Spiritual Krav Maga (part 2) the adventure continues …

  • Fight on both fronts: spiritual and physical
  • Get aggressive: switch from a defensive to an offensive role
  • Use whatever is at hand as a weapon

Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. (2 Cor 10:3-4)

We live in two realms, two dimensions: the spiritual and the material.  So, to live an effective life, both aspects must be addressed.  The spiritual contains the real power, but the natural is the trigger to release it.  The two must work in harmony.  Action – Impact.  Trigger – Power.   This is the same principle as Faith-Works: without the works, the faith is “dead”, unreleased, and therefore no result is ever realized.

So, in real life, we must seek to act on triggers to release or activate God’s power to generate the results.

What is the trigger for any given situation?  It can be discovered by answering the basic question of “what is in your hand?”   This is a biblical principle.  When God commissioned Moses with the impossible task of freeing the Israelites from the most powerful empire in the world, Moses balked. And God asked Moses: “What is in your hand?” (Exo 4:2-3) That simple staff was the key to confronting Pharaoh, unleashing 10 plagues, parting the Red Sea, and winning battles. And we are instructed,“whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecc 9:10).   When Moses looked at what he had, all he saw was a stick.  God saw a tool he would use to unleash the miraculous.  It is also a key of Krav Maga: use whatever is available as a weapon.

How does this apply in reality?  Two examples from my own life:
1. Financial.  I’ve been working the same job for nearly 6 years now.  And I’ve been diligent and productive — I’ve done it “with all my might,” you might say.  In other words, I strive to be a valuable asset to my employer.  And I wanted a raise.  We don’t get annual cost of living adjustments, but every couple of years the company will do evaluations and give us some token of appreciation — usually in the low single digits.  I wanted more, and honestly thought I’d earned more.  I prayed quite a bit about it, not wanting to get caught up in discontentment or bad attitude, and making sure I wasn’t just being greedy.  I waited till I had some inner “go ahead” from God.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not the most outgoing or aggressive person around. I’d make a lousy salesman.  But I knew I had to force myself past timidity.  And I scheduled a lunch with my boss to discuss my situation.  That lunch turned into an 8 hour meeting, and I walked out victorious.  I got a double-digit percent increase.  (By the way, this was the second time this has happened in recent years, applying the exact same strategy but at different jobs: diligent work to prove my value, prayerful preparation, then respectful but assertive confrontation.  And the results were identical.)

2. Health (my current battle).  Got a cold.  Yeah, sure, a petty thing.  But it can make me miserable and cause me to miss work.  Two fronts: I’m quoting scripture to myself whenever I think about it: “he took my infirmities and bore my diseases, and by his stripes I am healed”, “I will drive sickness out from among you”, “no plague shall come near your dwelling”, “behold I give you power … and nothing shall by any means hurt you”, etc. Whatever Word from God that seems relevant, I’m speaking to myself and my sickness.  That’s the spiritual.  On the physical side, I’m getting rest, not overexerting myself, and I’m taking vitamins aggressively (not your once-a-day half-hearted approach).  Okay, gotta admit, it’s still dragging on.  Going on day 5 now.  But my symptoms are light — noticeably lighter than in the past — and I haven’t needed to take cold meds to get through the day.  I barely need to blow my nose, no sinus pressure, only mild congestion, no cough, no achiness.  Not the miraculous results I’d hoped, but definite improvement none the less.  And I’m not giving up.  Persistence till I win.  “Krav Maga!”

And the adventure continues ….

Spiritual Krav Maga — or the art of spiritual self-defense

[Draft 1 – a work in progress …]

For a while now, I’ve been sensing a trend in myown spiritual life.  When I spend time with God, I often walk away with some impressions about assertiveness, passivity, “chutzpah” — similar concepts around the theme that God wants us to take a more active role in our own lives.  So often we slip to one extreme or the other: we either ignore God entirely, pursuing our own goals and desires, trying to do everything in our own strength, or we settle into times of false piety where we place everything in God’s hands, sit back in wait-mode, and become passive observers, letting the random winds of life carry us where they will.

