Spiritual emptiness

Why does the Lord take us through periods of spiritual emptiness? We long for intimacy in worship and the word, but encounter dryness.

This seems to be the experience of the Psalmist in Psalms 42&43 (combined as one).

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

This seems blasphemy to a culture exalting intimacy with God. How could God distance Himself? Yet the Psalmist writes –

2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food day and night,while people say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’

When this spiritual emptiness is experienced there are consequences, a rawness to life. One is on edge and brought to the end of natural defences. One is tempted to fill up through satisfaction of physical senses that only scream louder.

In years gone by, the Psalmist may have believed in a ‘technique that worked.’ After gaining intimacy with God through such techniques and then losing it for no apparent reason one gains perspective that God is after more than experiences of wellbeing.

43:3 Send me your light and your faithful care, let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.

The break through comes not from our efforts but from the Lord. The Psalmist calls on the one who seems to have forgotten him, recognising that the Lord’s purpose is as much about character as the experience of His presence.

 

For greater detail see the study for the whole passage.

Way out of emptiness

We live in a world of self-interest, committed to feeling better about ourselves or experiences that take our eyes off the state of our lives. How do we let go this futile thinking that only reinforces inner darkness? (Eph 4:17-19)

I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with his praise. (Psalm 34:1 msg)

When I take my eyes off myself and lift them to the Father, as I worship Him, then life expands as I see His love and am inspired by His purposes.

Look at him; give him your warmest smile. Never hide your feelings from him. (Psalm 34:5)

This worship comes with integrity. It smiles when seeing a twist in life with His mark on it, it calls for mercy when confronted with failure.

Worship God if you want the best; worship opens doors to all his goodness. Young lions on the prowl get hungry, but God-seekers are full of God. (Psalm 34:9-10)

Worship opens to His goodness. This opening, represented by opening our mouths, leaves us vulnerable for open doors let in as well as out. True worship is on His terms and receive what He declares to be good.

When in need I am tempted to be the prowling lion looking to devour something, even God! And after devouring, I am still hungry. When I come to God in surrender not focussing on what I want from the encounter but to worship Him, He fills me with Himself. I may not have what I wanted but am satisfied by His presence.

 

The full study on this Psalm is found in What is worship?

Trustworthy to Jesus?

The Lord loves us but he does not entrust himself to us.

But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. John 2:24 (NIV)

We see this in Jesus’ relationship with his disciples. They were with him wherever they went, yet he did not entrust himself even to his closest disciples. Consider James and John, two of the closest. There is the time they want to call down fire on a village for not having received Jesus or the time they ask for a place on His left and right in heaven. Though they had asked,

We want you to do for us whatever we ask, Mark 10:35

Jesus had not entrusted himself to them. He was free to do what was right.

When people are being emotionally abusive we need to keep our emotional distance. This is hard when they are friends or family. When Jesus would not entrust himself he was protecting himself from those he was closest to, and yet could not trust to act honourably.

This principle extends to the Lord’s relationship with us. I too can be abusive in the way I relate to Him. I call myself His friend but then presume on him with demands that do not reflect His love. The Lord will of course be gracious to me, but will not entrust himself to me while he knows this is in me. I am challenged to relate to my Father in love, respecting and trusting Him, so that He can extend deeper friendship to me.

Where is your God?

Why do the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’ Psalm 115:2

This is a question that is being asked of the Church. The question raises key issues. Firstly: What is it about the way we reflect Jesus that keeps this culture from seeing Him in us? Secondly: What is it about the world that it is so blind people cannot see Jesus in us? I believe that the next verses point to the answer for both questions.

Our God is in heaven, He does whatever pleases Him. Psalm 115:3

Our God is in heaven, so He cannot be seen by a culture that despises faith, declaring: Seeing is believing.

‘He does whatever pleases Him’, as against whatever pleases us. We struggle with this because our culture thinks of God as someone with a job description – to help us enjoy life. We make ourselves the centre and ask, Why believe in a God who does not do as I please?

But their idols are silver and gold made by the hands of men. They have … eyes, but they cannot see. Those who make them will be like them and so will all who trust in them. Psalm 115:4-8

We protect our selfish view by creating our own gods to make us happy and so blanking Him or blinding ourselves in pretence that He is the god we want him to be.

We have a culture that blinds itself looking at a delusional Church. No wonder we are asked, ‘Where is your God?’

 

Rest in stress

There are times when I am stressed out by the urgent and yet it seems every road I take to resolve the situation ends in frustration. It seems I am battling against God.

The real surprise shown in Isaiah 30 is that this may well be the case!

16 You said, “No, we will flee on horses.” Therefore you will flee! You said, “We will ride off on swift horses.”  Therefore your pursuers will be swift!

When I am stressed my mind drives towards a solution. In my drivenness I push aside every consideration towards love. When I scheme I make myself the answer, I try to become my own salvation, supplanting Jesus. The Lord is looking for a very different attitude.

15 In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.

The Lord’s counsel: In repentance and rest I find salvation, repentance of the drivenness that suggests all depends on me. Can I hold this attitude of being at rest? Faith is not demonstrated through inactivity but attitude. It is possible to work hard, and be at rest in the soul, confident the Lord will bring to fruition His work. When I wait for Him I receive far more than I either deserve or imagine!

18 Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice.  Blessed are all who wait for him!

 

For a fuller look at Isaiah 30 HERE is the study.

