Friday, October 12, 2012

Through The Furnace: Your "Sweetly Broken" Journey (Intro 1)

Through the Furnace:  Your “Sweetly Broken” Journey
A heart-and-faith-changing workbook for people who like to think deeply, tackle the hard questions, challenge themselves, and journal.

(FYI - I reposted this series on its own blog at https://yoursweetlybrokenjourney.blogspot.com for easier access.) 


Do You Want More?

            In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” 

            Okay, now, let me ask this:  How many of us really feel that we are living our lives to the fullest?  Abundant lives?  Vibrant lives?  Eternally-effective lives?  I’m going to suspect that most of us are just hoping to make it through the day, maybe accomplishing one extra chore on our To Do list.  Just so we can fall exhausted into bed, and then wake up tomorrow and do it all over again.
            We are overloaded, stretched-thin, and ready to break . . . or we’re just plain bored.  We feel alone, unimportant, and overlooked.  We go through the motions each day without any sense of deep joy or satisfaction or accomplishment.  Does anything we do really matter?  We desperately want life to be “more”. . . or we just really want a vacation.   
            And the Christian life isn’t very exciting to us, either.  It’s not the joyful journey that we expected it to be.  It feels like work.  We have to smile pleasantly, sing and pray well, serve our time, and look like we have it all together so that we can measure up to others and impress God.  Or . . . we’re just plain bored.  Church is all just monotonous messages, sleepy music, and an hour of trying not to fall asleep.  But at least we had a chance to get our grocery list planned . . . if we managed to stay awake.  And we got our brownie point for the day just by being there.  Right?  
            Where is this abundant, vibrant life that we were promised?  What does that even look like?  Where is the love and joy and peace?  Life is just so hard and discouraging, feeling like it’s all up to us.  Always trying, yet never feeling good enough.  And we wonder why we are so tired and why life is joyless. 

 
            But it doesn’t have to be this way.  There is a different way, a better way.  The way of brokenness.  I wrote about my journey through the furnace in the Child of Mine on this blog.  And as you could tell, when I was going through it, it really hurt.  At different times, it was confusing, depressing, emotionally painful, discouraging, and frustrating.  It hurt most to feel abandoned by God, to wonder if He really cared or was listening. 
            But God knew that the pain and the confusion were necessary.  And in His graciousness and wisdom, He led me (rather reluctantly and unwittingly) from being a confident, smug person who could stand on her own two feet to a broken, humbled person who fell down exhausted at His.        
            And now, standing on the other side of it, I am humbled by the depth of His love for me and my love for Him.  I was a Christian for over two decades before I learned to live in the wonder of His amazing love.  My relationship with Him used to be based on my fears, but now it is based on His love.  And it feels so, so different from how I used to live my life.  It has drawn me closer to Him and deepened my relationship with Him more than I ever thought possible.  That alone is worth the pain of all those trials.  Life is so much more than I ever thought it could be.  And I wouldn’t trade my time in the furnace for anything. 


            Are you curious about what life could be, safe in His love?  Do you want more?  Are you willing to face the heat that produces those kinds of lasting, meaningful changes?  If so, you may be ready to face the furnace.  And I would like to challenge you to consider stepping forward on your own journey.  I want to encourage you to become more deliberate in your walk with God, to seek to be broken before the Lord - to be humbled before Him - so that your life can become all that He (and you) wants it to be.  It’s not going to be comfortable.  It’s not going to be easy or painless.  But it’s going to be worth it.  So, so worth it! 
 