There is the middle ground I believe we are supposed to occupy.  Christians live in two realms simultaneously. We are flesh and blood, and we live in a material world.  And we are spirit beings, existing in a realm more receptive to divine influence — and in contact with other evil spiritual forces which oppose God and us.  This is not some intellectual or philosophical perspective; it is real life, and is so natural that most times we are hardly aware of it.  Real life is such that as we go through our day-to-day routines, we are constantly confronted with challanges, trials, battles, pains, and sufferings. And if we are to be overcomers, if we are to win any of these battles, we must fight them on both fronts: physical and spiritual. 

Krav Maga is an Israeli martial art, a ferocious hand-to-hand combat form of self-defense.  It was developed in the 1930s to help protect the Jewish community in Czecholslavakia from Nazi thugs. Later, its inventor brought it Palestine during the British Mandate and introduced it to the Haganah, the Jewish underground army there, where it has since become the official unarmed-combat system of Israeli Special Forces units.   Its basic principles are simple:

  • do not get hurt
  • go from defense to attack as quickly as possible
  • do as much damage to the attacker as quickly as possible
  • attack the opponent’s vulnerable points
  • use any available objects as weapons
  • be constantly aware of everything that is happening around you.

This type of defense tactic seems appropriate to Christian life because it focuses on fighting under worst-case conditions — like so much we find ourselves caught up in.  It assumes the enemy is out to destroy you and that you must do whatever it takes to defeat him and remain unharmed. And it is particularly aggressive.  How is this Christian?  Jesus warned us that we should expect trouble in this life, and he informed us of our enemy’s mission: to steal, kill, and destroy (John 16:33; 10:10).  We ARE on the defensive.  We must expect to be attacked.  And Jesus’ own life demonstrates the seriousness of his own work to break the power of the enemy. “God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and with power, and He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

Like Jesus, our mission is to go around doing good and freeing others from the oppression of the enemy — beginning with ourselves.  God planned these missions for us long in advance (Eph 2:10), and it’s time we stopped being the passive victims of chaos and trouble, and become the forceful agents of his Kingdom he designed us to be.

For me, this is going to be an experiment in spiritual growth, an adventure.  I’ll try to post specific examples of what problem I’m attacking, and what weapons I’m using against it.  And I invite you to join in.  Post your own battle plans and strategies.  What weapons work for you?

We need to begin looking at specific areas of our lives where we are being attacked: health, finances, relationships, personal issues, our jobs, our hopes and dreams, anything else that is out of order in our lives or the lives of those around us.  And working in both the physical and spiritual realms, we need to use the objects at hand as weapons to turn the situation around: faith and works, prayer and action.  We need to see how we can move from a defensive to offensive posture as quickly as possible.  And expect God to meet us there in the struggle.  He never rewards passivity; we cannot expect his power to be released if we’re just sitting patiently with our hands folded.  “Forceful men lay hold of it.” 

Now, when you encounter your next problem, shout to yourself “Krav Maga”. Think street-fighting.  Think “go on the attack, turn the tables as quickly as possible”.  And “use whatever is available, both physical and spiritual.”   We walk in both worlds, we must use the tools of both worlds.

Somethings aspirin won’t cure

I woke up sore this morning.  There’s a cramp in my neck, tight muscles in my back, and my hip joints are sore.  All from a little exertion yesterday at the park with my dogs.  Downing two aspirin with my coffee, I think, I’m too young for this stuff to be happening.

As I’m walking around, twisting my body, leaning over, trying to stretch the knots loose, it becomes all too obvious that a life sitting in front of a computer is taking its toll.  And I’m not being diligent enough on my treadmill and other workout equipment.  I’m tight, rigid, locked up. This is what happens when we stay fixed in one position too long, when we don’t stretch our muscles and continually challenge our bodies.

For some reason I started thinking about some grumpy old people I know — maybe I’m feeling like that stage of life is approaching faster than I anticipated.  These geezers are uptight, irritable about almost everything, complainers, and critical of others.  They’re a very unhappy lot, and few people can stand being around them very long.  They’ve isolated themselves, and don’t much like being around others either.  They don’t like anything new, they don’t want anything changed, everything has to be exactly how they’re used to it or they become frustrated and cranky.  Without continued outside interaction, without constant exposure to new and different people and things, we become fixed, inflexible — knotted up and sore.

