Waiting Differs from Doing Nothing

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Waiting differs from “doing nothing.”

Waiting doesn’t always feel that way.

Waiting can be active, expectant, watchful, and patient.

Or waiting can be passive, unexpectant, lazy, and impatient.

Lamentation 3:5 says, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.”

Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

Habbakuk 2:3 reminds us, “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”

Isaiah 30:18 says, “Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.”

These are all Old Testament references. Maybe the Hebrew people learned a thing or two about waiting.

James 5:7 says, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.”

Romans 5:1-5 says,

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

In Luke 2:25 we read this about a man named Simeon, “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.”

And Henri Nouwen writes:

Whenever there is a lack of clarity or ambiguous circumstances, it is time to wait. Active waiting is essential to the spiritual life. In our mostly active lives and fast-paced culture, waiting is not a popular pastime. It is not something we anticipate or experience with great joy. In fact, most of us consider it a wast of time. Perhaps this is because the culture in which we live is basically saying, “Get going! Do something! Show you are able to make a difference! Don’t just sit there and wait.” But the paradox of waiting is that it requires full attention to the present moment, with the expectation of what is to come and the patience to learn from the act of waiting.

Discernment, p. 150

As we wait, we pray. We’re active. Alert. Exercising faith, echoing the words of Psalm 39:7, which says, “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.”

“Dearer than all that is nearest…”

Dearer than all that is nearest,
Dearer than dear, or than dearest,
Dearer than sight,
Dearer than light,
Is the communion with Jesus.

Oswald Chambers, as quoted in Wesley L. Duewel’s Heroes of the Holy Life: Biographies of Fully Devoted Followers of Christ

I’ve been reading and researching the life of Oswald Chambers, an artist, poet, preacher, Christian educator, and Baptist minister, born in 1874 in Aberdeen, Scotland, and died in 1917, at the age of forty-three. He is most well known for his devotional work, My Utmost for His Highest, compiled after his death by his wife, Biddy Chambers.

One of his students at the College of Dunoon recalled, “As one entered the room it was like stepping into heaven. Then Mr. Chambers spoke, leading us straight to God, and I afterwards found that this was very characteristic of him. In every lecture or meeting he brought one right into the presence of God.”

I’ve met a few men and women like that. I’d like to meet more. And, I’ll confess, I’d like to be a person like that. Chambers had a deep conviction that his life was a product of God’s activity and grace, that God had worked for reasons he did not understand nor grasp in response to prayers that he did not nor could not know to appoint him as a worker in the church, in schools, and in the world. Chambers not only taught people about God and pointed people to the Scriptures, he was a man of profound and rich spiritual experience.

Chambers dedicated himself to the life of faith. He also trusted that God’s outside power had come in, had shaped him, and was continuing to conform him to the likeness of Jesus. This is a yielding, of heart, mind, soul, and spirit, and taking up a cross, dying to self, and following Jesus wherever he leads.

A Prayer: On the Occasion of “Remade”

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This invocation was offered in Truett’s chapel service on April 26, 2022.

Lord of all creation,
Maker of heaven and earth,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:

We enter your presence with gladness,
For all you have made is good.

As we come before you to worship, as we enter into your courts, as we lift our voices in song, as we open our eyes and our ears and our hearts to you,
Grant us your grace, your strength, your wisdom, your guidance, and your power.

We confess you as our Creator.
We confess you as our Redeemer.
We confess you as the one who sanctifies us, sustains us, preserves us, and as the one who alone brings ultimate peace, justice, restoration, and renewal.

In a word: Salvation.

If we turn toward you, if we behold you as you truly are, we are compelled to lay our hearts low, to fall upon our faces and to admit we are unworthy, that we do not honor you as we ought, that we fail you, we sin. We serve other gods. We do not love our neighbor as ourselves. We do not keep your commands.

And yet, where we are faithless, you, O God, are faithful.

And by your great, unending, and unceasing mercy, you have unleashed the power of new creation through the life, death, resurrection, and reign of our Lord Jesus Christ.

You have undone death.

You have cast down the devil.

You have disarmed the powers, principalities, and authorities.

You have renewed your covenant.

You have extended your salvation to those who were once far off.

You have taken our hearts of stone, and given us hearts of flesh.

You have mended bone and sinew, muscle and flesh, and you have moved us from death–death in our transgressions and sins–to life–life in and through Christ, and through the Holy Spirit, who indwells us and who has sealed us for the day of your redemption.

Your work of new creation is evidenced here. All we need to do is look around and witness those you have gathered as our brothers and sisters in Christ.

