Tag Archives: spiritual rest

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Does remaining in Jesus mean being passive?

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A Righteousness by Faith #9: Does remaining in Jesus mean being passive?

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5

Since I am talking about righteousness by faith, let me navigate around an open pit that I have seen some people fall into as they have grappled with what it means to remain. I know people who think that to remain means to be passive. In their thinking, if we do anything that is not spelled out for us by the Spirit, we are probably doing it in the flesh. That we should wait upon the Lord, sitting like a pawn on a chessboard, waiting for him to move us into action. I know a man so entrapped by this idea that his current life revolves around study and prayer without any real engagement in the world—not even a job!

What we see in the disciples after Pentecost is urgency. Getting out into the streets with the message. Heal people, and if it offends the political leaders—tough. Care for one another deeply enough to sell your extras and share it with the rest. Refuse to back down, even if it costs you your life. Turn the world upside down.

What I have learned is that remaining is about confidence in his presence even as I go on with living. After all, our living because he lives, is what this is all about. We remain and trust his guidance, his power. We look to see what he is up to and aggressively join him.

What we need to add to our understanding, though, is that the results may not look fruitful.  Yes, Jesus did say that by being the branches to his vine, we would produce a lot of fruit. But the desire to have everything we do work out into something that looks like a human success story is one of the fallacies of learning to rest in Jesus.

Bill Gillham talked about this in his book, Lifetime Guarantee. He tells the story of a woman who wanted to please her husband by cooking his eggs over easy perfectly every morning. Except she had a hard time not breaking the yokes. So she prayed that Jesus would cook the eggs through her. And thereafter, when she cooked eggs with unbroken yokes, she believed Jesus was holding up his end. Yet, when the yokes ended up broken again she felt she was failing to ‘remain in him,’ allowing Jesus to cook the eggs. She thought her flesh was getting in the way.

Gillham observes that the problem was that the woman was looking at the outcome for confirmation of her trust in Jesus. She was making success in cooking perfect eggs the evidence that she was remaining, instead of trusting that Jesus had a longer view. Gillham pointed out that Jesus wanted her to walk by faith, not sight. That Jesus was in charge of the outcome, which was about transforming her so she would trust.

Gillham admits this is a homely illustration, but it does get to the point. Remaining in Jesus empowers us to act and bear fruit. But remaining also means that the fruit that our actions produce are Jesus’ call, not ours. Our peers—or more so, our emotions—might tell us we are failures. That we struck out in trusting Jesus. Or, we can strut around saying that our actions have produced much fruit for the kingdom. Success is ours. And in both cases, we could be wrong. Our failure produced much because Jesus was in it and the thing we bragged on meant nothing eternally. People applauded, but it was a monument to our efforts, not the Spirit.

If you need an example of this, think of Jim Elliot. Twenty-eight years old when he was cut down by a primitive tribe he had aggressively gone after with the gospel. He did not leave a single convert behind. But because he remained in Jesus, this passionate man, along with the other four missionaries who died with him, sparked a mission movement that swept his generation. Many people heard the gospel and believed—including the tribe that killed him—because of his ‘failure.’

-Steve Smith


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Spiritual Transformation Part 7 – The Done Discipline of Rest

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Unfinished business still is stalking leaders I know and love. How close are you to self-destruction? I do not ask this flippantly. Many humanly successful pastors and church leaders live on the edge for a long time before their lives unravel for all to see. When you watch the demolition of one of these leaders’ ministries, as well as their personal lives, you might wonder how they could have been used of God if such secret stuff was going on in their lives. The answer is simple – God is always using broken people to accomplish His purposes, including you and me! And we to, have unfinished business that may not be as ripe as that of those who have fallen over the edge, but it lives and will bite in time if left to itself.

If you want to be freed from the hidden destructive forces that are building in your life, you will need more than a renewed dedication to what I called, in the last article, Devotions 101. I realize from my own Bible school background that this may sound like heresy – to suggest that more prayer and Bible study is not helpful – but there it is. The problem for the Church is that we have turned the spiritual disciplines on their head and are trying to attain a spiritual walk with God backwards. What we need is rest. But before I talk about rest as the first spiritual discipline, let Ephesians capture your attention…

If you think about Ephesians, you will realize that Paul is speaking to believers he has not personally met, those whose faith he has only heard about (1:15). The flow of the letter is to give these believers the basics they need to grow in this faith. For the first three chapters he paints the picture of what God has gloriously done through Christ and in them – seating them in Christ at His right hand (2:6). In chapters 4 & 5 he challenges them on how to walk in their faith and concludes in chapter 6 on how to stand in the face of spiritual warfare. Watchman Nee called this understanding of Ephesians, “Sit, Walk, Stand.

