Not Sure What To Call This One

This is an unusual post, considering what I’ve posted lately, but I had to share something that struck me this weekend.

It takes discipline to spend time with the Lord. Extreme discipline. Discipline that I do not have on my own.

I thought of my daily routine this past weekend, in a strange moment of clarity and perspective, of spending time reading the bible, praying, reading Tozer and Ravenhill and Murray. Reading commentaries and scholarly discussion. Reading one verse at a time, and getting stuck at an overwhelming thought found there. Reading an entire book in the bible. Reading a few chapters. The amount of prayer God is calling me to, now, is almost unbearable, more than I’ve ever prayed on a daily basis in my entire life. Often I play my guitar and sing worship songs with my family at night. That’s a really special experience (I really, really like playing the guitar), but it still requires time, in the evenings, and especially when we are supposed to be “winding down.”

But really, when I’m not fulfilling some responsibility, the things in the paragraph above are what fills the gaps of time. It’s an odd, strange, routine.

And I do those things every day, either early in the morning, or in the early evening. And I don’t write that here out of some act of public piety.

I write it here because, honestly, it’s quite difficult. There are mornings that I am tired of going “to the well”, tired of being (sometimes) (mercilessly) convicted, and in those mornings I will attempt to do something else. And without fail, when I try for other selfish choices, I always hear the voice of the Lord say, “Do you really want to do that?” It’s a question that often hurts, and often refreshes. And, at times, I ignore it.

There are good mornings, though. Right now I’m reading through 1 and 2 Samuel (don’t ask why), and can’t believe the audacity of David’s prayers, and the voice of God answering him. So, right now at least, these times are encouraging. They aren’t always, though.

But, honestly, the road to “the well” is outside of my control. That’s tough for me. I won’t/can’t say that the things in the third paragraph “start my day right,” because often I’m wrecked before 7AM, convicted of sin and hopelessly needing the filling of the Holy Spirit. In fact, that’s mostly every day. I approach daily responsibilities depleted, with my mind on what the Lord gave me, sometimes having difficulty thinking clearly because the Holy Spirit’s work in me is so incredibly active, purifying me of so much garbage. And I don’t often want that. But, alas, God doesn’t concern himself always with what I want. (Remember the shade tree God grew for Jonah, only to make it die?)

I am, at this stage in my life, not necessarily accustomed to these deep feelings, even though my life has been filled with this routine for quite some time. I don’t like hearing from people who call this sort of discipline a “healthy priority”, because I feel, at times, it would be easier to read the news, or watch what Fallon did the night before. Easier on me, anyway. Watching Fallon doesn’t require me to think — I can be mindless, as “checked-out” as if I were a thousand miles away, and sometimes (really, a lot of the time), that’s what I would prefer. Being engaged is so exhausting.

But the well is deep. Dark. Mysterious. It has water, but sometimes the water is deeper than I wanted it to be, and God pulls me farther in. And, mostly, I go against my will.

So, yes, it takes much discipline to do this, to walk this path. At least it takes much discipline for me. I wake earlier than I’ve ever done so in my life, because, many days, it just takes that much time. I wonder if Muller and Spurgeon ever felt like this.

But I do know what life would be without this kind of routine. At least I know what my life would look like, because I’ve lived it. Empty. Fake. Out of control. Debt-ridden. Awful choices. Sin. But filled with lots of friends who (I discovered) varnished their lives with Jesus and smiles and music and alcohol and the “latest and greatest” to hide the hollowness. Some of my friends still live like that, and I hurt for them. I know the emptiness because I’ve lived it. I can spot it.

What is even more hurtful, I think, is I’ve tried to share this path with a few, only to be hurt by their words, then ignored because … well, because of whatever reason. I tend to think that my words often betray the level of engagement this kind of life requires, and many just don’t want it. I understand that. I often don’t want it. It has wrecked everything I ever thought I needed, or wanted. And it would be easier to keep friends, at times, than to speak of the honesty that this weird life of mine demands of me.

So, yes, this is a tough, tough, tough road. It defies convention. Goodness, it defies convention. I can’t really write that statement enough.

