Cultivating the Vision through True Rest

It’s hard to believe, but I’m now (roughly) approaching the halfway point of my Fellowship Program. As I move further through the program I’m trying to get all the things in the “soup” (all the things on my mind and heart for my next steps, including my passions, desires, intentions and opportunities) to gel a little more. I’ve been able to do some coaching with the Program Director, talk in class and offline with some guest speakers, sign up for some outside coaching/networking programs, and connect/reconnect with old both new and old friends in the area I might be able to work with in some capacity in the future. I’ve also been able to incorporate all of this thinking/refining into some class assignments, most recently an informative memo and associated informative speech for my Managerial Communications class.

At this point, as before, I still know that what I do next for my life’s work will be some combination of writing, speaking, motivating/inspiring, coaching, and/or teaching. The things I’m thinking about/working on at this point are:

  • Who is my audience, or at least my starting point?
  • What is my message?
  • What location do I want to do this to be in?
  • Are there any follow-on education/certification requirements/opportunities I should be looking into?

During my time back here, I have realized that DC is not the place I want to be long-term. I definitely loved aspects of being in the mountains of Colorado, and would love to be in that kind of environment again, if not the exact same location. I also can’t help but dream of more international traveling. The trick right now is not to allow myself to be lured away from focusing on the “one thing” by Shiny Object Syndrome. I was recently catching up with a dear friend who’s had her own business for many years, aspects of which are very similar to what I’d like to be doing. She’s also very strong in her faith and has a very strong ability to hear from the Lord and deliver a timely word. Her encouragement to me was to take all this passion, energy and these varied interests and allow the Lord to focus me on the thing He has that brings it all together. A big part of that is the cessation of any and all striving and self-effort.

So: less striving, more focus; all centered around God and His good plans and timing. If you’ve been following my blog at all, you’ll realize those things sound pretty familiar. It’s like God’s trying to talk to me or something…haha. Several recent daily devotionals dovetail perfectly with this. The book is called The Indwelling Life of Christ: All of Him in All of Me, by Major W. Ian Thomas, which I highly recommend. For anyone looking for a different perspective on living out their faith, this emphasizes the beautiful and liberating necessity of just totally letting go and allowing Jesus to literally live His life through us. The author makes an analogy in which one is tired while digging a hole in the ground. He asks how he could be offer rest to the person digging: by instructing them on now to hold the shovel? Telling them which way to toss the dirt? How about singing a song about it, or sharing the philosophical thinking that could relate to it?

Obviously, none of these things would actually give you the rest you’re seeking. The only way to truly give the digger rest is to have the digger get out of the hole while he gets down in it, takes the shovel from them, and does the digging himself. This is such a fitting metaphor of how so many of us live out our walk with the Lord. He’s inviting us out of the hole so He can take the shovel and go to work on our behalf.  In this way, Christian rest is not a matter of inactivity; it’s just a matter of Who is performing the activity. Thomas writes, “If I think that by stepping aside and letting God handle it, nothing is going to happen, this only indicates that I do not really believe in God or the competence of Jesus Christ” (p.99). If we will drop the shovel and vacate the hole for Him to step in and work, “incredibly enough the Lord does occupy. He surprises you beyond your wildest dreams. You discover at last that God is big enough for the job. Your heart is filled with joy, and this experience of His adequacy undergirds your faith for the next situation that arises when you recognize your need for Him, your need for His rest and for relief from your own ineffective self-effort.” (p.97).

These words were like balm to my soul when I read them, because there are so many things I’m looking to both get rid of (lingering depression, lack of self-confidence, negative outlook, the list goes on) as well as obtain (personal and professional fulfillment, deeper and wider connections with people, the chance to bring God’s Kingdom to earth by living out the unique passions, purpose and calling He’s designed for me, a deeper sense of connectedness/belonging). I constantly need to be reminded of the truths captured in this little devotional book and the wise words of my friend that it’s not my work or responsibility to do these things. “Therefore they said to Him, ‘What shall we do to work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent‘.” (John 6:28-29, emphasis mine). So, I’m reminding myself of this truth as it applies in real-time and real life to all the questions I listed up top and all the things in the soup, and everything I hope to come next.

Advertisements

The Search for Life

Lately I’m finding myself unfulfilled. I’m looking for satisfaction, significance, validation, and a sense of identity–in other words, life–in all manner of external means. These externals run the gamut: the interest of the opposite sex, the inclusion/esteem of a certain peer group I perceive to be desirable, invigorating physical exercise, an interesting article/book to read, a caffeine high, or even activities having to do with my personal finances/budget (yup, I’m such a nerd I even look for life in spreadsheets I create to forecast my income and account balance).  I can sense my soul (defined here as the mind, will, and emotions) continuously “scanning the horizon” in all kinds of activities and endeavors for “signs of life”, or those things that have potential to bring me some modicum of satisfaction/fulfillment. I’ve realized I am a pleasure-seeking machine, constantly searching for my next fix.

Like gas in the tank of a car or food being taken in and distributed to nourish and sustain the body, so my soul attempts to feed on these external sources of fuel and nourishment in an effort to stay healthy and sustain its existence. When this works it feels great, but when it doesn’t…well, not so great. To adapt a timeless adage, “Those who live by the externals will die by the externals.” Right now, I’m honestly at one of those troughs in the emotional “sine curve” on the graph of my life. I keep looking for, but just can’t seem to find, the proverbial shot in the arm that’ll get me back in “the zone”. Disturbingly, a lot of the methods I have traditionally used to get me there (prayer, journaling, deep conversations with others, reading certain kinds of books) are now hard to even stomach.