Consider how important it is for Paul to have written half the letter to explain what God has done for those He chose in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. Paul’s starting point in living as a believer is not a call to action, but a contemplation of what God has done in Christ for us. He uses words like redemption, mercy, grace, peace, mystery, power and love to describe how God transforms us. So shortly into the letter, Paul speaks of several significant things he has asked God for on their behalf. In 1:17, Paul prays an intimacy prayer – that his readers would be given the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they would know God better. This is a significant prayer because Paul knows that they will not move forward in becoming spiritually whole without a growing relationship with God that is brought about by the Spirit instead of more Bible study and prayer.

The word ‘know’ loses its force when it lands in English. For us, ‘know‘ is an educational word. We go to school to learn and know about various subjects. But Paul in his language is using a word that is much richer. It carries the idea of knowledge gained by encountering God, knowing Him in the way that speaks of experience. You can study space exploration and know all about rockets and the moon. But Neil Armstrong, as the first to stand on it, knows the moon. He has experienced the giant leap of being there. This is the point of Paul’s prayer – that you come to really know God intimately, not through education, but by being drawn to experience Him. This prayer is for you as well. Only when you know God better will you get well – healed and delivered.

What if I told you that prayer and Bible study are disciplines that come into play in the middle of Ephesians. They are the ‘Do’ Disciplines. But their power is found in the ‘Done’ Discipline of rest. Rest from our own work, rest in His strength, rest in His presence. Rest that allows us to understand what we have received. Rest as a ‘discipline’ is about us stopping our trying – stopping, period – and just being with God. It is allowing ourselves to hear how He loves and accepts us before we try any heavy lifting. In fact, it is in rest that we find that God is the One who has already done all the heavy lifting. He invites us to find this out by being with Him quietly, reflectively, receptively. To take time to draw all your attention away from the far reaches of your life and focus inward on His powerful presence in you.

Rest reforms our personal self talk. If I know anything, I know that we are very susceptible to embracing the accusing lies of the enemy and repeat them foolishly to ourselves. I am weak. I am unable to be good. I am unable to stop repeating addictive sin. I am hopeless, useless and worthless to God. Or, I can do this. I am good at being holy. I am spiritually powerful. This also is the enemy speaking. When we rest, we hear the true words of God about ourselves; that He always knew we are foolish and unable, but we will be changed by His presence and power. He has not abandoned us.

Paul says we are accepted in the Beloved (1:6). The King James Version captures our reality in this beautiful word picture of us, God and Jesus. This is what we hear when we start resting. We hear the Father telling us what worth He has placed on us and where He has placed us – not just our cleaned up, righteous self, but the still messed up, untransformed self we are when He redeemed us. But if we are to escape further damage of the unfinished business of our lives, we need rest so we can have our minds renewed in this way:

  • I have no strength of my own to beat what defeats me, but I am safe within Christ.
  • I have no personal resources to fix myself, but God already knows this and accepts me.
  • My agenda is to be with Jesus, not to prepare myself to be with him first.
  • I do not have to clean up to be in God’s presence, although this goes against the grain.
  • I do not need to hide anything, since God already knows everything.
  • I need to stop explaining things to God and to start receiving from God.

If you never have spiritually rested, you may not know how to do this. Here is an approach that you will find simple, yet challenging. Meditate on Hebrews 4:16. Recognize that you are coming into your Daddy’s presence and are there to receive mercy and grace – the elements of His great love for you. Allow the Spirit to empower you to listen for His words of acceptance and affirmation for you. It would do you well to review Paul’s own experience with this recorded in 2 Corinthians 12, especially verse 9. Do this every day as you start the morning, even if it is only for 60 seconds. Do not ask for anything, just receive. Rest on His power to remake your life and renew your mind. In time, you may come to practice this discipline throughout your day. As you attune your life to knowing you are accepted in the Beloved, you will find that you are struggling less with the power of the sin of your heart. This is the power of rest. This is the stuff of building intimacy with your Daddy.

 

 


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Spiritual Transformation Part 6 – Stuck by the pool of Bethesda

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I started writing this series because some people I love and work with had spiritually crashed and burned. And as bad as things seem for them, there is much hope in the fact that they no longer are able to hide their choices to use deadly sin as a means to comfort their wounds. It is out there for all to see. More importantly, some of them are in a restoration process with mature believers helping them, although some are not. It is those that are not that concern me. As bad as their lives have become, they are headed for worse the longer they try. to tough it out with lateral moves or by playing the blame game.

A few weeks ago I counseled with someone who is separated from her husband. What I noticed is that our conversation paralleled one we had many months before – the same accusations, the same anger, the same tears. She is stuck in the saddest possible way. I have watched redeemed people slipping into dark places with their eyes opened, nailing their flag to the proposition that they have tried everything they can to heal from their wounds, to act better, to be more spiritual, to forgive, but without success. One recounted all the spiritual exercises he had practiced in the hope of being granted freedom by God, but still found himself captured by his inner disquiet and was bitter because God was not holding up His end. The bitterness was affecting all areas of his life.

