August 23, 2014

I Smell a Rat Close By…

image(Image: Beatrix Potter)

I think I must be a nose in the Body of Christ--I am so readily put out of joint by things that smell not quite right.  Any new book, teaching, or seminar triggers an "I wonder what's wrong with it" response as I sniff it out. I'm keen on keeping rules, following directions and keeping teaching sound. It's my God-given bent but it can so readily go awry.

I see things pretty black and white; either it's Biblical or it's not. And some stuff is just wrong and yet...God let's it go on. Ministries sail on gaining adherents. Books become best sellers. Churches become super-sized. And deceptions proliferate.

It's one thing when these are merely 'out there' and not affecting anyone I know. But sometimes they're right under my nose. And I am thrown into inner turmoil that has very little resemblance to the fruit of the Spirit! Love, joy, peace....all fly out the window. Something must be done! I want heads to roll. Ministries to fail. People to cease and desist. And yes, I want to rescue my brother/sister from lapping up that anti-freeze that tastes so deceptively sweet but will kill him by degrees!

When I find myself wanting so badly to be proven right that I am wishing disaster to come on ministries and people, something's clearly wrong. The anger of a woman seldom works the righteousness that God desires! This is a kind of 'right' that bears little resemblance to righteousness. I can be so right that I am...well, wrong!  (And ineffective besides!)

I found this quote filed away for my own reminder:

"I seldom find men strenuously fighting what they are pleased to call heterodox teaching, and in bitter language denouncing false doctrine, without being more afraid for the men denouncing than for the men denounced. There is an anger against impurity which is impure. There is a zeal for orthodoxy which is most unorthodox. There is a spirit that contends for the faith which is in conflict with the faith... There have been men who have become so self-centered in a narrowness that they are pleased to designate as holding the truth, that the very principle for which they contend has been excluded from their life and service. All zeal for the Master that is not the outcome of love to Him is worthless."
-G. Campbell Morgan

Ouch! I have come face-to-face with this ugly attitude in myself of late. I saw a reflection of Jonah in the mirror today. There I was eager to see the Lord dish out judgment while I sat arms crossed smugly watching with an 'I told you so' attitude. Yuck! Could it be that my bent to know and defend truth has become a means of being sure I'm right so I can look down on those benighted souls who don't know their right hand from their left?

Am I, like Jonah, eager for God's mercy and forgiveness toward me but not so eager to see Him extend it to others?

I was in the process of writing on a different topic today when this one hit me between the eyes. So I detoured to consider some perspectives and principles from Scripture that will help keep me on track in this business of being a nose in a stinking world...

 

 

As to why deception is allowed to proliferate...

I was struck by a passage in Deuteronomy 13:1-5 (It’s a must read!) explaining that one reason God allows deceptions to thrive is to test our hearts. He wants to know whether we will love Him wholeheartedly or be drawn away by alluring signs and wonders to serve other gods.

Paul also warns that it is possible to be lured into believing 'another gospel' (II Cor.11:4; Gal.1:6,7), receiving another spirit, and following another Christ.  Deceptive teaching will always be with us. But we don't have to fall for it. That's another topic for another day.

For further reading consider Jesus' own warnings in Matthew 24, or Paul's in I and II Timothy and II Thessalonians and Peter's in II Peter and Jude's (in Jude of course) for starters! False teaching is countered by the simplicity of devotion to Christ. (II Cor.11:3)

When we're tempted to look for more than the hope the Gospel offers us, more than the reality of Christ living in us by His Spirit, we need to take ourselves back to Colossians and Thessalonians and be reminded of Christ's Preeminence and the hope of His coming to be 'glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.' II Thess.1:10
These will stabilize us for the long haul.

 

BE forewarned but AT PEACE

Peter writes a letter warning that there will be false teachers mingling with the Body secretly bringing in destructive heresies. II Peter 2:1-3 He forewarns that they will exploit with false words and many will even follow them. But his conclusion is not to call for an all out war on heresy. Instead he admonishes believers to be diligent themselves to be found in Christ, without spot or blemish, and at peace. And while he warns that some will twist Scripture to their own destruction, his advice is to 'take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.'

A focus on all the false things others are believing can draw us away from our own devotion to Jesus. Peter concludes: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity."

