Tag Archives: Philip Yancey

Growing in God despite Disappointment: Pause, ponder and praise

During my last article, we learned about growing through perseverance.  Seasons of the “pause button” can work in us peace, pruning, peace and preparation for later seasons.  God does deep heart surgery in our hearts at this time.  We can turn these times into times of worship.

We also learned during an earlier article of the peculiar combination of suffering and joy.  God’s grace is such that he empowers us with joy as we trust him in very difficult circumstances.  This isn’t just about the refiner’s fire of life – it’s about living a victorious life despite suffering.  Examples of people who do this include Heidi and Rolland Baker, Supresa Sithole and more.  They also live a life of worship in the midst.  They are grateful for all God does in their lives and ministry.  They praise God often.

Some people call pause seasons time in the desert.  I’ve spoken about this as well.  Deserts can be even more refining than regular waiting seasons, but they are necessary to refine us. This is when we learn to let God refine us from the fear that holds us back, like Hannah Hurnard’s character called “Much Afraid” in her book Hinds Feet in High Places. The desert can transform the image we have of ourselves as well as our image of God. These false images we stored in our hearts are shattered in the desert. Once they are destroyed, we can then see and discover what is real about God. We are transformed as we journey on in four unique desert gifts: spiritual transformation, psychological change, a new role and a new future.

That transformation can take further seasons in the desert for pause and reflection.   I shared about this in an earlier broadcast about persevering what I called seasons of the “pause button.”  Yet even in seasons where we are gladly busy and moving along, we have disappointments.  Some of these are small, and some are deep.  In the midst of the waiting, or the pause, as I like to call it, is an opportunity to assess and remember God’s faithfulness.  Iris base leader Surprise Sithole has endured much persecution and trauma in his life, yet he is always filled with joy.  Every day can be a good day.  His attitude towards pausing is that waiting on God is worship.

I recently read Philip Yancey’s book Disappointment with God. He deals with our human view of personal disappointment and suffering, and then God’s view through Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  He shares that three questions surface in human suffering. These are:  Where is God?  Why is God silent?  And Why is life unfair?

Sometimes it seems like God is absent in the midst of pain and darkness. This especially is shown in the middle chapters of the book of Job, although the first chapter and last chapters reveal that God had been there all along. The story had a good ending. The Old Testament showed God the Father as so holy that he was nearly unapproachable in the temple, and showed himself in a burning bush and other miracles. While he is invisible, he made himself clearly known. However, most of the people cowered in fear so most did not seek him out, which was his deepest desire.  His love was rejected except for the prophets and David, who was known as a man after God’s own heart. When the Israelites turned away in sin and worshipped idols, it broke God’s heart like a spurned lover.

It was the Israelite’s way, and later the Pharisee’s way to demand signs, and miracles.  And yet their hearts did not come close to the God of miracles.  God doesn’t like to be put to the test. Listen to Mark chapter 8. Even Jesus response towards the demand for a sign showed his disappointment “When he heard [the Pharisees’ request], he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why do these people keep demanding a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, I will not give this generation any such sign.”  So he got back into the boat and left them, and he crossed to the other side of the lake.”  Miracles may catch our attention, but it is love that changes hearts.

Then Jesus came to earth as a human being. He was neither silent, not invisible.  He was approachable. He still is. Then he showed his love when he died for us. He was resurrected, and sent the Holy Spirit to live inside us, so we could experience that love all the time.  So if we have faith in Jesus Christ, God never leaves us. He is always Emmanuel, God with us, through the Holy Spirit. So God is not absent, nor is he silent; although there are times that it seems like he is.  Sometimes that’s when we’re asking the “why” question, or shouting at God, “life isn’t fair!”  Life isn’t fair.  We are NOT immune from suffering.  And we see unfairness and suffering all around us. God is working out an answer to this pain through US.  Sometimes we feel sorry for ourselves and forget that we can make a difference.  WE can do something as Matthew West sings in his song “Do Something.”

“Why” questions are often difficult, since we are steeped in self-pity. Quite often we struggle most not only from the pain of difficult times, but from our own attitude of self-pity.   This attitude is reflected by the sayings, “poor little old me,”  “pity me,” “what about me?” and one that I learned in an inner healing school I took in the 1990’s.  It was “PLOMS” disease:  poor, little old me syndrome.  This outlook doubles or triples the pain you’re in and focuses either just on your or on your circumstances.  Sometimes cartoonists draw someone like this under a perpetual raincloud.  They can’t see the sunshine that is just beyond the cloud, nor the rainbow that accompanies the sunshine after the rain.  This attitude shows up as Eeyore, the depressed donkey that is a friend of the Winnie the Pooh character. He is always saying, “Oh, well.”

