While at Hodel's in Bakersfield, CA recently, I got into a conversation with Tracie and Jonathan Eymann (from the same Jubilee described in the Jubilee Project.) Tracie was talking about the way we can see God working behind the scenes to use every bad situation for eventual good, like a slow-motion chain reaction that leads to results and brings glory to God.
We talked about the movie "Signs" (remember that old M. Night Shyamalan movie with Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix?) how that's actually a decent cinematic example of how seemingly random conditions and circumstances, when guided by God, work in concert to produce a chain reaction of results at the right time to accomplish a goal.
Tracie talked about how God did that with their housing and other circumstances both bad and good (minus the weird M. Night Shyamalan plot twists and aliens), and her testimony was encouraging.
I was reminded of the house we once rented in north Goleta across the freeway from Jubilee.
When we first decided to move back to Goleta to be closer to our church and reduce commute time, my first thought was to find an inexpensive apartment--well, "inexpensive" for Goleta. And then an actual house was offered for a huge discount (because it had been sitting for a long time and they were desperate to get it rented), at almost the exact same price of a family-sized apartment.
So we took it because it fit our budget, a very unexpected blessing from God.
And being in that larger space gave me a chance to have a real office for the nine months we were there when I desperately needed a quiet home office space to spit out 200+ pages of material over a few months, and it had become difficult to do that in other spaces.
We had the house (and office) just long enough for me to finish that project. The timing couldn't have been better.
But then disaster struck in mid-2016. Some unexpected misfortunes struck our self-employed businesses.
We wanted to stay in the area to continue ministering at Jubilee, and we were willing to live in just about any downsized living situation to make it work. At the time we had been researching about the tiny house "small living" lifestyle, which was intriguing and seemed like a possible solution. Then, miraculously (to make a long story short), a tiny house fell into our lap at just the right time.
Through all of these changes, the Lord was faithful to answer and confirm each step of the way, each big change, and He did it through all sorts of ways, sometimes "signs and wonders," other times through reading the Word, other times through words of wisdom or knowledge from a wide variety of people in the Body of Christ.
Disaster struck again--a much bigger one. My father died unexpectedly. This set off a series of events (to make a long story short) that led to us moving yet again, this time to another part of the state. We needed to make the move immediately (for a variety of personal reasons I won't get into here).
What's been amazing to see in hindsight: if all of those previous housing changes had not happened when they happened, making that move would have been impossible. It was one of the few times in my life since 2003 that I was not bound to a rental lease or mortgage, and that change happened exactly when that flexibility was needed the most to make a sudden move to deal with a crisis.
Open Doors and Romans 8 Transformation: What Does It All Mean?
Of course, when God is involved it's never really about just one situation or one person or one set of earthly circumstances. This situation described above, for example, has opened up a door of ministry to other situations that have been on my intercessory prayer list for years. And I've already seen a few miracles and spiritual breakthroughs that wouldn't have happened if all the tumultuous things described above had not taken place.
Just hearing Tracie's story of all the crazy cause-and-effect symphonies in her life, how God made one thing lead to another, which led to this thing over here, which opened this door over there, was deeply encouraging.
Because God really is the Author and Finisher of our faith, and His promise in Romans 8 ("He will use all things for good...") rings true: He will use all things in our lives, good or bad, to bring glory to His name and transform us into miniature versions of Christ. That's how the second half of Romans 8 defines the "good" that God will bring out of all things: the "good" is being made more like Christ.
The promise is not that He uses all things to make our lives more comfortable or increase our standard of living. We have to read that verse in Romans 8 in context with the whole chapter, then interpret the chapter within the context of the whole book.
His primary goal for us is not earthly temporal prosperity or having a high standard of living that demands endless work to keep going. If greed or a subtle desire for the "good life" has secretly been at (or near) the heart of our motivation, we should not be surprised if God eventually exposes that self-centeredness and uses our misfortunes to help us move past those secret motivations.
(And sometimes the "help" He provides is not pleasant.)
The promise in Romans 8 is first and foremost about inner transformation of the heart, not being granted comfortable, enriched earthly lives. (To see proof of this, we need only look at the lives of people in church history, from the Apostle Paul who wrote Romans to people like Back to Jerusalem's Simon Zhao of China.)
Frankly, the big changes described above were torturous on every level, and in many areas the pain hasn't lessened. This is common. For millions of Christians throughout history and millions alive today, their biggest afflictions were (are) not always swept away or resolved during their lifetime.
But in the midst of the excruciating pain, a simple question returns again and again to my heart: is God here, at our sides, present in all of it? Is He still Emmanuel, God With Us?
As we made the transition, I could see God's hand in it everywhere, whether I liked it or not. And the Body of Christ (which can be found almost everywhere we go on this earth, thanks to the Great Commission) played a big role when people from my old church where my dad used to pastor--people I haven't seen for years or even decades--came out of the woodwork and made us meals, bought us dinner, sent us care packages/gifts or greeting cards in the mail, visited us to cheer us up, and even offered to help with certain aspects of the crisis. They went out of their way beyond the easy text message or email and inconvenienced themselves greatly in some instances. It was moving and eye-opening to see what the church can be like.
Cause-and-Effect Symphonies and True Joy
The point of everything above is summed up by what Tracie was saying at Hodel's: God is good at orchestrating events to achieve His desired outcome. It might be a blow to the ego or our sense of self-government or self-assertion (or our sense of satisfaction in our moral goodness and spiritual sturdiness), but these outcomes have less to do with us (or our "good deeds") than we might expect.
