Fighting through to silence

Desperately holding on

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
(Psalm 62:5 ESV)

This is the difficult work of faith – to wait in silence for God alone. Not a wussy, passive silence but rather an active, aggressive laying hold of God while holding down a flighty, fearful heart. An obsessed doggedness to attain the soul’s singular ambition – to be saved through the only option it will accept: I will be saved through faith in Jesus Christ or not at all!

By stubborn choice I cling to Christ, refusing alternative offers of comfort, irrationally trusting the God-man who hung on the tree for what appears impossible (Matthew 19:26). A desperate trust, laying it all on the line with pathetically small odds of making it to the finish line intact – such faith is either complete insanity or utter necessity (Philippians 3:12-14).

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
(Psalm 62:5 ESV)

This silence, fighting to wait for God alone, is not simply a lack of audible noise. The true silence penetrates deep, to my soul. All of the panicky soul noise must be quietened, fears quelled, a purposeful resisting of anxiety to wait in active stillness for my Savior.

My silence is not to be the anxious falling asleep of a weary disciple (Mark 14:37-40). I can so easily exhaust myself worrying about how I will get through, should I be doing more, what if… For such anxieties Jesus would rebuke me (Matthew 6:27). It seems like the hardest thing in the world to quieten my soul and wait for God alone, I suppose this is why I do not have the spiritual strength of David – I don’t strengthen myself in the Lord (1 Samuel 30:6).

“In repentance and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
(Isaiah 30:15 ESV)

Other posts related to this topic:

Image of rock climber: iStockphoto

Fighting Through to Silence

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
(Psalm 62:5 ESV)

This is the difficult work of faith – to wait in silence for God alone. Not a pathetic, passive silence but rather an active, aggressive laying hold of God while holding down a flighty, fearful heart. An obsessed doggedness to attain the soul’s singular ambition – to be saved through the only option it will accept: I will be saved through faith in Jesus Christ or not at all.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
(Psalm 62:5 ESV)

This silence, fighting to wait for God alone, is not simply a lack of audible noise. The true silence penetrates deep, to my soul. All of the panicky soul noise must be quietened, fears quelled, a purposeful resisting of anxiety to wait in active stillness for my Saviour.

My silence is not to be the anxious falling asleep of a weary disciple (Mark 14:37-40). I can so easily exhaust myself worrying about how I will get through, should I be doing more, what if… For such anxieties Jesus would rebuke me (Matthew 6:27). It seems like the hardest thing in the world to quieten my soul and wait for God alone, I suppose this is why I do not have the spiritual strength of David – I don’t strengthen myself in the Lord (1 Samuel 30:6).

“In repentance and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
(Isaiah 30:15 ESV)

God has chosen the weak

NZ Children murdered by parents or caregivers in the last five years.
NZ Children murdered by parents or caregivers in the last five years.

The hardest thing about having strength is not using it.

Controlling strength is particularly important for fathers of small children, outbursts of strength around young children is devastating to them, whether the outburst is physical, verbal or emotional. My own experience is that preventing angry outbursts at my children takes a huge amount of self-control, humility, practise and help from others. I am not good at this.

I am not alone unfortunately, New Zealand’s heart breaking child abuse record attests to this, and the statistics are but the tip of a destructive iceberg. The latest New Zealand figures are indicating that 2011 is likely to be another year of child abuse shame in our nation. People can and do look for many reasons and excuses why adults, men particularly, harm children. It is essential to investigate causes and prevention strategies, but that’s way outside my purpose here.

All I know is that my children are physically, emotionally and verbally much weaker than me and sometimes I turn this against the little people who I love the most.  God does not give His gifts to those who exert strength over others, he allows the meek to inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). He does not make greatness in His kingdom a function of strength or power, greatness in the Kingdom of God comes through humility (Matthew 18:3-4).

Controlling my frustrations, voice, irritation, anger, and physical strength is essential for the well-being of my children. It is also essential for my attainment in the Kingdom of Heaven. To attain to the Kingdom of God I must humble myself – especially before my children.

God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
(1 Corinthians 1:27 ESV)

It does help me at least a bit to remember in my moments of frustration or irritation at my kids that once again I can thank God for using the weak to shame my strength into submission so that I may also become a child of our Father in heaven.

