The book in question

Well, the book that quote came from was actually the Holy Bible… howbeit, from the slightly renovated version known as The Message (however large a disclaimer you feel that to be).

Here is the quote again:

Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors.

And here is the King James:

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. (Romans 2:1)

Please don’t freak out. You didn’t say anything disrespectful of the Bible, though I admit I enjoyed grinning over your source suggestions, and your corrections of the text. Perhaps that was not quite fair of me. Some of them were quite astute though.

Anyway, you are right on this – that a Bible passage has a context, and when it is pulled out of that context and embraced to the exclusion of all other Bible passages, it can be extremely misleading. This particular verse was a piece I badly needed to hear; it’s not the whole picture. There are balancing Bible passages on speaking out in defense of the oppressed, making judgements that are right and just and impartial, and the urgent appropriateness of the church judging its own people who sin.

So now what? Are you annoyed with me? Your comments, as always, were entirely delightful. Thank you for speaking up.

A case for hurry

You know what they say.

You’ve probably heard them yourself, and you know what they say.

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Look at Jesus, they say. He was never in haste, and never late for an appointment. Let Him be your model. His people should be calm and unhurried.

They are full of it, I say.

Well, alright. In light of the present age, with its busyness-as-personal-worth measuring stick, they may be offering a valid pushback. Although Jesus did a lot of things His people don’t achieve… I haven’t had anyone haggling me because I can’t walk across a lake in a storm, or heal paralysis by touch.

If Jesus was never in a hurry (which I am not convinced of, to be really honest with you), it’s because he was God, and God does not miss His own appointments. But Scripture is full of stories in which holy people rushed around to join Him at His chosen times and places.

Look. You have…

A 99-year-old Abraham hustling to tell Sarah of angelic visitors, then running to fetch a tender calf for their dinner

Angels rushing Lot out of the city

Rebekah hurrying to water Eliezer’s camels

The Israelites scarfing down the first Passover meal, per God’s commandment

Moses hurrying to worship

Holy armies hastening to war

David running toward his giant

Abigail hurrying to fend off the attack of armed and dangerous men

The kings of Babylon jumping to witness the work of God

Mary hurrying to see Elisabeth

The shepherds dashing to the manger to worship the Baby

Zacchaeus launching out of his tree

and Paul hurrying to celebrate Pentecost in Jerusalem.

There are even a few Old Testament references to God hastening His plans to fruition at the right time.

If you want to tell me that the lives of Jesus’ followers should not be characterized by agitation and constant rush, you have a point worth making. If you want to say we’re rushing for the wrong things, or that proper planning can save last minute scrambling, I’m on board. If you want to say that listening to the Holy Spirit can quiet our hearts and supernaturally prepare us for things to come, I couldn’t agree more.

But we are human. We usually cannot see the future, we make mistakes, and we struggle to stay ahead of our tasks. “Christians should always be unhurried” is awfully close to “Christians should always be comfortable” which is awfully close to straight-up heresy.

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Sometimes we are capable of far more than we think, if we’re willing to put up with a little rush and chaos. Sometimes the unexpected arrives on our doorstep, and we hustle to make it work.

We hurry to join God in the places He wants us.
It’s time we stopped feeling guilty for it.

Out on a limb

Do you ever feel out on a limb with God?

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Scripture is packed with stories of men and women out on limbs and they sure sound great in the telling, several thousand years later, though you can’t help wondering

how Abraham felt, exactly, packing up that mountain with his son and a butcher knife

how Gideon felt sneaking up on the bad guys with a pitcher and a trumpet

how Elijah felt in the moment of dumping the twelfth barrel of water over a soggy fire pit with four hundred people watching

how Jochebed felt when she put her boychild into the Nile river in a homemade raft sort of thing and hoped it wouldn’t leak

how Ruth felt slipping into the tent of a man and adjusting his bedclothes.

Faith, says the Hebrews man, is the substance of things hoped for. Substance. Substance means stuff, not ideas. Faith is the butcher knife and the pitcher, the firewood and the cheap reed basket, the trumpet and the blanket of a man. Faith is assembling supplies: lining up a physical and utterly ridiculous substance that gives silent testimony to things not seen. That substance is a bet, if you will, on a God who has promised to come through.

Our job, as far I can see it, is to assemble the pieces.

Which gives a whole other level of meaning to that verse in Psalms.