The good outcomes (which have heart transformation as their primary goal) flow from His grace and mercy (i.e. we don't merit them); and He, the Finisher of our faith, is undaunted by our mistakes or the disasters that fill our lives, and He is able to conquer and repurpose those dark, sad things.
It's no wonder then that true joy is found in longing for God and pursuing Him. As C. S. Lewis defined it, the true nature of joy isn't a state of ecstatic happiness or unbroken cheerfulness and effervescence; it is the intense longing for and simultaneous togetherness that the soul experiences in God--that "stab of joy" that strikes from unexpected directions as we walk with Him through life.
And sometimes that kind of joy only finds its maturity in the places we least expect.
Finding 'The Rest-Giver' in Hebrews 4:1-13 (And Finding Rest in God in a Workaholic Culture): One thing pops out when you read the book of Hebrews in the Bible: God really wants us to value rest--both physical and spiritual rest (which we'll define in a moment)--and to truly treasure and preserve our rest with zeal and intensity.
Lord, I thirst for true living water. I'm weary of always trying to find living water in the dead water of this finite world. We drink and drink and drink from all our earthly hopes--our relationships, health, careers, hopes, longing for security and stability--and even when we get one of those things, they fill us for awhile but soon we're thirsty again. This life offers so many wells, so many promises of fulfillment, but even the best that this life can offer leaves the spirit dry and thirsty for more. Your love is better than life itself. I long for your living water that truly satisfies and ends the desperate search, the endless thirst, and I ask for more of your living water to overflow in my spirit, mind, heart, and in every corner of my life until it spills over and encourages other people too. In Jesus' name, amen.
What the Lord might say in reply (John 4):
Everyone who drinks this world's water will be thirsty again, but there is a spring of water that never weakens or stops, but is ever-flowing and moving swiftly through the channels I carve into your heart during the hard times. And this living water can rush through the barriers and rocks that clog up your spirit and overpower them until it is a smooth running river from beginning to end, winding through every canyon and valley, bringing refreshment to places in your spirit that you never thought would find healing or hope again.
I lift my heart to you, Lord, and ask you to clothe me in your light and strength and in the clothes you've made for me--the covering of the Holy Spirit and the warmth of your promises, your grace and mercy, and the protection of your Word. This world and the people in it try to dress me up in their labels and opinions and ideas and words, and even my own heart dresses itself too much with the shadows and phantoms of fear and grief. I ask you to take that all away and clothe me with Christ and cover me with your perfection that you give away freely.
What the Lord might say in reply (Isaiah 54:17; Romans 13:14):
I invite you into my throne room, my presence, my holy tailor's studio where I will clothe you with a new start in me and give you all my perfection and righteousness for you to wear as a gift. You can never earn your way into my presence and make yourself clean enough, and so I wash you in grace and mercy through the work of my Son on the cross, and I clothe you with new life, like the joy of the sun and the gleam of the moon and the shimmer of constellations, as you rest in my presence and receive all the gifts I have for you in faith.
Abba Father, I seek you and take shelter in you today. The frailties and failures and disappointments of life can overwhelm the soul, and the day can knock us over like a micro-burst of torrential wind and rain that no one saw coming--a sudden onset from a storm that can rip trees out of the ground. I look to you when the sky swells dark, when the air is heavy and the sound of my prayers, even under the open sky, are muted and muffled and thrown back at me by life and by the world and by my own weaknesses. And when the sharp words of others hit me like hail I run for cover under the shadow of your wings, in the secret place of your wide pavilion, where all is safe and dry and you set my feet on spacious ground, far away and free from the strife of hearts and people.
What the Lord might say in reply (Isaiah 54, Zephaniah 3:17):
My afflicted one, tossed back and forth on a tempest, never finding rest. See, I quiet you now with my voice, with singing that surrounds you on every side, with a rush of wind that does not destroy but chases the smoke and smog out of your lungs and lets your spirit breathe deep again, full of new hope and life. See, I build your foundations with precious jewels, and no hand can undo or stop my work. Breathe deep in this secret place and rest.
The following is part 1 of an article series that examines excerpts from a new book about U2 and C. S. Lewis (how their music and writings intersect and capture spiritual hunger in powerful ways) called Shadowlands and Songs of Light: An Epic Journey Into Joy and Healing. The series is being published to celebrate the upcoming release of U2’s new album “Songs of Experience.” (#U2SongsOfExperience)
Possibly the most wonderful, intensely blissful emotional sensation that can happen to us in this world–maybe even more wonderful than falling in love–is something that C. S. Lewis called “stabs of joy” in his autobiography “Surprised by Joy.”
This “stab of joy” is a longing so intense and sweet and melancholy all at once that it’s overwhelming and ecstatic, and it can strike at any moment, as I wrote:
[This stab of joy] is close to the intense sensations of homesickness—the pangs that come when we see a place from our childhood or hear an old song that’s tied to our past. Yet it’s not quite nostalgia. It goes beyond that. When this strange Longing stabs us, we feel homesick for a home we’ve never had.
For each person this moment is different–maybe you felt it once while watching a sunset or stargazing or when you saw your newborn child for the first time or when you read a certain book or smelled a certain fragrance of flower on a rainy day in the garden. The pinprick that causes the longing is different for everyone and it changes as we get older, but it is common to the human experience. (And this bittersweet yearning for something we don’t know and can’t describe can often be the catalyst or precursor to what philosophers call existential angst.)
One of my earliest memories of a stab of joy happened while backpacking as a kid. My family had just reached the summit of a mountain at the same moment when a fighter jet flew over it, so close that the pilot saw me and gave me a thumbs up. The next moment I turned and reached a vista overlooking the California Sierra mountain ranges and the Nevada deserts.
That’s when the stab struck, as I....Click here to read the full article.