Close to Starvation
I experienced something last night that gave me a real wake-up call, a reality check about a major area of weakness in my heart. God's Spirit has been using that experience to reveal to me all sorts of things this morning, many of which I cannot even remember but are part of ongoing silent discussions of the heart between God and I that He is putting inside for future use.
I sense that God is trying to speed me up a bit in lessons of faith and obedience. He is seeking to train me to cooperate with Him closer to living in real time responsiveness instead of learning in retrospect after failing to reflect Him in some given situation. There are so many things I am learning in parallel these days that I feel like I am in an intensive educational program where I have to attend seemingly unrelated classes to learn all sorts of new things. But over time they begin to make sense with each other, and as the various insights of knowledge begin to become more clear, it also becomes exciting to see how the Spirit is weaving them altogether into an amazing mosaic of beauty that He is creating.
But there are still so many parts of this emerging way of life that I am woefully behind on in my education and awareness. But God knows that and He has made Himself responsible for the schedule for which I am extremely glad. Because I am too often trying to lay out what I think the schedule should be or asserting confused notions of where I am supposed to be headed and He has to often remind me that I need to leave the planning up to Him and simply accept the lessons and corrections and directions from Him and trust His heart to continue to lead me in the best way.
But sometimes I catch a glimpse of areas of my heart that are so far behind they are in severe danger of being easily subverted or deceived. The enemy is intent on keeping me blind to these areas of extreme vulnerability because he intends to exploit them at some most inopportune time to discredit and destroy both me and God's reputation and His work in my life. To keep me ignorant of these hidden openings in the walls of protection around me is one of the most effective ways the enemy can set me up for catastrophic failure in the most public ways. He desires to do this not just to destroy and discourage me but even more so to damage the reputation of the Teacher who has undertaken the responsibility for my spiritual success and remediation.
This is a titanic struggle to the death and is happening in the life of every one of us. I am responsible for my personal choices and cooperation with the Spirit's working in my own life, not for what He is doing in those around me. So I want to do my part in protecting His reputation and being a student that God can increasingly trust to follow directions even when they may not always make sense to me. It is not only for my good and safety and growth but even more so it is the way in which I can bring honor to the One who gave Himself – all of Himself – to take the risk of enrolling me in His school. He believes that I am worthy of being trained, of being personally mentored by the Spirit of God to learn to imitate and reflect the very characteristics of God Himself to the watching world. That is the purpose of this school and it is far beyond my ability to even begin to accomplish this on my own.
This training program has several facets that require coordination of the different parts of my being. It is one thing to fill my head with new knowledge about God that is radically different than much of what I have learned in the past, and that is certainly extremely helpful and vital as part of my re-education program. But along with that, and increasingly synchronized with that, I must learn to cooperate with His training of my heart to allow these principles that I am learning with my head to become deeply integrated. This is the area where I am far less familiar or comfortable, for it is a part of me that has been repressed for much of my life. I was mistakenly trained from childhood that much of what of what my heart needed to express was improper, shameful and even sinful. I came to believe that expressions of the heart were incompatible with religion and that my relationship with God had to be primarily restricted to a head experience only. Thus I taught to view with suspicion my desires for expressions of joy, of spontaneity, of desire, of passion and even of love. Thus I was set up with hidden areas of vulnerability that have created countless problems for me over the intervening years.
But in recent years God has shown me a great deal on the intellectual side about important principles in relation to these issues of the heart. He has increasingly revealed to me many things that are vital for a person to grown and mature in a balanced and healthy manner. In the process I have come to realize how severely stunted I am in many of the heart areas of my life and how far behind I am in this part of my training. In my clumsy attempts to try to remedy this imbalance I have more often than not made a fool of myself and even damaged other hearts in the process. This in turn has sent me back into reactive emotions of shame and reclusiveness and caused me to repeatedly try to withdraw from the training process. Yet my heart still longs and cries out for something much better and God intends to do whatever it takes to completely win my trust in His training for this aspect of my life.
