The war we wage in quiet: part one

Intercession: noun: the act of intervening on behalf of another; the action of saying a prayer on behalf of another. 

“But Moses implored the Lord his Godand the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people” (Exodus 32:11-14)

Too many of us are haunted by a sense of defeat when it comes to intercessory prayer.

We look at the reality of the world around us, and find ourselves plagued by doubt. In the face of so much injustice, so much darkness, apathy and hopelessness easily break in to our hardened hearts.

We are perplexed by the same old questions:

“God, are you listening?”

“God, are you working here? I can’t see you.”

“How long, O Lord?”

Immersed in the darkness that we see around us, we lose sight of the power of God to redeem our present reality. To avoid disappointment, we relegate His promises to the future. Isn’t salvation simply something to be enjoyed in a far-off eternity only once we have suffered a lifetime in this godless world?

Standing in the Gap

Prayer is powerful. We believe this, but we don’t live like it. “I believe,” we cry out with the father of the boy with the unclean spirit, “help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

Our sense of defeat in prayer is fuelled by a small view of God; a God who is only interested in saving a few individual souls, and not in redeeming and restoring the whole of creation.

We need to reclaim a big-vision theology of prayer fuelled by a big-vision God. Our prayer must be fuelled by a picture of God who is content not merely to save a few forlorn souls from a world doomed to go to hell in a handbasket, but a God who is in the habit of making all things new (Revelation 21:5).

Intercessory prayer has been described as “standing in the gap.” When we pray for the Kingdom to come, we stand in the gap between the reality that is – a world marred by brokenness and sin – and the possibility of the restored and redeemed world that God has promised.

When we intercede, we anticipate a world to come, the day when there will be a new heaven and a new earth. To many of us, the prayer that Jesus taught us – “your Kingdom come, your will be done” – has lost its raw power. When we ask for the Kingdom to come we are not merely dreaming of some abstract, distant future alien to our present circumstances. To pray for the Kingdom to come is to call into concrete existence the rule and reign of God in the here-and-now.

Romans 8:22 tells us that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” In prayer, we participate in the groaning of creation for the redemption of all things. We cry out to God, that he may bring about the transformation of this world.

When John the Baptiser sent messengers to Jesus to question whether he really was the Messiah to come, Jesus answered “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Matthew 11:5). In other words, he tells them that the rule and reign of God promised by the prophet Isaiah – the Kingdom of God – is being established here-and-now. This Kingdom is not some far-off hope attained only in a foreign future, says Jesus. Your God is on the move now, in this time and this place, bringing about the redemption of all things.

When we intercede, we claim the same reality of God’s redeeming presence for our city, for our nation, and for the world in which we live. We believe that the Kingdom of God is really among us. We believe that we can see the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them, because our Father is on the move here and now. 

To pray for the Kingdom to come is to call into concrete existence the rule and reign of God in the here-and-now.

A life of prayer is a life lived in tension. We acknowledge that the redemption of God is yet to come in its fullness, on that final day when Christ returns in victory. Almost paradoxically, we appeal to God to do what He has promised to do here-and-now. We pray in confident faith that we will see the goodness of God in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13). We appeal to the same Father who transferred us from the domain of darkness into the domain of light (Colossians 1:13) to overcome once and for all the darkness that haunts His Creation.

Intercession, then, is full of possibility. It is to stake our existence on the possibility that our Father not only can act, but will act to redeem His Creation. To pray is to believe that God will bring about that which He has promised: the restoration and redemption of all things.

Prayer as resistance

When we intercede, we call the power of the Father who orders all things into the disorder and chaos of this world. We call on our Creator God to speak into the storm of our existence, to bring peace where there is unrest and wholeness where there is brokenness.

To intercede is to stake our existence on the possibility that our Father not only can act, but will act to redeem His Creation.

To bow the knee in prayer is an act of resistance against a culture that continually puts the self at the centre. To pray is to surrender our own priorities for the priorities of our Creator, Redeemer God. Prayer is an act of sacrifice, an embodied statement of our utter dependence on our Father in Heaven. Prayer is a declaration of our commitment to the priorities to the Kingdom.

We are an army waging war on our knees. In prayer, we call upon God to make His power perfect in our weakness. We acknowledge our utter dependence, as creature to Creator, and appeal to His goodness to work for the good of His people and His Creation.