The most uncomfortable part is not the gathering of supplies. It’s the moment immediately afterward, when all has been collected and we find there is nothing more to be done. The wood is arranged. The bad guys are sleeping. The baby is afloat.

And then we are poised.

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Poised feels to the principal players almost exactly like hung out to dry. Here in this position we have Naaman coming up from his sixth dip still leprous, Elijah praying for rain, Jesus suffocating on the cross. The stage is set. The sun is going down. The world is watching (and laughing in its sleeve).

Out on a limb. Do you still doubt He will come through for you?

Strength, weakness, presence

Thank you for your beautiful comments. You talked about the components so well. Personality. Failure. Life stages. Good strength versus bad strength. God’s strength versus our own. Well said!

Gina also shared some excellent thoughts here.

What is the opposite of strength? You mentioned many words—weakness, brokenness, battle, fear, surrender, helplessness, high-maintenance, infirmity, vulnerability.

Vulnerability is my personal favorite—the one I run from two miles away.

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Once upon a time I waited in a bathroom stall [my usual place of retreat in times of mental storm] for the courage to face a difficult situation.

It was a particularly unnerving situation, open to endless variation. It could turn out one way and be super. It could turn out another way and be okay. It could turn out–oh my–nearly infinite ways that would be shameful and embarrassing. And it could turn out one way that would be the most devastating of all.

The whole thing pivoted on the choices of a person I had never seen before, and on my own performance under stress.

I waited and prayed. “Please Lord make me strong. Help me to come to peace. This knot in my stomach must certainly go away before I can do anything… and must be a sign that I am not trusting you. Please make me strong.”

I prayed.

And gradually, as the conflict did not go away, I came to realize that it was impossible for me as a woman to enter such a situation in perfect calm. I was conflicted, and understandably so: a turmoil of secret hopes and fears. And so I began to change my prayer, from “Please make me strong,” to “Please protect my heart. I am a mess. I hope and I fear; I am powerful and vulnerable. Please help me to bring all of me into this situation. Let me be There. I trust that your Spirit will accompany me and cover my nakedness of soul.”

He did.

And I was not strong, but I was there, and I was in Him. The situation was intense. It turned out the one way that was most devastating of all, and He did battle for me as I cried all the way home.

Jesus does not need me to be strong. What do I mean? Through my whole life, there have always been people for whom I had to be strong. A little sister–(I knew that if we both cried at the same time, the world would cave in). A struggling friend—(I promised never to betray her secret). A frightened child—(When she runs to me panicking, she needs a stable Mommy to anchor to). This is not all bad, being strong for other people. “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” But Jesus is the one person I never need to be strong for. Sometimes I think I do. When I have neglected Him in prayer I start coming to Him in the comforting and apologetic tone I would use with a family member I’ve temporarily forgotten. Sometimes I try to cover for Him and help solve His problems. That is all nonsense. He is the strong one, and I am a child.

But it begs the question—In how many situations would He carry me in my weakness, if I weren’t so busy Being Strong?

In Christ we have access to all kinds of power heretofore unknown. The power that raised Him from the dead dwells in us. His strength rests on us, empowers us. He carries our weakness in His body. As we go on together, we receive His strength into the very fiber of our beings, so that we are truly stronger than before and can do things we would once have run from. And yet He keeps us on the edge of ourselves. About the time we gain strength in [these] areas, He gently uncovers [several more] in which we are weak and must begin again. He seems to have a special grace for the weak, and each time I feel utterly worthless and undone (Oh Jesus, have I walked with you so long and yet still have so far to go?), He reaches with grace to tell me He sees me. He loves me. He has not given up on me.

You see I am not against being strong. I am against the need to be strong. I am against the careful avoidance of weakness.

Strength is a good word. And like other good words (love, grace, freedom), it’s open to infinite abuse, partly because we are human and like to twist things (undoubtedly by mistake) and partly because it is a word wrapped in paradox. (When I am weak, then am I strong.)

Sometimes when I’m focused on Being Strong—even when I am trying my best to stay “in His strength”—all I am really doing is putting on armor; turning off parts of my heart that do not measure up: my tears, my sensitivities, my desires, my fears.

All set. Chin up. I’m ready to face the situation.

I am starting to believe that true power is all about presence. We are shy of the “power” word, especially for women, but I mean it in a good way—as in “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Influence. Effectiveness.