 

sometimes it's not about people serving other gods

Sometimes it’s not so much about false doctrine.  We can be quick to find fault with someone who's not doing ministry our way, not following our leader or favorite teacher... Jesus' disciples got up in arms when they saw someone casting out demons in Jesus' name. They told Jesus, 
"Master...we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us."
And what did Jesus say?   "Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you." Luke 9:49,50  That was not what they expected to hear!

Shortly afterward they were ready to call down fire from heaven on the townspeople who wouldn't let them spend the night. Jesus rebuked them. Luke 9:54,55 His agenda is so different from ours; his heart so much more merciful.

Jesus did not come to judge and condemn but to point people to God's power and willingness to save. Jn.3:16,17  Unlike me, God bears patiently those who mock and are slow to believe the truth, "not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." II Pet.3:9 
Love does not rejoice in evil (aha! got you now) but rejoices when the truth triumphs.

 

So what is my business as a nose in the Body?

What am I supposed to do in the face of falsehood? A verse that's been percolating to the top of my thinking is: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21 It's nested with verses on living at peace with all men as much as possible, and leaving it to God to right wrongs, and meeting your enemies' needs!

This is God's heart for us. Otherwise we are all too easily overcome by evil, obsessed with righting wrongs or depressed by falsehoods flourishing. When we are outraged and begin to rant, we have lost peace. When we look on in helpless horror we are readily demoralized at the rise of evil. It looms large and God fades like invisible ink.

Instead we are to be people committed to doing good and so revealing God's presence in a world growing increasingly evil, and a church grown unstable and impure. We are light in darkness, not when we react viciously but when we react graciously. Faith sees beyond this moment, this horror, this onslaught of darkness and deception... Faith knows God is still in control. He will bring what is hidden into light. He will take what is wrong and make it right. Faith leaves vengeance with Him and gets about the business of spreading light.  Of course part of that spreading of light is to fearlessly speak the truth in love, but it must be from a vantage point of faith in God’s ultimate control.

This mindset will only be possible as I, a snuffly nose, submit to Christ as Head of the Body and director of its every member. Every gift has its potential abuses if not directed by the Head and energized by the Spirit from a motive of love. Even in our gifts and callings we are not free to do as we please or the flesh will surely make a mess of things. It's been good to be reminded of these things. I have some hard set reactions to relearn and I'm sure I'll need to revisit these truths often. But by God's grace when I smell a rat close by I want to call it out in love, so as to build up rather than destroy.

 

The Point of it all

May I inject just one more passage that keeps grabbing me by the shoulders?

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Rom.14:4

This reminds me of the point of it all. I'm not here to clobber my brother when he's misled, or even necessarily to convince him that he's wrong. Sometimes it's a matter of opinions over which we quarrel. In these cases, Paul's words cut to the quick: "Why do you despise your brother?" (Rom.14:10) He reminds that each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Leave the final judging to Him. Instead, we're to "pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding." Rom.14:19

After all, the Kingdom of God isn't a matter of the peripheral issues we argue over but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Rom.14:17) When we've lost these, over whatever issue, we're on the wrong track.

All these passages are restoring my balance today. Thanks for letting me share them with you. I will close with this one from Paul:

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Rom.15:5-7

--LS

But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Ps.19:12-14

P.S. It’s not the first time I’ve pondered these things.  For further thoughts on keeping balanced in the defense of truth, see: Witch Hunts and the Glory of God.

And as always, I welcome your feedback, by email or in the Comments below.

August 15, 2014

Do you do well to be angry?

Nineveh is in the news again, but under a different name.  Its ancient ruins are just across the river from the modern city of Mosul in northern Iraq. This timeless story still speaks.

God said, Go tell Nineveh they’re in trouble with Me.

Jonah ran away to sea.

God took up the chase. 

He hurled a great wind upon the sea.

He determined the lot that would find Jonah guilty.

He made the wind blow stronger till terrified seamen had no choice but to hurl Jonah overboard.

He appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.

Jonah wasn’t getting anywhere in his avoidance of God’s assignment. He couldn't even escape by dying, though he may have wished he could during those three days and nights in the belly of a fish!

Then God spoke to the fish to vomit Jonah out so he could get on with his job.

How humiliating for Jonah.  How gracious of God that Jonah lived to tell his story.  Would you have? 

The whole experience was something one might want to put behind them.  Bad choices usually are. 

And of course, we know it didn’t end there, with Jonah washed up all mucky on the beach.  Again there came the voice of our unrelenting God, determined to show His mercy to the undeserving: "Get up and go to Nineveh".