To pray is to wage war in the quiet. When God’s people bow the knee in prayer, we begin a revolution against the tyranny of busyness that plagues our world. When we kneel, we oppose the noisiness of a world starved of solitude, in order that the perfect peace of God may break in.

To pray is to wage war in the quiet.

So we do not lose heart. In prayer we stand together against the apathy and cynicism that pervades our culture and so often pervades our thinking. In prayer we appeal to a big God – the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – not the small God that our imaginations have created.

Our Father is in the business of making all things new, and in prayer He invites us to participate in the redemption of all things. He calls us to “stand in the gap” between the old order of things as He ushers in a new order:

Will you accept the call?

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

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Signed, Sealed, Saved (Or, Assurance For Crummy Christians)

“To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ…” (Jude 1, NIV)

Let’s talk about a spiritual condition lurking hidden, unspoken of, in many of our hearts.

It’s one I like to call “Crummy Christian Syndrome.” 

If you relate to the following symptoms, fellow sufferer, then this post is for you (I hope to offer you some encouragement below). But first, let’s diagnose this so-called “Crummy Christianity.”

  • You carry a constant general sense of “crumminess” regarding your spiritual life and discipleship. You are constantly frustrated that you are not a “good enough” disciple. You doubt the authenticity of your faith in Jesus, because surely you should be doing a much better job of it, shouldn’t you?
  • You feel shame, guilt or general discouragement at sinful habits that you can’t seem to break free of. You’ve been a Christian for years, and you know that you should be free from lust/pride/envy/gluttony/*insert vice here* by now, but you don’t feel you’ve made any progress at all. If anything, you’re more aware of your sin now than you were when you first became a Christian.
  • Jesus’ commandments seem burdensome to you. You have lost joy in following Him, and you feel like Jesus is lying when He says that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. In fact, walking with Jesus often feels like lugging a three-tonne stone rather than anything you could call “light.”
  • Sometimes you doubt that God loves you, or even that you are saved. You lack assurance about your place in His Kingdom. I mean, you believe God saves sinners, but surely you shouldn’t still be stuck in this rut if you’re really saved? Sure, God loved us enough to send His Son to die for us, but surely now that I’m a Christian, my life should look a lot better than this?

The crummy Christian is stuck in a rut. You long for things to be simpler, easier – but they never are. Breakthrough seems perpetually beyond your grasp. You’ve prayed the same prayers for breakthrough, read the same go-to spiritual books, ploughed on through hours of seemingly fruitless Bible study, gone up for countless ministry slots, and still nothing within you seems to shift.

You’re beyond the point of pressing on. You wonder whether God has given up on you. After all, everyone around you seems to be okay, so why is it so hard for you? Why not just walk away altogether?

Friend, you are not alone. 

The way in is the way on. The Father is faithful through a thousand failures and more. The grace that redeemed you at first is the grace that persists through your sin and brokenness, to carry you to your eternal home. Paul declares “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Be confident in the promise that the completion of the work started in you is not your own doing, but the Father’s.

Fellow crummy Christian, God did not save you simply to leave you to break under the weight of an unbearable load.

Too many of us think this way, however. We know in our minds that grace covers our sins, but this is not the reality that we live by. We like hearing about God’s grace for sinners, but we doubt the same is true for us. Surely the goalposts are different for us who profess to follow Jesus?

The truth of the gospel is the antithesis to Crummy Christian Syndrome. Jude 1, which captures succinctly our status as the saved people of God, tells us that we are called, loved, and kept. Let’s break that down.

  1. You are called. From the foundation of the world, God chose you, predestining you as His son or daughter through His Son (Ephesians 1:5). His choice does not change; the Father is not a fickle deity who chooses us one moment just to leave us the next when we fail Him. He is steadfast in love to those He calls, more faithful to us than we could ever be to Him. “And this is the will of him who sent me,” declares Jesus, “that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39).
  2. You are loved. Your new name as son or daughter is “the beloved” (see Colossians 3:12). “Your love, LORD,” exclaims the Psalmist, “reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies” (Psalm 36:5). This is a love no failure can shake, no power can stop, no sin can separate us from.
  3. You are kept. The grace that saved you is the same grace that keeps you for the day when Christ returns. Those whom God has chosen are protected by His powerful grace; through faith we are “shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).

