The Way in the Wilderness; Streams in the Wasteland

Two things have been elusive to me: contentment and joy. The drive that pushes can also produce the anxiety that wishes. Wishes of better circumstances, less trouble, greater comfort or whatever can distract from the abundance of the moment. The feast that is evident with every meal when no meals are missed. The protection of shelter when the rain never gets on me as I sleep.

Never. Never a missed meal or homeless exposure. Yet, those things don’t seem to matter even though they are foundational to everything the rest of the things (according to Maslow). When they are overlooked, the top of the pyramid is always one or more anxious wish out of reach but seemingly within reach with a little more effort.

Lately, however, I’m seeing it differently. I’m considering the joy that is available within the problems. I’m intentionally orienting towards joy and contentment when the trouble squawks, opportunities tempt or worry taunts. I don’t have it figured out or mastered but I’m seeing the target and getting the words which are the ability to hit the bullseye.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:19

The way is in the middle of the wilderness; not after deliverance from the wilderness. It’s right there among the wilderness and all the shadows that are inherent in wilderness culture. The streams interrupt the wasteland but they don’t overcome it. The enjoyment, relief, satisfaction and thanksgiving for the way and the streams are available within the context of the wilderness and wasteland. One doesn’t cease to exist because of the existence of the other; they co-exist.

I’m learning to sit in the stream and not care about the wasteland which is still looming. The emotions that are stirred from the observation of the negative possibilities that the wasteland holds don’t have to be given priority. The cool of the stream and sound of its trickling will prevail if they are given their due. The peaceful and consistent reassurance of their refreshment will be enjoyed right up until the point where I focus on the threats of the wasteland.

Peace is in the river despite the limits of the river banks but the shore of the wasteland will consume everything that I give it. Stepping out of the stream into the wasteland to fix the wasteland is a fool’s errand. In this world, we will have trouble; that’s not going to change. The way and the stream are not of this world.

Anxiety Presents an Opportunity for Greater Glory

Every time we accept invitations into new opportunities, we step into a new version of discomfort. We go from a known to an unknown because we believe that it will be better in the new place even if there is a cost to getting there. There are times that we experience discomfort in new circumstances that we didn’t choose but that were forced on us. In either case, the opportunity in the discomfort is the same.

When we get to this new place of unknown challenges and uncertain outcomes, we often (if not always) can recognize insecurities within us if we will pay attention. In that place where we are no longer comfortable, we are likely to feel a sense of threat. Often we will be anxious surrounding our protection, provision or promotion/place. If we aren’t careful, we may very well be offended or suspicious of people in this new environment as we view them through our lens of anxiety as we guess at their motives or overreact to their interactions.

In these new places where we are tempted to envy, judge, compete, be offended, etc. because we are afraid as we experience lack of control, we are presented an eternal opportunity. The insecurities that are driving the anxiety and mental gymnastics were there prior to their exposure via this new set of circumstances. They are simply ripe at this particular time for redemption.

Where God shows us the ugliness of us in the middle of our discomfort or suffering, we get to choose. We can agree with fear or come home to His love. We can foster the temporal anxiety or run home to the comfort and certainty of eternity. His love dwells within us by the grace of Jesus (if we want it to and receive the sacrifice of Jesus for the restoration of relationship with the Father) so the peace that relieves the anxiety is in Him within us.

It’s at this point that we are granted repentance. We are given the gift of getting to exchange the insecurity of an orphan which wasn’t yet redeemed and trading it in for the security of a legitimate child of God. When we feel the ugly stuff, we can own our part of the emotions instead of blaming people and circumstances for our discomfort and exchange our crud for God’s glory. He will be put on display from within us when we choose to submit the temporal fear for His eternal love.

Defeating Insecurity

When my dad died in December, I had no doubt that he loved me and was proud of me. His affirmation and my knowledge of his unconditional love and acceptance was and is an incredible gift. It is healthy and necessary for my security and confidence. It was a platform for my potential. Yet, I mess it up.

Despite the benefit of affirmation and the resulting security that comes from unconditional love, there are times when my insecurities win out. I can be victimized by doubts and fears like anyone else when I forget who I am or when I work from my voids. Insecurity is a universal challenge and there is no earthly cure.

There is perhaps more insecurity in the ministry world than there is in secular settings. In a secular setting, the lines are clear; we are out for ourselves for the most part. Courtesy, morality and values should influence our interactions as there are lines that are drawn in keeping with social responsibility. For the most part, behaviors are oriented by expectations with consequences and ramifications that require strategy to maneuver around.

In faith based settings, I’ve noticed less certainty and more apparent insecurity. We acknowledge and embrace that we are spiritual beings, therefore we tend to work from the inside-out. The truth is the guide and foundation for our beliefs, but our choices are influenced by our developing ability to allow those beliefs to overcome our will. Our will is born in a fallen state, and even after we are new from the inside, that salvation is being worked out.

In the working out, we often allow emotions, expectations and desires that are based in “good” and even eternal appetites to guide our interactions. “That’s not my heart” becomes a valid excuse to behaviors that are offensive or not thoughtful. The squishy possibilities within can muddy the absolutes of cause and effect.

No matter where we are spiritually, the insecurities we battle as members of the human race cause us to self-protect, self-provide and self-promote. We do so in defensive and/or offense postures with other human beings. Where the contrast is in the context of the Father’s house and the Body of Christ, the insecurities seem to become glaring. The insecurities are counter-cultural to the security of sonship.

Until we know that we know that control is an illusion and our Source is greater than our limitations or abilities, we are going to entertain the charade of mastery. Freedom comes in the wake of giving up and admitting our limitations. Security comes where we know that we can’t do it and are loved anyway. Security comes in the love of a Father that not only affirms us, but He receives us despite us.