Jonah reluctantly does his job—with a fierce vengeance I imagine. 

And God does his.  He forgives.

Jonah is furious and commences to pout.  God intervenes again…

“Do you do well to be angry?” He asks.

And He appoints a plant to grow shade for Jonah’s comfort while he considers this and watches for the fireworks that never begin.

And God appoints a worm to eat the plant that grew the shade for  pouting Jonah.

And God appoints a hot east wind to team with the blazing sun in making Jonah wish to die.

And Jonah is angry, again.

And God asks again, “Do you do well to be angry?”

And while Nineveh is spared a lashing, Jonah gets a talking to by the God who cares for both the unforgiven and  the unforgiving. His love is unrelenting. 

God knows just what is needed, for the both of them.

And the story gets told for generations to come, a reminder that God is good when men are not.  And Jonah’s stint in that whale of a fish becomes an object lesson for the greatest good news of all time—Jesus lives though swallowed by death for three days and nights.  He lives to put all things right in and around us, in His good time.

And all these years down the sands of time I read in the news that Jonah’s alleged tomb was destroyed this summer  by Islamic militants in what was once ancient Nineveh and is now Iraq.  But his story lives on, a symbol attesting to God’s mercy that is great enough for all of us, and knows just what is needed when we do not.

--LS

“For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation….The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” Lk.11:30,32

“Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love,
But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you…
Salvation belongs to the LORD!” –Jonah, in the belly of a fish

“O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster….” --Jonah, suicidal at the thought of his enemies being forgiven

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven…Mt.5:44,45

August 8, 2014

What do YOU do with the Disconnect?

More ideas for keeping a soft heart....
with notes from A Praying Life

What do you do with the disconnect between the way you've dreamed that life would be,  and the hard, cold, (often lonely) realities of life as it is?

Whether you're a young adult moving into the unknown of 'what next?' after years of working toward the goal of finishing school...

Or an empty-nester looking back at family life, career and all that's gone under the bridge and wondering what’s the meaning of the rest of your life...

Or a busy parent still in the thick of making your dreams a reality--in the daily-ness of family life, of kids that aren't always sweet, of unexpected bumps and detours on the way to one big happy family.

At any stage of life inevitably the days will come when our game plan isn't working, when even what we perceived to be God's game plan is malfunctioning. Didn't He promise...Didn't He say that if we trusted him everything would be ok?

We may have started out with clear-cut formulas and child-like confidence that God would open doors, lead the way and protect us from every ill. Pictures of perfection. Idyllic dreams. They seem to be in tatters. Have we been duped? Nobody wants to be duped. So what do you do with the temptation to 'throw in the towel' of your faith and take up a guarded cynicism in its place?

So much of faith feels theoretical.

I am ‘seated in the heavenlies’ and yet I feel this cracked hard Adirondack chair beneath my bones.

I believe in a God who superintends in all the affairs of man and yet...nations spiral out of control...the church is sick...families are self-destructing inside and outside its walls...and me, some days I don't even believe praying will make any difference.

With good reason Scripture is full of admonitions to pray for one another, to encourage one another, to love and care and tend to one another's needs... We are vulnerable to a creeping unbelief that seems a safe place to lick our wounds and protect our scars and allow some calluses to grow between our souls and a hostile world. Even the church can be an unsafe place to bare our hearts and find encouragement. What then do we do?

We hold on to what God says is true and we pray: Your kingdom come. Your will be done. And sometimes we get criticized for not facing up to 'the real world'. God's standards of morality seem hopelessly out of date. We look naively simplistic if we expect the Word of God to be an adequate guide for life in our times. And if we haven't lived and breathed the work-a-day world at its worst, it is questioned whether we have the competence to preach the truth?

I'm a home-maker in a practically empty nest now. Before that I was a home-schooler with a very busy nest of five. Before that, I was trained as a linguist/Bible translator and worked hard to learn an unwritten language. Once-upon-a-time I thought I might be a single woman missionary or perhaps a librarian would be about my speed... And way back when I actually had a job for a few summer months, binding Jews for Jesus tracts and working for a non-profit printer. Apart from a few months of candy-striping and a short job at a fabric store, I have theoretically never lived or worked in 'the real world', as it's called. But even I battle its agenda. I still fight for faith to keep believing when the things I see don’t budge at my praying.

