Unsatisfied By Average

The Musings of a Stubborn Believer

Author: Seán (page 1 of 31)

In Search Of Tears

“Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.”

Oh God. . . this heart. This broken heart. I want it. 


So, I have a question. How does a soul stay soft?

How, in the middle of all the clatter and clamor of the tyrannical here and now?

How do eyes, so wearied from the darting demanded by days seemingly sky high on caffeine, still stay wide open to the things you have to slow down to see?

How do hearts, so twisted and broken and bowed down by the weight of a world going all wrong, still have any “break” left in them when it’s time to mourn over the things that make God sad? 

How?

I don’t know. All I know is, this morning, cross-legged on my futon, I bowed over those words. Then I looked out the glass at the lazy snowflakes falling. Then I bowed over them again. And it suddenly, everything other than this heart seemed to fade into foggy insignificance. . .

I’m a communicator. And the project looming over my coming week qualifies as “war by means of words” if anything ever did. But maybe that’s exactly why I ache. We don’t need more words running around in the world. We need more heart, like this. 

“The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.
I opened my mouth, and panted: for I longed for thy commandments.”

So, two things I’ve concluded for myself. First, we might be able to use “eyes tuned to heaven” even through demanding days seemingly fueled by caffeine. But I don’t think we can find them there. We might be able to keep soft souls soft in the midst of the tyrannical clatter, but only if God originally made them so, keeps making them so, far from the tumult.

And, second? Oh God. . . this heart. This broken heart. I want it. 

So if I go really quiet on FB and Instagram and even this blog for a week or ten days. . . this would be why.

Oh, and hey, that “war by means of words” I was talking about? Yeah. It’s war with a dragon. The secret killer of this generation, no less. Which is all I’ll say for now. But you’ll pray for me, for that, won’t you?

Covenant Companionship [Productivity, Part 5]

So. . . then what?

I flip the page, then flop over onto my back, and stare at the ceiling in the soft glow of icicle light.

He was single-minded, focused, benevolent, visionary, humble and unassuming. . .

In short, he was a great man. A great leader. A great worker.

So broad though. . . Too broad, no?

Then slowly, this thought. . .

No, maybe that’s not too broad at all. 

A man can spend his life trying to hone some skill, so he can do more.

But perhaps after a point, the only way to pursue greatness is to be more. 

Or maybe that’s actually true from the start.

I stop to listen a minute. A long minute.

My boy, that makes you a better worker, a better leader, a better “doer,” which makes you a better child of mine.

Humility? Check. 

Fervency? Check. 

Sincerity? Integrity? Loyalty? Simplicity? 

Check. 

So. . . maybe “childhood” should be our obsession?

I was on the phone with Sweet Honey the other morning, and in the course of our conversation it came to us how different fighting for the right is, than fighting for. . . anything else. If what makes me a better child of His makes me a better leader, worker, student. . . then who wouldn’t go for that? Especially when what makes one a better child is resting one’s head on one’s Father’s knee, and just letting him run fingers through our hair.

I mean, He could demand anything. But no, He says “just stick close enough to stay under the shadow of My wings.” 

Because our primary weapon in spiritual warfare (or any warfare) is simply covenant companionship. 

Be near Him, and stay there, and you become a force to be contended with. (Have we just come full circle?)

This is how we learn to fight well?

It almost seems silly to call it “fighting.” Even if there is a sword in our hands. It’s not like any other kind of fighting, at any rate. I mean, I suppose you could legitimately counsel me to “fight” for my marriage starting June 12th. How though? Oh, cuddles, and kisses, and kind words. That’s how. That’s how we “fight” for a relationship. . .

With You too, though, Lord Glorious? 

I don’t see why not.

I’ll take it.

Lord, grant it. 

Secret Prince [Productivity, Part 4]

Suddenly pushed from the seclusion of the king’s private chambers out onto the center stage of the ancient east, this man becomes a force to be reckoned with almost overnight. The next few verses are a whirlwind. I can’t help but think perhaps the little cluster of choices we’ve already explored prepared him for the rest of the story so effectively, he’s almost hard to follow.

At any rate, chapter two does boil down to two interlocking observations for me:

Nehemiah was single-minded, to the point of being self-forgetful.

For starters, it seems his newfound importance as an envoy of the king to a crumbled city didn’t occur to him at all. There are no heralds before, no retinue behind. Only in passing does he mention the “captains of the army and horsemen” that the king had sent along with him, probably in a bit of a scramble.

