Deferring Hope Deferred
In the course of life, we often have no other option than to live it. The manner in which we individually choose to live it can be vastly different; a process which constitutes most of the decisions we make. However, aside from suicide, our lungs take in air without permission, and require us to do something with it. Life can be hard enough on its own, without the added question of a higher power. The eternity written within the heart of man, like much of the rest of the prerequisites of existence, forces us to come to some sort of conclusion. Even deciding to believe there is no God is a belief structure, and drastically affects the way we live our lives. We are, whether we like it or not, the product of much that is not at all within our control.
For the sake of simplifying an incredibly broad philosophical subject, I am only going to deal with the life lived by those who ascribe to a Christian faith. In reality, the core of this post is concerning what we do with promises unfulfilled; specifically the promises of God that are unique to us. I want to address the ways we use religious thinking to anesthetize our hearts in the pain of the promise unfulfilled. However, to understand the manner in which we wield doctrine as a shield (and even as our God), we must first understand why. Why does the alcoholic go to the drink? Why does the junkie go to the needle? Why does the religious man go to his own steadfastness in discipline? The reason humanity dresses our pain the way we do is relatively simple conceptually; it is digesting its implication and deciding to think differently that is the true challenge.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” – Proverbs 13:12
Most of the more menial Christian “doctrine” was unfortunately not born purely of the exegesis of scripture, nor of divine revelation. It was born primarily of circumstance. When the church is powerless to offer a person a life better than the horror they may be living; powerless to deliver their hearts from torment and their bodies from pain, what do they tell the person who sees suicide as the only legitimate escape? They tell them they will go to hell if they kill themselves. Some of us were even taught that growing up. But, news flash…its not in the bible, nor is it in the heart of God. It was an alternative to control humanity; a perimeter put in place to ensure people keep coming to the religious institution to hopefully find SOME sort of relief. It, like much of our preemptive/”sin”-preventative teaching, was most sincerely a response to fear that offers no hope or healing. Now, I am certainly not condoning that people kill themselves…but I wholeheartedly disagree that telling a suicidal person God will punish them forever for ending the pain they cannot see beyond is true, or Godly.
The religious spirit has sought to make certain that we keep coming back to its influence and teaching to survive. My brother says it like this: “Religion needs return, and paying customers…just like any other business built on need.” Religion offers no solution, and often times condemns humanity for engaging in anything that may relieve the pain of the moment, utilizing the perversion of truth in scripture to keep us hurting. It is the ugliest and most insidious of all the cruelty of hell, because it masquerades as the requirement of God, and distorts our ability to truly know the God of love. It wields fear and control with excellence, becoming more and more subtle as the church gains more and more clarity on the heart of our Father. The good news is, it can’t keep it up forever. God wins in the end, and He WILL bring His body into the revelation of true freedom; into the unadulterated knowledge of Grace.
The sad reality of the “church”, and the majority of our relationship with our Father, is that we do not truly have a relationship. Even in prophetic streams, and the more “enlightened” portions of the body who are seeing miracles and excellence in their corporate pursuit, we tend more toward an “acquaintance” with God than a sincere relationship. That is a relatively presumptuous statement on its face, but allow me to put into words why I believe this. Please do not misunderstand me…I, in no way, exclude myself from those who I mention. I am in greater need of deeper understanding than most, and that is precisely why I am searching out the questions I address in this blog.
