Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Holy Pain

On Thursday morning we heard Dr. Barbara Brunworth read part of Chris Miller's "A Holy Pain." It was very meaningful to me. I share it here with the hope that someone else will find it helpful too. For more on this subject see http://www.whereisgod.net/index.html.
"I don't understand. Everything is coming apart. I've come before God asking Him to convict me and reveal my sin to me. I pray and meditate over His Word.  I seek Him regularly, desiring to be more like Him.  I strive to obey out of a love and desire to please Him.  I come to Him regularly in confession of my sin with a desire to repent.  I have had victory in many areas and people have commented on how God uses me regularly in their lives.  With all of this why has the bottom dropped out of my life?"
As I read about the lives of great Christians and as I counsel with people in the Church, I've observed that there are regular times in the lives of God's people that He works in them in deep unintelligible ways.  It is the pruning that our Lord talks about in John 15:2 where He says, "He prunes every branch that bears fruit that it may bear more fruit."  It is through times of suffering and affliction which the apostle Paul describes in II Cor 1:3-10 and II Cor 4:8-11 where He says we are "always carrying in the body the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body."  It is the testing and purifying of our faith which James refers to in James 1:3.

It is during these times that God seems to pluck us away from those around us so that He might begin a very personal work.  These are not times to resist but times to savor.  It's as if He takes out of the pile of raw ore only to put us into the crucible.  It is then that He turns up the heat. It is then that he separates the branch from those around it so that He might carefully and selectively prune the branch leaf by leaf, twig by twig.  It is during those these times that the Master pruner looks not only for twigs that are dead but also for unhealthy fruit.  It is during those times that the Master smelter turns up the heat on the crucible so as to remove the slag contained within the ore.

I believe it is during these times that God creates in us a holy pain us. It is holy because God has given it to us for His good and perfect purposes. It is holy because it has as its goal Christ-likeness. It is painful because it strips us of things we have grown accustomed to having. It is painful because it means the removal things we have grown to love. It is painful because the sources of our identity and self-image are challenged and if impure are burned up.  It is painful because in the end we feel stripped naked, standing alone before God.

If we look at it from God's perspective it is a holy pain because through this very lonely process He begins to remove all those things which either are or have the potential for competing with Him.  At times God gently inflicts holy pain to gain our attention but at other times God overwhelms us so that our idols instantaneously crumble to the ground.  At times we may sense that God is dealing with that which is most precious to us.  It may be our reputation, our ability "to do or to perform" our job, with that which is most precious to us, our prestige, our visibility or a relationship.  When we believe God has set His sights on "my precious" (as Gollum would say in Tolkein's The Hobbit) we become very protective and defensive.  In many ways, some of which can appear very pious, we bear our spiritual fangs at God and tell Him "hands off this. You can have this or that but 'this' belongs to me!"  That sort of response verifies that this "precious thing" needs to go.  Many times the thing we are willing to die for is the very thing God will deal with first.  It is in this area that God will begin to inject a holy pain.

As we study scripture we may see God inflicting a holy pain upon His people (Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and Moses) but a few stand out, as does a series of episodes in the life of David.  Through these episodes we can see God working for a purpose and we hear the words of a godly man who had come under a holy pain.
[There are times when God seems to "zero in" on those things which are most important to us; those things that we've allowed to have places in our heart that are reserved for God alone. Sometimes God sets His sights on "my precious" as Gollum would say and we forbid God from touching that which is so important to us. Our defensive response to the possibility of losing "my precious" reveals that it must go. Sometimes that which is removed is a friend, a role, money, social standing, reputation or a position we have. If we love it more than God, it may be pruned from us and the holy pain of God sets in.]

God does not afflict with holy pain because we've been "bad" or need to be disciplined. Holy pain may come because He is taking us to new depths of a relationship with Him. What may seem like punishment is actually blessing. It causes us to look inwardly into the corners of our being that need His restoration and a deep repentance. When God afflicts with a holy pain we are forced to to look at ourselves; our sin, our weaknesses, and those things we have clung to instead of God. It is painful because our over-inflated views of ourselves burst before our eyes and we are forced into the arenas of brokenness and humility.
(The author, Chris Miller, then walks his readers through a series of events in First Samuel 17-21 and continues...)
After his lies to Ahimelech [when holy pain comes we often act out of character] and his foolish behavior in Gath we find David alone in the cave of Adullam (I Sam 22:1).  He was cold, isolated, and hungry.  He had no where else to run.  It was just David and God, together in a cave. 

Human beings don't like pain, even a holy pain, and so we run from it.  Not only do we run from it but we are experts in finding anesthetics to dull that pain.  T.V., work, blaming, eating, more church activities, more relationships, more vacations, more restaurants, more clothes, new projects around the house, a new promotion.  We feverishly scramble around trying to find something to dull the ache.  When we find something that works we do our best to perfect our newest painkiller. 