In the past several  months to a year, I’ve been reading and/or listening to several different authors/preachers who really drive home the point that we’re just chasing our tails when we attempt to find life in the externals. It’s a well that will always eventually run dry at some point, or at best prove to be inconsistent. I know without doubt that living like this is simply unsustainable. Lately, though, I just can’t quite seem to be able to draw Life from the Well that never runs dry. This is the One of whom it is said,  “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:38), and “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35).

Right now my prayer is for Holy Spirit to show me how to live from the inside-out and not outside-in, as I’ve been unsuccessfully attempting to do. Despite my “troughs” in life, God always sends timely confirmations and encouragements because  just yesterday I met up with the Army veteran I mentioned in my previous blog post who is now doing mindshift coaching and speaking. He used those exact same phrases (“living from the inside-out and not the outside-in”) to describe the process leading to living on purpose and finding our fulfillment. It was affirmation of everything I’d written in this yet-to-be-published blog post (I wrote almost all of this Sunday, before I talked to him Monday and publishing this today). He also talked about accepting being in the different seasons of life. Right now I may just be in “winter”, and need to realize that’s OK. Just relax and accept it, knowing that spring is coming, and that I’m not necessarily “off-track” or need to do anything right now. Just ride it out.

My prayer right now is that I can be a vessel for the Source of Life to make Himself known and available to those around me, as a provider of life; instead of one who looks around everywhere on the outside for opportunities to consume it. Your prayers are welcomed and appreciated, too.

The Anchors of Faith and Rest in Life’s Storms

It’s been awhile since my last blog post and quite a bit has happened since then! After having moved in complete faith to sell almost all I had and pack up to move from DC to Colorado, I find myself right back where I started less than a year ago. In that time I have experienced a lot. After moving to Colorado I quickly got plugged into a good community in church and the Vail Valley, did a lot of great work for the new startup I was working for, experienced some of the most breathtaking beauty of the mountains, saw God continue to bless me with miraculous provision, and made a lot of great relationships. I truly have been blessed to have experienced all of it. After having been in Colorado for about 6 months I finally started to get a sense of rootedness and settling in. I was excited about the path God had me on where I was.

However, I’ve learned that when we live by faith and surrender more of our lives to God, He accomplishes His purposes in ways that we don’t really expect. By the 9-month mark in Vail I didn’t end up being part of the ministry I was looking to join, was unemployed because the startup company I worked for had to discontinue operations due to a need for further funding, and I had suffered a pretty severe shoulder injury snowboarding. I started to fall into discouragement, disillusionment, and at one point even depression. I questioned why God would have so clearly and supernaturally ordered my steps for it all to end up seemingly “not working out”.

For several weeks while I was unemployed and unable to do much physical activity because of the injury, I experienced despondency and questioned where my life was headed and what God was up to. However, that down time gave me ample opportunity to reflect, rest, pray, spend time in the Word, and process what I was going through by journaling and talking to friends and family members. Though I was antsy and wanted to get up and start “doing”, I felt that still, small voice of the Holy Spirit encouraging me to just rest, wait, and trust that He had something else in store for me. I was reading some really incredible books about grace, rest and how God takes care of everything if we will just cease all striving and self-effort; believing that He will “make all things work in a pattern for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Despite my perceived need to get up and make things happen, I learned to trust Him to make it happen. The reality is, I didn’t even have the energy, strength, motivation, or will to do anything on my own anyway, so apparently God had me right where He wanted me.

As I was reflecting on what I felt truly passionate about/gifted at/called to, I knew that it involved writing, speaking, coaching, counseling, teaching and inspiring/encouraging people in some way, whether in the context of ministry and/or business. I just had no idea how all those things could fit together in an integrated, practical course of action that could serve as a sustainable living. I had just started reading a book by a Christian author named Donald Miller called Scary Close. This book was about a lot of the dysfunctional tendencies of the author, especially in regard to his dating relationships, and his healing journey of God setting him free from a lot of it. One night at 3 a.m. when I couldn’t sleep, I was reading this book and really felt the life of God flowing through me as He was speaking to me through the author’s words. I was busy highlighting and writing all kinds of notes throughout the book when at one point I seemed to very clearly hear Holy Spirit tell me that being a writer was what I was called to, and to pursue this as a full-time vocation. Because I sensed the life of God flowing through me at the time I was able to receive it despite my doubts and the seeming impracticality of it.

When I woke up the next morning and started journaling about it I realized that, even though it seemed impractical and nebulous in so many ways, it was somehow the only thing that actually made sense and tied everything together. Many authors who publish a book are able to use that as a platform which leads to speaking, and by virtue of what they’re writing/speaking about, it also leads to coaching, counseling, teaching and ministering; resulting many times in ministries/businesses that allow them to live out their calling. It also provides a good living and a personally fulfilling vocation in a very unconventional, off-the-beaten-path kind of way. Great examples of this include John Eldredge, Mark Batterson, Donald Miller, among many others. It all seemed to click into place at that moment. The only problem was that I had absolutely no clue how to get started on all of it.

