Monday, April 8, 2013

A Journey - The Beginning

A Journey .... The Beginning

"They hit me when I was down, but GOD stuck by me.  He stood me up on a wide- open field;
I stood there saved-- surprised to be loved!   GOD made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before him.  When I got my act together,  he gave me a fresh start.  Now I'm alert to GOD's ways; I don't take God for granted.  Every day I review the ways he works; I try not to miss a trick.  I feel put back together, and I'm watching my step.  GOD rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes.  The good people taste your goodness,  The whole people taste your health, The true people taste your truth,  The bad ones can't figure you out".

Psalms 18: 18-26 (Message)

Beyond salvage, yet loved
Broken, yet restored
Condemned, yet forgiven
Of little value, yet priceless

These are some of the contradictions that exist in my life, contradictions the show the difference between how I see myself and how God sees me.  Having been a Christian for many years, God truth's have managed to become "knowledge of what it should be like" but, if  I am honest, they have yet to consistently manifest themselves into my day-to-day life. Being aware of this gap I first tried to implement what I shall call the "Christian Character" under my own steam. When that inevitably didn't work, I resorted to faking it so I could have some "street-cred" in Christian circles. This leads to an increasingly downward spiral where the more you attempt to fake things, the more hollow and empty you become. As time progresses, this double life leads to a search for different ways to restore self-worth and in time the actual life you live as opposed to the spiritual life you fake becomes increasingly more difficult to distinguish from those who live entirely in the world ... The salt looses its saltiness.  Maintaining a fake spiritual life is exhausting and has a veracious appetite .... the longer you attempt to maintain it the more desperate and extreme you become in trying to find substitutes in an attempt to establish some semblance of self worth. 

This is where Psalm 18 kicks in.  The psalmist appears to have got to a point where his own resources had been exhausted (they hit me when I was down).  Just when it seems when he was at the end of his rope, God intervened in a way that truly surprised him.  The basis on which this was done is really interesting.  His life was made complete when he placed all the pieces before Him, the good the bad and the ugly!  This suggests both total honesty and total commitment. However, the offering of all the pieces appears to have come not when in the worlds eyes he had a lot to offer, but rather from a point of "God here are all the broken pieces of my life I cannot put them back together, can you do something with them?"  This brings us to a concept that I find both difficult and scary at the same time, that of total surrender to God.  

 The reasons why I find the concept of total surrender so difficult and scary have always perplexed me. Like many others I have heard many sermons and read a lot of books/articles on surrender. If you ask me as a Christian is it necessary I would reply "absolutely"; but actually doing it appears to be another matter.  My reluctance seems almost harder to understand in the context of God sending His only Son to die in my place, a supreme act of love, so why do I find it so hard to surrender to Someone who loves me so much and has my best interest at heart? In fact, if it comes to that why is it that the only way to move towards a whole life in Christ is through brokenness and surrender in the first place.  I often find myself thinking that surely there must be another less painful way, a way that allows me to salvage some semblance of personal dignity from life?  In truth as I ponder this concept, it seems to well up an anger and resentment towards God that as any good Christian knows should not exist; hence I do my best to suppress it as quickly as possible. The difficulty is that the more I suppress this thought the more frequently it seems to return and taunt me!

There are many people who have attempted to explain surrender and brokenness.  The explanations range from depicting God as being an "army boot camp instructor", an  egotistical being who wants to break you down and crush you to make sure you know you are worthless, that He is boss and once you get to that point He will put you back together; through to a God who although loving and dying for you as an individual might choose at a moments notice to break you and put you through immense suffering for the greater collective good.  In this latter picture you become an item of collateral damage, even though this seems to contradict the concept that God treats and cares for us all as individuals. As I have struggled with this whole issue, God has provided an illustration that has helped in providing some insight. 

By virtue of being an engineer,  I often become enthusiastic about assembling some item which I have excitedly picked up from a store such as a BBQ or a hi-tech gadget.  In my enthusiasm to get the item working I perhaps don't pay that much intention to the instructions, as after all I know how this item is meant to work; I just want to get it up and running.  Two or three hours later it is nearly complete and I just have to put the last few pieces in place when I find out that they don't appear to fit.  After several attempts to make them fit, I become angry and frustrated and focus my attention on the stupidity of the designer. How could the designer let me get so close to getting my item up and running only to frustrate me at the last minute because of his oversight and obvious lack of knowledge as to how these things really work?  Never mind, I can adapt and overcome such incompetence, let me take a closer look.  In taking that closer look, to my horror I discover that early on in the build process when I had stopped paying too much attention to the instructions, I had inserted a component the wrong way around .... completely understandable as despite what the instructions said it seemed to fit that way anyway!  Having discovered the problem I then try to circumvent it only to gradually realize that the only way this can be circumvented is to dis-assemble all my work of the last three hours, break it down to its basic components and start again, this time paying more attention to the instructions.  When my wife, having observed my endeavors from the periphery of my frustration, asks me what I am doing, I carefully explain that because the designer didn't have enough forethought to ensure this thing could be assembled the wrong way when you didn't read the instructions properly, I am having to reassemble this whole item again and although I don't want to do it there is no other way if the item is to function as intended. Six hours later, the item is finally up and running. I am inwardly humbled but, in an attempt to salvage some dignity regarding my assembly prowess, feel compelled to moan about the inadequacies/incompetence of the designer for the next few days. As for my wife, she just lovingly smiles as I vent and suggests that maybe next time we should pay closer attention to the instructions; it almost as though she has experienced this situation many times before!

I am starting to realize that my assembly experience might illustrate the dilemma that God often sees. As the designer of life He has provided instructions which for whatever reasons we sometimes choose to ignore. We are so anxious to get on with functioning as He must surely want,  we launch into a frantic assembly of our lives, based on what we perceive to be good Christian principles, only to discover that just when we to start to feel that we are nearly there, the last pieces don't seem to fit and our life is not functioning as it should.  We plead that an exception should be made, that somehow God circumvent the design.  After all it is nearly there and we have invested so much effort to get to this point.  God lovingly turns to us and says, I am sorry but it just will not work that way, that is not the way I designed you and you cannot function in that manner. Let me help you with the disassembly and put things back in the manner which they were always intended to be. That way you can live in the confidence of my design, experiencing the joy that in me you can be assured that there is nothing which you will encounter that can not be overcome and hence you do not need to lead a life bound by fear (Romans 8 v 26-38,  1 John 4 v 13-18 and Proverbs 3 v 21-27).

So I am slowly starting to discover,  what the Psalmist in Psalm 18 seems to have appreciated.  Giving God, who as stuck by me all the way, all the pieces and surrendering to Him is evidence of God's love aimed at giving me a life of true freedom as He always desired, as opposed to being an act of crushing me for no apparent reason!  As I go this route, really having nothing to bring to the table, much to my amazement I discover that the dark forest of tribulation and despair in which I have wandered for so long, opens up into a wide-open field where I can see and feel the sun and find out that God has truly loved me all along! I feel renewed and whole, as God graciously puts me back together to function as He always intended. Now having been lovingly assembled in the right way the next challenge is to make sure I follow the operating instructions and don't take "God for granted".  This is just the beginning!!!

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