After writing this my wife, who is much better educated than I about these things, tells me that stress experienced by young children causes demyelination of cortex neurons, leading to learning difficulties and also causing the child to grow up tending towards emotional responses rather then rational responses when stressed.

Gifts I have noticed this week (#416 – #4):

416) Cleaning the kitchen floor, because the washing machine flooded.
417) Home-made Turkish coffee… Mmmm!
418) Traffic noise after the tragic silence yesterday.
419) Dwindling wood pile keeping us warm.
420) Hearth stopping hot coals from burning our house down!
421) Growing accustomed to an un-routine lifestyle.
422) Hot shower on a cold morning.
423) Toast at midnight.
424) Comfy woollen jersey.
425) Small people who quail before an unrestrained ranting.
426) Paradise ducks on the pond.

How the mighty have fallen! (2 Samuel 1:19)

427) Reminder that even the strong can fall.
428) Walking out of shade into sunshine.
429) Cicadas chirping.
430) Rope swing in an old tree.
431) Industry noises echoing around the hills reminding me there are echoes of Christ everywhere.
432) A small army of lancewoods.
433) Acknowledging a passing “I should have…” thought without beating myself up for it.
434) Blinding reflections of glory.
435) Cats lying on a roof to catch the last sunny warmth.
436) beauty of sailboats and steeples.
437) A church who accepts me in my strength and, more importantly, in my weaknesses.

Other posts related to this topic:

The collage of beautiful children is from various news stories – each of these children was murdered in New Zealand within the last five years, and there are many others also.

Links to other websites related to this topic:

If you are a sensitive soul only read these following articles on a day you are feeling strong – it’s reality, but not easy to consider.

Interpreting the times

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:36-37 ESV)

It is rare nowadays to find anyone able to proclaim the correct Biblical interpretation of current events.

Peter does so magnificently in Acts 2:22-41, and given his track record I would argue that it is spending 40 days in fellowship with the risen Son of God and in prayer that gave him the background understanding to be able to do this.

It is good to know what is going on in the world but without an ongoing, deep fellowship with Jesus through the Bible and prayer it will all lead me to emptiness and despair.

Reasons for reading

Book pile

I love reading. I particularly love reading books. Blogs and websites and short documents are fine, but they cannot compare to the pleasure of reading a good book.
Aside from a general preference for books, there are many reasons why I read. Why I am reading not only influences what I choose to read but also how I read it. Some books are read slowly from cover to cover, others are skimmed, some are dipped into as the mood takes me, and then there are the reference tomes that are only read in small bits as required.

Here are some of the reasons I read:

  • To be reminded: some stuff is just too valuable to leave shut up on the shelf.
  • To escape into a good story for a while.
  • Learning: some books are a challenge for me to read but I know they are good for me.
  • To be jarred and jolted into a deeper view of of being human.
  • Out of curiosity: sometimes a book just makes me want to know what it is about.
  • Someone else recommends the book: I have to admit that this is not always a good reason for me – I’ve slogged through a lot of books that came well recommended but just weren’t of much interest to me.
  • I like the author’s other books: not always reliable, but certainly more useful to me than recommendations from others.

I’m sure there are good reasons I’ve left out, maybe I will add to this list over time. Or you can add your own reasons why you read in the comments for this post.

Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
(Ecclesiastes 12:12 ESV)

External links related to this topic:

Strengthened in the Lord

The Psalmist David: Repentance

And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.(1 Samuel 30:6 ESV)

When everything was against him, David strengthened himself in the LORD and was able to go on despite the odds stacked against him. Such a tantalizing phrase… “strengthened himself in the LORD.”

How did he go about this? How does a man not only pick himself up from a crushing blow, but then lead the very men who are talking of killing him off on a rescue mission against forces much stronger than they? David clearly gained the strength he needed, I want to know how he met with God and was strengthened by Him.
A similar phrase occurs in 1 Samuel 23:16-17. Oh to have friends who will do this for us – leading us to God above all else:

And Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this. (1 Samuel 23:16-17 ESV)

No empty encouragements to ‘be strong’ or offering painkillers to numb the hurt, Jonathan strengthens David in God. A bit of worldly strength is helpful when things are slightly hard or we are a little weak, but when we are on the verge of being crushed or know ourselves to be completely weak and defenceless then only God’s strength will suffice. Jonathan reminds David of God’s past promises to him (though unfortunately he was wrong about being next to David when he became king). It would seem that at least part of strengthening ourselves in God involves reflecting and remembering God’s past promises and gifts to us.