            Now, just to clarify, I use the terms “brokenness” and “being humbled” nearly synonymously.  I think they are virtually the same thing; brokenness leads to a humbled heart.  You can’t have one without the other.  However, there is a small distinction in my mind.  There is a difference between being in a state of brokenness (humility) and going through the process of brokenness.   
           And just to be clear, this is not the same kind of “broken” that we talk about when we say that we have a broken heart or come from broken pasts or broken homes.  I am not talking about an unhealthy, damaged, incomplete kind of broken, but a brokenness where we are broken of everything that keeps us in bondage and that keeps us away from a complete, healing relationship with our Heavenly Father.
            I think that eventually every Christian will be called to “brokenness.”  But not everyone goes through the process of brokenness the same way or to the same degree.  There are some people who have always been sensitive to God’s leading in their lives, who have built up few walls between themselves and God, and who have pretty much remained dependent on Him and humbled before Him their whole Christian walk. 
            And then there are others, like me, who have lived their lives with many strong walls and fears.  And we would never face them or overcome them on our own.  And so God puts us through the furnace.  And the process of being broken is a little more “severe” or difficult because He has to apply more heat and pressure than others might need.
            And then there are others who so strongly refuse to be broken for so long that they don’t even care or realize that their relationship with God isn’t what it should be.  And it takes a monumental crisis to break them.  However, they can still choose to ignore what God is trying to do in their lives, and they will remain in the state of fear and self-protection and self-sufficiency until the end of their lives, to the detriment of their own spiritual life and their relationships with themselves and others.    

            Yes, it might be hard, but we shouldn’t fear brokenness.  We should desire it and seek after it.  It’s what helps break down our walls, fears, misconceptions, and sinful strongholds.  When we are broken of our self-sufficiency, we learn to rely on Him and only Him.  When we are broken of our need for control, we learn to follow Him instead of lead.  When we are broken of our fear of being unworthy, we stop trying to earn His unconditional love and become free to live in it.  When we are broken of our misconceptions, we begin to live in Truth.  And when all these things happen, among others, we find out what it means to be humble like a child. 

            “He called a little child and had him stand among them.  And he said:  ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’“ (Matthew 18:2-4) 
            Whoever humbles himself like a child!  This, I believe, should be the ultimate goal of every believer.  Now, everyone has their own slightly different take on what humility is, and here’s mine: 
           Humility is recognizing and freely admitting that we are needy, helpless, and dependent.  It’s knowing that we need our Heavenly Father desperately, that we are helpless to do anything without Him, and that we are fully dependent on Him daily.  It’s knowing that everything is by His power and for His glory.  It’s wanting nothing more than seeing Him glorified by and in our lives.  And it’s resting in and trusting His goodness and love, no matter what happens. 

            To me, this is what it means to be humbled, to be sweetly broken. 

            But being humbled is not something that just happens to us; it is something we have to actively seek.  We have to change, with the Holy Spirit’s help and leading.  We have to humble ourselves (open ourselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit) if we want to be great in the kingdom of heaven - not great for our sakes, but great for the Lord’s glory.  We should be seeking humility because God can use and be glorified by a humble person.  His glory shines when we are not living for ours.   
            And we should be seeking it because it’s what we need, to be resting in His arms instead of fighting to do it all on our own.  And it’s also the road to genuine healing, the healing of old wounds and of our fractured, incomplete relationships with ourselves, with others, and with the Lord.  Being broken is what’s best for believers, even if it sounds scary and the process is painful.
            When we are living life for ourselves and in our own strength, life will be hard, exhausting, joyless, and “less than” what we thought it would be.  But if we ever allow ourselves to get to the point of brokenness before God, we will experience the kind of life that we were meant to live.  It will be vibrant, alive, meaningful, and powerful.  It won’t necessarily be easier or more comfortable.  But we’ll find more peace, joy, and security as we face life from the safety of His loving arms.  And this is why I am issuing this challenge; I want others to experience the kind of relationship with Him that we were made for.  

            Maybe right now you are thinking, Can’t I reach brokenness without the pain, without going through the furnace?  Maybe.  But I think that would be the exception rather than the rule.  Too many of us reach adulthood with deep scars.  And we’ve wrapped them up in thick bandages to keep ourselves from feeling pain.  But these scars affect us deeply.  They affect how we think about and relate to ourselves, others, and God.  And they affect our ability to let Him love us, bless us, and use us. 

