Desperation to Destiny
Stanley Arumugam Feb 2012 - Ver.12
Part One: The Woman's Initiative Introduction Chapter One: The Place of Desperation Chapter Two: The Point of Decision Chapter Three: The Spirit of Determination Chapter Four: The Attitude of Defiance Chapter Five: The Heart of Dedication Part Two: Christ's Response Chapter Six: Coming Out of the Crowd Chapter Seven: Called By Your Own Name Chapter Eight: Completed by His Touch
Introduction Have you been really desperate? So much so, that you feel you can’t breathe; that life will slip away, that tomorrow must not come; that you could end it all, that you’d rather die than go through; that you will do anything but anything to get you what you desire most; that you will beg even your enemy to save your life?
These are places of deep desperation, ripe with the promise and hope of transformation. We come into a place of desperation either out of deep pain or deep promise; a place where we want to avoid death or seek abundant life. Either way, we need the touch of God to propel us into a new dimension – which cannot be achieved in our own strength.
If you are in any of these places then I invite you to come on a journey with me as we learn how we can grow and discover our destiny, primarily through making space for God in our lives or allowing God to make space for His work with our willingness.
Paradoxically, this place of desperation is the place where God dwells in fullness. When you feel that you have reached the end and that you cannot go one step further, when life seems to be drained of all purpose - what a wonderful opportunity to start all over again, to turn over a new page (Eileen Caddy). St John of the Cross calls this place ‘the dark night’. It is the place where we feel totally abandoned and lost; a place where even God’s presence is not felt. The life of this Carmelite monk reminds us that God is in unexpected places. For him, it was in the dark prison cell where he discovered a personal God, who he wrote of as, ‘The Bridegroom’ and ‘Lover’.
Rejected, tortured and abandoned by the religious elite of his time, John found God who was lavishly and desperately reaching out to him. In his poems we learn of a God that is present in our darkest moments – a God who is more personal than ritual and religious piety – a God who transcends formulaic faith. John meets a God desperately in love with him and all of humankind.
We are blessed with John’s insights that come out of deep revelation in a life of darkness and desolation. So, too we are blessed with the salvation sacrifice of another
John – the Baptist, who knew the real Messiah in prison whose way he was preparing – all while waiting his beheading at the hand of King Herod.
From the life of the apostle Paul, we learn of God’s grace through thirty plus desperate years of ministry. His transformational messages that are the bedrock of the Christian faith came through days of torture, hardship, persecution, ship-wreck, imprisonment, hunger, homeless, and abandonment and near death.
The same for Job – the most faithful man on the earth, came to know God through a desperate time – years of desolation, destruction and death. Everything he owns is taken away, even his children are killed and his pious friends provide foolish consolation seeking to rationalise his suffering instead of discerning God’s purpose. Job perseveres in his faithfulness towards God and discovers that God is also faithful and majestic in his wisdom and lavish providence. He learned of God’s graciousness on a bed of ashes, wearing sack cloth and covered with blistering boils.
So too King David, on the run, hiding in caves, desperate to be saved from his enemy King Saul. We are blessed with the Psalms, written through days and nights of intense despair, depression and anxiety. Yet through this time, David’s desire for God intensifies as his enemies are slowly vanquished and he enjoys the blessing of a personal God – whose seed is Christ the Messiah.
Desperation is the hallmark of Jesus’ life, epitomised on the cruel cross. It’s not only the physical suffering that moves us but knowing that his act of sacrifice was in full and complete obedience to His Father’s will. He so desired that we enjoy fellowship with God the Father – as He was enjoying in the Trinity, that he was willing to take the sin of the world on himself. In so doing through his life and ministry on earth and eventually on the Christ, he went through his desperately ‘dark night’ where he cried to His Father, ‘why have you forsaken me’.
We cannot fully appreciate this cry of Jesus, until we get into the desperate places of our own lives. It is then that we recognise the deep anguish of the cry of the Son to His Father. At that same moment, the all-loving Father looks away – allowing his son to
faithfully complete the work of salvation. “For God, so loved the world, he gave us his only son”
Jesus knows human desperation, not because he is all-knowing, but because he was in the same place as we are and will be. We who are called as his disciples are likewise called to bear the cross, to die with Him and be resurrected in his glory. The joy of resurrection comes after the desperation of death. The cross prepares us for this reality in our spiritual journey. Desperation is a good place – because God is there. The Gospels are full of stories of desperate people. We read of the Canaanite woman pleading for the deliverance of her daughter (Matt 15 v 22-28). Jairus, ruler of the synagogue frantically pleads with Jesus to heal his dying daughter (Luke 8 v 41-42, 4956). Blind Bartimaeus would not be silenced by the crowds as he shouts out to Jesus (Mark 10 v 46-52). The man sick of the palsy has his friends dismantle the roof to lower him into Jesus presence (Mark 2 v 1-5).
Perhaps one of the most moving stories concerns the woman with the issue of blood (heavy menstrual bleeding). This is a wonderful story of desperation and how God moves in rhythm to our desire for Him. A story of holistic healing: "There was a woman who for twelve years had suffered from a haemorrhage. She had undergone many different types of treatments at the hands of many doctors. She had spent her last penny trying to find a cure. It had done her no good at all. Indeed her trouble grew worse and worse. She had heard the stories about Jesus. She came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His cloak, for she said to herself: 'If I touch even His clothes, I will be cured.' There and then her flow of blood was stopped, and she felt in her body that she was cured of the trouble which had been her scourge for so long. Jesus was aware that His power had gone out of Him. Immediately He swung around in the crowd. 'Who touched my clothes?' He asked.
The disciples said to Him: 'Don't you see the crowd jostling you on every side? What's the sense of asking who touched you?' But Jesus continued to search the crowd with His eyes to discover who had done it. The woman was so scared that she was still shaking. She knew what had happened to her. So she came and threw herself at Jesus’ feet, and told Him the whole truth. 'Daughter,' He said, 'your faith has cured you. Go and God bless you! Go and enjoy your new health, free from the trouble that was your scourge.’ " “The Women with the Issue of Blood” Mark 5:25-34, Translation of the New Testament by William Barclay.
This is such a powerful story. It captures a life-changing experience of a simple woman that dared to reach out to a Rabbi, who was, in truth the Son of God. This woman’s need for physical healing out of deep desperation was the platform for a whole change in her body, mind, soul and extending to her community.
She touched Jesus’ garment for her immediate need of physical healing believing as was the social tradition of her time, that a rabbi’s garment had healing power. The touch of this Rabbi brought her much more than she could imagine for. She was invited through the response of the Rabbi – Jesus, to come into the Kingdom of God as his beloved disciple, no longer to be a despised woman.
How did this transformation happen in the life of this woman and likewise how does God deal with us, in our places of deep desperation? Using this story as a central point we can learn valuable lessons from this woman’s initiative to reach out to Christ's and through His loving response towards her.
Imagine with me that you are in the crowd with Jesus on the day this woman was healed. As we put ourselves into this woman’s social context, we learn that her encounter was truly remarkable as a reflection of the desperation of human beings. She experienced a journey from a place of desperation to personal destiny. This was a journey of healing and growth. Not just physical healing but also healing of the mind and soul.
As we read the woman’s story, it seems to me that she went through several phases in her journey over a period of time. These phases will act as a guide for us as we navigate through her story in the following chapters: 1. Desperation
The Journey of Personal Destiny
Fig 1: The Journey of Personal Destiny
We meet the woman in the story at her place of desperation, being chronically ill for 12 years. She makes a life changing decision to go to Jesus and touch his garment in faith for her healing. Her decision demanded an incredible spirit of determination as she broke through individual, social and religious barriers in pursuing her desire to be made whole. She in turn is wonderfully touched by Jesus and is immediately physically healed. More than that, she is also restored in her dignity and relationship with The Messiah. She continues in her journey of restoration and wholeness with an attitude of dedication as a disciple of The Christ. This journey from desperation to dedication is a journey that we can all take in our different lives. Ultimately God brings us into desperate places so we may discover Him as followers in faith – as true disciples. No Quick Fix Seeking a way out of desperation and towards wholeness is not the answer. Paradoxically we must be fully in the place of desperation for God to do His work in our lives. Our healing and wholeness comes not in escaping our desperation but in embracing it as a gift from God. This probably doesn’t make sense and it’s not meant to, especially as we think of life from our human perspective. Only God can turn our desperation into destiny.
This journey from desperation to destiny is not a quick fix journey with a magical solution. It’s not a 7 Step recovery programme or a set of biblical principles that we can master to new heights of prosperity and wellness. In reality our experiences of desperation require more than a slick formula response. We’ve probably been there before being sold quick smooth solutions by salesmen in and outside of the church. This journey is not based on a linear principle. If I do step A I will get to B (guaranteed). This journey is out of our control. It’s a journey that God takes us on by His grace. It is a journey of mystery, paradox and uncertainty walked in faith with a God that is faithful.
We need to be reminded that God meets us in our places of desperation, not when we are assumed to have it all figured out. He meets us at times we don’t look so pretty, when our make up and masks have been rudely wrenched away. He meets us when we in places of sackcloth and mourning, at the same place He met the god-fearing Job. When He meets us in our place of desperation, He doesn’t tell us everything will be OK, wipe your eyes and get over it. He’s in no hurry. He sits, stands or walks with us and He desperately wants to hear our pain, doubts, despair, disillusionment, desire and dreams.
He wants to heal us fully - in body, mind, spirit and community and bring us into our fullness in Him, which is our destiny. This is a journey that requires us to learn to listen to the voice of God, through the Holy Spirit, scriptures and lessons from others that have also walked some of our paths.
Jesus Christ wants to be more than a solution on the shelf in a supermarket of options. He wants to draw us to Himself. This is His deepest desire, that we are one with Him even as He is one with the Father.
Maybe right now you don’t trust God; don’t know who the Holy Spirit is or just plain angry with God. That’s OK. God is bigger than our anxieties. He will reveal Himself to you as trustworthy as you allow Him to walk with you.
How does this journey work out? Will it take long? ‘I am desperate for an answer now’, you may say. God is the answer but for many of us this is not an easy choice to make. You can be assured that if you call upon God right now in desperation, He will answer
you. Maybe you do not yet trust Him. This is also OK. God is patient enough to reveal Himself fully to you.
I am reminded of a group of Jesus’ disciples walking back from Jerusalem to Emmaus after his crucifixion and death. They were deeply distressed and desperate. The Messiah, on who they had pinned all their hopes on, was now dead. Everything that He taught about a new kingdom was suddenly gone. They were disillusioned, afraid and angry. They were also sad because they loved Him and they knew He loved them too.
How could this be? Did He betray them? Was this for real? Yet in their hearts there was this deep connection that could not be shaken off. Right now it seemed all mixed up as their eyes misted up with bitter tears and confusing questions.
As they walk home in the night over the dusty miles, tired and depressed, the risen Jesus joins them on their journey. They don’t recognise this man that walks with them. He hears their deep pain as they walk, he sees them crying, confused, disillusioned. He walks silently with them. They ask him if he is stranger to the city, doesn’t he know what happened in Jerusalem? They cannot see Him for who He is.
Over the miles of walking deeper into the dark night, Jesus Christ just listens. He does not condemn them for their sadness and disillusionment. He moves into their spaces of confusion and seeking for Him. Then, as the morning draws near, He begins to remind them of what they already know. He speaks God’s Words from the Torah. He tenderly reminds them of the things that the Messiah was meant to endure. As He speaks their hearts ignite with God’s presence and their thinking is challenged to change.
In the fullness of a new day as they reach their home, they ask this stranger to stay longer with them. He does, breaking bread and sharing the wine. Suddenly they realise it is He, the Risen Christ! He had walked with them all along.
He leaves them with a new hope, joy and restored faith. They experience in the first communion a Messiah that cares deeply about them. A God not prescribing dogma and quick fix solutions but one that is interested in the wholeness of our being.
As we journey, we invite Jesus to join us. He wants to hear your story and as you recognise His truth, your healing of body, mind and soul begins. Like the disciples He met on the road, Jesus wants to come into your home and commune with you, to share His broken body and His saving blood that He shed for you on the Cross of Calvary.
This journey will challenge our thinking. God uses desperate places to correct our thinking so that we are aligned in our understanding of Him. Our thinking about God and our situations determines our destiny. I pray that as we journey together you will be open to Godâ€™s generous love, teaching and desire for your best. Come join me as we journey together.
Chapter One: The Place of Desperation Desperation can bring us back to God This is often our last place, as we come to the end of our road. Paradoxically, it is also the first place in our journey of personal healing and discovery of divine destiny. The lives of men, women and nations, great and small have changed at these places of desperation. When we are at out wits end, having exhausted all our resources and just have no energy to move on because of the sheer weight of our burdens or our deepest emptiness, we are at a place of desperation. It is a place where God waits for us.
“It wasn’t until the bottom dropped out of my life that my faith grew to the point where I actually trusted God. Up till then, all my religion was just a convenient way of avoiding the trust that came from desperation.” 1 .
You may be at the end of a marriage, your business might be down to the ground, you might have lost your job, your child might be deathly sick, your closest friend has betrayed you, God seems to have left you, your parents have disowned you, you are struggling with mental illness, your church has disillusioned you, crime has robbed you of your loved one, an outcast or marginalised. You may be frustrated at not fully experiencing the abundant life that Christ spoke of and afraid to dream anymore. You’re at a place of desperation.
You have tried everything in this life. You are successful, prosperous, smart, have what it takes – yet there is a deep emptiness in your soul. You have dreams that seem too big for you, people around you tell you to settle for less, yet your hunger to become more, your desire to serve others overwhelms you to the point of despair. You are at your place of desperation. The Woman at the Place of Desperation Let’s consider the woman in the biblical story at her place of desperation. “We cannot be certain about the details of this story, but we can imagine, based on what is recorded, that her condition was grave. Frail, emaciated, anaemic, she was but a shell of her former vivacious, ebullient self. Her youthful beauty had dissolved into the haggard look 1
Mike Erre. (2006). The Jesus of Suburbia. Nashviille: W Publishing. P.133
of weakness. Her ashen face was punctuated by the thin lips and the clenched jaw of a determination to survive. She was desperate.”
I wrote this poem describing in some
way the ongoing desperation of the woman in our biblical story who suffered from an ongoing haemorrhage for twelve years.
My Place of Desperation My despair drives me to daily desperation All escape barred -imprisoned by my scourge Is twelve years not sufficient penance for my sin? Why must I continue living the outcaste reject? Today I have my last penny clutched crazy After thousands spent in futile- frantic search What can it buy - my healing elusive as the day? Can it buy lost companionship and affection? My mind why do you trouble-torment me so Knowing that I seek the solace of peace and hope Why plague my memory with cancerous thoughts? How can I block out your demons of dread? And God where are you in all of this pain I seek your face daily too weak to walk in faith Why does your silence deafen my broken heart? Who will rescue me from this deep bondage? You've brought me to my place of desperation Devoid of options - all alternative hope firmly buried I have only you now -stripped barren and naked My brokenness rests firmly in the palm of your hand The woman in our story experienced the full cost of desperation as her illness ravaged her body; her world around her was also falling apart. Often our physical illness also leads to trouble in other areas of lives. Similarly relationship issues and issues of belief can also affect us in different aspects of our lives. Trouble, it seems doesn’t come alone. Let's look at the cost of desperation in this woman's life, which impacted her in several areas, which may be similar of our experience also: 2
John D. Garr . THE HEM OF HIS GARMENT. Touching the Powerin God’s Word. .Golden Key Books.Living Emblems
Series.Restoration Foundation. P. O. Box 421218, Atlanta, Georgia 30342, U.S.A.
1. Time: having to endure our situation over an extended period of time. As time passes by, we become more desperate for our situation to end and slip into despair and depression. 2. Alternatives: trying all that is humanly possible to manage our situation. As we exhaust all possibilities, we become more desperate for solutions that are sometimes costly or cause us more harm than good. 3. Money: we use up more and more of our material resources until we are all spent out making our desperation even more painful. Now we don’t have any mans of buying our wellness. 4. Society: in troubled times we are often isolated, misunderstood and rejected. As people abandon us, we become more desperate for genuine love and compassion. In the course of this chapter we will explore the high cost of desperation in these different aspects and how it plays out in our lives.
High Cost of Desperation In your place of desperation, you will pay the price of suffering in many different ways. The woman in our story gives us an insight into several of these costs: many unsuccessful alternative healing attempts, expensive treatments that run you dry, social stigma and isolation. Maybe you can identify with some of these costs. COST OF ALTERNATIVES; ‘At the hands of many doctors’ “She had undergone many different types of treatments at the hands of many doctors.”
This woman tried every option available to her in her society. Nothing had worked. Each alternative had only brought in a greater sense of desperation. The Bible says that she "suffered much under the care of many doctors." Let’s get a glimpse of the additional pain she underwent at the hands of physicians applying the prescribed treatment for this condition as prescribed in the Talmud:
"Take of the gum of Alexandria the weight of a zuzee (a small silver coin); of the alum the same; of crocus the same. Let them be bruised together, and given in wine to the woman that has an issue of blood. If this does not benefit, take of Persian onions three
logs (pints); boil them in wine and give her to drink, and say, "Arise from thy flux." If this does not cure her, set her in a place where two ways meet, and let her hold a cup of wine in her right hand, and let someone come behind and frighten her, and say, "Arise from thy flux." But if that do no good, take a handful of funugreek (a kind of fennel). Let these be boiled in wine and give them her to drink and say, "Arise from thy flux." If these do no good, other doses, over ten in number, are prescribed, including this: "Let them dig seven ditches, in which let them burn some cuttings of vines, not yet four years old. Let her take in her hand a cup of wine, and let them lead her away from this ditch, and make her sit down over that. And let them remove her from that, and make her sit down over another, saying to her at each remove, "Arise from thy flux". (Quoted from Lightfoot by Geike, "Life and wonder of Christ).
These ancient cures might sound quite absurd to us. In our modern world, we have a multitude of options that promise us healing, some weird and wonderful. We have a host of advances in medical science, alternative therapies and spin doctors who promise us a way out. When you're in a difficult situation, you may consider even the ridiculous, the absurd or the humiliating, just to find some relief.
Alastair Cunningham a physician working with cancer patients expressed this frustration when he says, â€˜It makes me sad to see people desperately chasing after unproven remedies, and spending all of their energy (and a lot of their money) in the process.14 3
Hundreds of conventional and alternative healing products and methods are offered such as
acupuncture, homeopathy, aromatherapy, Reiki, chiropractics, guided
visualization, psychic healing and shamanism. In the midst of this new awakening is a global multi billion dollar industry promising alternative healing.
Modern medicine has made remarkable contribution to global health bringing under control once deadly epidemics such as small pox, yellow fever, leprosy, malaria and scarlet fever. Despite the success of biomedical medicine we paradoxically have an
. Alastair Cunningham, O.C., Ph.D., C.Psych. (2004). L e v e l One of the Healing Journey. An active response to the crisis of cancer. Workbook. INTERNET
increase in health conditions not easily understood or treated by our modern scientific model. These include cancer, stroke, heart disease and mental illness.
The age of Modernism replaced faith, customs, tradition, magic, witchcraft and sadly also the Church as a healing community with scientific rationalism. â€˜Seeing is believingâ€™ became the motto of the scientific age in which God was rejected. In our post-modern age there is disillusionment with the promise of rationalism. There is a deeper hunger for personal spirituality and holistic healing. People are desperate to be heard, touched and compassionately ministered to without judgment or dogma or clinical precision.
Maybe you are in this place having tried many healing options from conventional medicine to alternative therapies. You may have even gone to the church for prayer or attended a healing mass crusade with no relief. When you are desperate you will do anything.
My mother was also a desperate woman. She lost four children, two were seven and eight years old, and the others died as infants. After she lost her first child, she was grieving as any mother would. No mother wants to see their child die in their arms. Then the second child, Samuel, was born and ill from birth. She tried all available cures, going to the local doctor and to others that were recommended. As a Hindu, my mother took my deathly sick siblings to temples for prayer rituals and sacrifices of animals to ask the favour of gods for their healing.
The second child also died. No one knew the reason. In Indian and Hindu tradition people in the rural community believed someone had cast a spell of bad luck on my mother. This was a spiritual attack from someone that was jealous of the success and wellbeing of my mum and dad. So the ritual prayers continued to break the curse on my mum. The third child, my sister Angama also died.
By this time you can imagine the desperation of my mum. The next child was a boy born cripple. His name was Jason. My mother tells us of the many nights she would sit through, till the morning holding him in her arms. She went to more doctors, used up the little money they had on hiring local cars and paying exorbitant medical bills. As her
desperation grew, she went to more temples, used more money buying ritual sacrifices, paying temple priests. Still, there was no end in sight.
At one stage she spent several days and nights out in the bush with Zionist worshippers. These are indigenous African men and women that blend Christianity and African tradition. They are known for their piety and long days and nights of prayer in their ritual blue and white robes. My mother was alone with her ill child in a strange place with strange people from a different race, tribe and religion.
You must understand her desperation to break this social barrier in apartheid South Africa when race groups were legally separate. Indians and Africans did not live together, let alone an Indian woman alone with her sick child. She was desperate for any healing for her child. My brother Jason died at 8 years.
By this time my father had lost his business, properties and became addicted to alcohol as his way of coping with the multiple tragedies in our household. A once respected, successful man was now despised in his community with a wife that was unable to bring healthy children into the world. He tried everything possible but to no avail.
Taken for a ride by spiritual charlatans Sadly some Christians sell a quick-fix gospel to people who are not yet ready to have an intimate encounter with God. In the heat of the moment, maybe you have accepted the gospel because it was presented to you with enticing features and benefits, but once you were alone in your room, you experienced no real change in your life and wondered whether it was all a big farce?
You may have been moved by the emotional power of a mass healing crusade or a television healing service. In your desperation you went to be prayed, felt something happen and days later still find you are in the same place.
There are various Jewish myths and customs which suggest that the tassels (threads) on the garment of a Rabi had healing power. So it is not difficult to understand why the woman in our biblical story might have believed that the mere act of touching the hem of Jesusâ€™ garment would bring her healing.
I remember this happening to my father who suffered for many years until his death from chronic bronchitis. In his desperation he too tried many doctors’ prescriptions and at some point heard of and wrote to the Oral Roberts Ministry for healing prayer clothes. I was sad to see his desperation for healing and not sure as a young person that this should be the object of his faith. Yet, he was desperate and was taught to believe that healing could come through the prayer clothes.
“the easiest subjects are, needless to say, those with great hopes or none at all, those who have tries everything and been dissatisfied with what they have been told, and those who have tried nothing, afraid of what they might be told, and those who are afraid to die, and those who know that they are going to, shortly.’ Then there are those for whom such applications are the last of the last resorts, for consciousness ‘doth make cowards of us all.’ P.xix
Thaumaturgy – the performing of miracles, or more precisely from the Greek and Latin, wonder-working – has always enchanted mankind, and clearly ‘enchanted’ is the word, for it means ‘to bewitch, or cast under a spell, or charm’ and only such could make rational persons accept the vast majority of blatantly fraudulent chicanery undertaken in the name of the Holy Spirit.’ p. xviii 4
Have you become disillusioned and cynical because a Christian ‘sold’ you a religious alternative but you did not experience any real transformation or benefit in your life? Did this experience lead you to doubt that God exists? Unfortunately there are many charlatans outside and sadly in some churches, people intent on material gain and not concerned for your eternal wellbeing. The Bible reserves a harsh judgement for such people.