In John 5, Jesus spies a man by the pool of Bethesda who was 38-years stuck because he had no one to help him into the pool for healing purposes. Jesus’ question was, ‘Do you want to get well?’ Is wellness really your goal and desire, or after 38 years, are you so attached to your identity as ‘the old guy at the pool who’s been here since Herod the Great’ that you are settled on finishing out the rest of your life being sick? His response is interesting. Winnowed down to its essence, he said that he had tried over and over again to get well – get into the pool when the angel stirred it – but failed. It’s just the reality he lived with – year in and year out – as long as he could remember.

His response is the refrain we all sing at some time when confronted with this most significant question that Jesus asks. Do you want to get well? Well, do you? “Yes, but….” And we fill in the rest of that sentence with our failed solutions – spiritual retreats, continual confession, repression of desires, accountability to others, weeping and crying before the Lord. What’s wrong? We were so sure that this time, we would get well. What is so different in this hinted-at offer in Jesus’ question that we have not tried already – and received nothing for our pain? Especially since we now know we are further down the spiritual road towards inward despair and outward disaster. Do I want to get well – what kind of question is that?

It is a question of risk. For the man at the pool, it was about leaving the security of a way of life, of people feeding, clothing, and carrying him daily to his appointed place by the pool. But the risk was more than that. Jesus invited him to risk all to take up his mat and go home. On a Sabbath day. On the day when work was forbidden and carrying a mat in a public place courted stoning by the populous. It was about trusting that Jesus really knew what the man needed to do. And instead of negotiating, he just did it.

Are you willing to risk that you may be wrong about your preferred approach to spiritual health, that it may be part of your problem? That instead of being ruthless, you are choosing a risk-free bridge to nowhere? And as a result, your anger at God has grown? Perhaps you feel hopeless. Certainly you are stuck. What would it take for you to come to the place where you could really experience the healing grace of God?

Let me present two ideas for you to consider. First, if we choose ask Jesus to do two things in us – deliver us from the sin of our heart and heal us from the hurts of our heart – then we must start by coming to end of ourselves. We have messed up. Ourselves, not the people who hurt us, but we personally have made the choices that have bound up our lives spiritually. We must own our sinful choices to comfort our pain. We must admit to the Father we have no wisdom deep enough, no spiritual strategies sweeping enough, no personal resources thorough enough to free us from the lies of the enemy. The first Beatitude is our benchmark – we are poor in spirit because we have nothing in our arsenal that works. Our best strategies and deepest thought have not led us to the life Jesus is giving us. We are stuck because we have thought otherwise. To give up any pretense of knowing how to fix ourselves, even by using the stratagems that we have dressed up in spiritual finery, is freedom, not failure. To say to God, “I have failed in all I tried,” is the kind of humility that God responds to – “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5) It’s the stuff that spiritual rest is made of for the believer.

The second point builds on the first. We need to be aware that the final line of attack by Satan to keep us from getting well is to focus our attention on fighting to get well. As we see what the problem is, his lie is to encourage us to go after it in a misguided belief that resisting the sin of our heart or even healing the hurts of our heart is something in which we must participate. This is misdirection on a scale greater than that of the magician David Copperfield. We cannot fight our way to spiritual health – never could, never will. Paul points to his realizing his own weakness in being unable to change himself as the point when God’s promised grace became effective in him (2 Corinthians 12:9).This is why he boasted in his weaknesses, so that he could see God do in him what he could not do for himself. Actually, when we focus on the problem, we find that we have no attention left for the One who delivers and heals. Healing is only found in intimacy with God.

This is not Devotions 101. It is not a call to more Bible study and prayer. If you are teetering on the brink of spiritual meltdown, you certainly would not find that counsel helpful or hopeful. Why? Because it is about doing more stuff for God and you are already tired out from trying anyway. What I am counseling is spiritual rest in its place. It is about being with God in the way Adam and Eve strolled with Him every evening in the Garden. It is about receiving love and power from Him instead of begging for Him to give you stuff that you have already been granted by belonging. I will pick up on this issue next post.

In the meantime, think about the end of the man at the pool’s story. After the healing, Jesus finds him in the temple, probably giving a thanks-for-the-healing sacrifice required by the Law, and tells him, “Stop sinning! Or something worse will happen to you.” Strong words. What Jesus is saying is that just because you thought you were doing all you could to be healed does not mean you addressed the real issues in your life. So it is for all of us. We may minimize our choice of the sin of our heart to comfort our hurts and even rationalize our choices. Or celebrate freedom in one area so as to ignore the real lies we have hooked our wagon to. Stop rationalizing, for the life that we have been given in Jesus is far more fulfilling than any identity that we have built by comforting ourselves with the sin of our heart.

 


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