Broken Love :: A Lenten Reflection

“Often it is a small thing that makes me downcast and sad,” laments Thomas à Kempis. The 15th century theologian was part of a community that, although they took no vows, lived a life of intentional obedience, chastity, and poverty.

It is easy to dismiss those who willingly sacrifice the comforts of their time as far stronger than the average person of faith—but à Kempis’ writings reveal the depth of his daily struggle. In The Imitation Of Christ, he confesses:

I propose to act bravely, but when even a small temptation comes I find myself in great straits. Sometimes it is the merest trifle which gives rise to grievous temptations. When I think myself somewhat safe and when I am not expecting it, I frequently find myself almost overcome by a slight wind.

Look, therefore, Lord, at my lowliness and frailty which You know so well. Have mercy on me and snatch me out of the mire that I may not be caught in it and may not remain forever utterly despondent.

Focusing his argument onto the reality that all Christians face, à Kempis confesses that it is not his commitments that trip him up, but his idolatrous love affair with a broken and sinful world.

Alas! What sort of life is this, from which troubles and miseries are never absent, where all things are full of snares and enemies? For when one trouble or temptation leaves, another comes. Indeed, even while the first conflict is still raging, many others begin unexpectedly.

How is it possible to love a life that has such great bitterness, that is subject to so many calamities and miseries? Indeed, how can it even be called life when it begets so many deaths and plagues? And yet, it is loved, and many seek their delight in it.

Many persons often blame the world for being false and vain, yet do not readily give it up because the desires of the flesh have such great power. Some things draw them to love the world, others make them despise it. The lust of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life lead to love, while the pains and miseries, which are the just consequences of those things, beget hatred and weariness of the world.

Vicious pleasure overcomes the soul that is given to the world. She thinks that there are delights beneath these thorns, because she has never seen or tasted the sweetness of God or the internal delight of virtue.

Today’s Reading
Proverbs 2 (Listen – 1:53)
Galatians 1 (Listen – 3:05)

Prayer for Those Who Suffer :: A Lenten Reflection

“Evil is not inexhaustible. It is not infinite. It is not worthy of a lifetime of attention,” notes Eugene Peterson. And yet suffering has a way of consuming everything—disconnecting us from community, filling every moment of our attention, and shutting out hope.

Simple answers to suffering are not only insufficient, they are unbiblical. In Psalms: The Prayerbook of the Bible Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains how the laments of Scripture seek to connect the one who suffers with the fullness of God:

The Psalter has rich instruction for us about how to come before God in a proper way in the various sufferings that the world brings upon us. The Psalms know it all: serious illness, deep isolation from God and humanity, threats, persecution, imprisonment, and whatever conceivable peril there is on earth.

They do not deny it, they do not deceive themselves with pious words about it, they allow it to stand as a severe ordeal of faith, indeed at times they no longer see beyond the suffering, but they complain about it all to God.

Bonhoeffer, who suffered for years in Nazi prisons, is both comforted and sobered by this reality: “Only God can help. But then, all our questions must also again and again storm directly against God.” This is the testimony of the Psalms of lament—if only God can help, then the complexity of our emotions, depth of our pain, and fulness of our cry must be brought before him. Bonhoeffer concludes:

There is in the Psalms no quick and easy surrender to suffering. It always comes through struggle, anxiety, and doubt. No single human being can pray the psalms of lamentation out of his or her own experience. Spread out before us here is the anguish of the entire Christian community throughout all time, as Jesus Christ alone has wholly experienced it.

These raw cries of pain are central to the Christian experience. In Lamentation and the Tears of the World Kathleen O’Connor celebrates the expression of suffering in prayer as an act of faith:

Laments are prayers that erupt from wounds, burst out of unbearable pain, and bring it to language. Laments complain, shout, and protest. They take anger and despair before God and the community. They grieve. They argue. They find fault. Without complaint there is no lament form. Although laments appear disruptive of God’s word, they are acts of fidelity. In vulnerability and honesty, they cling obstinately to God and demand for God to see, hear, act.

