Lean On

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What do you lean on?

One of my favorite passages and promises in Scripture is Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”

I know It’s a very well-known verse, and probably appears on as many journal covers, bookmarks and coffee mugs as Joshua 24:15 and Isaiah 40:31. But this weekend, I wanted more from it – to scratch deeper beneath what I’ve gleaned from it so far and chew on it. So, here are my thoughts on it and what I’ve pulled in from other commentators.

I think the main aim of the verse is to walk in a straight path. Meaning, God doesn’t want us to veer off the path into disobedience or into a wasted life or anything that would dishonor Him. Whenever Scripture talks about paths, my mind leaps to John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” and the path into the Slough of Despond and how they veered off the path, which led them to the prison of Giant Despair and Doubting Castle. So, that’s the goal: straight paths; straight to everlasting joy – straight to a God-honoring life.

There appear to be 3 steps to get there:

1) Trust in the Lord with all your heart. We need to bank on the promises of God – making our lives a moment-by-moment trusting in a good, all-powerful, unchanging, loving, all-providing and all-satisfying God. Brandon Barker, one of the spiritual formation pastors at The Village Church – Dallas Northway campus, said something Sunday evening I’ll never forget: “Some of us don’t lack boldness, we lack trust.”

2) Don’t rely on your own understanding. This is a conscious choice NOT to be self-reliant (why can’t this just be easier? The battle of self vs. God – so messy). To say to self, “Self, you are inadequate. Brain, you can’t come up with enough wisdom on your own.” I feel especially in the last few weeks that the Lord has been trying to break me of this. Now, getting away from self-reliance doesn’t mean you don’t make plans or don’t think…you just don’t bank on them. “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord.” (Proverbs 21:31) — James 4:13-15 also comes to mind. So, in the midst of our planning, thinking, etc., we’re leaning on something else and not leaning on our own resources. What a tight rope and balance.

3) In all your ways acknowledge Him. In Hebrew, this reads: In all your ways KNOW Him. At every turn, at every choice you make, at every new conversation you’re in….you’re sending up the message: “God, I acknowledge you here. I know you here. You are decisive here. I need you here.”

And if we follow those, and trust Him, He’s going to make our paths straight – going to keep us from wasting our lives and bring us into everlasting joy.

How AWESOME is that truth?! So, lean on – lean on the Lord.

(Note: ok, I admit I was trying to get clever and play off the book title “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg, even though it doesn’t remotely relate – har har.)

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Fear Looks Like Freedom

 

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Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither. – C.S. Lewis

I haven’t written on my blog for a long time (since the end of January I believe). In writer’s time, that’s a very long (nigh unacceptable) time. To be honest, I haven’t been inspired to write or if I have there’s always this whiny voice telling me that it’s already been said better or it’s not original at all. I try too hard. I do. I really do. Hi, my name is Rachel, and I’m a perfectionist. I hate admitting that. Excelling and putting your heart into something is one thing and totally okay. But for me ::running hands through hair:: I crave perfection and praise. Why? Because, I want it to be about me. I want to be “worshipped,” in essence.

Bottom-line: Pride. Fear of man. It’s poison. Fear is the opposite of love, you know, not hate. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). Fear is selfish. Love is selfless. I’m seeking to be perfect in man’s eyes because I fear their disapproval, rejection, disappointment and anger. I’ve been scarred by my fear, because it has led me down paths in life and relationships that have tried to suck the love and joy and freedom out of my soul. I took that path because I deceived myself. Fear that looked like freedom. Is this me beating myself up? Maybe. Self pity? No. Revelation? Yes.

But looking back and beating myself up over my past sin doesn’t do any good. It’s like Christian from John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” in the Slough of Despond, just wading in it until he realized he needed saving, and Help came. Jesus already covered all those detestable sins on the cross. Grace. Love. Mercy. Freedom. I was made perfect through His perfection. I should seek His perfection (holiness), not my own (Matt. 4:48)

How do I begin to seek His perfection? Stop caring what others think? No. Indifference? No. Let’s look to Jesus here. Did He care what others thought? No, He didn’t, but he still showed love, consideration, gave rebuke when needed, and above all, He was more concerned with how He represented His heavenly Father. So, it’s about setting your priorities straight and having your perspective on the eternal, not the temporary praise and love of man (you know I mean, “people” when I say “man,” right? Ok, just checking). Do I need man’s approval? No, but yeah, it’s really a wonderful thing to have, if you have your heart set to thank God for giving you that little joy.