It is difficult to even discuss this part of me because the heart does not function in the arena of words. Yet I have come to learn that the heart is the part of me that God desires most to have access to for His purposes, and it is vital that I connect with Him if I am ever to have a lasting relationship. If God does not gain more and more access to my heart I will eventually lose my capacity to experience the very salvation that He has so graciously provided to heal me back into full function as a mature child in His family.
I feel so unbalanced between my head training and my heart training. I long to grow in both areas, but especially in the things of the heart. I feel all sorts of urgings and emotions at various times that are symptoms indicative of deep aching voids – chasms really – that are in desperate need of revitalization and connection to other hearts. God designed us to live in intimate relationship with His heart and if any of us are ever to spend eternity with Him, we are going to have to allow Him to make His initial connections with our hearts now so that He can make us safe enough to finish the process later on. I am more and more convinced that the core issue in the spiritual battle all of us face is not so much the truth or untruth of the facts about religion, as important as those may be, but the willingness of our hearts to come into a relationship of trust in the heart of our Father who is doing everything possible to reveal His trustworthiness to us.
What really snapped me to attention last night was a brief viewing of some video clips that awakened dormant areas of my heart I had forgotten about for some time. As I watched literally hundreds of people suddenly coming alive with excitement as they were enticed to join into musical celebrations carefully coordinated to create commercials for a company's financial benefit, I felt a keen sense of attraction myself, an overwhelming desire to join into the joy that was so evident on the faces and in the body language of those participating in these seemingly spontaneous events. The effect on people's faces was electric and riveting and even mesmerizing. Of course it was intended to be, and there is no denying that the techniques and psychology behind these orchestrated events was extremely effective.
But instead of reverting to analyzing these things with the typical criticism that I was brought up to apply and seek to point out all the dangers of being sucked into the powerful emotions that are unavoidable as one even watches them, I was suddenly alerted to the reality that the reason these kinds of experiments are so successful is because nearly every person on earth is starved for joy. So when a commercial company taps into that immense and irresistible hunger to share joy with other people, even with total strangers around them, through expressions in music or expressive dancing, their success is almost guaranteed.
It is not that helpful to just condemn such commercial success as sinful exploitation of people's hunger or to point out the moral direction that such powerful emotions tend to move us toward, for all that does is to try to repress the emptiness of our hearts and try to deny our God-given desires to experience joy with others. We are all created with a very deep craving to live in joy in its purest sense of the concept. And remember, the nervous system's definition of joy is that feeling one gets when someone else is genuinely glad to be with you and conveys a message of their value or love for you. Our souls are designed to thrive on joy; indeed, it is the essential fuel that God designed for the literal growth and development of one of the most important segments of our physical brain. Without it we become stunted and are greatly inhibited in our capacities for creativity, confidence and a secure sense of identity.
Of course the enemy's dominance over this world leads us to use improper ways to offer extremely powerful enticements to fill this deep hunger of our hearts, ways that will later on sabotage and betray that very part of us that is most sacred and potentially fulfilling. Only the God who created us for the complete joy of intimate bonding with Him can bring the kind of satisfaction that will never disappoint. But dwelling at length on what is wrong with the world's offers to fill that emptiness without recognizing that we desperately crave and need to have this part of our life come alive is to live in denial of the real truth about ourselves. For too long religion has in some ways repressed our legitimate desires for joy fuel instead of presenting the far superior Source where the fuel will produce no regrets.
I cannot say honestly that I have ever even experienced very much real joy in my whole life. I have had faint glimpses of it at times that only served to give me extreme pangs of longing that I could hardly stand to experience. But that was enough to make me realize that this is a vulnerability that could easily be exploited by the enemy of my heart in a moments notice, to easily infiltrate my soul and then quickly destroy much of what God has spent years shaping inside of me. I am keenly aware that I need to be very open to seeking God's solution to this flash point in my heart and to come to experience more fully and regularly the kind of genuine joy that I was created to thrive on. For every counterfeit there is a genuine, so I can be assured that if the counterfeits I see around me can awaken such an intensity of desire and longing in my heart, then I can be assured that when I find and experience the real deal that it will be exponentially greater and far more satisfying than any imitation might offer.