Today’s Reading
Job 41 (Listen – 3:03)
2 Corinthians 11 (Listen – 4:46)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 42 (Listen – 2:41)  2 Corinthians 12 (Listen – 3:54)
Proverbs 1 (Listen – 3:12)  2 Corinthians 13 (Listen – 2:19)

Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health

Highlighted Text: 2 Cor. 13:5
Full Text: Prov. 1, 2 Cor. 13

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. [1]

How do doctors diagnose physical health? They ask questions, e.g., Have you experienced any breathing difficulties? In his short book, “Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health” [2], Don Whitney suggests doing the same:

  • Do you thirst for God? Jonathan Edwards wrote, “So holy desire, exercised in longings, hungerings, and thirstings after God and holiness, is often mentioned in Scripture as an important part of true religion.” [3]
  • Are you governed increasingly by God’s Word? Thomas Chalmers wrote, “The sum and substance of the preparation needed for a coming eternity is that you believe what the Bible tells you and do what the Bible bids you.” [4]
  • Are you more loving? Martin Luther wrote, “The more a person loves, the closer he approaches the image of God.” [5]
  • Are you more sensitive to God’s presence? A.W. Pink wrote, “If the soul of the believer is in a healthy condition, he will take occasion to frequently come into God’s presence on purpose to have communion with Him.” [6]
  • Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others? John Calvin said, “There is nothing in which men resemble God more truly than in doing good to others.” [7]
  • Do you delight in the bride of Christ? Peter Jeffrey wrote, “The closer you are to the Lord, the closer you will be to other believers.” [8]
  • Are the spiritual disciplines increasingly important to you? Peter Jeffrey wrote, “Without a disciplined life, you will stagnate as a Christian.” [9]
  • Do you still grieve over sin? J.C. Ryle wrote, “I am convinced that the first step towards attaining a higher standard of holiness is to realize more fully the amazing sinfulness of sin.” [10]
  • Are you a quick forgiver? James Coulter wrote, “The unforgiving spirit … is the number one killer of spiritual life.” [11]
  • Do you yearn for heaven and to be with Jesus? C.H. Spurgeon said, “You may judge of a man by what he groans after.” [12]

Lord, We long for life in you and, therefore, we must have health and growth. Let us test ourselves, as we seek your face in our quiet times alone with you and in our community. Lift our eyes to Jesus, as we press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in him. Amen.

[Note: Supporting Scripture references for each question are found in the footnotes.]

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Footnotes

[1] 2 Cor. 13:5 ESV.  |  [2] Donald S. Whitney. Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. I love his questions because they focus on the state of the heart toward God (which is the goal) and see Christian obedience and the practice of Christian disciplines (which are the means) as evidence of the state of the heart. Also, in each chapter, he expands on these questions and offers “practical steps” for growing in each of these areas.  |  [3] Do you thirst for God? See, e.g., Ps. 42; Ps. 63; Phil. 3:1-11. (Tons more in the chapter.)  |  [4] Are you governed increasingly by God’s Word? See, e.g., Ps. 119; 1 Ptr. 2:2; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Thes. 2:10. (Tons more in the chapter.)  |  [5] Are you more loving? See, e.g., Jn. 15:12; Jn 15:17; Rom. 12:10; Rom. 13:8; 1 Cor. 16:14; Gal. 5:14; Eph. 5:2; 1 Thes. 4:9. (Tons more in the chapter.)  |  [6] Are you more sensitive to God’s presence? See, e.g., Gen. 28:16 (when Jacob didn’t recognize God’s presence); Matt. 28:20; Ps. 139:5-12; Matt. 1:23; Acts 11:21; Matt. 18:10; Rev. 21:3. (Tons more in the chapter.) Also, I love this chapter because it talks about times when we go through the desert and how those increase our later senses of His presence.  |  [7] Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others? See, e.g., Acts 4:33-34; Gal. 2:10; Jms 2:15-16; Jn. 10:10; Jn. 13:1-17. (Tons more in the chapter.)  |  [8] Do you delight in the bride of Christ? See, e.g., Eph. 5:25-27; 1 Jn. 3:14; Ps. 16:3. (Tons more in the chapter.) (Note: Delighting in “our friends who are in the church” is not the same as delighting “in the church.” In New York, I have found that it is so easy only to spend time with those I already like and am drawn to. Yet the church is filled with all kinds of people. Do I delight in the church? This is the goal; my, how far I have to go!  |  [9] Are the spiritual disciplines increasingly important to you? See, e.g., Heb. 12:14; 1 Tim. 4:7; Mark 1:35. (Tons more in the chapter.) He also asks, “What are the spiritual disciplines?” and “What are the dangers of the spiritual disciplines?” – two important questions.  |  [10] Do you still grieve over sin? See, e.g., 1 Ptr. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:15; 2 Cor. 7:8-11. (Tons more in the chapter.) He also provides wonderful examples of great saints in more “modern” times (Edwards, etc.).  |  [11] Are you a quick forgiver? See, e.g., Mark 11:25-26; 2 Cor. 5:17. (Tons more in the chapter.)  |  [12] Do you yearn for heaven and to be with Jesus? See, e.g., Rom. 8:22-23; 2 Cor. 5:2. (Tons more in the chapter.)  |  [13] For those who read our 843 Acres in Google Reader, please disregard the accidental version of this post that was published yesterday.

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