I grew up in the faith, went to Christian schools, met a Christian man going the same direction, and committed to being his support from the home. I’ve been protected from many things that might be considered essential initiations to life in the twenty-first century. I vowed not to drink before I was wise enough to question making vows. I was indoctrinated about smoking by "Uncle Dan and Aunt Sue" and a very gruesome photograph of its effects (And I never got offered a cigarette anyway). I married young enough to forego giving into sex beforehand. I've had very little trauma in life, really.  Well, none that God wasn’t there for. Yes, I suppose I've missed out on a lot of the 'real world'... a lot of pain, and hurt and addictive hooks. Does that make the truth I stand on less real? Have I missed out on the really real world?

I was thinking this week as we drove along, what would it be like if everything that was not owned outright just dissolved into thin air--the cars, the boats, the houses, the contents of those houses...everything not paid for in full, everything bought on credit. In a sense, this 'real world' we live in is itself an illusion. We pretend to own things that are not ours. We assume we'll have the wherewithal to pay for them in time... But we have no guarantee of time, or ability to pay.

And consider the things you do own. They are yours, paid for in full. But how long will they last? Planned obsolescence  is for real. It once meant merely "instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary." But manufacturers now actually design things to break in a designated time or to go out of style. It's good for the economy. It forces innovation. So nothing's even close to permanent. How is this the 'real world'.

Even 'real estate' and precious metal are hardly a secure place to sink your investments. Markets are fickle. And ultimately it's all going to burn (II Pet.2:7). It's all going to be shaken--houses and lands, possessions and position. It's temporary, as are these fragile bodies we inhabit. Everything that can be seen is temporary except the Word of God. Even the human soul is unseen.

Just because we live in this world and we can feel it and taste it and touch it, does that make it the 'real world'? We are shaped by it and subject to its impositions, for now. But not forever. We will outlast it with this part of us that is real--this part that has nothing to do with our beauty or brains, our abilities or authority. We will live on. This part of us is for real. How are we nurturing it, growing it strong to withstand the pressures of a very tangible world that would bombard our faith into oblivion?

John says that "Faith is the victory that overcomes the world."
I Jn.5:4,5

Believing that Jesus is the Son of the living God is its essence. If I'm going to live in a way that goes beyond mere mortal existence, I must believe and keep on believing that this living Son of God is my Savior in all the messy, disappointing, perplexing 'now's of life. Whatever I can do to strengthen that faith, (in myself and in others), to know God's heart and make it known, and to live by His eternal words and teach them to others—these things are investments in the real world that lasts beyond the grave.

The 'real world' we see has a pretense of being all that matters, but it fails to deliver anything truly lasting.  It’s not a worthy setting for our greatest dreams.

Faith holds promise for this life and the next. By faith we engage a culture gone awry. By faith we look at things not seen and we ask God to intervene in the things that are seen. By faith we follow God's directives and make a difference in the world. But hanging on to faith in the face of 'the real world' is a fight.

The Word of God is our sword, and prayer our means of combat. (Consider Ephesians 6)

I'm looking again at a book I read a few years back, called A Praying Life.
It is the most refreshing book on prayer I've ever seen. It spoke to me where I was at then, and it speaks to me now where I find myself heading again. It addresses the cynical heart.

See if it doesn't speak to you too: "Few of us have...courage to articulate the quiet cynicism or spiritual weariness that develops in us when heartfelt prayer goes unanswered. We keep our doubts hidden even from ourselves because we don't want to sound like bad Christians. No reason to add shame to our cynicism. So our hearts shut down.

The glib way people talk about prayer often reinforces our cynicism. We end our conversations with "I'll keep you in my prayers." We have a vocabulary of "prayer speak," including "I'll lift you up in prayer" and "I'll remember you in prayer." Many who use these phrases, including us, never get around to praying. Why? Because we don't think prayer makes much difference."14

The author goes on to elaborate on the actual frustrations faced in praying--the distractions, the wandering mind, the worrying it dredges up...and the confusion about what makes for a 'good prayer'. Shouldn't we spend some time worshiping first? When that feels contrived guilt sets in...Then we make a prayer list...this gets dull and cumbersome...

He concludes, "Praying exposes how self-preoccupied we are and uncovers our doubts. It was easier on our faith not to pray. After only a few minutes, our prayer is in shambles. Barely out of the starting gate, we collapse on the sidelines--cynical, guilty, and hopeless."15

I can relate. That's why I've picked this book back up again to set my feeble knees straight.