The only thing I could think of at the time was that I needed some kind of external structure, as well as a syllabus/curriculum of some kind that could help me “sharpen my iron” and develop practical skills. I also saw the benefit of being in a supportive community of people who could help me to clarify and refine this vision, in addition to having relationships and a network of people who could open doors and provide opportunities and resources along this path. The only thing I could think of was some kind of educational or graduate program like Seminary or something that could integrate all of these things in a single program. I also needed to have this provide some source of income while I was doing it. My immediate thought was to use the GI Bill from my military service, which could not only pay for all of the education costs but also provide a monthly stipend for income while I was doing all of this. Even still, though, I had no idea where to even start looking for such a program and told God that He was going to need to basically just drop it in my lap since I didn’t have a clue.

While journaling and praying the next morning, just like last summer I sensed God say that He was going to do all of this and literally just serve it up to me on a silver platter; my only part was to continue to rest and believe Him in faith. Just like last year, this seemed too easy and too good to be true. It went against everything we’ve been trained and taught in this culture, where everything depends on our own efforts, human planning and cleverness. But I had been reading these books on grace and rest that emphasized that it was precisely from surrendering everything and putting all of our trust in God to do it on our behalf that we would live the Kingdom life God has called us to. It still felt like self-justified laziness, passivity and irresponsibility to me, though, so I called a friend and fellow brother in Christ from back in the DC area. I needed a reality check and a sounding board from someone I could trust and could tell me if I was off-base in my thinking. We talked and prayed for over an hour about all this and he agreed with me that all I needed to do was stay in the Word, keep praying and believing, and that if it was God’s will for me to be in such a program, He would indeed be the One to bring it to me. It was very encouraging and affirming.

This friend of mine co-hosts a radio show in the DC area about God’s grace and interviews people each week who have some kind of redemptive story and message to share with the world. As we were just wrapping up our conversation and about to get off the phone, he offhandedly mentioned a man he met a day or two before that might be on the show. This person was a Believer and retired Army veteran who had a motivational speaking and coaching business that helps people find their mission and purpose in life. This Army veteran explained that he had gone through a program for military veterans who are in the middle of a civilian career transition and trying to find their next step. He said that this program was instrumental in helping him start his speaking and coaching business; some of the very things I was interested in myself. Immediately I perked up and asked if I might be eligible for this program. After hesitating for a second, my friend said “Oh my gosh, I think we were supposed to have this conversation”. He put me in touch with the CEO of the Program, called the Dog Tag Fellowship Program. She responded within about 30 seconds and asked me if we could do a phone interview to see if perhaps the Program would be a good mutual fit.

The next morning I talked to the Senior Program Director and she told me all about the program: it is a 5-month structured syllabus/curriculum where the Fellows receive a Certificate of Business Administration from Georgetown University, learn practical hands-on skills of all aspects of small business in a bakery. This serves as an incubator for veterans who are considering either starting their own business or finding a job that is a perfect fit for them. All of this is done in the context of a supportive community and a place where they help Fellows reflect on their lives and get clarity on creating or refining their vision and next steps. Not only all that, it was all paid for by the Program, which also offers a monthly stipend for living expenses. It was literally everything I had just been praying for!! Plus, I wouldn’t even need to use my GI Bill for it! After talking with the Program Director about my own vision/goals and what I was looking to get out of the Fellowship, the real shock came when she offered me a last-second spot for their next Cohort, which was starting in about 10 days. I couldn’t even believe it. I was very skeptical I’d be able to pack up all my stuff, find the right person to replace me on my lease who would be a good fit for my current roommate, and find housing all within the next week, but I promised I’d think and pray about it.

After talking to CEO the next day, I decided that I would do everything I could to make it in time. There were a ton of practical details that had to be worked out but as I had recently gotten into the habit of, I just said, “God, if this is Your will, then the responsibility is on You to work out all these practical things because you know what I need. I leave it in Your hands”. Within 4 days I had received the perfect person to take over my lease, had all my stuff packed up, said all my goodbyes and was driving on the freeway from Colorado to DC. The night before I pulled into DC, still not knowing where I’d stay once I got there, my really close friend called me and told me he had just moved back to DC, signed a lease the day before at this really nice, new place and that he was going to be gone for a good portion of the next month, so I could crash with him until I found a place to stay. I can’t even make this stuff up.

At the time of this writing, I have been in the Program for about 6 weeks, and will be meeting with the Army veteran with the speaking and coaching business hopefully this week to talk about how we can possibly work together in some way. Through the Fellowship’s network connections I’ve been able to register for some more in-depth coaching programs outside the Fellowship, as well as personalized coaching sessions with the Program Director (oh yeah, did I mention she’s also an accomplished leadership coach and offered to coach Fellows for free?). 2 days ago I moved into an amazing place right in the heart of the District. This place seemed to have fallen through at the last second because it looked like I wasn’t going to have a parking spot, but through a miraculous last-second turnaround the landlord was to convince his neighbor to let me use the neighbor’s own private, off-street parking spot. For those of you who are familiar with life in the District, you know that is a miracle in itself! Not only that, but the place is fully furnished (since I sold all my stuff last year before I moved to Colorado), has a short-term, flexible lease term (since I don’t know how long I’ll be in DC after the program ends Nov.17) and is in about the best location you could possibly ask for. The landlord said that since he bought the place in 1987 he’s never worked as hard to get a tenant in here or seen anything work out like this before.

