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 God's standards of morality seem hopelessly out of date.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."
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
"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!
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.