            When we seek to be humbled before God, it usually means pain because He doesn’t just apply new bandages and let us walk around with deep scars.  He desires complete healing for us and that means ripping off the old bandages, digging down deep to clean out the infection and scar tissue, and applying the necessary ointment to heal it.

            And it probably won’t be until it’s all over that we’ll see the tender, loving care of our Father and how gently He tended to our wounds . . . for our best and for His glory.  All we’ll notice as we’re going through it is how much it hurts.  (But once again, He will be there with us.  Trust me on this.  Trust Him on this!) 

            But if you are willing to face the pain - to open your heart to God and to tackle your fears and your insecurities - you will grow.  If you are willing to die to self and to wait in faith on God’s timing as He molds you, you will find healing.  If you are willing to be pruned of anything that doesn’t bring Him glory and isn’t for your best, you will be transformed into a powerful, bold witness for Him.  And if you are willing to be obedient - whatever God asks of you - you will know what it means to love and fear the Lord and to trust Him with all your heart. 

            I think it’s just a fact that God has to use pain to get our attention and to grow us.  We live in a constant state of self-preservation, particularly to keep from feeling pain and feeling out-of-control.  We like the predictability of comfort and the status quo.  And we like having a tight grip on our circumstances.

            But we don’t tend to grow through times of comfort and pain-avoidance.  They just make us more . . . well . . . comfortable.  Comfortable, lazy, sleepy, and self-serving in our Christian walks.  And God isn’t content to let us stay that way.  He knows that it’s not best for us or for His glory.  And so the pain comes . . . to break us of self-sufficiency, of our fears, our walls, our misconceptions, our lazy disciplines, and our need to “play God” in our lives.   

            Satan would love to keep us so afraid of the process of true healing - so afraid of the pain - that we never truly heal or grow or have a complete relationship with our Heavenly Father.  But we will be stunted in our ability to enjoy Him, trust Him, praise Him, glorify Him, and live in His love.  And this will affect the impact that we have on His kingdom. 

            But when we finally get tired of “trying” in our own strength - of keeping all the balls up in the air, the skeletons in the closet, or the smiles on our faces - when we are finally ready to get real with Him and to humble ourselves before Him as a child (instead of acting like a self-sufficient, in-control adult), then He can work true healing in our lives.   

            I say all this up front so that you understand what to expect on this journey.  The pain is normal and necessary.  His silence is normal, also.  Incredibly painful, but normal.  But His silence doesn’t mean that He doesn’t care or isn’t listening to us.  In fact, it may be a time for growth - that Graduate School of Faith, as my Pastor Bob called it.  

            And this is what, I believe, happens in the furnace.  His silence during this time helps us learn to dig deeper and to reach higher in our walks with Him.  It helps us uncover deeply hidden hindrances to a complete and authentic relationship with Him.  It helps us see the walls, fears, and insecurities that are hidden, even from our own eyes.  And life will never be the same.   

            I would love to challenge you to strive for this, by allowing the Holy Spirit to lead you through your own furnace.  But this is not a passive experience.  It will take being conscientious and deliberate and thoughtful.  It will take lots of prayer and Bible reading and learning to listen to the Spirit.  It will mean doing the scary things that many of us avoid - allowing the Spirit to dig deep into our hearts and minds to reveal things that need to be addressed, changed, pruned, or corrected.  It takes authenticity and transparency. 

            And we need to be committed to obey whatever He tells us to do, in His Word and in prayer.  There can be no growth apart from a willingness to hear and obey.  If we are not willing to obey and to take the steps that God tells us, we can’t expect Him to lead us.  And we ultimately shut the door of our hearts and lives to Him.  He can’t bring about change and pour out the blessings of brokenness on us if we are resistant to obeying Him. 

