"...in Jesus's name we pray, amen!"
When teaching children about Jesus, I try my best to maintain a balance. On one hand, they need to see Him as a saviour, and yet on the other hand they need to see that He is even more than that, He loves us and is with us in a very real and personal way, far more than just Someone who died for you long ago, or Someone Who was nice and said we could go to heaven.
I keep my own experience in mind.
One of the things I realized when I was seeking salvation was that I had a weird relationship with Christ. I knew He was supposed to be my Saviour and Friend, but He felt strangely distant and unreal. I ended my prayers in His name but I didn't really like to talk too much about Him otherwise. I think a visit to a more 'contemporary' church when I was little made a bad impression on me of people throwing Jesus' name around and getting all gushy and undignified (here you can probably tell the kind of baby I was; intense eyes, observing everything, silently judging you, silently disapproving. At least I was cute.)
After all, I always prayed to God. If anything God was the one I felt I had a real sort of friendship, or at least relationship with, a sort of strange mysterious friend whom you didn't really understand, and didn't really know, and weren't really sure how much they cared for you, but had always been there, and you found comfort from knowing they had always been there and would always be there. That is, when I wasn't thinking of Him as a Judge. Then that was scary.
I knew the Gospel, but Jesus still seemed rather superfluous to me--as it clearly would to someone who was not convicted of my own sin.
Even after I was converted, Christ remained rather distant--someone I was in awe of, and respected, and cared for, but not in a personal or intimate way; it was still at a stage where I felt I wouldn't dare. It was like claiming to be best friends with a national hero just because He had saved your life along with a ton of other people's during some crisis. Jesus, I loved You--respectfully, from a distance, with sincere and deep gratitude, but mostly awe.
It took me a while to see Him not only as a Saviour but as a Friend, in the realest sense of the word.
God had brought into my life a family who would become and stay dear friends even years later, despite being in different countries, despite not having seen each other since then, despite not even having regular correspondence. They were Americans who, unlike me, were very much in touch with Christ as a friend, and who often spoke of Him as such. They were an eye-opener to me, and their relationship with Jesus came to my mind afterwards many times over the years, forcing me to see that this was an area I lacked, this was something I needed to think about.
It took me years.
It took me books like Greg Gilbert's What is the Gospel and Steve DeWitt's Eyes Wide Open, it took me books like Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamzov and C.S Lewis's Narnia series which wrung and warmed my heart, and even the overwhelming evil in the world, a frightening glimpse of His absence--
to unfold knowledge, one leaf at a time, about Him. Not just 'knowledge'--Jesus Christ--Son of God--Saviour; like those impersonal words on your identity card; but real knowledge. Like memorizing your mother's smile. Lip synching the words to your favourite song. The little freckles on your best friend's hand, or that passage in a book you love so much it falls open naturally at that place.
And after knowledge, love followed, naturally, simply.
I often regret it took me so long to love Him as a friend. But love for Him should always be based on His relationship to us as our saviour. If we love Him only as a friend, it places Him on par with other things, in the same way we can have many friends; and puts us in danger of not seeing clearly how our relationship with Him is so different from a mere guardian angel-mortal friendship.
He is so much more.
Search me, O God, and know my heart
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the path everlasting.
Psalm 139: 23-24
The first thing that came to my mind when I read this verse a few days ago was a shocked Wow how did David dare to say this??
I don't know about you, but there is something frightening in such complete honesty and humility. Search me and know my heart! Here are all my anxieties, all my insecurities, everything about my limits and fears and weaknesses!
Here are my failures.
Here are the things I don't want anyone to know about. That I wish I didn't know about myself.
Here are the things that are killing me.
Here are the darkest and most destructive things inside my soul.
(cue Imagine Dragon's Demons)
And by the way, you're not saying all this to a human you could possibly control. Of course, it's one thing to say that we couldn't hide any of this from Him anyway. But David is willingly accepting, even inviting this. Not being able to stop someone from reading your diary is one thing; telling them, "Here, read. Don't skip pages 356 and 127--they're especially enlightening" is something else.