I think an even more fruitful place to look for insight into how David strengthened himself in God is to meditate upon the psalms he wrote. These reflect David’s heart process as he prayed, lamented and worshiped God. Particularly  Psalms 55 through to 63 show David pour out his heart in complaint to God and then, while being realistic about his circumstances, he finds hope in God. If I want to strengthen myself in God, these psalms are good examples to learn from.

Netted recently, May 15

Netted recently:
  • Tim Keller discusses why Martyn Lloyd Jones thought it is important to be present when a sermon is preached rather than just listening to it on an ipod or viewing the YouTube video:

Dr. Lloyd-Jones effectively dismantles the idea that watching a video or listening to an audio of a sermon is as good as coming physically into an assembly and listening to a sermon with a body of people. (Lloyd-Jones on the Primacy of Preaching)

I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.  In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little.

“All my life they have been chasing us. They have done a lot to my family. They killed my husband, my brother, my uncle, my cousin, my brother in law and my father.” “Do you know why the Burma Army come and attack you,” I ask. The answer is so sad: “We don’t have any idea. The Burma Army never speak to us or tell us anything.”

We sit in silence. We both are mothers. We both love our husbands. We both have dreams and fears. We both have a sense of humor and like beauty. We both want a day off to do whatever we want. We both sit in the same room. But our lives are as different as lives can be. I think it is unfair.

Related:

John Newton on grace

john-newton-on-grace

If anyone could be expected to have some idea of what grace means it would be John Newton (author of ‘Amazing Grace’). Here is an excerpt from one of his sermons:

The Glory and Grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ

The great God is pleased to manifest himself in Christ, as the God of grace. This grace is manifold, pardoning, converting, restoring, persevering grace, bestowed upon the miserable and worthless. Grace finds the sinner in a hopeless, helpless state, sitting in darkness, and in the shadow of death. Grace pardons the guilt, cleanses the pollution, and subdues the power of sin. Grace sustains the bruised reed, binds up the broken heart, and cherishes the smoking flax into a flame. Grace restores the soul when wandering, revives it when fainting, heals it when wounded, upholds it when ready to fall, teaches it to fight, goes before it in the battle, and at last makes it more than a conqueror over all opposition, and then bestows a crown of everlasting life. But all this grace is established and displayed by covenant in the man Christ Jesus, and without respect to him as living, dying, rising, reigning, and interceding in the behalf of sinners, would never have been known. (Works of John Newton Vol 2)

Why does God allow this?

Ugandan man in brightly shirt prayingDo you ever find parts of the Bible distasteful, crass, gory, disgusting? I certainly do. One of those parts of the Bible which I always baulk at is Judges 19:22-28 in which a young woman is gang-raped and abused all night so severely that she dies. A number of issues cause my squeamishness over this text, the sheer brutality of the attack is certainly one of them. Yet God decreed that this incident be recorded in His holy book.

Maybe a partial reason why such an horrific rape was retained in scripture is to give us a reference point for comparable incidents occurring in our world today, such as the use of rape as a weapon of war by the Burma Army in Shan State. A recent report by Burma Campaign UK entitled Crisis in Shan State contains reports of exactly these sorts of horrific incidents:

  • On 21st March in Nam Lao village, Nang M, a 30 year-old woman, was gang raped by a large number of soldiers. She died immediately after being gang-raped.
  • On 23rd March Burmese Army troops from Light Infantry Battalion 291 and Infantry Battalion 33 gang-raped Nang B on a road outside her village. She is 19 years old.