            God does not force us to change.  It comes from our willingness to submit to Him, our willingness to fall down at His feet and say, “You are God and I am not!  Your Will be done in my life.”  (Which is, in a short sentence, the core of humility).  It is our job to open our hearts, through honesty, and to allow the Holy Spirit access to all parts of our hearts and lives.  It’s God’s job to lead us to change as He sees fit.  Because, after all, He is the one that we are trying to resemble more and more.  So we need to let Him be the one to lead us in the process of growth.  

            I say all this because I know that we are people of action.  We want to have the control, we want to lead, and we want to be able to get quickly from point A to point B.  But that is not how God works.  He is not manipulated or controlled by our efforts or desires.  He does not work according to our schedule.  We cannot force His hand.  We do not lead in the journey to brokenness.  We cannot earn His grace or His blessings or create in ourselves a humble, pure heart.  No amount of singing or serving at church or tithing or good acts or “following the steps” will create humility in us. 

            It is only by laying all of our attempts and efforts and fears and walls and confidence down at His feet that we will know brokenness.  And this is why I unashamedly say that we need to base this journey on the Bible and prayer, those fuddy-duddy disciplines of old.  The Bible is where we learn about God as He has revealed Himself to be and ourselves as He sees us, and prayer is how we build and maintain a relationship with Him and get His Will done. 

            Unfortunately, I think many of us fall into the trap of “emotional experience.”  We want some sort of emotional high that comes with seeing God’s hand move mightily and miraculously in our lives and in the world.  We want “feelings” and fireworks, and so we forsake “old-fashioned disciplines” because they are not exciting enough. 

            I would venture to say that we all want the results of being humbled or broken, but most of us don’t want to put the energy and effort into seeking it.  And we fear the process and the pain that is necessary to get there.  We have gotten too comfortable, too self-serving.  We are a “me-focused” society.  We spend our money, time, and energy on satisfying our cravings and desires for temporary things:
            - more food and faster food
            - feel-good/self-serving hobbies
            - feel-good/self-serving religion or religious experiences
            - bigger and more beautiful cars and homes
            - more toys to make us happy
            - movies and entertainment
            - fitness and the pursuit of health and youth
            - attention, success, and congratulations
            - sexual or selfish pleasures
            - and the entire world/social network in the palm of our hands
 
            Now, there is nothing wrong with most of those blessings and pursuits.  Improving ourselves and enjoying life is not inherently wrong.  What is wrong is when our focus on God is eclipsed by them.  When we focus more on the gift than the Giver.  When we settle for temporary, instead of eternity.  We can’t glorify God with our lives when this happens.  When blessings, possessions, and pursuits become more than they should be, they end up consuming us.  They become idols!  We passionately pursue them, instead of passionately pursuing God. 
 
            But, unfortunately . . . we are too comfortable to notice or care!  And this keeps us from a deep, exciting, living relationship with Him.  We are just too concerned with our comfort.  We don’t want to be challenged; we want to relax.  Of course, we do want to pray and hear from God.  But not enough to pray too early, too late, or too often in our day.  Not enough to dwell on Him while we do dishes or wait in line.  Not enough to delve deeply into His Word before we start our busy days. 

            And we fear what He may ask us to do or convict us of.  We give lip service to having faith in Him and wanting to glorify Him, but we don’t desire it deeply enough to enter the refining fire.  We want to be comfortable.  And we are too busy to give Him the kind of thought and effort that He asks of us.  Isn’t it enough that I go to church and help out there? 

            Deuteronomy 4:29:  “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.”  And Hebrews 11:6 says that He rewards those who “earnestly seek him.”  With all your heart and soul . . . earnestly seeking Him. 
 
            And yet, we coast through life.  And we wonder why it seems so dull, confusing, and un-worthwhile.  I admit that I am guilty of this.  I have been a Christian for a long time.  And while I have put time and energy into seeking Him and deepening my faith throughout the years, I still feel like much of my life was spent coasting. 

            It was like I believed that I could just live my life - focused on my own little world - and God would do what God wanted to do.  I always tried to be sensitive to Him and to stay near Him, but somehow my focus was still on me and my nice, little life.  And I was more about my pleasing “Christian performance” than about living life humbly and transparently with Him.  And I related to Him out of my fears, instead of out of love.  And there is a BIG difference between the two.  One causes pain; the other causes peace.  One leads to confusion and drudgery; the other leads to life and joy. 