I currently don't know how to experience that kind of joy, but I am seeking God to lead me to it as quickly as possible. I realize that my great immaturity in many ways prevents me from entering fully into the joy He has for me as my capacities for embracing joy are extremely limited at this point. I feel like I have so much scar tissue in some parts of my makeup that it is nearly impossible for me to even express many things. I feel extremely inhibited in the area of my body language, my facial expressions and even my tone of voice. I feel like I am trapped inside a seriously malfunctioning body that intensely resists allowing what is in my heart to find effective expression. Some years ago I found that writing is one of the only outlets by which my heart can attempt to come into the open to find enough air and light to begin to grow at all. Thought I am thankful for this outlet, it is far too limited to effect the kind of massive changes that still need to take place in this part of my being.
So I am asking God to mentor me in joy. I am asking Him to partner me with someone who can demonstrate His kind of joy and give me an example for to imitate so that more parts of me can come into line with the healing and growth my heart yearns to experience. I long to be congruent in all areas of my life and to enjoy the freedom and joy and fellowship that God intends for me to live with the rest of His body. I am increasingly aware that I am severely joy-starved and have very little joy strength. I live around some who feel it is a sin to experience true joy and sometimes seek to kill joy in others by limiting as much as possible all joy-building activities we may try to promote.
Living without joy is one of the greatest but most overlooked dangers that Christians can face. It can set them up to fall into the most surprising and humiliating sins that in turn publicly discredits the reputation of God. When Christians try to suppress joy in the name of religion and stifle interactions of joy between believers in using mistaken ideas to enforce morality, they many times set themselves up to become so empty and dry and desperate for joy they become highly vulnerable. Then when someone may come along and even innocently begin to offer expressions of kindness and sympathy they suddenly find themselves willing to throw everything away they have believed all of their life to leap into maybe even an adulterous relationship to fill this overwhelming pain and dryness in their soul.
When people are joy-deprived it is a mistake to suppress their desire for joy as a means of preventing moral failure. What is needed is not so much control and restrictions but massive infusions of real joy to balance the life and bring into the soul the vital fuel we were created to for. Instead of seeking to be righteous through deprivation and isolation of our hearts, we need to learn that God's way is to provide the very things we long for so effectively that we will become satisfied to the point that we are no longer so vulnerable from the aching inner emptiness that weakens us. As we choose to live in this joy from God, we will discover the truth that the strength that comes from His joy is the kind of power that will protect and keep us through all of the temptations designed exploit empty hearts.
The strength that comes from joy is not only for our protection but serves a far greater purpose in bonding us close to others who are also coming into intimate connections with the heart of God. The closer we come to God and access His joy, the more He is going to bond us tightly to others in similar ties of joy as we come to worship together in joy, play together in joy and even weep together in joy. Does that sound strange? Not if you realize that joy is an intense sense of being valued for who you are no matter what emotion you may be currently experiencing. So it is just as thrilling to experience joy in times of fear, shame or even anger when someone is willing to stick close to you through those times as it is to know joy in the more positive times of our lives.
Father, You know how devoid of joy my heart is and that I don't even grasp the full extent of the damage preventing me from engaging in joy. What I do know is that only You have the ability to deliver me and heal me and grow me up through experiences where You provide opportunities for joy. Teach me to let go of my resistance to joy while keeping me from falling for the extremely alluring imitations of joy that may suddenly entice me in wrong directions. I have to trust You on this because I am so weak and vulnerable and even ignorant about these dangers. But You are committed to saving me, restoring me to wholeness and teaching me to relate to Your children with Your kind of joy. Show me Your joy-filled face and deliver me from the inhibitions and lies that suffocate my heart and even inhibit my body from allowing joy to freely flow. Deliver me from this body of death and lead me by Your Holy Spirit into joys forevermore – for Your name's sake.