And this — this previous 900-word essay — is what struck me this weekend, in a strange moment of clarity and perspective. I’m thankful for a blog today, so I can spit it out, and wonder if anyone else feels this way.

I can’t leave this post though, until I at least tell you that it has been the sweetest thing I have ever known. To be in such a constant place of hearing from the Lord, and being constantly convicted of my own sin, is so peaceful. Strangely peaceful. Crazy peaceful. Unconventionally peaceful.

But, man, it’s still tough.

The Difference Between Expectation and Hope

It is often that our best intentions become totally wrecked.

It reminds me of this great line, in this great movie:

Sometimes the wreckage is catastrophic and devastating. The man, in Acts 3, couldn’t walk, and had to be carried every day to a place where he could plead for money from those who came to pray.Aftermath of Redemption

Sometimes the wreckage is astounding and beautiful. Two men, going to pray, couldn’t offer this lame many any money, but they could offer him a power that would fully restore his legs.

And sometimes the catastrophes and the beautiful things intersect.

One of the greatest questions of faith I have now — right now — is if our faith in God limits what God can do, or even what God will do. Does my faith stand at the intersection of my own wreckage, because if it does, then my every situation is mired in hopelessness. (Please pardon my honesty, but I felt it necessary to share that with you.)

I wonder if this passage answers that question. But even when I think I’m on the cusp of an acceptable answer, it slips through my fingers like sand. An overwhelming, chart-stopping faith often seems to be out of my reach.

My pursuit for an answer made me rewatch a particular scene in The X-Files, a scene that, at least, hinted such an answer is possible.

It was  episode twenty-two of season three, called “Quagmire.” Fox Mulder and his partner Dana Scully searched for a hard-to-find lake monster. Scully, ever the scientific mind, questioned Mulder, “You really expect to find this thing, don’t you Mulder?”

Mulder replied to her condescending question with this line: “I know the difference between expectation and hope. Seek and ye shall find, Scully.”

Maybe it’s just that simple.

In Acts 3 we find the difference between expectation and hope, and what happens when there is faith — not that a healing can happen, but that a healing will happen. I’m challenged every time I read this this story. I encourage you to read it yourself, before you proceed with this post. And feel free to find the other posts from Acts in the menu.

__________

Acts 3:1-26 (The Commentary)

Luke reported in Acts 2:43 that the apostles performed many wonders and miraculous signs. Of all those, Luke highlighted this one. There must be good reason.

Following the description of the community of believers which emerged after Peter’s sermon, Peter and John went to the temple at the Jewish time of afternoon prayer as observant Jews. They went to the place Jesus had declared would soon be abolished.

As Peter and John approached the temple gate, they noticed a lame man there, begging for alms. The lame man was at the entrance to the temple when it would be most crowded — at prayer time. He obviously couldn’t walk inside, but neither was he even allowed inside. His physical condition prohibited him from participating in the rituals of temple life.

We should probably recall, though, Jesus’ words, that people like this lame man were to be full participants in the kingdom, specifically because of his physical condition.

The lame man expected money from Peter and John — yes, expected — because he expected money from everyone. It was a common occurrence for those coming to pray to give alms, publicly, before they entered the temple area. Yet the two apostles had no money, because they shared everything with other disciples. So Peter, instead of giving him money, offered the lame man his fully restored health, restored “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”

The man was healed immediately. In fact, Luke used seven verbs to describe the reaction of this man to his healing: jump, walk, walking, jumping, praising, walking, praising. This was (is?) the response of a person healed, and rescued, from the depths of shame and disease. And a viewing public noticed.

It seemed that Peter and John didn’t want the attention, and tried to move to another place in the temple, but while they walked, the now-healed man literally clung to Peter and John. All three of them were followed, and Peter, like he did earlier, needed to explain to the gathered crowd what they had just witnessed.¹

Peter then made a direct connection between the man’s healing and Jesus’ resurrection. Not one to hold back any punches, though, Peter then implicated the crowd for killing the Author of life, even though they had acted in ignorance.

Then Peter told the crowd that the power to heal the lame man came from “faith in the name of Jesus,” and “through the faith that comes through him.” Notice, though, that neither Peter, nor Luke, was clear whose faith was responsible for the healing – the lame man’s or Peter’s — the “him” doesn’t clearly refer to any particular person.