While there is a place for not rushing the process of genuine grief, self-pity can keep you stuck for weeks, months and even years.  Leanne Payne called this ‘descending into the hell of self,’ which essentially makes you your own worst enemy.  I know this personally, since I often fell into this mode of thought.  My Australian friend Jan went with me to experience a Leanne Payne Pastoral Care Ministry School in Wheaton. I received deep emotional healing for past abuse, and the beginning of healing for crushed will issues.  Yet one part of my healing was to lift off a cloak of shame and self-pity.  Even though I had a larger degree of freedom, I had to choose to walk as a free person.  We develop habits and coping skills that are based on lies we believe about ourselves, our environment and God. When we deal with these, and also form healthier habits, we maintain our freedom.

Pause:  So we pause and reflect. The Russian Christians have a wonderful attitude of pausing in a retreat.  That’s not a retreat that goes backwards, but a retreat to spend time with God. They call this cabin in the woods a poustinia, where they seek God in silence and solitude. Jesus also often went to solitary places to pray and spend time with the Father. We need to do this as well.  This is when we can come to Jesus with our broken hearts and disappointments.  He is still with us and cares.  Don’t harbour it in your heart and get bitter.  Stop going around in circles in the desert of disappointment.  I had a friend who did this.  Let’s say his name is Jack. Jack became bitter and continually railed against God because he wanted a wife.  He fell in love with another friend of mine, who was in love with two men – Jack and Ted.  She finally decided for Ted, rather than Jack. I don’t think Jack ever got over it.  And so Jack stayed in his disappointment and did not move on, until just recently. He made an announcement on Facebook that he just got married, but gave no details.  At least I hope he’s happy.

Ponder:   Once we stop and pause, look up and ponder.  Look all around you.  Are you still under that rain cloud? Or are you ready for a second touch from God?  Jesus is with us.

Our Afrikaans pastor Johan shared about God’s second touch, through the Gospel of Mark, chapter 8.  Let’s take a look at that chapter.  Jesus had encountered blind men several times in his ministry. One of the times is written about in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 8.  It was the time that Jesus made a mud poultice to put on the blind man’s eyes.   The man had to be prayed over more than once.  The first touch restored the man’s sight, but he could only see in a very blurry way.  People looked to him like trees.

This showed that even Jesus sometimes had to give a second touch for healing prayer.  Healing has come, but not in its fullness.  Johan shared that we should content that God has touched us in the past, but not satisfied with mediocrity.  So let’s turn the disappointment around.  Yes, there is a need.  Just think – Jesus didn’t want that man to be stuck in limbo.  In his case, the second touch came right away, and Jesus prayed again.  Often that completion of healing comes later on. Johan told us prophetically that we may be satisfied with a little touch, but God actually isn’t.  He has a second touch coming our way.  Since he is the one who gave us saving faith, he is the one who will complete us in all ways.  God did not create us to have half of our destinies.  So while we pause, ponder and consider all our little blessings. While you are counting them, he just may surprise you with what you need.  The Apostle Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:15 to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.”  May you fill us with that peace, Lord as we ponder you.

Praise:  Once we know that we can trust God, we can take time and praise him.  We thank him take the focus off of ourselves.  We were never in control anyway – it was always just an illusion. It can be difficult to be thankful, but if you make a habit of it, your eyes will open at all the little blessings in your life.

Here’s an example of what praise and thanksgiving can do in scripture. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were on a mission trip in Philippi, Greece.  Paul got annoyed by a girl who was demonized, because the spirit drew attention to itself.  After the girl was delivered, her owners were angry that the girl could no longer tell fortunes.  This had an effect on their finances.  So they reported them to the authorities with lies, and they were publicly beaten and thrown into prison. “The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. 24 So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.

 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. 26 Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! 27 The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. 28 But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”  Did you notice what Paul and Silas did in the midst of being in prison?  They were singing worship songs!  They were praising God in the midst of their trial!  I’ve heard other mission stories that are similar, although deliverance didn’t always happen that fast.

Psalming:  Finally, there is another step in pausing, pondering and praising.  It’s Psalming.  There are 150 Psalms right in the middle of the Bible.  King David was one of Psalm writers. He had a pattern of complaining to God of difficult circumstances, asked God what he was going to do about it, and poured out his heart in distress.  But always at the end, he chose to trust God.  Either he asked for vindication due to God being just, or he just chose to trust God in that situation. In Psalm 4, he declared that God would keep him safe so he could sleep.  In Psalm 5, he declared that God was a shield of protecting love. Psalm 6 declares that God has heard David’s prayer.  Psalm 7 ends in thanks, and 8 ends with praise. Psalm 13 ends with trust, David sang, “But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me.” And so, the pattern of complaint, praise and trust continues.