I believe if I desire first and foremost God’s approval, and live my life accordingly, then all the rest will grow unimportant, but still be welcomed. There’s nothing wrong with approval and love.

Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives. – C.S. Lewis

God wired us to love and to be loved; to serve and be served; to encourage and be encouraged. Some seasons may feel like you’re the only one giving it their all, which may or may not be the case. God sees and knows, and perhaps that’s Him reminding you of where you’re seeking approval, joy, love, freedom and affirmation.

Are these things wicked to desire from others? Absolutely not. But to love them more than God, is sinful indeed.

God cannot gives us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. – C.S. Lewis

Keep examining your heart, and please, call me out if you see me fail and stumble of the path. Oh, we humans. God is awesome in the fact that He didn’t have us be alone in our struggles.

Man’s Fate: Restless Wanderings

“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king.” – J. R. R. Tolkien from The Lord of the Rings

One of the main reasons I admire and look up to writers such as John Bunyan, C.S. Lewis and, most recently, G.K. Chesterson is how powerfully they use words and illustrations to point us to who we are and who we’re meant to be in Christ; who’d we’d be without Him; where we’d end up without Him; and where are focus should be as a Christian. As a writer, I have this fascination and appreciation for certain literature, but these writers take it to the next level because they’re pointing to the center and foundation of my universe: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Below is an excerpt of an excerpt that was a post in my darling, best friend, Michal’s blog Woman Alive. I love the imagery this evokes and the longing it stirs in my soul. Oh, to write with this much verve one day….

“`My pilgrimage is not yet accomplished,’ he replied sadly. `I have become a pilgrim to cure myself of being an exile.’

“Something in the word `pilgrim’ awoke down in the roots of my ruinous experience memories of what my fathers had felt about the world, and of something from whence I came.  “`My grandmother,’ I said in a low tone, `would have said that we were all in exile, and that no earthly house could cure the holy home-sickness that forbids us rest.’ …

“Then he said, `I think your grandmother was right,’ and stood up leaning on his grassy pole.  `I think that must be the reason,’ he said–`the secret of this life of man, so ecstatic and so unappeased. But I think there is more to be said.  I think God has given us the love of special places, of a hearth and of a native land, for a good reason.’

“`I dare say,’ I said.  `What reason?’

“`Because otherwise,’ he said, pointing his pole out at the sky and the abyss, `we might worship that.’

“`What do you mean?’  I demanded.

“`Eternity,’ he said in his harsh voice, `the largest of the idols– the mightiest of the rivals of God.’

“`You mean pantheism and infinity and all that,’ I suggested.

“`I mean,’ he said with increasing vehemence, `that if there be a house for me in heaven it will either have a green lamp-post and a hedge, or something quite as positive and personal as a green lamp-post and a hedge.  I mean that God bade me love one spot and serve it, and do all things however wild in praise of it, so that this one spot might be a witness against all the infinities and the sophistries, that Paradise is somewhere and not anywhere, is something and not anything. And I would not be so very much surprised if the house in heaven had a real green lamp-post after all.’

– From Manalive, by G.K. Chesterton.

Storming the Castle

“This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.” – 2 Timothy 2:11-18

With blogs, websites and social media platforms (i.e. Facebook, Twitter) so prevalent, one can easily get engulfed in meaningless conversation or even what appears to be “critical thinking” and  worthwhile “ponderings,” especially when it comes to so-called Christian examinations of life’s happenings/dilemmas/etc. There’s begun to be this seemingly prevalent theme of “relationships,” singleness vs. marriage, men vs. women, and who can outshine and “one-up” each other when it comes to our knowledge of Scripture. We talk, and talk, and talk some more. I do want to point out, and don’t miss this, that building each other up with our words filtered through His words and through the lens of Scripture is a godly thing. But like everything beautiful in this fallen world, there’s a dark, dangerous side to it. We’re in danger of becoming all about sounding intellectual and philosophical, building our white castles, and in danger of forgetting the One who gave us that intellect, who has enlightened our eyes to His truths. We can forget He is the main point and not our own image and intellect.