You have anointed, appointed, called, and equipped us for your kingdom work. You have gathered us to worship.

We trust you are sanctifying us, even making us perfect and complete in your love.

We know one day you will glorify us, and welcome us to your banquet table in the City of God, the New Jerusalem, the new heaven and the new earth.

We wait for that day. We hope in it.

Give us patience, Lord.

Grant us diligence, as workers in your field.

And as we wait, and as we work, remake us in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

May we adore him, and worship him, this hour, and discover our hearts being made new.

We pray these things in Jesus’ name, the worthy one, the honored one.

Amen.

The Paradox of Limitation

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In Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, Oliver Burkeman defines the paradox of limitation this way:

[T]he more you try to manage your time with the goal of achieving a feeling of total control, and freedom from the inevitable constraints of being human, the more stressful, empty, and frustrating life gets. But the more you confront the facts of finitude instead–and work with them, rather than against them–the more productive, meaningful, and joyful life becomes. I don’t think the feeling of anxiety every completely goes away; we’re even limited, apparently, in our capacity to embrace our limitations. But I’m aware of no other time management technique that’s half as effective as just facing the way things truly are.

p. 32

Facing the way things truly are is the key for a life of wisdom. That insight applies to more than time management.

But let’s stick with time management for a moment. When I was a seminarian, I was introduced to the idea of a well ordered life. I was challenged to think deeply about calling, purpose, and discipline. I was invited to make commitments that would place me on a trajectory that, over time, would make a difference.

One of my professors had a plaque on his wall that said, “As now, so then.” This principle was applied to the spiritual life: your choices in the present have implications for your life in the future, for who you are becoming, and who you will one day be. Those choices can be intentional, or we can drift along.

The real challenge in applying this principle wasn’t necessarily the “now” (though an inventory of present practices can be complicated), but the “then.” What are we made for? Where do we want to end up? What is a life well lived, who is living that way, and how do I do it?

Answers to those questions will vary. But the answer will make all the difference. If we could envision where we’d like to land, could we better plot the course from A to B?

For Christian people, we are made by and for God, and our purpose is to bring God glory. We glorify God when we live as reconciled creatures, a reconciliation made possible in and through Jesus Christ. Once reconciled through the cross, we leave behind our old way of life. We live in keeping with the “new creation” as citizens of God’s kingdom, remaining in step with God’s Spirit, walking in rhythm with God’s reign and rule.

Our “then” is the then of eternity. Our “now” is bound up and constrained by time. Our life is where time and eternity intersect, and in Christ, time and eternity are brought together. His path becomes ours. His salvation takes effect, not in the ledger of the afterlife, but in the here and now. When we receive this grace, our bodies remain mortal, even while our souls are enlivened and awakened to another plane. Our days in this mortal coil remain numbered. But they are given additional weight, a weight of glory. Our days become more significant, not less. Our work, that which is done unto the Lord, not only counts for a moment, but forever.

A truth I often speak to young ministers comes to mind: “We’re all interims.” Here’s another one: ” We’ll all be held to account, for both the good and the bad that we do.” Our work is appointed for a particular time; it will be weighed and measured by the standard of eternity. Be diligent. Choose wisely. Do good.

There are several Scripture passages I could quote here, but it suffices to say that we want to be good stewards, making the most of the time. As finite creatures, we trust the outcomes to God, who is eternal. We manage our time knowing we are given a finite amount.

Our limitations constrain us. We cannot possibly do it all.

But acknowledging our limitations also frees us. It frees us to trust in God, and to differentiate between what is ours to do and what is ours to leave undone.

If you try to manage your time in order to bring everything under your control, you are attempting to be God. You are not. You are mortal. But if you embrace your limitations, if you acknowledge your mortality, you are free to be productive, to find meaning, and to experience joy in those things which are uniquely yours, appointed for you and your life. You are invited to enjoy the life you have been given and to trust that God, who is eternal, is perfectly capable of handling the rest.

Change on the Inside

Recently, I learned that one of the most prominent leaders in an important segment of Christian life ‘blew up,’ became uncontrollably angry, when someone questioned him about the quality of his work. This was embarrassing, but it is accepted (if not acceptable) behavior; and in this case, it was the one who was questioning him who was chastised. That is in fact a familiar patter in both Christian and nonChristian ‘power structures.’ But what are we to say about the spiritual formation of that leader? Has something been omitted? Or is he really the best we can do?

