Wrestling with God for Life

{written for The Morning Center blog: https://www.morningcenter.org/blog/wrestling-god-life}

My five year old son, Jeremiah, has a new hobby: knights and castle play. We’ve been reading “The Story of King Arthur and his Knights.” The first book ends with the motto of the Round Table: “We, the Knights of the Round Table, will be gentle unto the weak, courageous unto the strong, and terrible unto the wicked. We shall defend the helpless, hold all women as sacred, be merciful to all men, and defend and support each other until the end.

I’ll admit, the phrase: “hold all women as sacred” really caught my eye!  That is something I truly want impressed upon Jeremiah’s heart, but even more so, the truth that all of life is sacred.

It almost goes without saying that the Christian community holds to the value of “sanctity of life” and yet, I fear, without much thought. As Jacob wrestled with God, and in the wrestling held on tightly to Him, I believe that in order for our conviction of “sanctity of life” to have real depth, tenacity, and outward effect in our lives, there needs to be a true wrestling in the heart of each follower of Jesus.

When is the last time you came away from prayer limping?

In his book “Adopted for Life”, Russel Moore discusses spiritual warfare and Planned Parenthood. He argues that Satanic powers “rage against the babies and children” who reflect the image of God. He quotes Proverbs 8:36: “All who hate me love death,” and goes on to say, “Satan always uses human passions to bring about his purposes. When new life stands in the way of power [or selfish ambition]… the blood of children often flows. Herod loved his power; so he raged against babies… It’s easy to shake our heads in disgust at Pharoah or Herod or Planned Parenthood. It’s not as easy to see the ways in which we ourselves often have a Pharoah-like view of children rather than a Christlike view. What God calls blessing, we often grumble at as a curse- for the same reason those old kings did, because they disrupt our life plans.”

Let us pray boldly and sincerely:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me. ~ Psalm 139:23-24a

My suspicion is that the painful, Jacob-style of wrestling with God is absent and a dull sense of complacency has taken root, in part, because we do not speak into each other’s lives with insight and truth. In a social media world where we are all hungry for the affirmation of the “like” we live in a people-pleasing culture.

You may not actually be sacrificing babies to Molech, but your heart has grown hard and cold to life in some arena. Where has your heart turned from desire? From beauty? From delight? Do you waste the glory of your life in numbing-dissociative addictions?  

The famous puritan John Owen wrote, in his book The Mortification of Sin, that a sincere fight against sin must be universal: “We must not be concerned only with that which troubles us, but with all that troubles God… If we will do anything, we must do everything. (2 Cor. 7:1) So then, our need is not only an intense opposition to this or that particular lust, but a universal humble frame and temper of heart that watches over every evil…” (The Mortification of Sin, John Owen and abridged by Richard Rushing).

The Sanctity of Life movement must have this same universal principle behind it. We must seek fullness of life in every corner of our own lives and world which we inhabit and seek to bring down all forces of death.

Dan Allender once said that we would have much more clarity if we take out the false sense of neutrality: If something is not love, then it is hate; if something is not life-giving and affirming, then it is of darkness and a herald of death.

The Serpent wooed Eve into an agreement with Evil as she assented to his lies. All the while she was completely unaware. Let us not think too highly of ourselves for we are not unlike Eve. Without any awareness we too have made agreements with the lies of Evil.

We need a jarring voice to awaken us and invite us into painful reflection.

May this question be a holy disruption in your life:

Have you broken your covenant (or agreement) with death?

Here is the jarring voice of Jesus: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” ~ Matthew 16:25

We need to renounce the empty ways in which we search for life that are truly Satan’s façade that will destroy.

For my people have committed two evils:

they have forsaken me,

the fountain of living waters,

and hewed out cisterns for themselves,

broken cisterns that can hold no water. ~ Jeremiah 2:13

Only through repentance can we turn to Jesus afresh and let him lead us to life-abundant.

Then you will hear the voice of Jesus inviting you to fight for life and embody His mission in the unique realm he has called you to:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,

because the LORD has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor;[fn]

he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…” ~ Isaiah 61:1

 

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

~ Mary Oliver, The Summer Day

Fight on Your Knees

John Eldredge has a “daily prayer” on his Ransomed Heart website that I *highly* recommend.

https://www.ransomedheart.com/prayer/daily-prayer

This is my favorite section:

Dearest God, holy and victorious Trinity, you alone are worthy of all my worship, my heart’s devotion, all my praise, all my trust, and all the glory of my life. I love you, I worship you, I give myself over to you in my heart’s search for life. You alone are Life, and you have become my life. I renounce all other gods, every idol, and I give to you, God, the place in my heart and in my life that you truly deserve. This is all about you, and not about me. You are the Hero of this story, and I belong to you. I ask your forgiveness for my every sin. Search me, know me, and reveal to me where you are working in my life, and grant to me the grace of your healing and deliverance and a deep and true repentance.