Absolutely Abba

It’s only been five months and it’s pretty surreal. The absence of my father is so permanent that the pain of the permanence is the hurt that re-visits most often. It’s also the place where the mirage of the faint and passing thoughts that I am about to see him show up. Those brief and passing moments where I forget the unforgettable give way quickly to the realization of reality.

With that said, I am not an orphan. My father on earth has gone the way of all the earth, but my Father in Heaven is increasingly prominent in my consciousness. The infinity of God co-exists with the intimacy of God and He is Father in the connection of distant to personal.

No matter what the challenge or celebration is, the need for a Dad is real for all of us. We want and need the pivotal relationship with an earthly father and where there are fractures or voids, we hurt and want. The earthly father experience, however, is a flawed and temporal expression of the perfect and eternal identity of who God is for us and through us if we will simply come home to Him.

Coming home to the Father is a daily choice made first and foremost in our will. It’s not a theological debate nor is it complicated set of rules to follow. Our return to the Father through the grace and sacrifice of Jesus is a daily submission of our will and our lives to His goodness and sovereignty. It’s our will that has to die first.

When we will submit our wants, the return on that investment is freedom. When we die to our drivers and choose to depend wholly on the One who is Holy, the fruit of His life can come through us. We can exchange our anxiety and self-consciousness for His peace and love. He loves His kids and that love is the greatest satisfier of any of the wants, fears or forecasts we entertain when we are driving.

Trust is fostered in the silence. Time spent quietly considering and connecting to God as Abba, or Father, or Daddy is an investment into the satisfaction of things that otherwise unleash my will to have its way. These brief and passing moments where I realize the Absolute give way to temporary distractions of earthly temptations and I am in need of my Abba again. Thankfully, I am not an orphan and He shows up time and time again.

Destruction of Our Escape is an Act of Love

There is a persistent temptation to imagine things how they could be and a trap that is set for us as we move towards our imaginations. Our imaginations of tranquility projected into lake, mountain or beach homes, perfect jobs, abundant resources, etc. are illusions. The imaginations won’t include our vulnerabilities, insecurities or the totality of our humanity.

If only we could fix the conditions that agitate our peace, then we will have arrived. Time, relationships, money and jobs (or lack thereof) are common areas we would like to fortify within our preferences. Within the walls of our desired fortress, however, is us and outside the boundaries of our protections is a world full of trouble that won’t be held back.

Where does God reside in our efforts to build a perfect life? Who is sovereign in our imagination?

Where we limit and submit Him to us, then we assume the place and responsibility He holds. We sit on His throne and rule in sovereignty that is inferior yet temporarily primary. We idolize our ability to create an existence that exceeds a need for Him as our Lord. We idolize us.

It is His love that tears down our castles. He is the one that graciously destroys the efforts of our idolatry. There is a fine line between love and anger and, in this case, His anger is love. His pursuit of us despite us is merciful and loving without regard to our arrogance and isolationism.

“The Sovereign Lord has sworn by himself—the Lord God Almighty declares: “I abhor the pride of Jacob and detest his fortresses; I will deliver up the city and everything in it.” Amos 6:8.

God swears by Himself because He can, but when we attempt to do the same, we fall short. Ultimately, He will tear down our fortresses and pride for our good. He will leave us in a heap of ruins and when we look up to survey the aftermath, we may finally actually see Him for Who He is, not who we attempted to imagine Him into being.

Freedom is found in identity. Our identity as declared and decided by a Creator that loves us and wants a relationship with the real us. His identity, as well, in actuality and not in the imaginative attempts to create an oasis for ourselves in the middle of life’s realities.

I’ve Found an Enemy I Can Kill

One of my favorite television shows ever is “The West Wing.” In one episode of that series, Admiral Fitzwallace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is arguing with Leo McGarry, the President’s Chief of Staff. The argument is over a foreign leader that has planned a terrorist attack against the United States and what they are going to do about it. Fitzwallace tells Leo, “I’ve been a soldier for thirty-eight years, and I’ve found an enemy I can kill.”

Well, I’ve found an enemy that I can kill and I need to kill it. The enemy that I’ve identified is my love for the distraction I find in electronics. It has become an enemy to my soul.

Increasingly, I’ve preferred the satisfaction I’ve perceived in the busyness of typing, swiping, scrolling and posting. It’s cost me my solitude and that has cost me relationship.

Practically, it costs that depth of relationship the comes in the nuance. The opportunities that are available waiting for someone else to arrive. Even discomfort in those times is valuable as the tension requires effort.

Spiritually, it costs the depth of intimacy available with an invisible God waiting on me to draw near. Jesus simply won’t post, text, email or provide any competition to those that do. The choice is mine.

The times that I’ve set aside to meet with Him have all too often been compromised by my inattention and distraction. Lately, I’ve been intentional about changing that. I’ve been intentional about killing my enemy, which is within me.

I’ve started to leave my phone in my office or car when I am at meetings or lunches. I’ve started limiting the times that I’m interested in checking for and responding to emails, phone calls, texts, etc. Most importantly, I’ve started walking past my phone in the morning as I head into my office to spend time seeking the Lord. The return on the investment has been sweet. The life that I am finding in the wake of what I am killing is tangible.

There is discipline in this and there has been temptation. I’ve literally had to pray, “Lord, I want to go type something or check something right now; will You help me?” He has and He will because He is faithful. I’m saying it out loud because I’ve found a treasure that I want to share and also because I know that I am tempted to go back to the distraction. Declaring that helps to defeat that.