Last week I talked about the cynicism that portends to steel our hearts from hurt but then robs us of hope too. It paralyzes us from making any difference in a world at odds with our faith. This author gets it, he's obviously been where I am.

Can I offer you a run-through of the 'cures for cynicism' he has drawn from Jesus' life?

Be warm but wary

Be innocent as a dove but wise as a serpent. Christians aren't called to wear rose-colored glasses that obscure the ugliness of evil. But we are called to trust that God not only sees what we see, but He sees beyond it. As Christ hung obediently on the Cross He was mocked for his childlike trust in His Father..."He trusts in God; let God deliver him." Mt.27:43 His confidence seemed naive, foolish, useless. But like a dove he held His peace and was obedient to death. And evil did not have the last word. God delivered Him on Easter morning buying us a great redemption!

Learn to Hope Again

God is a God of hope. Jesus always brought hope to those whose lives He touched. Happy endings aren't just for the movies. But you’ve got to wait till the ending! Cynicism kills hope; God invites it. He will make all things new. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." Rom.15:13

Cultivate a Childlike Spirit

"The cure for cynicism is to become like a little child again." (86) Begin by simply asking for the help you need. Cry out for grace like a hungry child. When you cannot pray, cling to the Good Shepherd. Pray through Psalm 23 and look for the Shepherd in the midst of the darkness. Don't focus on the evil that surrounds you.

Cultivate a Thankful Spirit

Cynicism's stepchild is bitterness. Nothing undermines its power like thankfulness. "Cynicism looks reality in the face, calls it phony, and prides itself on its insight as it pulls back. Thanksgiving looks reality in the face and rejoices at God's care. It replaces a bitter spirit with a generous one." 90

Cultivate Repentance

"A significant source of cynicism is the fracture between my heart and my behavior. While purporting to "see through" others' facades, cynics lack purity of heart." 91  Repentance is the solution. Addressing my own heart issues, my own sin, with a humble heart will save me from the critical, negative stance of the cynic. Cultivating a lifestyle of repentance is my salvation.

Develop an Eye for Jesus

"Cynicism looks in the wrong direction. It looks for the cracks in Christianity instead of looking for the presence of Jesus. It is an orientation of the heart...A principal source of cynicism comes from looking up at Christian leaders who have gotten Jesus' kingdom mixed up with their own." 97

Instead, look lower. Humility makes people disappear. Look for these ones who quietly reflect the presence of Jesus in the small things.

"Instead of focusing on other people's lack of integrity, on their split personalities, we need to focus on how Jesus is reshaping the church to be more like himself. We need to view the body of Christ with grace."99

"Christians aren't superior [to unbelievers], but our Savior is. He makes the difference. He is alive and well in his church."99

-------------

I can see I need to get into this book again. It's easy to let my faith be overcome in the disconnect between reality and the things I'd hoped for. Then praying falters and doubt grows. I've been there lately.

I'd love for you to join me in reading A Praying Life. Do drop me a note and we'll compare notes as we go!  [For a more complete description, see my original book review at: A Few Good Books http://thestackofdawn.blogspot.com/2011/08/praying-lifemiller.html]

But whether you get to read this book or not, don't neglect to read the One that matters most--the eternal classic you can live by for eternity!

And as you read, by faith turn those words into prayer…

And keep believing!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGMrU-rT5L0

I believe He is the Christ, Son of the Living God!

--LS

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, with is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel...

===============

A Praying Life--Connecting with God in a Distracting World is by Paul E. Miller, published in 2009 by NavPress.

August 1, 2014

Keeping a soft heart in a hostile world…

Image by Violeta Dabija

It’s a big bad world out there for defenseless sheep. There are wolves in the woods. (There are even wolves in the sheep pen, posing as sheep!) Bad things happen without explanation or ‘just’ cause.  Good people become jaded and use positions of influence to serve their own ends…

If you look closely enough, everyone’s got a dark side, a hidden agenda, a selfish intent. They’re all out to make a buck, manipulate you, sell you something, or gain a following…At least that’s how it seems…

How do you safely keep a soft heart in such a place? It’s so tempting to become a cynic. You’re bound to be taken advantage of, have the wool pulled over your eyes, be found following a charlatan or be crushingly disappointed at some point, if you’re going to continue being just a helpless, hapless sheep, or so it seems…

Cynicism is a natural enough reaction.  Of course it’s not seen as a reaction at all.  We’d say we are discerning, smart, ‘in the know’, informed.  We’re just being critical thinkers, right?  Cynicism has the draw of gossip: “Did you hear…”  It numbers us with those who are aware of what’s really going on.  We become the elite--those honest and authentic souls always cued for a rant to set the record straight, especially at another’s expense.  Tearing down, exposing, critiquing…to what end?  It justifies our suspicions that noone is to be trusted.  And it hardens our hearts.