I usually start by repeating the written prayer out loud and pause often to interrupt with my own thoughts, pleas, and praises to the Lord. I love this as a guide because it is *filled* with Scripture and radically focused on truth. It focuses my mind and heart on what is true about God and what is true about myself. In this way the entire prayer IS spiritual warfare: fighting against the lies and accusations that Evil uses to plant unbelief in my heart and mind.

I love that it guides me in repentance every single morning. Repentance is the only way to have more of Jesus. If you desire to be near to him, to hear his voice, to feel his presence and love, it will only come through the brokenness and humility of repentance.

I ask your forgiveness for my every sin. Search me, know me, and reveal to me where you are working in my life, and grant to me the grace of your healing and deliverance and a deep and true repentance.

Let us be a people who love repentance… this is a battle that we must fight on our knees.

Is your life characterized by a love of repentance?

Is your church a community of people who love repentance?

Acts 11:18- “… God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Psalm 51:17- My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

Isaiah 66:2- “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”

 

 

Storytelling: “Restless in Chicago”

I’d like to welcome *you* into my home. Will you join me?

I’m hosting a brunch with women gathered around my breakfast table. The theme is “Rest” and I’m going to tell a story.

Storytelling: “Restless in Chicago”

It was a beautiful summer night on our little street, over-looking the Chicago River. Our building was a quiet refuge in the city. There was a cozy neighborhood feel of safety in being tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Michigan Avenue- just around the corner.

Despite that safety, my heart didn’t feel safe and the journey to refuge was an all-out war.

I have no idea how the turmoil within my heart began on this particular night. I must have felt an offense from my husband; somehow I felt that he wasn’t loving me. This “unloved” experience always came with a sensation of being 11 years old inside. Adult Catherine *was safe and loved* but it was 11 year old Catherine that felt neither and it was her little heart that needed comfort.

It must have been this “11 year old Catherine” inside my adult mind that got angry in response to feeling unloved, ignored, and unwanted. (In fact, it was an inner “little Catherine” that used to ask my husband, Ryan, almost every single day, “Do you love me? …Why? …How do I know? …It wasn’t until I realized years later that these questions were never for him, that my inner little girl was finally quieted and the questions ceased. But that’s another story.)

On this late night, the wounded 11 year old girl inside of me was stomping through the house, and my mind was filled with exhaustion, adrenaline and resolve to leave. As I was lacing up my shoes, my husband, Ryan, sat down on the bed next to me, and said, “You can go if you need to, but let me get you a hotel. And I’ll make you a deal: for every hour that you stay, I’ll upgrade your hotel. And if you stay until midnight, and you still decide to leave, I’ll get you the “W” Hotel.”

A gleeful smile and delighted laughter broke through my anger and tears.

It was a brilliant display of love, humor, and giving of freedom that was enough to melt my heart.

He put his arm around me and I began to sob- full-body sobs, reaching deep down into young Catherine’s heart. He guided me to lay down, and then rubbed my back. He listened to how hurt I had felt, and he apologized. I apologized too.

Ryan prayed over me as he rubbed my back and I fell into a deep and deeply *restful* sleep.

God’s Gift to us is Rest

I once heard Dan Allender say that we each have a war with rest, and this is our war with faith. Now I understand this truth in my experience.

Through the praying, writing, and sharing of this story God began to open my heart to see that my “war with rest” is correlated to “little Catherine’s” struggle in the past. God showed me a young part of my heart that He wanted to heal.

I found several “rest correlations” in my story: 1) Rest and relationship; 2) Rest and being seen and heard; 3) Rest and receiving; 4) Rest and our physical bodies; 5) Rest and repentance and 6) Rest and unconditional love.

I came to a tenacious conviction that “true rest comes *only* through communion: communion with God and with others in a context of unconditional love.”

My story illustrates that this true communion comes through a battle.

I hope you can see that this is your story too. For each person, rest comes through a fight. If you do not find true rest in your life perhaps it’s because you’ve never engaged the war.

Rest, through communion with Himself, is God’s desire and gift to us.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. ~ Matthew 11:28

Past and Present Converge in War

The battle surfaces and rages because there is an Enemy who does not want us to come to Jesus for rest. Our own nature also resists the coming that involves repentance and receiving.