            For years, I wasn’t seeking Him earnestly, with all my heart and soul.  My strength was spent living my life.  My strength was in my self-sufficiency.  And I protected my heart from Him, instead of opening it up to Him.  And so God had to bring me to a point where I learned that my self-sufficiency wasn’t enough, and that I was being robbed of life.  He helped me learn that I really needed His love to flood all parts of my heart, even the scarred parts.  The parts I protected and kept closed-off.  And like I said, it hurt.  But I am so thankful for the pain.  It has helped me to live in His love like never before.  It has brought healing and meaning and joy. 

            And now, I have become consumed with a desire for Him: to see Him in my life, to hear Him, to glorify Him, and to have a part in reaching other people for Him.  I feel more alive in my walk than I ever have, and more and more driven to remain close to Him each and every day.  Because He has taken His rightful place in my life and heart.  (Not that I do everything right every day.  I’m still human.  Update:  Times have continued to get tougher since writing this.  And while my faith falters at times and feels lifeless at times, I still cling to Him.  Because I know that my feelings are not Truth.  He alone is Truth.  And He alone has the words of life.  And so even when times are tough and faith hurts, I cling to that which I know is true, trusting that He will work it all together for good.  I add this update so that you don’t have a false, “rosy” view of what life in Christ is like after the furnace.  It still hurts.  It has its ups-and-downs and can be a daily battle.  But my security is found in the Lord, not in the circumstances of this life.)     

            I want to stress something again, we need to get back into the Word and prayer if we are going to relate to God as He really is, and not according to our own ideas of who He is.  I feel that I need to stress this because there seems to be a general attitude out there that “Yeah, prayer and the Bible are important, and I know I should pray more and read more, but . . .” 

            Like anything worth having, a proper relationship with the Lord takes effort, deliberateness, and diligence.  And this, I fear, is what prevents most people from growing.  We like to use the least amount of effort possible to get the max amount of rewards.  We like to take as many shortcuts as we can find. 

            But this will not work when it comes to brokenness and humility, to true healing.  You will get out of it what you put into it.  If you approach it with a casual attitude, you will get surface results.  If you retreat when the furnace gets hot or keep part of your heart closed off, you will get partial results.  If you take this challenge in your own efforts and wisdom or for your own glory, you will get false results that will burn up in the end.  And if you attempt this journey without a reliance on prayer and the Word, you will not get any results worth having.

            Now, if you are one who seeks to avoid pain at all costs and can’t bear to take too close of a look at your life, feelings, thoughts, and shortcomings, you are probably not ready for this challenge.  And for the people who have been hurt by life too much to risk vulnerability and brokenness, I pray that there may be a time for this in the near future.  Because you will be incomplete and full of scars until you do, until you learn to accept that the Lord loves you.  It’s not easy, I know . . . opening yourself up to His love.  But it is so necessary. 

            But if you allow yourself to go through the furnace, I think there are some changes that you can expect to see in your life, indicators of genuine brokenness and humility: 
 
            1.  You will have an unquenchable hunger and thirst to hear from the Lord - through His Word and through prayer.  Reading the Bible and praying won’t just be “duties” anymore; they will be life-lines.  And you will be aware that every time you open the Bible and pray, you are meeting the holy and magnificent - and yet personal and relatable - God of the universe. 

            2.  When you face a difficulty or trial or choice, your first instinct will be to run to God about it.  You will lay your request before Him in prayer and search the Word (and seek godly advice) for guidance. 

            3.  You will become more concerned with seeing Him glorified through your words and actions than you will be with your own desires and plans for yourself.  You will desire that He is seen, and you’ll be content to be invisible and to shift the focus to Him and to give Him all the glory.   

