Living from the Bottom of My Soul

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so I long for you, God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I come and appear before God?

Psalm 42:1–2

Therefore since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1–2

I want to live from the very bottom of my soul.

What do I mean? And do I really?

Maybe I can put it this way: I have a desire to be more authentic (cue contemporary buzzword), so that who I am becoming in Christ and how I live are much more congruent with one another. That my outward actions would more fully reflect my deepest self.

Then again.

Part of me also wants to escape: from responsibilities, obligations, and from whatever might lead to anxiety and uncertainty and threaten my little bubble of comfort. Frankly, sometimes I just don’t want to deal with life.

But I can’t live a life where I get to have both: a life of deep spiritual resonance and purpose on the one hand and a life of relative comfort and minimal responsibility on the other. To have the former means giving up the latter. One cancels out the other.

Because being the sort of person who sometimes just wants to zone out for a few hours on Netflix or Amazon Prime, who doesn’t like being uncomfortable or dealing with difficult circumstances or feeling stress, means that becoming someone who is spiritually mature is going to be painful.

To grow in Christ—or learning to live from the bottom of my soul—means allowing God to take his scalpel to my heart, to my desires, and to my motivations and to cut away whatever is there that prevents me from reaching deeper spiritual maturity. Even though it’s for my good, it’s still painful. None of us usually wants to undergo such spiritual surgery.

And so like most people, I will naturally do whatever I can to avoid experiencing pain. I will avoid doing stuff that will be hard even though it is beneficial in the long term. I will seek to numb myself to pain in all kinds of ways. I will cover my ears so that I don’t have to listen to what God wants me to hear.

As a result, I can end up with the appearance of spiritual depth, but none of the substance. I say I want to draw closer to God, but it’s only insofar as God conforms to my expectations and satisfies me on my terms. I want a God of my own choosing, not the living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and of Paul, Peter, and John. I want God in a box, not a God who is sovereign over the heavens and the earth.

Or at least my worst habits and inclinations say so. What I believe with my lips doesn’t always work its way through to my hands and feet. The distance between my head and heart sometimes seems insurmountable. Truly, it’s a distance only God himself can cross.

And, yes, I do want to live from the bottom of my soul. And I want to want it more. I know that my desires are mixed, sullied, and in need of continual transformation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, as Jesus told the disciples in Gethsemane.

I know some of my own weaknesses. I’m aware of where I struggle to desire the presence of God in my life more fully. Because I know the Lord disciplines those he loves and that in the moment such discipline is painful (Hebrews 12:7–11), I sometimes opt to avoid God. I sidestep prayer. I skim along the surface of life.

I pray that God—revealed in the Lord Jesus and by the Holy Spirit—would prompt my heart to seek him more intentionally, that by his grace I may find my desires more thoroughly renovated to conform to his good purposes for me. I pray that my willingness to experience the pain necessary for this process would deepen, if only because of the joy and peace that I can eventually know in some measure while in this life and then completely in the life to come.

Peace in Our World?

For the last two weeks the images coming out of Afghanistan have been awful. Whatever your political persuasion, the sight of a mother handing her child to US soldiers over a wall for the sake of that child’s safety is heartbreaking. The death of 13 US soldiers and dozens of Afghans as the result of a suicide bomber was devastating. Any peace that may have existed in that country on account of the presence of the US and its allies has evaporated. The people of Afghanistan and those who have yet been unable to get out safely need to be in our prayers.

Peace is precious but elusive in our world. Nations can be torn from within and without. This is one of the reasons we pray, as Jesus taught us, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Or as it says in Revelation 22:20: Come, Lord Jesus. Because to whatever extent God’s kingdom and will are becoming a present reality, ultimately they point us to the day Christ will return “to judge the living and the dead.” Only when Jesus comes again will the kingdom of God arrive in its glorious, peace-filled fullness. Only Jesus the Prince of Peace can secure lasting peace.