This all reminds me of a passage from John Bunyan‘s, The Pilgrim’s Progress when Christian enters the house of Interpreter and is shown analogies of a pilgrim’s life as a way of warning and edification:

Then the Interpreter took him, and led him up towards the door of the palace; and behold, at the door stood a great company of men, as desirous to go in, but durst not. There also sat a man at a little distance from the door, at a table-side, with a book and his inkhorn before him, to take the names of them that should enter therein; he saw also that in the doorway stood many men in armor to keep it, being resolved to do to the men that would enter, what hurt and mischief they could. Christian observed two men jousting, practicing to storm through the armed men. One spoke to the other, “Age before beauty you know.” To which the other replied, “On the contrary, tis fools rush in!” Now was Christian somewhat in amaze and despaired that none would go in. At last, when every man started back for fear of the armed men, Christian saw a man of a very stout countenance come up to the man that sat there to write, saying, “Set down my name, sir;” the which when he had done, he saw the man draw his sword, and put a helmet on his head, and rush towards the door upon the armed men, who laid upon him with deadly force; but the man, not at all discouraged, fell to cutting and hacking most fiercely. So after he had received and given many wounds to those that attempted to keep him out, Matt. 11:12; Acts 14:22; he cut his way through them all, and pressed forward into the palace; at which there was a pleasant voice heard from those that were within, even of those that walked upon the top of the palace, saying,

“Come in, come in, Eternal glory thou shalt win.”

I fear much of the church is in grave danger of becoming like the two pilgrims debating and talking about “high-minded” spiritual things while jousting with each other, but never taking the castle by force. Those two pilgrims “appear” to be serious about entering into glory, but they’re hiding behind their pride, fears, and intellect.

In the passage from 2 Timothy I posted at the top of this post, the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy in verse 14 to remind his people of the message of verses 11 – 13 AND to charge them not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearer. Then, he says that Timothy should be diligent about rightly dividing the word of God, etc. Notice the connection – sandwiched in between his instructions concerning the correct handling of the word of God is a warning that both Timothy and his hearers should avoid useless arguments about words or phrases, which Paul says are not profitable and are ruinous to those listening in on such useless wranglings. The main point in the warning seems to be that there is a way of hearing and handling the word of God that misses the central message of the glory of God in the gospel and leads people into irrelevancies, endless disputings and ultimately ruinous beliefs and practices.

Some people seem to endlessly debate for no real purpose, making judgement calls, asking certain questions in such a way that “stirs the pot.” Sometimes they use all this “chatter” as a way of holding onto doubts, unbelief, or to make themselves feel secure in their own knowledge. At times it is a form of gossip, to “stir up the pot”, I suppose, since they have no direct responsibility or impact in this area. Oftentimes it fits in the category of useless wrangling over words. I would caution you and myself to avoid these discussions with these sorts of people, as it presents a risk to you in accordance with Paul’s instructions to Timothy. Engage in edifying, purposeful, biblical discussions whose end is to bring glory to God in the gospel. Like I said it’s a fine line, which I’ve seen being crossed more and more. A cynical person will never stop arguing and will never seem able to come to the knowledge of the truth. These speculative debates are no more than an opportunity to display one’s intellectual pride or arrogance. Plus, such arguments embroil a person in controversy and stir up passions unnecessarily. Life is hard enough without making it more so.

Concerning “handling” of God’s word. Again, Paul is writing to Timothy to instruct him how to deal with with men who are teaching “strange doctrines.” Paul then tells Timothy what the purpose and goal of his own teaching/preaching ministry is: “…the goal of our [the apostles’] instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” This is what Paul aimed at in the lives of people when he taught them. This is what he aimed at in his own study of God’s word. This is what we should aim at in our own study of God’s word. And, when we venture to teach another, formally or informally, this should be our goal: to promote in them through God’s word “love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” The goal of teaching, preaching, study, is love. Divine love flowing from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith. There is then a practical emphasis on godliness, not a speculative, intellectual emphasis in our handling of God’s word. You see how mere intellectual debate that is a forum for doubt or cynicism or pride is antithetical to the purpose and goal of biblical instruction. The goal is transformation and conformity to the image of Christ, not cleverness, word-craft or erudition.