What about you? Will you still stay disillusioned or allow God to witness His truth in your life and bring you to the place of genuine restoration, which is ultimately with Him?
Flammond, P. (1999). The Mystic Healers. Maryland. Scarborough House.
Seeing is believing Often our options keep us from the place of desperation. With every option we explore and test out, we operate in the realm of rational meaning. As we try to make sense of our situation we start speculating about why we are experiencing it. Maybe itâ€™s genetic, or environmental, early experiences or perhaps itâ€™s the result of ignorance or neglect.
Until we touch God, we will constantly search for new alternatives. Very often, we do not go to God first to ask Him to touch and heal us. Perhaps we have, but have become frustrated at seeing no effect? However, God may allow that our solution- journey brings us deeper and deeper into the desert where all we are able to find is a dry well of desperation.
Meaning and control are sometimes the last options on the road of desperation. In a world soaked in rationalism we have soothed our real hunger and thirst with temporary and artificial food. For as long as things are personally meaningful in our paradigms, we stay in a comfort zone believing the world is according to the way we have fashioned it.
In this world we are in charge, there is no need for God. Anything supernatural is considered an unhealthy crutch. We are free agents, in charge of our destiny and we control our worlds from our living room remote control. We take charge of economics, politics, science, technology and health. The world appears to be working according to our design.
Suddenly all of this comes crashing down. Literally as it happened in the US 911 tragedy. Our worlds in an instant become ground zero. All our scientific, military and technological advances obliterated in a few minutes. Suddenly our capitalistic control, show of success and splendour is nothing. In the minutes, days and months that followed Americans and people around the world came face to face with the reality of our mortality. We are not fully and finally in control. Suddenly meaning is lost.
When this option gives way, we are open to the transcendent. We are willing to seek out God. We are not ashamed to pray in desperation for help to someone we cannot see or rationally articulate. Working through our options brings us to the feet of a loving God.
COST OF MATERIALISM ‘Last Penny’ "She spent her last penny trying to find a cure".
Perhaps you have been trying to find any possible and available solution for your ‘scourge’ at great expense? I have heard of many stories of people using up all their material resources to seek for their personal healing or for their loved ones. The woman in our story used up the last of her money on the doctors and other healers of her day.
The cost of healthcare is unaffordable for most people around the globe. In South Africa the majority of people are dependent on poor and stretched healthcare services. Literally those that have more can also buy their health and longevity. Private medical aids capture a gap in the market providing high care medical services at high cost.
In this space there is also a mushrooming industry of alternative healing practices as we discussed earlier. Every solution costs and peoples money drains out at some point as did this woman’s’. Sadly in the midst of desperation are also peddlers of potions and cheap scams that rip people off. Even more sad is that the church is not immune from these vagabonds who steal from desperate people promising faith based miracles at the end of a faith offering.
Flammond has studied mystic healing in its various forms and he warns of the cheap schemes of healers: ‘All of these [faith healers] have paraded across the stage or television screens, hands outstretched, pleading, ranting, sobbing, purring for your money, and the greater number have spent much of their careers romping through one nefarious act after another. While many elements of mystical healing are arcane, as is much in life, there is nothing mysterious about such pitchmen and sons-of-pitchmen, except that they can raise their voices, if not the dead, and make your money disappear. ‘p. 237 5
I remember my father, a pensioner and desperately ill with chronic bronchitis coughing up his meagre pension money to sent to American televangelist promising healing
Flammond, P. (1999). The Mystic Healers. Maryland. Scarborough House.
through monetary partnership. Then there were the frequent special offerings in church all with a promise of healing and blessing, whatever this meant.
Maybe you feel scammed, a victim of secular or spiritual healing schemes. I know the feeling of being robbed and the deep sense of violation. The reality of our fallen world is that we are surrounded by money grabbing marketers. This is far from the compassion and free gift of Godâ€™s healing and grace. Maybe in some ways these experiences bring us to a point were we question what we are paying for, where our resources are being invested in. If this is not giving us the promised healing, blessing and prosperity, then why are we searching empty castles? This realisation can bring us to God.
All around the world the poor are getting even poorer. Whole nations are succumbing to the ravages of starvation, disease and conflict. In the middle of these desperate places, you will still find a mother using up her last resource to get help to keep her child alive.
The woman in our story grew increasingly poor over the years. I am sure she tried to work and pay for her treatments. This did not last long as her employers discovered she was ill and ritually impure. Even if she wanted to work, she could only stand strong for an hour or two at a time, her body racked with constant pain, anaemia and possible migraine headaches. She was not employable. After she spent her last penny, she was at the mercy of the charity of those around her.
In todayâ€™s crippling economic climate more and more people are losing their jobs. Living expenses are increasing at unmanageable rate, healthcare is unaffordable, clothing is becoming a luxury for many and the basics are getting further and further out of reach. One of the biggest injuries to people is their inability to work and earn a living income. Not having a job robs people of their dignity and responsibility to care for their families.
With rising unemployment and poverty people desperate to stay alive resort to crime. More people become victims of criminal activity and the cycle of despair continues deeper and deeper in this fallen world we live in.
Maybe youâ€™re not at this place of poverty. You live a decent life; you have been blessed by God. You may even be rich. Here is the danger. When you have many material
resources at your disposal, God is often not the most thought-about option. We can get by without having to depend on someone else, let alone the idea of God. We can make it, after all what we have is the result of our labour. God did not lavish us with these gifts.
Surrendering control to God, or to anyone for that matter, is not an easy thing to do especially when we have the means at our disposal. This was exactly the dilemma that faced the rich young ruler in the story recorded in the bible.
The Rich Young Ruler 16 and someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall i do that i may obtain eternal life?” 17 and he said to him, “why are you asking me about what is good? There is only one who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 then he said to him, “which ones?” And Jesus said, “you shall not commit murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; 19 honor your father and mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 the young man said to him, “all these things i have kept; what am i still lacking?” 21 Jesus said to him, “if you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 but when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. 23 and Jesus said to his disciples, “truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 “again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” This passage is not an indictment on the rich. It’s an indictment on anyone that believes their possessions will satisfy their deep longing for God. This was an upstanding man who kept the Mosaic Law to the letter, yet he recognised that he was still lacking something. In his mindset of acquisition, He asks Jesus how he can obtain the commodity of eternal life. What must he do to expand his portfolio of religious wealth?
Jesus confronts him with a paradox. To have the more, abundant and eternal life you have to give up what you have not acquire more. This is a challenge to many of us living in the comfort and idolatry of materialism. God wants us to prosper, to be successful, and to have big houses and cars. He does not want us to make idols of these. Idols of materialism take us away from God, they leave us incomplete.
I remember when I was unemployed for close onto a year. I gave up my consulting partnership and was saddled with an unmanageable debt that I co-signed surety for. The
days were bleak, not having enough money to get around. Every cent was accounted for. I was in a place of desperation and despite the pain God was with me. I recognised His hand more in that time than when my world was highflying. God meets us in the valley stripped of our material resources.
There are many people recognising this and voluntarily ‘downsizing’. More people are selling up big places and moving to affordable living circumstances. They have discovered the encumbrance of material possessions brings with it a fog in the way of what is really important. They discover through hardship that appearances, other people’s opinions and the crazy rat race is not all that makes up true living.
Job, a devout man of God was in such a situation. The Bible describes him as the wealthiest man of his time. In a cosmic battle between God and Satan, Job is stripped bare of all that he has. His properties are ravaged to the ground, his children are killed and he is left abandoned by his friends and wife. He is desperately alone, sitting on the ground, naked in sackcloth and covered in ashes pleading with God.
This was no punishment for wealth. God gave him his wealth in the first place. This was not the result of his sin for he was declared a righteous man. In what seems unimaginably cruel, God brings Job, his son to a place of desperation where he comes face to face with a majestic and awesome God. In these years of despair, Job recognises his place in the universe and that God loves him. He recognises that more than his health, wellbeing and riches, it is his separation from God is the biggest need he has.
Having to release your last penny is a place of desperate humility. It doesn't matter what your station is in life – when you are desperate you are desperate. There is only one social level when you're down and out. In your place of utter desperation devoid of any material idol, God seeks to address you. His position is not one of condemnation, shame or ridicule, but rather one of intense love and compassion.
I watched a recent Oprah show where people where describing how they moved down in the American class structure. It was sad to hear the story of a famous newsman who enjoyed the privilege and friends in his high society life. Unfortunately, when he was
retrenched none of the so-called friends, where anyway to be found. It is a sad reality that what we have defines our value to society. Sometimes when what we have is taken away, we are forced to face who we really are and who our trust ultimately is in. As the Bible says, ‘where our treasure is, there also our heart.’
The last penny is also symbolic of the spiritual materialism of pride. Pride is human independence apart from God and is a sin. This commodity also must also be spent. Even without material riches, people still cling to an arrogant pride that deprives them of the grace that makes it possible for them to touch God. God in His grace brings us to the place of our last penny. It is only at this place that He can give us the gift we need that money or personal success cannot buy. The irony is that after all the years of struggle and exorbitant bills we come to the place where we have to be humble enough to receive a gift.
This concept is aptly illustrated in Jesus’ story of the prodigal son. This young man took what was rightfully his and went on a spending spree. He spent his last penny and found himself humiliated and desperate eating with the pigs. It is from this place of loss and desperation that he was able to remember his inheritance and come home to receive his father’s love and forgiveness in a way that he never deserved or imagined.
Sadly, his brother who had remained in his riches had not come to this place of revelation and renewed purpose and favour.
He sinned not by commission but by
omission. He was too blinded by his sense of self righteousness to know that His Father desperately wanted not only his obedience and loyalty but more importantly an intimate relationship of the heart. Sometimes God shakes our religiosity and reminds us that he is our Father not a rule keeper. Desperate times bring us to this place of new recognition. Naaman’s Healing There is another Old Testament story of a proud man who believed his materialism could buy him divine health and wholeness. We read in 2 Kings 5 of Naaman’s healing. Namaan was a high official in a country adjoining Judea, where the Israelites lived. Although he was successful and found favour with his King, he was desperate because of his dreaded disease of leprosy.
The King, who loved Namaan, had heard that the Prophet Elisha could cure him of the disease and therefore sent Naaman to the neighbouring country where Elisha lived. Being an official of the neighbouring kingdom, Naaman expected a right royal welcome when he arrived at the Prophet Elisha’s house. He had arrived with lavish material possessions from the King - almost as a down payment for his healing. To Naaman’s utter dismay, Elisha did not even come to greet him or to receive the gifts. Instead he sent a servant to Namaan, carrying this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of leprosy.”
A humiliated and furious Namaan reacted arrogantly and defensively by professing that the rivers in his land were superior than all of the muddy rivers in Israel. Then he turned away in a rage. Clearly Namaan had a deeper issue of pride and arrogance that had been fuelled by his position of favour in the King’s court. God’s intention was to deal with these spiritual issues as much as Naaman’s physical issue of leprosy. God’s healing approach is always ‘to do a complete job’.
Eventually Namaan’s heart softened. Convicted by his sin, he went to the Jordan. In the presence of his servants, he humbled himself by dipping himself in the river. In this act of submission, we witness his surrender of the materialism and pride that had been an ‘invisible’ spiritual scourge deadlier than his leprosy. We see him acknowledging his desperation to God and his realisation that ‘materialism’ could not buy him his healing or his destiny. Naaman came to discover that healing is a free gift, not bought by personal pride and riches. He returned a healed man physically and equally importantly, spiritually.
THE COST OF SOCIETY ‘her scourge’ "She was cured of the trouble which had been her scourge". Daily, millions are treated as social outcasts. We experience or hear stories of single mothers, divorced, elderly, sick, disabled, ethnic outcasts and poor people who pay a deep social cost. This is the cost that society exacts on people who are not the same as us, whatever the reason may be.
Do you feel like a social outcast? Are you HIV positive, have a physical deformity have an anarchist, rebellious, anti ‘system’ mindset. Do you belong to a shamed family, a shamed nation, a shamed culture? Have you rejected yourself, feeling that you cannot fit it, that you are not worth the company of your friends, family and society?
Do you feel society has put a label on you like the woman wearing the scarlet letter? The Scarlet Letter (1850) is a novel written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Set in 17thcentury Puritan Boston, it tells the story of Hester Prynne, who gives birth after committing adultery and struggles to create a new life of repentance and dignity. She is led from the town prison with her infant daughter in her arms and on the breast of her gown is pinned on a rag of scarlet cloth with the uppercase letter "A" representing her act of adultery.
The scarlet letter of shame was to be worn daily as a symbol of her sin – a badge of shame – for all to see. At some point in the story the town elders decide to post a drummer boy announcing her every move in the small town. She is utterly humiliated and ostracised by her Christian brothers and sisters. In this poignant story we are confront by issues of sin, legalism and the hypocrisy and unforgiving of a pious people. 6
The woman in our Bible story paid the cost of an uncaring society. To fully understand her situation we need to explore the historical, social and religious context that she lived in. She was born into a culture of Jewish fundamentalism.
The first social cost that she had to pay was the cost of being a woman. Up until this time, the role of a woman was still less than that of a man, as is still the case in many societies. She was not entitled to the same privileges and opportunities enjoyed by her male counterparts. Even in the Temple that Jews worshipped in, women had a specific court outside the court of the Israelites which only Jewish men were allowed into. Added to her social status as a woman, was the fact of her socially unacceptable physical condition. The Jewish people of her time still complied with the Leviticus prescriptions given by Moses which declared menstrual women to be ritually unclean. Not only was she unclean but everyone that came into contact with her was also declared unclean. When a woman has a discharge, if her discharge in her body is blood, 6
she shall continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening (Leviticus 15:19).
This also meant that she was barred from visiting the Temple and under certain public restrictions. Leviticus goes on to state that what she lay on became unclean, what she sat on became unclean - and whoever came into contact with these things would also become unclean. She was effectively separated from social contact during her period of menstruation.
The problem for the women in our story was that her condition was not for a short time every month. This was her life long condition. She was to be permanently separated, as an outcast, misunderstood and rejected by other men and women around her. Her society was more concerned about legal purity than purity of heart which would have embraced her in their community.
This scourge of uncleanness extended to anyone that touched a dead carcass or human corpse. They were unclean for seven days. 'Or if a person touches any unclean thing, whether a carcass of an unclean beast or the carcass of unclean cattle or a carcass of unclean swarming things, though it is hidden from him and he is unclean, then he will be guilty. Leviticus 5:2 (New American Standard Bible). 'The one who touches the corpse of any person shall be unclean for seven days. Numbers 19:11
In my work as part of an anti-poverty agency I came into deeper understanding of the social scourge of outcasts, of marginalised people. The Dalit people of India and Nepal are such a people group. These people are treated as the lowest of the low. They are literally considered no better than dirt. Over many generations entire families have been subject to bonded labour, abuse, discrimination and ridicule.
Their work is the work assigned to unclean people, anything deemed ritually impure in Hindu society. They are the people that remove dead, rotting animal carcass from streets and household and have them burned. They are the people both mother, fathers and children that are expected to clean the streets of human excrement. This is their social and religious status in life. They are made to believe that this is their lot in life in a system dominated by the upper-caste.
Engaging in these activities was considered to be polluting to the individual who performed them, and this pollution was considered to be 'contagious'. As a result, Dalits were commonly banned and segregated from full participation in Hindu social life (they could not enter the premises of a temple or a school and stayed outside the village), while elaborate precautions were sometimes observed to prevent incidental contact between Dalits and other castes.
Most of the Dalits are bonded workers and many work in slave-like conditions to pay off debts that were incurred generations ago. The majority of Dalits live in segregation and experience violence,
and other atrocities to the scale of 110,000
registered cases a year, according to 2005 statistics. Common belief is that these numbers do not approach the real total of crimes committed against Dalits. Many crimes go unreported, and few registered cases ever get to trial. 7
In South Africa, many Blacks have experienced the pain of marginalisation and discrimination. After ten years into a new democracy, the day to day lives of the majority of Black South Africans hasnâ€™t changed significantly. Many are still under the scourge of psychological and economic oppression despite political and legal entitlements.
Social identities define oneâ€™s place in society and so have significant consequences with respect to status and opportunity. According to psychological research, children from as early as five years have developed a sense of social group membership as part of their self identity and stereotypes. Context plays an important role, especially the adult practices of parents and teachers. Children are socialised into the group norms, morals and values. The social group of the child deeply influences what the child learns to believe is acceptable or not.
I grew up in a secluded Indian community in South Africa and although being Black myself was still part of a community that held prejudices about other black groups, such as Africans and Coloured people. My first taste of discrimation happened on my way to primary school in the late 1970â€™s. As I walked through the sugar cane fields to school, I
was accosted by a young white boy, much younger than me riding his bicycle, also to school.
He peddled around me in an intimidating way and began taunting me with words I did not experience. He repeatedly said in a rhyme, ‘coolie collie ring the bell, coolie go to hell!’ I later learned the deeper meaning of Coolie, a word used by English colonists to describe Indian indentured labourers brought to South Africa as slaves. This term later became a derogatory name for people of Indian descent living in South Africa). As I reflected on this incident later in life, I was saddened by the prejudice which this child had already been indoctrinated in.
Getting to university, I experienced, in a small measure the horrors, of apartheid as I was able to share in the lives of people across the colour line. For many people being black was the scourge that they had around their necks. It was a life of hell made legitimate by the sin of a society that did not dignify people in the image of God.
Have you felt that being part of your race group, cultural group, family group, gender group, age group, hemisphere group been a ‘scourge’ or source of suffering for you? How have you been psychologically, emotionally and spiritually wounded? Interestingly, many White people in South Africa are paradoxically feeling a sense of collective guilt and shame for their heritage of being architects of separation. This too is a social cost that needs to be brought into full awareness in the liberating light of Christ. We all are called to live in a society free from labels of prejudice. Perhaps this poem may ring true to you?
Colour of Tears In the things that really matter we are the same What is the colour of tears of pain and suffering? What is the colour of joy of peace and happiness? You can take away all that makes us different
But never that which makes us the same In our place of being untouchables, God can touch us… For some of us, touching God requires that we come to a place of social desperation. ‘Plith luv me’ On a flight recently, I was moved to tears reading the following advertorial from an agency serving people in Bhopal India. About 25 years ago a chemical factory in the area leaked poisonous gas killing thousands in a night of horror. Raju is one of the children born after this disaster.
“Raju can barely talk. The few words he gets out are hard to decipher. ‘thista,’ he cries and his sister knows that he has been hurt again. Thick-tongued syllables burst from the depth of him. ‘No me!’ Each word is laden with unspoken significances. ‘No me!’ means I won’t put up with it! Bullies have thrown stones at him and have hurt him. Poor Raju. He’s a pathetically easy target.
Twelve years old with the mental age of a toddler. He shambles. He’s bald. His hair began to fall when he was three. He has webbed fingers and webbed toes. His mother is at her wits end. She’s obliged to be out working all day. Her forty or fifty pence a day is not enough for food and rent. She is worried about Raju’s speech and took him to a government hospital. The doctor prodded in his mouth, ‘so what’s the problem? Got tongue, hasn’t he?’
There is something going on that no one in Bhopal will talk about. It’s an epidemic of unnatural births. Thousands of children are being malformed, or with brain damage. Blind, lame, limbs twisted or missing, deaf, mute, hare lipped, cleft palate, cerebral palsy, tumours where there should be eyes. These are the living children of Bhopal. The stillborn often cannot be recognised as human.”
Bhopal Medical Appeal. The Guardian 20th June 2009. www.bhopal.org
How do you feel reading this story? The sheer desperation of Raju, his mum and the entire village become a heavy weight to our conscience. This might stir up deep pain and anguish to hear the story of immense suffering. For others it might raise up anger at the injustice and cruelty of a powerful world that tramples on the rights of poor people. For others it might be a story of despair of the human condition.
However we respond to this story, the crucial point is that we are no different than Raju in our state of desperation. In many ways the discomfort of Raju’s story is a mirror of our fallen state. We can only imagine how God must feel as he sees us human beings in a poisoned world where we are giving birth to spiritually deformed children desperately in need of God. Misunderstanding creates isolation Social isolation and rejection also comes as a result of people around us not understanding our situation of being afraid and unable to deal with what is going on. How do people consider your illness and desperation?
Dr Cunningham, a medical practitioner working with cancer patients asked his patients, ‘how do your friends and family handle it’ 9 The responses of his patients illustrate the challenges faced by loved ones in the face of illness: DENIAL “My husband simply refuses to talk about it; he just says ‘You’ll be OK’ and clams up. He may even leave the room if I try to raise the subject.” ISOLATION “I notice that some of my friends seem to have drifted away; they never call. And one person who I thought was a special friend can’t meet my eyes if I talk about cancer, so I just don’t try anymore; we get on to something else.” PRESCRIPTIVE “I know a lot of people who are into ‘New Age’ thinking, and they constantly push books or diets or special ‘remedies’ onto me. I know they mean to help, but it can be an imposition.” PROTECTION “I feel I have to protect others; it wouldn’t be fair to impose my problems on them. Especially my family, my children—I don’t want to worry them.” MINIMISING ‘Why do others sometimes tell us “everything will be OK,” or say what a strong person they know you to be? Why do others avoid us, or avoid talking about the cancer? It’s mainly to protect themselves, isn’t it. Your predicament is frightening, and 9
Alastair Cunningham, O.C., Ph.D., C.Psych. (2004). L e v e l One of the Healing Journey. An active response to the crisis of cancer. Workbook. INTERNET
they don’t know what to say. The ones with all the answers, the instant experts on cancer, are also taking an easy road, avoiding the uncertainty and their own doubts. These behaviours can prevent you from being authentic—real—about your emotional reactions. You may come to believe yourself obliged to pretend, to repress your true feelings. What can we do about this?’ P.8.
People with HIV/AIDS are often misunderstood, stigmatized and isolated as the leprosy of the twentieth century. Society broadly and close family and friends and the church are quick to label and isolate people. Often this is based on ignorance of the facts of HIV/AIDS, how it is contracted, spread and impact on the person.
Perhaps the deeper issue is why a person has HIV/AIDS? Because medical science is still not able to effectively control HIV/AIDS, it is seen as an aberration, a scourge and most likely a punishment from God. ‘AIDS forces medical science back to the confines of life:death. AIDS radicalizes man’s fallibility, fragility, weakness, mortality and man’s fear of death.’ p.127.
Maybe you are suffering from AIDS or you know of someone who is. You may feel condemned by others and also think God feels this way about you. This is not true. The sense that AIDS is a direct punishment from God is irresponsible theology. When you take personal responsibility for your behaviour, you may feel guilty or punished by God as you approach Him. He acknowledges that you are a person of free will and choices and He is willing to receive you into forgiveness and restoration.