It hasn’t necessarily been an easy road this last year, but through it all I’ve learned more and more how to live by faith, rest in God’s amazing grace, and trust Him to work all things together for the good. He can work it much better than I could ever ask or imagine, and I am really starting to feel like I’m about to step into the passion, purpose and calling of God for my life. More to follow!

 

The Life-Giving Truth of Why God Hates Sin

The past couple days I’ve found myself subconsciously avoiding God because of both sins of commission (things I have been doing that I feel I shouldn’t), as well as sins of omission (things I’m not doing, but feel I should, like spending regular time with Him). As soon as I started spending time with God journaling about this today, it immediately became so obvious to me that this was a classic case of something driving a wedge between two people who really want the same thing in the end, which is quality time together, or intimacy. I immediately thought of the prodigal son who thought he needed to earn his way back into his father’s good graces after serving some form of penitence for his bad behavior, when all along the father was waiting with open arms, desiring nothing more than for his son to return to him.

I realized in a new way that God was not angry or displeased with me for sinning and screwing up. His only concern was the restoration of the intimacy and communion between us, as the beloved son of an intimately, infinitely loving Father. I’m so thankful that I serve and am served by a God of kindness, compassion, and steadfast love, forgiveness and grace. As I was thanking God for His goodness in this area, I sensed Him say this:

I know it’s a recovery process for you that takes time when you feel (rightly or wrongly) that there is a breach in our relationship due to some actual or perceived sin on your part. That’s why I hate sin so much: because it drives you away from Me. I hate the deceitfulness of sin in that: one, it will satisfy or fulfill you in the first place (idolatry); and two, because it drives you away from Me due to lies that you aren’t worthy to be in My Presence (separation). 

I once heard one of my pastors say something that really resonated with me: “Obedience is the highest core value if you’re a slave. Intimacy is the highest core value if you’re a son.” This is the essence of why sin is such a big deal to God: it separates us from Him. This is not of His doing, but our own as we run away from Him in shame, guilt and condemnation; none of which originate from God. Because His highest value and desire is relationship and intimacy with us, anything that hinders that is, by definition, the thing that most grieves His heart.

Of course, sin also causes us to treat each other badly, which deeply grieves our Papa’s heart to see His kids hurting each other. This realization gave new meaning to what He meant when He said, “…As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

When you realize that you have no ability, and therefore no obligation, to give Me anything, then “loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” [the first and greatest commandment] becomes an act of receiving from Me, from which you can therefore give to others what I have given you. Freely given, freely received. In doing this, you actually give Me the highest and best thing possible: the gift of letting Me give you My love, and spreading it to others. 

I sensed the Holy Spirit show me that it is not a matter of “helping God” with “something He needs done”. He is completely self-sufficient in and of Himself; lacking and requiring nothing from us. It is for His delight that we do this, for He simply delights in seeing His children love each other out of the goodness of their hearts, especially when we’re loving each other out of the goodness of His heart (i.e., loving other people with God’s perfect love instead of our own limited human love). This is not a love we produce of/from ourselves, but again simply by way of receiving and passing it on as God pours out in and through us.

I find that I’m seeing life more and more from this perspective. In fact, thinking about just writing this blog post, I realized that it’s not even my job as a writer to “come up with anything new/insightful”; it’s just my honor and pleasure to share whatever God is giving me, for whatever reason(s). And even though this was something personal that God spoke to me, I want to share it in case anyone reading this can relate to and be encouraged by this, because I think it applies to all of His kids: You’re growing in authority, discernment and spiritual maturity; expect that as you spend time with Me, you’ll receive revelation and impartation more and more easily, which will become more powerful as time goes on. 

When I commented that this sounded a little works/performance-oriented, like something I’d “earned” by “paying my dues” or something, I heard this:

It’s not anything you’ve performed or earned; it’s simply the reality of what you receive the more and more you’re in My Presence. It’s impossible not to be changed as you come into contact with My holiness and Presence. The more time you spend with Me (and in Me, and I in you) the more you are changed into My likeness, and made into My image. It is not your job to transform yourself; only I can do that, as you willingly give Me access to your heart, mind and spirit. This is the easy yoke and light burden I speak of: the supernatural work of inner transformation is not your work, but Mine. Your work is simply to believe. 

The Destitute Rich Man

Help me to speak, Lord, and I will praise you…The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart-These, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:15, 17)

Worship is not something I give; it’s something I obtain. 

It is the Holy Spirit who enables and teaches me to worship the King; not my own conjuring. In and of myself, I have nothing of value to offer God. Not only that, but I am actually filled up by pouring out my heart to God in praise, honor and worship.

A scene plays out before me: A great king is honored by having all his subjects come before his throne and offer gifts as a show of loyalty, honor, and allegiance. But I am destitute and have nothing to offer. Seeing my predicament, and knowing that it would not be fitting for me to approach the throne without something to offer my sovereign, a member of the king’s court has mercy and compassion on me, and gives me a gift to offer the king. However, this gift is so extravagant, so full of splendor, that it makes the most extravagant gifts that the wealthiest subjects brought from their own storehouses pale by comparison.

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. (Matthew 5:3)

Freely you have received; freely give. (Matthew 10:8b)

When we come empty-handed before the King, we leave our hands free to be filled with the treasures of the storehouses of Heaven. Freely given, freely received; to be offered up in worship as we come before His feet.

