There’s a woman named Hannah in the Bible who was praying so fervently at the temple that the priest accused her of being drunk and scolded her. She answered him “Not so, my, Lord. I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
She was a woman with an ache in her soul that those around her did not understand. Even her husband who loved her asked “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
Sometimes others humans just don’t get us. They love us. They try. But there is a place deep within us where only God can go, that only Jesus can touch, where only the Holy Spirit can minister, instruct, convict, heal. Hannah knew where to take her deeply troubled heart and He answered her.
We live in troubled times and often those around us are mired in the same sludge. Where do we turn with our anguish and grief?
In times like this, I do what Hannah did. I choose a night (or several nights), turn off the TV, grab my Bible, a notebook, a candle and a cup of coffee and sit at my table or my favorite chair. Usually everyone else has gone to bed (or I get up before anyone else is awake).
First, I write the list of everything that’s upsetting me. I tell God “Here it is. This is what’s causing my distress. I’d love it if you would take care of these things.” Then, I set the list aside and I pray, “OK, Father, I’m here because I need You more than I need answers. Please be here with me.”
He always shows up. It’s a real relationship with God so those times are different every time but I try to focus on who He is (good, wise, loving, holy, merciful, etc). I focus on what He’s done in my life and thank Him for what I have that is good. I read the Bible. I drink coffee. I cry. I stay quiet and listen. Sometimes I whine or complain. Sometimes I argue. Sometimes I focus prayer on a particular loved one who comes to mind and I do a lot of talking about him or her. Whenever something I’ve done wrong or some way I’ve failed comes to mind, I confess that and ask forgiveness. Sometimes a particular Bible verse jumps out at me and I pray, “Yes, that’s my prayer. That’s it!” I stay with God until I feel done or until I’m too tired to stay awake any longer.
Sometimes this is a one evening deal but I’ve set aside a week at a time for this type of deep, focused prayer. One time, I did it every night for six weeks and it changed my life. I don’t say this to brag but to explain what works for me when I am deeply troubled. I set aside time for all kinds of reasons – illness, visitors, vacations, special projects, work, training for an event, a new mini-series. Yet I sometimes treat my prayer life like a Tim Horton’s drive-thru.
In these days that are deeply troubling, we need to go to the One who understands us perfectly and knows how to walk into the deep, dark places in our hearts without stumbling. I bet you have time this week, tonight, now.
(Hannah’s story is found in the Old Testament. 1 Samuel , Chapter 1)
I find deep sea creatures fascinating – from a distance. I am a raging claustrophobic so I’d never make it into a submarine but I wish I could overcome that fear and have the opportunity to see giant squid, octopi or lantern fish in their own habitat. We have a lot in common.
Creatures that dwell in the deep sea are perfectly designed to survive in their surroundings. (Like us, when we become new creatures in Christ.) They have large eyes especially designed to see in the dark, lightless depths. (So, too, do followers of Jesus have eyes designed to see in dark, lightless places. Like Father Damien, a priest who volunteered to work, and eventually to die, on the Kalaupapa leper colony in Hawaii. He did not see disease, he saw human beings who craved the loving touch of God.) Deep sea dwellers are designed to glow in the dark – they have their own inner light that shines in the depths where no sunlight penetrates. (So, shines the light of Jesus-lovers. Reminds me of Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who hid Jews from the Nazis, was eventually captured and imprisoned with her sister in a concentration camp (Ravensbruck), but was able to shine the light of Christ even there. Her sister, Betsy, died at Ravensbruck but not before she told Corrie, “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.)
Sea creatures are beautiful and graceful when they are in their element. They were designed to live surrounded by saltwater – deep water that exerts immense pressure and helps to give these creatures their form and flow. (Followers of Christ are meant to abide in Him, our living water, and when we do follow Him into the deep heart of God we experience immense pressure but then we find our actual form and flow. We cease to flop about on the surface or deflate and rot on the shore gasping to breathe air we are not equipped to utilize.)
Feeling out of your element? You are. You were meant to dive deep, to travel deep, to dwell deep – salt, water, light, it’s in your re-born DNA. You can handle the pressure. It will shape you and free you. You were designed to breathe water – living water. Dive into the heart of God.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17
When I was young, unbelievably young, before I knew about doctrine or denominations, I came to understand that that deep aching loneliness we feel is the cry of our hearts for God and that Jesus is the only antidote. It’s that lonely ache we experience when others are loved and we are not. It’s the lonely ache we have even in the midst of a celebrating crowd. Even when we are surrounded by comfort and loved ones, we know this ache. Even lying next to The One, we can feel this loneliness. I was blessed in that very young I learned that that aching maw is hard-wired into our souls so that nothing will quiet its cries until we call out to God and ask Him for Himself.
I told Jesus I wanted my life to be about Him. I knew I couldn’t save myself and that salvation could be found in Him alone. I knew very young that there are only two kinds of people on this earth. Those who are in trouble and know they are in trouble. And those who are in trouble and don’t know they are in trouble!