Not everyone that has AIDS has been promiscuous or is a homosexual. Some people have made one off poor decisions that are costing them their wellbeing. Many other people are sadly the victims of rapists or sexually irresponsible partners. These people also have to bear the consequence of this devastating disease. Their lives are shattered too.
Daniel, J. Louw.(1994). Illness as crisis and challenge. Guidelines for pastoral care. Halfway House: Orion.
The issue for Christ and for us as Christians is not ‘what caused the condition?’ but ‘how can I receive you with compassion?’ The disciples of Jesus, like many of us are fixated on the cause of disease and sickness. Someone must be blamed. If we find out who it is then our work is done. Instead Jesus reframes the issue and forces us to face our prejudices. He touches the lepers (social outcasts of his day) with deep compassion.
Mother Theresa in her work in India cared practically for lepers. It didn’t matter to her how they got into their condition. More importantly for her was the desire to reach out to them as image-bearers of God. She, no more than them were all needy of God’s grace, forgiveness and compassion. Mother Theresa knew this and lived this truth. Maybe you feel totally rejected and isolated. God wants to reach out to you in love, not condemnation. He fully understands your situation.
Touching the Unclean Chief of the High Priests You knew the Levitical commands Of a menstruating woman's impurity Of her separation from holy men You decreed the uncleanness of a dead body That it should not even be come near And this too of a marriageable woman's Yet you touch them both Unashamedly? Where pious-ritualistic laws separates You bring individual relationship Where the group-religious cloak dominates You seek out the desperate person Unashamedly! Touch our hands Lord today Our hearts too Likewise reaching out To victims of AIDS Sexual abuse The despised homosexual The divorcee, The unwed teenager
The "unclean ones" Enable us to touch these labeled hurting With the bold gentleness of your love As we all are daily touched by you Unashamedly. Stanley Arumugam October 25, 1997 Jairus' daughter and the Menstruating Woman healed by Jesus
Different Paths to Desperation We all come into the valley of desperation in different ways at some point in our lives. King David who was the greatest king of Israel also frequently found himself at this place of desperation. In Psalms 23: 4 he calls it the ‘valley of the shadow of death’. I want to explore four paths that could lead us into the valley of desperation: 1. Prolonged suffering – some of us might be plagued by a condition that does not seem to go away, despite all our efforts it lingers on and seems to get worse by the day. 2. Sudden attack – when we are faced with devastation that is totally out of our control. Some event that happens to us suddenly that makes a turning point in our lives. 3.
Gradual decay – for others we might reach breaking point as a result of poor decisions and lifestyle choices over a period of time; the things we thought we had under control, all come crushing down one day.
4. Despair and Desire – in all of us resides a deep desire for God, to live our true purpose. Many of us lead lives of ‘quite desperation’ in which our dreams are squashed and we settle for less. God visits us in this place of despair. Let’s explore some of the paths that bring us into the valley of desperation. 1. Prolonged Suffering The woman in our bible story suffered for twelve years from a haemorrhage. Twelve years is a long time to suffer from such a debilitating disorder. Being ill and unable to live a full life could be worse than being locked up in prison. This is the intensity of desperation over an extended period of time.
The only commodity we all share equally while we are alive is time and we all know that life is short, and that certain life stages pass quickly. For those in depths of suffering, time must take on a very different meaning. Every year, month, week, day, minute and second feels like an absolute eternity. Whereas the person in good health and strength and enjoying the energy of life shouts ‘I need more time’. The one that is desperately suffering shouts ‘let this end’, ‘I can’t take it anymore’. The Bible speaks of another man ill for thirty-eight years, waiting at the Pool of Bethesda for his healing. Can you imagine the desperation of this man waiting for the Healing Angel to stir the water at certain seasons? He knew the season of healing being there long enough to know the times he was bypassed. When new people came to the Pool of Bethesda they would ask him when the Angel would come. He would tell them because he knew but was unable to access his healing.
He was totally dependent on the mercy of those around him. It was clear that no one cared enough for him to put him into the waters of healing. He had no family, no friends. When the Angel came and stirred the water, he would witness all the others around him getting into the pool and shouting with joy as they were healed. None of them would stop to help him into the pool despite his desperate plea. Just as suddenly as there was a mass of people, he would be left alone on his paralytic mat waiting for another year when the Angel would come again. How desperate he must have been.
Jesus came to the Pool that day and recognised the long time this man had been suffering, ‘6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition…’
I am sure this man would have rather wished he were dead. After thirty eight years of suffering what was going to be suddenly different. You may be feeling like that with a debilitating condition that is causing you unbearable pain. You might be in a marriage that seems torturous – when will this ever change? You might be in the bondage of poverty wishing that God would take you away rather than live.
Lost time robs us from life. Our plans are put on hold, dreams and desires are squashed and every day feels like a lifetime death sentence. Somehow we seem to be able to
handle the short crises in our lives – even the most traumatic ones. But it is difficult to make sense of the pain of extended suffering. The cost of desperation causes us to face our situation every day. We cannot escape from ourselves. It’s there when we go to bed and when we get up, a grey shadow hanging around us.
When we are in the place of prolonged difficulty we are inclined to question God's presence with us. We wonder if he has forgotten us, or whether he even cares or exists? We question his nature by saying, “what kind of a God allows such suffering?’
How do we understand the pain of the physical or sexual abuse endured by some over many years of their lives? What about those crippled by lives of poverty and ravage by war over an entire lifetime. Through these prolonged experiences of pain, hope is slowly lost. The following poem asks the question so many of us ask: ‘Where is God in our time of despair?’
When God Seems Far The morning stillness echoes hollow Another day rolls out- center stage Yesterday hurriedly thrown into the wings The play is about to begin I’m not ready-still making up This script is becoming tiresome Actors magically escaping from the scene I’m left alone – in the dressing room It’s not much different on the stage either Did someone change the script? Familiar sights and sounds now gone Left only left with a thousand dreams I wonder what I’m supposed to do When God too seems to be far? S. Arumugam Hopelessness comes with the passing of time and is a learned condition. If the same situation is experienced repeatedly over an extended period of time, we start believing
that the situation is actually the way it is going to be and is supposed to be. This is one of the ways we protect ourselves from recurring pain.
It’s like a child touching a hot stove for the first time who quickly discovers through the body’s autonomic nervous response that this is harmful to the body. The next time the child encounters a hot plate, she does not touch it again for fear of being burnt. This response is a learned response and is necessary for survival and wellbeing in the face of danger.
However, it can be equally harmful when we approach life’s trials with the same response. If we are abused over time our defence is to shut off and this is necessary for our own safety but it also shuts us off from a caring and loving world. We put up walls of protection around built on old offence or just custom and practice. us as is captured in Robert Frost’s poem, ‘Mending Wall’
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offence. Something there is that doesn't love a wall, He says again, "Good fences make good neighbours." As we go through similar trials over a period of time we tend to see the whole world as dark and unloving and shut the curtains of our soul to any light that may want to come in. This often results in a state of depression, where we cannot see a bright future and we tend to lose our enthusiasm for life. We often ask, ‘how can I look forward to tomorrow when tomorrow will be like today and yesterday?’
Why does God allow prolonged suffering? The question of suffering has occupied great philosophers of the world over the centuries. The biggest question that we have as humans is ‘how can a loving God allow suffering?’ This question seems to suggest that God is either good or bad, a God of irreconcilable opposites. It is a view that suffering is some sort of punishment or a cruel neglect of God.
In a world of fatalism, a belief that we are destined to suffer and die, that our lives are in the control of the gods, suffering is a frightening prospect. We are completely at the mercy of an external force, our experience is a dead end and totally meaningless.
In the Christian worldview we have a different understanding of God and consequently the nature of suffering. Suffering is part and parcel of the human experience and for the Christian it is a big part of our journey with God. Any teaching that says that Christians will not and should not experience suffering is not biblical.
To understand the meaning of suffering we must look at the life of Christ. In the Old Testament, the prophets foretold a Messiah, the anointed one who will save the Israelite nation, God’s beloved. Between the Old Testament and the voice of John the Baptist there was almost a 400 year silence when God did not directly speak to His People. In this time the Jews speculated about the coming Messiah. They developed their own theologies not founded on the messages of the Old Testament prophets. This Messiah would be a divine, glorious and political Messiah. He would free the Jews from their Roman occupation.
Then the Messiah came in the form of Jesus Christ and he was not anything like the image the Jews had. One of the biggest reasons why Jesus was rejected as the true messiah relates to the key issue of suffering. At the heart of Jesus’ redemption message and his life as a human being is the reality of suffering which the Jews were not prepared to accept. From the time of his birth to his rejection, trials and death, Jesus typified not a political popular messiah but a suffering servant. Why God would choose to come as a human being and of all the forms he could take he chooses to be a servant and one that is constantly enduring suffering?
Jesus’ suffering reminds us that he sympathises with our pain and fallen nature of sinfulness. He chose to experience suffering as the way of glory and ultimate victory over death. Suffering is not an experience to be dismissed or wished away. Perhaps we should remind ourselves that this is the way of Christ.
We often ask ‘how God could allow this suffering to happen to us?’ Perhaps we need to ask ‘how could God have allowed this to happen to himself? I believe as we ponder this
question in the shadow of the Cross, we will get a brighter perspective on the nature and meaning of our human suffering.
Daniel J Louw tells the story of a preacher Woeldering who was left alone with five children after his wife passed away. Shortly afterwards his children were tragically killed in an accident. After these sad events he writes in a sermon as follows We so often ask: ‘Why? In illness, the gospel of Christ asks: ‘Why not?’. Then Woeldering discovers that communion with Christ, in the midst of suffering, which makes one willing to take over the question of the gospel and to say to Christ: ‘Why you and not me?’ p.77
In the midst of our suffering is the promise of God’s mercy. This is the confidence we take for our troubled souls. He is with us and we learn with the passing of every day that we can depend only on Him. He knows the depth of suffering and walks the journey with us not as a detached God, but one who knows intimately suffering in all dimensions: physical (hungry, stabbed, whipped, kicked, slapped, spat on…) emotional (rejection by his closest , humiliation hanging naked on the cross, loneliness with no one understanding his true mission, anxiety of his impending trial and death) spiritual (separation from God the Father, the weight of human sin, temptations by the devil, attack by the religious). God knows what you are going through. He has been there in human form.
God uses prolonged suffering to build our character. There are numerous stories of biblical characters that have gone through intense and ongoing trials and tribulations only to come out finely refined in the crucible of God’s holiness and love. Character building is not a quick fix; it’s the outcome of a maturing process much like good wine that has to go through several processes before ending up as a satisfying drink. Gold too has to undergo several intense process of blasting, brokenness, melting and forming.
Jacob is one such biblical character who stole the birthright from his brother Essau. This act makes him a fugitive on the run for many years with all taken away from him. Everything his birthright entitled him to caused him to be paradoxically poor, exiled and lonely. Everyday for many years the pain of his deception would have haunted him. 11
Daniel, J. Louw.(1994). Illness as crisis and challenge. Guidelines for pastoral care. Halfway House: Orion.
Then one day he encounters a new family where he is promised the wife Rachel. Now he can restore his dignity, find new meaning as he establishes his family. However, his father in law Laban does not keep good his promise and Jacob is cheated into serving as a sheepherder for another twelve years. All this time God was working in the life of Jacob, he learns of the sin and consequence of deception, of failed dreams of desire that is out of reach.
He is eventually released and returns to his true home fearful of his brother Essau’s vengeance. Instead he is met with a gracious brother forgiving him and restoring his dignity. This was a journey of suffering, self inflicted perhaps. It is the suffering of our sinful nature that God works with over time to make us more like Him. Character building takes time.
A similar journey befalls Joseph, the favourite son of Jacob. His brothers jealous of their father’s attention make a scheme to sell their younger brother to a convoy of Ishmaelite traders. Here we have a young boy sold as a slave, a victim to the cruel intentions of his brothers. He suffers in the hands of the Ishmaelite, long time enemies of the Israelites. When Joseph serves their purpose he is re-traded into the hands of the Egyptians. Joseph’s life is glamorized in the musical and movies. His real life was that of prolonged suffering in many forms.
He is falsely accused of sexual harassment, jailed, disillusioned, and left in despair in the prisons of the Pharaoh. Slowly his life is transformed as he finds favour in the eyes of the Pharaoh, is promoted in the Egyptian courts and eventually becomes prime minister. In this time a great famine plagues the land and he discovers his brothers seeking food in Egypt. Here was his opportunity for revenge for the cruelty they inflicted on him. Yet, he displays great compassion as he reveals his true identity.
Many years ago he would have boasted about his position of favour as the best loved son. Now he humbly serves his brothers even though he is the most revered in the land. Joseph’s character building took time, many years of hardship, misunderstanding and disillusionment.
2. Breaking Point – Consequence of Neglect We can also get to our places of desperation as a result of poor life choices and neglect over a period of time. How does this manifest in our lives? Let me share another personal story of such a place of desperation. The events leading to this place of desperation were in my radar screen for a while. A combination of poor decisions, ambition and neglect brought me here.
God allowed me to reach another point of desperation when I nearly lost my life in a car accident. Here God had brought me to a critical place of questioning my attitudes, values and priorities regarding my relationship with ‘work’. Sometimes God allows these moments to happen so that we break a destructive cycle in our lives.
For many years I had been living on the edge of purposeful living. The pressures of work, success and ambition began to distract me. As I moved from the corporate world into consulting, I believed that I had taken a giant step into the unknown. But after a few months, the new venture became as tiresome as the corporate routine that I hated. With time the pressure of financial security and sheer survival kicked in as I tried to bring my part to my consulting firm.
In the process I lost my soul. I started doing things because I had to and not because I wanted to. I was succumbing to the pressure of a distorted obsession with work, neglecting my family and spiritual life. I was becoming frustrated and bitter as I plunged into more assignments. In all of this the most painful realisation was that I was not being true to myself. Yet I continued because I had to survive!
All of this literally came to a crashing halt one evening as I was charging to my next assignment in another city. Looking back I should have said no, but I succumbed to the pressure of my business partnership and drove treacherously exhausted into the night to get to the next job. At about ten thirty that evening I found myself bleeding profusely behind the steering wheel of a wrecked car, with my business partner also injured from the crash into a truck. As the adrenalin pumped, I remember calling out aloud to Jesus Christ and praying that he protect my business partner. Sitting stunned in the night, all I could think of was ‘if I had to die now, what would my life count for?’
That night was a sober realisation that I was on a path to personal destruction. To the world, it seemed that I was doing well, making the big time, getting big corporate clients and bringing in the bucks. In my heart I knew that I was selling myself but I did not have the courage to make a change.
That night was my place of desperation. It was a place that God brought me to literally as I was forced to face my situation. Being carted to a remote hospital and seeing myself the next morning with a battered face, I realised that what I was busy with was not worth my life. "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? New American Standard Bible,
Our place of desperation is a place ripe for God to work with us. It is a place that allows us the opportunity to rediscover God’s voice and plan for our lives. That night of my car accident I believe God allowed me into this desperate place so that I was forced to set aside the things that distracted me. I needed to refocus my true calling in Him.
Sometimes there’s too much noise and the voice of God gets drowned by the cares of the world, the bills that have to be paid; the bread that we must put on the table. God’s voice also gets lost as we make idols of our success. We are so busy making things happen, achieving success, which we begin to believe we have no need for God. This is most subtle and dangerous in our supposed ‘work for God’. After a while we get so absorbed in church work and Christian activity that we forget the reason for our service.
Like the two sisters of Lazarus, we become like the obsessed – Mary working to serve God, the church or pastors. In all this effort washing the dishes and preparing the food (spiritually speaking) we neglect to spend time with God. He is less interested in all our church ambition and commitments and solely interested in our first devotion to Him. The noise gets too much and sometimes God has to intervene to get us back on the right track.
Maybe you have also reached this place of desperation after your journey of self pursuit. God wants to restore you back to Himself. This process requires cognitive restructuring as you begin to allow the Holy Spirit to break down destructive patterns, free you of idolatrous thinking and remind you that this life is not about you as number one.
Sometimes God also brings us to a place of desperation to alter the life journey course that our decisions are taking us. Perhaps these moments force us to face certain destructive attitudes or patterns of thinking of behaviour that may be out of alignment with Godâ€™s will for our lives. Where we have made certain people, things or attitudes into idols, God may reorder his sovereignty over our lives and our intimacy with Him in these moments
Hereâ€™s an anonymous letter of a wounded person sharing their suffering and finding hope in Christâ€™s compassion. The raw honesty cuts deep into the facade of nice living:
Secret Suffering: My secret was so deep and disturbing, that I made a vow never to share it with anyone. I was more than willing to die with it than share it with you now. There was too much for me to loose if anyone found out. Have you ever made a vow like this? Vows are powerful and the one I made crippled and altered my life. I would have been a different person today if I hadn't made this vow, and have lived every day in fear that someone would find out. I cannot recall how many times I have wanted to die because of what I am going to tell you. By God's mercy He never took my life, but I have sincerely asked Him on many occasions to end it because of the pain this secret has brought me. When you come to the end of yourself, and are ready to die, you don't care what people think. This was the beginning of letting go, because I wanted to die every day. Death would be my peace from torment. Death offered an end to the grief and sorrow in my life. Death would comfort me. I have been through counselling, psychiatry, prayer therapy, read books, fasted for days, prayed, confessed, gone through support groups, S.A.L.T. (a program offered through living waters), shared with friends, hit myself, worn thick elastic bands to snap on my wrist to give pain if I had undesirable thoughts, written to various ministries like Focus on the Family and Y.W.A.M., contacted healers in the United States, searched the internet for answers, stopped masturbation for over a year, gone to seminars, men's retreats, exposed my struggle to pastors and leaders, and many other things, anything to change. Do you know what? Nothing "I" did has changed me. All these venues have just been teaching experiences, and necessary to understand that my struggle is a day by day choice towards holiness. My story is very humbling to share, but I do it to give God glory for his mercy and grace. It has been a journey, and my struggle has taken me to many places. There are always consequences to our actions, and the choices I made were out of my free will. What I
have done, grieves me now. I let my memories humble me, and serve as a reminder of where I could of ended up. A redeemed man in Christ, Markus. 12 3. Sudden Intervention â€“ Out of our Control I want to explore ways that God gets our attention all of a sudden. Places in our lives when we are literally and figuratively stopped in our tracks. In the first instance I want to consider life situations that attack us unexpectedly, situations where we are the victims. In this case we need to regain control of our lives by the grace of God.
Then there are other situations where God seems to have enough of our nonsense and steps in. This may be a sudden, life changing moment where God sets us straight and challenges us to make a decision for our best future. In this case we are in charge and need to cede control to God.
One of my places of desperation happened a few years ago in a lightning flash. It was a frightening hour of life and death, the events captured in this poem: .
Life on the Line In a split second I stared into two waving guns And four angry shouting men In a split second I was out of my fancy car And thrown face down in dirt In a split second I was pressed cold on my neck And I spat sand in silence In a split second they were suddenly terrified And I lay quietly waiting In a split second I heard the leaders command And four men bolted to their car In a split second they drove in frantic frenzy And I lay quietly waiting Tonight my wallet, car keys & watch are stolen I stumble dazed adrenalin pumping for help Tonight what I have lost in a few split seconds 12
I realize is much less than I’ve always ever had Tonight I am reminded again of God’s fond love I experience His hedge of protection around me Tonight despite the near attack of fear and death I am safely saved by His unfailing mercy- grace Tonight my life was on the line edge of faith And God chose that I continue this journey… Let me tell you what happened. It was night time, when as usual I was driving into the boomed suburb where I lived. I had a long and tiring day and was looking forward to getting home and resting. I was about two hundred meters away from my townhouse complex. I made my usual turn into the road when I discovered that the suburb gate was closed. This meant I had to turn back and find another way home. As I did I was suddenly confronted by four armed men waving guns at me and shouting that I get out of the car. Suddenly my world collapsed right in front of me!
Before I knew it, I was out and thrown to the ground with a cold gun held to my head. As I gritted the sand on the ground all I could think of was that my I should not be shot. Thoughts of violent robberies and hijackings in South Africa streaked across my mind. Was I going to be yet another victim of the common news plaguing the country?
After holding me down for what seemed an eternity one of the robbers kicked me and shoved me around before pulling off my wrist watch and rummaging through my pockets looking for other valuables. From across the road the gang leader shouted something in an African language and I was instructed to lie face down until the gang left. The car pulled off in reckless speed. I got up petrified, everything moving around me in slow motion - thankful to be left alive.
I looked across the road; my car was still there, doors flung open. This was a great carjacking opportunity to take my fancy BMW but something had caused the gang to leave the car and me. I looked around in the car and found my cell phone hidden from sight and immediately called the police flying squad. The police eventually found me about a half hour later, even with the police station being less than five kilometres away.
In this desperate time I phoned my nephew, niece and friends – all were unavailable. I felt desperately alone. Eventually, I got hold of a friend who promised to drive out immediately. Every moment seemed too long as I waited anxiously for the police and prayed that the gang would not come back for my car – considering that they had my keys. As I waited and walked to a nearby garage my mind froze overtaken by the pumping adrenalin. .
In that half hour before the police, my family and friends arrived – all at the same time, I rediscovered God’s peaceful presence. As I gave my report to the police I realized how blessed I was. So many things could have gone horribly wrong. I could have been shot, wounded or even killed, my car taken; I could have been kidnapped and thrown off somewhere far from home. As I recalled the ‘could haves’ I remembered that God was with me in my valley of the shadow of death.
The weeks thereafter were hectic. I was unable to sleep, had disturbing dreams of the incident and could feel myself slipping into depression. I experienced typical symptoms of post traumatic stress. I knew all these symptoms being a psychologist. Knowledge and personal experience is very different as I discovered that lonely night and many times thereafter.
In the days following, I received a lot of support from my close friends. One friend text messaged me saying ‘you have been recalled to higher purpose’. Was this my renewed chance to get on with the purposes of God in my life? In those few weeks I again found my place with a loving God who is never too far away from us in our time of need.
Have you ever been in a place like this?
There are countless stories of rape, hijacking, armed robbery, suicide of a loved one, retrenchment, terminal illness. Have you received the news of a loved one lost in a car accident; had a miscarriage or a still birth; heard that your parents were divorcing? These events happen suddenly and are out of our control. They seem to creep up on us when we are getting on with our lives. There is nothing that we did to bring this upon us.