By grace your salvation has been signed and sealed, permanently. The antidote to the predicament faced by the crummy Christian is the grace which says that you are called, beloved, and kept by your Father.

And it is by grace – not by self-abusive flagellation – that we move on from the spiritual rut of crummy Christianity. The Father is a gentle and tender Redeemer, wooing and waiting for His children to come to Him and become like Him, perfecting us by His Spirit.

Just as no thing that we did saved us, so also no failing can snatch us from His faithful hold. Fellow crummy Christians and downtrodden disciples, rest knowing that His grace is sufficient for you. He calls you His own, and He is faithful to His word.

The Beloved

“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

All that matters is to accepted by the Father as a child radically beloved by Him.

In His presence, we find out who we truly are. He sees into the cracks and crevices of our heart; His light shines into every dark corner of our mind. He is the one who searches us, who knows us intimately, discerning our thoughts from afar (Psalm 139:1). He knows every terrible secret that we so carefully lock away far beneath, always fearing that we will finally be sniffed out for what we truly are.

And yet, He embraces us in our totality.

At the end of ourselves, fearful and alone behind the mask we put on before the world, He whispers these words into our hearts: you are precious in my eyes, and honoured, and I love you (Isaiah 43:4).

Before we spoke a word, He was singing this song of love over us. He takes great delight in us and rejoices over us (Zephaniah 3:17). He saved us, not because of any righteous that we have done, but because He is a Father of mercy and love (Titus 3:5).

He embraces our wounds, our vulnerability, our rebellious self, our wandering ways. He accepts us in our totality – not just those parts of us that our particularly holy or righteous or beautiful, but all of us in our ugliness, sinfulness, and pridefulness. He sees to the very core of our being – He sees what we truly are, vulnerable, broken, alone. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out,” says Isaiah about the faithfulness of this God in the midst of our brokenness (Isaiah 42:3).

He is Abba, Father – the God who runs after alienated and estranged children to bring us home. He gives us a place at His banquet, when we barely deserve the crumbs under his table.

The core of our being is constituted by the truth that we are Abba’s delight, beloved by Him, precious in His sight. When the beauty and strength of youth fades and the illusion of our self-sufficiency and autonomy shatters, when worldly glory vanishes and the fickle approval of man fails, His love remains. When our abilities crumble and our bodies grow frail, when our minds are dimmed and our hands grow weak, we still have the love of God and yet have all.

At every moment, we owe our existence to the love of God. The very core of our being is utterly dependent on the sustaining, creating, renewing love of the Father which never fails, which never fades, which is always faithful. In Him we live and move and have our being, always loved into being by the God who is Love.

To accept this radical love – to put on our identity as the beloved – requires a total conversion of the heart.

To accept our identity as a child of God is to lay down every illusion of self-sufficiency, autonomy, and strength. There is no part of our existence that receives its being apart from the life-giving love of the Father.

To be accepted by Him in our totality shatters the facade we put up to be accepted and approved by others. To be embraced in our totality by Abba means we can lay down our striving for the glory of man, because we have been endowed with the robes of righteousness that the Father lovingly puts on the backs of His children. We can walk with new confidence, new boldness. This is perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18), fear of man and fear of condemnation (Romans 8:1).

Run out of hiding. Lay down your striving. Throw down your fear. You are accepted by Abba through Christ. He embraces you not because of your righteous deeds, but in spite of them. He rejoices over you and invites you in your pain, in your rebellion, in your hiding, in your hurting.

He will not break a bruised reed, nor will He snuff out a smouldering wick. Come to Him, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light. He is gentle and kind. Let His perfect love cast out fear; let the truth that you are His beloved speak against every lie of the enemy.

We hear Heaven’s music on the horizon, and we are invited to the banquet as Abba’s children. May we have faith to accept the invitation.

Vulnerable Beauty

What do we make of the person in our midst who, according to this world’s measure of value, has little or nothing to “bring to the table”?

The boy with cerebral palsy, dependent on his caregiver for the most basic of tasks. The woman made homeless by circumstances outside of her control. The lady next door with Alzheimer’s. The man with Down Syndrome. The young person who, through no fault of her own, never had the opportunity to receive education and is unable to find paid work.