I believed what Paul said to the Greeks in Athens that “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring. Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:24-31)
In my life, I have known days of rich joy and days of dark struggle but I have never known them alone. I am able to drink deeply from the well of life because of Jesus. My prayer for you is that you will realize you are in trouble. He is not far from each one of us. Just tell Him you know you are in trouble and ask Him to save you. That’s the first step to entering the deep heart of God. Take the plunge.
Remember the scenic photos accompanied by elevator music as Jack’s voice offered “deep thoughts” such as “I hope life isn’t a big joke, because I don’t get it.” Or “Instead of having ‘answers’ on a math test, they should just call them ‘impressions’ and if you got a different ‘impression’ so what, can’t we all be brothers?” I think a lot of us are afraid of expressing our faith for fear we will look like a Saturday Night Live skit. Let me explain.
Remember Emily Litella? Gilda Radner at the Week-end Update desk dressed in outdated clothing with her hair in a bun ranting about a topic like “Violins on Television”. Chevy Chase would finally interrupt and tell her the topic was “Violence on Television”. She’d casually turn to the camera and say “Oh, that’s different. Never mind.” Sometimes we don’t speak about our most passionate concerns for fear of being mistaken on some point or looking like a nutcase. We avoid getting closer God for fear He’ll make us sound like Emily Litella.
Remember Al Franken’s Stuart Smalley and his daily affirmations? Stuart always appeared with a mirror beside him. He would turn to the mirror and repeat “Because you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you.” He spoke in a soothing, even tone and was always concerned about people’s feelings – particularly his own. Sometimes we don’t affirm or compliment others for fear of sounding like Stuart. We’re also afraid to get nearer to God for fear He’ll expect us to always act as smarmy as Stuart Smalley.
Remember Land Shark? No deep insight here. I just loved the land shark bit. Candy-gram!
Remember the Coneheads? They were an alien family (from Remulak) stranded on earth and trying to blend in to their human neighborhood. They spoke English but used unfamiliar phrases and had an odd sense of fun. Sometimes as the mother of a Christian homeschool family, I had a terrible fear of looking like the Coneheads. (OK, sometimes we did look like the Coneheads.) I suspect that other people hesitate to expose their faith for fear their heads will suddenly grow pointy and they will no longer blend in with their neighbors (when did that become cool?).
And who wants to look like Dana Carvey’s Church Lady? All this fear of how we might appear to others, surely we know who is behind it all, don’t we? The Church Lady would tell us – Satan! Many of us are afraid to denounce sin as wrong for fear of looking like the church lady. We hesitate to get closer to God for fear He’s dressed just like the Church Lady and ready to condemn us at every turn. (Oh no, Mr. Bill! Were you out having fun? Oh no!)
I want my faith to look cool, Blues Brothers cool, On a Mission from God cool, excellent beat-you- can- dance- to-cool, John Belushi cool. I want faith with sunglasses and a kick-ass horn section to back me up. I don’t want just a Sunday morning “yawn” faith; I want a Saturday Night LIVE faith.
The thing about the players on SNL is that they took the risk of telling the truth as they saw it and of being authentically who they were and it worked. They were afraid but they had a chance to do what they loved and so they ate their fear for breakfast (OK, they also washed it down with booze and pills which is very, very wrong) but they pushed past it.
God offers us His perfect love and then tells us that perfect love casts out fear. Whatever I sound like, I want to sound like the me God created me to be. I want to be fearless (without the booze and pills). I will wash my fear down with God’s perfect love and live out my faith unedited and before a live audience.
Sometimes I know I’m called to look like Emily Litella with a Conehead graduating from Stuart Smalley’s school of self-esteem on a Church Lady scholarship but sometimes I get to go On a Mission from God. Flop-sweat failure or flaming success, I want to be on the adventure God offers to those who don’t sleep in on Sunday morning but are also not afraid to stay up late on Saturday night.
There is a special magic about spotting a truly wild animal. I can gaze endlessly just at images of buffalo, wild horses, moose, grizzlies, elk or deer. Wherever we traveled by car with our kids, we made it a habit to keep an eye out for deer or moose grazing roadside.
For years we lived one-half mile from the center of a busy University town, so I thought Zack was trying to avoid doing his math one day when he announced that there was a buck in our backyard. When I joined him at the porch door, however, I was staring at a horse size stag with a magnificent rack, justifiably surrounded by an entourage of four doe. It was as if a piece of the primeval forest had broken through an imaginary boundary in time and space and graced us with a special visitation.
The moment of that encounter seems frozen in time as we stared at him and he, at us. It has made an indelible mark in my mind’s eye. In a flash, the elusive creature clattered down our driveway, across a busy main road and off to grace our neighbor’s yards.
