Friday, December 29, 2006

To Rise Above this World of Pain Into Consummate Joy

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us (Ephesians 3:20 (The Message)).

I am one of those crackpot idealists who believes that I can experience near ecstatic joy here on earth… before the second Advent! I don’t think the pains, challenges, and conflicts of this life will cease by any means; but I do believe I can joy far more than is my current experience – in fact, I have come to anticipate it. By joy, I do not mean some sense of giddiness in which I lope in slow motion through the field of daisies this life is. I mean a sense of peace and calm amid the storms of life because I live on another plane.

Did not Jesus promise us:

I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow (John 15:11 NLT)!

Look at Paul – the quintessential follower of Christ, the chiefest of sinners. Granted, I have done some reprehensible things in my day, but I would be hesitant to name myself the “chiefest of sinners.” This same Paul is chained in a rat-infested, stinking prison, and yet he reveled in the experience because otherwise his guards would not have heard the gospel! Read Philippians 1. Another plane!

He called the likes of shipwreck, scourges and stonings to be left for dead “momentary light affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Not me! I hit two red lights in a row and that’s an affliction neither momentary nor light! Another plane!

I must admit that I really envy Paul. I do not think Paul ever experienced acid reflux, ever contemplated taking Zoloft. He lived above the fray. I’m sure he was still human. I am sure he still cried and complained to God for relief. But, there was something exceptional in this man that I want for myself.

Oh, and by the way, whatever Paul possessed, I do not think it materialized simply as a function of his will. I don’t think Paul woke up one day and said, “Y’know, life is pretty much getting to me. I think I will just opt not to worry any more!” Pardon me for showing my anger right here, but so much of modern preaching is of the ilk: JUST TRUST JESUS, isn’t it? Preachers think that by their simple admonition, you and I will just – at the nod of our wills – trust Someone we (and the preacher, too, for that matter) hardly know!

Back to Paul. Much more could be said about this saint-cum-sinner, but let’s get right to the heart of the man and this plane on which he lives – the same one I want for myself.

Here it is:

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I'm tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I've dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn't want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God's righteousness. I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it (Philippians 3:7ff, The Message).

Paul so knew Christ and His love for him that it totally revolutionized his heart. (For you “Bible-Belters”: knowing Christ is not equivalent to “getting saved.” That’s the problem: Our faith experience means we “get saved” (come to “know Christ”) and then begin to conform our outward behavior to what the preacher says. Ugh!)

There are a few people in my life I would die for. I am not speaking here of my family, although I would certainly die for each of them. I am talking about the few people who have come to like me so well that they value me simply for who I am. I love to be around them, they make me feel … valuable. I like that. It warms my heart. I want to do for them as well.

This is a function of relationship, of community. It cannot happen suddenly. It is a journey. It is a friendship. It is both costly and risky.

I have a friend named Paul. He likes me. We have been friends for over 10 years. He likes me for who I am, not for what I can do for him. I am drawn to this “like” like a magnet. I would do anything for Paul. I hurt when he hurts. I pray for him. I love it when he calls me on the phone just to “hear my voice.” I like him, too. He says he appreciates me “liking” him, too.

Our like for each other transcends the pains we encounter together. If we disagree or get into a fight, our like for each other is not violated – it is the very thing that helps us endure the pain. Our like has become very other-centered – it has taken us to another plane. We consider other things (reputation, pasts, the risk and cost involved) “rubbish” in order that we might enjoy one another.

Because I know he likes me, I can like others.

This change, this revolution we are talking about is not, as I have said, simply an intellectual endeavor. Telling someone that God loves them is good, but not enough. Love is caught relationally from someone incarnating Christ. Essentially, we do not love the other person, we love the Jesus in them. My friend Paul does not have the capacity to like me in a way that transforms me. But, because he has experienced the love of God in Christ (meditatively, cognitively and … incarnationally in the live of those who have loved him), he has what it takes to love me.

Wouldn’t you like to rise above the pains of this world? Wouldn’t you like to be a part of the transformation of the hearts of your friends? Wouldn’t you like to have deep infecting JOY? Me, too.


You might have come to think that the will has nothing to do with this revolution of the heart. Well, it does, but you cannot force it simply by willing it. Read (again) Paul’s words to the Philippians (2:12f The Message)

Dear friends … Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

You and I choose (“Work hard”) to position ourselves for change to occur. Yet, the timing and the events of change are under God’s Sovereign Providence (“For God is working in you”).

This is the definition of discipline: Position yourself for God to work. This is the essence of Psalm 46:10: “Be still (cease striving) and know that He is God.”

I would say do these things:

… Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance (Paul to his disciple Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:7ff).

1. Keep company with Christ (John 15:1-12). Think deeply on His Word (this is called meditation).
2. Remove impediments from the heart-to heart connection with God (Psalm 66:18; 1 John 1:9). This is called confession.
3. Position yourself for change. Show up and shut up. This is called the discipline of Solitude and Silence. LISTEN for that still small voice that says, “I really like you!” Read others who have experienced this discipline.
4. Pray for God to send you into relationships. Be willing to invest and to be invested in. This is hard – the world does not value community. It’s too busy valuing the death of real intimacy – BUSY-NESS. Ask God for mentors (mature individuals who can teach you and love you), peers (fellow travelers on the journey) and disciples (friends of yours to whom you can incarnate Christ!).
5. Do your best to worship both corporately and privately. Dwelling on the character of God brings about good change (and it keeps the focus of you). Accept nothing but true worship – it might be hard to find.
6. Seek healing from the past. From past beliefs that effect your thinking in the present, and from past wounds that impede relationships in the present. I cannot tell you how to do this. Counseling, spiritual direction and outright miraculous healing come to mind. Healing, though, for the most part, occurs in community.

Friend, there is more! Our God is that cool and He is that eager to bless you with a Joy that is beyond anything you or I could dream up or fabricate!