Someone once told me that as we become older, we become caricatures of ourselves.  We become more deeply entrenched in our set ways and established in our idiosyncrasies.  And I think now that’s because as we get older we start limiting our outside interaction, we become more isolated. We resist change.  And left to ourselves, we become a more concentrated version of who we are.  And usually, not for the better.

The less exposure to change, the more fixed and immobile we become. The fewer contacts we have with people different from us or things different than we’re used to, the more intolerant we become.  Perhaps that’s why people in large metropolitan areas tend to be more tolerant, more “liberal”, less threatened by people and things of different cultures.  The constant barage of “other-ness” keeps them flexible.  And they tend to enjoy those differences more.  They tend to love the variety of life.

I’m not sure there’s a biblical lesson here, but I recognize a spiritual truth: the more we shut ourselves off from things outside our familiar circle, the more intolerant and rigid we become.  The less likely we are to embrace others, and the harder it is to love people who are not exactly the same as we are.  Our relational/love muscles get cramped.  We become a dried up creek instead of streams of living water. 

God knew it was not a good thing for man to be alone.  Who knows what Adam would have become had he been left alone in the garden? 

Rubbing my aching muscles, I’m looking down the road of time to my senior years ahead, and the soreness is a reminder of the options available to me.  Cranky, isolated old man, or loving, tolerant old guy involved in the richness of life.  God has so much planned for us, for every day of our lives until we pass into the next.  So many good things placed ahead for us to do.  Our decisions and activities now will largely determine that outcome.  Are we immobile, too set in one position, or are we moving, stretching, challenging ourselves.  One will keep us limber, useful and alive.  The other, cramped, useless and sore — and that’s something a little aspirin won’t cure.

Don’t skip the hard stuff

On the road to becoming the person we’re destined to be, we’re gonna encounter alot of stuff.  Some of it’s gonna be hard, some of it’s gonna be ugly.  But that’s where the glory is. 

Did anyone ever get a prize for doing the easy thing?  Was any great acheivement ever accomplished by taking the easy road? It’s always the people who take on the hard tasks, the difficult road, who accomplish the extraordinary.

As the saying goes, No guts, no glory.  No pain, no gain.

This applies to everything that God places in our lives — or places us in the middle of. 

At work.  The projects no one wants to tackle because it’s too complicated or difficult.
In our relationships.  Getting along with each other.  Keeping our mouths shut when everything inside us is screaming.  Putting up with the other’s idiosyncracies and annoying habits because we are called to love.  Doing that one extra act of personal sacrifice for the other.
In our own lives.  Putting down the fork when we’re done — when we’re really done, not when we’d like to be done.  Not grabbing that second (or third) helping from the buffet.  Getting on the treadmill even when we’re tired.  Working out because our bodies need the exercise.  Spending more time in prayer and in God’s Word, even when we don’t feel like it.  Saving that extra 20 bucks instead of buying that CD or DVD we really want — or not getting that Latte Grande every time we have a craving.  Not pulling out that credit card.  Turning off the TV.  Turning off the cell phone or Blackberry.  Cutting down on the cups of coffee or the number of cigarettes.  Not letting our eyes wander at the mall because God has called us to be faithful to our mates.

I’m speaking here as much to myself as anyone else, since I know my own tendency toward laziness.  I know I hate to pull myself off the couch sometimes.  Seems like I have sooooo many barbells to lift yet.

But all growth comes from strain, from pressing foward, from pushing beyond our current limits.  From taking that one extra step outside our immediate comfort zone.

We’re all called to self-discipline.  It’s one of the Fruits of the Spirit.  But if you want to be great, you must stretch beyond the minimum requirements.  You have to take on the hard tasks.  How else will you ever see God do great things in your life if you stay where you’re at now?

Don’t shun the hard thing.  It’s the tool God wants to use to bring you to your greatest destiny.

