Wednesday, January 23

Bitter heart, realistic joy.....

"Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy." Proverbs 14:10 NIV

Sorrow is no stranger to my life, whether self-induced or at the hands of other people. I have known great heights of experience; the 'human' condition at its finest (or rather what I thought was the good side of humanity). But no one told me that I would also know the great despairing depths of darkness. As my complaint has been lately in this valley of dark evil, I haven't been asked to come here and I wouldn't have chosen to do so. But I wasn't ASKED. And if you would've told me that Christianity isn't a exciting and joyful guarantee, I probably would've told you to get out of my face.

That abundant life Jesus promises has been misrepresented and misused in the Church today. Promises of joy on earth only if we believe and only if we turn that 'stinking thinking' into 'name and claim' realization will we become mature Christians. After all, the best dressed who show up in fancy new vehicles to the modern, 7000 seat auditorium to hear the latest utterings from the dynamic buddy who adorns the concert quality stage….they are the ones who get it, right? And the rest of us are left to spin out of control until we can tame our thoughts and subject our will to the power of positive thinking. How many times in your Church have they asked for the sad, distressing, and uncomfortable moments we go through rather than a 'praise' report of comfort and commitment to the Christian cause?

Dr. Larry Crabb, in his book INSIDE OUT, asks a very logical and direct question; If Jesus promises springs of living water, why do many Christians have the wrong view of real joy and abundant living? Why do the Churches preach the 'have it now' lifestyle? "Christ promises," Crabb states in chapters five and six of his book, "to do something about the core desires of our soul."

We each are designed from a basic template; though unique in our 'full dress' mode, we each have basic commonality that we share as designed and cherished children of God. The most basic and profoundly ignored part of our humanity, that part which gives us the Creator's imprint, is those longings that—as Dr. Crabb puts it, "must be met if life is to be worth living…….crucial longings." God designed us to be in relationship, to Him and each other, but since the Fall we have desperately tried to ignore that relational need. And, if we are honest with ourselves, there is nothing in this world---friends, work, exciting things, or even our spouses, that will fill that crucial longing. Something is wrong with everything is the declaration Dr. Crabb made in the last post I wrote on this book. And all our attempts to fix fail.

"Critical longings," Dr. Crabb points out, "[are] the legitimate and important desires for quality relationships that add immeasurably to the enjoyment of living." These longings bring us closer to the design intent. But we not only have those critical longings, we also have what is labeled by Crabb as 'casual longings' that tend to 'fill in' the cracks of our life. These casual longings range from hopes of a good movie experience to the more weighty issues of health and longevity. But how to tell the difference, one might ask. Too often, we used our feelings to define the value of the longing. And with the 'whatever fits' church mentality, how can we understand this concept?

Simple. Although the experience might cause severe and excruciating discomfort, nothing that is core to my 'existence as a person' is threatened. Dr. Crabb distinguishes this further in pointing out that even the possibility of death is a 'casual' longing because it threatens our physical existence and not the personal—core to the Christian belief. But when we face those critical longings, the ones that show us the Creator's design, we feel deep sorrow, what Crabb calls a "immobilizing lostness", that robs us of the desire or energy to continue. We have all experienced this feeling, it is what caused us to seek out more than what the world presented us……to seek God.

It was when we acknowledge the existence of unfulfilled expectations in our circumstances and relationships with others, we realize that Christ's promise of living water can only fulfill our thirst. We enter into the timid beginnings of relationship with a God that has created us with that intent. But then the Church fails us; giving us the doctrine of being fully into God means that we will be happy and joyful, being rewarded with blessings untold. We will be able to ignore the disappointing reality of a world gone wrong because God will cause the blessings to flow into us and our lives. Happy relationships, happy work, happy friendships, and financial enjoyment are all ours to have….if we are fully in God, the Church has offered.

Mature Christians can realize how things should be, in accordance with the Creator's original plan, and how despairingly different they really are. This inevitable distress of a world gone mad, that manifests itself—according to Dr. Crabb—in relational disappointments and even sometimes physical suffering, causes those who truly seek God to thirst all the more for the goodness of God despite the removal of unrealistic joy. They realize that the professed desire to live comfortably internally and externally are not fulfilling but that living to know God fully is the only choice that makes sense.

God becomes our critical longing, not through fervent prayer, commitment to the cause, or even driven service within ministries. By embracing the reality of our deepest hurts and disappointments in the unfulfillable expectations of our lives, we draw closer to that fulfillment of the God-designed thirst in a deep and embracing trust in Christ. The path to this realization brings to light another truth Christ speaks, where those who wish to save their lives will actually lose it and those who lose their lives for Christ will actually gain it. It is this reality, Dr. Crabb points out, that shows how far off course humanity actually is.

The realization that we cannot find true fulfillment in another fallen, broken human being causes us to fulfill another commandment Christ has left us, to love one another unconditionally. It is freeing ourselves from the unrealistic perfection expectation of others that causes us to be capable of loving in Christ-like fashion. As Crabb puts it, "Overlooking one's faults is a different matter than pretending they don't have any." Turning our focus from our own longings to another's causes us to embrace the longings unfulfillable in our lives and move beyond self-preservation. We die to ourselves. And it is that movement, to please God in keeping His commandments for us that causes us to ignore the self-motivating desire to relieve our distresses. We realize an accepting love of others that is unreliant upon our self-preservation reaction and reach towards them with a love that is unchanged by the disappointments that all of us cause in our humanistic expectation of perfection.

Because we learn to HOPE.

Hope of a reality that we were designed for and will achieve again when we are restored to our place in Creation. Hope that the seemingly permanent and painful experiences of a world gone mad is not the permanent future we face as children of God. Hope that our thirst will be satisfied.

Then we are free of the enslavement of the devil's deceit and capable of Godly love towards others. We are more passionate and less 'legalistic' in our pursuit of a God who wants our personal relationship with Him. And it is this image of passionate pursuit of the Bridegroom of His Bride that draws others to question the longings unfilled in their own souls.

As Solomon said in the Proverbs….the heart knows its own bitterness and no one else can taste its joy.

That is what the book INSIDE OUT said to me in the chapters 5 and 6 of my study. I hope that it speaks to you and you read along.

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