Thursday, January 05, 2017

Open Hands: a faith-filled response to problems and pain.

This past year I went through a program called "Soul Care" which is designed for pastors and Christian business leaders in the Bay Area to deepen their "with God" live.  There's so much I've journaled and learned in the program, but here I just want to share one aspect of it that has brought great freedom to my soul.

As I write this, I'm actually sitting at home with much pain on my shoulder/neck area due to a slipped disk.  I've had to sit at home and do very little as my body heals.  In spite of the pain and situation, I've actually felt quite at peace.  Let me explain why.

One of the main things God has been teaching me over the last year and a half is to open my hands. To trust Him with outcomes. To invite Him into all situations, hard ones and easy ones. See, the more I search the Scriptures, the more I realize that what some people see as "strong faith" is really not what God sees as strong.

As an example, here's a glimpse into how many people respond to sickness based on their level of faith:
  • NO FAITH: I'm sick and I'll just have to put up with it on my own. God has nothing to do with this. 
  • LITTLE FAITH: Might say a quick prayer, take meds, with very little expectation or awareness of God moving.
  • GOOD FAITH: Might pray for healing and ask others to do the same. Expects God to show up in the healing, might get disappointed if healing doesn't come. Or might blame it on lack of faith.
  • MUCH FAITH: Invites God into the pain and opens their hands to whatever will most deepen their relationship with God, whether it is healing, the humility that comes from pain, the endurance that is developed through suffering, or anything else.
In the words of Ignatius of Loyola:
"Everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God. Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to the deepening of God's life in me."  
That is for me what opening my hands means. One of my mentors reminded me this morning of this. He said, "the idea is not to fix our desires on health or sickness. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response of our life in God."  So I got up this morning and instead of being grumpy that my neck is not yet healed, I invited God into it. I went on a prayer walk and allowed God to shape my soul right in the middle of my pain.

This is a powerful new level of faith for me. In fact, I think it's the kind of faith that the followers of Jesus in the first century so passionately wrote about and called us into. Not a faith that is only strong when we get our way, when things are comfortable, or when God shows up in giving us an escape from pain.

Peter, instead of calling believers to ask God to remove their suffering, he said this: "These trials will show that your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world" 1 Peter 1:7

James, instead of calling people to rejoice in the deliverance from pain, he said this: "When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy..." James 1:2

Paul, instead of instructing believers to avoid problems, he said this: "We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance." Romans 5

This year I've rejoiced in seeing God miraculously heal people close to me. I've also rejoiced in the intimacy that I gained with Jesus as I faced pain that He chose not to relieve me from.  I'm also choosing to except my trials and difficulties as potential ways God might want to deepen His love in me. It's very liberating.

Here's the point: God will use every situation in our lives to bring us near to Him. That's the goal. That's where life is. That's the invitation he gives us. Not of a life on earth without pain, sickness, or problems, but a life where every single situation has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.

So whether you are going through a difficult divorce, fighting an illness, or grieving loss, remember that in all situations there is a gift waiting. If you invite God in, He will use it to bring you closer to His heart.

I encourage you to join me in believing and praying this with open hands to God:
I want and I choose what better leads to the deepening of God's life in me.