A short while ago I received this disturbing e-mail from a friend of mine. Reading it made me cry knowing how helpless my friend would have been in this frightening situation – a situation totally out of her control. Here’s what she said:
“Unfortunately a week after I came back from London my life was turned upside down and I still feel like it is a mess. I was robbed in my house at 2am on 2nd June while I was in the house. I am grateful and fortunate that I was not harmed physically. They broke the lock on my security gate and broke down the kitchen door. I only had time to press my panic button before they were onto me. They demanded cell phones, cash and jewelry and took my laptop as well and broke off the gold necklace which I was wearing and a ring. I have since then upgraded the security on my house even though I live on a security estate with all the security they have to offer. It is only too obvious that I was specifically targeted. They know that I am disabled and helpless and on my own. So I have not been living in my house since then. I am staying at my brothers for now and still trying to figure out what to do and how to get on with my life. I am not sure what to do. I know this sounds horrible. I usually am so positive and find solutions to challenges. This time I am beat – I get angry, sad and cry a lot trying to figure out where to and how – what is the message, what is the path I am meant to take. I really thought that I was doing ok before now. Now my life seems to have stopped in some way and I have to think deep and assess myself. No answers are glaring back, other than the area I lived in, which now seems like such a scary place. I started looking at crime reports and robberies occur at any time of the day. Laptops, cell phones, jewelry and cash are the targeted items. Car hijackings occur all day long and on and around the very street I live on. Unfortunately women are targets, so I do not stand a chance. Right now I am rather down … I feel like I cannot get on with my life. I am so scared to get into my car even. It’s horrible…” Here’s another horrible, heart wrenching story where a young person is sadistically violated. This story was posted on an anonymous support group internet site, entitled ‘The Day My Life Fell Apart’ : “ I don’t even know where to begin, I am 20 years old and i lost my life on my 19th birthday. It was my birthday on April 6 and my friends came over to my house for my birthday party. I was living at the time with my father and 2 uncles who were so controlling i couldn’t have a boyfriend. At my party there were more guys then girls due to my father. Most of the people were my father’s friend. .. The party went by well and all my friends left my house around 2 in the morning. My father and uncles guy friends stayed and were really drunk out of there minds. While I
was in my room I just got out the shower and ready to go to bed. While I was sleeping for about a good 10 minutes my door room opened. It was one of my father’s friends. He came in and climbed on top of me. I started to yell for my father to help me. I was trying to push him off and I finally bit him on his hand before he could do anything to me. I ran downstairs to where my father and his friends were. I began to tell them what happened when my father just pushed me to the couch and tried kissing me. I quickly froze and tried to get away from him. My uncles came and started to hold me down and my father ripped off my clothes and jammed himself right into me. I was still a virgin at that time. When my father was finished with me he made everyone have sex with me. I cried and cried and tried screaming so much but they had my mouth covered. There was about 7 guys in my house at that time and they all raped me that night. My father said it was a birthday gift from them. He brought me into the bathroom and made me wash myself. I was filled with blood pain and soreness both vaginally and anally. I couldn’t tell anyone because I am so afraid of what will happen. Who will believe me and what will they think about me. Till this day I live of fear of my father and he acts like nothing happened. I just don’t know what to do - at times he sneaks into my bedroom and rapes me but he always says that I am weaker compared to him and that know one will believe me. I am just scared and need help. What should I do? 13
These are ‘no-fault’ situations. I have seen many people carrying the burden of guilt for what happened to them. People in this situation develop irrational thoughts and take on personal blame for their attack.
The woman that is raped begins to believe she had a part to pay in her attack. The sexually abused child is convinced it’s her fault her dad raped her. The hijacking victim thinks he should have been more careful. The children of divorced parents begin to believe their parents have separated because of them. The robbery victims think they should have been more security conscious.
These people are burdened by a guilt that is sometimes more heavy than the sudden incident. Often surrounded by callous and cold people, some well meaning, others just horrible, more pain is heaped onto the lives of these victims. In all of these cases, sudden incidents are a violation of the person’s dignity, security or wellbeing. People did not bring this upon themselves and should not carry the pain of guilt or shame.
Maybe you’ve been a victim of attack. Recognising that this is not your fault might be the first step of your healing. These sudden traumatic events can bring us to an intimate place of dependence on God. They remind us about God’s sovereignty; that our lives are not in our hands. It forces us to face the reality of a sinful world, that not all people are kind, loving and want our best. These are rude awakenings; wake up calls that slap us into a new realisation of our situation. Ultimately these experiences can bring us back to intimacy with God. Our healing journey may take many years as God mends our brokenness and restores us to wholeness in Him. Where is God? In these situations, we are rudely faced with the question of God’s seeming absence. These are times in our lives when things don’t make sense and we start to wonder what the plot of this life really is. It is times like these when we cannot make sense of our situation that God becomes evermore real and present. We are faced with embracing the paradox of God’s mystery in our lives; when we are reminded that we cannot have everything worked out.
We realise in these situations that the world does not work according to formula. It doesn’t matter how well we live, if we are pleasing God, following all the rules and just being plain good people. These situations shatter any sense of order, we start to question the morality of life, the punishment of evil and sink in a sense of outright injustice. In the midst of this chaos, God is alive and working in us, in ways we cannot fully understand. He is the God of all situations, the ones where life seems to be according to script and in the moments of our deep futility. These are times as Mike Erre 14 describes when we move from having faith in faith to having faith in God. Faith in faith seeks to avoid mystery and pain. Faith in God comes when we God strips us of our props and reveals Himself to us in the midst of our emptiness.
4. Desire, Dreams and Despair ‘Desire is the throbbing pulse of human life. What we long for determines the scope of our experiences, the depth of our insights, the standards by which we judge, and the 14
responsibility with which we choose our values. It matters a great deal whether we long for things that go beyond the material, that are transcendental.’ p. 10 James M Houston 15
Are you tired and disappointed because your dreams have not been realised? The call of desire is what gives us meaning and propels us into a new dimension. We have been created as teleological beings. This means we have a purpose and life is goal directed. The greatest pain of modern society is boredom where we are trapped in between disappointments of the past and fear of the future.
Try as we may to resist, there seems to be a nagging sense that teases us into a forward momentum. This may take different forms. For some it is deep frustration as you realise that all you want to become and do is being blocked and you feel stuck. For others it is a foggy sense that there is something more to this life. You might feel that the outward vestiges of success are not enough; that there is more than the material. Yet others stand frozen in the middle of an ice river too afraid to make a move yet seeing the beautiful banks. The most common form of despair is not being who you are. (Soren Kierkegaard) 16
These are places of dreams and desires. Places that reconnect us to God. Over the years we might become disillusioned as we face constant rejection and failure. At some point our dreams and desires get overshadowed by the so-called ‘reality’ of our lives. This is when we end up living lives of quiet desperation. We resign ourselves to mediocrity and believe that we are destined to live small dreams. This goes on for sometime as we settle into a routine devoid of our deep dreams and desires. Matthew Arnold, in the poem, The Buried Life 17 captures the human tension of living in a comfort zone when we know in our souls there is so much more, that there is more to this life than meets the eye: 15 16
James M Houston. 2007. The Desire. Satisfying the Heart. Collarodo: Victor.
Paul Robert Lieder (ed.)., Eminent British Poets of the Nineteenth CenturyVol. 2: Tennyson to Housman (New York & London: Harper & Brothers, 1938), pp. 359-60. The text was checked against that in Victorian Poetry and Poetics, ed. W. E. Houghton and G. R. Stange (Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Riverside, 1959), p. 432. [PVA] http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/arnold/writings/buriedlife.html
But often, in the world's most crowded streets, But often, in the din of strife, There rises an unspeakable desire After the knowledge of our buried life; A thirst to spend our fire and restless force In tracking out our true, original course; A longing to inquire Into the mystery of this heart which beats So wild, so deep in us--to know Whence our lives come and where they go. And many a man in his own breast then delves, But deep enough, alas! none ever mines. And we have been on many thousand lines, And we have shown, on each, spirit and power; But hardly have we, for one little hour, Been on our own line, have we been ourselves-Hardly had skill to utter one of all The nameless feelings that course through our breast, But they course on for ever unexpress'd. And long we try in vain to speak and act Our hidden self, and what we say and do Is eloquent, is well--but 'tis not true! And then we will no more be rack'd With inward striving, and demand Of all the thousand nothings of the hour Their stupefying power; Ah yes, and they benumb us at our call! Yet still, from time to time, vague and forlorn, From the soul's subterranean depth upborne As from an infinitely distant land, Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey A melancholy into all our day. The interesting thing is that Godly desire and dreams donâ€™t go away easily. They are like a nagging drip on a rainy roof, the dog that runs across your path when youâ€™re not paying attention. They seem to resurface at the most unexpected of times, usually in times of deep desperation. When we are stripped bare of all the temporary success, we are reminded of our deepest desires.
For some of us a deeper desire for meaning stubbornly sticks with us as a lingering voice that never wants to let us go – until we stop, listen and respond. This is how I felt in-between moving jobs, reflected in my 2003 journal: Diary of Discontent The past three weeks have been some of the worse that I have experienced in a while. It’s as though a cloud of grey slowly creeps up behind you and engulfs you in its sombre hues. My days have been exhausting & empty as I pack my boxes of books and tidy up my office space. My nights have become restless and awkward.
The idea of changing jobs is not new for me – in many ways it’s what I look for and enjoy. But this time around I am not sure what I am in for. Accepting this corporate head office job has been in some ways a mild ambition – but the discrepancy of daily futility has fast set in - it seems.
My close friend tells me that there is a deeper lesson for me.I struggle to find that lesson right now…Just like I do navigating my way through an hour’s drive to work everyday. It’s crazy – the thing that I despised doing I am sheepishly conformed to. Yet I still know that this is not the reward of work.
If I’m not sitting in bumper to bumper traffic – I am frantically scouring the elite neighbourhoods trying to find a place to stay and becoming numb to the exorbitant costs that are the norm around here. After my voyeuristic episodes into the flats, photos and bathrooms of willing sellers I am not even sure that I want to buy a place and start this settling in again.
Settling has never appealed to generally – I feel like Abraham – always on the move with home and harem (except I don’t have the latter). But I’m also becoming tired of this moving – maybe the reason for moving is becoming tiresome. Job changes have always been the cue to move to another place – only to become quickly conversant with the work – become bored – and scout the Sunday papers for a new job offering.
I was talking to a new friend of mine the other day over lunch in an arty-farty suburb of town. We were intelligently exploring the meaning of work only to conclude at the end of
our discourse that there is no inherent meaning in work itself. Work (albeit a large part) is only given meaning in the gestalt. So we concluded it didn’t really matter what job you did – but why you did it.
But surely the type of work you do ought to reflect your gifts and talents – my constant interjection was answered after some deliberation. It’s great if your work ties in with your life mission – so you enjoy a complete fit of purpose. But what if it doesn’t – as would be the case for many people – either because they haven’t discovered their life mission or haven’t had the privilege of finding complementary work.
As for me – over the years I could reconcile my corporate wanderings as preparation for a life of service in the church. Up till now this was OK – but suddenly now that I am in what I consider to be my last corporate role – I am most uncomfortable.
Maybe the discomfort will mobilize me to keep in my mind my mission as I navigate the politics of corporate executive life. It’s so easy to sit back and relax here. Enjoy the inefficiency of corporate bureaucracy and warm the financial nest egg. But this it cannot be if I am to look forward to coming to work at all. There is something more…
Shadows of Despair ‘Perhaps despair alone can help us see how we are intrinsically in disarray with God’s presence.’ 18
James Houston observes that in the past when the presence of God was more evident than in our secular world of today, the reality of despair was better understood. Nowadays we have many distractions that claim to fill the deep gap in our souls when all is said and done we are still the hollow men and women that Elliot laments about.
Nothing can replace the vacuum in our lives that only God can fill. It takes times of despair to come into grips with this truth. When all is going well, when we are living successfully, meeting life’s challenges and ambitions head on, we can begin to believe that self is supreme. 18
James, M, Houston. (2007). The Desire. Satisfying the Heart. Victor. England.
‘Despair is my reluctant acknowledgement that I am in after all powerless in a meaningless world. While many around me hold tight to their little empires and power plays, speaking with authority and building material protection, I retreat into my emptiness, clutching desperately to my honest despair, as they to their dishonest hope.’ 19
In 1 Corinthians 13:12 Paul speaks of this knowing, a place where we see only in part this life that we live. ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am also known.’ When we are in places of despair and desperation we begin to know ourselves better. It’s at times like these when we are stripped of all our pride, success and seeming togetherness. In these times we are not made aware of our nakedness by God, not to shame us but remind us that we are nothing without Him.
Some of us stare despair dramatically in the face whilst others live lives of quiet desperation. We are the people trying to make ends meet, trying to work out the meaning of our situation, we are the people that live under the radar quietly getting on with our lives, we are good citizens, good parents, good church members. Good but quietly desperate. We long for something more.
We hope for better marriages, desire to climb the corporate ladder, want to make a difference in life, just rest and not have to worry about a thousand things. We are quietly in search of the abundant life sickeningly preached in our pulpits. Our desires are good, yet our lives are a steady, stale, monotone.
We try to fill our places of desperation with things, with ambition, with relationships, more church, more, more, more….Here’s my reflection for this constant searching: In Search of Significance This thorn in my flesh Veiled by apparent success Breeds a nagging discontent Like a festering internal wound 19
Things are never good enough Always more to be done Personal significance hangs Precariously in the balance More academics More career development More visible ministry More work overload More committees More task orientation More project plans In my pursuit of the more I sometimes chase my tail Driven in frivolous circles Busy but going nowhere Lord teach me to practice daily The discipline of godly contentment And rest my search for significance Knowing that I am fully complete in you Despair comes in various shapes and sizes. Houston describes a few that we typically encounter in our daily lives:
1. The despair of boredom. â€˜The paralysis of boredom is that the past is blocked by guilt and the future is blocked by anxiety.â€™ 20 Boredom is the sickness of the now generation who want to live for the moment, the past is dead and the future holds no hope. We respond to boredom by satisfying ourselves with meaningless distractions, watching television mindlessly, sports fanaticism, compulsive work, anything that seems to fill the space where we have to confront our deepest needs, fears and desires. 2. Despair as Godlessness. Soren Kierkegaard who suffered deeply from despair helps understand the roots of despair. He discovered through his life that despair
Houston, p. 142
reflected a breakdown in one’s relationship with God and with others. As spiritual beings we cannot live without relationships.
The urging of our dreams and the pain of despair can bring us to the place where God becomes pre-eminent in our lives. When we have exhausted our self made dreams, success and come face to face with our solitude apart from God, we are in a God-place, a place where we can be restored, shaped and given new life in Him according to His desires for our lives. Christ’s place of desperation If desperation is so central to our wholeness, what can we learn from the life of Jesus, as the incarnate Son of Man. Jesus, in his life journey, also experienced deep despair and desperation. Just like us, these periods were imperative for him to fulfil his divine destiny as fully divine and fully human.
In having full revelation of the mysteries of creation, time, and love, how it must have broken his heart to see his beloved ‘children’ fumble in their blindness and lost destruction? How his heart must have torn, day by day and minute by minute, to hear the empty voices of arrogant, prideful teachers misguide his beloved in empty rituals. Like a parent to a child, and a brother to a sister, how much would be have strived in desperation for us to come into understanding of the goodness and freedom of walking through ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14:6)?
Jesus understands fully the costs of desperation marked by his own repetitive experience of rejection, isolation, misunderstanding and humiliation in His earthly ministry. He was subject to the human condition and because of this common experience with us, He says: "I am with you always, until the end of the earth." Matthew 28:20. Here, He reminds us that He knows and understands the ‘barbed-wire’ pain that may be prolonged over time in your own life.
Even his closest friends and brothers, his disciples, often hurt him through their human nature. As they walked with him, day by day, and saw his miracles, they did not recognise his divinity. How painful and frustrating this would have been, especially being misunderstood by the ones closest to him?
The poem “Desert Feeding” is based on the story of the “Feeding of the Five thousand” and highlights how Jesus continued to extend gentleness and patience towards his disciples even when they operated from a limited, worldly paradigm.
understand yet? Don't you remember the five loaves for the 5,000 and how many baskets you collected?” Matthew 16:9. International Standard Version Desert Feeding What did you feel After hearing your disciples Sarcastic utterances? “Where can you find food in the desert and for thousands before the sun sets?” Did your compassion for the hungry Overwhelm your disappointment In mortal men who just saw miracles Happen before their very eyes? Dealing in love with their unbelief You ask, “What do you have?” Bread and fish-our talents, small Insignificant, given the awesome need Bring them, Break them, Bless them Food enough for thousands, and more Then you turn to your disciples And ask in answering tenderness “Where can you find food in the desert and for thousands before the sun sets?” His disciples also constantly let him down. Imagine the sting of betrayal from the fellow disciple Judas who walked and talked and ate with Jesus. At His most desperate place in the Garden of Gethsemane, his disciples fall asleep as Jesus agonises about His death in the eternal context of sin, salvation and the call of His Father. Despite asking them to keep watch and be with him, they abandon Him. Later Peter, graced by God to
become the apostle of the Christian church, denies any knowledge of Christ not once but three times! The Garden of Gethsemane 36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” 42 He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 43 Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more Jesus’ death and resurrection is symbolic of the last penny sacrificed by God the Father. God was at the place of utter desperation. He realised that the judges, kings, priests and prophets were not sufficient to bring His people back to Him. The only option that God the Father had in redeeming humanity was to send His only Son, Jesus Christ. Sin brings us ultimately into a place of desperation. We all by the nature of our fallen beings are bound in our own nature by sin. Death is the wages of sin, eternal damnation in separation from God, our Creator and Father. In our place of desperation we come face to face with our sinful nature and our need for God.
Jesus was also at the place of desperation on the cross. He experienced all the affliction of desperation. His suffering was prolonged from the Garden of Gethsemane to His eventual death on the Cross. He was rejected by a society who mocked him as the ‘King of the Jews’. He was denied any human dignity as he hung naked. His clothes were gambled for. He was beaten beyond physical recognition. He was thirsty for water and given sour vinegar instead. Ultimately, He was abandoned by God the Father, who had to sacrifice His Son for the full and final redemption of humankind.
At our place of desperation, we come to grips with the reality of the crucified Christ. He is not a myth, a guru, kind teacher or a spiritual energy. We discover Him as God, our Saviour and Lord. All our rationality and pride is stripped off us. This is the place that God desires; the place of our desperation. It is the place the woman in our story was at.
It is a place where Jesus can make the difference in our lives; not only in this lifetime but into all eternity. God’s ‘waiting room’ It doesn’t matter how we get into this valley of desperation. What is more important to know is that God meets us at this place. In the Psalm 23, King David refers to God as a loving shepherd that protects, provides and heals his sheep bringing them out of this troubled place to a new direction and destiny. ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.’ There is hope; our desperation is not the end of the road. God is with us. This is but a shadow of death, not death itself. Christ has conquered death on the Cross and he promises us a way out of the valley.
‘The valley of the shadow of death may denote the most severe and terrible affliction, or dark dispensation of providence, that the psalmist ever could come under. Between the part of the flock on earth and that which is gone to heaven, death lies like a dark valley that must be passed in going from one to the other. But even in this there are words which lessen the terror. It is but the shadow of death: the shadow of a serpent will not sting, nor the shadow of a sword kill. It is a valley, deep indeed, and dark, and miry; but valleys are often fruitful, and so is death itself fruitful of comforts to God's people. It is a walk through it: they shall not be lost in this valley, but get safe to the mountain on the other side.’ 21 Kind David wrote many of his psalms whilst in deep desperation and pain. He laments in the sense of being abandoned by God and the intense frustrations of his circumstances. In Psalms 69: 1-3, David calls out to God: Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, Where there is no standing I have come into deep waters, Where the floods overflow me. I am weary with my crying; My throat is dry; My eyes fail while I wait for my God. 21
Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary
Rick Yohn, speaks of “God’s Waiting Room”. It is a place much like the waiting room at a doctor’s surgery. It is a place that God brings us into where we are allowed the time and space to contemplate our lives in a deeper way. He says that “entering God’s waiting room is no voluntary decision; it’s not an outcome that we can predict or determine, it’s often a place of high stress, great perplexity and where we are faced with our own inadequacy. Most importantly, it’s a place where God gradually unfolds the next chapter of our lives.”
God is with us throughout our lives, especially in the prolonged darks days, when we feel all alone. Sometimes God allows us to endure suffering for our growth but never more than the capacity He gives us to endure. The place of desperation is paradoxically a good-God place.
In our waiting room, we come to recognise The Great Physician, the Healer of our souls. In this place of deep desperation we truly come into touch with God, not images of God fashioned according to our imagination. It’s a place where all other options have been exhausted. The call that Christ makes is one of total abandonment and dependence on Him alone.
Like this woman there are many objects associated with Christ that become substitutes for the Person of Christ. Anything that distracts us from placing our faith in Christ is a misplaced faith. This can take different forms. We can trust in the healing power of prayer clothes, holy water from the River Jordan, healing power of the crucifix, medicine, healing televangelists, psychologists, pastors and the sacraments.
These objects may be associated with the work of Christ but are no substitute for the Person of Christ. All of these can and should remind us and lead us in the direction of the true healer of our souls, Jesus Christ. Desperation brings us to the source of our faith and healing, back to God.
Yohn, Rick, 1988, God’s Waiting Room, Navpress, Colorado
6. DEEPER REFLECTION
1. What is your place of desperation in your life at this time? 2. What are the costs that you are paying? 3. Have you exhausted all options available to you? 4. Are you willing to give over control to God in your situation? 5. Are you feeling guilty or ashamed for something that happened to you? 6. What is God saying to you in His â€˜waiting roomâ€™?
Chapter Two: The Point of Decision "Choose today whom you will serve" (Joshua 24:15) Introduction God invites us to come to our places of desperation. This is one way that He prepares our hearts to be receptive to His work in our lives. Yet it is in God’s nature that He waits for us to invite Him to transform our circumstances and our hearts. He does not impinge on our choices but waits for us.
‘Free will’ or Choice” is the very gift that God has given us that defines us as human beings. Even in a place of deep desperation, we have a choice between spiritual life and spiritual death; spiritual strength and realignment to God’s perfect order irrespective of the natural order, or a succumbing to the temporary order of the day. Even if we do not actively make a decision, we are passively making decisions all the time. Deciding ‘not to do anything’ means we are deciding to continue with the status quo that we have previously chosen for our lives.
As we enter into places of desperation, we are confronted with having to make a decision about where we are and where we want to be. The quality of our decisions obviously determines the consequence or outcome. A good decision is a wellconsidered one, and in our places of desperation we still have the opportunity to weigh up our situation. Eventually, we have to make a decision to either allow Jesus to complete His will in us, or not.
When Jesus hung on the cross, two other people were being crucified next to him. Both of these criminals were at a deep place of desperation where a choice had to be made. In that moment, the one criminal chose Jesus as the source of his salvation and became a heavenly prince by the grace of God, at his turning point decision. The other criminal chose to turn from God, and thereby receive the consequence of eternal damnation. Even in his place of utter desperation, this man mocked the Redeemer who could have saved his soul.
Similarly, many people come to their place of desperation and fail to make a decision that could change the course of their lives. At our place of desperation, we cannot be
passive because our passivity will not enable God to move in our lives. We have to make a decision to move ahead. God works in the movement of our lives. It starts with a desire that is confirmed in a decision.
The crippled man at the Pool of Bethesda, who waited for years to be healed, had to make a decision. Even though he probably had little physical strength to lift himself into the pool, he persevered year after year. He had made a clear decision that he wanted to be healed and would not give up hope or make an excuse for not being healed. It would have been much easier to have become a cynical, wounded man, sitting as a beggar at the temple gates. He chose instead to be a man of decision sitting at the healing pool. Reaching the point of decision After twelve years of suffering, the ‘woman with the issue of blood’, was clearly at the place of desperation.
