Jacob, Jonah and My One Word

I’m starting off the new year reading The Forgotten God by Francis Chan, and it has taken me all of 2 weeks t realize how terrified I am of the Holy Spirit.

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Some people are afraid that if they call on the Holy Spirit, he won’t show up–that God will remain silent. I am afraid of the opposite. I’m afraid that he will show up. As soon as he does, I know there will be things in my sinful life that he will want to strip from me and there will be things he wants me to do that are not easy, comfortable, or pleasant (and all this coming from a missionary kid who grew up with spiders the size of my hand).

The topic has driven me to wrestle with God for all of January. I know that I can’t say “no” to the Holy Spirit. And I know that he should be the focus for My One Word this year. I can’t ignore him anymore. He’s too much of an integral part of the Bible, salvation, and relationship with God. Even Jesus said that it was better that he leaves us so that the Holy Spirit can come to us. How can I shrug that off?

So out of a sense of Christian duty, I started praying that God would help me want the Holy Spirit (because I was still at the point where I couldn’t just say I wanted him on my own). And then I took a walk to sort through my thoughts, to argue with myself, and wrestle with God about the fears I had for the future.

The truth is, I already know what it’s like to have God pull me into places I don’t want to go and situations I’m not comfortable with. I’ve been a Jonah several times. That’s how I ended up in Charlotte after asking God to send me anywhere in the world except Charlotte.

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I mean, it looks fine from a distance and all…

But after I got over myself, I found that God didn’t actually want me to be miserable. In fact, living in Charlotte was how God managed to give me exactly what I wanted all along, in ways that were far better than anything I had dreamed up for myself. God actually made me happy and gave me a chance to serve him joyfully in a place I never thought I could stand to be in. It was almost like… God was smarter than me or something. And he proved to be a good God. He made me a part of something awesome, gave me meaning, and used my gifts in ways I never thought possible. I helped start a school for God’s sake! (literally, for God’s sake. And at the age of 21, too).

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But being dragged into Nineveh (or Charlotte, or wherever I decide I don’t want to go) wasn’t my only fear when it came to following the Holy Spirit.

I have on my wrist a constant reminder of Christians around the world who were willing to follow the Holy Spirit boldly–even to death.

Coptic Cross tattoo

I keep this Coptic cross as a sign of solidarity with the persecuted church, but there are many times that I wonder if I have the courage to back up my tattoo with action.

It’s not that I’m afraid of death. It’s more a fear of everything that leads up to death. Physical pain, mostly. I’m a wimp. Hell, I whimpered just getting the tattoo!

But as I took my walk/wrestling match with God, he reminded me that suffering isn’t something he sends us through–it’s something he carries us through. Kind of like the famous poem about footprints in the sand, but instead of a peaceful walk on the beach, it’s more like hot coals and beds of nails. (Life is rarely a walk on the beach).

When I was 11 years old, I had guns pointed at my head by a gang that threatened to kill my family and rape us. It was an experience that a lot of people would say they never want to risk going through. The kind that makes people like me (right now) say, “God better not put me in that situation because I can’t deal with that. I’m not ready to follow the Holy Spirit into that kind of thing.”

But I did go through it. It wasn’t easy, comfortable, or pleasant, but I didn’t suffer through it on my own, either. God carried me through. And looking back on it, I would never want that experience–painful as it was–to stop me from being there in Papua New Guinea where my family had the privilege of serving God in an awesome and exciting way.

Which means that these two big fears I have are both things that God has already answered with proof of his goodness. And in retrospect, I can’t be surprised. I already knew all along that God is good and that His ways are better than my ways. I just… forgot.

So with all that said,

Come, Holy Spirit, come.

My One Word for this year is Follow.

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“To Pray is to Change”

My year's reading on the discipline of prayer.

“Of all the Spiritual Disciplines prayer is the most central because it ushers us into perpetual communion with the Father,” Richard Foster said, it’s “the central avenue God uses to transform us.” My One Word for 2013 was “Pray.” I wanted to learn how to pray the way that God wanted me to pray. So with a small token carved with two memory verses and a short reading list, I spent the year studying prayer.

A number of books have helped me along the way. Becoming an Answer to Our Prayers by Shane Claiborne taught me that God has already provided the avenues to answer prayers in the communities around us. As he said, “Prayer is not so much about convincing God to do what we want God to do as it is about convincing ourselves to do what God wants us to do.”

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (also by Shane Claiborne) gave me a daily structure, routine, and model for praying. It also highlighted Christians throughout the ages who exemplified God’s love and forgiveness and offered Bible readings and hymns for each day. This book was most helpful in prompting me to act out the discipline of prayer.

Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster¬† filled me in on different kinds of prayer such as prayer of guidance and prayer of faith and gave me a wide variety of methods to help me pray. It gave me the tools to¬† “learn to pray so that my experience conformed to the words of Jesus rather than try to make his words conform to my impoverished experience.”

And most recently, With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray gave me a detailed look at what the Bible says about prayer; teaching me not just the attitude of prayer, but the way prayer is interwoven with our obedience to God’s word, Bible Study, and acts of sacrifice such as fasting. “He that would do the works of Jesus must pray in His Name. He that would pray in His Name must work in His Name.”

I have learned and grown a lot in my prayer life this year, but I’m not done learning how to pray. As much knowledge as I’ve gained in my year of study, I still have a long way to go in acting out what I’ve learned. I look forward to the changes God will be forming in me as I continue to meet with Him in a quiet place.

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