Appallingly similar to the blunt reporting in the Bible:

But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light. (Judges 19:25-26 ESV)

Men are no safer in Shan State, Burma Army soldiers regularly force villagers to carry supplies, repair roads, build military camps and cultivate crops for them, with no pay and no food supplied. By forcing the men into labour for the army, women are forced to maintain farms, crops and households while the man are away, never certain that their fathers and husbands will return. Even living peaceably in their own villages men are not safe – the slightest provocation of the Burma Army can be fatal:

On 20 December 2010, a patrol of about 15 Burma Army troops from IB64 and 15 Shan ceasefire soldiers came to Maak Laang village and required So-Nan-Di, aged 48, to provide them with food and liquor. So-Nan-Di then killed his own chickens, bought some whiskey and served the soldiers. After eating and drinking to their satisfaction, the soldiers returned to their base in Lai-Kha. However, at one point on their way back, about 3 miles from Maak Laang village, they were ambushed by a group of Shan resistance soldiers. The Burma Army troops returned three days later, arresting So-Nan-Di and Zaai Maad from their houses, taking them back to their base in Lai-Kha township. Even though there was no evidence, they accused the men of helping the Shan resistance soldiers. So-Nan-Di was shot dead somewhere along the way that same day and Zaai Maad was imprisoned at Lai-Kha.  (report from Shan Human Rights Foundation)

There are hundreds of stories like these, a young father is severely beaten because he ran in fear from Burma Army soldiers – their excuse; they thought he must be a spy from the rebel militia. A 15-year-old girl returns to her parent’s house after bathing and is raped by a Burma Army officer who was looting the house. A small boy is burnt to death when the army sets fire to a village. Callous, inhumane slaughter and tyranny occurs every day in Burma.

Callous, inhumane slaughter also occurred in the Bible,

And David would strike the land and would leave neither man nor woman alive, but would take away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the garments, and come back to Achish. When Achish asked, “Where have you made a raid today?” David would say, “Against the Negeb of Judah,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Jerahmeelites,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Kenites.” And David would leave neither man nor woman alive to bring news to Gath, thinking, “lest they should tell about us and say, ‘So David has done.’”(1 Samuel 27:9-11 ESV)

I find it hard to reconcile this bloodthirsty David with the man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). It seems that while we may like to present ourselves as ‘together’ and upstanding to the world, God refuses to omit the nasty incidents from the story of His redemption. While it remains distasteful and hard to swallow, at least these sordid biblical reports remind us that God knew full well the depths of depravity and sin that needed to be atoned for in Christ – and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was fully sufficient.

It is OK to ask, “why does God allow this?”

Just make sure you are ready for His truthful answer – an answer that will be big enough to embrace wiping out entire nations at His command, permitting a sickening myriad of atrocious human acts, even to the slaughter of the only innocent One to ever live on earth. It is the very nature of God to not shy away from the truth, it is the very nature of my own flesh to hide from the light. Bring these together and it would seem most likely the problem with the texts I have quoted in this post is my inability to face truth rather than God being less than good.

What can we do?
  • I am praying for humility to accept God’s goodness, my fear of the light and His grace in Christ.
  • Pray for God to intervene and change the situation in Burma. It is not for us to stipulate how, but we are called to plead the case of the oppressed and powerless.
  • Ask God to send the light of Christ into this region of sadness. The Shan people have almost no Christian witness in their midst, the few Christians there live in fear so their light is blinkered. Would you be any bolder? May God give them His strength in their weakness.

Image of man praying by Susan Wardell, used with permission.

Wind and worship

then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (Genesis 2:7 ESV)

In the silence while everyone was out today, I picked up my neglected flute and played ‘Amazing Grace‘. As I exhaled the breath given me by God, it hit the silver lip, splitting into octaves, tones and semitones. Music woven back into worship to Him who gave me breath. He breathed life into me, I breathed out worship. In a rare moment I lived as I should be.

You don’t need a flute to do this, voices work just fine (Acts 16:25).

But would I use my voice to worship if suffering and treated shamefully? (1 Thessalonians 2:2) In my  heart I already know the answer, I’d like to think it were not this one but history and knowledge of myself tells me – no, I would grumble and complain, my voice would not be praising God from prison.

Paul, the worshiper, commands:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4 ESV)

I don’t know how to do this. I’m not even sure how to learn how to do this. How will I praise God when suffering unless I can learn this?