Isaiah 30:15

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,

“In repentance and rest you shall be saved;

in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

But you were unwilling…”

Are you familiar with the part of your heart that resists rest- that is “unwilling” to come to Jesus? What is your *war* with rest? What does it actually look like in real time and what does it feel like in your body? How can you begin to actually fight this war *for rest*?

We live in a sin-torn world where Evil reigns, if only for its allotted time. Evil wars against life, against communion, and against love… and therefore, against rest; and against us coming to Jesus, where ultimate rest is found. How does Evil wage this war and what are the weapons? Evil always weaves lies in such a crafty manner such that the lies seem to be truth to the very core of our being.

“You will only find rest in solitude.”  Evil whispered this lie in my ear from an early age.

Young 11 year old Catherine desired to be seen and heard, yet she lived in silence, and no rest came. The only “rest” she knew was time alone, with her bedroom door locked shut. However, the “rest” itself was a lie; an illusion. It may have been an escape from the reality outside the bedroom door, and at the time she had no experience of true rest, so how did she even know what rest was? The illusion of rest came through self-destruction. It was behind this locked door that she began to slice her skin open with a knife. Was it through the red, salty blood that “rest” came?

The Battle Won

We can either continue on our own path, which is really no rest at all but only an escape that leads to hurt and destruction or we can follow God’s way to true and lasting rest.

In my teen years, I began to settle in rest when God opened my eyes to the fact that Jesus had died on the cross for me. I had known and believed this since I was a little girl, but as a teenager it became personal to my own struggle.

It was healing balm for my raw heart to know that God saw the worst in me and saw all the things I hated about myself but still loved me: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

His blood paid for all my sin, therefore, I didn’t have to make myself bleed anymore. I found rest in God’s unconditional love for me through Jesus.

My heart found rest and joy in communion with Jesus. Spending time with Him in prayer and Scripture was my delight, and my heart was full.  This was abundant life that I had not known through the false rest of escape.

A Paradox: The Battle is Won yet Keep Fighting

The book of Hebrews sets forth a paradox: we work to rest.

“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience {unbelief}.” ~ Hebrews 4:11

Jesus was the final sacrifice and offering for sin; therefore, we can accept his gift,  and cease from our own labor of earning merit before God. Through the sacrifice of Jesus in our place, we are reconciled and accepted before God.

Jesus has done all the work on our behalf; now it is our lot to rest in the acceptance Jesus has purchased for us by his own blood, and yet we need to fight to experience in our daily lives the rest he has secured for us eternally.

The fight is to keep coming to Jesus continually and to keep trusting that we are indeed forgiven, loved and accepted by God. The fight is to believe this in every moment of every day.  In my story above, the lie that I was unloved and a second lie offering isolation as a solution both threatened to steal my experience of rest.

In this life we never arrive at perfection, or wholeness or fullness of healing. God always has more for us: more healing, more freedom, more rest. In order to continue into “more” we must say “yes” and follow Jesus as he invites us into exploring our stories, and therefore our hearts and minds.

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. ~ Psalm 139:23-24

Each story contains insight as to how Evil has woven lies that we’ve unwittingly or wittingly agreed with. New insight invites us to repent of ways we’ve attempted to find life, healing, or solace apart from God.

In the aftermath of my story work, repentance involved renouncing and turning from the lies that promised safety through escape in solitude, instead of in Jesus. In repentance I turn more fully to Jesus as THE source of life.

Evil still comes to me and whispers the lie of “rest in solitude.”

The settings and circumstances may be very different. Instead of a late night drama, it can be a joyful family afternoon.

I might be out rollerblading with my family in our drive way and suddenly a guttural need to flee will arise. I will find an excuse to go inside and be alone. I was never aware of this pattern until I did this story work. Now can I recognize and name the excuse; previously, the reason to leave felt like a true need.

Now I can hear the invitation of Jesus through Ryan’s gentle voice urging me to stay; telling 11 year old Catherine, “it’s safe, you’re loved and welcome here. You belong with us.”

I am waging war against Evil.

I keep my roller blades on and skate a little longer.

I am staying in communion.

 

are you having fun yet??

In my last blog entry I wrote about the idea of Hope being a journey, and the idea that true hope comes through the *resurrection*. In this post, I want to explore the journey in more detail… The general outline below is based on a chart from Dr. Allender’s Trauma Care conference.(if you’d like a full copy let me know!!)