[ . . . ]

The sad thing when a leader (or any individual) ‘fails’ is not just what he or she did, but the heart and life and whole person who is revealed by the act. What is sad is who these leaders have been all along, what their inner life has been like, and no doubt also how they have suffered during all the years before they ‘did it’ or were found out. What kind of persons have they been, and what, really, has been their relation to God?

Real spiritual need and change, as we have emphasized, is on the inside, in the hidden area of the life that God sees and that we cannot even see in ourselves without his help. Indeed, in the early stages of spiritual development we could not endure seeing our inner life as it really is. The possibility of denial and self-deception is something God has made accessible to us, in part to protect us until we begin to seek him. Like the face of the mythical Medusa, our true condition away from God would turn us to stone if we ever fully confronted it. It would drive us mad. He has to help us come to terms with it in ways that will not destroy us outright.

Without the gentle though rigorous process of inner transformation, initiated and sustained by the graceful presence of God in our world and in our soul, the change of personality and life clearly announced and spelled out in the Bible, and explained and illustrated throughout Christian history, is impossible. We not only admit it, but also insist upon it. But on the other hand, the result of the effort to change our behavior without inner transformation is precisely what we see in the current shallowness of Western Christianity that is so widely lamented in the notorious failures of Christian leaders.

Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p. 79

Simultaneously terrifying and freeing, the only way to come nearer to wholeness, healing, and conformity to Christ is by asking the Spirit of God to assist us in plumbing the depths of our own souls, reveal to us the truth about what is there, and to guide us as we seek to put off the old self and to put on the new self, a person made radiant in Christ.

I’ve thought about Willard’s analysis, quoted above, often, as I’ve long wanted the person I am on the outside to correspond to the person I am on the inside, and the person I am on the inside to become more fully cast in the image and likeness of Christ. In other words, I have wanted to be a person of integrity.

I have also wanted to be a person of depth.

Willard writes, “Real spiritual need and change, as we have emphasized, is on the inside, in the hidden area of the life that God sees and that we cannot even see in ourselves without his help.” The transformation we most need is brought from the outside, in, then put on display from the inside, out. It is shared work, and it is firstly God’s work. And it only seems possible when by grace and through grace we yield ourselves to grace, expressing to God our deep longing for union and communion, humbly asking that God would make us whole, heal us, make us well.

Be That Person

Dayspring Baptist Church, Waco, Texas

Do you find yourself thinking that there is no one interceding properly? Then be that person yourself. Be a person who worships God and lives in a holy relationship with Him. Get involved in the real work of intercession, remembering that it truly is work— work that demands all your energy, but work which has no hidden pitfalls. Preaching the gospel has its share of pitfalls, but intercessory prayer has none whatsoever.

Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, March 30

An Invitation

Come, Holy Spirit, with all your sweet and precious favor.
Come, Lord, to convince and comfort me, to humble and direct me, to chill my affections to the world, and to warm them toward Jesus.

Come, you holy, gracious, almighty reviver and restored–and glorifier of my God and Savior!

Cause the graces you have planted in my soul to go forth in a way of love and desire, faith and expectation. Let me hope in the person and glory of the one my soul loves. Then I will cry out with the church, “Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat of his pleasant fruits.” Amen!

Robert Hawker, as cited in Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans, Robert Elmer, ed.

Bernard of Clairvaux: Why Should We Love God?

You want me to tell you why and how God is to be loved?

I answer that the reason for loving God is God Himself. As to how He is to be loved, there is only one measure: It is immeasurable!

Is this a sufficient answer? Perhaps, but only so to a wise man. Now, I am indebted (Romans 1:14) to deal with the unwise as well, perhaps I need to answer for them also. So while a word is enough for the wise, I need to elaborate the answer for the simple folk as well. Therefore, I do not find irksome to treat the subject more fully, if not more deeply so.

There are two reasons, I insist, why we should love God for His own sake. Righteously so, God is love for His own sake. Profitably so, God is to be loved with the highest benefit. So when we ask again, ‘Why is God to be loved?’ there are two possible meanings to this question. But the answer is the same, for God is the sufficient cause of love, because of who God is.

Bernard of Clairvaux, On Loving God, I.1

Bernard of Clairvaux lived from 1090 to 1153. He was an abbot and an early figure in the founding and growth of the Cistercian movement. Bernard founded seventy monasteries, of which those monasteries founded one hundred more. That totals one hundred seventy communities of faith that trace themselves to Bernard, and to God’s work in Bernard. He was a reformer, a preacher, and a Christian mystic. On Loving God is among his most well known works.

These words I’ve quoted are from the opening pages of that book, in which Bernard raises the key question of the treatise and, more expansively, one of the greatest questions of all. “If God is the ground of all reality, how then should we live?”