What is it about a moment with a wild creature that awakens an aching yearning in my soul? I long to follow the animal to the hills, to the forest, to the wide open plains and experience the world it inhabits. It renews a desire within me to live a life that is deep, true and magically connected to my Creator.
I think that is what people felt when they met Jesus. Jesus was never what people expected. I think he was wild, elusive, and magical to encounter. I think meeting Jesus stirred up a yearning in people’s hearts to live a life that was deep and true and intrinsically connected to God. He spent hours every day in the deep forest of the Father’s heart as He communed with Him in prayer. This awoke in others a desire to follow Him – to dwell, too, in the heart of God.
I have met Christians who live most of their lives in the deep heart of God. I make it a habit to keep an eye out for them. They remind me who I was before the Fall. They remind me who I will be when I reach Eternity. They awaken in me a sleeping wild thing that belongs traversing the high places with the great Creator God. When people spend time with you, is it like encountering the noble stag?
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? Psalm 42: 1-2
We are blessed to live in a time when we have access to the stories of so many who loved Christ before we did and who followed Him through every imaginable obstacle and trial. To celebrate St. Patrick is to celebrate the power of God who continues to work in those of us stones that lie in modern mud.
Before I was humiliated I was like a stone that lies in deep mud, and he who is mighty came and in his compassion raised me up and exalted me very high and placed me on the top of the wall.
Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me. Saint Patrick
Happy St. Patrick’s Day. A Celebration of one with Deep Devotion to Jesus.
An old friend reminded me that throughout my childhood and adolescence, I was no lover of deep water. From eight to eighteen, I spent significant portions of my summer at Camp Canonicus. As a camper, I was barred from the deep end of the designated swimming area unless I could pass the swim test – three laps the length of the docks. For most campers, it was not a strenuous swimming challenge. For me, it was the English Channel.
I was a chubby, skirted –swimsuit- wearing, non-swimmer but I coveted access to the deep end. Every summer I would screw my courage to the sticking place and make the long walk to the far end of the dock. Plugging my nose and hyperventilating in anticipation of the effort and humiliation, I would jump in and begin my quest. By my third summer, Harold the lifeguard would extend the rescue pole over my head the moment I made my initial plunge. By the middle of the second lap, I would grasp at the pole sputtering and gasping like a clumsy kitten emerging from a pail of water. I was well into adolescence before I achieved admission to the deep end and the most I ever did with the privilege was tread water before lying on the far dock to tan.
Looking back, what strikes me is that as badly as I wanted to swim in the deep end and as much as I dreaded the yearly humiliation, I never did anything to work toward my goal. I did not ask for help or guidance. I did not get swim lessons. I did not practice swimming in the shallow end. Nothing. I just expected every year that somehow, magically, by virtue of the fact that I had aged a year, I would be able to pass the test that time. Eventually, I did pass but it was a lame, straggling pass and I have never enjoyed the deep water nor did I progress as a swimmer beyond that point.
A lot of times, that’s how I approach my spiritual life. I long to swim in the deep end of faith. I know there will be testing to merit that privilege. But often I spurn counsel, effort, teaching and training and expect that I will somehow, magically, by virtue of spending more days on this earth, be able to pass the test and gain admission to the deep water. When God extends His rescue pole and fishes me out – exhausted early and floundering – He shakes His head – like Harold the lifeguard.
At times when I do manage to reach deep water, I feel lost and out of my element. I don’t know how to really milk the experience and the most I manage is to tread water before heading back to the familiar shore.
There is nothing I can add to the sacrifice of Christ to earn eternal life with God. But I can put effort into pursuing those virtues which will keep me from being ineffective and unproductive on this side of Heaven.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness and to goodness, knowledge ; and to knowledge, self-control and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness;; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. 2 Peter 1: 5-10
I long to spend my life in the deep end but not just to arrive there but to be adept there, at home and able to support the efforts of others who venture out that far. What efforts do you make to deepen your faith and to avoid spending life in the shallow end of God’s great adventure?
Have you ever noticed the bugs we have on freshwater ponds and lakes in Rhode Island called water striders? These insects spend their days skimming the surface of the water. I know people like that. They spend their days skating across the surface of life. They enjoy chitchat. They sample God and dabble in matters of faith.
I’m not like that. I like deep water, like giant squid, sponges, sharks and whales, I like to plunge far beneath the surface and explore the great ocean depths of faith. I like deep conversations. I like to plummet from the mountain top of belief to the bottomless valley knowing that Jesus has me secured tighter than a bungi cord. Spelunking through spiritual catacombs, I discover hidden treasure in which my soul finds endless reward.
Too often I settle for a surface experience of God but He is as fathomless as the deep sea, deep space, deep pockets, deep thoughts, deep needs, deep hearts, deeper still. Do you long, like me, to drink deeply of the adventure Jesus offers this side of the veil? Deeper, deeper, let us go with God, into truth, into the light, into the exploration of that in which we live and move and have our being.
7Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me. Psalm 42:7 (NASB)