In a society where human value is commodity-value, the ability to enter into relations of exchange and reciprocity, what makes these people valuable in and of themselves? Where is their worth to be found?

Where is their place in a worldview that measures human value on the sliding scale of autonomy, freedom, self-expression, productivity, exchange?

And where will our value be when our security, health and wealth falls like a tower of cards, subjected to the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”?

Whatever grounds the value of human life, it cannot be what Western society says it is.

It cannot be economic or exchange value, for that would exclude the unemployed and homeless.

It cannot be reason or intellectual ability, for that would exclude those with intellectual disabilities and mental illnesses.

It cannot be autonomy or freedom of expression, for that would exclude the voiceless, the forgotten-about, the oppressed, those on the fringes.

It cannot be strength, beauty, or riches, for that would exclude the weak, the vulnerable, the poor, the powerless, those who do not live up to the standards of beauty provided by fickle culture.

There must be something deeper, something more foundational, that gives worth to life. The image of God cannot be found in the functions and activities accorded value by our economically driven society.

The truth of what the human is is simply this: to be loved into existence by the God who is Love. 

Our existence is entirely gratuitous. We exist by nothing but the overflow of divine love, lovingly willed into being by the God who loves to create. The image of God dwells in us simply because we are. That which makes us valuable before God is not our ability, autonomy, economic worth, but simply that we are made by Him and stand in relation with Him.

In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it (1 Timothy 6:7). We are dust breathed into life by the Spirit of God (Genesis 2:7). We are not responsible for our being. We did not even create ourselves; much less are we able to exercise creative autonomy over the world. We are subject to it, dependent on it.  Our existence comes from outside of us.

We are the products of sheer grace, sheer mercy, and therefore truly vulnerable before God. God has opened Himself up to us in creating us, and our lives are open before Him, truly dependent, finite, contingent on Him for our every breath and our very existence.

In the bodies and lives of those who appear in our midst as helpless and vulnerable, we are confronted most starkly with the true nature common to all of us. In this fragile, interdependent world, all of us are vulnerable, finite, limited.

If we have been blessed with “able” bodies, these will perish. If we have been blessed with wealth, this will fade away. Our minds will deteriorate, our beauty will fade. What is true of Peter is true of us all; “when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18).

Whatever makes human life truly beautiful, truly valuable, it is not our perfect bodies and perfect minds. It cannot be our quality of life. It is not our supposed “rights” and freedoms which could, for whatever reason, be taken from us at any moment.

It is simply that we are beloved by the God who lovingly created us, lovingly sustains us, and lovingly entered into relationship with us, by entering into the vulnerable, weak body of a human being in Jesus Christ. 

The acceptance of our mutual vulnerability and finitude radically alters the way we do church. The church cannot – must not – mirror society’s measure of value, based on autonomy, exchange-value and success. The Church, as the Body of Christ, is a place for all, not just the beautiful, the well-off, the able-bodied. Our communion must not be a gallery of the middle- or upper-classes, but a place of welcome for all and sundry.

Because when we come together, we acknowledge that before God, we are all like grass. All is from Him, for Him, to Him. We have nothing that did not first come from Him. Beauty fades, our bodies weaken, our wealth perishes, but His eternal love for us remains, in spite of it all. 

All that matters, the only thing that defines us and grounds the value of our being, is that we are beloved by God. The image of God dwells in us simply because He is, and we are. We are loved into existence by Him, out of the gratuity and overflow of His love, by His Spirit.

The God who is Love dwells in our midst. His beckoning voice shatters our value-systems and worldview. In the Kingdom, there is no hierarchy based on productivity or use-value.

In this kingdom, the first will be last and the last will be first. Let our communion acknowledge this, showing prejudice to no-one, standing in solidarity with all, for we are all one, for we share one nature.

The Lord is like a father to his children,
    tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are;
    he remembers we are only dust.
Our days on earth are like grass;
    like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
The wind blows, and we are gone—
    as though we had never been here.
But the love of the Lord remains forever
    with those who fear him.
His salvation extends to the children’s children
of those who are faithful to his covenant,
    of those who obey his commandments!”

Psalm 103:13-18

To Live Like it’s Your Birthday

Your birthday is perhaps the only day in your life when people celebrate you for your sheer existence.