That depends greatly on who God is, what God is like, and how human beings stand in relationship to that God.

Bernard assumes his readers believe in the existence of the God of Christianity. Bernard then asserts both how and why we should love God. His answer is simple: with everything, because God has given us everything, all because of love.

His answer is a Christian answer.

God is love, as we read in 1 John 4:8 and 1 John 4:16. Those brief summations capture and reflect a truth that runs through the Bible. God, as Creator, brought the creation forth as an expression of that very love which God is. Love, by its very nature, is relational. It is not only expressed in the abstract, but the concrete, and it is something shared between persons.

The love existing within the Trinity, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, spirals out into the creation. And, as Genesis 1 tells us, when God creates humankind in the divine image, it is so that human beings might relate to God, and to one another, in love. As God is fruitful, human beings are commanded to be fruitful and to flourish as part of the divine dance.

God is to be loved, says Bernard, simply because God is love, and thus lovely. Being infinite, there is no measure to which God can be fully and rightly loved. This does not stop us from responding in love. Love begets love, and increases love. And because God has provided us with everything–with existence, the created order, community, gifts, redemption, an invitation to a holy life, the grace by which to be sanctified, and an eternal hope–we owe everything in return.

Bernard divides the wise and the simple, not to be condescending (even though Bernard was known to be rigid and austere), but to name what should be plain to all.

The wise person will intuit Bernard’s meaning, for any contemplation of the Bible, of truth, and especially of Christ, will lead a person to begin to see that God, in God’s very nature, is immeasurable in loveliness and praiseworthiness, and therefore no amount of gratitude or thanksgiving or service could match the magnitude of God’s glory. And once this quest is begun, it becomes an eternal adventure of discovery, an everlasting way of companionship and friendship with the Creator, a pilgrimage of new creation.

The simple person is the one who has not given God’s character or nature much thought. But if they choose to do so, they will soon become wise. Seekers, in God’s economy, find. Askers, receive. Knockers find the door opened.

And even the wise, who know that God’s loveliness is immeasurable, take joy and delight in the further contemplation of God. The discoveries are ever new, the truths of God bring delight, the beauty of God is captivating, the goodness of God inspires wonder.

Bernard says that the love of God is righteous and profitable. Not only is it right. It brings benefit. For in the contemplation of God’s love, and as we respond to God in love, we not only receive the healing of our broken souls and the binding up of our deepest wounds, we are sent forth as witnesses, emissaries, ambassadors, and servants of the love which we have received from the source of love himself, filled to overflowing.

Love. We were made for it. We were made by it. Not only for the sentiment. But also for the eternal relational delight that results when God gives love to the beloved, and the beloved returns that love in word, thought, feeling, deed—with everything.

Exercising the Experience

If we have experienced regeneration, we must not only talk about the experience, we must exercise it and work out what God has worked in (Philippians 2:12-13). We have to show it in our finger-tips, in our tongue, and in our bodily contact with other people, and as we obey God we find we have a wealth of power on the inside. The question of forming habits on the basis of the grace of God is a very vital one. To ignore it is to fall into the snare of the Pharisee–the grace of God is praised, Jesus Christ is praised, the Redemption is praised, but the practical everyday life evades working it out. If we refuse to practice, it is not God’s grace that fails when a crisis comes, but our own nature…If we will obey the Spirit of God and practise [sic] through our physical life all that God has put in our hearts by His Spirit, then when the crisis comes we shall find that we have not only God’s grace to stand by us but our own nature also, and the crisis is passed without any disaster, but exactly the opposite happens, the soul is built up into a stronger attitude toward God.

Oswald Chambers, The Psychology of Redemption, p. 26

On Tuesday night I was listening to a podcast, and the host and interviewee characterized Christianity as a faith tradition that emphasizes believing the right things over and above living a certain kind of life.

This is a misunderstanding. It may not be a mischaracterization, for there have been Christian leaders who have given the impression that belief is more important than action, and there have been individuals, and even churches, who have privileged right doctrine (orthodoxy) over right practice (orthopraxy), and have neglected altogether right feeling (orthopathy).

When it is at its best, however, Christianity brings together all dimensions of the human person. Not only do we think in accordance with the truth, we feel accordingly and act accordingly, possessing and displaying a humble, quiet confidence that stems from being a friend of God.

Philippians 2:12-13, cited above by Chambers, says, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Our work, then, is to work out what God has worked in, to exercise the grace that has been supplied to us in and through Jesus Christ.