I wondered--as in the past tense verb of the word wonder, and not the synonym for pondered. Such fearless honesty was something I shrinked from. How on earth could David declare this so confidently? Remember, this was the Old Testament, before the New Covenant, before grace as we know it in Jesus Christ. David saw Uzzah struck dead for touching the Ark, he had the guilt of Uriah's death on his past, and yet he could say this, knowing how holy God was, and how sinful he was.
David could say all this because he was willing to give up all the pet sins, all the bad habits or weaknesses, all the idols in his heart when he surrendered it to God. Because he knew and acknowledged honestly and humbly--ah, humbly!--his own unworthiness, and God's holiness. Because when he asked God to lead him in the way everlasting, he was going to follow--to actively, purposefully, and wholeheartedly follow.
He could say that.
He could say that because of this.
Part of my new year routine is taking time to answer Donald Whitney's 10 Questions for the New Year, as you would probably know if you've been reading this blog for a while.
It is always meaningful reading through last year's answers, and realizing how much you'd forgotten or fulfilled since then. What I found most interesting was that each year, one particular thing seemed to repeat itself, to reappear in several answers like it was the theme of that year.
Last year's emerged as knowing God better. Learning to love His attributes. Learning more about the person of God. Learning to see how His attributes applied to my life in a concrete way. I phrased this idea differently in several answers but in essence that was it.
This time, it was simpler. I need to protect my devotions and prayer time, I found myself writing several times in my answers, using almost the same words each time because somehow they were the right ones.
I was surprised at myself. Protect wasn't a word I'd ever used in this context. But I thought back to how I had lapsed for weeks because oh, it was the holidays; I slept late last night; I'd just take a quick scroll down this feed, or check those pesky unread messages first; or there were so many things waiting to be done, I'd just get a head start on clearing them today and be so productive....!
Protect, I realized, was an apt word.
I need to protect that short pocket of time every day from distractions, from work, from laziness. There were so many reasons and excuses one could pick from, and it got easier everyday. I'll start next week, on Monday, get up early and all that, put my life back into balance again, I would think. Like so many (doomed) diets and exercise plans this thought has seen, it didn't quite work out.
I had to protect the time I spent on prayer and devotions from my own excuses.
This was a humbling realization. It was not so much my schedule and all the responsibilities on me. It was not so much whether I'd slept late last night or not. It was just making small decisions--the same small decisions--every day, faithfully. Put down the phone. Those messages can wait, it's not like reading them now accomplishes anything. You don't need to be immediately updated on what the world has been doing for the past few hours you were asleep. Don't look at your schedule yet. You'll be spending the rest of the day looking at it, after all.
It's like training a child to make their bed in the morning. Growing up we all had to do what my mom called the Five Morning Duties. (always in capitals, in my mind. They were important in a basic, pragmatic way; they existed, simply, the way the Seven Wonders of the World or the Four Great Beauties of China did, regardless of your existence.)
Make your bed. Brush your teeth. Wash your face. Comb your hair. Change your clothes and take out the dirty ones.
Making the bed was the first one, which led to the others, and it took as little as a minute--fold your blanket, pick up your stuff toys if they had fallen onto the ground, and pull the quilt over everything. (or prop the mattresses against the wall, in the early days before we got our bunk bed.) It was a decision you made in those first few seconds after you sat up in bed, it didn't take a lot of effort, but you had to make it every day, and it was being able to make it every day that was the greatest accomplishment of all to your mom.
But small decisions, to be made every day, are easy to fail in.
That's why the word protect kept coming to my mind when I looked back soberly upon the weeks which had slid by this past year, each day a chance I had knowingly passed by.
In 2017, I want to protect the time I give for prayer and devotions every day. Even if I wake up late. Even if my phone is blinking with unread messages and notifications. Even if I'm itching to plunge into the to-do list for the day and slap some nice satisfyingly long tailed ticks in there.
We make choices, every day. Small choices which mean great things in the big picture.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are