You did nothing to bring yourself into the world; just about all the effort on that front was on the part of your mother. You had pretty much no part to play in your own birth. Your birthday, therefore, is a time of celebration and rejoicing simply because you are here; simply because you exist. 

It’s no accident, then that the language of God’s grace in the Bible is the language of birth, of new life, of new existence in the world. The apostle Paul puts the grace-wrought life of the believer like this: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself…” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18a, ESV)

Our reception of God’s grace, then, might be likened to the celebration of our birthday. Just as, on our birthday, we are made the recipient of rejoicing and celebration and gifts not because of any effort of our own, but simply because we exist, so it is with God’s grace. The Father has lavished His grace upon us, has given us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, has predestined to adopt us as His sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:3-14), not because of any merit or effort of our own, but simply because He loved us even in spite of anything we have or haven’t done. Even before we were born, He knew us, He called us and set us apart by this grace (Galatians 1:15).

This Gospel of Grace changes everything. We are truly accepted and celebrated just as we. Our Father in Heaven rejoices over us, His new creations, not because we have done anything to deserve it, but because He delighted to bestow His grace upon us and adopt us as His own.

We didn’t bring ourselves into this new life, nor did we cause ourselves to be born into His grace. But, like an eternally recurring birthday, we are constantly the recipients of spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing, grace upon grace, life in abundance, simply because the Father’s nature is to give.

We are grace-born children. We could never earn the Father’s blessing, yet He simply pours His love upon us without measure. Our identity is secure. He delights in you simply because you are you, and you are His. 

Abundant life begins with this scandalous truth. Our identity is secured by the work of Another, and His work cannot be undone. To be great by this world’s standard is to be constantly striving, constantly seeking approval from others, constantly working and toiling for a sense of value before the watching world. It is a wearying work, and it will never satisfy, for, in the world’s economy, you can always be better, stronger, richer, more popular, more successful, more beautiful, have more friends, have a bigger house, and so on.

In the economy of heaven, however, our identity is secure in the Father’s love, by His grace that demands no merit or achievement on our part.  Like a new-born baby, we are celebrated and loved simply because the Father is Love, without qualification. And this makes us truly free, because, when we know our identity to be eternally secure, we can forget ourselves altogether.

So much worry and anxiety and trouble comes from building our identity upon the approval of another. True freedom comes from the self-forgetfulness of grace, because our identity is rooted in the Father’s grace bestowed upon us like a birthday present we didn’t do anything to earn.

It was for this life of freedom that the Father set us free. Receive the gift.

 

Move On

I have a confession to make. I’m rather good at feeling sorry for myself.

The sort of self-pitying behaviour I’m talking about swings two ways. On the one hand, when I mess up or make a mistake, I tend to wallow in self-condemnation and guilt. I’m an introspective type; sometimes a little too introspective, I’ve concluded. It means that when I do wrong, I beat myself up to no end.

On the other hand, when I feel low, I find it easy to fall into self-justification. You too might be accustomed to the type of fatalistic, self-justifying behaviour in the following scenario: you’ve had a bad day, so you think to yourself, “It doesn’t matter what I do now. Nothing I can do can make things any better or any worse.” The mind says to the will, “You’re already feeling down. The day is already a defeat. It doesn’t matter if you eat another donut, watch another episode of Suits, drink another beer, insert-unhealthy-behaviour-here to make you feel more comfortable about yourself.” Numb yourself from reality, and justify it to yourself. You deserve it. Not.

Both types of self-pity – whether it’s self-condemnation or self-justification – are destructive, numbing, and paralysing. Neither of them are God’s purpose for us. They leave us stagnant,  wallowing in a pit of self-despair. Like Elijah on the mountain, we find ourselves in a pitiful state of defeat, obsessing about our own woeful lot, without the perspective either to accept the past for what it is or press forwards into the future.

I think God sometimes says to us something to this effect: Get up. Gird yourself and move on. Get a grip and press forward. Ouch.

Of course, that sense of guilt is not, in itself, a bad thing, so long as it leads us to repentance. Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, talks about this healthy guilt as “godly grief that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Cor. 7:10). On the other hand, the type of self-aggrandising, self-pitying, despairing guilt, the guilt which holds on to past sins and does not let them go, is a “worldly grief [which] produces death.”

