Pressing Into Heaven…

This little devotional has challenged me in more ways than one. A. W. Tozer’s Born After Midnight  is bold in drawing the reader towards renewal and revival of the soul. I haven’t read much of Tozer before but in reading this little devotional it is very evident that his writings are a depth of knowledge, and I have barely skimmed them, desperately needing to go deeper in. He is a powerful writer and has a way of making the reader ponder the truths of Christ.

On the back of this book, he asks a simple question. This question has haunted me since I read it; it’s caused me to ponder the most mundane aspects of my life. He asks, “Will you press into heaven at the expense of earth?”  What does it mean to press into heaven? It seems so simple, but yet vague as well. How, on this earth, do I press into heaven?

The answer did not become clear to me until I paired it with my recent study of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This man has become a hero of the faith for me. He is someone I will always look up to. He did so many amazing things during World War II; it made me think, “I want to be like him! I want to do big things!” Now, Bonhoeffer fell in love with theology at a very young age. He was also a very talented musician. Once he was of age, he was forced to decide between the two, which one he would attend university for. He decided for theology. He attended a very liberal theology school in Berlin, Germany. It would still be a few years though, until he fell in love with God. He loved debating with his professors and colleges while holding a very conservative stance, but he still lacked a love for God. After some traveling, and a few other events Dietrich fell in love with God, and it only brought action to the great theological knowledge he possessed.

For the rest of his life, Dietrich would spend at least thirty minutes in meditation on a single verse of Scripture. He always prayed at the same time each morning, 6 AM. He eventually taught his brothers in the faith to do the same thing, creating a unity among them each morning. Even as war spread them further apart, they all knew that each morning they would arise together in prayer. Besides these things, Dietrich would study and write for hours on end. Even with this though, it is evident that in his life the two most important things he did each day were to pray and mediate on the Scriptures. Dietrich was pressing into heaven.

It is through the spiritual disciplines that one presses into heaven. These gifts of grace God has given us only wet our appetites for the eternal. When we read our Bibles, when we pray, when we meditate and memorize Scripture, we are pressing into heaven. It is only because Dietrich was so faithful in these “little” things that he could stand for his faith amidst one of the darkest times and places of history. Because of prayer, and Scripture reading he was able to die for his faith; he was able to thrive in his faith even in a prison cell. He pressed into heaven at the expense of earth.

Whenever you decide to wake up early to pray, you are pressing into heaven, but you are doing it at the expense of earth. You could just sleep in. Whenever you decide to do one thing, you are also deciding not to do another thing. That is the whole point, each time we chose a spiritual discipline to practice, we are choosing heaven over earth. This tends to bring momentum to your spiritual life that hopefully continues until you enter into eternity. The spiritual disciplines are meant to bring us closer to God and to a greater love for him. If we are faithful in these disciplines, if we press into heaven daily, God will create in us a longing for heaven itself, to be in the presence of the King for all of eternity. This place is not our home.

So I ask you, just as Tozer asked me, Will you press into heaven at the expense of earth? 

 

Advent Journal: Immanuel

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” 

                                                                                                                                                         Isaiah 7:14

How do you view yourself? This is perhaps one of the more important questions you can ask yourself. Most of us, myself at the top of the list, think of ourselves much more than we think of anyone else. How do you think of yourself? Not just your appearance, your actions, your thoughts, but what do you think about your inner being, your heart? The truth is that no matter how hard we may try to be good, to do good, to think good, we are entirely evil creatures.

Mankind, all of it, is totally deprave. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). This is a vivid picture that Jeremiah paints for us. Even those that do good outside of Christ have a sick heart. Any deed done outside of Christ is black and empty. Void. If our physical features became a forecast for our inner motives and actions we’d all look like a horde of miserable wretches out to ruin and destroy anything and everything good. “The whole head is sick, and whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil” (Isa. 1:5b-6).

Reality is that we cover up our wicked deeds quite well. We hide the fact that our evil hearts motivate our actions. We hide our thoughts, we hide many of our actions, we tear others down to make much of ourselves. We are self-consumed beings; everything we think and say and do revolves around us. It is ingrained in us to be this way, passed down all the way from Adam.

While we might be able to hide some of our evil from fellow mankind, we cannot hide it from God. He sees our sin as “bruises and sores and raw wounds.” It is despicable to him, he hates the sight of our sin, so much so that he cannot even dwell in our presence while sin is ruling. This is why we have advent. We have no hope in ourselves; there is no possible way to purge ourselves of our sin. We cannot crawl out of the depthless pit we’ve created for ourselves. Our sin nature is rooted deep within our souls, and the damage has been done. God’s requirement is perfection which is so far beyond our reach. As soon as life is conceived, sin takes its reign and there is an impossible barrier between man and God. This is why we have advent, because we need help. We need hope.

