Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Compassionate Ministry

Compassion for others is really hard if you think you are deserving of something, or overly focused on yourself most of the time. Most of us probably struggle at least from time to time in the area of becoming inward.

I've actually been doing a lot of meditating on what it means to truly die to yourself, and live for Christ. Sometimes, the painful crushing of our lives is like the crushing of the root and leaves that bleeds the fragrant essential oils. Sometimes, the sweetest fragrance comes from the life fully surrendered, dead to oneself, and out comes the sweetest fruit. But what does that really look like? To die to yourself? (Gal. 2:20) To consider others esteemed higher than oneself? (Phil. 2:3)

In the book, the Way of the Heart, by Henri Nouwen, he talks about this idea of "Dying to one neighbor".

"To die to our neighbors means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and thus to become free to be compassionate. Compassion can never coexist with judgement because judgement creates the distance, the distinction, which prevents us from really being with each other."

It is hard to minister to someone, anyone really, when your heart is full of "yuk" toward them, their choices, or circumstances.  I love how he puts it on page 36:

"It is folly for a man who has a dead person in his house to leave him there and go weep over his neighbor's dead"

When you spend time in the "solitude" of your own "house" and weep for the dead inside, it leaves room to be compassionate toward others. Forgiveness for others only happens when we see the "plank" in our own eye. (Matthew 7:3)

Finally, one last quote from this section of the book...

"...solitude molds self-righteous people into gentle, caring, forgiving persons, who are so deeply convinced of their own sinfulness and so fully aware of God's even greater mercy that their life itself becomes ministry. In such a ministry there is hardly any difference left between doing and being."

Father, nurture my heart, and tend to my garden, the garden of my soul on the inside, like Anthony, and the desert fathers, let my heart be cultivated in the secret place on the inside. Amen.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Furnace of Transformation

In my last post, I talked about dealing with the conditions of our heart, using anger as an example. Cultivating our hearts in love is the thing. The working of the inward parts is this furnace, it is no wonder we in the Western World are so easily distracted and continually inventing new ways to distract ourselves, because who really enjoys working at the heart? It is the hardest work, it is costly.

In the Book, The Way of the Heart, in the section called, "The Furnace of Transformation", the author addresses the compulsions of the world and the remedy for protecting our hearts from getting caught up in them- solitude. Solitude means many things to people, but here, the author clearly expresses the secret place with the Lord, as the place where we cultivate "solitude". Speaking of some famous Saints, he says:

"For them, solitude is not a private therapeutic place. Rather, it is a place of conversion, the place where the old self dies and the new self is born, the place where the new man and the new woman occurs."(pg. 27)

The place of solitude is taking time away, no phone, no distractions, just you and God. Mother Theresa had suggested and hour a day in adoration of God to be alright, but how many of us are completely alone with God without any distractions for an hour a day? That doesn't even seem like a lot, but it is so necessary to get alone, really alone with God.

A couple years ago I took my first solo retreat. I was away from my family three days and two nights to be alone with God. I experienced many of the things this author described: wicked thoughts, disturbing dreams, and I didn't feel the presence of God. It was a great working out of my own soul. No one would want to live in that wilderness for 20 years, but if we could take an hour a day and chisel off the worlds attachments to our souls, I believe we as a people of God, would be closer to God and less attached to worldliness.

"We have, indeed, to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw everyday, shake off our compulsions, and dwell in the gentle healing presence of our Lord'...'with such a spiritual abode, we will become increasingly conformed to Him in whose Name we minister." (pg. 30-31)

Finally, I agree with the author, that solitude is not a means to an end, but a discipline that continually fashions us to become more and more like Christ. I long for my next block of time alone with Him, how about you?

Father, I pray you would help me to look at my schedule with creative eyes and get more solitude time with You alone. You are my source, and I desire my heart to be conformed to Yours, in the Name of Jesus Christ my Lord, amen.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Way of the Heart

Have you read The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen? I just finished it and I am now reading it again. I want to highlight a few things from this book and hopefully, through some discussion, do some digesting.

 To get a quick context, the book is talking about Desert Fathers and Mothers, these are those who gave their lives fully devoted to the Lord as monks and such, hidden away, without an audience, for the majority of their ministry. These Father and Mothers discovered truths about God that can only be learned in solitude and the wilderness of working out your salvation. I really enjoy hearing saints share what they have discovered about God after they've spent a whole lifetime with Him. Truly it enlightens me, as I have just eighteen years with the Lord to date.

The first issue this book brought up for me begins at the end of page 23, under the section entitled, 'The Compulsive Minister".

"Anger in particular seems close to a professional vice in the contemporary ministry. Pastors are angry at their leaders for not leading and at their followers for not following. They are angry at those who do not come to church for not coming and angry at those who do come for coming without enthusiasm. They are angry at their families, who make them feel guilty, and angry at themselves for not being who they want to be..."

He goes on to talk about how Saint Anthony and his fellow monks, dilemma of being faced with the compulsions of the world and not wanting to allow it to cause them to turn bitter and angry is what led them to flee to the desert.  I have certainly desired at times to flee to the desert! I can relate! However, this book is suggesting that there is a way to get the connection with God that these men and women found in utter solitude, right here in our modern Christianity.

