Tuesday, October 30, 2012

God Understands Us

We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

O LORD, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, LORD. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!
Psalm 139:1-6

“So in terms of what every man needs most crucially, all man’s power is powerless because at it’s roots, of course, the deepest longings of the human soul is the longing for God, and this no man has the power to satisfy”
-Frederick Buechner

God Understands Us

Knowing that God knows us through and through can be very troubling. Nevertheless, our friend David from the Psalms didn’t seem to mind. He even expresses joy and amazement knowing that God is so aware of him. We might think that David would feel this way because of his self confidence. This may be partly true because David was a man of great success, but he was also a man of tremendous failure, too. It’s more likely that David’s joy came from his belief that God had a loving and careful interest in him. The kind of love and care that didn’t depend on whether he was a success or a failure.

David’s experience reminds us that no amount of virtue, religious or otherwise, will make us immune to temptation, to sin or to failure. To his credit, David honestly faced his failures, and as he did so he experienced an expanding relationship with God. David didn’t run, hide, or make excuses. He didn’t pretend and he didn’t minimize his mistakes. He accepted the worst about himself and openly surrendered his shortcomings to God right along with his successes. David, as he admitted his problems, used his failures as a lens through which he could get a better view of God’s forgiveness. As he did this, his failures became building blocks of growth and maturity. Knowing that God was a gracious and forgiving God enabled David to repent and find ever greater joy and health in life. David knew that there are no sins that are too big for God to forgive. He also knew that God was not impressed with his success and that, as he responsibly faced his failures, God would not condemn him.

God knows us in an intimate way just like He knew David in an intimate way. Like it or not, we are all naked before Him. As we acknowledge this, God’s love and power will heal our addictions and save our lives. Just like He did for David, failures and all.

For you see, God understands when we feel conflicted. And, He knows that we live in a conflicted world, too. He is aware that we are not happy ourselves much of the time. Because He understands this, He never holds our struggles and conflicts against us.

He sees that our intentions are good for the most part. But He also sees that we run into problems when we try to control things that are beyond our ability to control. It hurts Him when He sees how we create problems for ourselves and other people because we don’t ask for his help. But then, with compassion, God knows that there is a reason for everything we do, a reason that that we usually don’t know. When our addictions corrupt our motives, he knows it. He also knows that our motives are purified as we get honest. Feeling what we feel, He never loses sight of the fact that we pay a price when we get honest. But, nevertheless, He is always urging us to move deeper into honesty because He knows that the price that we pay for dishonesty is far greater.

In Jesus, God assures us that there are no sins that He is not willing to forgive and that there are no addictions that cannot be healed. With this in mind He wants us to recognize in a deep way that the desire of our heart and the direction of our lives go hand in hand. He has created a world where we always have a choice in who we will become and what our lives will be like from here on out. So, He holds us responsible for our lives. For you see, it is the subtle and intimate decisions that we make that will most profoundly impact our character and our lives. No matter what other people may say, God never laughs at us when we tell Him our plans. He never laughs at us, at all, in any way. God takes us more seriously than that. After all, He died so that we can have this opportunity to live.

God will, maybe, laugh when He sees how we try to make Him fit into the image that we make for Him. But then again, maybe not. After all, He knows that He is God and that we are not. Having expressed his love through Jesus, and having provided help for our addictions through people, God holds us fully responsible for our lives no matter of what we say or think about Him. At the end of the day, He knows that we have no excuses.

God is the ultimate “more than.” He is, in every way and at all times, more than we are and more than everything else, too. Only He can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. With all of this in mind, it stands to reason that we will only know the intimate power of God once we have come to the end of our own resources and realize that we still need more. Having expressed himself in Christ, God is now willing to express himself in our lives as well. The only place for us to find life is in The Life of Christ, God. This Life of Jesus can never be contained in a history lesson or a theological discussion. He is more alive than that. He is to be lived in us! Jesus’ life is now our life. His God is our God. Our lives are His. And now, we exist for God.

Everything will make sense for us when we are willing to look through the lens of eternity. The recovery that God gives is not about rule-keeping, religious moralizing, or self-imposed corrections. It is really the love of God that is changing our hearts and as our hearts are changed, our minds will be changed, too. We are experiencing a complete change of personal allegiance, coming to prefer an intimate relationship with God above our addictions, above our lives, above everything.

