Questioning My Answers

Do you ever end up in the same place you’ve been a hundred times? You kick yourself because you feel like you should have learned? You condemn yourself because you shouldn’t be here yet again?

Me too.

For me, that place is a place of uncertainty, indecision, anxiety and fear. I want to figure life out, for God to give me a detailed blueprint of His specific plans for me. I want a formula. But all He wants from me is faith. Why is faith so hard?

Walking with the Lord isn’t about believing once and calling it good. It’s initial belief and continued day by day, moment by moment belief. And, well, I hate how terrible I still am at this faith walk.

About two years ago I was in that same familiar place of anxiety and uncertainty, draped over the side of my bed, calling out to the Lord for even a speck of direction, an ounce of certainty. I felt lost. I felt abandoned.

It was in that moment that God answered me in an unexpected way. The Holy Spirit stirred in my soul and implanted these words in my mind: Fast from all input but Me.

This may sound odd to you, but I knew exactly what He meant. You see, I am an information hoarder. Some people collect coins, or figurines, or antiques. My collection is less tangible. I love to collect ideas. I get a thrill from learning something new and enlightening. With that also comes the propensity to stray from what is True to what is mentally tantalizing. I get curious about what experts have to say about topics I’m interested in. I begin to look for advice and wisdom from people rather than God.

So when the Lord gave me the gift of these words – fast from all input except Me – I knew He wasn’t answering my questions, He was instead questioning my answers. It was as if He was saying, “You want direction? Then you need to start looking my direction. Stop looking around; look up.”

From this challenge and conviction came a personal practice that continues to transform my mind and heart. It is the peace amidst my anxiety, the rest against my striving, the clarity in the cloud of uncertainty.

I call this practice my Input Fast. Once a week, I commit to saying NO to all input (think TV, social media, books, etc…) and say YES only to input from the Lord (Scripture, prayer, time with His people). It has been more of a challenge than I’d like to admit to say NO to the input of the world. BUT, through this practice I have tasted a joy and peace that I wouldn’t trade for a million likes on Instagram. I’ve experienced a fullness that comes only from the Bread of Life. I almost crave my Input Fast days now.

Practicing my Input Fast has been such a life-giving endeavor for me that I want to share it with you. I know many of you feel that anxiety or uncertainty that I struggle with. I wish I could wave a wand and take it all away for us all. But that wouldn’t allow for growth. It wouldn’t allow for an ever deepening faith. So, I want to offer you something else instead.

I have created an Input Fast Guide that I am excited to share with you! I want to offer you a taste of what has been changing my life. In this guide you will find:

~ A brief overview of what Scripture has to say about fasting

~ A preparatory worksheet

~ A four week reflection and contemplation guide

For those of you who might still be vacillating about if and what to give up for the Lent season this year, give the Input Fast a try! If Lent isn’t part of your tradition, give the Input Fast a try! This is for anyone longing to connect more intimately with the Lord and experience His peace more fully. Who knows? After four weeks, you may decide to make it a year round practice like I have. Whatever you decide, I pray the Lord will bless your commitment to draw nearer to Him.

To receive your free printable Input Fast Guide, click HERE.

I wait expectantly to hear how God uses this practice in your life to grow your faith, bring you peace, and provide clarity of mind.

“Like stillness, fasting reveals to us how much time and thought is taken up by transitory matters. Fasting can involve much more that food. We can fast from television, radio, movies, or certain types of food, desserts, meats, and the like … To make sure these things aren’t controlling us, we may need to give them up for a short period of time.”

Gary Thomas

Moonlit Sierra Leone

Advertisement

Joy-empowered Suffering

I have to confess something. I was afraid to observe Lent. Coming on the heels of my pursuit of delight (you can read that post here – Softening and Delight), Lent seemed a logical contradiction. Also, there’s that whole fear of failing thing.

But I’m beginning to understand that maybe denying self IS delight. Maybe suffering IS softening.


Three weeks, now, into Lent. Three weeks of nothing sweet. At first I felt my choice of fasting from sweets was cliche’, and I cringe at the thought of being cliche’. I chose to give up anything sweet to the tongue because I knew it would be a challenge for me. To fully recognize the impact of self denial we have to deny something we will truly miss. This verse was another inspiration for my choice of fasting from sweets:

img_8015

I wanted to fast from what is sweet to the tongue and focus on what is sweet to the soul.

The first few days were more difficult than I expected. And you know how ‘they’ say after a few days your craving for sweets goes away? Wrong. Three weeks in and I’m dreaming of sweet cinnamony chai tea lattes, among other things.

As I was dwelling on my lack the other day, and maybe feeling a little self pity too, the Holy Spirit brought a verse to mind.

“looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”       Hebrews 12:2

For the joy set before Him.

Jesus could see the joy waiting for Him on the other side of the cross. Jesus set His mind on the joy that was ahead of Him. Joy enabled Jesus to endure.

There is absolutely no comparison between abstaining from sweets and dying on a cross, but I’m beginning to discern a life principle in the midst of it all.