 

Stepping into Grace, Part II(c): Released (The Blessing of Abraham)

This is the fourth post in a series of articles describing my journey during a major transitional period in my life that would lead me across the country and into a totally different career path. More importantly, though, it was a major paradigm shift in how I perceived God and His heart for me and His children. Part II, “Released”, corresponds to a 3-night stay at a monastery where God spoke powerfully to me about this transition I would be entering. 

After God had clearly released me from my job in real estate, the next logical question was, “OK, so what’s next??”. I was pretty clear on what I was supposed to leave, but no idea of where I was going. Like Joshua and Caleb, I needed courage and faith to step into this next stage of my life as I crossed into the “Promised Land” He was leading me to. I didn’t want to be like all the other Israelites of Joshua and Caleb’s generation who died out in the wilderness without ever entering into the promises of God because of their unbelief and doubt. Though I had no idea what was next, I wanted to be open to whatever God had for me. I heard the Lord say to me, This is a difficult, but good and exciting thing for you. This is the battle I have called you to. I work in a pattern of good for those who love me and are called according to My purposes. Where your will intersects mine is the area of greatest ease and excitement for you. It may be well with your soul to choose what is in your heart already. 

At this point, I felt the way I imagine Abraham must have felt when “The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will [future tense] show you'” (Genesis 12:1). God asked him to pack up and leave the area he was familiar with, where everyone he knew lived, and where he had been prospering…without any idea of where he was going next. As a man of considerable wealth with an extensive family I can only imagine the logistics of organizing everyone, packing all that stuff up and getting it on the road. I also wonder what his conversations must have been like with his friends and family members about why they were all moving (“God just told me to”), and where they were moving to (“Oh, I don’t know that yet…”).

There seems to be a fine line between faith and foolishness many times in the Bible, as well as modern-day life. I think of the conversations Joshua must have had with his military commanders when he told them the battle plan was to march around a heavily fortified city for 7 days blowing trumpets and yelling. Or Gideon voluntarily reducing the number of his fighting men from 32,000 down to 300 before a major battle with an army that impossibly outnumbered them. In all of these examples though, no matter how foolish the plans seemed to be from a human perspective, time and time again the wisest choice was to trust and obey the Lord no matter how insane it may have seemed. The victories that followed such incredible acts of faith undeniably demonstrated God’s power, love, provision and goodness in such a radical way. Little did I know that I would be called on to make such seemingly irrational choices in the coming months…but that’s a story for another post 🙂

As far as the parallel with Abraham, though, as I kept reading that same book by Joseph Prince I mentioned in the last article (entitled Unmerited Favor), Prince described the “Blessing of Abraham”. This was interesting to me because about a year before this time I had received a prophetic prayer of blessing from a friend of mine who kept praying the blessing of Abraham over my life. Between my own thoughts, Prince’s book, and this prophetic word from my friend God definitely had my attention. So what exactly is the Blessing of Abraham? As described by Joseph Prince in Unmerited Favor, it has the following elements:

  • Inheritance It is a gift, freely given by God and received by us solely as the result of promise as opposed to human works/efforts: “For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13)
  • Financial blessings– “Abram was very rich in livestock, silver and gold” (Genesis 13:2). This blessing is not just for our own pleasure and benefit; we are blessed to be a blessing to others: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you…and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).
  • Health and Renewal of Youth– Abraham and Sarah were supernaturally enabled to conceive a son when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 years old (Genesis 17:17-19; 21:5-7).
  • The Lord’s Benefits– Psalm 103 describes the Lord’s benefits to us further:
    1. Forgives all our iniquities (v.3)
    2. Heals all your diseases (v.3)
    3. Redeems your life from destruction (v.4)
    4. Crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies (v.4)
    5. Satisfies your mouth with good things (v.5)
    6. Your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (v.5)
    7. Executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed (v.6)
    8. Not dealt with us according to our sins nor punished us according to our iniquities (v.10)
  • JESUS– As Believers in Jesus, God has grafted us in to the family line of Abraham as children of promise. In this, we have the ultimate gift of the Blessing of Abraham which was fulfilled in the person of Jesus, through whom we have forgiveness of sins, eternal life in heaven, and fullness of life here on earth. We are able to enter into “God’s rest” here and now, as well as in the hereafter. When we accept Jesus’ invitation to relationship and redemption, we have now become the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21), friends of Jesus (John 15:15), and children of God (John 1:12).

The hardest thing for me at this point was to realize that there was nothing I had to do in order to bring about the Lord’s blessing for this next step in my life. My only part was to rest, wait and trust. This was hard to accept, because to my natural senses this all felt like laziness, foolishness, irrationality and ungodliness to just be sitting around waiting, doing no work whatsoever…especially since the only gig I had at the time was a self-employed, 100% commission, “eat what you kill” type job, where the income I earned was exclusively the result of sales I personally closed. So, I was used to hustling pretty hard. I mentioned in a previous post how my nature is to always think I need to be doing more, trying harder and working hard.

However, God was showing me in this season about the sacredness of rest as He went to work on my behalf. This was a very practical, personal picture of this new understanding of Grace defined not so much about forgiveness, but as the cessation of my own human striving, effort, work and toil. It was all about receiving the finished work Jesus had already accomplished on my behalf, and it didn’t end at salvation. It is a lifelong, ongoing process of simply receiving all of God’s benefits by faith and belief as opposed to a merit system; a system I was all too familiar with. I felt God say to me, As you continue to wait on Me only, you will be blessed. I’m preparing to take you on a  journey of faith with Me, son; I will never leave you nor forsake you. I, the Lord Your God, go before you into the good land which I have promised you. Therefore, be strong and courageous, knowing that I will uphold you by My righteous right hand and tell you where to go, saying “This is the Way, walk in Him” [Jesus is the Way, as well as the Truth and the Life].