            4.  You’ll focus more on the eternal than you will on the temporal.  And so you’ll be more concerned with the eternal souls of other people than you will be with their behavior and attitudes or with your own “nice, little life.”   

            5.  People won’t just be annoyances or bothers to you.  You’ll look past their rough exteriors and the insults and injuries they inflict, and you’ll see them as God’s dearly loved children.  You’ll realize that the fronts they put up are because of pain and fear.  They are not “idiots” or “a**holes.”  They are hurting people who need God’s love and grace and forgiveness, just like you do.  And this will lead you to desire to live in a way that reflects God even more, to reach out to them with a kind word or deed or prayer, to extend grace and forgiveness to them, to have compassion on them.  So that they may see Christ through you. 
 
            6.  You’ll be aware of the spiritual battle that rages around you, (without being overly preoccupied with spirits and demons and angels) and you’ll desire to be effective in it.  And you’ll know that to do that means seeking righteousness, maintaining your spiritual armor, and refusing to be a “comfortable Christian.”  You’ll also be aware that every action and word is witnessed not only by the physical world, but by the spiritual.  And so you’ll be more careful about how you live and speak.
 
            7.  You’ll become concerned with seeking righteousness because it glorifies and pleases God, not just because you are “supposed to” do it.  And consequently, you’ll spend time searching your life, home, and heart to see if anything is quenching the Holy Spirit, blocking God, or is displeasing or dishonoring to Him.  Because you will want your life to be a “living sacrifice” for Him.  Not because of fear, but because of love. 
 
            8.  But you’ll also know that you can’t handle life, make the right decisions, or live righteously on your own.  God alone will become your source of strength and wisdom.  And so you’ll strive to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading and wisdom in prayer and throughout your day.  You’ll search the Word for what God expects out of you and how you can improve.  Once again, not out of fear or just for the sake of improving, but because you’ll be living out your love for Him and out of His love for you.  
 
            9.  And when you blow it, you’ll seek forgiveness and realign yourself with God’s truth and heart.  Because you will know that nothing can separate you from His love and that you are incomplete unless you are walking with Him.       
 
            10.  You’ll be learning to trust God with your life and, especially, with your finances and future.  Which means that you’ll seek to do your part to obey, and leave the results up to Him.  You’ll do the job God has given you and trust in His promise to lead you and to meet your needs. 
 
            11.  You’ll take your job to pray for others and to look out for their welfare seriously.  You’ll feel deeply that it’s your job to live as godly a life as possible as a witness to them and to spread His truth when opportunities arise.  But you’ll also know that it’s God’s job to change hearts.  And so you’ll be content to be the seed-planter or the waterer or the harvester (if God so allows), but you won’t try to force others to change or believe as you do.  Because only the Spirit can change hearts.  You’ll gracefully stand by your convictions, but you won’t condemn others for not agreeing.  Even God allows us to believe as we want to and to choose as we want to.  (And He allows the consequences that go with them!)
 
            12.  Probably the hardest of all, you’ll have gotten to a point (usually through pain and trials) where you can say, “I know that God is good and that He loves me, regardless of my difficult and painful circumstances.  And I will cling to Him and praise Him, no matter what.”  This, I have to say, is probably the last and hardest step in brokenness - to vulnerably and humbly lay down in His arms and say, “I trust You and I trust in Your goodness and love, regardless of what happens in my life.”  So even when the path looks dark and you see no end in sight, you’ll still be able to praise Him and say, “I believe that You will work all things out for good in the end, because I love You and I know that You love me.” 

            And this is what drives my desire to call other people up to being deliberate about seeking humility.  I want this kind of life for others.  I strive for it myself.  There is life and vitality and strength and joy and peace and hope just waiting for us if we would seek Him with all our strength, minds, hearts, and souls.  So don’t be comfortable!  Don’t be lazy!  Be Bold!  Be Deliberate!  Just Don’t . . . Be . . . Comfortable!

            Many believers have been forced to die for their faith in Christ.  But are the rest of us really living for Him? 

  

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