That’s what’s wrong with cynicism.  While it may keep you from being taken advantage of (you’ll have seen it coming), from being disappointed (you weren’t expecting much), and from being mistaken for a na├»ve optimist (no chance) cynicism has fierce side-effects.  The first hint of these is in the word’s derivation. The Greek means: “having the qualities of a surly dog; snarling; currish; austere.”  Our modern definition seems more noble: believing that people are motivated by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity.

This doesn’t sound like such a bad idea; after all, man is basically sinful by nature.  But the problem with a cynical heart is that it doesn’t stop at being doubtful of human goodness.  It doubts God’s goodness, His active presence in the world, and His ability to transform evil into good.  Evil looms larger than God.

We may safely doubt the motives of a man or a movement,  but when we doubt God’s good purposes  and His power to achieve them, we strike at the foundations of our faith. God is still looking for child-like faith. Not ignorance or gullibility.  Not belief in everything and everyone.  But a faith that is ready to believe HIM.  This is what pleases Him.  Trusting in God’s goodness is at the heart of a child-like faith that looks to its loving Father to do what is best, in every circumstance, for all eternity. This is the essence of a soft heart.

The trade-off for averting nasty surprises by fixating on what’s wrong in the world, is the loss of wonder and of joy. The cynic, claiming to live realistically, sees evil behind every bush (and pulpit) while being blinded to the goodness of God.

Trust and hope become luxuries he cannot afford, so why pray?

Without prayer, God seems distant, making evil appear even more prominent and powerful. 

How do we escape the spiraling whirlpool of cynicism and maintain a soft and trusting heart?

“Men ought always to pray and not to faint” Lk.18:1  I know this, but when I’m fainting, what then?  How do you keep praying when evil seems stifling, when your prayers seem to go unheard, and when life drags on in a ‘same old’ way with so little encouragement, so little evidence of God’s loving hand…What then?

How do I keep a soft and trusting heart and keep cynicism at bay when it slinks in and tempts me not to bother with praying?

I ask these questions not from mere theoretical curiosity. I’ve seen the inroads of cynicism, the damage it can do.  And I’ve felt its pull on my own heart lately.  It’s a temptation that grows with age and life experience. I have the one, my children are gaining the other. But I’m convinced this temptation to doubt and cynicism is one we’ve got to fight at any age.
But how? 

“Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

I’ve given this so much thought lately that I will have to save some fodder for next time.  But for now some basic starting points that have helped me keep my footing, so far…

A critical starting point in our fight against the lure of cynicism is to remember who we are, where we live and why!

Who we are…

Ultimately, (assuming we belong to Jesus), we are sheep, absolutely dependent on the Shepherd to direct and protect our paths, and to provide for us all that we will need to live for Him in a wolf-infested world among whom we appear as bait! (read Paul on this point! and see the Hebrews 11 crowd trotting about in sheepskins…Rom.8:36; Ps.44:22; Heb.11:38)We are the sheep of God’s pasture; it’s not all up to us to protect ourselves from hurt.

Where we live…

We live in enemy territory, in a region influenced heavily by the Evil One.  (That explains a lot!)  “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” I Jn.5:19

Just look around. Life gets very very messy lived outside of God’s design.  When man does what seems right in his own eyes, we’ve all seen (or lived out) the results. The brokenness that results in people’s lives is overwhelming to contemplate.  It can drag us down just looking on. It can make our hearts grow cold and hard. It all seems so hopeless. This was the way that seemed right short years ago.  Now behold the mess.

What to expect—Why are we here?

We’re not guaranteed a carefree passage through this world, unscathed by sin and suffering.  Though our aim is to live a life worthy of our Shepherd, reflecting His goodness as we traipse down the trail, we will sometimes fail.  So will those around us.  Offenses will come. Expect it.  But don’t let them take your eyes off the Shepherd. 

Sin and evil are no match for His goodness and grace. They only serve to magnify it!