I still couldn’t believe this was actually all happening. I was still battling the lie that I was being deceived. As I mentioned in the last post, the actual deception was the fear that I was being deceived about being released from real estate and that I was just supposed to wait and rest for this really good thing, without working for it. Not only that, I was going to be stepping into this calling I’d been waiting for over 5 years to step into. Inside of me was such a sense of hope, excitement and expectancy; it all just seemed too good to be true. Then I remembered something my pastor once said: “If it seems too good to true, it’s God.” Though that’s not always the case, God seemed to be affirming to me that it was in this instance. He said, Expect things to resonate in your heart; that is My signature and My calling card in your heart, upon which I seal the signet ring of Hope and Expectancy. I went to bed that second night in the monastery feeling very full.

 

 

 

 

Stepping into Grace, Part II(b): Released (God as a good Father)

This is the third post in a series of articles describing my journey during a major transitional period in my life that would lead me across the country and into a totally different career path. More importantly, though, it was a major paradigm shift in how I perceived God and His heart for me and His children. This entry focuses on God’s relationship with me as a good Father, and how that released me into greater freedom, joy and peace to embrace what He had already put in my heart.

In the last post, I described how I was having difficulty accepting the goodness of God into my life because I’d been so conditioned to choose the more difficult path at most decision points in my life. I worried that, by doing what my heart really desired, I was being selfish and not putting God first in my life. My default way of thinking was, “If there’s something that I truly want to do, I probably need to do the opposite of it to please God”. This was the result of what pastor and author Joseph Prince refers to as “sin-consciousness”, characterized by a focus on our faults and shortcomings because of sin. This is actually a form of self-centered pride because it keeps the focus on ourselves. Instead, Prince encourages all born-again believers in Jesus to focus on Jesus and become “righteousness-conscious”, because of the unmerited favor and grace of the righteousness of Jesus. This righteousness is what we get to partake in as new creations with the very Spirit of Jesus living inside our hearts and spirits once we have accepted the free gift of salvation and relationship with Him, which is something that He longs for all of us to enter into.
To be clear, even after accepting a relationship with Jesus there have certainly been times when it was good for me to deny my natural tendencies because they had led me to unhealthy, destructive choices and results. Ultimately, this resulted in settling for far less then the “fullness of life” that Jesus promises those who walk with him in the Spirit (John 10:10). However, at this point in my walk I was failing to account for the fact that as I matured more in my faith and relationship with God, He increasingly plants the desires of His heart into my own heart. God challenged me to really think of our relationship just as I would think about a relationship with an earthly father. He asked me the question, How does a good earthly father raise their son?
 
After some objective and honest reflection, I came to the following answer about how a good father raises their son: It is by instructing them in the way which they should go on the basis of an unshakable foundation of unconditional love, principles, character, discipline, demonstrated instruction, and progressive freedom to make their own choices and ultimately live out their own life. These choices and this life will hopefully reflect the values and goodness of how they were raised based on general principles, but manifested in a way that is unique to the individual son, distinct from any other person or path. Good fathers raise good sons by drawing out and cultivating their son’s (or daughter’s) unique gifts, strengths and talents, thus empowering them to live out the unique dreams, passions and ultimate purpose that has been put inside of them. A proverb came to my mind at this point: “Raise up a child in a way which he should go and he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, emphasis mine).
The Lord was highlighting to me in this verse that the way in which the child should go was unique to the child, and was merely facilitated (as opposed to determined) by the earthly father. The Lord said to me, The only way I can enable you so that you ‘do not depart from it’ is to empower and release you to live out the desires of your heart, which I’ve designed within you to walk in before the foundations of the earth were laid. This reminded me of a verse I’d heard many times before but was now highlighted to me in a new way: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). All of this seemed to be progressively revealing to me that this desire in my heart to move out of my career in real estate to something more in line with my inherent dreams and desires might actually be from God, and not just me. However, it was still hard for me to know which thoughts were mine, which were from God and which were from the enemy, that great deceiver. I asked for the “mind of Christ” right then, and Jesus gave me some scriptures that came unbidden to my mind:
  • “My sheep hear Me and know My voice, and the voice of another they will not follow” (John 10:4-5)
  • “Without faith it is impossible to please God, for those who come to Him must believe that He exists, and that He rewards those that earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6)

In response to this last scripture, the Father clearly said to me: Have you not earnestly sought Me? Have you not set this time apart as holy, to hear from Me and commune with Me? Am I so cold and unwilling to meet you that I would not readily present Myself before you when you seek Me? Have I not said, ‘Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you?’ Does the ease with which you now hear Me startle you, even after all these years? What good father would remain so aloof from his very own son? It breaks my heart that you think and feel this way, my son. Don’t you yet know how loved you are in my sight? I am not an onerous taskmaster. I love you, I’m proud of you, and I am for you, Ryan; this is the mind of Christ for you. 