Jesus’ 33 years of human life leading up to His death on the cross were anything but delightful, circumstantially speaking. He was by no means rich, despised by His brothers and many others, God bound by flesh, tempted as we are, persecuted, rejected, killed. Yet it was joy all along. It was joy that sustained Him as He was beaten and ridiculed. It was joy that helped the Son endure the separation and wrath of His Father for the sake of sinful humanity. It was focusing on the final outcome that mingled in delight with the sorrow. The future promise made the present bearable.

I suppose this is true of any suffering great or small; from not eating sweets, to severe health issues, to financial difficulties, to persecution – fill in your own blank___________. We don’t even need examples to understand what suffering is.

But what if the mingling of delight in with the sorrow is possible for us too? I think it is! In many ways, we know the outcome just as Jesus did! We know, or at least can know by studying the Word, what the future holds. We know of new bodies and tears wiped away. We know of a new name and an end to pain. We know of growth into the likeness of Christ and the reward of crowns because of the Life of Christ in us. We know all this and so much more!

I also know that Resurrection Day is coming – woo hoo! And I’ll get to enjoy some tasty treats, yum! My mind is shifting from what I don’t have now to what I will have in the near future. And it’s making the lack a little more delightful. It’s softening my heart to the goodness of God and the miraculous Life of His Son.

Suffering and self-denial never have to be purposeless. Viewed in light of Christ’s joy-empowered suffering and surrendered to His molding, our suffering will produce more in us than a life of ease ever could.

A soft heart is a vulnerable heart, even willing to receive the faithful yet painful strokes of the Artist. Yes, we are but dust, but this dust-clay has nerve endings and thin skin, fatigue and fears, blood and tears. Jesus did too. He knows the pain and He showed us the way through it.

“Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such a way that they my unite my heart more closely with thee.”  ~ Susanna Wesley

These are the words of a softening heart. A heart of delight in the midst of sorrow.

**********************************

I don’t think there’s any earthly endeavor in which we can’t Aim at Heaven. I pray that we all learn to have this perspective as we travel this sod. If you’d like to be kept informed of new Aiming at Heaven posts, you can subscribe via email below.

Thank you!

May you grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Of Daffodils and Death

Can Lent and delight co-exist?

Delight. My year word. My life word.

I’m learning it, growing into it, rejoicing in it.

But angst, resistance, and fear are weaving their sinews into my heart. I don’t know what to do with Lent.

Never before have I participated in the season, but it’s coming down on me now and it feels unmistakably like duty. But what am I supposed to do with this burdensome sense of duty when I’m convinced the thrust of my life, of grace life, is to break free from duty toward God and rest in mutual delight of one another?

I’m like a duty-addict, just recovering, facing my greatest temptation yet.

Of course I can give things up. I can fast. I have a decent amount of willpower in some areas; I could conquer Lent and prove myself to myself and to others and to God. How great and worthy I must be. But it’d all be a facade. It would have the appearance of holiness but the heart of a filthy prideful tomb.

This is not the path of delight. This is not the path I want to travel.

So how do I reconcile the two? How can I observe this ancient practice of Lent that has its roots in ‘doing-penance’ – as if there’s anything I can do to save myself – and a theological background surrounded by and crammed full of duty?

It’s not the observance of festivals and ceremony that make me right before God, it’s the sacrifice of His Son – my delight.

He denied the flesh. He fasted and sacrificed. He did what I can’t – what none of us can. So what’s the purpose of Lent?

What’s the value of picking one thing to abstain from for a short period of time, probably to gorge on it before and afterward? And do I pick something easy or difficult? Does it matter?

God, I know this season is not commanded by your Word, nor prescribed as a practice to achieve some level of holiness. By practicing this, you will love me no more than you already do now. It will not change my inherent value in You. Yet, for various reasons, I need to observe and participate. As daffodils are coming to life, I must put something to death. Dead to sin, alive to righteousness. I have died with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me. Your grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts – lusts of the flesh, lusts of the eyes, the boastful pride of life. Considering all loss compared to the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ – who loved Himself and gave Himself for us – who for the joy set before Him endured the cross. 

Just there. Is that the glimmer of delight in all of this? Is that the Heavenly Light coming to pierce us to the dividing of bone and marrow? Is that the assurance I need – glory brightness and delight, thinly veiled by the pain and darkness of self-denial?

There. There it is. The short path of suffering, denying oneself, is of minuscule length along the path of eternal delight and joy. But it is the same path.

I will delight in self-denial. It’s the pattern my Savior set for me. I will delight in self-denial because it comes from love and longing for the ways of Jesus. It was His love that led Him to deny His fullness, to become lowly, to go without. It was not duty that saved us, it was His loving delight in His creation that reconciled and redeemed us. God loves us and sent His Son – a sacrifice. This is the nature of true delight.

I don’t have to observe Lent. But this year I chose to. And it is delight that will save me this Lent season. It will save me from my self-righteousness and pride. It will guide me in love.

Delight will rescue us all from duty.