He arrives without fanfare, albeit to hear grumblings in the wind already.

And then he waits. He waits till the dark of night can shield him from the publicity, the curiosity, even the honor of his commission. He rises to work when the rest lie down to rest, and when the sun comes up, the survey is done.

I don’t know how different the history might have been if he’d arrived with trumpets. If nothing else, Sanballat and Tobiah would have had a head start.

This I know: God needs more men and women willing to work in the shadows. 

And this too I know: He or she who does faithfully the work given in secret will not work in the dark for long. . . 

Leader By Accident [Productivity, Part 3]

When God paves your way, who can hedge it up?

The cupbearer comes into the presence of the king, entirely innocent of the fact that he’s about to start the greatest social movement in a generation. It seems he hadn’t planned on mentioning anything, today was just another day, and he was just doing his job.

But his countenance bore the marks of his time weeping on his knees. . .

(Tell me there isn’t a sermon in that itself.) 

And the king had to know.

Nehemiah’s first reaction was a shock of fear. Then, he just told the truth.

And apparently, God had gone before.

It is his second reaction that touched me most deeply this morning though. Before Nehemiah realizes it, like a an avalanche started by a single snowflake, this thing is on the move.

The king leans forward on his throne, and in steady tones asks the simple question:

“For what dost thou make request?” (Nehemiah 2:4a)

I believe Nehemiah’s response to this opportunity is the third secret of his success— his productivity.

“So I prayed to the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 2:4b)

Not elation, not greed, or fear, or grasping.

He’s instant in prayer. 

First, you need silence.
Then, you need humility.
Then, you need abiding dependence.

Refrains From the Poet King [Productivity, Part 2]

Affliction before greatness. First, you need silence.

But wait, there’s more.

Bowed down to the earth with grief, tears spattering the polished floor of a foreign palace, the kings’s cupbearer does what seems counter-intuitive.

He doesn’t struggle to rise. He bows lower.

“Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee. . .”

(Nehemiah 1:6)

Does that sound familiar?

I’m hearing Daniel’s famous prayer ringing in my hears. . . The one that started an extra-terrestrial battle that lasted for weeks. The prophecy that clinched all Messianic prophecies.

I’m also hearing the gentle voice of the poet-king Solomon, who twice in the space of three chapters of his bestselling collection of Proverbs declared, “Before honor is humility.”

But what in the wide world does humility have to do with productivity?

Not sure I know. . .

Maybe it’s a “credit where credit is due” thing?

Or maybe. . . (and maybe. . . )

Maybe it is that before a man can accomplish anything at all, he must be filled.

And before a man can be filled, he must be emptied.

Yeah, that’s it.

Affliction before greatness.
First, you need silence.
Then, you need humility. 

Laws of Productivity

This morning, my pre-dawn prayers kept being punctuated by this intermitted background buzz— like a pesky fly that keeps coming around for another pass.

“And, you also have to do ________ today. Absolute must.” 

Yes, I know.

(I mean, Ok, I was forgetting, but now I remember. 🙄)

I’m not sure if the bombardment was more distraction or mercy. . . But either way, I was shortly ruffling through the pages of my Bible in search of a role model. A super efficient, super successful, super “against-all-odds” kind of guy, who got the job(s) done.

Landing on Nehemiah was. . . definitely mercy.

Not even five verses in, and I think I’m on to the first secret of this man’s productivity:

“And it came to pass, when I heard [that the wall of Jerusalem was broken down, and the remnant of the captivity were in great affliction], that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days. . .”

“Don’t miss this, my boy.
Every harvest starts in a dark place.
Every great work starts with tears.
It might seem to commence with trumpets,
but be sure there were tears before the trumpets. . .
First, you need silence.”

“So, I needn’t be afraid of the dark?”

“You needn’t be afraid of the dark.”

———

First Law of Productivity: (à la Mr. Nehemiah)

#1 Affliction before greatness. First, you need silence.

 

to be continued. . . 

The Year After Last

The air smells of snow, but it seems a bit warm to deliver on the promise. We shall see. There’s a mottled sheet of low-hanging gray, and the wind has picked up a little in the last hour, so maybe. . .?

Don’t let the breeze fool you though— In this moment, all is stillness.

We made it. AD 2016, with all it’s fabulous muddle of irony, tragedy, and success, is forever history. Can I tell you a little secret? There may or may not have been a time or two in the last 365 days when I wondered if we’d make it to this far side in one piece.