The promise of Immanuel’s coming is mind-boggling. The word Immanuel means “God with us.” God came to dwell with sinful mankind. Don’t take this truth lightly. Those who sin constantly, consistently against Him are the very ones He came to dwell among. He left the glory of heaven, His Father’s side, to suffer on earth among mankind, coming to rid the world of its darkness, to crush the sin in our hearts once and for all.

He is our hope, our only hope. He is why we have advent; we need help and he is the only one that can bring change. Heaven met earth in one beautiful, strong, powerful word: Immanuel.

“Yes Lord, we greet Thee
Born this happy morning
Jesus to Thee be all
Glory giv’n
Word of the Father
Now in flesh appearing

O come let us adore Him” 

Good and Bad as Grace

The subtitle to my blog is more than a phrase, it is a lifestyle: “Learning to see the good and bad as grace…” Before I explain what this has meant for me, I want to make it clear that this is a worldview within the Christian worldview. This is a way that we as Christians can perceive the events of our lives. I have chosen to see the transpiring moments of my days on this earth in this light. This is a counter-cultural way to see the world; it does not come naturally or easily.

The Unnatural Worldview

As humans, we tend to let our circumstances determine how we behave. We wake up a little later than we should have, our coffee was made wrong, our boss chewed us out, our child gets sick with the flu, and for the rest of the day, we will be miserable. We let our circumstances rule our lives. Worse still, we let them steal our joy.

Of course, these are small trials in life. What about when a loved one passes away? Or when we get that diagnosis from the doctor? How about when we lose our job and don’t have a back-up plan? These are some bigger trials that will come into play on the stage of life. How should we respond to these? Those without Christ would get bitter, depressed, jealous, or abusive. How should the Christian respond to these trials? How should we react when we our child is driving us crazy, and how should we react when a family member dies? This lifestyle will help us respond correctly to both the small and the more daunting trials we may face.

Circumstances Don’t Rule

Circumstances don’t rule the Christian’s life. There are several reasons why this is true. God is in control and is good, we are not meant to live on earth permanently, and the physical realm does not encapsulate our joy. The bottom line is that the Christian can look at the good, the bad, and the ugly and see them all as grace.

God is in control… It may sound cliché, but it is true. “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27). God is all-knowing and all- powerful. He is also good. He knows exactly what is best for us. Sometimes, this means we receive that diagnosis or we lose our job. God knows what’s going on and what is best for us. In Tim Keller’s book Prayer, Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, he says,

God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.

Unanswered prayer, trials, and tribulation come to us through God. There is a reason for them, there is a purpose for our current struggles. Remember in them that God is in control, and He will guide us through them. This is promised in Scripture and displayed in the lives of many of the Biblical heroes of the faith. God is faithful to us even in our darkest moments.

This is not our home… We are on this earth for a very short time. If we have received the Greatest Grace, we are only waiting for forever to get here. Earth is not our home, worshiping Christ before His throne is. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:1-2, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.” These trails only make us long for our coming, unbroken eternity with our Savior.

He is our joy… We do not live for the prosperity of earthly gains, but for the prosperity of the soul. Knowing Christ is our joy, and nothing can come close to comparing to this. Everything else leaves us empty, with a gaping hole in our chest. Again, Paul writes, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). When we understand this, our worries, fears, and pain are belittled. Our joy is not found or restricted by the fading physical world; it is explosively discovered in our growing, intimate relationship with Christ.

Bad as Grace

When we understand and believe these things, we can choose to see the good and the bad as grace. It is still hard. Sometimes the pain is unbearable, the horror too horrific, the death too often, but I believe that even in these circumstances, we can experience spiritual peace because our hope is in God. These times can be an opportunity to lean even more into Christ, depending upon Him completely. When the trials come, they can be for our good. The horrible things we experience can be grace in our lives.

Suffering has a way of stripping away all of our guards and self-protection to get to our hearts. This is why Scripture refers to suffering and affliction as the refiners fire; trials refine us and transform us more into the image of Jesus Christ. Unpleasant circumstances will force us to see the ugliness of our hearts that we have been trying to hide.

Each morning we wake up, we have no idea what the day will hold. A season of suffering could be close at hand, and we will have a choice to make.

The Choice

Because of the eternal graces, we can choose to see the good and the bad as grace. Because God is good, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, just, loving, and merciful we can choose to see the most wretched circumstance as grace in our lives. We may never understand, but we should still choose to accept.

The choice is yours. The decision lays before you each day. Will you choose to find your joy in Christ or in the passing physical world? It is when we choose to find our joy and worth in Christ that we are set free. This is the gateway to thriving in any circumstance rather than desperately clawing your way to survival in the midst of everyday life. Examine your heart, where are you seeking joy?

Lord, help me to see the good and the bad as grace. I no longer want to live my life according to life’s restless circumstances. I want to have the joy of Paul, that even in prison he had unimaginable joy. I want a peace that surpasses understanding. Give me joy in you. Help me to hate my sin and love you more. Conform me into the image of your Son.

Amen.