If faith . . . is a sure persuasion of the truth of God which can neither lie nor deceive us and be neither vain nor false, those who have conceived this certainty surely expect likewise that God will accomplish his promises which, according to their conviction, cannot but be true. So that, in sum, hope is nothing else than the expectation of the things that faith has believed to be truly promised by God. Thus faith believes God to be truthful: Hope expects that he will show his veracity at the opportune time. Faith believes God to be our Father: Hope expects that he will always act as such toward us. Faith believes eternal life to be given us: Hope expects that it shall at some time be revealed. Faith is the foundation on which hope rests: Hope nourishes and maintains faith. For, just as no one can expect and hope anything from God, except he who will have first believed his promises, so, on the other hand, it is necessary that our feeble faith (lest it grow weary and fail) be sustained and kept by patient hope and expectation.

-- John Calvin


Becky says that people reading my posts over the last couple of weeks will think really terrible things are going on. I guess that’s the nature of travails unspecified. By not saying exactly what’s happening, I’m inviting people to imagine worse happenings than are actually present. That’s not my intent.
Some things I have shared – Becky’s wreck, job travails, church disillusionment, the dissolution of our friends’ marriage. And some things I will share – for instance, one thing I was sort of looking forward to as the light at the end of the tunnel developed this week into essentially a humongous boulder stuffed into the end of said tunnel – but cannot yet for a variety of reasons.

But mostly the things left unspecified are not specific things. How do you quantify emotions and spiritual conditions? I can’t point to x event, really, as the cause of y spiritual effect.
What’s going on seems bigger and yet less discernable than a sequence of events.

One thing I used to do in such times is the always popular “getting perspective.” No matter how bad a person has it, there’s always someone who has it worse. (Although I guess this means there is that one person in the world who indeed has it worse than everyone else. I’m saying a prayer for that person right now, because I’m assuming he’s on an excruciating deathbed surrounded by no one.) And certainly I can think of three people close to me right now who are in worse situations than I am. And there are millions more I don’t know personally.
So what I use to do when I was feeling down or fed up or picked on by God and/or the world is just think of that friend I know who’s just lost his job or who just gave birth to an ill baby. My issues are small potatoes compared to real trials and sufferings.

But for some reason this spiritually-approved schadenfraude hasn’t been a sustained help this time. Because getting perspective seems to work when comparing one event or trial to another event or trial, but you can compare and contrast all day long and still not make your doldrums go away. No matter how worse off people are than you, your stuff is yours. Perspective is great; but pretending your situation is nothing when it is indeed something is not a sustainable practice.

The real perspective I suppose I need to get is the realization that events and circumstances are just as transitory as the emotions and spiritual fluctuations they cause. What I mean is, as long as I’m looking for ________ to “fix” the stuff that is going on right now, I will be setting myself up for whatever happens after _________ to bring me back down again. In the landscape of life, it’s like expecting the top of the hill to redeem the valley you’ve just climbed out of. There’s still the other side of the hill to go down. And the whole thing is a desert anyway.
Better, instead, to look to the heavens.

That’s a lot of text. All I mean is: My hope and rest should be Jesus, not whatever good things happen after the bad things. Because the good things, while enjoyable and approved as blessings from God, don’t last.

Being positive and feeling good aren't the cures to being negative and feeling bad. Faith is. More accurately, Jesus is.
Emotions, no matter how strongly willed to the fore, don’t last. (Incidentally, this is why Osteen-Peale-esque positive thinking is a load of crap.)
My hope should be built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. All other ground, no matter how spiritual a spin you put on it, no matter how good it is, is sinking sand.

In the field of perspective, I also take comfort in knowing I’m not alone. I’m not the only one in the middle of the spiritual blahs. Maybe there is something larger at work, in my community, in the Church. A commenter at LeeAnn’s place mentioned the spiritual barometer being “down.” I take some comfort in knowing my friends are sharing the whine.

O God,
Thou hast taught me
that Christ has all fullness and so all plenitude of the Spirit,
that all fullness I lack in myself is in him . . .

-- “Fullness in Christ,” The Valley of Vision


The Way Down is the Way Up

I've begun reading The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. This is the titular prayer:
LORD, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

"Thy light in my darkness" sounds really good right now . . .


The Ministry of Art

To call . . . a man's rapture in great tragedy or exquisite music, by the same name, enjoyment, is little more than a pun. I still maintain that what enraptures and transports is always good.
-- C.S. Lewis, "Different Tastes in Literature"

Every morning shortly before ten o'clock, we turn off "Sesame Street" and turn on NPR and listen to the music for a couple of hours. This morning, I was sitting in my chair reading, and when I got to those lines in my edition of Lewis's "On Stories" and Other Essays, as if on cue, Tchaikovsky's "Waltz of the Flowers" from The Nutcracker Suite came on the stereo. I turned it up and closed my eyes.