What I have been digging into in my heart is pretty raw to share actually, but it is really important for me to examine it and digest it in the context. The emotion 'anger' in itself is not bad or wrong. It is a preliminary emotion that requests a response. I have anger rise inside me all the time. For example, one of my children, I am not sure who, has taken my hairbrush. I am in the shower trying to brush out my hair, my brush is no where in reach. I decide to go without it, and after I'm dressed find one. I can't find one in my room or in the kids bathroom. I ask everyone in the house, "do we have a brush I can use anywhere?" Everyone says they cannot find one. As the anger rises, my husband brings me, not my daughters brush, but my brush which he found in her room!!! Deep breath.

In this moment I am angry. What am I angry about? I am angry that my bathroom was not respected and my things were removed from it. I am angry that my daughter didn't see well enough to find it for me, so she made her Dad find it. I am angry that I am not a better parent who taught her eleven year old how to respect her property and find things with two open eyes. I could go on and on. The anger really isn't the problem... yet. No, my problem is if I boil over a couple things could possibly happen. I could start yelling at everyone for how disrespected I feel. I could also start pointing out all the wrong things in everybody and why they make me mad. (Both bad responses so far) Or I could, which I usually do, thank my husband up and down for how much he cares about me to step in and save me from my dilemma.

I don't chose the right response all the time, but what I am trying to do is run away to the desert in my heart for the moments in between the anger coming to my heart and the response of it. Closing my eyes, looking inside my Spirit man, and saying, "Jesus, help me right now." That's all. Seriously, thats where its at. I have not figured anything magical out other than this:

  1. God made me a human (rather than an angel or other species)
  2. God gave humans emotions
  3. Emotions can cause us to act good and bad
  4. I need to practice using my emotions to act good.
Does that sound deep to you? Man. It's so deep, we dig right past it. 

Dear Jesus, I plead for Your mercy once again, and Your loving kindness. May the same love you have for me dwell inside this heart of mine and may I love others with it. In Jesus name. Amen.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Facing Your Affections

When we fast, we are constantly reminded on how having this skin on keeps us a slave to the human world. Do I even see these things when I am not fasting?

It's day one, and I'm constantly reminded of my human frailty. My eyes, are hungering to be entertained. Normally, I don't even like to watch movies or T.V. shows, but when I am setting my eyes apart, my eyes begin to hunger... "feed me", they say.

I normally have a pretty healthy diet, of course except for the sweets I haven't been able to kick... but here I am, in such early stages of my fast, thinking about food, almost non-stop. Do I always think about food? I don't think this is something I normally struggle with. In fact, I have been guilty of forgetting to eat and getting in trouble with the Mr. for not eating my regular meals! But here I am, my brain is telling my mouth to be controlled by my stomach! My eyes, my ears, my stomach, crying out, "feed me"! 

"You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections."                         - 2 Corinthians 6:12

Ouch! You mean this is the real me? It's hard to allow the thoughts, emotions, and desires to come out of you and stare them in the face and say, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!" Rather, we stuff our face, our eyes, with anything and everything to dumb us, to numb us, and to help us get our mind on something else. The problem isn't that we are selfish, constantly thinking about ourselves, it's that we are fully controlled by our flesh, thinking about anything and everything we can to get our minds off of dealing with ourselves! If we truly were concerned with ourselves, we would find ourselves like Paul, just a few verses earlier- in distress, sleepless, and unable to eat at all!

If this is heavy, I apologize, it is truth in my Spirit right now, and I pray that the Body of Christ can truly step out of herself, and step into the fullness of the body, worthy of Christ the head. If you are feeling this little message hit your heart, join with me and pray this prayer of surrender below.


Dearest Father of Glory, as I embark on this first fast of 2012, I ask for grace. Grace to chew on the Word, slowly. To enjoy every step of the process as I look inside my own heart and deal with my own weakness and depravity. As I mourn for my lack and distance from the glory I desire to walk in, may my tears of sorrow sow in the soil of prayer to bring about a great fruitful harvest of righteousness. Oh how I want to represent You, Jesus, and love You well. I lay down my own affections today, and declare that my affections are the same as my Father.  My Lord, I partner with Your heart, Your will, Your desires. In the Sovereign name of Jesus I pray, Amen.


Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year Fast and Feast

This new year, like many, I am sitting reflecting what things I want to see more of in my life, and less of. Every January we do a fast, as a family, but this year, I really felt the Lord impress my heart not to just fast, but to feast. Instead of focusing on what I am going without, I want to focus on what I am filling myself with instead.

They say it takes 28 days to make or break a habit, well what if this fast starts a habit? A habit for health, devotion, and my heart life? Hmmm, I think we are on to something here...

In 2012 I am going to STOP and smell the roses.

In 2012 I am going to LOOK at people in the eyes with compassion.

In 2012 I am going to LAUGH more, a lot more.

In 2012 I am going to ASK God for Divine Encounters and Surprises, and make room for them!

Over the next 28 days, while I am fasting, I am going to be going through this devotional along with a few friends, called 90 Days with the One and Only. In addition to that, I am meditating on the Sermon on the Mount 8 Beatitudes each day.

What are some additions to your life you are going after? Do you have your Bible Study Action Plan laid out for 2012? Or for January? I just want to encourage you to have a plan. Even if you don't keep it 100% of the time, just laying it out and having a goal makes such a huge difference!

Happy New Year!
- gina