In March of this year, I married my best friend. Our first year of marriage has been arduous to say the least, but she has been more than a conqueror and my abundant help in all of it. I want to use our relationship as imagery for the point I aim to establish. When Kellye and I were married, we made covenant before God and family, vowing to help one another remember who we are and always fight for the happiness of the others heart. The words in our vows were very specific, and beyond sincere. I know for myself, I’ve rarely more genuinely made a statement in my life, and never from that same place within my heart. Of the specific promises I made to my wife, she has every right to expect of me to follow through with them. If I simply choose not to keep my word, I place our entire relationship in jeopardy. It would communicate to my faithful wife that I am not to be trusted, that I don’t understand commitment, and that I am self-concerned. From my side of it, being a man desperately in love, it is my sheer JOY to keep my promises. It is a genuine pleasure for me to see to my wife’s pleasure, in every way I am able. However, because I am only a man, there are some places of desire she carries within herself that I am unable to fulfill of my own accord. I am limited, and my capacity to bless is often drastically influenced by the existence of circumstance. If I merely abandoned commitment, for no reason other than selfish concern, it would be far too painful for Kellye to make excuses on my behalf. If she spoke highly of me because of that ONE time I told her she was pretty, and praised me to humanity for how I only force her to clean the house 6 out of 7 days a week on top of a full-time job, and how she only gets punished when she is REALLY out of line…she would be called in idiot. People around her would counsel her to see the abuse of the situation, and call her back to her value. In that circumstance, she could only pretend for so long…she would eventually have to face the fact that I was not loving her as she deserved to be loved; that we had no relationship at all. Now, given, this is a very extreme example; but the reality is that we do this EVERY day with God.
God is not a man, that He should lie, nor that He should be limited. When He makes a promise to His bride, we have EVERY reason and right to believe He will keep it. So what happens when He hasn’t? God is entirely outside the frame of time and space, so I can say with confidence that He always keeps His promises. However, we are bound to those restrictions on this side of eternity. Yes, we are a new creation in Jesus, but we still face the reality of the realm we were created in. So, when the promise of God has not intersected our reality, how do we then deal with the heart ache? In the verse I quoted above, it is clear what happens when the promise is left unfulfilled. When the hope of fulfillment is delayed, particularly when we are unaware of when it will come, the human heart experiences sickness. When hope is deferred, it makes your heart sick. Whether you are aware of your inclusion in Christ or not; whether you are believer or unbeliever…your heart operates and feels independent of your will. I have heard SO MANY sermons on maintaining perspective in the waiting and pain…but rarely have they been words of hope or freedom. Most of the time, the person behind the pulpit adds an ever-so-subtle flavor of condemnation to their message…wrapping it neatly in the packing of a “call to holiness”. We love to tell people they are in unbelief; “who are you to question God?”. I have an answer for you, if you ever feel the need to ask me that question…I am His son, and I know my Dad is good, and I will question Him as much as I please.
The thing we have been taught that unbelief is happens to be the very doctrine the religious spirit exercises to keep the church IN unbelief. We honor and admire people who say things like, “No matter what…God is still good”; “Even in the wilderness, blessed be Your name”. We love to say that stuff…it puffs up our spiritual ego, portraying ourselves as the incredibly faithful servant, so very dedicated to the God they serve. You know what I think when people regurgitate that same old religious rhetoric? “Huh…well, either you’re lying about how you feel, or you’re not currently experiencing real heart-break.” Don’t get me wrong…of COURSE God is still good in the midst of your pain, and it would be entirely counterproductive to accuse Him or curse His name. But the rigid unwillingness to be sincere with God, or about our anguish when He isn’t coming through, is just as full of unbelief as those people we talk about who need to “repent”.
The reality is, God is FAR TOO good to ever be exaggerated. His power is limitless, and His desire to bless unfathomable. Unfortunately, because of obligation-based doctrine and fear of pain without relief, we end up diminishing Him when things get hard. However, I want to suggest that it is not our “unbelief” that diminishes God (or at least our traditional understanding of it); but rather what we have for too long called “faith”.
