Sunday, January 20, 2008

much afraid

Lake Strelna in the summer nights of Alaska, photo taken around midnight.

Poor little Much Afraid seems to constantly fall short of her abilites, hopes and dreams because she is held back by fear. She allows people to force her into situations she detests because she is afraid to say NO, and would never dream of asserting NO as the final answer. She is afraid of what they'll do, believing somehow their opinion of her will wield some type of power over her life. So her life follows this miserable course of failure, disappointment and humiliation. Then she comes into the service of the Chief Shepherd, who demonstrates His love, who promises her a new life, He promises to take her to the high places - both here on earth, and in eternity - forever. He claims her as His own, promises if she only trust Him, He will protect her. But when it comes down the the wire and she is confronted with her terror - she caves. Predictably. In fact, as you read of her, it seems this is the only truly predictable aspect of her character. She caves when confronted with her terror. But as I contemplated this, I grew more and more uncomfortable with the knowledge that this to some degree, describes a lot - maybe most of us?? It strikes a few familiar chords in my life to be sure. So while I explore this phenomenon, I will hide behind Much Afraid, fearing of course, that somehow full disclosure of my own fearfulness might be harmful... you might think things about me that will be somehow diminish who I am... somehow have an effect on me...
But I'll take the risk, because I know I'm not the only one. I am in good company with those who know they are loved by the Chief Shepherd (Jesus Christ, of course), know they are secure in His hand, and yet suffer through days when they wonder where the feeling of victory is. It feels at times that there is an element or two of the promise missing. We wonder why it still feels like we are not sure we'll have the right response when confronted with today's challenge. We wonder in those quiet and honest places, why we really don't feel any stronger than we did before we were indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
As I took this before the Lord, one of the first clues He gave me involved our pre-occupation with feelings. First of all, our feelings are carnal, of the flesh, fickle, untrustworthy and above all - NOT REGENERATE! Our new identity in Christ is factually true, but that does not mean our feelings will get on-board with the new reality. Feelings are great - in their proper place, and the Lord can even use them to direct us to introspection when we come under the discomfort of spiritual conviction. But, they are not trustworthy enough to guide our decisions or chart our course. Think back over your life - how many times have your feelings been wrong?
I should probably make a distinction between feelings and "leadings" or spiritual discernment. When discernment is immature (as mine still is) it can be confused with feelings (been there, bought the T-shirt). But then after the Lord begins to grow it and provides confirmation (showing you that the thing you discerned was actually accurate) you look back and notice there was a slight difference between the way it "felt" compared to emotional feelings. So, I'm not putting discernment in the "feeling" category here, at least after the Lord has refined it.
The problem with feelings, I think, is that many of us are in a type of bondage to them. Somehow we've grown up with the belief that if it doesn't feel good, it can't be good. We wait for our feelings to get on board with something before we believe it. If I dont' feel strong, I can't possibly be strong. If I don't feel indwelt by the Holy Spirit, this whole salvation thing must not have worked for me. If I don't feel like I have wisdom, the Lord must not have heard my prayer for wisdom - despite His very clear promise that if we ask for it, He will grant it. It seems to me that the soulish realm of feelings is well established in enemy territory, and he is well versed at how to wield his influence there.
I guess in addition to Hinds' Feet, my own quest for wisdom for some situations has led me to this place as well. After praying for wisdom, for months, I didn't feel like I had any more wisdom than when I started seeking. I took this to the Lord, asking, so.... what about this prayer for wisdom? I don't feel like You've given me the wisdom You promised - I still feel as lost about this situation as before. Then the Lord began revealing situations He'd placed me in, in which wisdom was needed - He brought to my rememberance those conversations in which all I had to do was open my mouth and godly wisdom seemed to fall out. I slowly dawned (I can be dense...) that the wisdom is not for me, my comfort, or my "feeling" bucket. When He requires it of me, I can rest assured that I prayed for it, He will grant it. As long as I'm walking in the spirit. But like manna, I don't get a stockpile that I can sit back and admire and gloat - "ahhh, look at all the wisdom I've accumulated!"
I should think this holds true for much of the spiritual life. It is a walk of faith. Once we stockpile the provisions - whether they be wisdom, strength, faith or whatever, we are at greater risk of falling victim to self-reliance. And I should think self-reliance is the greater evil to be feared here.
So perhaps these words of the apostle Paul can encourage us; "I know a man in Christ who foureen years ago was caught up to the third heaven...into paradise... and he heard things that cannot to told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses...So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

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