My seminary professor David taught me a course called Foundations of Christian spirituality.  One of the topics he shared was about writing your own psalm in difficult times.  It allows one to pour out their grief and sorrow, and then offer it back to the Lord.  That emotion could also show more than sorrow – there are one or two psalms in the Bible that were written in anger. If you remember reading about dashing babies against rocks, this was an example of something akin to road rage.  Does God condone infanticide?  Absolutely not.  But he does understand anger, and you can bring whatever that is in your heart to him.   Together with him, he can give you peace as you work through your feelings.  It could be then that you get your second touch.

So remember to pause.  Look up to God, past your disappointments.  He is not silent.  He is with us.  Then ponder. You are not forgotten.  You are in the midst of a process where he is making you beautiful.  And Psalm, like David.  Pour out your heart to him in your own poem.  Then turn it around as a declaration of trust or thanks.  You’ll find that you’ll grow in the process.   You might even write a song through the experience.  Let me pray over you.

Lord, thank you that you never leave us.  I ask you to help us pause and look up to you, no matter our disappointment.  A delay is not a no.  Help us ponder all the wonder you’ve created around us. There is suffering but there is also beauty and joy.  Help us praise and be thankful for each thing you’ve given us.  And help us to psalm – to remember your loving kindness.  To help us turn our perspective from the pit, to the plain, to the mountain top. You never leave us.  Fill my friends with your peace.  In Jesus’ name.

Love and blessings, Laurie-Ann
Waystogrowingod.org and coppleswesterncape.ca

If you’d like to hear the audio version of this talk, please visit the Ways to Grow in God podcast page on our Copples missionary website, then scroll down to Podcast 25.

 

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Growing in love through service: What will you do with your gift?

A-gift-for-you

Last time we opened our eyes in “doing something” for God. The easiest way to do this is to fill up on love from God and allow his compassion to work through us. God then brings us people that are prepared for our ministry, they are like divine appointments in what Heidi Baker calls “stopping for the one.” We can plan all we want, but it’s about God’s love and his timing. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

Love looks like something. The help you give to one of these is usually practical, but also can be encouragement when they need it the most. I am always amazed how deep the love of God is and that he chooses to use us as his sons and daughters. If we are to grow in ministering his love, we must grow in receiving that love. How deep is God’s love? In our last article, I mentioned Ephesians 3: 17-20 as a pivotal passage. In short, God’s love runs deeper than you can imagine. And we must love. The greatest commandments tell us to do so. Jesus reminds us in Mark 12:30-31 of the first commandment. That is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second (greatest commandment) is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31 NIV). So the first commandment is stopping for the One (God) and the second is stopping for the one (our neighbour, or person God brings us). Yes, stopping for the one may involve some risk, but I believe that God has prepared that divine appointment for you and me. He also equips us and gives us what we need.

Now let’s get our eyes off our own insecurities and flip our understanding upside down. Remember the parable of the prodigal son? This story is made even more powerful when we look at the father’s perspective. The father risked to run after his wayward son and was filled with deep compassion. He didn’t care that his son was in a bad state, he went to him anyway. “While (the younger son) was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). He then gave his son a huge welcome and threw a lavish party. That shows mercy. That shows deep compassion. That shows deep generosity and even risk. So the story becomes the parable of the merciful Father.

So it is the same with the Father (God) who gives us our ministry gifts. Some of these are natural skills and gifts. Some of these are spiritual gifts, as shown in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 (and a few other places). We must use these gifts – we are accountable to God to use what he has given us. Remember the parable of the talents? Read Matthew 25 14-30 in the NASB version.

A talent during New Testament times could be 130 pounds worth of silver or gold. This could be worth up to nine or ten years of labour or more. This amount would be worth even more today. So when the master entrusts his servants with five, two and even one talent(s), that was a lot of resources! No wonder the servant entrusted with ‘one talent’ was frightened! Even that was a lot of money – it wasn’t just one coin! Yes, it is true that the master was upset with the third servant for not using what was put in his care. He is called a “lazy servant,” or in the NASB version, “a wicked slave.” The Message version calls the servant a ‘criminal.’ Oh, I can see that cringe on some of your faces as you read this. I’ve always felt bad about that passage too. However, I’ve discovered that this passage isn’t just about guilt in not using what we’re given. It’s so much more than that.