Yet my own mind–and no doubt the enemy–were working overtime against me from stepping into this new freedom my Father was trying to lead me into. I still feared that all of these verses and God’s supposed direct words to me were still just my own mind and flesh trying to justify going my own way with some kind of self-serving deception. I began to picture in my mind now a scene with a character you’d see in some kind of conspiracy theory movie, who thinks anyone and everyone is out to lie to them and “get” them, and can’t trust anyone or anything. I realized this person was myself. I had some kind of weapon in my hand and was desperately trying to fight off someone who was getting too close, because at this point anyone could be the enemy, and I’d been hunted for a long time. My nerves were frayed and I didn’t want anyone getting too close for fear of being deceived, hurt and “taken out”.

It was then that I had another profound realization: Fear of being deceived was itself the deception!! I have to admit that our enemy is indeed a cunning adversary…however, his lies and deception don’t stand a chance against the life-giving Truth of God! It was at that point that the scene in my mind resumed, and the person I was previously nervous about getting too close was actually Jesus! He was overwhelming me with His love and getting me to drop the weapon I was using to keep Him away (was it the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God??!). He was wrapping me up in His arms as I melted into a puddle of tears and exhausted relief in His embrace and soothing hands over my face, gently calming and relaxing me. He then said to me: Any time you sense I even might be trying to love on you and you’re holding me back from doing it, your default response should be that you are being deceived. And since you have the mind of Christ now, you’ll know (because of My discernment, which you know you can trust) if you really are being deceived. 

He then spoke more life-giving words of promise and Truth from the Word of God, but conversationally, personalized to me (Jesus is, after all, the incarnate, living Word of God; the Bread of Life):

  • “I will instruct you and teach you in the way in which you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you” (Psalm 32:8)
  • “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.'” (Isaiah 30:21)
  • “The steadfast of mind [I] will keep in perfect peace, because [you] trust in [Me]” (Isaiah 26:3)
  • “[I], who did not spare [My] own Son, but delivered Him over for [you] all, how will [I] not also freely give you all things?” (Romans 8:32)

I then felt God prompt me to read a book by Joseph Prince I was in the middle of at the time, called Unmerited Favor. Almost right away, I read a passage from page 158 that said “Find your identity in Him [Jesus], and He will give you a new beginning, a fresh start, and a new page to begin an exciting life with Him!…Now, with Jesus by your side, you can begin your new life of unmerited favor and success!  Given the context of me considering getting out of what I was doing and possibly jumping into something brand-new, this absolutely jumped off the page to me!! However, the clincher for me came on page 165: “For those of you who want to serve the Lord, but don’t know where to start, just ask yourself what is in you heart…As a new covenant believer, that’s how your Father leads you. He puts His laws in your mind and writes them on you heart [emphases mine]That’s when Prince quoted Philippians 2:13: “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work according to His good purpose.”

That was it for me; the “coup de gras”, the final straw. After reading that passage in the book which so uncannily spoke to my exact situation, concerns and preoccupations, it was too much to deny. Then, reading the verse directly from the Word of God that confirmed it, I knew that I knew that God was indeed the one speaking to me about truly following the desires in my heart. For me, this meant leaving real estate and and pursuing something else. I was finally, officially, hereby released! However, I was only halfway through my stay at the monastery, and there was still so much more that I would be battling against and so much that God would reveal to me during that time…

Stepping into Grace, Part II(a): Released

This is the second post in a series of articles describing my journey during a major transitional period in my life that would lead me across the country and into a totally different career path.   More importantly, though, it would lead me into a major paradigm shift in how I perceived God and His heart for me and His children. 

For those of you who read my last blog post (the link is here: https://ryanchaley.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/hello-world/), I had ended it on a bit of a cliffhanger, as I was about to hear powerfully from the Lord at a 4-day personal retreat. During this time I would be seeking His will for the future direction of my life after feeling a growing discontent with my career in real estate, despite very recent momentum and success in growing my business. I needed to take the requisite time to do some soul-searching and intentional time away of listening to God to have peace, clarity and resolution about either continuing forward as a Realtor or pursuing another career/calling. Part II of this blog series, entitled “Released”, is all about the revelation God gave me during those four days at the monastery that released me in more ways than one. There was so much that He spoke to me during those days that, in order to make it more manageable to read, I’m actually breaking Part II into several different posts, of which this is the first.

At the beginning of this four-day retreat as I settled into my room at the monastery and walked the grounds, I was immediately struck by the peace and beauty of the place. Certainly, if there were a place I could get away from the frenetic pace of big-city life to hear clearly from God, it would be here. The detachment from the “outside world”, including all electronics, was refreshing and freeing. Additionally,  the wide open spaces in the countryside served to facilitate some wide open space inside my own head to process the thoughts and feelings bouncing around inside of me; and more importantly, whatever it was God wanted to share with me.

At this time my biggest concern was that I would take this 4 days and not feel a sense of peace, clarity and powerful confirmation about the Lord’s direction for my life. Some scriptural encouragement that God had been speaking into my heart even before arriving there was,”Draw near to Me, and I will draw near to you” (James 4:8a); and “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Of course, the well-known promises from Matthew 7:7 also spoke to me: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” I was going to be doing some serious asking and seeking during this time, so all of these promises from the Word of God were especially timely, relevant and encouraging to me.

This was a great example of the Holy Spirit taking the Logos (written Word of God as contained in the Bible, universally and generally applicable to all people at all times) and making it become Rhema (a personal, “now-word” of God that speaks to a specific person, at a specific time, in a specific circumstance). Namely, in this context, God was reassuring me that He was going to really “show up” during this time and powerfully confirm to me that He would indeed give me guidance, clarity and direction about whether or not to remain in real estate, and that I needn’t worry about “wasting these 4 days” at the monastery only to come away without any clear sense of what to do.