Just something to consider …

Change begins with recognition

I woke up this morning feeling a little irritable.  No particular reason — I went to bed early enough, didn’t eat too late, and the day before was relatively calm and stress-free.  But there I was.  I grabbed my morning coffee and sat in my little study to pray.  At first I stayed quiet, hoping to hear some fresh whisper from God. But then my mind wandered to all the people around me who needed prayer (myself included), and the petitions began.  Well, no new revelation this morning.  And I was a little frustrated about that.  “Okay, Lord, here I am, making myself available, spending time with you, opening myself up, and …?”  Nada.  And then it occurred to me that I was not really hearing God, I wasn’t being sensitive, because I was allowing my frustration to put up a wall in my heart. It was blocking my receptivity.

Hmm.  Still with a bit of agitated assertiveness, I started asking God for the big things that were in my heart, the unrealistic dreams I knew he planted there. And I named them specifically.   (Hey, if you’re gonna ask, you might as well ask BIG.)   And I realized that the “no particular reason” was more about my subtle lingering frustration over feeling like my life is stuck in the mud, not moving fast enough toward those great dreams. 

As I started laying out these bold requests before God, the words percolated to the top of my thoughts: Change begins with a recognition of truth.  Truth in who you are, and what you want.

But it’s not the “hi, my name is Steve, and I’m an alcoholic” kind of truth.  It’s not an admission or recitation of my faults.  It’s an affirming of who I am that God made me to be, and embracing the core truths that make up my spiritual DNA. It’s the positives.  And I realized that those big-ticket requests I was making were actually in line with the identity he gave me: my dreams and desires fit neatly with the image he had shown me years earlier of who he wanted me to be. 
 
But those core truths don’t have be just grand visions of the future. The power of truth applies equally on a smaller, more down-to-earth level. They are truths about our present, about our day to day relationships with people around us.  You could say, for example, “I am a good husband, I love my wife, I take care of her; I provide for her, I make sure she has everything she needs.”  “I am a great worker, I do my job well, I am an asset to my company.”  “I am a good friend, God has placed me here, now, in these people’s lives, and I help them, I bless them, I care for them.” 

Of course, these should not be idle words, or mere wishful thinking.  It’s not hocus-pocus, or some magic formula. The truth should be rooted in God’s plan for you life — what he’s called you to do and who he’s called you to be — but it should also be reflected to some degree by your actions in reality. (If it isn’t, start acting the way you should!) You gotta have a leg to stand on.

As these concepts were racing through my head, I noticed my attitude was suddenly different.  I was calmer, more optomistic, and I felt stronger.  And later at work, I was more friendly with colleagues, less stressed, more confident in the projects before me.  But this isn’t simply a matter of me talking myself out of a bad mood into a better one.   It is the key to all kinds of change in life.  How you see yourself, and what you believe God’s plans for you are, will determine how you act. And how you act now will determine your future.

We’re all dissatisfied with some areas of our lives.  Some things need changing to get us in proper alignment with God’s divine design for us.  And we will be restless and unfulfilled until they are.  But all the necessary changes begin with a simple but profound recognition of who God made you to be and of the dreams and desires he placed inside you.  So if you don’t like who or where you are right now, start focusing on the original blueprint for your life.  Check your spiritual DNA.  See yourself as he sees you, and ask boldy for the dreams he’s given you.  That is who you really are — and that is what you really want.  God’s power begins to be released the moment you recognize the truth.  And that truth will change your life.

———–
As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.  (Prov 23:7)
You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32)

What’s in a name?

Rascal, learning his name
Rascal, learning his name

An amazing thing happened today. I was headed out of the kitchen this morning, coffee in hand, when Michael was bringing the dogs in from their morning constitutional in the backyard. The older dogs bolt in, pawing at my legs, happy to see me for the first time this morning. And little Rascal, the puppy not more than 3 months old, runs in, clumsily trying to keep up. Michael calls him to follow, “Rascal, come on, this way.” The pup, wandering around the living room, still dealing with his youthful attention deficit, looks up from the latest object of curiosity, and tears after Michael as fast as his little legs will carry him.