Are you ready to say…

God, I surrender my will and my life to You today, this very moment, without reservation and with humble confidence, for You are my loving Father. Set me free from self-consciousness, from anxiety about tomorrow, and from the tyranny of the approval and disapproval of others, that I may find joy and delight simply and solely in pleasing you. May my inner freedom be a compelling sign of Your presence, Your peace, Your power, and your love. Let your plan for my life and the lives of all your children gracefully unfold one day at a time. I love You with all my heart, and I place all my confidence in You, for You are my Abba Father.

Attributed to Brennan Manning

from Our Journey Home

Monday, October 22, 2012

Out of The Box, Into The Light

We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

I am Light that has come into the world so that all who believe in me won't have to stay any longer in the dark.
John 12:46 The Message

Pay attention to the external Source and the internal power will be there.
-Oswald Chambers My Utmost for His Highest

Out of The Box Into The Light

Most of us have had our addictions much longer than we first realized. Because of the destructive impact that our addictions have made on our hearts and minds, we’ve probably not known what it means to be emotionally healthy. It’s like we’ve grown up being locked away in a box. There, in our addictions that is, it would be impossible for us to see the light of freedom. Without light we could not see the future with any sense of joy or healthy expectation. Living in addiction is like being stuck in a cave for so long that we have forgotten what it feels like to have the warmth of the sun on our face. Because we’ve only known the dark up till now it’s been impossible for us to comprehend The Light.

But, as we get connected to a recovery fellowship we begin to see people who have seen “The Light” and the hopefulness that The Light brings with it. From the example of others whose lives are being changed for the better we can see that things can change for us: that the destructive patterns of our lives need not continue anymore. With what we can see in The Light, we come to believe that change can happen for us because we see it happening for others right before our very eyes. This is how God, The Higher Power, works. He works through people.

As God gives us The Light, through the guiding direction of others, we begin to see the pathway to recovery and change being illuminated right in front of us. We see that The Light for living is available to everyone. We find its usefulness not because we are special but because it is the nature of light to light up things around it. Our job is simply to put ourselves in the Light, which is another way of saying we put our confidence and trust in God. For many of us this was a radical but subtle departure from the ways we have talked about God in the past. Let’s get honest, simply talking about God really hasn’t helped us much in the past, has it? After all, many of us have spent much of our lives in religious exercise but have never really known God as any kind of real Higher Power. If anything, our addictions prove that in the past God, as we would refer to him, has been little more than a religious symbol or relic, impersonal words on a page of religious material, or possibly for some of us, a tyrannical overlord that demanded that we observe religious impositions that seem to be irrelevant and arbitrary.

For God to be The Light, our Higher Power that is, means to recognize God to be The One that we trust will show us the way to a life that is free from our addicted insanity. Then, in faith, God, The Higher Power, becomes our Protector, our Sustainer, and our Redeemer. If we think of God in any way less than this we take Him for granted. And if we take God for granted we waste this chance to recover from our addicted insanity. Either God is The Ultimate Higher Power for us or He is nothing for us.

Furthermore, as God works in our lives, we find that The Light that illuminates the way for us is not always pleasant. Not only does The Light shine the way to a hopeful future, it also illuminates areas of our lives that we have not considered before. Many of these areas will need to be changed just as much as our addictions need to be changed. In his loving care for us, God does not discriminate.

from Our Journey Home   
by David Zailer copyright 2011

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

God Knows What You Are Going Through

We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our life had become unmanageable.

As He saw many people, He had loving-pity on them. They were troubled and were walking around everywhere. They were like sheep without a shepherd.
Matt 9:36 New Life Version

To be alive is to be addicted, and to be alive and addicted is to stand in need of grace. -Gerald G. May, M.D.

God Knows What You Are Going Through

Step One of the Twelve Step recovery process requires that we get honest about how we have failed to control our addictions and our lives. This includes recognizing and admitting that we have lost control over our compulsive desires and that we have failed in all of our attempts to regain control.

To recover from our addictions, it is important for us to recognize that no human being, no place, or anything will solve our internal problems. In fact, even our own efforts will become problems for us if we rely on them alone to change the way we think and feel about ourselves and our lives. Even the little nagging personal problems that we have but don’t consider as addictions (mostly our bad habits, our secret fantasies and our illusions) will take on the qualities and destructive aspects of addiction when we rely on them. After all, addictions are nothing more than bad habits that have become both idolatrous and pathological. In the end, only God can do for us what we have been unable to do for ourselves.