Reward with God

What a privilege to participate in Jesus’ ministry. Paul and Barnabas were directed into ministry through Isaiah 49:6:

“… I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,  that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

This verse is not stand alone. How does Isaiah leads into this promise?

First the Lord polishes His arrow and conceals it.

2 .. he made me into a polished arrow  and concealed me in his quiver.

This arrow has to fly true first time and so it receives special attention. Other arrows enjoy their successes in the hunt, this one is polished. It seems a humiliating waste of time.

The Lord seeing the discouragement, speaks tenderly.

3 He said to me, “You are my servant,  Israel, in whom I will display my splendour.”

The Lord gives hope that He will use this servant to display His splendour, however these seem vain words.

4 But I said, “I have laboured in vain;  I have spent my strength for nothing at all.

Polishing is hard work, requiring labour for little visible result.

This frustration finally bears fruit through a change in attitude-

Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,  and my reward is with my God.”

The surrender of desire to see the outcome. When content that his reward is with God, there is freedom to be used by the Lord without playing to the audience and wrecking the show.

Now the Lord begins to use His polished arrow!

 

The full Bible study can be found at Biblebase2adaringfaith

 

Driven or Complacent

Living in our hurting world our tendency is either, throw ourselves at the problem, driven by the need, or to harden ourselves to the need and wait for God to resolve it Himself. Both these approaches stem from futile thinking and expose our darkened understanding. This darkness comes from a hardened heart that will not allow in the light of Christ.

When I am driven by need I am not experiencing God’s peace. I have allowed ‘self’ to become an idol, and am sacrificing my soul on its altar.

When I sit complacently expecting the Lord to do everything, I have hardened myself to the needs of people and to the call of Christ who gave His life for them.

The solution is not through trying harder, but to return to the life of God. This comes through surrender; a willingness to deny myself, take up the cross and follow Jesus.

Jesus started the great commission,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Matthew 28:18.

Am I seeking the sovereign ‘ME’ or am I surrendered to the Lord and His kingdom. Am I willing for His results to be different from what theory suggests?

Jesus ended the great commission,

“… surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.”

I must walk with Him in His programme and surrender the appearance of business or spirituality. If He is sitting in the stands then I sit with Him. If He is intervening, then I intervene with Him.

 

The original Bible Study in Ephesians 4:17-19

 

Drawn out of hiding

My desire for God can be so conflicted. This is seen in Song of Songs 2.

    Look! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, …

It begins with wonder and worship – her lover coming. This is easy. I experience the thrill of Jesus’ presence, delighting that He would choose to come to me. The next verse betrays how limited this devotion is:

9 Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows, ….

When the lover arrives he is left outside peering through the windows. Did he really leap across the mountains for this?

Amazingly the lover does not berate the girl but woos and assures her.

10  ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.
11 See! The winter is past;    the rains are over and gone.
12 Flowers appear on the earth;   the season of singing has come,…

13 The fig-tree forms its early fruit;   …
Arise, come, …    my beautiful one, come with me.’

He leaves her in no doubt that he desires her to be with him bounding over the mountains.

He encourages her that the threats of winter are past.

He encourages her with the promise of the beauty she will see.

Finally he encourages her with the promise of fruit, before appealing again for her to come.

So, when Jesus comes to me unexpectedly, will I stay in the safety of my walled garden, or run with Him on the mountains? I pray that it will be the latter.

For the detailed study

Hope for the hopeless

My struggle with hope is an indication of how hard I find it to keep my focus on Jesus without being overwhelmed by our spiritual climate.

I look upon our situation in the Church and it seems to be without hope. Everywhere churches are closing and congregations shrinking. Yes there are notable exceptions, the mega churches that grow and grow, but these exceptions hide the big picture of the thousands of shrinking churches. However, there is hope. The only way we lose hope is when we fail to recognise that we are needy and must look to God and call out to Him for mercy. As Psalm 9 says,

“But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.” (Psalm 9v18),

God watches over us; Jesus is our eternal hope. He is ready to save from whatever mess we find ourselves in – often because of our own failure. This is a great hope.

Psalm 9 also gives me an encouragement.

“Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9v10

My observation is that the Church is seeking Him. We may frequently be off beam in this search but there is a sincerity in our desire for Him. I find this encouraging. We may be harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd, but the Lord will never forsake those who seek Him.

We hope because Jesus is the One we hope in.

The original study – http://biblebase2adaringfaith.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/hope-for-the-hopeless-study/

Prostitution rejected

Many imagine that our Lord has no interest in our lives outside of a personal relationship with Him, as if we lived in a spiritual bubble. Hosea 9 challenges the upbeat perspective of God’s people. In today’s terms, there is something wrong and Hosea calls on people to confront their own prostitution.

Today, our prostitution runs deep, but is largely unaddressed. Where niceness is lifted up as if it were godliness, we steer clear of unpalatable truths. This leaves us with an open goal to the accusation of hypocrisy.  Our prostitution has many guises. Here are a couple:

On the physical side there is considerable sexual immorality in the church. This is most widespread  in the private world of internet pornography, yet physically as well in a culture where one is considered weird if one has a friend but are not going to bed together. Our Christian culture has adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” stance as if what happens behind closed doors is of no interest to our Father in heaven.

On the spiritual side we have so elevated numbers that we can end up using spirituality to gain a following. We can become more concerned with our following than with our Lord. So, we can become spiritual prostitutes, using what the Lord has given us to gain influence over other people. Even in this blog I constantly return to the fact that I write for an audience of One.

For the Bible study see – http://biblebase2adaringfaith.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/idolaters-rejected/