I've wrestled to put into words some of what I've been learning the past few months. The beauty of a spiritual struggle is that it makes the spiritual life become vividly clear instead of the fuzzy background it can easily fade into most days. It means I've cried out, returning again to what I've called my life verse in Philippians 3:10 and aching, longing to actually experience deeper, newer, what it means to "know Christ".
I believe Him. Do I know Him? I know Him in small ways, but I believe He is this limitless God, creator of joy indescribable, of transcendant beauty, of the passion of souls connecting.
I wait, fighting lesser beauties, small gods that satisfy today but aren't what I know my soul is really looking for. Chesterton said every man that walks through the door of a brothel is looking for God.
I picked up a book off of a co-worker's desk and read Larry Crabb for the first time. I'm told Shattered Dreams is one of his early books, and I devoured it.
We will not find the power to resist the pull toward lesser desires until we discover a more powerful desire that we long to fulfill, a desire the Spirit creates within our hearts when the Father forgives us. We must discover our desire for God...When we attempt to serve two masters, we end up bowing before the one who is more apparently responsive to our needs and hating the other.....It's only play money, but it looks real. and it does buy pleasure on demand. Prayer doesn't do that.Sometimes I am angry. Why isn't it easy to know Him? Why are we still waiting? Why must it be that life is so tangible and our expectation so vague? It's usually just easy to coast in life generally satisfied. When I wrestle with my own heart, then especially I long for Him to be as real as the emotional power of when we fall in love, and I am reminded of the long-ago lessons of reading Sacred Romance, so similar to what Crabb writes.
When we discover our desire for God, we're immediately introduced to a new kind of pain. We experience terrifying dread that we will not find Him. It was really much easier when we were satisfied with lesser things.
And then, because I am looking for Him, then I am overwhelmed when I find Him. When I arrive at work weary of the waiting and within 15 minutes two people have pulled me aside and prayed for me and my life with passion and tears. That never happens. And yet it happens when I am aching for Him. Just when I wonder if the emotion of my teen years was emotion and hormones alone or if He does still meet me in intimacy, I decide to walk to the neighborhoods instead of the workout room and end up running in the sunrise as the leaves dance and a cool wind wraps around me and the sky is beautiful.
I'm humbled, then, that though He is just as true when I'm not recognizing it, He is a Father who allows me to see Him, to know Him.
There is this tension, really. He's the God who was as powerfully present as the thunder on the mountain, who spoke to Abraham, Moses, David, who appeared first to Mary and called her by name. But then between Joseph and Moses and between Malachai and Matthew there are 400 years of silence. He is a God who speaks and is powerfully interactive. And He is also a God who is silent.
On the one hand, do I rely on spiritual candy alone? Life with Jesus moves on to greater maturity as we wait for Him. And yet I also believe that we are created for Him and are internally hungry unless He fills us. And if He is this God who fills, why do we wait so to really experience Him? Packer says he's a Christian hedonist and believes that we who know Him aren't pulling away from the pleasures of the world but knowing pleasure and beauty all the more because He is found in all things good and beautiful.
As a dear friend and I once discussed, we find the joy of our God in a glass of fine wine and a good conversation. And yet that friend is no longer a believer because, in the end, he said if he believed something that he was not experiencing, he simply could not go on claiming to hold to it.
They say Mother Theresa's private journals revealed that from the year she moved to begin her ministry in India, she stopped personally experiencing God. She went on, faithfully serving, loving, and being truly transformational, and yet all those years were spent longing for spiritual intimacy. I suppose sometimes God asks us to be like Mother Theresa, faithful in the waiting.
And sometimes He gives lavishly of a personal intimacy with Him. I've seen that, too.
Who am I to demand what God should do in my life?
Because it was so amazing, I quote extensively from Crabb's Shattered Dreams below
But we must also discover God's desire for us. A recognized desire for God exposes our idolatry and sets us on a better path. But only a fulfilled desire for God provides the power to consistently resiste the lure of lesser pleasures and to stay anchored in Chrsit when life's storms rage. The branch must draw life from the vine or it withers and dies.
If we believe there's more pleasure in something other than God, then our obedience will never ride above required duty, our prayers will never aim higher than using God, and our joy will alwasy leave an emptiness that drives is to further self-centered efforts to find the fullness we demand. So the question we must squarely face is this: Does knowing God really provide the pleasure our souls were designed to enjoy? Can we enjoy God mor than anyone or anything else? Is it possible?
Why does God seem to provide so well for the pleasantly committed and to withdraw from the seriously committed? It's enough to make us wonder if we've washed our hands of lukewarm Christianity in vain... Who wants to become mature? Answered prayer seems to be more frequently reported among younger Christians. God, it appears, accomodates our immaturity not to keep us there, but to give us a confidence in His Presence that will sustain the search for a deeper, more relational expression of His Presence. The farther we travel on our spiritual journey, the less responsive God becomes to our requests for a pleasant life. Things go wrong and God does nothing. He becomes the elusive God. He is inviting us to an experience with Him that is more fulfilling than an experience with anyone else.
We must block out the noise of life and become aware of our interior world if we're to find God. Beneath every heartache, beneath every moral failure, beneath every shattered dream, a divine Presence is waiting to be discovered.
The stark truth is a hard one: Discovering our desire for God introduces us to a whole new world of hurt. When we realize how badly we want Him, He seemingly disappears. But it's a hopeful hurt. It doesn't feel exactly good, but it does feel clean. Through our tears we actually can sing "Great is Thy Faithfulness"... not without an ache in our hearts but somehow through the ache.
A profound encounter with pain brings us to make a choice. Either we change or we sink into bitterness, despair, or hedonism. Either we accept the fact that life is not all about us and how we feel now and what happens here, or we push back the pain by living for the satisfaction of lesser dreams that might come true.
Then, when dreams shatter, when God does nothing, we move in one of two directions. Either we rebel in some form - perhaps in outright sin, more often through indifference to spiritual things - or we try to become spiritual enough to experience spiritual fruit, especially the peace and joy Paul mentions. Either we enjoy the peasures of sin or we strive to arrange for the pleasures of His Presence. The first is doable but stupid, the second is impossible. What needs breaking remains unbroken. We continue to think life should work well and we should feel good.... As long as we believe that, we walk in the flesh.