The Bible says, “She had heard the stories about Jesus. She came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His cloak, for she said to herself: 'If I touch even His clothes, I will be cured.'”
She had heard of the miraculous healings that Jesus had been performing. We can only imagine her replaying the stories of healing that she heard in the solitude of her room. She probably had a sense of eagerness and fear. She wanted so much to be healed by this Rabbi but how could it be possible. Her social and physical condition made it nearly impossible for her to realise her dream. How many hours and days must have passed as she pondered if this could actually become real?
As she sat alone considering her journey over all the years and desperate for healing she made a decision in her room that she will be healed even if she could just touch the hem of the Rabbi’s garment. With every passing day her faith became resolute until she hears the crowds coming into town surrounding the great Rabbi. Now was her appointed time as she decided in faith 'If I touch even His clothes, I will be cured' ”. On the basis of her faith decision, she pressed into the crowd and the rest is history.
So why is it so important to make a decision? As we will see a decision is the key that opens the door to allow God to enter into our place of desperation and to make things different. It’s a simple act of volition but a powerful one that invites the power and majesty of God into our space. Christ says that he stands at the door and knocks and waits for us to open so that he may come in and fellowship with us. Decision making is the turning of the key and the opening of the door.
Making a decision sets us on the path of new beginnings. Making a decision allows us to move out of our place of desperation. It allows us to move forward in our lives - to take the next step. Decisions lead us to new journeys of faith and discovery. Sometimes this decision to go into the unknown is daunting but it’s a decision only we can take knowing that we re being led by a loving God who has our best interest at heart.
Decision making is an active process. It requires mental and spiritual energy. It is a will to do and different from an intent which is a desire to do. Once the decision has been made inside our heart and mind, we are propelled to the next step of action.
A decision seals our co-operation with God in what He wants to achieve in partnership with us, in our lives. Before Jesus healed anyone, He asked them what they wanted from Him. Surely He knew, because He could see the need. However, beyond this rhetorical question, is a deeper principle. God always provides an opportunity for us to participate in our holistic healing process.
He gives us the chance to recognise our specific need and to make the decision to partner with Him in our healing. By asking him to meet our specific need, we also ‘give Him permission’ to answer our request and by so doing, the miracle specific to our need is put in motion. This process starts with our decision to partner with God in a journey of healing and discovering destiny which is often not limited to our healing event only.
Making a decision allows us to affirm our need for God. Our decision confirms for us, first and foremost what God is able to do. This is simply the process of faith.
In our response to Him we become participators in our miracle. Christ seeks to empower us to do the things that we are entitled to as His children. He does not stand away from us and invoke a magical ritual, but instead asks us to partner with Him in our area of need.
As an example in Mark 7-8, Jesus demonstrates this principle of partnership in healing. He did not do miracles for people – he always invited people to partner in their healing. In this poem, we see Jesus using his spit for healing – not as a magical potion – but to confound the cynical Pharisees watching his every move:
Spitual Healing When they brought the deaf The dumb and the blind in earnest plea You always led them away From the thronging masses To be alone with them Then you would touch them In ways-radical, even rude Spitting in their faces, Putting sand in their eyes In symbols of earthly contempt You bring divine restoration Lord, in those brief encounters And in your unorthodox ways You sought to heal the inner man Restoring Kingdom vision and hearing Outside the village of trite tradition And they, disobeying your commands Become messengers of your service But first, you receive the Father’s reward Then that of the thronging village masses Although Jesus wants to heal of you physical or emotional infliction, his ultimate concern is for your destiny. He is a multi-dimensional and multi-functional multi-healer. And yet, any decisions regarding our futures need to be made by ourselves first.
Obstacles to decision-making Even in our place of desperation, it is not always easy to make a decision. Sometimes we see a woman being repeatedly abused by her husband and ask rather selfrighteously, ‘why can’t she just decide to get out.’ The woman will tell you it’s not that easy, if you really cared to know. So what seems to be a relatively easy action may not be so after all.
As we acknowledge this we also begin to understand that our decision making in favour of God’s work in our lives is everything that Satan does not want for us. So we need not be surprised or naïve to know that he will attempt to come in the way of our decision making.
Satan uses our pain to bring us to a place of despair where we start to believe God has abandoned us. As we indulge this lament and entertain the voices of those around us that tell us ‘to curse God’ we succumb to a sinful state of unbelief. We begin to believe the lie of Satan, that we are unloved, victims, wounded by others and rejected by God. Over time we can establish these lies in our lives and they are a sin against the nature of God who has come not to destroy us but to give us life.
If we can be stalled in our decision making, then effectively the work of God can be delayed and sometimes even abandoned as we settle in our old ways of doing things. So what are some of the obstacles to decision making in favour of God working in our lives?
Seeing with the eyes of rationalism Someone has said that the opposite of faith is not doubt but sight. Paul says in Hebrews that ‘faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of that which is not seen.’ In our world, our motto is ‘seeing is believing’. Rationality and make sense dominates how we make decisions and if we make them at all.
Unfortunately for us God does not operate according to our rationality. His ways and mind is too complex for us to fathom. When we try to figure God out and out him into our paradigm we risk becoming paralysed by our analysis and not deciding forward. Decision in this sense requires faith, not sight.
So if everything has to fit into place like a jigsaw puzzle before we make our next move we stay in the land of no decision, frozen in time as life passes us by. In some ways God allows our desperation to thaw us out of our rationalism and to move with God even if life doesn’t make sense.
Double-mindedness Our indecision could also stem from having too may options. The apostle James says that a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1 vs 8). The Bible asks: "How long will you waver between two positions?" Kierkegaard 23 described this as a despair of possibility. This is caused when there is too little constraint in ones life. ‘With wide open opportunities, we feel frightened and choose to operate in a narrow, petty existence, paralyzed by our freedom.’ So instead of choosing to live for God, we satisfy our multiple cravings by killing our boredom through mindless entertainment or flirt from one job to another or dip in and out of relationships. We seem afraid of the prospect of being grounded and rooted in one choice.
Perhaps at the heart of this is a fear about making the wrong decision. The possibility of failure threatens our present call to live fully in the now. So we try out different options as a way of avoiding the big decisions of our lives.
When we are at our place of desperation, we are stripped of options and have only God. Despite this we may still fall back on our old nature and wait out making a decision for God to work in our lives. What others will say? The woman in the bible story more than anyone else faced the pain of what other people thought of her. All her life she was subject to the opinion, judgement, and ridicule of other people. It’s amazing how other people become a key factor in our lives and our decision making process. Sometimes they can be of great help and often they are obstacles to God fully realising His work in our lives.
The ‘other people’ often take the form of spouse, close family and friends. These are some of the people that have the biggest pull in our lives and if we are not discerning we can be held behind because of their opinions, fears and aspirations for us.
In the place of desperation, God strips away our false sense of dependence on the others around us. As we become disillusioned in them we realise that they are only human and that our desire must be to please God firstly and not the desires of those around us. Waiting for a sign Sometimes even in the midst of desperation, we still want God to give us a sign to confirm His will for our lives. Waiting for a sign is not just stubbornness or fear; it’s a lack of faith. We know in part and want God to validate the rest before we decide.
There was a prophet in the Old Testament that also waited for a sign. Ezekiel was holed up in a cave on the run waiting for God to speak to Him. There was a sign of fire and God was not there, then great thunder and God was not there. Eventually the prophet discovers God in a still, small voice. This story teaches us that God is not into supernatural confirmations of His will but that He engages with us in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. He is speaking to us in the stillness of our mundane existence. We need to tune in to his voice. ‘God will guide those whose hearts are open to follow.’ 24 Mike Erre reminds us that we need to be faithful in what God calls us to do today and he will lead us tomorrow. It seems part of our struggle with decision making in favour of God is our Christian risk management mindset. Decision making with God is a matter of risk which is inherent in a life of faith.
The only sign we have in our times of deep desperation is the witness of God in the testimony of others and in our hearts through the voice of the Holy Spirit. If we listen to the sign of His Spirit in our lives and decide to trust Him, our lives will not be the same.
Mike Erre, p. 30.
Decision making in favour of God So how should we decide when it comes to matters of God? Recognising Sin and Desiring Repentance First we need to recognise that when we are separate from God we are in a state of sinfulness. This could have been the result of our own beliefs and behaviour or that of others. Whatever the case God never abandons us and so our first decision is to be restored to Him.
The woman with the issue of blood recognised that if she could come into contact with the healing Rabbi, her life would not be the same again. So too in our lives, at our deepest place of desperation we seek not for a solution apart from the Saviour. We don’t come to God to get ‘fixed’. We come to God because our complete wholeness rests in our relationship with Him.
Repentance is the conscious act that brings us into recognition of our frailty, unworthiness in ourselves. When we repent, we acknowledge our sinful nature and our sin as human beings. Our decision to be saved (healed) brings God’s unmerited favour into action. This is the first step of decision making, falling at the feet of Christ, recognising who He is not because of what we need. Seeing with the Eyes of God Pursuing our God-given vision, dream or desire requires that we see with eyes of faith. A vision, by its very nature is a spiritual thing. It is born out of an inner desire and fuelled by a higher passion challenging our natural aspirations. God-given visions extend us beyond the natural. They are not self-centred, and they stretch people beyond their wildest dreams. These visions are often practically impossible by natural standards.
That's exactly why our decision-making cannot be limited to the boundaries of reason and observation. Noah’s decision to build an ark in the desert defied reason and logic. In obedience, he built an ark in the middle of the desert. He believed God who told him that a flood was going to ravage the land. The people in his society did not believe him. They mocked his madness and stayed within the bounds of their rationalism. How could they help build an ark when there was no water around them?
To become people with a kingdom vision we have to allow the Holy Spirit to move into the spirit realm of our understanding. Jesus in his earthly ministry was building kingdom thinking in his teaching. He was constantly challenging his followers to see beyond the physical and temporal realm. Rationalism forces us to decide within the boundaries of the provable and observable. Clearly this position prevents us from experiencing the supernatural.
If God knows our beginning and our end and He also knows the beginning of all time, and the end of all time, then he has a very advantageous omniscient perspective to advise us in our decision-making. For this reason, it is imperative that we ask him for His counsel as we make decisions. We are called to make Godly decisions, but how do we do this?
Heavenly minded with no earthly good Decision making also requires us to use our common sense, apply the knowledge available to us on a matter by drawing on personal and collective experience. In other situations where we need to move beyond our present situation, we must depend on the revelation of God through the work of the Holy Spirit. In this manner we balance both fact and faith in our decisionâ€“making.
There is a danger that some people make all their decisions based on the â€˜supernaturalâ€™ - even the ones that are obviously natural! This is where the appeal of an elusive outer world becomes our guide in decision-making. We should recognise that we live in a natural world with natural consequences. Decision-making based on the mystical denies the mind that God has given us. When we do not exercise godly use of our minds, we open ourselves to the attack of false teaching and deception.
Having kingdom vision does not mean that we foolishly ignore rational and obvious issues in our decision-making. The extreme opposite of rationalism is the esoteric and mystical. This position is tantamount to fortune telling or being directed by the universe or our intuition. The result is that we cannot give account to people affected by our decisions. Often families, churches and friends are destroyed by our foolishness. Our
response is to hide behind a mask of spirituality, which we hope keeps people away, and thereby releases us from our duty to others around us.
Sometimes we reduce our super spirituality to decisions that appease our own egos and make it seem as it is Godâ€™s doing. At the end of the day, God holds us accountable for sensible, spirit-led decisions that are not mere game playing as I reflect in this poem having seen so many attempts at creating a false spirituality in the church. The God Game The other day after a month fasting vision I was led to create God with my apostolic team We created God in our own image Conforming him to our capitalist culture We made him a super-church leader One that the world would reckon with Deciding he should be rich and famous We discipled him in prosperity preaching Soon others wanted to join our game Building global mega-churches for play Getting bigger and better in holy fame We changed the face of Christianity today We dabbled in the stock market And raised unit trusts in seed offerings We even had our own media networks With our own talk show Tel-evangelists Our church programmes always supercharged We had moved beyond the old time religion We ate the meat of the new age gospel Times they are a changing-we are a flowing And did we flow with the new manifestation We embraced the new prophetic ministry We drank from the new wells of laughter We manifested in new holy beast-like dancing We learned the art and science of mass manipulation Our leaders becoming powerful men of God The untouchable Mafia â€“ the anointed apostles
Super-churchmen with Barbie doll wives on stage And when we owned enough of everything And all our members drove the latest blessing from God And after flowing in all the latter rain revivals We found out that we still had the poor in our midst We stood naked yet having all we asked of the Lord Hungry yet having being ministered to by the elect Frustrated yet surrounded with golden globe achievements You see we were fast coming to the end of our game And that meant that we would have to kill our God But how can we play again if our God is dead? And so we make him a super-hero once more Renewing all memberships with the latest fad Weâ€™re trapped in this monopoly and its getting late As we continue to play our stupid game of God
Who is holding the key to your decision-making? Psychologists speak of 'locus of control' as a concept that influences our decisionmaking. A person with an internal locus of control believes that s/he is in control of her or his life and a person with an external locus of control believes that external circumstances & other people control her or her life.
How we see this issue of control affects the nature of our decision making. If I believe that I can exercise control over my life, then it is sensible to make decisions about my future. If however, I am convinced the universe controls my destiny (external) then I consider my decision making futile in the larger scheme of things.
Sometimes as Christians we tend to confuse the issue of taking control as being unbiblical. Taking charge of our lives through the power of Christ is a demonstration of proper stewardship of our lives. We are the temple of God and it us up to us to safeguard and be good caretakers of what God has entrusted us with. To do this we have to exercise Godly control which makes our lives available for the presence of God and the service of others.
Having internal control includes a mindset of personal power and authority and emotional stability in alignment with God’s Truth. It is an internal drive that allows us to exercise our God-given choice and to live lives of godly discipline so that we may practise our faith. For the believer, we need to be grounded in our positions as rulers and sons and daughters of God and not in a humanistic state of self empowerment or disempowerment. This attitude is one of humility and Godly confidence. We become what we are in Christ and we behave according to who Christ has set us to be.
Taking charge for the Christian, means giving over control to Christ in our lives. It is a place where we willingly submit our lives to the authority of God. God can only exercise His control in our lives, if we give Him permission to do so. In order for us to give God control, we have to be in control of our lives. This is an internal locus of control for the believer.
The external locus of control on the other hand, says that I am not in charge of my life. The world and all its forces control me. I am at the mercy of the external world. I cannot do anything about the wounds that have been inflicted on me in my life.
An external locus of control can easily keep people in the ‘victim role.’ If I don’t believe I can do anything about my situation, then I am the victim of my circumstances. This victim role often develops into a 'poor me' syndrome, where we expect other people to feel sorry for us. It’s often a place where we want others (or the world, or even God) to decide on our behalf instead of taking responsibility for our own decisions.
This places our happiness in the hands of others which ultimately leads to extreme hopelessness. Where there is hopelessness, the future cannot be anticipated and this leaves little room for God’s destiny to be expressed in our lives. Making a decision to go to God Both King David and Job, in their moments of deep desperation, made the decision to go to God with their troubles. In Psalm 69 vs 13-14a, David says, But as for me, my prayer is to You. O Lord, in the acceptable time; O God, in the multitude of your mercy, Hear me in the truth of your salvation. Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink.
In his place of sheer desperation, David discovers personally a God of unfailing love. This discovery does not happen in his reign as king in the safety of his palaces. He discovers his hope in God on the run, hiding in caves, desperate for his life in the wild desert of Israel.
Making a decision to come to God is dependent on His working in our lives. Ask God to help you to make a decision to come to Him because staying in no-man’s-land does not help you or anyone else. It only leads to greater anxiety and hopelessness.
We can decide to continue with our struggle or to commit our situation to Christ. Take the initiative by asking God to help you to come to a point of unwavering conviction. He will send His Holy Spirit to enable you to have the faith and trust to make the decision to move into the next step of your destiny.
Ask him to carry you as you let go of those things clutched tightly into your fist. And as you open your hand, reach out to his large and loving sovereign hand. Know that you are safe and secure in His love. Time for Reflection
1. What decision do you have to make at your place of desperation? 2. Are there any other obstacles impeding your decision-making? 3. What is the first, small step decision you need to make right now? 4. Think of times when you made decisions that changed your life – how did you feel? 5. What were the most difficult decisions the following biblical characters had to make: a. b. c. d. e. f. g. h. i. j. k.
Moses Joshua Noah David Rahab Naomi Mary – the mother of Jesus Joseph Peter Paul Jesus Christ
Chapter Three: The Spirit of Determination "Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything". James 1:2 Introduction If decision is the turning point, then determination must be the spirit that drives us forward to realising our decision. A decision can happen in a split second or take days. Once it is made, it is a defining moment. Determination is what keeps the decision alive.
There are many times in our lives when we go back on decisions we have made. Often, it's not that the decisions were wrong but rather because we lacked the follow-through. Decisions in themselves don't make something happen; they simply commit us to the end result. A decision is the key that starts the engine of an airplane. Itâ€™s the throttle and a host of other processes that must be attended to in order for the plane to stay airborne. The engine thrust, fuel supply, navigational instruments, pilot and engineer skill and experience all make up the determination aspect, that which sustains a decision to its purposeful end. This process can often be a long, hard and personally challenging journey.
Running the race of faithfulness The Bible account of the woman who touched Jesus shows us a person of great determination. She was not going to stop at anything, short of receiving her miracle. It is in this area of determination that many of us have fallen short of our blessings. Running the race in faithfulness requires an ongoing and dedicated commitment. Commitment comes from a spirit of determination.
The Race Qualified by the Blood of Christ Our mark of His belonging We are entered rejoicing into The Race of Righteousness The Price too much for us to pay He, our salvation paid in full Proudly leading us to join in The Race of Righteousness
With singular purpose we run Our minds focused on the High calling Faltering at times yet not failing in The Race of Righteousness Some of us along the wayside fall Others turning around in futility flee The road is narrow, sometimes steep in The Race of Righteousness The cheering crowds do not wish us well They seek to see us dragged down our fall Refreshing us with seductive deceit in The Race of Righteousness Press on comrades for our race is not long Listen close, heavenly throngs of angels Look ahead, the Father waits with open arms Ready to reward His Righteous Press on, Press on The Comrades Marathon run annually over approximately 90 kilometres in South Africa typifies the race of determination. For many hopefuls it is the ultimate national challenge, and an opportunity to amongst an elite group of achievers. The reality of the Comrades is that it starts long before the day of the race. From the time of making the decision to run the Comrades to actually running it, there is approximately a six-month period of intense preparation. Only the determination of the athlete motivates and sustains his commitment to prepare until the day the race is run.
Determination is an orientation to action The experience of flying is another example that typifies the spirit of determination. When the pilot receives clearance and takes off, this is only the beginning of the journey. So, too, like the decisions we make, taking off is a critical process that takes us into a new level. However, we know that this is just the beginning.
Staying airborne requires constant vigilance and attention to detail. There is a sense of alertness the pilot is applying, picking up critical cues and make adjustments
accordingly. Similarly in our journey towards our vision, our spirit of determination enables us to reach our end goal, not in a quick flash but over a period of time. For the Isrealites it was forty plus years, for Paul it was thirty plus years of ministry. For Christ – all of eternity!
Once we've made our decision to pursue our goals and visions and we propel ourselves into the air, we need to recognise that we are now in another dimension that operates with different laws. When I'm on the ground, I'm safe and in control. When I'm in the air, however, I am subject to the law of gravity, which will cause me to be pulled back towards the earth. This is a given, a principle of nature, a law that I have to reckon with.
The spirit of determination enables us to transcend the boundaries of our situation. Staying in the air is a result of understanding the laws of the avionics and applying wisdom in using these laws to achieve the objectives of flying. Without the spirit of determination, the laws that govern the realm that we are moving into become obstacles and pull us down rather than keep us up. We have to learn and navigate the system to consistently reach our goal. Only determination through Christ keeps the wings of our vision in the sky for the duration of our journey.
Life is tough, not just sometime but a lot of the time. We will face trying times – this is a given. Hoping for anything else is a delusion. But this toughness of life is not a bad thing; it’s not something that is out to get us. We should rather consider the tough times in life as the necessary ingredient for discovering our true potential in God. Refining gold takes time and effort. This is the nature and call of determination.
Settling for less is easy. Striving for more requires persistent effort despite our circumstances. As someone said life happens! So determination is the fuel that gives us the necessary motivation and energy to go beyond. Here’s a poem in one of my dark moments when I could have given up as I was tempted to;
Paper Shuffling Suddenly I have an urge To tidy up my shelves Compulsively re-arranging files And pulling down paper cuttings
From my cluttered pin board I pause unceremoniously In-between Reflections of deep vulnerability And cutting anger Iâ€™m suddenly weak, drained out Staring past yesterdays events My anger small Weighed down by hurt In see-saw rhythm flashes in my mind I resolve to submit my heart To the ordering and re-arranging Of my crushed being To one that was also hurt And who knows the meaning of my pain Determination is driven by persistence Jesus tells a story of a man who went to his neighbour's house at night to ask for bread. His neighbour would not help him and turned the man away. The man, hungry for bread, returned to his neighbour a second time and was duly turned away. He didnâ€™t give up, however, and went a third time, and eventually the master of the house gave the neighbour bread. Christ teaches that it was the persistence of the man that enabled him to receive the bread.
The measure of our desperation and decision determines our persistence. Having the spirit of determination requires that we don't give up after the first try, or the second or third. To persist means that we press on to the end. We only stop when we receive what you set out to receive. It's so easy to give up on a dream or goal for our lives when we hit roadblocks.
Persistence assumes that we will experience failure, trials and tribulations. There is no need to persist where there is no obstacle!
Determination is an attitude Motivational speakers often say, "Attitude determines your altitude". It is the spirit of determination that keeps your wings in flight. Attitude is a mental disposition that determines how we tackle life and its many challenges. We can choose to have positive or negative attitudes.
Attitudes colour our perception, expectation and experience of our world. Often our attitudes are based on past experience and what we have been taught. In many cases the negative attitudes that we have developed are actually not based on a realistic appraisal of life and the situations in which we find ourselves.
Positive attitudes, unlike negative attitudes are much more difficult to develop and maintain because they do not come automatically. To be positive requires an active commitment to seeing the world differently. So instead of seeing obstacles and failures only, I choose to see opportunities and miracles. But this positive attitude demands my energy and focus, and is what fuels my determination. Determination is being deliberate Achieving your vision doesn't happen as a chance event. Looking around us, it seems that this is how many people approach their lives. Being deliberate requires that we have a plan of action, which you are committed to pursuing. Often half-hearted efforts don't get us very far because we are not truly deliberate in what we are busy with.
Once the vision is clear, specific goals must be set and acted upon. However, unless goals are committed to on paper or to another person one is accountable to, they are often not realised. Being deliberate means taking the time to think carefully, plan ahead, identify obstacles and opportunities and then actively deal with them.
Nehemiah is a great example of a man that had a clear vision from God. He knew he would be instrumental in building the Temple in Israel. But between his time of vision and waiting, he prayed and he planned. He was committing the vision to action as he planned specific steps.