Remarkably, though, Peter called this crowd to repentance, not just from sin (what sin, if they acted in ignorance?), but to God. The crowd was living in an extended time of mercy, but Jesus would return from heaven, as the linchpin effort by God to restore all things

If they did not repent, though, they would be completely cut off from their own people. Notice that there is no mention of hell, or some eternal punishment.

So, a time of prayer, a lame man healed, a gathered crowd, and words of repentance, all very different occurrences from the original intention to come and pray. This entire moment at the temple, was electric. And it was just getting just getting started.

__________

A Few Discussion Questions

  • Do you know someone who has been healed, especially someone who has been healed miraculously? If you are using this in a group setting, share that with your group.
  • Read Acts 3:1-10.
    • Read Acts 2:43. Why is this description included in Acts?
    • Of all the miracles, then, why is the healing of the lame man highlighted?
    • Where were the apostles when this happened? Why were they there? If the Mosaic Law had been cancelled with Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the temple rendered useless, why did Jesus’ disciples continue to go to the temple at the Jewish time of prayer?
    • Why was the lame man there, again? Why didn’t the apostles have money?
  • What was the physical response of the man who was healed, from Acts 3? Why did Luke make sure we knew this man’s specific actions?
    • Is a physical response of our own spiritual or physical salvation a natural occurrence? Should it be? Every time we worship? Why or why not? (Read Acts 2:5-12 before you answer.)
    • How do we celebrate our salvation, then? And how often? Does our celebration matter to others? Did this man’s salvation matter to others?
    • Do we ever have the right to criticize, or question, the way someone celebrates their salvation? Why or why not?
  • Read Acts 3:11-16.
    • Peter’s speech was addressed to whom? Same crowd, or different, than Acts 2? Why does that matter?
    • How did Peter describe Jesus? And how did he describe the crowd’s relationship to Jesus? Why?
    • Whose faith was responsible for the lame man’s healing? Why didn’t Luke, or Peter, make this more specific?
    • Do you need faith to be healed of something extraordinary? Is faith measurable? Explain.
    • Is faith enough to be healed? Explain. (Read Luke 7:11-17 before you answer.)
  • Read Acts 3:17-23.
    • Why would these people need to repent, if they acted in ignorance for killing Jesus (v 17, 19)?
    • Does God pardon ignorance? Why does your answer to that question matter?
    • In v 21 we find that Jesus’ return would also prompt the restoration of everything. What does that mean?
    • What was the penalty for not repenting (v 23)? What does that mean, anyway?
    • Peter mentioned baptism in Acts 2, to that particular crowd, but didn’t mention that this crowd, in Acts 3, needed to be baptized? Why not?
  • So, again, of all the miracles the apostles performed, why did Luke highlight this one?
  • How important is Peter’s speech for us today?
  • What’s the difference between expectation and hope?

__________

A Prayer

Father, you desire to restore everything. All things. People. Creation. The lame. The broken. The outcast. The power of the resurrected Jesus, though, is the power that makes that restoration possible even now. Even in my broken life. Even in my broken relationships. Even for those I know who are sick. Even in my broken heart.

I pray for a faith, today, that is enough to believe in the miraculous. I pray for that now, God, that you help my unbelief. Lord Jesus, it is faith in your name that heals, and I need healing, now … healing from anxiety, from self-confidence, from pain, from disappointment. I am the lame man at the temple gates, begging for things that won’t satisfy. Father, I commit my healing to your hands, in the name of Jesus.

__________

¹This second speech by Peter is a little different from the first one he gave. True, both speeches emphasized repentance and the release of sins, but there are some notable differences. For instance, after healing the lame man, Peter made no appeal for his listeners to have faith in Jesus’ name. Nor did he make an appeal for them to be baptized. In the first three chapters of Acts, Peter talked to two different crowds, and in both of his speeches, he gave both crowds two different “instructions” on “how” to repent — he mentioned baptism in the name of Jesus his first speech, but didn’t mention it at all in his second speech. Nor did Peter even mention the Holy Spirit after healing the lame man.

²Isa 62:1-565:1766:22.