When I go into a difficult situation determined to be strong, I often end very strong but not at all effective. I’m so busy holding it together that I can’t take hold of anything else–the hearts of the people around me, the lessons He wants me to learn, the gifts He’s offering. Alternately, if I go into a situation with my whole presence, with my fears and my desires and my potential for being hurt (which is all “vulnerable” means, really: I can be badly hurt because I don’t have my armor on)—there, ironically, is where my power as a woman lies.

The opposite of strong does not have to be “weak,” though that is a good word too and often used positively in Scripture (here), but “dependent” (not independent), “needy” (for Him and His people), “small” and “protected.”

While it is true that I grow in grace from strength to strength, it is also true that the more I access the strength of Jesus, the smaller and more dependent I become, a younger and younger child until the day I will be new born in Him, drawing sustenance from no other source. And this too is good.

To nestle in his presence

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.
Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the Lord’s unfailing love
surrounds the one who trusts in him.

Psalm 32:8-10

God loves to talk to his children, though to some of his best friends he is inexplicably silent for most of their lives, and their roots grow deep.

Some of you have cried for years for God to speak to you and heard little, while others seem to keep up a daily correspondence. Some of you feel a ‘sense’ that comes over you, while others quote him verbatim and affirm he said it That Way.

Some of you have been hurt by people who used God’s voice as ammunition in an argument, or a shouting fest, or a church split. Some of you are afraid to repeat anything he told you because—what if it was just your imagination?

Did I mention that learning to hear God is a journey?

My dad was right; it takes time to learn to hear him. And you will make a lot of mistakes. It’s okay. Keep listening. He is so good.

I have missed him often, disobeyed him often, and still he offers me the precious gift of his voice. Sometimes it comes in power; sometimes in quiet sweetness. Sometimes it makes me weak in the knees with glory; sometimes it is the most natural, simple thing in the world, when he helps me learn what to cook for lunch, or how to get started on a project, or not to forget that item at the store.

His words do not come to me in English, but in a shape. Each time I speak them to someone else, I am conscious that I am decoding and must be careful; I can never say them quite like he did.

He speaks in so many ways. Only once in my life do I remember begging God for a sign—one dark evening when I was a teenager, facing a nearly insignificant decision that I knew would have bearing on all the rest of my life. He gave it to me in the stars. Once he showed me a woman with the saddest eyes I’d ever seen: showed her to me so sharply that I stopped walking in the middle of the fairgrounds and knew I was to speak to her. It has haunted me always that I walked away. (I disregarded his voice and he didn’t give up on me; can you believe it?) Once he lifted a taboo, and then spoke to me the sweetest words of my life.  More than once he’s made me laugh aloud—like the time I went to him with a decision and he said “What are you asking me for? Your husband already told you to go for it.” More than once he’s wakened me from sleep when I asked him to. Many, many times he is my reminder, the quiet voice intruding on my thoughts to tell me what I must learn or do. Many times his words are simple joy, and leave me smiling. Many times they are so sharply sweet they leave me weeping and worshipping.

He is so good.

How to hear him?

I can’t sit here and tell you “Now if you just open your heart wide and say the right words and clear your mind of all distractions… If you want it bad enough… If you persist in prayer until he answers…”

No. In fact, trying to completely clear our minds can result in the most ludicrous of ideas. Anything pops into them when we try so hard to empty them. And if we succeed in shutting down all thought, we are simply caught in a great paralysis of holy nothingness. Sometimes our silence shuts him out.

Other times our noise takes over. We are so desperate to hear from him that we cut ourselves off from him—screaming into the sky while he stands waiting at our elbow.

If you can, start your conversations with him by bringing your mind to rest on this simplest of truths: He is right here. Otherwise your spirit is still on the wing, flitting about trying to locate him. Let your heart return again and again to nestle in his presence. God is delighted with the smallest of faith, and loves to reward it.

There is much of his voice that you’ve already heard. Start there.

I like what came out repeatedly in your stories. While you are thinking, he speaks to you. While you are moving, he steers you.

There may be times you will need to hear specifically from him before you act, but may I suggest that they are few? He has given you everything you need for life and godliness. He already told you how to love him supremely, how to love others sacrificially, how to conduct yourself in relation to friends, enemies, difficulty, celebration, government, ill health, an evil world, hard work and joyful play.

Live. Act. Walk forward—always listening. He will be with you and teach you everything you need to know.

*****

I am grateful to have said all on the subject that I feel I ought. I am tired. I feel a great need to grow in Jesus—and though I have told the truth as clearly as I know how, I know that some of what I say is slanted because he is not done teaching me.

Hope and courage!

Shari