At the center of everything we believe as Christians is a belief that God has the human face of Jesus Christ. Through the scriptural story of the life of Jesus we see how God reacts to people when they suffer. God, through Jesus, responds to suffering with compassion and empathy. Compassion, commitment to love and empathy are the displayed characteristics of the God-humanness that was and is the life of Christ. As God walked the earth through the life of Jesus, he never turned away from anyone who asked him for help. Now it is important to understand that not everyone that encountered Jesus came away from meeting him with the kind of help that they wanted. There were, after all, those who had violent reactions to Jesus and there were also those who came away disappointed and unhealed. But, to those who were willing to admit their hopeless suffering, Jesus gave a power and grace that changed the way they viewed themselves and their lives. In their sincere confession, they were given a power to change that had not been available to them before they met Christ. Hopelessness was made into faith and suffering made into strength. While God does not offer us an escape from inconvenience or discomfort, he does offer us a complete and total change of who we are, which in turn will change our life. To experience this change we must first admit our anguish and longing which then opens us to a desperate but powerful faith and hope in God’s love and care.

Step 1 is the prelude and preparation for a life changing faith and hopefulness. First, we must admit that we cannot solve our problems on our own, no matter how hard we try. As we do this, we get in touch with the center point of our pain and desperation which is the exact place where we became willing to ask God to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. With God there is hope and without him we’re screwed.
Our Journey home - Insights and Inspirations for Christian Twelve Step Recovery
By David Zailer
Copyright 2011, Homecoming Books

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Keep Making The Choice

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry the message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well.
I Corinthians 10:24, The Message

For He claims all, because He is love and must bless. He cannot bless us unless He has us. When we try to keep within us an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death. Therefore, in love, He claims all. There’s no bargaining with Him.
- C. S. Lewis

Keep Making the Choice

If we ever think that our healing is primarily for our benefit, the selfishness of our thinking reveals just how little we have been healed. On the other hand, when we believe that our healing is to be lived out for the benefit of others, our lives will bear witness to how we have been healed already. In either case, there is just one remaining question and it will never change. We will face it day in and day out, minute by minute, with every breath we take. The question is, Who owns us? Will we live for God and others or will we die in addiction and shame? The answer we give to this question will determine what kind of people we will be and how we will live out our lives.

How we answer this question is not the end of our responsibility; it’s just the beginning. All too often, we tend to compartmentalize our lives, and judge ourselves wrongly because we use the wrong criteria to evaluate and measure ourselves. We assume that we are doing well because parts of our life are in good order, while we ignore other areas of our life that are all messed up. Or, we judge ourselves too harshly because of one mistake, when in reality there is significant progress that we don’t see. Compartmentalizing and judging ourselves in this way is like determining the winner of a baseball game after just the first or second inning. It’s like judging a painting before the artist has completed his work. We need to always remember that God is the only perfect judge. God does not judge us by the pieces or compartments of our lives, and we shouldn’t judge ourselves that way either. He recognizes that the whole package of our lives, beginning with the condition of our hearts, is what really counts. He never looks down on us with a red pen and a grade book in hand. He judges us according to the love and righteousness of Christ. So, we should embrace His grace by measuring ourselves by our willingness to follow and obey Him. And even when we fall short and sin, we are not without God’s grace. Above all, God wants us to know that we are not worthless or hopeless, even when we are at our worst.

God’s grace through Christ gives us the power to recover from our addictions and to walk humbly with God, but it does not make us completely immune to sin or our addictions. We should never think that we are in full control of our lives because, if we go our own way, placing our confidence in ourselves, we become susceptible to relapse and the dire consequences that inevitably follow. If and when we hold even one thing back, we have not really given Him our lives. This doesn’t mean that walking with God is an all or nothing thing, because it isn’t. Walking with God is progressive. Walking with God is a growth in which we expand and enlarge our acceptance and expression of the grace that He has already given us.

All this is to say that no matter how well or how poorly we have surrendered our lives to God, there is still more to be offered up. Surrender is never relevant in the past tense, but it is always relevant in the here and now. We have to be willing to give the whole of our lives to God, all the good and all the bad, the best that we possibly can, or our life as a whole will not belong to Him at all.

Our Journey home - Insights and Inspirations for Christian Twelve Step Recovery
By David Zailer
Copyright 2011, Homecoming Books

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Be Still, Be Quiet, Listen

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for the knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life. John 4:14, The Message

For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.
Psalm 107:9, NLT

"Let therefore our chiefest endeavor be, to meditate upon the life of Christ."
- Thomas a Kempis

Be Still, Be Quiet, Listen

Relationships are a two-way street. We need to share what we think and feel with others and we need to be good listeners, too, if we want successful relationships with those we care about. Our relationship with God is no different. He listens to what we say and we need to listen for what He has to say to us.