I've heard this piece plenty of times (so have you, I guarantee it). Today it brought me to tears.
It is now at the top of a very short list of the highlights of my week.

Mere entertainment is a neutral good. But art that merely entertains cannot bring the transcendence and rapture good art can. It does not minister to a man's spirit like capital-g Good art does.


What he said.

I understand the practicality of "God will not give you more than you can bear." Physically, I'm able to do all the things God is requiring of me. Emotionally and spiritually, I'm not so sure.

What do you do when you are low, empty, and spiritually and emotionally parched, but so is the support system that previously lifted you up in such times?

Sometimes all you have is trust.
Why doesn't trust make you feel better?


An Edifying Challenge

"Be the Church. Be Christ to the grieving. No platitudes or generic memorized spiels that are easily dispensed to the hurting before you flit off to your next scheduled appointment, but real, bloody, messy care in the midst of someone else's ruin."

-- from Dan's latest post



Put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. -- Psalm 130.7 (NIV)
"It is the wholesome precept of our Lord and Master: 'He that endureth,' saith he, 'unto the end the same shall be saved.' We must endure and persevere, in order that, being admitted to the hope of truth and liberty, we may attain to the truth and liberty itself; for that very fact that we are Christians is the substance of faith and hope. For we are not following after present glory, but future, according to what Paul the apostle also warns us, and says, 'We are saved by hope; but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he hope for? But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we by patience wait for it.'
Therefore, waiting and patience are needful, that we may fulfill that which we have begun to be, and may receive that which we believe and hope for, according to God's own showing."
-- Cyprian

O LORD, sustain me according to your promise, and I will live; do not let my hopes be dashed. -- Psalm 119.116 (NIV)
"But wait in faith. Express your unstaggering confidence in him, for unfaithful, untrustful waiting is but an insult to the Lord. Believe that if he keeps you tarrying even till midnight, yet he will come at the right time; the vision will come and will not tarry."
-- Charles Spurgeon

This stuff is easy . . . to type. ;-)

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. -- Romans 12.12 (NIV)



If something is wrong and you want to make it right, doesn't it seem like God would allow you to do that? Why would God make getting out of a wrong situation or changing course from an errant one near impossible?
Why won't God honor someone's wanting to do the right thing?

These aren't hypotheticals . . .


Blessed are the Content

From Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan:
Now as they were going along and talking, they espied a boy feeding his father's sheep. The boy was in very mean clothes, but of a very fresh and well-favored countenance, and as he sat by himself he sang.

"Hark," said Mr. Greatheart, "to what the shepherd's boy saith."

So they hearkened, and he said:
"He that is down needs fear no fall, he that is low no pride:
He that is humble ever shall have God to be his guide.
I am content with what I have, little be it or much:
And, Lord, contentment still I crave, because thou savest such.
Fullness to such a burden is that go on pilgrimage:
Here little, and hereafter bliss, is best from age to age."

Then said their guide, "Do you hear him? I will dare to say that this boy lives a merrier life, and wears more of that herb called hearts-ease in his bosom, than he that is clad in silk and velvet."

From Jesus' Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Still as irrational, still as incomprehensible, still as radical today as it was 2,000 years ago. I just had the notion to tack the Beatitudes onto the end of this post, and I pulled them up online somewhat cavalierly. Just reading the words over again, for perhaps the thousandth time in my life, I felt a shock to my spirit. They still both comfort me and completely freak me out.


Real Contemplation

Today in my devotional (By Faith Alone, 365 readings from the writings of Martin Luther), I found this great (and challenging) bit from Luther on "contemplation":
Formerly, many people wrote and taught about the differences between contemplating God and serving him in the world. Some people, who had the best intentions, spent their whole lives searching for visions and revelations. Some of them even recorded all of their dreams. They expected to receive personal messages from God without using the Word of God. What else is this but trying to climb into heaven without using the ladder God has provided? They were being fooled by the devil's tricks.

If you want to contemplate, then contemplate the right way. Think about your baptism. Read the Bible. Listen to sermons on God's Word. Honor your father and mother. Help a needy neighbor. Don't hide in a corner like people who think their personal devotions will give them a place on God's lap. They believe that they can be close to God without Christ, without God's Word, and without the sacraments. These people consider living life and doing everyday work beneath them. I also thought that way until God freed me of my error. The idea of spending life in quiet contemplation is very appealing. Human reason enjoys dabbling in miraculous signs and supernatural matters that it cannot understand.

Don't let Satan trick you. Approach spiritual matters in a different way. The true contemplative life is to listen to God's Word and believe it. Like Paul, decide to "deal with only one subject -- Jesus Christ, who was crucified" (1 Cor. 2.2). Jesus, along with His Word, is the only worthwhile object of contemplation.