Living in the meantime always means living in the tension between “the now and the not yet.” We live in between the times, between the first and second coming of our Lord Jesus. While we look forward with hope to a future that will be conflict and violence free, human history will continue to be riddled with gunfire and soaked in blood. There is a Cain for every Abel. No amount of diplomacy, uneasy ceasefires, and political maneuvering will change this.

We need God himself to usher in his peace.

When I was growing up as a Roman Catholic, each Mass included the passing of the peace. We would turn to those around us and say, “The peace of Christ be with you.” The other person would respond by saying “And also with you.” In most Protestant churches we have turned this into a time of shaking hands and greeting one another. But they are not the same thing. To pass the peace is to declare and share the source of genuine peace. Peace comes from outside of us. The passing of the peace is a prayer and a perspective.

In the Bible, Jerusalem is the city of God. It is both historical and symbolic. Psalm 122:6–9 says this: Pray for the well-being of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure; may there be peace within your walls, security within your fortresses.” Because of my brothers and friends, I will say, “May peace be in you.” Because of the house of the Lord our God, I will pursue your prosperity.

One of the interesting shifts we see from the Old Testament to the New Testament is that all of the language of sacred buildings–say, the Temple or house of the Lord–gets transposed and refers to the actual people of God. For example, in 1 Peter 2:5, the community of faith is being built into a spiritual house. So perhaps we can think of Psalm 122:6–9 in a similar way. If so, then the prayer of the psalmist is that God’s people would be filled to overflowing with peace. Those who gather together as the church are to become outposts of peace in a conflict-filled world. When in the midst of a fellowship of believers, those whose lives have been rent asunder by violence and hate ought to find security. May peace be in you.

On the eve before his crucifixion, Jesus said to his disciples: Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful. The peace Jesus gives to us now isn’t the empty promise or futile effort of a cynical politician. Nor does it involve the present elimination of all strife, whether between individuals or nations. Instead, it is the peace we can have in knowing that one day his kingdom will come and that the hostility of our world will come to an end. It is the peace the prophet Isaiah spoke about so beautifully. Speaking of the nations, the prophet says:

They will beat their swords into plows
and their spears into pruning knives.
Nation will not take up the sword against nation,
and they will never again train for war.

Isaiah 2:4

Such a vision almost seems impossible to believe or too good to be true. And were we to count on ourselves to bring about such a reality, we’d be right to think of such a state of affairs as beyond our grasp. Thankfully, however, not only is God able to accomplish this, he will indeed do so. That is his promise. That is the trajectory of biblical revelation. In the meantime, we can have peace now by trusting in the one who will eventually–in his timing and power–usher in the fullness of peace we so desperately want our world to know.

Sleep Apnea and the God Who Doesn’t Slumber

I have something called sleep apnea. So each night when I go to bed, I have to use something called a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device. I’ve used such a machine for years. But a few years back, when the device I had was not working properly, I really noticed the difference. During the day I was almost always groggy. I would fall asleep while reading or working at the computer. And forget driving, because there was a good chance I would be far too drowsy to drive safely. No one could rely on me to be alert.

Thankfully, God is not like this. In Psalm 121:3, it says that the Protector of Israel does not slumber or sleep. So God does not get tired. Instead, he is always present, always alert, and always available to help us. He doesn’t nod off halfway through our prayers.

Even with my CPAP machine, I can still get tired. At the end of a busy day, I can feel drained of emotional and physical energy. This is even true of a normal day. Take yesterday. At bedtime I felt really worn out. I wondered aloud to my wife about why I would feel this way when it hadn’t been an especially crazy day. Her response? “Well, you have been awake all day.” We don’t have to have been pushing ourselves all day to be tired at bedtime. Being awake all day, apparently, is enough to reach that point.

You and I have limits. We can’t be or do anything we want in the time we have. Each of us has only so much energy, physical, emotional, relational, etc. Some of us more, some of us less. We all know what it’s like when we’ve expended our available energy. For my part, I am likely to get more irritable and impatient. My mind and body usually let me know when it’s time to get some rest, even though I am not always wise enough to listen.

