their souls with God’s Word, be guided and comforted by His Spirit, and participate in the community of His people. It is around these components of discipleship that we must make “arrangements.” We must arrange for times of meditation on Scripture. Our day should include listening to the Spirit through prayer. Our schedules must prioritize communing with other followers of Christ. Life arranged with God-first thinking will encourage a disposition characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Look at your life. How is it arranged? We are busy, and at times frustrated. But we must not allow such realities to cast a pall on our experience with the living God. We must fight for contented joy. We must place confidence in our God who is completely trustworthy.

Become infatuated with Jesus. Start, stop and adjust activities to get more of Him. Such intentionality is hard work. You will be opposed. But fight as you arrange to seek His Kingdom – first.

Audacious Prayer

The Sears Catalog. I don’t know if they still print them, but those catalogs are enshrined in my childhood hall of fame. I spent hours each November and December pouring over the toy section. Paper and pencil on my right, catalog on my left. I flipped the pages back and forth, first scanning then scrawling product codes and page numbers as I crafted my Christmas wish list. Cheered-on by colorful images that screamed “buy me!” my list expressed my deepest desires to my parents and the mysterious Santa.

Those catalog memories came back to me this week. That’s because I’ve been thinking a lot about my desires, and God’s desires. Over the past few months there’s been a steady tightening of tension between God and me. A tension over what I want versus God’s plan. The awful realities of life have hit me fresh and taunted my faith. Sickness. Disease. Disappointment. Frustration. All cursed guests that squeeze from me either a humble brokenness or prideful bitterness.

So I’ve been talking to God, and He to me, about this convergence of human and divine desire. What I’ve been hearing from Him has upset my prayer life. More truthfully, it has upturned everything and knocked me backward.

God made it clear I was to stop the lip service prayers. Put an end to the shallowness. Be done with compulsion and manipulation. Don’t pray from a position of guilt or qualify successful by result. Pray expectantly. Fervently. Hopefully. Express to Me the cries of your heart. Give wide berth to the trap of fatalism – the “come what may” attitude. Tell me what you really want; what you really feel.

I had no rebuttal.

Richard Sibbes said, “It is atheism to pray and not to wait in hope.” Ashamedly, I’m sometimes guilty of slipping into dutiful but empty prayers. Joyless, task-list praying. Prayers offered because I have to, not because I get to. Such praying reflects unbelief in God’s character and capability. A disrespect of His holiness. A subtle form of atheism. God knows it, and He called me out.

A bit rattled by my holy reprimand, I went through some introspection: how do I express my desires with expectancy? How do I rally my hopes beyond reason? What if my desires are unreasonable, unrealistic or unlikely: should I still express them? If God has already determined the outcome, is it still worth the effort to express the yearnings of my soul? To lay my heart bare and vulnerable? To ask for the miracle?

Then I heard, “Absolutely!”

Victor Frankl suggests, “Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment instead.” When I think about the desire expressed in my childhood Christmas lists, and now the lists crafted by my children, there is little cleverness. Wish lists are pure bewilderment. Great expectations and audacious requests. Requests made even when fulfillment is unlikely. Hope and desire live through such requests. And in the requesting are expressions of the heart that give opportunity for relationship to grow and ripen.

I believe that’s what God wants from my prayers: big, bold, audacious requests. Prayer laden with my greatest hopes and craziest dreams shot straight from the pain of life’s brokenness. A conversation where my desires mingle with His. There’s still tension, but it’s a healthy tension blanketed by joy between the Creator and his child as they delight in their open and honest relating.

So with the Spirit’s help I’m working toward a bolder humility to express my desires. To “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Heb 4:16). A confidence heavily coated with hope-filled bewilderment to petition for mercies that might be unreasonable, ridiculous or miraculous. Audacious at times. But I know God can handle it.