These scriptures would later prove to be anchor points that I could “hang my hat on” so I could believe that what I heard was actually God and not just misguided thoughts from my own head leading me astray. This was significant for me because I have a tendency to hyper-analyze and try to anxiously figure things out on my own by considering every possible angle and scenario, which can be very complicated and exhausting. I am also acutely aware of my human tendency to avoid difficulties/hardship and hear what I want to hear; therefore, I was concerned about my ability to truly be objective and hear with a pure heart from the Lord when I felt I had an agenda of sorts going into this time of seeking God (which, in this case, was to remove myself from the unpleasant situation I was currently in by quitting my job as a Realtor).

You see, my natural inclination up to this point had been to push through difficulties and overcome challenges to achieve good things; tendencies that were only reinforced by my time in the military and now as a hungry young businessman trying hard to build his business. In both contexts the clear message was always to pull myself up by my bootstraps, suck it up, keep a stiff upper lip, and do whatever it took to overcome resistance and shun pain for the greater reward that would come. I’ve had it drilled into me over and over that by overcoming obstacles and enduring pain and difficulty my character would be developed and I will become a more responsible, mature person. Accordingly, I had unconsciously come to conceive of God as “the God who requires difficult things of me, because it will be good for me in the end.” This was one of the first major revelations God gave me at the monastery.

While there is no doubt that my life had been enriched and positively shaped by some very real truth to this statement/perspective, the Holy Spirit was pointing out to me that this had become my uncontested default way of thinking, such that my unconscious orientation was that any decision to do what was natural, easy, and enjoyable must–by definition–be the wrong one. God was now clearly showing me that if this was the only way I ever thought about Him or approached life that it would inevitably lead to burnout, frustration and resentment against both Him and myself, as I would constantly be struggling uphill, against the grain of all my own human inclinations.

The Lord started to open my eyes more to his role as “a good Father who delights to give good gifts to His kids” (Matthew 7:11). One of the most passionate desires of my heart for the past 5+ years has been to find a career/calling that I truly love and am good at; one in which I can find incredible meaning, fulfillment and significance by utilizing my God-given gifts and desires in a way that helps others and makes God known. While I fully believed that this was a desire that had been planted in my heart by God Himself, I was having trouble believing that this could actually be the point in my life where I was going to step into this deep desire and the realization of this dream. A breakthrough moment came for me as God started to reveal himself more as my Father in a very practical, human way that I had not conceived of before. This is where the next blog post will begin. Stay tuned for more, and thank you for letting me walk this journey with you.

Stepping into Grace, Part I: Discontent

By way of background, I have felt led–and made numerous promises, which I’ve delayed too long in fulfilling–to record and share the journey with God that has led me not only across the United States, but also into a radically new way of believing and living. For ease of reading, I’ve broken this journey into several parts; bite-sized segments corresponding to what I see as the major sub-chapters over this 4-5 month timeframe. 

For our purposes the journey starts in April of 2015 in the Washington, DC area. At this point I was about 18 months into my job as a full-time Realtor, having left the Navy after almost 11 years of service as a Naval Officer. In early April I attended a conference about how to grow my real estate business and had just signed up for a real estate coaching and lead-generation program which entailed a significant commitment of time, energy, and money. I was paired with a real estate coach who was specifically matched to me because of several factors, not the least of which was our common faith, as well as similar personality traits. After working this system for only a couple of weeks, I noticed that my commitment to the program was actually getting results, as my business was indeed growing and prospering with new clients, inbound leads and multiple transactions going on at once. I was finally getting to the point I had worked so hard for over the past 18+ months!

There was just one problem…I was feeling heavy, burdened, and a growing feeling of discontent, which made no sense at all. I was precisely at the point where I should have been feeling the satisfaction, excitement and joy of starting to see the fruit of my labor after having worked hard to cultivate personal relationships and build my business to get to this point, as well as glimpsing the potential of where it could be going. Where was this heaviness and discontent coming from?? Despite myself initially, I had clearly felt called to become a Realtor and quickly seen miraculous breakthrough and success that seemed only to serve as a confirmation that I was on the right track. Now, I was finally starting to see the seeds that I had been sowing become a harvest and just starting to really hit my stride. So why the heaviness and deepening feelings that something wasn’t quite right; that this wasn’t where I was supposed to be or what I was  supposed to be doing in life?

At this point, I decided to seek some wise counsel and take some of these heartfelt concerns to family and friends; people who I was close to personally, professionally and spiritually. I expressed my concerns and shared what was going on within me. After listening to their feedback, the consensus was to take some time away from the crazy hustle and bustle of life as a Realtor in the DC area and spend several days out in the country with some fresh air, intentionally putting myself in a place where I could hear clearly from God and get some much-needed clarity and perspective on my life.

After some recommendations from friends about places I could go to do this, I booked 4 days at a monastery called Holy Cross Abbey out in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, about an hour from where I lived inside the so-called “beltway” of Northern Virginia. This was to be a time of consecrated listening to God in personal silence, as neither talking nor electronics were permitted during the retreat. Armed only with a journal and some pens, the Word of God and a few other select books, I was prepared to open myself up to what God had to say to me. Little did I know that what I would hear during those 4 days would forever change the course of my life…