“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:3-8
I read this verse several years ago, and wondered at its implication. It seemed to me that Paul was DIRECTLY addressing the issue of “discipline” and “holiness” from a perspective I’d only secretly hoped in my heart was of God. Unfortunately, my counsel at the time told me that I was “misinterpreting” the scripture and using it as an excuse to live by my rules, and not God’s. That one conversation set me on an extra 4 year course of discovering what God was attempting to bring to light in my heart in one moment. This passage has been used by leaders of the body for centuries to magnify the admirable quality of enduring tribulation for Christ. While Paul does see to the issue of tribulation producing in us a myriad of virtuous characteristics, I want to suggest that it was not the focal point of this passage. The tone and purpose of this scripture is the ultimacy of hope, because of the finality of the cross. In The Mirror Bible, Francois DuToit paraphrases it like this :
“Our joyful boasting in Him remains uninterrupted in times of trouble; we know that pressure reveals patience. Tribulation doesn’t have what it takes to nullify what hope we know we’ve got! Patience proves legal tender; which buys more positive expectation. This kind of hope does not disappoint; the gift of the Holy Spirit completes our every expectation and ignites the love of God within us like an artesian well. God’s timing was absolutely perfect; humanity was at their weakest when Christ died their death. (We were bankrupt in our efforts to save ourselves) It is most unlikely that someone will die for another man, even if he is righteous; yet it is remotely possible that someone can brave such devotion that he would actually lay down his own life in an effort to save the life of an extraordinarily good person. Herein is the extremity of God’s love gift: mankind was rotten to the core when Christ died their death.”
The average church-goer would tell you that in times of hardship “God is teaching you something”, or some other revelation-deficit dogma leaning toward the belief that God is either doing it TO you, or ALLOWING you to go through it for a “purpose”. This, in my humble and passionate opinion, is some of the smallest-minded thinking humanity can engage in. Does He have no other tools in His belt by which to teach us? It is by this same token that we attribute EVERY occurrence with ANY redeemable quality about it to the provision of our almighty God. It’s this thinking that expects you to give Him praise when you have a $40 phone bill, and you “miraculously” receive a gift of $38. THAT IS CRAP!!! He is a LIMITLESS, UNFATHOMABLE, BENEVOLENT, UNCREATED GOD. He is MORE than capable of manifesting $300,000 in your living room, let alone paying your forty dollar phone bill. What we have done in the absence of promises fulfilled is create doctrines to explain away the heart-sickness we deal with; to protect the idea we so desperately long to believe in…that He cares for us. However, we are schizophrenic in our reasoning. We are emphatic in our declaration of His goodness and love, yet we tremble beneath the fear that if we blame or DARE to question Him, He won’t bless us. So, we end up putting the responsibility back on ourselves. Among those who adhere to the goodness of God, we don’t say He WON’T bless us, we say He CAN’T. “God is too good to give money to someone who will misuse it”. I understand this line of thinking, and have often thought it myself; but it is skewed. You see, God is NOT altogether like us. He is NOT a mere human, nor is He bound to the fear and absence of power that humanity often is. That is the point of verse 8 of Romans 5. He died for us; He, WHILE we were still “sinners” and in the HEIGHT of our bondage to the likelihood that we would squander it, gave us the most priceless inheritance. We MUST stop diminishing the God of the Universe. He does NOT wield tribulation and lack as His weapons of mass instruction. That is entirely opposite His nature; He is bigger and better than that. He does NOT give because we have proven we deserve it with good behavior, or responsible performance. He does NOT give us “just enough” or ” only what we NEED”. He gives, and does so extravagantly, because He is love. He gives because love is trust without repentance.
This is the hope that we cling to; the hope that He died to confirm in us. The trouble with understanding the steadfast benevolence of God is the circumstances of this life that seem to contradict it. Here is where I won’t even pretend to have an answer. I have decided for myself, and for my house, that we will not create a pattern of thinking to answer the problem of hope-deferred. It is His realm of authority, to fulfill the desires of the heart. I have decided I will not pretend to have the patented revelation on why we have to wait, why there is pain, why there is poverty. I will not operate in “blind” faith…because blind faith is not real. It is false devotion, and a shining example of christian ignorance. We have only to operate according to our convictions. The only thing I am convinced of is that HE IS GOOD, and it is more true than any distress I will ever encounter. I am more in love with Him in my honesty about pain and longing than I ever was in my fortress of pet doctrine. Here, I do not diminish Him with my human understanding. I hope in Him to expose it, and transform me by the renewing of my mind. What, then, are we to do with the time between the promise and its fulfillment?