Meditation is a practice that is committed to hearing God’s voice and understanding the directions He gives us. We have worked very hard in our recovery, but meditation will be different from the work we have done so far. This is because meditation is not about doing anything; it is about quietness of mind, relaxation of body and openness of heart.

Meditation is the flip side of prayer. It completes the dialogue that takes place between God and us. We speak when we pray, but we listen when we meditate. In fact, prayer without listening to God is probably not healthy for us. Our prayers become very self-centered if we don’t listen to what God has to say. Very often the best thing we can do for our spiritual growth is to stop. Stop working. Stop playing. Stop everything. Be still. Be quiet. Listen. We should set all our distractions aside so we can make time and space in our minds and our hearts for God alone, so we can listen for how He comes close to us in the time and space we create for Him. As we do this, He will reorganize our wants and our worries in ways that are healthier for us and more useful for His purposes. God speaks to us not because of our special abilities, but because we are listening, wanting to hear what He has to say to us. Actually, He is always speaking to us. But it’s only when we listen that our ears will tune into what He is saying.

Learning to listen to God is simple but, just like learning other things, it takes some practice. We learn to meditate by meditating. We start, get distracted, start again, get distracted and then start again. With time we learn to become more capable of hearing and discerning the voice of God. This is not effort like most of us think about effort because it takes nothing from us. We just open ourselves up like we would open our hand to accept a gift. It’s like going outside when it’s raining if we want to get wet. It is the simplest of all things we do. It’s like enjoying music which requires no physical effort on our part. Listening requires only the intention and desire to accept the sound that someone else makes. It’s natural; like a mother’s intuitive ear that is tuned to the slightest sound her sleeping child makes. Meditation - listening for the sound of God - is a filling of our heart and mind with God’s heart and mind. It gives us a deepening friendship with Jesus because Jesus appreciates us listening to Him like any friend of ours would appreciate it when we listen to them. And as we listen – meditate that is – we can expect God to speak to us at the spiritual level.

Our imaginations will run freely as we meditate, like a child’s does. This is a good thing because God gives us imagination for a purpose and while our addictions deaden our capacity for creative thinking, meditation enlarges our capacity for creativity. Listening for God opens us up to the wonderful world of possibilities and goal setting. We will believe all sorts of wonderful ways that God will reveal Himself to us, change us, restore us and use us. But there is one thing we must never lose sight of. God has no obligation to serve us. He has committed Himself to love and care for us eternally, but He is not obligated in anyway to give us everything we think we should have. We must not allow meditation to become a breeding ground for selfishness and self-centeredness, which are most dangerous when they take on a religious tone. Guard against self-deception. If we are serious about walking with God, we will prefer obedience over comfort and blessing.

The discipline of meditation helps to balance our minds and our emotions and the best way to make the most of our commitment to this discipline is to meditate on Scripture. God gives us His Word to help us build a well-balanced point of view. The Bible is the most obvious and consistent way that He speaks to us. It is the grounding rod of everything we do in our walk with God. Making Scripture a daily part of our lives keeps our disciplines of prayer and meditation centered on God and His will for our lives. Without a consistent dose of Scripture we will never have a strong walk with God. And, no matter how much we study the Bible, our disciplines will be ineffective if we do not have the foundation of deep personal humility which comes from brokenness. Humility helps give us a balanced view of God’s word. And we have to have a balanced understanding of Scripture in order to have a balanced perspective about our lives.

The purpose of Scripture is to reveal God to us, not to give us knowledge. Just learning facts about God and Christian history really doesn’t do us a whole lot of good. This doesn’t mean that facts aren’t important because they are. They give us reference and context to help us better understand the compassion that God has for all people. Our goal in studying the Bible makes all the difference. Do we want to increase our knowledge about God or do we want to increase our closeness with God? This is the profound question that is always before us.

For you see, the Bible is more than just a history book. It contains the breath and life of God. Our commitment to meditate on Scripture opens us up to inhale the breath of God. This will transform us. The love, the friendship, the instruction, and the eternal message of compassion that are in Scripture will move off the pages of the Bible and into us. We should think of Scripture in the same way that a man who’s dying of thirst would think about water. We should want it like someone who is starving would want a pizza. We want to drink it, eat it, consume it. We want to get Scripture into us so that it can nourish us, strengthen us and make us healthy and strong. Taking God’s Word into us will teach us to listen intently, to speak softly, and to live powerfully.

from Our Journey Home
Our Journey home - Insights and Inspirations for Christian Twelve Step Recovery
By David Zailer
Copyright 2011, Homecoming Books