Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Walking with a Limp

Shaping Moments. Most Christian believers can identify the critical shaping moments of their spiritual lives. Perhaps an adverse experience-a death in the family, an illness or a business failure—turned our heart toward God. Maybe we heard a powerful Sunday message or an expository teaching that opened our eyes to God in a new, significant way. Or possibly we read a book that enabled us to understand the things of God afresh.

Like most believers, I too can point to any number of such shaping moments in my life. One of the most significant occurred in 1974. That year I purchased and read a book titled Changed into His Likeness by Watchman Nee. My life was never the same. I learned that one of God's chief missions in our lives is to shape us and mold us into the image of Christ. And I came to understand that God utilizes all kinds of circumstances and situations to patiently and carefully re-create His likeness in our fallen, yet redeemed lives.

"God utilizes all kinds of circumstances and situations to patiently and carefully re-create His likeness in our fallen, yet redeemed lives." Watchman Nee

Jacob's Lessons. Nee's book examined Israel's three patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. My heart quickly identified with Jacob. Jacob knew of God's call even before his birth. The scriptures say that he was born grabbing the heel of his twin brother Esau. In Jacob's day, birth order was everything. If Jacob was to be God's chosen he must be born first. The name Jacob means supplanter or literally "heel grabber."

So desperate was Jacob for the birthright, that as a young man, he persuaded his brother, Esau, to sell his birthright for a pot of stew. And later, with his mother's help, Jacob deceived his father, Isaac, into granting him the coveted "blessing."

Jacob's trials are legendary. We all know of his "wrestling match" with the angel of the Lord-the wrestling match that cost him the natural strength in his thigh, the strongest muscle in the human body. Following Jacob's profound, life shaping encounter, he walked with a limp for the rest of his life. God had struck a blow to Jacob's natural strength.

Up to that time, Jacob had always lived in tents. He'd been a nomad. But from that moment forward, Jacob moved into a permanent residence in the city of Salem-the city of peace. And God changed his name to Israel which means Prince with God.

Nee's book so impressed me that a few years later I wrote a song called Jacob.

Jacob, Israel,
My heart beats close to yours I know.
Jacob, Israel,
I'm a striver like you,
A striver like you,
I'm a striver like you.

After reading Nee's book I determined that I would learn from Jacob, that I would never grasp for the things that God had promised me. I decided that even though I had gifts and talents and even a call from God, I would never strive in my own power to make things happen. And as I looked around at all that was going on in my life, I could see that God was shaping me, preparing me, dealing with areas of my life that were not yet surrendered to Him. And I determined to wait it out, to be patient, to allow God to do His work in me before I rushed ahead and tried to get things going.

Waiting on God. Even though I had musical ability and a desire to lead worship, I never stepped forward to ask for this role. Twice, however, in two different churches, church leaders approached me and asked me to lead-a request that I fulfilled in both cases. I also did not actively promote my own music although one song, Shout Joyfully, wound its way from church to church and ended up in the earshot of the president of Integrity Music. It is the only song of the over 140 that I have written that has ever been published and distributed nationwide. Ironically, after Shout Joyfully was released, I sent three separate new submissions-nine songs in all-to Integrity. I never heard one word in response!

Jacob and the Natural Man. Studying Jacob taught me about the natural man. What is the natural man? The natural man is that part of us to which we naturally turn before we turn to God to deal with life's daily challenges. For example, the natural man takes an aspirin to remedy a headache instead of first turning to God in prayer. The natural man turns to a bank for a loan to consolidate his debts before first turning to God for help. The natural man turns to his own knowledge and experience to solve a problem before turning to God. The natural man is our own natural strength, that which we have come to depend upon throughout the course of our lives.

"You cannot use natural means to achieve a Divine end." Watchman Nee

More Lessons. What then is the proper response when God calls and gifts us to do His work? Is it to behave like Jacob—to charge ahead of God using our own wits and natural abilities? One of the lessons I had supposedly learned from Nee and Changed into His Likeness was to never, ever attempt to use my own natural abilities to accomplish God's will. But it is not as easy as it sounds.

Sunday, July 03, 2005


The Landscape of the Human Heart.
The landscape of the human heart yearns for a visitation from the Lord.

A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley; Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40: 3-5

The prophetic voice of the Lord prepares a highway for God which leads into our very hearts. The voice brings down mountains of haughtiness in our prideful hearts and elevates valleys of despair and insecurity in our fearful hearts. The prophetic voice of the Lord smooths the rough edges of our bitter hearts and converts the desert of our hearts into fruitful fields.

And in the Church which is comprised of imperfect people, the prophetic word of the Lord brings mountains and valleys together for service and fellowship. He smooths out the rough places of our uneven relationships as iron sharpens iron.

The Ideological Landscape.
False ideas ultimately fail. True ideas ultimately succeed. False and failed ideas litter the land in which we live. The last 150 years have witnessed an accumulation of false and failed ideas. In our daily walk through the cultural landscape we stumble and trip over them everywhere we go.

False and failed ideas promise pleasure but bind us and box us in. They pledge to solve our society’s ills but in the end they create more problems. They guarantee us comfort and security but instead drive us toward selfish ambition. And sometimes they promise utopia but provide us with bitterness and disappointment.

God desires to occupy this ideological landscape, to conquer it, to subdue it with the truth. We the Church, like Israel of old, are commissioned to take the ideological ground and turn it into a land of fruitfulness.