We have though. (If only hanging by a thread.) We’ve made it to January again, a time when we look back, and forward. A time when humanity makes a million promises meant to expire next December 31st, a few of which will be fortunate enough to make it into February, 27 days distant. And now, just when ’16 was becoming a reflex for my right hand, I have to switch up all over again and think before I write. It’s 2017 now.

Still though, everything here, in the stillness of this moment, is the same.

The little pile of rocks down there in the glen, this little peninsula, the flat rock where I sit, the sound of wind in pine, and the beating. . . the thrumming of a thirsting soul, my thirsty soul. . . All the same. In fact, they’re much the same as they’ve been for years. . .

Suddenly, a contrast is crystalizing.

How volatile is the world. How violently it lurches and sways on a sea of human feelings, opinions, and emotions. Was it some kind of psychological sea-sickness that caused me to tune out CNN completely, midsummer last? Was it the inconsistency, instability, the general irritability of an entire culture that convinced me I could do without until further notice? (Um, yes.) I know, it’s utterly irresponsible to skip Presidential Debates on an election year. But. . . I kinda did. They knocked me off balance anyway.

This though. . . This ground. It never moves. It’s always the same.

So, the other day I came to a startling realization. After taking time off of active Scripture memorization early last year to spend more time writing, I never got back into the swing of it. (Mistake.) That had to change. January was a good time to change it. This morning, I settled into the old, familiar strains of a chunk of chapter early in the book of Acts, I got that same funny feeling.

This book. It’s always the same.

That settles it. I have my 2017 all figured. Even though it promises to be as crazy as the last, at the least.

Fine and dandy. Let the crazy come. I just might not be participating.

Holy, solid ground, and Holy, solid Scripture have convinced me again.

I am “determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

What’s left after Him, after this, CNN and Fox and Facebook can fight over.

Mean time, I’ve never been so excited in my life.

Happy New Year everybody!

The Struggle Is Optional [Oh Lord, If There Were Only More Of This] 

I knew that love was a good teacher.

I never dreamed it could teach this.

One hundred ninety-nine days from now, I get to marry my bestest ever friend. That fact all by itself is enough to fill my cup of gratitude to an overflowing mess this morning.

As it turns out though, that gratitude has ended up all over the floor, because my cup was already full. . .

Not (probably) with what you’re thinking though. This isn’t a Thanksgiving tribute to my Sweet Honey.

If it is a tribute, it is a tribute to faithfulness.

But mostly, I’m leaving it here as a plea.

— — —

Love is a miracle. Just how much of a miracle, I am finding out more every day. My heart is full of a gift I never dreamed could be—a gift I’m now convinced should actually be as common as the blooming flower of love itself.

It is basically this: that somewhere, there actually exists a heart, close association with whom can make the pursuit of holiness nearly effortless.

And yes, I use that word deliberately. Because I’m convinced we give the “struggle” too much credit, too much of the time. Perhaps because we’ve just finished giving it too much fuel.

This, of all things, is what I’m most thankful for, this Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for a hundred little choices Vanessa made in her teens, many of which laid the foundation for the longstanding friendship that would eventually lay the foundation for our love. I’m thankful that she learned to keep her heart. To lean on Jesus. To deny the pull of the world, the flesh, the devil. I’m thankful she learned to love honor, to put truth first. I’m thankful she learned selflessness. Security. Love. Loyalty. Kindness and Compassion.

All those things make her a marvelous person to be around. But that is the least of the reasons I give thanks for them. I give thanks mostly because those choices prepared her to fill a place we both believe she was created for—to become a catalyst of the deepest kind of joy, the deepest kind of strength, the deepest kind of honor in the man God would call to cherish and sacrifice for, and protect her always.

I rejoice in her choices, because from the start to the present in our relationship, every circumstance that has increased my love for her, has simultaneously increased my love for the Savior. And that, by a larger margin.

Oh, what power might be robbed from the enemies we face every day, if such could always be our testimony.

But, why isn’t it?

Well, maybe because we often squander our little opportunities to cultivate the rudiments of greatness today, and so, when tomorrow comes and we’re invited by God to take part in something more miraculous, we don’t have the raw ingredients.

Oh, don’t let that be you.

Lord, don’t let it be me.

Or sometimes we actually have improved opportunities, and are on an honest search, but we haven’t found the right person. Under such circumstances, deeply consecrated and highly aspiring as both might be, we might simply mutually lack the rudiments uniquely necessarily to foster greatness in the other.

