Sometimes I hear God best in surprises. Seemingly unrelated circumstances suddenly unite, and their merger stirs something in my heart. Like a succession of waves on a beach, one last surge dissolves my sandcastles.
This last month I talked with:
- A despairing man whose ministry seems stagnant, and all his work seem fruitless;
- Another man who keeps a tally in the front of his Bible of all the souls he helped save;
- A group of friends who mused on our all-absorbing attraction to superhero movies;
Each discussion hinted at some deep longing for significance, expressed in meaningful ministry, “souls I helped save,” or that desire to be superhero (ish) ourselves. Wanting a life that matters doesn’t contradict Scripture. We are made in God’s image, and he is the God of all glory.
And yet. Last week I read about the baptism of Jesus. A voice from heaven cries, “You are my beloved Son; I delight in you.” My first response (and probably my second and third) was: “That’s exactly what I want, to hear the Father say to me, ‘Well done. I am pleased with you.’”
Then a thought flashed through my mind: Is it possible to have as much joy when the Father affirms Jesus as I would have if He so affirmed me? Can I simply take joy in the joy of Jesus?
I’ve Been Looking in the Rear View Mirror
It’s a brand-new idea to me: of delighting so much in Jesus that his happiness overwhelms me, whatever happens in my own life. Familiar verses take on new meaning:
- Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart (Ps. 37:4). No longer to delight in God in order to get my “real” desire (a new house or better job), but that the desire of my heart is to see the Father overjoyed in Jesus.
- Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble, the Lord delivers him (Ps. 41:1). To enjoy the blessedness bestowed on Jesus that he considered the poor …
- The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth (Ps. 145:18). To rejoice in God’s nearness to Jesus who alone cried out to him with true purity.
My nature unconsciously looks to God to accomplish my own schemes: my ideas for happiness or a good name, or my plans for ministry or a retreat house. In John 15, Jesus says the branch that bears fruit abides in the vine. I find myself saying, “If I just do that, like abide a bit more, then I’ll get what I really want.
Which means my heart really abides in the fruit and not the vine.
God is inviting me to abide in him a new way: simply to delight when he is honored, whether I see results I want or not. Joy in him is undermining my sandcastles.
All It Took Was a Trip to Lowes
On an errand to Lowe’s hardware store, a phrase from an old John Newton poem snuck into my thoughts on fixing a furnace humidifier. I googled the phrase in the parking lot. In it, God speaks to Newton, and through Newton, God spoke to me:
These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may find thy all in Me.”
I keep thinking I need a home for retreats or to hear words of affirmation. Both fine things. I think, instead, God is breaking my “schemes of earthly joy,” all those fleeting castles of sand, because he is building a lasting home of unearthly joy.
There is a delight we can have simply in knowing him, in finding our “all” in him alone.
P. S. God often speaks to us in the moments we think he is silent. To nurture that conversational relationship with your Father, I suggest you read Hearing God in Conversation.
Hearing God in Conversation also makes a great Christmas present or stocking stuffer. Buy now and watch the video below.
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Sam, This hit hard this morning. Such a deep word in my heart. A Fathers affirmation. I tried to be the good boy as a child. I worked hard and became an Eagle Scout. It was to seek my fathers affirmation. He stood with me in the award ceremony. But he could not, he was not able, due to his brokenness aferm me.
Oh The afermation of Salvation. But once again I worked this time in the church for more. Do this, study this, go to this, over hear is a healing meeting still for afermatin here now but not quite.
What a uplifting it was to get a new name. How long and still years later it challenges my heart.
“Help me find my own flame”
Samuel C. Williamson
Yes, we all long for affirmation; and some of us received more as kids and some of us less. But we need more than earthly affirmation from earthly parents. We need the Father.
Think what delight the Son had when the Father delighted in Him! I wonder sometimes if I can take joy just for the sake of Jesus.
Thanks for sharing,
Do you know the old CMA hymn “Himself”?