It was that look, that lifting of the head when he heard his name, that struck me as so amazing. You could almost see the mental processes in action. Those two syllables, that unique combination of sounds, slowly absorb into his brain: “That’s me, this is who I am”. And little by little – over a surprisingly short period of time – he completely identifies with that word. “I am Rascal.” Now, whenever Michael or I call out that name, his ears perk up, he turns his head, and most of the time he comes to us; he runs to the sound of his name. The whole process of forming his identity is founded on this one basic recognition of his name, that that is who he is. And from this point on, for the rest of his life, his actions, his future behavior and the expectations he’ll conform to, will be influenced and directed by that label.

Are we any different? From the time we are children, we hear words, names, describing us. And like Rascal, over a period of time (not so long), we begin to identify with them: that is who we are. Depending on what those words were and who spoke them, our lives begin to be directed, our paths become set.

What would our lives be like if we were called what God calls us, if our identities were wrapped around his view of us? What could our lives be like if we started calling ourselves by those names?  — Son or Daughter of the Most High God.  Royal Priest.  Holy One.  Apple of God’s Eye.  Beloved of the Master of the Universe.  Joint-Heir with Christ Jesus.  Blessed One.  Successful.  Excellent of Spirit.  Good Worker.  Trustworthy.  Compassionate One.  Walking Love.  Peace Under Any Circumstance.  Grace Under Fire.  Stress-Free.  Channel of God’s Power.  Righteous.  Blood-Bought.  Future Promise.  Light of the World.  Salt in the Workplace.  Acceptable in God’s Sight.  Good Neighbor.  Healer.  Speaker of Kind Words.  Faithful Steward.  Encourager.  Delight of the Poor.  Relationship Builder.  Loyal Friend.  Joyful.  Confident in the Lord.  Forgiver.  Reconciler.  …  You fill in the rest.

If we’re to change our world and live an extraordinary life, we need to dump the old names, the old descriptions, and to stop answering to them. Like a puppy absorbing his identity, we need to retrain ourselves to conform to a new image, new names. And no matter what situation we are in at any given moment, we need to see ourselves as God sees us. We need to perk up our ears, lift our heads, and run to that new name. “Hey, that’s me.”

Just something to consider …

————–

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. (Gen 2:19)

Sometimes Dogs get Distracted

I got irritated with my dog Zack this morning.  The morning was cool and breezy, and I was enjoying the quiet with my coffee outside on the patio.  Zack, being the loyal companion that he is, was out there with me, sometimes prowling the yard, chasing the squirrels off our fence, sometimes sitting next to me, ears up, muscles preening, so proud and regal.  The rest of the household was still asleep.  It was such a tranquil setting, just me and my dog, and my random thoughts and half-prayers.

You have to enjoy those moments when they come because situations never remain the same, and Michael and the other dogs began their morning routine.  Zack’s been guarding a tree, trying to scare a squirrel out of it, and I call him over to lavish a few more moments of affection on him before the day gets into full swing.  But hearing the stirring inside the house, knowing that the other dogs were about to get their morning doggie biscuits, Zack ignores me, dives through the doggie door and runs to the kitchen to make sure he doesn’t miss out on anything.  Normally so obedient, he didn’t listen to my command this time.  He was too distracted by his primal competitiveness over food, too driven by instinctive urges to satisfy his appetites.

It’s not like he was starving or anything. I’d already given him two biscuits not even an hour earlier — one more than he normally gets.  And didn’t he know by now (especially after I’d already been so indulgent with him), that I’d probably give him another snack anyway when we went back in?  But the thought of the other two dogs getting something he wasn’t, and that natural drive to have more, overrode his normal willingness to obey and his desire to be with me.

So I am left alone with my coffee.  Maybe it’s unrealistic to expect such restraint from Zack.  He is, afterall, a dog.  A few minutes later, after he’d sufficiently satisfied his impulsive urge, he comes back out and climbs hesitantly into my lap.  Not quite as confident, not as boldly, but still fairly sure of my receptivity.  And I hold him, petting him reassuringly.  I’m not annoyed any more; I understand.  I still love him as much as before he ran off.