Often I hear of people who have great visions but no plan of action to get what they want. All the good intention in the world will not make your vision become a reality. Being deliberate translates intention into action, because when I am deliberate, I will take my time management seriously, determine my priorities and keep my commitments.
Soaring on the wings of determination The eagle is a powerful reminder of the power of determination. As the eagle reaches the high places, it finds the right thermals that will allow it to glide effortlessly to its destination. This is the place where our determination moves from our own strength to that of our God, as He propels us into the storms of life. The woman in our bible story is clearly a woman of great determination. She has a positive attitude by choice, committed to action and persisting to the end. Time for Reflection:
1. What is your vision? 2. What are your life goals? 3. What do you want from God? 4. What are you praying for and planning towards as you wait? 5. What are some of the obstacles in your way and how will you deal with them?
Chapter Four: The Attitude of Defiance "You come to me with the sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord Almighty-the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied." (1 Samuel 17: 45) Introduction Realising your vision requires that you defy the negative forces around you. People with great vision must also possess great courage, which defies the apparent threats and monsters around us.
Achieving personal vision is more often a battle than it is a smooth sailing experience. When we are in battle, we must have an attitude of defiance. This allows us to tackle anything that stands in our way.
The woman in the bible story chose to openly defy the laws and traditions of her society. Touching the hem of Christâ€™s garment, a rabbi, was a most forbidden thing. Her desperation led to her decision. She pushed through the crowds determined to get near Christ. Then in moment of ultimate social and religious defiance, she touched Him.
The bible describes this act of defiance as something so remarkable that Christ actually felt his healing power leave His body. This is defiance at its peak â€“ a defiance that attracts and demands the power of God.
In the Old Testament, anyone even attempting to see the shadow of God was in danger of their lives. This desperate woman knew the Jewish reality yet she defied tradition, past experience and the situation she was in knowing that her victory was only in God.
Godly defiance is based on conviction To be defiant in pursuit of a worthy cause, we must first have a deep conviction of that thing that we are passionate about. Many people are defiant simply out of a rebellious nature and they are often despised by other people. However, defiance based on conviction is admired by others who identify with your cause, dream or vision. When you know in your spirit that you are right and the
world around you tells you otherwise, you have the conviction to be defiant. This attitude develops over time as you pay attention to your convictions and take them seriously.
I remember during the height of the apartheid days in the early eighties a spirit of defiance that arose amongst young people. All across the country in townships, on the mines, in schools and universities organisations emerged in protest of the horrors of apartheid. This was a time that I also came out in open defiance of the state and it was a big deal for me.
You must understand that for most of my growing up I was considered a model child, always well behaved and respectful of authority both at home and in the church. I was so well behaved that I did not even indulge in the youthful adventures of bunking school â€“ not even at the end of the year after exams! Beyond my sense of responsibility I was very introverted and had a quick death every time I was asked to talk in a group. I remember winning a poetry competition in school which required that I read my poem out aloud in the school assembly. My poem was read in a flash as I rushed back to my class line frozen to death by this public appearance.
Then I got to university and I soon experienced firsthand another world that I was sheltered from. A world unknown to me; where my African classmates lived daily in fear and anxiety in the townships. It was also during this time that I rediscovered my deep passion for truth and justice. The more I looked around me I realised the evils of our socio-political system. At this time I joined a Christian social action student group whose slogan was â€˜Christians acting against the apartheid heresy.â€™
My time with this organisation made me realise especially the unbiblical collaboration of the white church with the state. As I studied the scripture I found a deep conflict between what I was raised to believe as a Christian and the lies of the state backed Christianity. As I got more involved in Christian social action I found that it required a defiance of the state authority.
This was a huge mindset change for me and it was a place also of personal transformation. The once quite, shy teenager was now developing a spirit of defiance of anything that sided with the evil of apartheid. I remember challenging my student Christian society to responsible social action, my church pastor who willingly sided with the nationalist government and taught our congregation to do so likewise. My defiance eventually ended up on the streets of Durban in protest marches during the ‘Free Mandela’ campaigns.
It was during one of these marches that I was arrested wearing my bold red t-shirt ‘Christians acting against the apartheid heresy.’ After getting home from jail my biggest challenge was convincing my family that what I was involved with was responsible. I remember making an impassioned defence of my responsibility as a Christian to be involved in social action, with tears running down my eyes. This was more difficult than being arrested by the riot police because I was talking to my sister and brother in law who were sponsoring my studies.
My experience pales into insignificance compared to my fellow students, some of who were brutally tortured by the special branch of the police. Others on our campus lived in constant fear of being arrested and lived on the run. Yet another was killed in a cross border incident with the army.
Was the defiance worthwhile? Absolutely yes! As I now enjoy the dawn of a democratic South Africa my convictions and defiance have been validated. Yet I recognise the journey is not over as we mature as a democracy. We will continue to be defiant of laws and practices that erode the moral fibre of our land as it is seeded in corruption and disdain for human life. Defiance based on godly conviction brings deliverance to a nation and we are all called to stand for what is right, true and just in the eyes of God. Here’s a poem that reflects my anger at the cruelty of riot policemen dealing with peaceful protest; Peaceful Protest Lord do they know they’re also human? They mow down like crazy beasts Innocent children – your children They kill with teargas and rubber bullets
You make me cry When I see people running in panic You make me bitter When I see people scream out in pain You make me just give up all hope When I see blood bathed bodies Is what I know of you in vain? Tell me Lord – make it clear to me Show me how your great love Fits into all of this mayhem Show me how riot policemen and Brutish army commanders Can learn to love And when you show me, Lord I’ll teach them to love too… When personal conviction is dead, we just go with the flow. Nothing is important, and being assertive about anything is just not on. We soon develop a “why bother” mentality and are left cruising down the river of mediocrity, devoid of conviction. There is nothing that we feel strongly enough about to take a stand on.
Our conviction is modelled on the resoluteness of Christ. In His life on earth, Christ knew when to say no to temptation, without any doubt in His mind. He knew when to rebuke evil practices, without feeling guilty of offence, He knew when to take the side of victims of suffering and become their defence. He simply knew, based on a clear conviction of his purpose and destiny.
The Holy Spirit guided Christ’s conviction in His life. He knew how to listen and he acted on what He heard. And He was defiant. He defied Jewish tradition, the priests, Satan, laws of nature, sin and death, based on His firm conviction of who He was and what His calling was. Develop an attitude of defiance based on Holy Spirit dependence. Defiance causes you to be radical When you are defiant, your behaviour becomes radical and you will develop an extremist mentality. You will not always walk the middle road of negotiation and compromise but will take on the enemy of your soul, with head-on determination.
We are called to a take a visible stand on what we believe. As people of destiny, we are sometimes called to pursue our dreams with vigour and force. Don’t make small statements that cannot be heard in the crowd. Let’s take a bold stand on what we believe to the extent that people around us will be shaken up in their minds and hearts about our purposeful living.
Sometimes we need to shout our dreams and visions from the rooftops to get people’s attention. Quit being polite when you know that politeness only leads to more talk. Get people out of their comfort zone. Challenge them deeply and shake their foundations, as God leads you.
I listened to a Japanese professor speak about the Kamikaze pilots of the Second World War. It was most inspiring to learn how radical these pilots were. These were young men, fresh out of school, carefully selected from thousands of volunteers. They were the cream of the crop, intelligent with stable personalities, coming from respected and successful families. The one distinguishing factor was that they were radical to the point of death because of their convictions.
John the Baptist was defiant of the religious tradition of his time to the point of death. He paid a great price for choosing to be unpopular and playing to the politics and immorality of the day. He was convicted of a greater kingdom which he lived and ultimately died for. In his lifetime, he taught a simple message of ‘dying to self’ through the sacrament of baptism. He knew by the Holy Spirit that In Christ we become new creatures and that the old must die in the process. He literally lived out his message to the point of death.
Someone said that if we are not willing to die for what we believe, then there’s no point in living for it. What will it mean for you to be radical in your situation? Think of the most daunting thing that faces you, the thing that mocks you and tells you that you won’t succeed. That’s the thing you must destroy. It’s time to quit being nice about obstacles that are in your way.
Jesus was radical in his defiance of evil. Jesus wasn’t nice to the Scribes and Pharisees or the money-changers who desecrated the temple of God. In His radical action, Jesus clearly showed the money changers what He stood for! He didn’t have a polite
negotiation meeting. Instead, He violently overturned their tables and chased them with a whip.
Jesus was radical not only in His defiance of evil. He was radical in his love too. He showed tender compassion to the “rejects” of his society and welcomed the outcast. He did not choose to have a good social image and paid the price by being called a drunkard, a liar and someone possessed by the devil. He endured this because He chose to behave in ways contrary to popular appeal. The greatest gift a friend can give is to die for another. This is the radical extent of Jesus’ friendship for us.
Being radical may mean that we walk a lonely road or take the path less travelled. This is the path where our passion is often our only companion as we press on to the destination God has called us to. Sometimes it’s a journey that requires that we forsake our family and friends. Following our vision means we often walk where others have not walked before. An attitude of defiance demands resolve When you defy the forces around you that seek to challenge your focus, you need to be resolute. Defiance by its nature brings opposition. For every action there is a reaction. This is a natural and spiritual law.
Being resolute means that we will not reconsider any matter you have decided upon. In times of defiance our resolve is often put to the test. Have you noticed that if we have a private conviction, minding our own business, no one bothers us? However, when we choose to be defiant, we become involved in a deeper struggle with the opposition.
Turning back in the middle of battle could cost us our lives. Burning bridges was a tactic employed by many armies during wartime. It prevented their enemies from advancing on them and, more importantly, it prevented their soldiers from turning back, if they lost courage. Other armies burned their ships when they reached enemy lands. This definitely strengthened the resolve of the soldiers. There is no going back because there were no ships!
Defiance demands that we learn to deal with risk. Christ never promised an easy life, with great short-term benefits to his disciples. Instead, He often warned them of the high cost of suffering affirming a life of faith.
Peter was defiant of the natural laws of gravity when he chose to walk on the water to Jesus. He was a man of risk, doing what no one dared to ever do. He did not ask Jesus for any guarantees of safety. Instead he took a risk in simple faith.
courage as he stepped out in faith.
If Peter stayed in his comfort zone, he would not have experience the awesome power of God. Pursuing our dreams means that we will have to walk on the water, and this demands that we get out of our comfortable boats. Fighting our fears Risk-taking means that we recognise and deal with our fears. A great way to identify our fears is to take risks. I have watched a popular TV programme called â€˜Fear Factorâ€™. In this programme, real life people come face to face with their ultimate fears and conquer them by taking a risk. I have seen people afraid of heights, doing bungee jumping, others afraid to ski again because of avalanches tackling those same treacherous conditions again. They come out of the new experience different people, because of their willingness to take a risk in those areas of their lives that cause them to freeze and stumble.
Our fears are real, and Christ recognised this. That is why He often comforts with teachings of hope and encourages trusting in His unfailing love. Our fears can be an opportunity for God to work in our lives or they can become our bondage. As we take risks, we come to God and acknowledge our fears. We must then allow Him to take our fears and help us through the situations we face. God will give us His courage and His hope, but only when we surrender our fears to Him.
I remember a time of deep and intense loneliness when I just got to university. Being rather reserved, I found it difficult making new friends in a very strange environment given my fairly protected lifestyle up till then. But it was more than making new friends, there was a deeper fear within me that I had to deal with; the fear of rejection. We all
want to be loved and cared for and any hint of rejection throws us into self-protect mode. These fears are very real to us but also become the barrier to experiencing the fullness of life. I had to face my fear as I write in this poem and in facing my fear I made a decision to live life fully. It wasnâ€™t a easy decision, but a necessary one. First I had to acknowledge my fear.
Afraid I feel a strange loneliness eating me from inside. I cannot share peopleâ€™s joy or happiness until the creature within me has died. I want to love. I want to care but I'm too scared to commit myself. I want to cry, to laugh. Just share but I cannot get my fears of that cobwebbed shelf. I'm afraid to hurt again as I did so many times before. I saw sadness and pain I don't want them anymore. Risk-taking is an act towards the future, but our fears turn us in the direction of the past. Past experience of failure, rejection and ridicule often becomes the basis of our fears. Risk-taking is about charting new territory, and this comes with a spirit of defiance. Defiance founded on godly confidence Pursuing our visions demands great courage from us. Courage comes from conviction and confidence. Once we have established our conviction in the dream, vision or goal we choose to pursue, then we build up our confidence.
Our confidence is in Christ. It is based on His promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us. As we take risks and charter new territory we will face the attacks of our enemies. In this time we show great courage and press on with the knowledge that God is with us at all times.
Our confidence in God is based on His faithfulness and love for us. He will cause all things to work together for us because we love Him and we are called by Him.
This is how it happened for the woman in our story. She was openly defiant as she walked out into the streets that day to meet with Jesus. She knew that what she was doing was not acceptable in her culture and tradition. Despite this she had the Godly confidence that her action was right in seeking to touch God. Dare to defy! Are you experiencing false teachings, traditions and practices that seek to keep you in bondage? Display a spirit of open defiance towards these things. Become bold through a strong grounding in the pure word of God. Defy, using the sword of Godâ€™s word and the shield of faith as you move into the destiny God has in store for you.
Pursue your vision with godly defiance. The bible is filled with examples of people who defied society for their faith. Daniel in the Old Testament refused to bow down to pagan Gods and was thrown into a den of lions, Job refused to succumb to the ungodly counsel of his friends and family and suffered intense pain and loss, David defied the mocking giant Goliath and the wrath of the Philistine army. Jesus defied the legalism of the Scribes and Pharisees. He defied the mockery of the temple by open an open display of anger. He ultimately defied the curse of death on the cross by rising again to eternal life.
The woman in this bible story defies tradition, social stereotypes and respectability as she reaches out to God. Time for Reflection: 1. How are you dealing with the obstacles in your way? 2. What is your thinking about being in a spiritual battle? 3. What/Who is the source of your confidence as you go into battle? 4. What price are you willing to pay for what you believe?
Chapter Five: The Heart of Dedication "You cannot be my disciple if you do not carry your own cross and follow me." (Luke 14:26) Introduction The woman's encounter with Jesus, transformed her from being a social outcast to becoming a disciple. Up till the point of touching Jesus, all He was to her, was a miracle worker. He was her way out of severe illness. She knew of Him from second hand reports of other people fortunate enough to be healed by Him. All of this changes after her personal encounter with Christ. She begins to develop a heart of dedication towards Christ, who is not only her healer but now also the Saviour of her soul.
From this point onward she walks a different journey. She discovers that Christ is concerned about her eternal destiny and not only her physical wellbeing. He wanted an intimate relationship with her and not just to be a seen as a mysterious medicine man, out of her reach.
As Jesus addressed her uniquely as a person, her sense of self-worth was restored through His tender concern. She knew that He genuinely cared for her, and as he reached out to her and touched her. She was convinced of His compassion for her. Jesus was not interested in the flashy accolades of the masses but rather He was drawn to this particular soul that needed His mercy. In the midst of the thronging crowds He made this one woman feel special in His sight, as only God can do.
After receiving her healing, she did not go home to lock herself up as she had done for the past twelve years. She stayed with Him, walking the dusty roads and proclaiming Him the miracle worker and saviour of souls. With each passing day her loyalty grew towards this Nazarene. I can imagine her constant joy as she savoured every fresh new day, revelling in her wholeness in body, mind and spirit. She had met her Master and there was no turning back for her. Dedication is the fruit of encounter You cannot be dedicated to Christ if you haven't encountered Him. A personal encounter is the difference between knowledge of Christ and knowing Christ. Many people who are
religiously tolerant know of Christ as a great teacher and one of many manifestations of God, but they do not know Him personally. Becoming a follower of Christ can only happen as a result of a personal experience of Him.
This woman experienced no doubts of Jesus authenticity. He touched her and that was a real, life-changing personal experience. No one had to convince, bribe or coerce her into becoming a follower of Christ. Her personal encounter settled the matter for her. She knew Him first hand and not through some third party religious ritual.
Like this woman, we too cannot reach a place of dedication unless we experience a personal encounter with God in our lives. Our encounters with God are different and personal. There is no formula for encountering God. God meets us in a personal way at our different places. No church ordinance or ritual can force us to encounter God. These may be opportunities for God to work through, but he is not bound to this.
In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah 1: 11-12, we read ‘the word of the Lord came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah? “I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied. The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.” As I reflected on this verse I recognise that God deals with us differently, according to where we are in life and according to the symbols of our situation that have meaning for us. God deals with us in ways that are especially unique, as I reflect in this poem:
Branches and Trees To prophet Jeremiah, You spoke of an almond tree branch One that You would watch over to see it grow in due season To beloved John, You spoke of spiritual grape-bearing branches Who, attached in calling are nourished by You, The True Vine To Moses, You spoke of a prophetic Egyptian serpent branch Becoming a Witness Tree to your freed people in the desert To Jerusalem, You spoke of a palm-paved path of branches Exchanged quickly for the bloody Roman hanging tree of death
To unbelievers, You spoke of being forever the Branch of David Rising out of the earth - planted again as the eternal Tree of Life Now You watch us daily - becoming branches of your divine being Planted as blessing trees of fruitfulness in a dry and thirsty land The apostle Paul encountered God in a rather dramatic way. He would never forget the day he was struck off his horse and became dumb. God met with Paul in a definite, unmistakable way. This encounter was the turning point in Paul's life, which led to him becoming one of the greatest men of God and a most worthy disciple. Paul experienced God first-hand and he was never the same again. He was turned from being one of the most violent critics of Christianity to become the chief witness to the Gospel of Christ.
Moses encountered God on Mount Sinai, as a burning bush, and worshipped Him with great fear and awe. He was so moved by this encounter that nothing would stand in his path as he brought the Israelites out of captivity, despite years of wanderings. He knew God first hand and was convinced of his plan of salvation for the Israelite people.
Joshua also encountered God first-hand, and committed both himself and his family to serve Jehovah. Jonah encountered God in the belly of the whale, Isaiah encountered God in a vision and David encountered God while he was hiding in a cave, pursued by Saul. Their lives were never the same after their encounters with God.
Mary encountered God through the heralds of the angels. She carried the Son of God, brought Him into the world and became His greatest disciple. The crippled man at the Pool of Bethesda also had a personal encounter with God and, instead of remaining silent about his miracle; he too became a dedicated disciple of Christ.
The disciples, while walking to Emmaus after Christ's crucifixion, encountered God in a quiet and gentle manner. Remember that as they were walking along feeling sad and hopeless, God walked with them, listening to their stories of pain. He met them at their place of need. They were not aware of His presence immediately, but when He broke bread with them they had an inner sense of recognition. Their encounter with God was a turning point for them, and they were never the same again.
The blind man touched by the healer and made whole, the lepers cured of their dreaded disease, the Centurion's son made whole again, the boy with the bread and fish – all these people, in their various encounters with God, were destined never to be the same again. Out of these encounters, our spirits develop a growing dedication to God.
The encounter makes the difference Similarly, once we encounter the power of our dreams and our vision in God, we become changed people. As our vision begins to unfold before our eyes we develop a dedication to the dream, the goal or the pursuit that lies before us. It is no longer a conceptual entity, but something that takes on new life.
I recall the intense feeling of gladness when one of my friends made a commitment to rededicate to Christ at a Don Francisco music concert. It was a personal encounter that only she could invite and I was in turn deeply touched by God’s work in her life. For my friend it required a strong stand of faith and I knew it cost her much, but she did make the personal decision: Standing Beside Him I’ve heard the altar call A hundred times before And felt the nervous shuffle Of people in hard and narrow pews But tonight, your bold uprightness Caught my heart You stood, like the other Beside Him on the cross Standing straight In your public proclamation Not forced upon the cross Because of religious legalism But because, your heart too Is warm to His love You stood, like the other Beside Him on the cross
As warm tears Roll down my tired thankful eyes My heart is touched again By the tenderness of knowing That now, you too Share His eternal promise Standing gloriously beside Him Resurrected, as His radiant bride Hearing Him publicly declare you His beloved To the Father and the angelic hosts As the other Who stood beside Him When He was on the cross What level of dedication do you have towards your dream, goal or vision? You have to have an encounter in the area of your pursuit before you can become sold out in that direction. Is your dedication to Christ based on a whole-hearted personal encounter with Him or is it the result of some third-party knowledge? Christ desires that you become His dedicated disciple, and this starts with a personal encounter with God. Dedication is driven by commitment To be dedicated to anything or anyone means showing a consistent loyalty over a period of time, for inconsistency does not earn dedication. This quality is only seen and spoken of after many years and is based on a variety of situations. In fact, the dedication of most people is best recognised and acknowledged after their deaths. It is certainly wonderful praise to have been a dedicated husband or wife.
There is no dedication that comes free of charge or at a discount. Our dedication to our dreams is weighed heavily in the scales of our lives. Without commitment we cannot qualify for the praise of dedication. Paul's commitment to preaching the gospel of Christ was costly over the years, and yet he remained faithful. So too, was the commitment of Peter until his death and Stephen until his stoning. These men displayed a great dedication based on an unwavering commitment to Christ.
All over the world commitment is becoming a scarce commodity. As we live and move in a temporary world where only the now matters, dedication becomes a useless ideal. In the workplace we often find it hard to believe how dedicated our parents and grandparents were, often working their whole lives for a single employer. I recall reading my fathers testimonials from his bosses over the years, often describing him as a hard working and dedicated servant.
Where there is no commitment dedication is reduced to drudgery. Most people live, go to work without any sense of joy and longing. We get caught up in the ‘thank god it’s Friday’ mentality. Where there is no purpose, life and work become burdens that we have to endure. Recent studies in the area of employee engagement show that employees that find purpose in the work they do, have a deeper sense of commitment and are in turn dedicated to the work that they are entrusted with.
Dedication is a journey The disciples of Jesus said that they would go wherever Jesus went and would sleep with Him wherever He slept. They were bound to Jesus in their dedication. Dedication is not a passing experience of Jesus but a lifelong journey with Him.
Jesus wants more than the chance meetings and the casual association we have with Him. He desires a deeper relationship, which comes with the journey over time. As we become Disciples of Christ and walk with Him, we learn more of His nature and being. Being a disciple is the difference between being with the miraculous and seeing an occasional miracle. If we really want to understand the heart of God we have to journey with Him.
Paul uses the metaphor of the race of faithfulness, in encouraging us to be faithful to the end. It's not how we start but how we finish that matters. Christ is also quite clear in this matter when He says that many will start but few will finish. We cannot hope to be faithful in this journey unless we have a clear commitment to Christ, for our dedication then becomes anchored in Him. The journey becomes meaningful and we face life's challenges with a new gracefulness and hope.
Discipline is a characteristic of discipleship The level of my discipline will determine my dedication. To be disciplined is to bring my body and all my faculties under subjection and control. When I am disciplined, I am in charge of my life and am aiming for a desired end state, not the other way around. If my body, on the other hand, is controlling me, then I will be subject to its unbridled demands, which can easily prevent me from being dedicated.
