Wednesday, January 25, 2012

He Wants to Give us the World, but for now, the World is too Heavy for us!

We have the Holy Spirit in our lives and the most incredible collection of glorious promises imaginable, and yet we don't sense the presence of our Lord in any significant way. Is there anything wrong with this picture? No!

Thirty five years ago I had had the most profound encounter with the Lord in the midst of a life-threatening chain-saw calamity. In the midst of pools of blood, I sensed that Lord's presence so intensely that I was filled with ecstasy, even though I didn't know Him at that point. The encounter was so powerful, that I no longer feared death. I knew that He was with me and that I was perfectly safe. I shed many tears of love, joy and gratitude.

However, I never again had an encounter like that, leaving me wondering whether I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. How was it that I often found myself dragging through my hum-drum life without any sense of His loving presence? However, I've subsequently learned that there is more growth realized in the trenches than on the tree tops.

While I was convolescing in the hospital, my surgeon warned me that I would have to exercise my hand or else my fingers might freeze-up on me. However, still savoring the intense joy of His presence and the knowledge that I was completely in His protective hands, I sloughed-off the surgeon's sage instructions. After all, if this God is so great that He could rescue me from the bloody encounter with my hungry chain-saw – and He is – then He can also heal my hand without any of my help.

Bad theology! Two of my fingers did freeze-up on me, and I was left wondering for the next ten years: “Had I trusted God too much? Is God not as great as I had perceived that He was?”

Although this question plagued me, I began to realize that, although our God wants to give us all things, it is we who are unable to handle them. I wasn't able to handle the loving, nurturing presence of God. I hadn't properly understood Him and this rendered me passive when I should have been active.

I had wrongly thought that trusting God required that I should be passive and just wait for Him to do something. However, trust is an active thing. If we trust our Savior, we will do what He tells us to do. He loves us too much to overwhelm us with such a joy that would leave us inactive This is something that would ultimately hurt us and our relationship with Him.

Our growth requires God to remain at a distance, at least in terms of the encounter that I had experienced. Instead, in the midst of my trials and struggles, I was “coerced” into reading Scripture and trusting Him, even when I didn't experience any evidence of His presence. I never would have undertaken the arduous work of reading and meditating upon Scripture unless I had to do this.

It is certainly more pleasurable to eat food than to talk about it. Likewise, we'd much more prefer to experience God's presence than to talk about Him, but perhaps we're not ready for this kind of encounter.

I know what you're thinking, “I think I can handle that kind of experience, even on a regular basis!” Could we? Many think that their lives would be “made” if they'd only hit the lottery. Well, there have been surveys of the winners. Interestingly, for the most part, their lives weren't made, but torn apart. They weren't able to handle the blessing of wealth.

Others are convinced that they could handle to “blessing” of success. However, success, when we are not ready for it, can lead to arrogance, alienation from friends and family, or extra-marital adventures.

For many years, I fretted that God hadn't opened for me opportunities to teach Scripture. However, I can now look back and perceive that I hadn't been ready. I would have been teaching destructive heresies had He opened that door prematurely.

In 1978, after graduating with a degree in social work, I became convinced that God had wanted me to open a Christian counseling service. Fortunately, I only had the opportunity to counsel one individual, but he lasted only halfway through the session, when he abruptly got up to inform me, “I can't deal with this anymore.” I wasn't ready to counsel, and that was the end of that counseling service.

It is not our Savior's will that we now experience Him in all His intensity. Instead, Scripture warns us:

...we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:23-25)

Our lives here entail a good measure of “groaning.” This is because our ultimate Hope is not yet “seen” or experienced. Instead, hope suggests that we are looking at it from afar.

Likewise, this life isn't our final resting place. Longing for the next life, and not an experience that might make our lives here more comfortable, is the ideal. This is the way our Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – lived:

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a [heavenly] country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

Our Lord Jesus wants us to patiently look towards Him and to not become too comfortable here:
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

Among other things, suffering kindles within us a love for Christ and the eager expectation of His return. Besides, who would be “overjoyed when his glory is revealed,” if life was utterly delightful here? How tragic it would be if, upon His return, we asked Him to postpone until we could see the latest Star Wars movie and to take our Mediterranean cruise!

Because I couldn't theologically handle the presence of God, I didn't exercise my hand and can no longer make a fist, but perhaps this is for the best. This infirmity would render me almost helpless in a fight. I would now have to live by faith and not sight – trusting in Him and not in myself!

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