Of course, this is exactly how we behave with God.  Sometimes we are so eager to spend time with him, so hungry for his presence.  And we tell him so.  But then some shiney object, some appetitite, some envy or sense of competition diverts our attention.  And suddenly we’re off, running to pursue it, completely forgetting (at least for that moment) that he was sitting there with us, enjoying our company.  And in our distraction, thoughtless of all the good things he’s already lavished on us.  Had we stayed focused a bit longer, we might have realized there was no need to chase after that latest impulse: he is planning to give us all the good things we need shortly.  Sometimes our attention span can be just as limited as a dog’s.

But God always welcomes us back, always desires for us to crawl back into his lap.  And even though our tails may be between our legs, and we hang our heads a bit, realizing we’d abandoned him so abruptly, he speaks reassuring words to us without any rebuke.   “I’m just glad you’re back.”  And there’s bound to be a treat waiting for us shortly anyway.

———————
The Lord said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted about so many things, but only one thing is necessary … ” (Luke 10:41-42)
Read Luke 10:38-42: Martha’s distraction

Walking on Water

I’ve had this little movie playing in my head this past week, that scene in the bible where Jesus walks across the Sea of Galilee, and Peter recklessly stepping out of the boat to walk to him. We all remember the story from Sunday School, I’m sure. After a long day of ministry, Jesus sends his disciples across the lake in a boat while he remains alone to pray. Late at night, seeing them caught in a storm, he walks out on the water to meet them. They’re all terrified at first, but then Peter wants to try water-walking too. (Matthew 14:22-33)

This scene fascinates me because it is saturated with spiritual truth, and so poignantly illustrates our often-times tenuous walk of faith. It’s a great visual reminder for me when I’ve lost my excitement about life and my optimism over where my life is headed. At a quick glance, the story suggests three points, three requirements, for walking in the realm of the extraordinary.

The first thing that strikes me is Peter’s audacity. The other disciples are still trembling in the boat, still recovering from their terror at the sight of what they think to be a ghost approaching them. And I’m sure they’re completely exhausted from their long day and straining at the oars in those rough waters. Peter alone overcomes his initial panic and exhaustion, and has the chutzpah to demand to do the miraculous, to be allowed to walk on the water also. “Lord, if it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Many of us with our religious upbringing might cringe at such presumption: demand anything of Jesus? Wouldn’t we expect a rebuke for our lack of humility: “Hey, you are not me, just because I do this doesn’t mean you should”? Or, “settle down, just be quiet, stop trying to show off”? It is significant I think, and says much about the heart of Jesus, that he not only does not rebuke Peter, he actually encourages him. This is the first requirement. If we want the extraordinary in our lives, we have to have a shameless desire for it.

And Jesus calls Peter out: “Come.” This is the second requirement: getting God’s go-ahead, making sure we have the divine commission. Peter didn’t just jump out onto the water on his own, although that certainly would be consistent with his personality. He asked for Jesus to command him. At least he knew enough by then to wait until being given permission, and with that permission came the authority and ability. This is what separates presumption from confidence, and is the key to our success versus our humiliating failure. The divine command, the certainty that God wants it for us also.

Although we know that Peter does climb out of the boat, something we often overlook is the courage — even recklessness — it took to obey. And that’s requirement number three. Peter follows through. He climbs out of the boat and takes that first shakey step, putting his foot on churning water as though it were solid. And amazingly, it is! That took a lot of guts. And I’m sure the other disciples were just as surprised to see him succeed.

Unfortunately, most of us never get to that point in our own journies. We seldom experience that exhiliration and sheer amazement at doing something utterly unimaginable. Many of us will be like the other disciples, too tired, too worn out, or too intimidated by our circumstances to even dream of doing anything other than remaining in the safety of the boat. But Lord, give us the character of Peter! Give us the wild, unrealistic audacity to want to do impossible things.

Great achievement for the Kingdom requires bold dreams, the confidence of God’s will, and reckless obedience. And for me, this is the powerful message of this passage.