My brother said something to me once that gave me freedom to find some measure of peace in very troubling times. It was simple, but opened a door to revelation that gave me hope again. He said “It’s a lot easier to order your life in the absence of chaos.” Religion tells us that finding solace in the company of anything other than God is called a “vice” or an addiction. Of course, if the comfort is from something culturally acceptable (coffee, food, etc…) even most religious people will often “forget” to relegate it to the realms of darkness. While I do realize that some things are not prudent under any circumstance, and that even healthy things can take wrongful priority in the heart…I believe the problem is not the thing itself. The issue is that we do not know who we are, and therefore can not trust ourselves the way God does.
For most of the church, the schizophrenic, black & white, “this leads to death” mentality is based entirely in fear and distrust of self. Most of us are “going to God” with our pain and struggle, and self-medicating a sick heart in the darkness of our room or minds. The overwhelming belief that any attempt to escape the pain is wrong because it isn’t prayer or some other spiritual discipline, is the platform on which shame is bred and the very thinking that perpetuates bondage. God wants us to be free and enjoy our lives!! If we trusted ourselves the way He does, the “things” that make life a little easier to live would never become a bondage. We live in such fear of “sinning”, and making idols out of fading pleasures, and I believe it safe to say that fear is NEVER from God. The problem is, that sin in its very definition is not something you do. Sin is something that was done TO you in the garden. The greek word “harmatia” that we translate as sin means, in essence, “the governing entity of emptiness”. It was something that happened TO the human race, and the place we made decisions FROM as a result. However, in the redemption of the cross, we have been given the Holy Spirit who is now the governing entity of life within the human frame. HE is now what has happened to us, and the source we make decisions from. Unless we understand His residence within us, our inherent value because of our origin, and begin to live according to it…we will continue to make decisions from an emptiness that the cross made an illusion.
I have heard the passage from Matthew 17:21 preached on at least one hundred times; each time a different perspective. This is the verse in which Jesus tells His disciples, in reference to a boy suffering from seizures whom the disciples could not deliver, that “…this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting”. I’ve heard it taught that when we are diligent in spiritual discipline we gain spiritual authority. I’ve heard it taught that Jesus’ LIFESTYLE of spiritual discipline is what afforded Him the authority the disciples did not have. I’ve heard it taught many other ways, and nearly every one of them has some measure of truth involved. However, it is my belief that the same Jesus who told the Jews to eat His flesh and drink His blood, KNOWING it would offend them because they would take it literally, was again implying a deeper concept in this passage from Matthew 17.
The entirety of Jesus’ ministry during His time on earth was pointing to His sacrifice on the cross. It’s why He preached a law that NO ONE could attain to. This is why He said “No man comes to the Father but by Me.” In other words, you can’t do it, so I’m going to. So then why would He establish Fasting and Prayer as the method unto authority over the demonic? That sounds like the performance He came to do away with in the first place to me. Throughout scripture, we see Jesus in the middle of what we would call “revival”; the outbreak of miracles, thousands coming to faith, the dead being raised, etc…and its often HERE that He decides to disappear. He would slip away to the mountain top to be with His Father. This causes me to believe that Jesus was not “fasting and praying” FOR authority; He was fasting and praying BECAUSE OF authority. Because He knew who His Father was, He knew who He was. In that knowledge, nothing did to His heart what the presence of His Father did. So, when Jesus said “…this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting”, He was pointing to the deeper desire of His heart, not primarily the action itself. He was saying that as a result of His confidence in His identity He was able to rightly prioritize the work of ministry beneath the REAL desire within Him…to be with His loving Dad. As He had become the most famed Rabbi in all of Israel, sneaking away to the mountain top to talk to His Father, skipping meals to eat of the rich fellowship He shared with Him, became His solace. They were what drew Him close. But even Jesus Himself said that we do not mourn (fast) as long as the bridegroom is with us, but rather in His absence. In other words, we do it out of the longing of our heart, not FOR any one thing or outcome. His point was that whatever draws you close to the Father will produce in you the perspective on self and savior that causes the authority ALREADY RESIDENT WITHIN YOU to flow naturally and without hinderance.