There is so much more to say. But this is long enough. Strive to live a quiet and peaceable life in Christ. There is much joy in it.

(Note: A special dedication and thanks to a wise, godly man in my life who is both my counselor and father, for his contributions/insights for this post. I love you, Daddy.)

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke

Slough of Despond

“Labour to know thine own frame and temper; what spirit thou art of; what associates in thy heart Satan hath; where corruption is strong, where grace is weak; what stronghold lust hath in thy natural constitution, and the like. . .Be acquainted, then, with thine own heart: though it be deep, search it; though it be dark, inquire into it; though it give all its distempers other names than what are their due, believe it not.” – John Owen

 

John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Such a classic. If you haven’t I would encourage you to put this at the top of your reading list. It is said to be the best book after the Bible.

For some reason this particular passage has been going through my mind often given the events in my life and other’s lives the past few months. I never really paid this part of the story much mind because I was always about the “big” moments of the book (i.e. Giant Despair and Doubting Castle, Vanity Fair, the epic battle between Christian (equipped with the armor of God) and Beelzebub, the Cross, etc). Lately it has really hit home with me and I wanted to share it with you all.

Wherefore Christian was left to tumble in the Slough of Despond alone; but still he endeavored to struggle to that side of the slough that was farthest from his own house, and next to the wicket-gate; the which he did, but could not get out because of the burden that was upon his back: but I beheld in my dream, that a man came to him, whose name was Help, and asked him what he did there.

Christian: Sir, I was bid to go this way by a man called Evangelist, who directed me also to yonder gate, that I might escape the wrath to come. And as I was going thither, I fell in here.

Help: But why did not you look for the steps?

Christian: Fear followed me so hard that I fled the next way, and fell in.

Help: Then, give me thine hand: so he gave him his hand, and he drew him out, [Psalm 40:2], and he set him upon sound ground, and bid him go on his way.

Then I stepped to him that plucked him out, and said, “Sir, wherefore, since over this place is the way from the city of Destruction to yonder gate, is it, that this plat is not mended, that poor travellers might go thither with more security?” And he said unto me, “This miry slough is such a place as cannot be mended: it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore it is called the Slough of Despond; for still, as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there arise in his soul many fears and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place: and this is the reason of the badness of this ground.

“It is not the pleasure of the King that this place should remain so bad. [Isa. 35:3,4.] His laborers also have, by the direction of his Majesty’ surveyors, been for above this sixteen hundred years employed about this patch of ground, if perhaps it might have been mended: yea, and to my knowledge,” said he, “there have been swallowed up at least twenty thousand cart loads, yea, millions of wholesome instructions, that have at all seasons been brought from all places of the King’ dominions, (and they that can tell, say, they are the best materials to make good ground of the place,) if so be it might have been mended; but it is the Slough of Despond still, and so will be when they have done what they can.

“True, there are, by the direction of the Lawgiver, certain good and substantial steps, placed even through the very midst of this slough; but at such time as this place doth much spew out its filth, as it doth against change of weather, these steps are hardly seen; or if they be, men, through the dizziness of their heads, step beside, and then they are bemired to purpose, notwithstanding the steps be there: but the ground is good when they are once got in at the gate.” [1 Sam. 12:23.]

Like Christian, we oftentimes miss the “steps” because we don’t keep the eyes of our hearts on God’s promises and His grace. When we rely on our own strength we end up miring in despondency and weighed down with the burden of our sin and helplessness. That’s when we have a choice to make:

Call upon Him for “Help” for as the Lord told the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9a). “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7).

OR

Continue to mire in our despondency over sin and try of our own means to fix ourselves and get out of the mire. Yeah, we already know the ending to that option. It sours our hearts, our attitudes and His light in us is almost hidden to those around us. How does that profit us…or more rightly put, how does that glorify God? We don’t get anywhere by mucking around and dwelling on our sin. We’re not fleeing to Christ, or clinging to his grace; instead we are arrogantly putting ourselves above the power of the cross and in effect saying we are past hope, help and saving because we’re too filthy for Him to love us and there’s no way He can cover all our sins. Rubbish! (pun intended).