All the while God will let us run our course until we have nothing less.  We're in a cave and that's when God begins to do a deep cleaning.  You see, regardless of what the world and some churches say, God's greatest desire for us is not our happiness or comfort.  His greatest desire for us is our Christ-likeness.  He wants us holy on the inside--not just an outward fa├žade of religion with dead men's bones inside.

God never gives up on the cleansing process.  He will chase us down even if that means stripping us of all we deem valuable and worthwhile and putting us alone in a cave with Him.  Most of the time it was in the cave that that we come to our senses, admit our deepest fears and feelings to Him and finally allow Him to heal and cleanse us of all those dead and corrupting things that still dwell in us.

Psalm 142 is a psalm David most likely wrote when he was in the cave of Adullam.  After all the running, lying and foolish behavior, after trying to find solace in everything but God, David comes face to face with himself and his Lord.  David stopped ignoring and running and delved into an honesty that most people never experience.  The Psalmist says, "I cry aloud with my voice to the Lord, I pour out my complaint and my trouble before Him.  When my spirit was overwhelmed within me me, you knew my path.  I look to the right and see for there is no one who regards me; no one cares for my soul."

There's no religious jargon here; only a pure honesty that comes from openly responding to a holy pain.  It is an honesty that stops running, stops pretending and comes not only to the inflicter of the pain but the Healer of it as well.  It means admitting feeling alone, overwhelmed, helpless, hopeless, deeply troubled and not knowing what to do with these confusing and muddled feelings.  Responding to God's holy pain mean admitting we are "brought very low" and that it's all too much for me to handle (Ps 142:6). It means asking God to take me out of the prison I'm in rather than to break out of it myself (vs 7). 

The question many may ask is, "why does God go to such an extent as to inflict his holy pain, strip us of so much, bring us to a cave and stand us before Him?"  I believe the answers are numerous.  First, I believe God wants us to be holy in our innermost being. He isn't concerned with external appearances.  He wants people who are pure and just not only outwardly but also deep in the areas of honesty, integrity, purity and justice.

Another reason God inflicts this holy is that He wants to burn up any crutches we may be carrying with us.  When he has removed all the idols we run to when pain comes our way, we are left to run to him.  We are blind to our idolatry.  If we run to spouses, friends, mentors, spiritual leaders, and even enemies before we come and fall before God those are idols and a jealous God will do what it takes to remove them.  We must see that if we think we can ease the holy pain without running to God in humility and repentance we will do just that.  We would rather run to an idol that says "you're OK" than see ourselves in our moral wretchedness.  We would rather clamor for something that affirms our own twisted view of ourselves than allow God's light to shine in our evil and darkened hearts.  Our God will stand for no competition--no matter how good and right someone or something else may appear! 

Our God is deeply committed to our becoming like Jesus.  There are no restrictions in God's plan of attack.  He will prune.  He will turn up the heart.  He will wrench out of our grip anything which we blindly and unknowingly hold onto.  He will inflict a holy pain so we might learn to come to Him, obey Him, and trust Him alone.

When God inflicts a holy pain it hurts deeply.  In the beginning it may feel like a dull ache but later, as God works in deep and untouched caverns where sin flourishes, it may feel as if He's pulling abscessed teeth with a pair of pliers.  It is good for us to cry out as we watch the pus drain.  For as we see ourselves as God sees us, pus and all, it is then that hte healing balm of God's grace, mercy, and faithfulness are applied.

This author does not write from a "head-knowledge" of the subject but rather from having been stripped and taken to a "cave" over the last seven years.  There has been much in my life which has been impure and unrighteous.  In my love for Christ I desired and I pray to me made like Him.  While God needs no one's permission to afflict with His holy pain, He took my prayer seriously.  One by one they disappeared; family members, the role and job of being a pastor, a bank account, friends, and my mentor.  All the things I thought I needed He removed and stood me naked before Him in order to show me all I need is Him.  When I genuinely humbled myself before a Holy God, admitting my self-sufficiency, my self-righteousness, my fears, my inability to control my world despite all my efforts to do just that, when I saw that all I deemed as "necessary" wasn't really necessary, a faithful and loving God began to rebuild and restore that which had been torn down.  I had not committed great sins.  I had fought many giants and won.  I wasn't under God's judgment; I was under his purifying hand.  God wasn't scolding or "sending me to my room."  He was taking me to new depths of living, understanding, trust and real holiness.  Before my prayer could be answered, I needed to learn something about my lie, my motives, my God, and myself and for that God took me to the cave.

God took David to the cave not only to develop a "real" holiness but also to prepare him to be King.  As God inflicts us with a holy pain we must remember that it is not to damage or destroy but to purify and prepare us for service in His kingdom.  With that in mind we can face the "caves."  We can stand amidst the loneliness and the holy pain knowing that a loving and faithful God is at work in the life of His child.
(Information about ordering a 52+ page manuscript copy of Holy Pain go to http://www.whereisgod.net/miller.htm.

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