No shame there. . . not one drop. This is why we investigate. But oh— and my little heart throbs harder here— don’t settle. So many beautiful people settle.

Don’t spend your life, and youth, or even young adulthood, trying to convince the world that this friendship, or this relationship, or even this engagement, is a good idea. That it will all work out. That you know them better, that you see, you hope, you believe even though nobody else can, and so if you quit believing nobody will believe, and how horrible would it be to leave some sincere soul alone. . . No.

Don’t come up with reasons why the observations of those who love you most are invalid.

Don’t come up with excuses for your own spiraling sensitivity.

Don’t ever let yourself be convinced that the stressful circle of endless explanations and justifications is actually no big deal, that you’re not wearied by it, that everything would just be fine if everybody saw through your eyes.

Don’t.

Don’t deceive yourself, try to convince yourself that you’re happy.

Let me tell you what happiness is.

Happiness, joy unspeakable and full of glory, is the product of an increasingly effortless pursuit of holiness. It is the product of the kind of communion, the kind of companionship that brings the best and only the best out of both parties, that opens the lines of communication, that increases the effectiveness of both Christian witnesses. That creates something undeniably and unbelievably powerful.

Happiness is a miracle.

If you haven’t found it yet, then go digging for greatness today, and wait quietly for tomorrow.

And never, never, never settle for less.

[The Only Good] News on Election Day

I have this countdown to Christmas, nestled into the center of my Bible. It started because my little sister-to-be went off to school, and we wanted something to look forward to, together. Our countdown is, in fact, the book of Psalms read backwards. And this morning, with 46 days to go, it has given me all kinds of reason to rejoice, on what could (will) otherwise be a doldrum day for the Nation. (Either way, mind you.)

I brought you here for the good news, not more bad news though. So here goes. Get a grip of this:

 

Psalm 46

God the Refuge of His People.

To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah, set to soprano voices. A Song.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

though its waters [or people] roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.

The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.

The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”

The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Sophisticated Godliness (Or Is There No Such Thing?)

This time of year, I find myself having conversations with the guy in the mirror more than usual. (Ehem, that would be yours truly for those thrown off by my metaphors.) It probably has something to do with being born on October 20th, just a month and a few days before Thanksgiving. Both my birthday and Thanksgiving happen to be occasions when I stop to look behind me, to learn, to wonder, to listen. . .  And since they are only a month apart, the time between usually ends up being an overflow for the same.

At any rate.

One of my friends always asks on my birthday if I have any “new year’s resolutions.”

I do, yes. I do.

I start out down the well-beaten elk trail that leads in the general direction of my altar. The dog runs out in front, and I wonder if He’ll get it right. The summer’s monsoon (which I mostly missed for my travel schedule) has coaxed the grass to grow where my little personal trail should branch off of this one, so it’s basically gone. And anyway, does the dog even remember?

It’s midday, and other than the dog, I’m quite alone.

But obviously, he does remember. We get to the spot where my trail is supposed to be, and he cuts off. And I follow.

And when we get down there, he hesitates, glances at me as if to say, “whistle when you’re done if I’m not back yet” and trots off to do a bit more exploring.

And I stand there to do a bit of searching.

You know, if there’s one thing in greatest danger of getting a bit fuzzy by the time a frenzied summer is over, it’s the simple power of this.

I spend long days working, long nights praying, untold conversations trying to unravel human complications, and show how the gospel is enough. And the more sophisticated the human problems get, the more difficult it is.

Now I’m standing back where the rubber actually meets the road for me, and realizing this:

What I’m thirsty for, what my heart longs for, what I’m going to remember and keep remembering this year, is that regardless of how sophisticated human problems become, there is no such thing as “sophisticated godliness.” Godliness is “primitive.” It’s utterly basic. And therein lies it’s power. What I need, in the midst of a long grind to understand the complex psychological and neurological implications of addictions, and depression and OCD, and OCPD and Anxiety Disorder, is not a more complex gospel. 

It is a simpler one. 

The simple one I find here, in a cool little glen overlooking a little pile of rocks where I always find God waiting. 

It’s always here, after all, that the world comes to make the most sense.

The dog comes back, sits down. Seems to stare at the same things I’m staring at.

And I sigh and look up, and then get up, and whisper as I back away:

“I’ll be back. Let’s do this another year.”

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