Side note: I know GRACE is one of those things that Christians can either “use or abuse.” We have Paul in Romans 6 saying, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!” Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida wrote a recent blog post titled, “Grace Without Buts and Brakes.” I’d encourage you to be encouraged by it.

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke

Doubting Castle and Giant Despair

In the past several weeks leading up to my graduation ceremony, I have often been tempted to despair, to doubt about what the Lord is doing in my life now, and what lies ahead as far as staying in Dallas and job possibilities. I have seen and have had many friends come to me in despair with this sort of “wailing and knashing of teeth” as if their world was falling apart. Questions have been thrust at me like angry fists: “Rachel, what is God doing with my life?!” or “Nobody would want me” or “I would screw up in this relationship anyway” or “I’ll just be alone and jobless for the rest of my life.”

Now some of those questions are asked in the emotion of the moment and are simply “words for the wind” as Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes. But there is often a deep-rooted heart issue. What happens when those words turn into a mindset and choke out any ounce of joy, causing us to harden our hearts towards God? The author of Hebrews tells us, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”

Some of you might be thinking at this point, “What?! No way, Rachel! I believe in God. How dare you even think that a possibility in my life?!”

Well, the writer of Hebrews certainly saw this as a danger. Certainly the Holy Spirit thought it important enough to be put in His Word. I know it’s a danger in my life. It’s so easy to be caught up in the desires of this culture and define our life choices by it instead of our calling in Christ Jesus.

The trap of Despair

All the events happening in my life and in others around me have made me think of Giant Despair and Doubting Castle.

What the heck? Who and what?!

Come on. You have to know this. John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress? If you’ve never read it, read it! It is considered the best book after the Bible. Anyway, Giant Despair and Doubting Castle are a part of the story where Christian and Hopeful want to rest their feet from the stony, dusty, hard, straight and narrow road (an analogy of the straight and narrow path of the Christian walk towards heaven). They hop over the fence next to the road to walk on the soft, luscious, green grass because Christian convinces Hopeful that it will be fine because it follows right alongside the narrow path. Well soon enough and oh so subtly (key word) it takes them away from the narrow path. They then get caught by Giant Despair and thrown into Doubting Castle.

After Giant Despair beat Christian and Hopeful to within an inch of their life, “he withdrew and left them, there to condole their misery, and to mourn under their distress…when morning was come, he goes to them in a surly manner…perceiving them to be very sore with the stripes that he had given them the day before, he told them, that since they were never like to come out of that place, their only way would be, forthwith to make an end to themselves, either with knife, halter, or poison.”

Christian: Brother, what shall we do? The life that we now live is miserable: for my part I know not whether is best, to live thus, or to die out of hand. ‘My soul chooseth strangling rather than life,’ and the grave is more easy for me than this dungeon: Shall we be ruled by the Giant?

Hopeful: …I was a fool that I did not try before; but however, my brother, let’s be patient, and endure a while…but let us not be our own murderers.

Power of Prayer

“Well, on Saturday about midnight they began to pray, and continued in prayer till almost break of day. Now a little before it was day, good Christian, as one half amazed, brake out in this passionate speech: What a fool, quoth he, am I thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty! I have a key in my bosom called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle.”

Well good for them, Rachel. So happy they got out; I can now sleep peacefully at night. My situation is a lot different since I can’t physically see a way out.* How do I escape?

They began to pray. Wow. How often do we rely on ourselves to fix a bad situation? Or, if we do go to God, we pray selfishly for what WE want Him to do in OUR lives? What we should be praying for is for Him to do His will in our lives so that we might grow in our faith to become more like Christ. God is not the happiness guru. Everything He does and that we should do is for His glory alone. Only then can we experience true joy and freedom. As John Piper is fond of saying, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Thanksgiving helps you see the key of Promise

I DOUBLE DOG DARE YOU – when you’re experiencing the shackles and darkness of Giant Despair’s Doubting Castle, to start reflecting on the PROMISES God has undeservingly blessed us with through His Son Jesus Christ and has revealed to us in Scripture. Think about what you have been given. Start giving thanks and marveling at it and I promise you with that mindset and heart change you will escape from all the locks in the dungeon of Doubting Castle.

Peace out,

Rachel B. Duke

*Note: Bunyan meant everything to be a spiritual analogy to the trials and warfare that a Christian experiences in their walk towards heaven.