If you want to walk on water, you must first get out of the boat. And before that can happen, you have to have the chutzpah to ask.

——————————

“The LORD appeared to Solomon and said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you'” (1 Kings 3:5).
“Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance …” (Psalm 2:8)
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7).Read Matthew 14:22-33

And Forceful Dogs Lay Hold of it …

It’s 8:00 Saturday morning, and I’m sitting here in the quiet drinking my coffee, trying to catch up on my mail.  Zack, one of my dogs, has been sitting at my bedroom doorway, grunting a bit to get my attention.  He’s already been out, had his morning snack, and it’s too early for his morning feeding.  His immediate needs are taken care of, so what’s this grunting all about?  Can’t be anything important, I think, so I turn back to my computer screen and resume my reading. Suddenly he jumps up in my lap, nearly making me spill my coffee, forcing himself between my arms as he makes himself comfortable. But he’s content now, cuddled here in my lap even as I type.   His need for attention and affection apparently would not wait.  

But his assertiveness compells me to stop what I’m doing and think.  There’s a powerful message here, something stirring in my memory, a moment of spiritual recognition of truth.  And it suddenly dawns on me: this is how we should be with God and with our lives. “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Mt 11:12).  

Zack knows I love him.  He knows I’m willing to hold him, to pet him, and that I’ll interrupt what I’m doing to attend to whatever he needs if he’s persistent enough.  And sometimes, like just now, he won’t wait for me to initiate the affection. 

This is what we are supposed to be like.  We all know that God loves us, that he cares for us, that he wants the best for us.  Jesus describes him as the loving Father, yearning for our presence, to gather us in his arms, and eager to help us.  And like a Father, expecting us to grow, become mature and functional in life and in our relationship with him.  He expects us sometimes to take the initiative.

The advancing Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus speaks about is not a place, it is simply the reign of God in our daily lives. It is the divine presence at work in us and through us, touching the world around us.  The Kingdom of God is an active force in this world now, energized by God’s power, governed by his principles, enacted by his people as we put his teachings into practice.

What is striking to me as I consider this, is that this leaves no room for passivity — either in life or in our relationship with God. 

How often do we complain (even if just secretly to ourselves) that we wish God would show us his love more, or in a more personal way?  How often have we quietly expressed our frustration at the lack of “real” signs of God’s power in our lives?  Where are the miracles, the signs and wonders?  And why don’t things work out better, a little easier for us, or the way we expect?  Sure, sometimes we’re not ready to have our prayers answered, and God withholds things from us for our own safety, but what about when we ARE ready?  Maybe we’re too busy — too busy waiting.  Perhaps we’ve settled comfortably on that verse that says “those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.”  But what is that renewed strength for?  More waiting, or inactivity?  

The power of God never falls upon those who sit passively with their hands folded, eyes perpetually turned to heaven.  Jesus walked the earth, healed the sick, cast out demons, taught and mentored those seeking the truth.  He went off by himself to rest and to reconnect with the Father. He spent time with friends, built loving relationships, went to weddings and dinner parties, fully enjoying being with people.  So much so, in fact, that the religious people of his day called him a drunk and a glutton.  He went about all the routines of daily life, just as we do — but he allowed the love and power of God to be expressed through him in everything he did.  And when he did, it was “by the Finger of God, the Kingdom has come upon you” (Mt 12:28).

So when my relationship with God feels dry and stale, God’s love is waiting for me.  When my life seems uneventful, pointless, and stuck in the mud, he’s made his strength, his power, and his wisdom available to me to help those around me.  Maybe I just need to shake myself out of my passivity, to stop waiting with folded hands for a personal invitation, and get up and do something.  God’s love and power only flow through action. 

Zack could have stayed at the doorway making those little grunts, or he could have given in to the sense of futility and walked away.  But then his need, his desire, would have gone unfulfilled.  Instead, in confidence (dare I say, “in faith”?), he forced his way onto my lap and was rewarded to his satisfaction.  Sometimes in order to experience the love and power of God we’re looking for, a little assertive activity may be required on our part.  Like Zack, sometimes you just have to jump into it instead of waiting for it to come to you.