There is a natural and spiritual law that rewards discipline. In our spiritual lives we need to learn the basic spiritual disciplines that we neglect in exchange for a fast-food Christianity. The discipline of daily prayer keeps us focused and in purposeful communion with God. We need also to read; study and meditate on the word of God, which keeps us from faltering in this journey we have embarked upon. What about the discipline of fasting and contemplation that allows us to develop an outward focus? We need to restore the discipline of giving in our lives, recognising that we are called to be servants first, just as Christ was.
Discipline is the difference between success and failure. Discipline means that we determine our priorities clearly, based on conviction. Once we are clear about our priorities, we can be committed to those things that are truly important. When we pursue our vision, we become easily sidetracked and distracted. Discipline means that I have a clear focus and head only in that direction. Nothing else matters for now!
Discipline is about stretching your limits. There is a deep discipline in going beyond your past limits. How do you know how much you can achieve unless you consistently reach beyond your limits? This attitude requires discipline. Itâ€™s about clearly setting and achieving goals, and setting new goals and going even further. This cannot be achieved with a casual attitude. The dedication of discipleship The woman in our story, once healed of her dreaded disease, became a dedicated disciple of Jesus. Although the story does not say much after she is healed, I can imagine the gratitude she felt in her heart. Just imagine her talking to Jesus and committing her life to Him.
All she hoped for was for the dreadful bleeding to be cured, but now she found new life. Her world was turned around completely â€“ she went from being a dejected outcast to a worthy and welcome saint. She owed her life to Jesus and stayed on with Him as His disciple.
I can imagine her walking the dusty roads together with him, a deep passion burning in her heart for Christ. With every new day she learned more about Him; His tender compassion, His righteousness, His stand for justice and truth, His mercy for the poor and broken-hearted. As she saw Him minister to various needs in different situations her love for Him grew deeper, and her heart was truly dedicated to Him.
The prostitute who broke the jar of expensive ointment became a dedicated disciple, too. Jesus accepted her, as a woman of worth who was special and costly to Him, just like her ointment. After this encounter with Jesus she was never the same again, becoming a disciple until His death. I can also see her walking the roads with Jesus and standing at the foot of the cross and weeping for her Lord, now broken for her salvation. Here is her story in a poem;
The First Apostle Did you know your calling? When He first met you Demonized-Prostitute Transformed by His healing hand Your love-turned passion Inseparably bound to his being Scorned for your lavish yearning Prophetically anointing perfume-blood Head to hands to dusty broken feet Your walk with Him closer to death The rugged weight of dry wood Heavy heart anointed in knowing tears You stood by his side-abandoned By pharisaic disciples cowards call His love grafted into bone and sinew
The empty mocking tomb Like your barren heart Devoid-all you lived for Rudely taken away Then He touches you again With glorious anointing Head to heart to weary feet With apostolic "Go-Tell" command Demonized-Prostitute Apostle-Evangelist Disciple to death Discipleship is the heart of the Christian calling. The Great Commission that Christ gave to the church in Matthew 28 was very simple: "Go into the world and make disciples of all nations." Why was discipleship so important to the call of Christianity? It is the place of relationship that brings a believer into a covenant commitment with Christ.
The discipleship of Christ is distinctive from other faiths. The notion of disciple and master is a common religious phenomenon, as in many religions the disciple attaches himself to his master so that he can learn and become a master himself.
Christian, Christ will forever be master. Our journey of faith allows us to become more and more like Him as we fully appropriate our likeness of Him.
In Christianity, the nature of discipleship is distinctively different. Firstly, Jesusâ€™ disciples did not choose Him. The initiative was His â€“ they simply responded. Secondly, the relationship between the teacher and the disciple was not based on the teachings but on the person. Christian disciples spoke of their experience of God and not only of what He taught. They knew the teacher first. A third difference is that Jesus claimed the total allegiance of His disciples. Discipleship is permanent, complete and costly, and Jesus becomes the central priority of the life of the disciple. Living as Disciples of Christ As we move from our place of desperation, we come to a point of decision that gives us the will to act positively. This decision is sustained by our determination to seek Jesus as the answer to our desperation. Often our determination will have to be one of defiance
as we battle the forces of sin and doubt around us. When we come into God's presence and encounter His personal touch we move into a new realm of faith. Our journey has just begun and on this road it's our dedication that matters, faithfully running the race to the end, focused on our life vision and mission, journeying with Jesus to the end.
Time for Reflection:
1. Do you Christ personally and are in a committed relationship with Him? 2. What does it mean to be the Bride of Christ – do you know God as your lover? 3. What is the cost of being a disciple of Christ? 4. What does the great commission mean for you ‘go into the entire world, making disciples of all nations’? 5. Is discipleship for an elite few or expected of all believers of Christ?
Part Two: Jesus’ Response to the Woman's Initiative
Introduction I said at the beginning of this book, there are two parts to this journey. In the first part of the story we focused on the woman’s initiative. How she came from a place of desperation, made a clear and powerful decision, demonstrated great determination, came to the place of experiencing God’s touch and then living for Him as a dedicated disciple.
Let’s now focus on Jesus’ response to the woman. As we do so we will discover the truly compassionate nature of Christ who seeks desperately to heal our brokenness and restore us to completeness in Him as I reflect in this poem;
Broken Tumbler In a quick careless brush it was shattered before me Suddenly scattered into many unevenly broken pieces Too soon for me to even attempt to save had I known The mess in my hurriedness now left for me to tidy With every careful brush-sweep I collect little fragments Broken remnants of a two decade well-used container Held to the mouths of young and old, family and friends Now empty of all that it held or could imagine to ever hold As I make sure every piece is quickly picked up clean I think too of God picking up the pieces of my brokeness Lying wasted and scattered in the hurriedness of my life He picking them up gently with a delicate jewelers care Not to discard or hide away in some unseen place His gathering is with a heart of compassionate mending He in the stillness of the morning heals my brokenness Made whole again worthy for appointed divine service Restored anew to the table of the most High King of Kings How does God heal and mend our brokenness? On the day of the woman's healing, Jesus did three profound things that changed her life and those of the people present. He identified her in the crowd, he affirmed her by name and he confirmed her new state
of being to all present. Letâ€™s see why these three actions of Jesus are so vital for our healing and destiny discovery. 1. He identified her The woman in our story was one of the many people in the crowd that followed Jesus. At the point of her touching Him, Jesus recognises the womanâ€™s need. He stops, settles the mass down and calls out the woman that touched Him. She knew that the Master had recognised her touch and now He was calling her out of the crowd. Jesus brings her from a place of a follower to a place of friendship. 2. He affirmed her In the recognition that Jesus gives this woman, He restores her true worth and identity. She was not an outcast in the eyes of her pious community. Now she is one of the beloved of God, brought into His presence purely by grace.
3. He confirmed her As part of the healing process, Jesus declared her completely whole in the presence of the crowd. He settled the matter of her healing, leaving no doubt in her mind or that of her community. She too, confirms her transformation through her personal testimony of healing.
We can also apply these lessons to our spiritual development and learn how we can grow and move on from the place of being a follower to one of being a disciple.
Chapter Six: Coming out of the Crowd “Jesus was aware that His power had gone out of Him. Immediately He swung around in the crowd. 'Who touched my clothes?' He asked. Are you a follower of Christ or a disciple of Christ? It's easy to be one of the crowds, following the latest fad and catching every new movement. However, the cost of true discipleship is not emphasised sufficiently in our churches and as a result we lull people into a false sense of security. It's not OK to be in the crowd. Christ wants us to have a personal relationship with Him and also to become equipped to go into the lost crowds. We cannot afford to have "saved" crowds in our churches.
Let's go back to the story of this woman. When she touched Jesus on that eventful day, she was a part of a large crowd. Some were followers of Jesus, walking with him from village to village learning of His teachings, and others just curious onlookers. There were also critics, watching Jesus so they could challenge Him, and others were there for the experience of being with a great rabbi.
Sometimes we are not ready to commit to God and follow at a distance but need to be reminded that God is still a call away, as I reflect in this poem about becoming a disciple of Christ;
Fishers of Men The acid stench of gutted fish Instinctively yanks my insides-out Scaled down to the rough sand My vomit mixed with raw innards And covered by the mass of flies His voice is strained from teaching Inviting commands tug their hearts ‘Come – there’s a greater catch A harvest plenty and ripened Follow me – abandon all you have Abandon all you do’
Instinctively they follow the knowing call Sharpened by waves and wind Excited and humbled as they abandon their nets Their livelihood depends on this raw sense Driven daily by their Galilean gut-feel Yesterday - in response to the rough deep blue Today - to the call of the Master Fisherman I too follow - a hearing distance away The woman, in our story joins and becomes a part of this very diverse crowd. She could very easily have been content to be just one of the crowds, but her decision and determination prompted her to pursue her divine mission. She was not going to become one of the mediocre masses, just content to tag along. She was there because she wanted to have a personal encounter with God.
The woman was in the crowd but was not part of the crowd. This so reminds me of Jesus telling us that we are in the world (the crowd) but that we must not be of the world. This is the difference with this woman. She was in the crowd but, unlike the others, she was driven by a definite purpose. Conforming to the crowd The church is a nice crowd to be in. So what's wrong with the crowd?
1. Denies us a personal encounter: As long as we choose to remain in the shadow of the crowd, we deny ourselves the blessing of a personal walk with God. Being one of the crowd, does not allow us the complete experience that we would have in a daily personal encounter with God. In Jesusâ€™ time, the Gospels record that thousands of people were in the crowds following Jesus, but only a few had a personal encounter with Christ.
2. Can lead us into conformity: Crowds are different from community. Crowds burden us with their traditions and stereotypes. The church crowd is really good at this. Like any social group, the church has its norms and values that define its culture. Some churches emphasise praise and worship to the point where the worship team becomes the centre
of entertainment. Very soon people start to feel that if they are to have any sense of worth and recognition in the church they must try to become a part of the worship team. This is a crowd-seeking mentality. In other churches the social welfare crowd is the incrowd. In other churches it might be the intercessory team that is the in-crowd, or the deliverance team. All of these crowds can distract you from a personal encounter with Christ.
The reality is that crowds are powerful in their very form. God intended for us to be group-dependent as humans, and that is why groups are such a driving force in our lives. It is in groups that we develop our sense of identity and belonging. You're probably familiar with the saying "No man is an island". We belong in groups, and yet if a group is not purpose-driven according to godly objectives, it becomes a crowd. A crowd is an aimless mass of people just following the influence of the dominant elements.
Can lead us into deception: Ungodly crowds prey on the vulnerability of their
followers, and false teaching and indoctrination in churches have deceived many people. The painful outcome of many cult movements is the result of blind allegiance to ungodly groups. A common element in all of these unbiblical movements is their conformity. Any group that seeks to deprive you of your freedom to reason and to question its practices is dangerous.
In the church today we see many false teachings that force people to conform. People are often made to feel guilty if they challenge such teachings, and are even threatened with excommunication. Other subtle tactics cause people to become afraid of honest questioning and challenging of leadership authority that is inappropriate. Beware of the crowd that you're in, because Christ came to set you free from the crowd. He came to set you in your rightful place in a community of believers who are called to become a representation of his body on the earth. Why people stay in the crowd 1. Still a seeker: Perhaps you have heard about Christ, have accepted Him as your Saviour but have not fully committed to His lordship over your life. You are in the crowd as a Christian doing all the Christian things, but you are not yet in a personal relationship with Christ. As you walk with Him in the crowds, you see the miracles He
performs but your rational mind does not make sense of them. You find it difficult to accept them and for now you feel safe to remain in the crowds.
2. Living with hurt: Perhaps you have been hurt by people in your church or your family and have withdrawn into the crowd. The crowd can be a safe place from commitment and you can still enjoy the contact that you so desperately need. Many people who are hurt by fellow Christians find it hard to make sense of their experience and retreat into the crowd as a means of retaliation. They move from personal involvement to detachment and from a place of personal accountability to being one of the masses in the church.
3. Struggling with God: You could be in the crowd because you are struggling to understand God's working in your life. Perhaps you are experiencing great difficulties and God is not making sense to you. You have moved from a place where you were walking intimately with Him and now you have just become one of the crowd. You might be feeling betrayed and let down because of your experiences and you have come to believe that Christ does not really care about you.
4. Living in Sin: As the Bible says we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. But there is forgiveness available for us as part of God’s grace to us. However, if we continue to live in sin and carry the burden of guilt and shame, we may find it difficult standing out of the crowd. We do not want to make a stand for what is Godly and therefore do not have to be singled out for our faith. Staying in the crowd allows us to ‘hide’ from facing our real selves. Coming out requires us to stand naked before God. This is not pleasant or easy for us, so it’s easier to hide in the crowd. Following instead of ‘faith-ing’ Following does not require faith. All it requires is a desire to be a part of the crowd. As a follower, I am removed from testing my personal faith, and I am not required to carry the cost of my faith.
Living outside of the crowd is living by faith, and as the scriptures say, we can only please God by faith. Faith causes us to move out of the crowds, which are focused on
the here and now. Crowd mentality is opposed to kingdom mentality. Christ says that in the last days many (crowds) shall say, â€œBut Lord, we did this and the other in Your name,â€? and He will say, "Get away from me, I know you not." In order for Christ to know us we have to move out of the crowd and into a personal life of faith.
Becoming exposed Coming out of the crowd requires us to become exposed. The woman in our Bible story was exposed when she touched Jesus. He did not let this woman's faith go unnoticed. Jesus wanted to expose this woman, and bring her out of the crowd. His desire to expose her was based on genuine compassion for her.
According to her culture, this woman could not expose herself. As we learned earlier on, she had to be hidden from society because she was a woman and also because of the nature of her physical condition. She was forbidden to be a part of her society but was forced to live in isolation. She could not be exposed to society, for this meant ridicule and punishment. She was in her place of hiding because of the imposition of society.
This was a painful moment for the woman, perhaps even more painful than her years of suffering. When Jesus called out to her and exposed her, it was not to harm her but to heal her. By this time, the physical healing was complete, and she knew she was healed. Jesus was now attending to her social and psychological healing.
In His action, He makes a bold declaration of His compassion for the outcasts of society. Instead of ignoring the woman and enforcing the law of uncleanness of a menstruating woman, He challenges the validity of the law. Jesus came to fulfil the law. Where the law separates, He brings union and healing. Private to public When she was identified and called out by Jesus, this woman's private life became public. That's the difference between being in the crowd and being in a relationship with God. This exposure, performed in compassion by Jesus, has the awesome power of life transformation. I can imagine the discomfort of the woman who is asked to make public something that has always been her private pain. In this process, she gains new strength and enters into the place of her psychological healing.
Any healing relationship requires a point of exposure. When patients identify and name their private pain, they immediately feel a sense of great release. In a caring environment they then have an opportunity to deal with their situation. Satan's power over believers can only be exercised for as long as we keep secret what is causing our pain. Our secrecy allows oppression to find room in our lives. Don't hide in the darkness of your pain â€“ dare to switch on the light. It's the beginning of the journey.
It's interesting to note that the principle of exposure is generally a condition for growth and development in life. Plants that are not exposed to light will quickly wither and die. In order for a film to be developed it needs to be sufficiently exposed, allowing the negatives to become positives. Likewise, in our lives we have to come to the place of exposing ourselves to the light of God's grace. This exposure will make the difference in our lives as we enter into a new dimension.
Naming the specific One of the goals of counselling is to move from a place of vagueness to the specific. Often people in counselling describe only the symptoms of their condition. They find it difficult to get to the root of the issue because it is often painful to identify the specific. Other times it is because the situation has changed into so many forms over the years that they reach the point where they do not really know what the core issue is.
As the layers of symptoms are slowly peeled away, we come to a place of naming the specific. People often come to counselling complaining of stress, or a lack of assertiveness or feeling depressed. At the root of many of these surface symptoms is an experience of rejection, abuse or personal sin. Getting to the root is essential for healing. It's easy to paint the car a different colour and polish it really well, but the truth is that the engine needs to be repaired. It doesnâ€™t help to prune the tree that is being devoured by killer ants.
Reducing symptoms only affords a short-term solution. Only naming the specific will get you to the place of complete healing. Name the specific. Jesus took the time to do this, and He often asked what people wanted him to minister to. When people name the specific they allow God to deal with that area of their lives in which there is a need.
Call to confession Naming the specific is not easy. That is why God calls you to Him out of the crowds. Naming your condition will be costly to you but it is also the defining point in your life. It is the point that allows you to break the chains of fear and secrecy, releasing you to enjoy full freedom in Christ. How do you name the specific? You could do it personally in your prayer to God. You could confess your condition to other mature believers in the body of Christ who would stand with you. Psalms 139 suggests a helpful way in finding the specific that can be committed to God.
The Catholic Church has a special tradition that gives people the opportunity for confession. In a safe place, people are able to name the specific. When I confess the specific, I allow God to deal with that specific. In James 5:7 we are encouraged to confess our sins to one another. There is a healing power in confession if it is done within a caring community of believers.
Not naming the specific is like going for brain surgery because of a headache. I think it would be wise to name the specific cause of the headache before attempting brain surgery! Allow the Holy Spirit to bring to your mind the specific area that must be named. As you name the situation, you expose it. The psalmist David in Psalm 139 recognised that God knows everything about us and we cannot hide anything from Him. So we come in submission to the all-knowing God and ask His wisdom to light our paths as He restores us from our darkness.
From denial to discovery In working with alcoholic addiction, the issue of denial is one of the most challenging hurdles. Most alcoholics deny that they have a problem even though it is obvious to everyone else around them. That is why the famous AA twelve steps of healing start with an acknowledgement of the condition of alcoholism. Once a person moves from denial, the process of healing can begin.
Denial is a defence mechanism that protects us from facing pain associated with the condition. Peter used denial as a way of protecting himself from the persecution of the Roman army at the time of Jesus's arrest. He refused to be identified with Christ at the
time, as this would have certainly meant a great deal of pain for him. He therefore chose to deny Christ and protect himself. Blind spots One of the causes of motor car accidents has to do with our blind spot. This is a specific point in our vision where we are unable to see objects. Some drivers use a specially designed blind spot mirror to help them see more. Our lives are a lot like this, too. Every one of us has a blind spot, which is an area of our lives that we are unable to see. These blind spots are often the cause of great personal pain and distress. We cannot do anything about this ourselves, but have to depend on the feedback of other people to help us see in these areas of our lives.
My Blind Spot Mirror It’s hard at first not looking out Having done it habitually For thirteen odd years Yet I know that it’s more sure Than my cautious lane checking And after a few hundred kilometers I cut down on my double – checking Trusting my next lane change With a clear-safe glance Just look how far we’ve traveled Since you’ve given me My Holy Spirit blind spot mirror We can only get an honest picture of our blind sides through the feedback of other people. This is hard, as we often ignore or deny the feedback of others. We also repress this feedback into our subconscious and pretend it does not exist. It takes great courage to reach the point where we invite feedback and become willing to hear what other people have to say. In some cases this process requires great sensitivity and compassion. That is why it is wise to seek honest feedback only from mature believers with a genuine concern for your well-being.
When we are exposed we have to face our inadequacies and shortcomings. We have to pay attention to the "little foxes" that destroy the vineyard. In becoming more like Christ
we are called to come into this place of personal exposure. As we become exposed, we discover the shadow side that is part of our fallen human nature. Like John Wesley, this discovery of our wretchedness helps us to yearn after the amazing grace of an ever loving God. The wonderful thing is that we are helped through this process by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We cannot do this work on our own.
Bringing into recognition In identifying the woman in the crowd that day, Jesus recognised something in her that He knew well. What made this woman stand out among the pressing mass? It was her faith. He knew her even before He met her physically that day. He knew her in the quiet of her room, abandoned by family and friends. He knew her as she walked the lonely streets in search of her healing. He knew her because of her heart of faith.
Jesus recognised her on the spiritual wavelength, as her spirit was tuned in to His. She had a determined and expectant attitude of faith, seeking out the master. Jesus too was looking out for the person who would be receptive to and searching for Him in faith. When she touches Him, He recognises that touch. It is a touch of desperation, a touch that he knows well. It is a touch that he seeks to respond to, and His recognition of her brings her out of the crowds.
Christ is clear in the scriptures when He says that He has come to seek and to save those who are lost. Does a healthy person need a physician? No. It is the sick who need the touch of the master. In the crowd that day He was looking to recognise the touch of the sick and the searching. God the Father does not recognise us outside of our utter desperation. In all other situations He recognises us through His only begotten Son. Unless we are in the crowd seeking him in faith or seeking him through the complete work of His son, we will not be recognised. Recognising Christ We too, who know Christ can recognise Him in our moments of weakness. Like the Disciples of Christ walking home after His crucifixion, many of us have lost all sense of hope. In our time of despair, we lose our remembrance of Christ. When the disciples walked home that day they had cut off from their mind the reality of a Saviour. The one they had believed in and followed daily was now dead. They were there â€“ they saw Him
give up His spirit in death. All their hope was nailed to the cross together with the Messiah.
Maybe you have been a believer in Christ but have come to a place in your life where you feel you have lost your faith. You might have experienced difficult life situations, which have left you feeling that Christ is dead. Like the disciples, you continue with your life feeling disappointed and somewhat let down. It's at these times that Jesus walks beside you.
As the disciples walked home, Jesus listened to their sorrow with deep compassion. Then He called to their remembrance the scriptures, which spoke of the death of the Messiah. While Jesus was speaking to the disciples, God made Him physically unrecognisable. The disciples walked with Him, talked to Him and learned from Him, but they did not recognise Him through their physical senses.
However, they did recognise Him when He shared in a communion meal of bread and wine. It was then that they asked one another, "Did not our hearts burn within us as He spoke?" At that point they were able to recognise, not through their physical senses but through their spiritual senses. They recognised Him in spirit.
This recognition requires a prior experience of Christ. We cannot recognise that which we do not know. That is the miracle. As with the disciplesâ€™ experience, Christ comes into our presence at times when we have forgotten His voice. He speaks to us in the depths of our rebellion when we have shut Him out of our lives. His great compassion reaches us at the point of our need. We see Him not in the natural but in the spiritual.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit, which brings us into a place of remembrance and conviction. The Holy Spirit allows us to recognise God in our midst. It doesn't matter where you are in your life today, listen to your heart.
Chapter Seven: Called By Your Own Name Introduction Once Jesus had called the woman out of the crowd, He dealt with her as a unique and special person. Having been convicted by her action, the woman comes before Jesus trembling. She is stripped naked of the social security of the crowd, and at that moment she is desperately alone and exposed in front of Jesus. It is interesting to see how Jesus deals with her.
Jesus engages her as a unique individual. Now that she is out of the crowd, He focuses all His attention on her as though the crowd does not exist. I can imagine the intensity of His interest in her. This is the first time Jesus encounters the woman face to face, so I am sure he asks her name.
The thronging crowd strains to hear the dialogue between the two. Even as Jesus talks to her He is aware that their communication is intensely personal and private. He seeks not to embarrass her but to facilitate her healing.
Who cares about your name? Many people go through their lives as “no-name brands” – people with no identity in our society. It is so easy to label groups of people according to our prejudices. Often we have labels for the “lame and lazy”, “the drunks”, “divorced”, “holy Joes”, “criminals”, “rich and famous”, “and the untouchables”. Our labels distance the very people who need our love and compassion as believers. We too can grow and become better people through our interactions with these people.