Consider this.. Does all the wreckage in our lives not prove that only God’s ways are perfect?  God is always right.  He can and should be trusted with our life plan. 

When we’re done staring numbly at the mess, God is there, a strong Redeemer, ready and willing to pick up pieces, restore wasted years, and turn all for good. He waits only for us to turn to Him conceding ‘You are right. I was wrong. I want to do it your way’.  This is repentance.  This is the way to life.  This is the way of the soft heart. We can be more than conquerors because He has loved us (Rom.8:37) Sin need not have the final word.  It’s real. Evil’s rampant. Yet we can walk in this world, neither oblivious to it nor consumed by it--‘Wise as serpents, but innocent as doves’. Mt.10:16  And in so doing we begin to overcome it by reflecting how Good is our God’s design.

Another essential in the fight

To keep our hearts soft and believing beyond what we see, we must hold on to an absolute standard of truth.  Perhaps it goes without saying that we’ve got to hang onto God’s Word as our Guide in everything. But the world has long since jettisoned this anchor and the church is increasingly doubting its relevance for our times.  Human judgment inevitably takes its place and even writes out church policy that seems right for our times but will not take us where we mean to go.

“It seems to me” is not enough!

We must do war on “It seems to me”. Even our best judgments can be wrong.  Without God’s authoritative Word we are little lost sheep following our noses.   We do not see the cliff’s edge hidden in the hedge of hay.

People who’ve become disillusioned with evangelicalism, for instance, will tend to write off Scripture as an authoritative guide to right and wrong. It is nonsense to hold to The Bible as an inerrant and absolute standard, they protest.  We cannot know with certainty what God wants of us (or anything else!).  Black and white are read as  gray. And all that’s left is to resort to their own best judgment—“It seems to me”.  This is a slippery slope to endless deception.  It is the cynic’s playground. Not only are things not always as they seem, but most of life is actually unseen. Only God sees the end from the beginning, transcending all cultures and all times.  And He’s written the play book.  We must trust His Word. It’s the only reliable guide to live by. “It seems to me”  is not enough.

What does this look like in practical terms?

For me it means steeping my heart in the Bible from front to back, daily.  I’m still thriving on this year’s new reading plan of six or seven chapters a day, not as a rigid rule but as an incredible opportunity to see God’s heart from Genesis to Revelation, every day. 

Some days I don’t read.  I begin to lose perspective. Then  I come back to the Word and continue with David’s story of waiting on God to fulfill His good promises and crown him as king.  Running through years of fear and trouble in the mean time, but learning to encourage himself in the Lord. (I Sam.30:6) 

I read the psalmists floundering in hope: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God” (Ps.42:5)

I see the prophets pleading with people to turn back and experience God’s goodness or follow their hearts to death’s door.

I listen to Jesus—Come to me that you may have life.  I see his disciples sticking with their master when everyone is offended at his teaching. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn.6:68) 

And I’m admonished by Paul to  hold fast to the word of life; it makes us stand out in a crooked and twisted generation. (Phil. 2:15)

All this scope of God’s Words I see in a day, while I’m washing the dishes, or brushing my teeth, or catching some still moments, and I’m encouraged. It doesn’t take long, maybe half an hour.  It’s as easy as tapping a smart phone and pressing play.  Or finding my reading glasses and sitting down for a minute!

If you haven’t got a plan to read, start now.  My own plan is here; or scroll to the top of this post up and check out the Just Read It tab for other ideas. It’s always the right time to begin.  And do check out the audio bible option at esvbible.org.  [It couldn’t be simpler. Tap the Bible icon. Choose your chapter. Tap the play button.  And voila, it’s read to you, on your computer, your phone or your pad!]

The Word is our life line to hope and perspective.  It will grow your faith and shield you from the cynic’s mindset.  It is life! My heart may be quavering, things may look bad, but God is good, no matter what the cynics say, and His Word will stand.

When we live in it and walk in its truth we need not fear the Big Bad Wolf. Like the one wise pig in the tale of the three-some, we are secure in this house.  The Big Bad Wolf can huff and he can puff but he shan’t blow our house down. We have run to the right place!

--LS

‘Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone in whom all the building fitly framed together grows into a holy temple in the Lord: in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.’ Eph.2:19-22

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith…Eph.6:16

“For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called…For the Lord has called you…'with great compassion I will gather you…with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,’ says the Lord, your Redeemer.” Is.54:5-8