Dr. Allender opened the conference by describing each of our lives as a story. We were created by GOD- Elohim. We were *written* by God. Psalm 139:16 says, “your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” 

Therefore, God is Author and God is also *Authority*… He drops us into a story, without explanation, and we cannot demand one of Him… Our stories are not ours alone- they *belong* to the Author. Our stories are eternally important… each meant to uniquely show forth the Story of God. Therefore, *your* story is worth exploring, knowing, and making available to the Kingdom of God.

Dr. Allender outlined four parts to each story (although some stories may never progress out of part three, tragically).

1) Shalom .  This is a stage of innocence… peace… and *hope*… where goodness and kindness where known.

2) Shalom Shattered.  This is where peace is disrupted, and tragedy enters.

3) Shalom Sought. Dr. Allender explained, this is where we live in the midst of being “East of Eden”- and trying to find our way back home. But the doorway is blocked by two Angels with swords of fire… this reminds us that the way home will be a different route. But in this stage of the story, we are trying to get back “home” on our own efforts, we are trying to rescue ourselves… thus, the more we seek, the more we loose… and as Dr. Allender says, “here the story thickens and the plot develops.”

4) Shalom Restored.  This is the “denouement” (Ryan and i always look at each other and laugh when we’re listening to Dan Allender and he uses words like “denouement”… this would be a classic example!!… If you’re like me and never heard this word before, it means “to loosen”… and is “the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved.” )

This is where GOD comes in and rescues. Jehovah Goelekh (Isaiah 49:26&60:16) – The LORD Thy Redeemer.

Each person’s life will have an overarching story, but within that countless smaller stories in which we will move in and out of these stages.

Following the above outline, the storyline of Hope goes like this:

1) Hope.  Characterized in the most basic sense of dreams and desires.

2) Disillusionment & Powerlessness (Hope shattered). I think that when tragedy enters and people experience a shattering of hope, very often they are unaware of their deeper feelings and connections with behaviors or reactions, and very much unable to piece together underlying motivations and have the ability to articulate them… So as you read in this section and the next, it may be a stretch of your thoughts… but please bare with me ;o)

Here in the disillusionment and powerlessness is the feeling of being made a *fool*. After the shattering, the former dreams and desires seem foolish. Some common reactions of the human heart would be cynicism, addictions- as an escape from the risk of hope, and seeking a sense of power through indifference – “if i can’t control the future then i will not care what happens.”

3) “Stranger” & Anger.  Here is where we try to rescue ourselves from this sense of disillusionment, powerlessness and foolishness. The cynicism can morph further into anger, bitterness, and revenge… and in all these, our hearts are closed off to other people, and in some measure to God. There is a vow ( made consciously or unconsciously) that “no one will get to my heart.”

4) Hope Restored= True Hope–> becomes Prophet.  This again is where GOD comes in and rescues us… Here *Hope* is restored through God’s promises… and primarily of the resurrection.  The “Denouement” is where Hope finds it’s solid ground in the Resurrection of Jesus, for there on the cross He defeated sin and death.

Isaiah 25:8~ he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.

Romans 8 (selections)~  Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death... The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace;  And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you…  Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

This confidence in the resurrection, leading to eternal glory gives us TRUE HOPE!!!

True Hope will produce ***AWE*** … which is another word for worship. We will also have confidence in the victory of God’s eternal Kingdom as the culmination of time… this is the “memory of what is to come”… We will begin to PRAY and FAST for what will  be…. we will be disturbed and defiant with a holy disruption and a holy defiance (as Dan would say ;o))… against evil gaining ground in this world and in our own homes and hearts. **More hope will bring more disruption, perhaps chaos, and more defiance into your life.**  (if you question this, look at the lives of the disciples after Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension… what did the resurrection do to their lives??)

Thus, steps the Prophet onto stage.

The Prophet or Prophetess will be one who speaks of *true hope* to others… Who brings holy disruption into people’s lives by a call for repentance… and draws forth passion for the coming Kingdom of God… provokes others to FIGHT for goodness, beauty, and *Truth* to gain ground.

I will end this post with one of my favorite things Dan Allender said during the Trauma Care Conference:

He said “Our calling before God is to make the Gospel known. THIS is immense fun! If you’re not having fun in your life, it’s because your life is not oriented toward destroying evil. FUN= putting your FOOT on the neck of EVIL and crushing that “SOB” (hey, Dan said that not me! ;o) )  “What brings your heart to *fury*? What makes *your* heart cry out “HELL, No!”  Stand Against untruth anywhere in the world. Take back territory for the Kingdom of God… Engage the Kingdom of God… *play* with God in the fields of God”