It’s instructive to ponder the fact that in the Jewish tradition days are measured from evening to evening, not morning to morning. Which means that just as the day begins, people are getting ready to settle down for the night and get some rest. On the Sabbath, faithful Jews acknowledge their limits by taking an entire 24 hour period to rest, and to recognize that the world does not revolve around them. When they stop, the world keeps going. Sabbath is an act of faith that God has things well in hand. Because God does not slumber or sleep.

For me, having sleep apnea is a reminder of my limits. Such limits are not bad. Rather, they point me to the One who is without limit. Because of my need to get a decent night’s sleep, I am reminded of the importance of trusting God with my life and all of my worries and problems. While I am sleeping, there’s nothing I can do about whatever difficult or challenging circumstances are a part of my life. Since God doesn’t slumber or grow weary, I am invited to make the psalmist’s words my own when he says in Psalm 4:8: In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

The Deceitful Promise of Politics

In Psalm 120:2, we read these words: Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips and from a deceitful tongue. When I read these words the other day, my mind immediately leapt to the fact that our country–Canada–is currently in the midst of a federal election campaign. Right now, all of the party leaders are making their rounds and making promises about what they will do if they become Prime Minister (or in Trudeau’s case, continue to be Prime Minister). And we all know what often happens to those promises once a leader gets elected. Lying lips and deceitful tongues, indeed.

But am I suggesting that all of our political party leaders are being intentionally deceitful and are therefore intrinsically untrustworthy? While I think we should always be somewhat distrustful of our political leaders, this is not really what I mean. Rather, I find myself wondering what it says about us that we can sometimes get so emotionally caught up in our political opinions.

The truth is, not one of our political parties–no matter what they say, promise, or claim–has the answer to our societal ills. While each candidate wants our loyalty, none of them actually deserve it. We should only ever give a leader our support tentatively and conditionally. We shouldn’t deceive ourselves into thinking that any given politician or political party can protect us or provide for us. Disagree with me if you like, but I don’t think Christians should be partisan in their politics. While our values may align more closely with this or that political leader, a healthier posture is being able to appreciate that no one party fully lines up with everything we hold to be important. Or that even if I vote for the Conservative Party of Canada, there may be ways I wish they were more like the NDP or the Green Party. At the every least, it’s good that different perspectives are on offer.

When participating in politics, therefore, Christians ought always to bear in mind that our ultimate loyalty is to the Lord of heaven and earth. It is Jesus who is our sovereign and king. We are citizens of a profoundly different kingdom. Power and authority belong to God. Never can any disciple of Jesus conclude that one political party is the political party, the one believers ought to support unequivocally. Such a posture is idolatrous.

So let’s not be deceived, either by the various political candidates or by ourselves. Once again, the psalmist reframes this conversation for us:

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand,
and the rulers conspire together
against the Lord and his Anointed One:
“Let’s tear off their chains
and throw their ropes off of us.”

The one enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord ridicules them.
Then he speaks to them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath:
“I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”

I will declare the Lord’s decree.
He said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have become your Father.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with an iron scepter;
you will shatter them like pottery.”

So now, kings, be wise;
receive instruction, you judges of the earth.
Serve the Lord with reverential awe
and rejoice with trembling.
Pay homage to the Son or he will be angry
and you will perish in your rebellion,
for his anger may ignite at any moment.
All who take refuge in him are happy.

Psalm 2:1-10

Living on Holy Saturday

It is Holy Saturday, the day in between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.

It’s a day of waiting.

It’s a day when we anticipate new life.

It’s a day when we cry out to God to right the wrong.

It’s a day when we prayerfully entrust to God our deepest wounds, with the hope that he can and will heal.

We live much of our lives on Holy Saturday. That’s why we need to remind ourselves of the promise articulated by the psalmist:

The LORD is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:18

It’s why we turn the psalmist’s words into prayers like this one:

“God of compassion,
you regard the forsaken
and give hope to the crushed in spirit;
hear those who cry to you in distress
and bring your ransomed people to sing your glorious praise,
now and for ever. Amen.”

If this is a prayer that speaks to you, remember that Sunday is coming. Resurrection is near. And Jesus is with you. Always.