Guilt that leads to repentance is an essential part of sanctification. Repentance means that we accept our own mistakes, but then we are enabled to leave those mistakes at the foot of the Cross, knowing that “as far as the east is from the west, so far does [God] remove our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12, ESV). We can press on, knowing that by God’s grace coupled with our partnership and obedience to His will, we are being perfected by Him, being “renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16, ESV).

Guilt that leads to self-pitying condemnation, on the other hand, leads to death. It involves, in a way, a rejection of God’s grace; we think that our sin is too powerful for His love to overcome. This type of guilt is a burden too great for the human soul to bear. Acceptance of God’s abundant grace, on the other hand, results in a type of self-forgetfulness, allowing us to forget what is behind and press on to what is ahead, “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14. ESV).

God calls us out from the cave of crippling despair, from our state of wallowing in defeat and condemnation. When the Israelites complained to Moses during the Exodus from Egypt, thinking themselves defeated what does God say to them? “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on” (Ex. 14:15).

Move on. 

Today, God may be telling you to move on. The story of Easter is that death has been defeated once-for-all-time. Our sin and rejection has been left at the foot of the Cross, nailed to the tree; our condemnation is met with His acceptance. Our old self – self-pitying, self-condemning, self-justifying – has been crucified with Him on Good Friday; we are raised to a new life of freedom by His resurrection on Easter Sunday. Freedom to move on.

When Jesus raised Lazarus to life, He said, “Lazarus, come out!” To each one of us, too, He calls, “Get up, come out, leave behind your grave-clothes, and move on.

The Wanderer

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.

I’ve been running for a while now, but my commitment to training has never been exemplary. Over the years, my dedication has come in fits and bursts, as temperamental and varied as the English weather.

The times when I’ve been most dedicated are when I’ve had a race to fix my mind on and work towards. Anyone who does sports will know the motivating power that an upcoming competition exerts over your training. You subordinate your diet, your health and your routine according to the hope of the prize at the end – the taste of victory, the sense of achievement, the medal at the finish line.

When I don’t have a race or event to work toward, I find my motivation to train slips away all too quickly. I care less about my diet. I do less exercise. My running becomes the thing I cut out of my busy weeks for the sake of more urgent tasks.

And the fruit of losing that motivation is evident: I feel lethargic, unfit, unhealthy, and lacking in discipline.

This, too, has been the story of my walk with God during this season of life.

A few weeks ago I began to feel incredibly burnt out. I’d been doing lots of stuff – good stuff as well – and yet I’d lost sight of the reason I was doing it. I’d stopped setting my mind on the goodness of the gospel, the reason for our hope and the saving power of God – and had gone on in my own strength. It was like I was doing lots of things for God – church events, CU events, the like – but I’d stopped doing them with God.

My burning-out brought with it feelings I’ve constantly struggled with in the past. A sense of alienation from God. Lack of clarity about why I was doing what I was doing. Feeling a loss of God’s presence. A lack of joy in my devotion to God. The sense of being a servant rather than a son.

I, so prone to wander, had lost sight of the grace that saved me at first, the grace that leads me on. Like the “foolish Galatians” against whom Paul has much to say, it was as if what had begun in me by a work of the Spirit, I was trying to continue by an effort of the flesh (Galatians 3:1-3).

“Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home,” pens John Newton in his famous hymn. The grace in which we started out is the same grace that leads us home, the same grace that sustains us day by day, the same grace that brings us before God. Having lost sight of that grace, I’d wandered away from the fold of grace, just like the unmotivated runner who loses sight of the prize and sabotages his training.

When we lose our wonder and cease to fix our eyes on the incomprehensible, saving work of the Cross, we wander into all kinds of dry and dark places.  Like crazed wanderers in the desert, we stray from the life-giving springs and deep wells of grace to go after the false hope of a mirage. Our hearts are so prone to grow lethargic at the indescribable goodness of the gospel that saved us – at such great cost.

Like a river of living water that never runs dry, it is God’s grace – freely given, poured into our hearts through faith – that gives life, life in abundance. Fixing our eyes on Jesus changes everything. It produces in us hope, endurance, joy, assurance, security, and breathes new perspective into every circumstance. It is the power of salvation to those who believe.

Fixing our eyes on this great gospel, let us “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 ESV). The hope of that prize changes everything.