So how does this apply to hope deferred? As I said earlier, it has been common in Church culture to adhere to the thought that anything bringing relief that isn’t “spiritual” or “Godly” is inherently wicked, and will lead to addiction or worse. It’s because of this that people suffering from physical or emotional pain have been told it is far more admirable to “trust God” and just deal with it than seek comfort or relief elsewhere. It’s because of this that a good majority of the Church sings songs about the provision and goodness of God on sunday morning that they don’t sincerely believe the rest of the week; because of this that so many people have given up on God and ACTUALLY become dependent on something else to bring their heart rest. When its one or the other, and The One isn’t coming through…how long is the human heart supposed to wait? I want to suggest that God doesn’t expect us to separate Him from our hardship, but rather to do what it takes to keep our eyes on Him. With the correct perspective on personal value and the love of God, WHATEVER brings relief will produce in you the character of God, and in turn the capacity to hope. Whatever draws you close to Him, reminds you that He is with you in your pain and your joy…fasting, prayer, coffee, tylenol…THOSE things are your motivation and lifeline as much as the moment when the promise if fulfilled.
MANY ARE CALLED, FEW BELIEVE IT
While my heart is ABSOLUTELY not to solely criticize the “church”, and some would love to pick my posts apart and call me a hypocrite for my judgement toward the “bride of Christ”, I can assure you it is only because of my love FOR her that I write what I do. I believe I have seen who she could be, who she IS as far as God is concerned, and consequently who she is not because of the deception of religion and dogmatic systems of thought. In my experience among the body, I’ve often encountered what I like to call “Christian Celebrity Syndrome”. As a matter of fact, there was a period in my life in which I personally suffered from the mind-numbing, identity-crushing effects of this disease. It spreads like wildfire in a culture where “honor” is prioritized, but not properly understood. It is best nurtured in an environment in which the supernatural is believed in and sought after, those operating in profound levels of its execution are accordingly recognized, and a simultaneous “caste system” of sinlessness is the barometer of holiness. In other words, those who “abide by the word of God” and “live a life of sacrifice and holiness”, as well as walk in supernatural power, become the most recognized (honored) of the community. However, if those people begin to lack in either arena of performance, they are suddenly a project for those who are still “holy” among them. We saw this happen with Todd Bentley and the Lakeland outpouring. A profoundly anointed man encountered a moral issue because of a ministry schedule and platform of “celebrity” among the church that took a radical toll on his life and family. When it happened, the council of “elders” overseeing the outpouring required Bentley to go public with the occurrence. According to my knowledge of what actually happened (acquired from people VERY close to Mr. Bentley), it could have been handled internally, and dealt with in a very private manner. If they had done that, the Bentley family may have been preserved. The pressure of media coverage, and exploitation of the event caused an even deeper chasm to form between Todd and his wife. Suddenly, one of the most accurate and powerful prophetic voices of our generation was being “restored”, and was no longer allowed to minister. He is ministering now, but under the watchful eye of a man named Rick Joyner, and with far less influence than his former crusades. Because of a misunderstanding of the heart of God, His grace, and the inexhaustible resource of His love when faced with “sin” we have for centuries aided the enemy in putting a stop to the move of the Spirit of God…all because of religion.