Once it was the blessing, Now it is the Lord;
Once it was the feeling, Now it is His Word.
Once His gifts I wanted, Now the Giver own;
Once I sought for healing, Now Himself alone.
I am so bad at living the truth of these words, but I know deep down that there is no other option for deep, abiding peace and joy than to find it in Christ alone. And so I press on, “grow[ing] up in every way into him who is the head”.
Speaking of joy, here is the same verse with a contemporary spin! 🙂
Samuel C. Williamson
Some of the old hymns are filled with meaning, and this is one of them. The new spin is hilariously wonderful.
So easy to say, and yet so difficult for me to simply let go.
This is the third day in a row God has brought this message to me, in widely varying forums. It seems Aslan is on the move…
Samuel C. Williamson
“Aslan is on the move.” Great way to express God speaking in so many different ways.
This is a completely new level…I think this is what is meant in the Bible by not staying as infants who need milk, but growing and maturing in Christ:)
Samuel C. Williamson
Yes, I never thought of it that way.
I think we first come to God for the things he gives us (usually “help” out of a crisis); and finally we come to God for God himself.
Your teaching this week elicits different responses from different listeners; a hymn, a scripture Passage, a life event. In my case it’s a couple of passages from two of my literary luminaries, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien.
Toward the end of chapter 9 in Lewis’s book The Great Divorce, two artists are talking. One of them is a ghost from the gray town who came up on the bus ride. The other is a spirit who met him at the bus stop.
The ghost wants to get busy and start painting the scenery. The spirit tells him that the reason for painting in the first place was to show other people a glimpse of Heaven in the artwork, and here in heaven there’s no need for that. Everyone is surrounded by the glory of Heaven. It’s enough for the ghost merely to enjoy and acclimate himself to the scenery.
Then the ghost wants to get busy and meet other famous artists. The spirit tells him patiently that fame in heaven doesn’t work like it did on Earth. It is enough to be known by the Father in heaven for his glory and for one’s own sake.
The ghost is unenthusiastic with both these admonitions. He sighs aloud. “I suppose one must be content with one’s posterity on Earth.”
The spirit laughs aloud and informs him that they both have already been forgotten back on Earth. Their “fame” has already been eclipsed.
The ghost rises up angrily at this and promptly disappears, probably teleporting back to the grey town.
Tolkien’s short story Leaf by Niggle is sort of a out working of the same theme as Lewis’s anecdote in the aforementioned novel. The difference between Tolkien and Lewis is of course that the former is more implicit and nuanced in his portrayal of spiritual truths and the latter is more declarative and forthright.
Niggle is a painter and Parish is his neighbor. They both dwell in a country with peculiar laws regarding periods of compulsory servitude and fulfilling obligations to neighbors. Niggle fulfills his obligations with decided distaste but with sincere effort. He is kept from the work dear to his heart, the painting of his Great Tree.
Niggle’s stint in compulsory community service breaks his health and he is confined to complete rest. He begins to reflect that the duties he found so arduous like caring for his neighbor were not so hard as he thought. He begins to esteem Parish and even makes suggestions for assigning Parish to some locale more conducive to his health.
In fact they both are assigned to the same locale, after Niggle has been discharged from his convalescence. Their new locale looks much like their old one, except there is an unseen quality of transcendence in their surroundings. Niggle find the living version of his great tree, even more glorious than it was in his imagination, and the two of them embark for a train trip to an even more distant and glorious locale.
The story is far richer than my poor abbreviated version can indicate, and I have omitted much pertinent detail. Suffice to say that both Niggle and Parrish find that state of fulfillment that sadly alluded Lewis’s painter from the gray town.
Thanks for reminding me of “Leaf by Niggle”. Definitely time ti re-read that one.
Beliefs of the Heart
Hi R B,
Thanks for both of these stories. And they are both spot-on. I love both of them, and I had forgotten them.