Just something to consider …

Better a little inconvenience …

Michael brought home a puppy the other day.  Great.  Now we have three dogs.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, he’s cute enough and loveable enough. But he’s a handful.  He chases Zack and Clarice† around, so full of energy.  And you always gotta keep an eye on him until he’s trained, making sure he’s not underfoot in the kitchen, or when you’re walking (anywhere).  Making sure he’s not chewing on power cords or pooping in the corner.  Not that he does those things (much); Michael is very watchful of him.

The past two days, though, Michael has had to be out all day making out of town trips, and I’ve had the pleasure of bearing some brunt of the watching responsibilities.  But my work schedule is less flexible, and I’ve had to put the pup in his crate while I’m at work.  I feel so guilty, so worried, about it, and I rush home for lunch, stay a little longer, and come home a bit earlier at the end of the day just so the little tyke won’t be boxed in too long.  Once at work, I’m fine; I become absorbed in my tasks and don’t fret much until it’s nearing time for me to make my stops home.  And on the way home, my mind races with images of him locked up, wimpering, wanting to play or having to go potty, and whether he’s been holding it too long or whether he’s gone in the crate.  How horrible for the little guy. What if I were to just leave him out, close the bedroom door? Then he’d be free to stretch his legs, chase Zack for company, grab some water or munch on some dry food for those 3-4 hour stretches.  He’s learned to use the doggy-door in the bedroom, so he could go outside if he wanted.

But that’s the problem.  He’s still too young to be left unattended. Zack and Clarice are fine by themselves; they can be trusted.  They’ve learned the rules and know how to be safe and well-behaved.  But little Rascal could chew on those cords, get dangerously caught in something, or if he goes out, might be mistaken by a hawk for a juicey rabbit.  And today I realized that simple truth.  Better to inconvenience him a little, better that he be a little uncomfortable, than to allow him to be at risk or endangered. 

And with that thought came that same nagging sense that there was a spiritual principle to be gleaned there.  How many times have I been “inconvenienced”, or things did not work out the way I’d been praying?  When I felt like I’d been left in a box unattended or fogotten?  How many times had God not given me what I’d requested, when I wanted it, and how I described it?  Why were some things slow in coming, seemingly put on hold for a time, even indefinitely?  What’s wrong with God?  Why isn’t he making things easier for me?

The connection seems obvious, doesn’t it?  And sure, there may be other reasons things don’t work out the way I pray. “You have not … because you ask amiss ….”  Maybe I’m simply not supposed to have or do certain things, and I’m just too obtuse to recognize it yet.  Or maybe there are other things on my plate that I haven’t attended to yet, and my request would be just one more thing to become neglected.

I do not believe God is stingy or begruding of good things.  “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).  I’m sure his heart, like mine toward Rascal and the other dogs, is to lavish his love and affection, and not to withhold any good thing from me.  I’m confident he is not trying to make my life difficult just to build character or something.  I have to believe that when he withholds things from me, either for a short time or permanently, it is for my own good. 

If my request is not some frivolous or selfish desire, then perhaps I’m simply not mature enough to handle it yet. Maybe if granted, it would do me more harm than good.  Maybe I’m not ready.  In that case, withholding the thing is an act of love on God’s part.  So perhaps instead of whining about the delay, I ought to be looking for the reason, the area of my life that needs development, growth, or improvement.  Maybe I should take a good, hard look at my life and make sure the groundwork is laid, that I’ve made space for the thing I’m requesting, that I’m at a place where I can handle it, take care of it, be responsible with it. 

I believe God wants to free me from my constraints, wants to let me out to play.  So when I’m feeling stuck in a crate, the variable must be with me.  Am I ready to come out yet?  What must I do to become ready?

My puppy Rascal is energetic, eager to explore new things, and wants to play all the time.  But he isn’t mature enough to handle the liberties and privileges of the other dogs.  And until that time, better a little inconvenience than to place him within harm’s reach.

Just something to consider …

Dogs’ names have been changed to protect the innocent.