“So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” – Matthew 20:16
I’ve heard far too many “preachers” quote this passage in reference to a number of things it has little pertinence to. We love to say things like “Who are you to define the love of God? He can judge the wicked if He sees fit! Is He not allowed to do as He will? Is He not God?”. I want to suggest that the only thing Jesus brandished His sovereignty to prove in the entirety of His time on the earth was the precise OPPOSITE of this line of thought. He stood in the face of law-abiding, “holiness” driven, pharisaical Israel and extended His grace to the ENTIRE EARTH…not just the jews then, and not just the “christians” now. The parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20), which is the context of the scripture I quoted above, is about this very thing. Those who “worked” from the beginning of the day complaining because those who joined in the effort at the end of the day were getting paid the same amount. Everybody got the same benefit, regardless of how much they had done; regardless of how “worthy” they were. In that context, Jesus said “the last will be first, and the first last”; the ones who think they deserve it, won’t get any special recognition. I am no respecter of persons, because My love is violent and unending for ALL humanity. Then He says “For many are called, but few chosen.” This statement doesn’t seem to make much sense in the flow of this parable, so we’ve done what we do with all the rest of scripture that doesn’t fit into our human thinking and law-oriented, performance driven perspective; relegate it to something that MAKES it about performance. We’ve taken this statement and plastered it to the concept of favor. Many are called, but few are CHOSEN by God…few keep to the narrow path long enough to gain His merit. That is NOT what this means. The word “called” here is the word kletos (klay-tos) in the greek. It comes from Kaleo, which means “to call by name; to identify by name; to surname”. “Many” is the word polus, often translated as many, multitudinous, or large. It implies an innumerable inclusion, and can also mean earnestly, or with depth. In other words, “many are called” means that from the deepest place within Himself God called ALL of us by his own name; He called us according to our inclusion in Jesus; He called us into His family from before the foundations of time. “Few are chosen” then must take on a different intention, given the all-inclusive nature of the preceding portion of the sentence. The word for “chosen” here is eklekto in the greek, derived from “eklegomai”. Eklegomai is a combination of the Greek words “Ek”, which means origin, and “legomai”, which means to speak with logic. In its biblical usage, eklegomai refers the origin of ALL OF HUMANITY being within the spoken word (logos) of God. Jesus was called “the word of God” in John chapter 1, and we were crucified with Him “before the foundations of time”. “Few are chosen” then can be more accurately translated “few understand the nature of their origin; that they are ALREADY, and ALWAYS HAVE BEEN identified in God”. The “chosen” are those who know who they are; those who have understood they’re inclusion, not those separately elected of God by way of their performance. The entirety of Matthew 20:16 might more accurately read like this: “All of humanity is identified by their inclusion in the Godhead since before the foundations of time, but few are the number who believe it.” It is knowing who we are because of the One we came from, and the unalterable nature of our identity. We never were sinners AT OUR CORE, and it has been the illusion of Hell to keep us identifying ourselves by what we do. THIS is why the workers who had worked longer, and harder, felt they deserved more in the end. THIS is why the church refuses to believe that God would forgive and welcome all of mankind into His presence for eternity, regardless of their performance or “repentance”. If He does that, then those of us who obeyed the rules, who were “holy” and “repentant”, don’t get what we think we deserve. The closer place in heaven; the rewards on earth. It is a doctrine of selfishness, and a reward system that God Himself never set in place. It is man making himself an idol of God WITHIN himself. It is the law, with a bitter layer of grace painted across its face ,just thick enough to keep us all believing we aren’t doing the same thing the pharisees did. In fact, it is a system He sent His son Jesus to destroy.
If we can begin to understand the God of grace, and admit that we don’t have a theological solution to every thing we will face on this side of eternity…we may just begin to fathom a love that never ends. We might have the freedom to do what it takes to keep believing He is good, instead of creating doctrines that diminish our belief in His power, or incriminate Him to a hurting world. We might heed the warning of Jesus that sets us free to ACTUALLY preach the good news…to understand it IS better than we could have ever imagined, or our religion would let us believe. We might FINALLY understand who we are, and consequently be able to welcome the entirety of humanity into that same eternal, fixed, and glorious revelation.
Death to religion.
Love will win.
There IS hope, there ALWAYS HAS BEEN, and there ALWAYS WILL BE.