Unfortunately we don’t care about the person behind the face. In our hurried society we do not take the time to encounter new people. Instead we sit in our places of comfort and make generalisations of people based on fear, distrust or plain ignorance. Jesus models a new behaviour. He is committed to ministering to this individual woman, and He takes time out to get to know her name.
Jesus is also interested in your name. He is committed to getting to know you on a oneto-one basis and not just as a number in the crowd. When a dead person cannot be identified, we refer to him as John Doe. It is tragic that there are many living John and Jane Doe’s among us. There are people who have been written off by or distanced from our social groups. Maybe you are one of them. You might feel as if you don’t have a name any more – that individual identity does not matter. Jesus cares enough to want to know you.
A rose by any other name It matters that you are known as a rose. Your name matters to God. If you feel that you are one of the crowds and have been labelled by your family and friends, it is important for you to find out what your real name is. Who are you really? Are you just a worthless person according to the opinions of people around you or are you someone special?
As a child of God, you are given a new name – you become a son or daughter of God. This new identity is the result of Christ’s finished work on the cross. Having been justified by God, you are a new person and it most certainly matters to God that you know your name. The bible says in Revelation, that our new names are written in the “lamb’s book of life.’ God seals our new identity in preparation for our new destination.
Many children grow up in abusive and hostile families where they are often given nasty names. Children grow up with names such as “useless”, “failure”, fatty”, “clumsy” or “irresponsible”. These are not nice names, and yet they are used in many homes. So it doesn’t matter what the child’s real name is – what people remember is the name the person is called. Nicknames also rob children and even adults of respect and a feeling of personal confidence. There are very few people who are comfortable sharing their nicknames. Why? It’s often because of the humiliation associated with such names.
As believers we have new names. We don’t have to be known by the names of the past that made us feel humiliated failures. We are proud and confident in our new identity in Christ as sons and daughters of a living God. In other scriptures we are described as kings and priests. Wow! This is indeed a special identity.
Time for a name change After you have an encounter with Christ you will take on a new identity. The Hebrew and classical names have deep meanings attached to them. Often the meaning of your name is a prophetic confirmation of who you become. This is clearly seen in both the Old and the New Testaments. The wonderful thing is that God is interested in who you are to become rather than who you have been.
Peter has an encounter with Jesus and his name is changed from reed to rock. God dramatically apprehends Saul, and his name is changed to Paul. When God deals with you He does not let you walk away from the experience with the same name. I come to him calling myself “failure”, and when I leave His presence He reminds me that my name is actually “victor”. I come to Him calling myself “worthless” and He reminds me that my name is actually “king”. I come to Him calling myself “unworthy” and He reminds me that I am in fact “holy”. I can never be the same after I leave the presence of God.
Acquiring a new sense of identity is not an academic exercise, but instead comes from a heart encounter. As a believer I can claim all the names that are listed in the Bible, or I can experience the power and influence of my changed name in my life. When Christ tells the lepers, “Go, you are healed”, this new identity is very different from the one they have when they came to Him, which is “untouchables”.
Are you realising your new
identity in Christ as you experience a daily encounter with Him? Declaration of the past When the woman in our story stood before Jesus, afraid and trembling, she felt compelled to declare who she was.
She told Him everything. Why did she feel the need to do this even though Jesus did not ask her to? Remember that she did not plan on getting Jesus's attention that day. All she wanted for herself was a private healing with no fuss or attention. However, when Jesus insisted on identifying the person who had touched Him; her private world collapsed around her.
She knew that she was not allowed to touch Him, and yet she did. She knew that she was not supposed to be among other men while she was unclean, yet she was. Now she
was exposed, and in that moment she could not lie to Him. The least she could do was to declare who she was â€“ an unclean woman.
The reality of her coming into God's presence is that she came face to face with her inner self. Like a sick person fearful of contaminating someone else, she declares her condition. By doing this, those coming into contact with her are aware of who they are and can choose not to contaminate themselves.
Lepers in biblical times had to declare themselves when they were approaching others. They were often made to wear bells on their ankles that signalled their approach, giving people warning of these dreaded people. In other cultures people declare themselves by means of symbols and artefacts, for example the clothes they wear, where they live, the cars they drive and the food they eat. All of these external symbols declare who people are. On the basis of these declarations we adjust our behaviour towards one another.
This woman felt it was the right thing to declare herself before the rabbi so as not to bring Him undue shame and to save herself from death and punishment. Her declaration is interesting. She declared herself according to the paradigms she lived by and her declaration of herself was based on her identity that came from her social context and belief system.
Another author reflecting on the story of this woman says that while her actions demonstrate initiative, they also reveal her desperation and the degree to which she has internalised her cultural conditioning. However, when she encounters Jesus and lingers in His presence, she realises that her declaration of herself (the result of social conditioning) is not actually true. Paradigms that bind A paradigm is a mindset, the way we understand and view the world. It is very much like a pair of glasses. If I wear a pair of red-tinted glasses, my world will look red. Similarly, if I wear blue-, green- or grey-tinted glasses, that's how my world will look to me. But the reality is that the world is actually not all blue, green, red or grey. It is merely coloured by the tint of the glasses I wear.
In our lives we all have paradigms. We put on religious glasses and judge the world according to our personal piety, or we put on our glasses of sexism and view men and women with prejudice. Our paradigms impact on all areas of our lives, from dressing to race, and from faith to the afterlife. No area of our life is exempt from a paradigm.
Paradigms are neither good nor bad. It depends on the limits our paradigms impose on us. We all need some frame of reference to make sense of our worlds. However, this becomes limiting when our paradigms are based on prejudice, faulty thinking or past negative experiences. We need to examine our paradigms if they limit our opportunities and blessings in this life.
This woman declared herself as she had probably done many times before according to what was expected of her. Her view of herself was based on the socialisation of her environment â€“ being made to believe over the years that she was unclean because of her condition. This belief was supported both by religious practice and tradition as well as by the personal experiences she had over the years. By the time she met Jesus she was firmly convinced of her uncleanness and unworthiness.
She applied the paradigm of uncleanness to herself and this is the way she saw her whole life. Because of her paradigm she believed she was not worthy of social contact and so lived in isolation. Because of her paradigm she accepted the rejection she faced from her friends and family as her due, and lived her life as one deserving of punishment. Because of her paradigm she believed that she was not acceptable to God, and lived her life in ungodly fear and a broken relationship with God. She came to Jesus declaring who she was based firmly on her paradigm.
Often in counselling some of my patients who have been for therapy before declare up front that they are "bipolar depressives", or "paranoid", or "co-dependent". They declare who they are based on the label they have been given. Removing this label is a task of therapy in itself. Others declare themselves to be "incompetent", "uneducated", "poor", "and abused" or "failures". These declarations are based on paradigms.
Who told you so?
When this woman came into Jesus's presence she also was forced to confront her paradigms. In His great love and compassion, Jesus challenged this woman's paradigm of uncleanness as He reached out and touched her. This was not the thing to do – neither for the woman nor for Jesus. The people around Jesus would have scorned this act because it violated their social custom and practice.
With the compassionate touch from Jesus, the woman is moved to a different realm. She must have been initially confused and scared, but as Jesus ministers to her she begins to realise that she is worthy of His touch. This realisation is an awesome one for a person who for twelve years did not believe that any man could touch her. No man was bold enough to extend his love towards her and touch her except for Jesus.
Changing our paradigms can only be done in co-operation with God. We do not have the capacity within ourselves to change the deep paradigms of our lives that bind us. The paradigms that bind us are spiritual in nature. Satan by his very nature seeks to bind us, causes us to be broken-hearted and covers our minds with deception. Only God can enable us to break free from the shackles of paradigms that keep us imprisoned and away from His blessings.
Jesus’ action that day was also remarkable in that He also shattered their paradigms. That day the respected rabbi taught them through compassionate action that no one is out of reach of His love. That day He challenged the paradigms of the pious priests, scribes and Pharisees who exalted themselves above the weak. The paradigm of sexism was also broken that day as Jesus affirmed women in a very conservative culture. The paradigm of a third-party access to God was also broken that day – Jesus showed that access to Him can be personal and by means of a relationship.
In the time of our pain and suffering we come to believe that we are the only ones in that situation. Yes, our pain is personal and unique, but we are not the only ones who are suffering. Satan is quick to deceive us into believing that we are alone in our pain, that we are being punished and that God does not care. Talk to someone who cares – dare to share your pain and come into a new realisation of God's work in the lives of others. Your situation is not beyond His compassion. Decide to break out of your defeating paradigm and allow God to work in your life.
Chapter Eight: Completed by His Touch Introduction In order for us to fully live our daily lives, we all need to touch Jesus. He is the only one that is able to complete our lives, to bring us into a place of contentment and destiny.
Like the woman in the Bible story, as we come to Him in our places of desperation we recognise that only He is our source of hope. We have also learned that it is our journey with God that makes the difference. He is not so much concerned about a one-off encounter with us as He is committed to a daily relationship with us.
How do we apply these principles to our lives and access the blessing that is promised to us who live by faith? I want to summarise by focusing on two areas of application. The first is related to pursuing personal vision, and the second is related to healing in our lives. Where there is no vision the people perish You have probably heard this phrase many times by now, but what does it really mean? As the prophet clearly points out, if we are to live significant, growing lives we must have a vision. If we don't we will perish. The reality of our daily lives is that many people are successful according to the world's standards, and yet they are perishing. Then there are others who are not socially successful but who have an eternal vision and destination.
Our vision determines our focus, priorities and eternal destiny. This is such a powerful part of our lives, yet only a few people come to grips with their personal vision. For these few it is the difference between life and death, and they live into eternity while others perish daily. It is in this very area that Satan seeks to blind us. Remember, Satan's mission is very clear: "To steal, kill and destroy." That is what he does to people with great Kingdom potential â€“ he steals their vision, kills their motivation and destroys them in the process.
Why is it that so many successful people complain of a deep dissatisfaction in their lives? They always come to a place of realising that there must be something more. That something more cannot be bought, as it is not something external. Instead it is a deep
drive from the personâ€™s very soul. It is the desire that comes from God, and is the purpose for being, for living. That is what personal vision is about. Until a person reaches the point of embracing his or her personal vision, his or her life will merely be a collection of fun activities with very little, if any, eternal consequence.
Getting out of the time trap Visionaries don't live for today. They are not bound by the short-term lifestyle that consumes western cultures, a lifestyle that is steeped in materialism and driven by the constant desire to get more. It is this trap that robs many people of realising their personal vision because it makes them believe that today is most important. Why get involved in things that will only happen ten, twenty or a thousand years down the line?
Our materialistic culture also shapes us into living by our physical senses. What is most important is what we can see, touch, hear, smell and taste. It is no wonder that things govern our lives because things connect with our physical senses. Consumer psychology takes good advantage of our addiction to things and gives us new products every day, products we don't need but which we must have because we feel we have to. The logic is not very sound but that's the nature of our consumer lifestyle.
The eternal is difficult to comprehend mostly because we donâ€™t bother to even think about it. The tragedy is that as believers in Christ this should be our only time focus. As we pursue the eternal, our day-to-day activities gain a new level of meaning that truly touches people. Christ in His earthly ministry tried to help us see that the kingdom of God, which is eternal, is of greater consequence than our short-lived attempts at material success.
Vision is therefore about the long term, with eternal consequences and lived out in the arena of faith. By its very nature it is in opposition to our way of life, our traditions and rituals. For people of the now, eternity is a make-believe world for people who cannot make it here. We have become blinded into believing that this is it, yet we reach a place in our lives when we get a hint of the eternal and we recognise that there must be something more.
Living the lie In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve also experienced the same lie that we live by today â€“ the lie of more. God blessed Adam and Eve and gave them the whole earth, yet they had space for more in their hearts. Satan took advantage of this evil desire for more and promised them a new understanding if they ate of the forbidden fruit. He promised them that they would become like God. What a temptation for mere mortals! They fell for the lie as we do daily in our lives.
Tony Campolo, a Christian sociologist makes an insightful comment in a lecture when he says that Jesus had it easy in His time. When He ministered he urged the people to seek spiritual things and not to depend on the material. In our time we depend on material things to give us spiritual fulfilment. This is the lie of our age: that we can find God in things.
We desperately seek our significance in the things of our hands instead of coming to the realisation that our significance can only be found in Christ. In Him we are truly complete. The lie of Satan is the deceit of success as a substitute for significance. Success is great but if it is not located within eternal purpose becomes painfully frustrating. As we surrender our achievements and trophies to God, He allows us to appropriate the fullness of His love and grace which is the basis of our significance, as I discovered in this poem I wrote a few years ago;
In Search of Significance This thorn in my flesh Veiled by apparent success Breeds a nagging discontent Like a festering internal wound Things are never good enough Always more to be done Personal significance hangs Precariously in the balance More academics More career development More visible ministry
More work overload More committees More task orientation More project plans In my pursuit of the more I sometimes chase my tail Driven in frivolous circles Busy but going nowhere Lord teach me to practice daily The discipline of godly contentment And rest my search for significance Knowing that I am fully complete in you Becoming visionaries at the place of desperation How do we break out of the mould of conformity to materialism as it tightens its grip on our lives? The reality is that we are so far gone as a society that we cannot do it with our own strength alone. In fact, our battle against the forces of materialism and short-term living is in essence a spiritual battle. For as long as Satan can keep us focused on the here and now we fail to advance in the kingdom of God, which is not based in things but people and is of eternal consequence.
Counselling offices, divorce courts, prisons and bars are filled with people who have become disillusioned and rejected because things have become more important than people. Only a desperate situation will give us a wake-up call. This is what has happened to many people who God has brought to a new place of reckoning in their lives.
God can make a difference in our lives when we become desperate for Him. The way He often does this is to take away our gods of materialism as He breaks down our temporary idols of security and success. It is when rich men and women find themselves in the depths of bankruptcy that they recognise that they need more than money can buy.
For others itâ€™s the loss of their limbs in a motor car accident that makes them realise their good looks and athletic physique are not everything. For others who fail hopelessly in
their careers despite all their hard efforts, they come to realise that there is more to life than just achievements. For others itâ€™s the loss of family and friends that shakes them up into realising that life is much poorer without loving relationships.
It is at our place of desperation that we can be moulded by God and filled with a new vision. In these times of deep struggle and pain we get a clearer picture of kingdom values and priorities. It is in our times of intense weakness that we learn to depend on the strength of Christ. We leave our places of waiting and desperation with a new vision for life, a vision that is birthed in a personal encounter with God. We leave our places of desperation humbled and grateful for the experience as we become more committed to a godly mentality. What vision is God giving you? Instead of seeing our places of desperation as experiences we need to escape from, let us embrace them as opportunities to hear from God and to see afresh. For Isaiah, his vision came in the year in which King Huziah died. For him it was a place of personal reckoning. King Huziah represented personal barriers that had to be crossed.
For the Israelites, it was at their place of intense persecution (Egypt) that God gave them a new vision (Canaan). For Elizabeth, it was at her place of shame (infertility) and desperation that God gave her a new vision of John the Baptist (pregnancy). For Abraham, it was in places of great desperation that God confirmed his vision of a great nation to be born out of his seed. For the adulterous woman, in her hour of great desperation (about to be stoned to death) she meets Jesus and receives a new vision for her life (to be a disciple of Christ).
The pattern and biblical principle is clear. God uses our places of desperation to either give us a fresh vision for our lives or remind us of the vision that we have killed in our pursuit of the material world. These places of great pain and suffering that God brings us into can be places of renewed living and purpose. Jesus asks, "How can new wine be poured into old wineskins, or how can a new cloth be sewed onto an old piece of cloth?" In our places of desperation God works in our lives to restore that which is new.
Passion to pursue your purpose Ray Smilor, author of Daring Visionaries 25 says that passion is the enthusiasm, joy and zeal that come from the energetic and unflagging pursuit of a worthy, challenging and uplifting purpose. In his study of what makes entrepreneurs successful he found that there are many differences but there is one universal characteristic called passion. Passion, he says emerges when we have the freedom and opportunity to pursue our dreams.
What do you feel godly passion about? Explore, search after and find this thing. God's vision for our lives is written in our calling. We all have an eternal purpose and destiny which, if we allow ourselves to listen to, will change our lives from glory to glory. What is the thing that you secretly dream about? The thing that always comes back even when you try to push it away from you over the years? Listen to this passion, for it is your calling as you grow in relationship with God the Father.
Many people start out with a great zeal and passion following their vision from God, but get sidetracked along the way. Over the years, priorities change and the first passion slowly dies. God never lets go and in our place of desperation we come to a place where we realise that He has a bigger purpose for us than our short-term plans. For many of us this is a painful lesson, but one that has eternal consequences.
Finding our first love can lead us to rediscover Godâ€™s vision for our lives. A couple in our cell group recently re-committed themselves to one another in marriage. Their love for one another was always there, but often it takes a symbolic milestone to reaffirm our love for God. This could be at the place of baptism, confession, holding ourselves accountable. Finding our first love allows us to rediscover and enjoy afresh the mysteries of our relationship with God, which over time get reduced to faith formulae and ritual.
For me, rediscovering my first love meant that I had to put aside the distractions of apostasy in the church. I found over the years that I was getting bugged and bogged down by the nonsense that was pervading the church in super spirituality, false teaching and experiences bordering on the ridiculous. As I reflected on this I became more 25
Smilor, Ray. 2001. Daring Visionaries. How Entrepreneurs build companies, inspire allegiance and create wealth. Adams Media Corporation, Massachusetts.
disillusioned in what I knew I believed in and became angry at the distortion of truth to suit the ends of global ministries. With time I lost sight of my first love, the simplicity of the gospel and the power of my relationship with God. I recall my father always reminding that irresponsible and deceitful leaders will give account to God but I should remain faithful in what I must do. I had to face my anger and distraction before recommitting to my first love. As I reflected on this, I was reminded of the church of Ephesus that also needed to rediscover first love which is the basis for renewed passion and vision: Ephesus: First Love Lost Forgive the hardness of my heart Barricaded against false prophets A hardness that injures my love for you And those who sometimes victims Of the deceit spirit of apostasy Restore in me the tenderness I felt when you tugged my spirit And I reciprocated in complete surrender To your warm salvation embrace The day I promised my life to you With time youâ€™ve not forgotten My jealous defense of you My struggles and loyalty in your name In all my doing and demonstration You ask only that I rest fully in you Reminding me of our First Day Great Love Restore in me First Love
Decide to make a difference Once you have worked out your calling and personal vision, then you need to make a decision to act on it. There is a popular saying, "Many a road to hell is paved with good intentions." Have the courage to act on your personal vision. Dare to make a difference for God.
Deciding to make a difference for God is not a one-off event but a lifestyle of daily commitment. We need to decide every day to take up our cross for Christ. It is this daily decision that seals our commitment to our eternal vision that God has placed in our hearts.
Daily decision-making helps us to sort out our priorities, to keep a focus and to do only those things that matter in the kingdom of God. If we can learn to subject our will or decision-making to the purposes of God then we can allow God to work miraculously in our lives. Determination at all costs Pursuing your personal vision will not be easy. In fact it may be the hardest thing you ever do. That is why you need to have a God-given vision, because things will become very tough on the journey. It is only a determination based on the solid foundation of God's promises that will enable us to keep the faith and continue the journey.
It's not how we start, but rather how we finish, that matters. How we finish depends on our daily journey towards the vision that God has given us. We need to learn to stand strong against the onslaught of our enemies and see our victory through Christ. Determination allows us to be refined and made pure and able to fulfil the calling of God in our lives. Defy the lies of the enemy We need to know the strategy of our enemy, which is clearly to steal our vision, rob us of our motivation and destroy our lives in the process. Dealing with this kind of enemy requires that we become defiant â€“ standing up in faith against those forces that would seek to destroy our God-given vision.
We must learn to defend the vision that God has given us. Like a shepherd tending his sheep, so we too must nurture and defend the gift that God has given us. There will be times when we have to oppose popular opinion, when we have to challenge family and friends and when we have to lose what we personally value.
In our defiance against social tradition and conformity we affirm our vision. This was the call of the prophets of the Bible. They dared to defy kings and armies in defence of the vision that God had given them. If our visions are not worth defending, I'm not sure they're worth having in the first place. You know you have a vision from God because you will have to be called to defend it in your lifetime. The truth is that godly vision will have opposition because our spiritual battle is one of eternal consequence. This is a matter that Satan takes seriously. Becoming a true disciple When your vision drives you in partnership with God, you become a true disciple. One of the greatest challenges facing Christ in His earthly ministry was getting His disciples to have a kingdom vision. Only until they could understand who He was and what His mission was, could they become His disciples. Until then they were simply a group of committed followers. But when they saw the same kingdom vision that Jesus saw, they became true disciples.
It was the vision of the kingdom of God that so captured this band of men that they impacted the entire face of the world. After Jesus left the earth, they had no physical person to live by except the vision of what He spoke of. As their eyes opened they too began to understand why Jesus grieved so much over Israel.
Nothing could erase the vision of the kingdom of God as these disciples went about preaching and teaching. It takes a great commitment to a vision to be persecuted, tortured, stoned to death, and beheaded. You had better be sure that you have a godly vision to be willing to give your life up for it. This was true of the Disciples of Christ and must become true for you as well. True discipleship cannot be separated from a kingdom vision from God. Our vision is restored as we touch God The woman in the Bible story who touched Jesus received a greater miracle than physical healing â€“ she also received a new vision of God and her personal destiny. From that moment on her life was never to be the same. At the end of the day it does not matter what reason we had for coming to God, its how we leave that makes the
difference. God wants to give us a new vision of our lives in the context of the kingdom of God.
When we come to Him we come in need, but when we leave we leave with a mission. We leave as people destined to make a difference in the kingdom of God. God has greater plans for every one of us, more than just meeting our needs.
Remember the miraculous story of the widow from who the prophet Elijah asked for bread. She was desperate and in great need herself in a land of famine. All she had was a little flour to make the last cake for herself and her son, and they were going to die because they had no more food. Elijah asks her to make him some bread and she responds obediently and her storehouse is miraculously filled with oil and flour, enough for her to share with her neighbours.
What happened? She was a woman in desperation who responded in faith and became a blessing to the servant of God and to her neighbours. God wants to use us to meet the needs of a dying and desperate world. We come to God focused on our situation and ourselves. When God touches us and restores our vision, we leave focused on the world that He has come to save and set free. This is the difference that Christ is ultimately concerned about. He wants to equip us for His service. From ritual to reality When the woman in our story came to touch Jesus, she believed that if she could only touch His garment she would be healed. She came expecting a magical and ritual cure, but Jesus touched her deep in her soul and that was for real. No one could take that away from her.
Maybe you have come to touch God and are not quite sure of this process. It might sound mysterious to you. Like this woman, the experience might even be a ritual that people have told you about. The difference for this woman was not in her hand touching the garment but in her heart touching Jesus. This caused the healing power of God to reach her, and she was healed completely and made truly whole in body, mind and spirit. You too can touch God right now in a simple prayer. Inviting his touch could open the door to discovering and delighting in your divine destiny. END