Matthew reminds us to be ready (as shown in the parables of the Virgins and the Sheep and the Goats), but underneath that it’s also about believing God and having faith in his promises. Faith involves risk. The Message version shows that the master makes the first and second servants partners because they stepped out in faith and used the ‘gift’ the master had given them to use. The master told both of them, “Good work! You did your job well. From now on, be my partner.” (Matt 25: 21/23 MSG) The third servant was told “Take the [talent] and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this ‘play-it safe’ who won’t go out on a limb” (Matt 25:28-30 MSG).

Eugene Peterson calls this parable the ‘Story about Investment,’ but it’s not just about money. It’s about God’s investment and risk in us. It’s about opportunity. We still have that opportunity before us as long as we are breathing! We are cautioned but not condemned! We still have a chance to obey and make it right. We can still make a difference. It doesn’t matter how old you are. You don’t have to be young to work for God. Remember Joshua and Caleb in Numbers 13? They were the Israeli spies who believed God when they went on a reconnaissance mission in Canaan. But the others did not believe and held the people back by their reports of giants in the land. People were too afraid to trust God. Caleb was 80 when Israel was finally ready to cross the Jordan into the promised land. Joshua was also a senior when he led the people against Jericho, under the instructions of the Captain of God’s army. These are only two of the stories.

Youth also is not a barrier, as the Apostle Paul encouraged his spiritual son Timothy. Paul advised, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity” (1 Tim 4:12 NLT).

So we are without excuse. But instead of serving God as just an obligation, turn it around. It’s an opportunity, not a duty. This is your chance to contribute what God has uniquely given to you. You have a special piece of the puzzle! Paul reminds us that “ Each believer has received a gift that manifests the Spirit’s power and presence. That gift is given for the good of the whole community “(1 Cor 12:7 Voice). This means that you (yes, you) really do have a part to play.

It may take time to find the way you need to serve. But start with something small. Use the gifts that you know you have. I’ve been using my gifts and skills in volunteer service. These range from writing and administration, to audio production and other media, as well as hospitality and encouragement. Each of these skills are a part of me. Think of the gifts God has given you – anything at all. Have you offered them up to God? Will you let God transform them into a blessing? Then there are the spiritual gifts – he gives those to minister to people around us as well. The Holy Spirit gives these gifts as he decides is best (1Cor. 12:11).

As we begin to use our gifts in service to the Lord, something wonderful happens in our hearts. This isn’t just any service, but the right gifts needed at the right time. It could be as an engineer drilling wells for water in Africa. It could be an elementary school teacher who has become a home mother to African orphans. It could be as a pastor to go into the marketplace and start something new. It could be an out of work media person becoming the front line of a drop in ministry centre. All of these examples involve something cutting edge that keeps us leaning on God’s grace. It keeps us depending on him for the compassion, mercy and guidance that only God can give. It is when our difficulties become his opportunities, and we see amazing things that can happen when we allow God to work through us.

When we allow this holy dependence, the focus is off ourselves and on God. It’s about him and not us – and our attitude changes from “star” (where it is about you) and “servant” (where is is about Jesus). Author Philip Yancey says there are basically two types of people – stars and servants. Stars would be anyone who is famous in the areas of the arts, sports, TV personalities, movie stars and the like. Servants were the relief workers in troubled spots, counsellors, missionaries, and people who relieve others’ suffering. Yancey found that the stars were generally miserable and self-doubting, and the servants were generally happier. Despite the fact that they had low pay, long hours and less recognition, “somewhere in the process of losing their lives, they found them.” In other words, the servants were happier than the people who lived only for themselves. In the process of serving God, they found joy in depending on him. This is exactly what the Apostle Paul gets at in Philippians 2: 3-11. I’ll give you the version set to music by Holy Trinity Brompton in London (I am singing as I type):

May your attitude be as that of Christ – who being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. But made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross!

Therefor God exalted him to the highest place. And gave him the name that is above every name. That at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow. In heaven and earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord… to the glory of God the Father….

So as we allow ourselves to depend on God in our service, our attitude changes. When our attitude changes, we can grow deeper in joy while serving him. In some ways this is a cyclical process, but it is also a process that deepens us, because it strengthens our dependence on God’s promises and resources. And since God is always faithful in his promises and his love, we also step into gratitude and thankfulness. Gratitude and thankfulness that God gives us opportunities. He risks in giving us the grace for everything we need as we use our gifts. He risks everything for relationship with us. For this we can be thankful.  So what will you do with your gift?

Next time we will explore growing through that gratitude and thankfulness!

In Christ,
Laurie-Ann Copple

Laurie-Ann is an Ottawa-based media person, and attends St Paul’s Anglican Church in Kanata and Kingdom Culture Ministries in Gloucester, Ontario. She could be available for to teach and encourage at your Christian event (click on the contact us/see L-A in person link at the top of the page).

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