Finding God in the wilderness

wilderness

As I write this, God has been leading me into the wilderness again, so it is fitting that my thoughts turn to Psalm 63, written by David when he too, found himself in the wilderness.

What impresses me about Psalm 63 is the way in which David recalls moments when he has seen God’s power and glory. In fact, it was God Himself that he saw in in the house of worship.(Psalm 63:2-5).

I wonder what it was that David saw? And when have I seen evidence of God’s power and glory in my life?

I vividly recall the time that I, along with other leaders in the church I was pastoring were called to the bedside of a young expectant Mum who was in the beginnings of suffering a miscarriage.

Humanly speaking it seemed impossible that she would carry her child full term.

But we gathered around her hospital bed, held hands and prayed.

I confess that my faith was weak and I left the hospital fully expecting a call later that day to say that she had lost her baby.

But she didn’t and she gave birth a few months later to a very healthy boy!

It was certainly a demonstration of God’s power, if not His glory.

But as I said previously, David says that He saw God in the sanctuary (Psalm 63:2). I take this to mean that God Himself was the One that David sought – the One we also seek in our wilderness times – and that this was a greater blessing by far than His acts of power and glory.

So right there in the wilderness, David chooses to both praise and rejoice in God. His will be a life of constant praise and of giving glory to God with his words and songs. And the reason for all of this is a quite remarkable statement in verse three:

“Because your love is better than life…”

To know the love of God in your life and the peace, comfort and security this brings is a greater gift than life itself, even in the wilderness.

“God Himself is enough for me and my soul is satisfied.”(Psalm 63:5)

But being in the wilderness is never a fun experience. I have had many times where I have doubted God’s presence – “Are you really with me, Lord?”

Times I have doubted His goodness – “Why this, at this time, Lord?”

Times I have doubted His power – “Are you really going to heal me?”

But the message of David through Psalm 63 is fairly straightforward to me as I walk through this wilderness time.

I can choose to live a life of constant praise to my Father and to thank Him every day.

I can choose to live my life for His glory and to rest in the peace, comfort and security of God’s love for me.

I know that is easier said than done. When you are feeling emotionally exhausted, that perhaps you have become lost in this wilderness and might never find your way out, the idea of resting in the assurance of God’s love seems like a cruel joke.

But here is what I have discovered.

While it seems as if He is not there (I have felt this many times), my Father has consistently reminded me of His presence with me, even if I cannot “feel” it.

Sometimes it is a promise of Scripture: ” Fear not, I am with you…”

Or it has come through the encouragement, prayers, loyal love and faith of my wife, Karen.

And I have seen His presence in the love and support of colleagues and friends who have simply asked me how I am going.

So here, in the wilderness, I find I am able to tell God how much I love Him, thanking Him for every good gift in my life and for teaching me again about humility and my need to depend utterly upon Him.

In this my soul is satisfied – in and with God Himself.

He is enough…

True intimacy means sharing your burdens

luggage

Everyone comes into a marriage carrying emotional and relational baggage.

A skit performed in a church in the United States illustrated this by showing the young couple taking their vows while having heavy burdens labelled guilt, insecurity and fear draped over their bodies. When it came time to “kiss the bride” they were unable to do so – “how can you hold someone when you are carrying so much baggage on your arms?”

What do we do with the baggage?

Pretend it’s not there?

Hope that we lose it at the airport of life?

Expect our partner to carry it?!

Solomon gave some very helpful advice about how we might handle our baggage when he wrote:

“Two are better than one, *because they have a good return for their labour:
If either of them falls down,*one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls*and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.*But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,*two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

In the world in which Solomon lived, people would often travel at night but the journey was dangerous. There was the risk of violent robbery and, at night, falling into deep ditches carved out through the constant wear and tear of travellers and the weather upon the road.

Only if you travelled travel with someone could you be sure someone would immediately help you out.

It has been my experience in marriage that when I share my burdens – notice that I did not say dump my burdens – my wife Karen will listen to me, encourage me and pray for me.

And when this happens, I am incredibly aware of both the truth and the comfort of having a true friend beside me and who is able to lift me out of whatever emotional ditch I may have fallen into.

And of course, I do the same for Karen.

This is what true intimacy in marriage is all about.

It is the assurance that the person closest to you will listen to you when you are in trouble and not judge or reject you.

It is the confidence of knowing that there is someone traveling with you on the road of life and they will always be there for you.

Gordon MacDonald likens it to traveling through life in “the company of a happy few” – that as husband and wife you experience the joy and delight of not just being lovers, but true friends as well.

More poetically, Michael Card describes it this way:

Home is where someone is waiting and loving
And happy to see you again,
That half of your heart that somebody else treasures
The one who’s your forever friend.

We all have baggage and we do bring it into our relationships.

Some of us are unaware of our baggage and for some of us, it may take a lifetime to be rid of it.

Which is why it is much better to share the load with someone else.

How sad it is to see couples who have been married for decades but have never come to the place of truly being able to help each other out of the ditches of life.

One more thing.

Solomon spoke of the “cord of three strands.”

How much stronger is the couple that not only supports each other in tough times but also relies on God’s everlasting and unfailing strength, grace and encouragement!?

The truth about intimacy

couple

HOW would you define intimacy? In a world drowning in social media, reality TV and an endless stream of advice on sexual fulfilment, it’s a good question to ask.

I came across a good answer several years ago which defined intimacy as:
Knowing and being known
Loving and being loved
Serving and being served
Forgiving and being forgiven

It captures the essence of intimacy because it puts it in terms of the other person. There is a clear intent to know the other person deeply, love them unconditionally, serve them sacrificially and to freely forgive them when it is required.

True intimacy in a relationship also fosters other traits.

When a couple bond together in intimacy, when they become “one”, they have courage to face life together. Solomon said that “two are better than one”, going on to describe the peril of falling into a pit on your own. Sharing life with another brings the security of knowing that they are there for you in difficult times – you can both face whatever life throws at you together, courageously!

It also encourages the gift of love that chooses. I am so grateful to my wife, Karen, who held out her heart to me early in our relationship and basically said, “This is who I am – will you love me?”

And I did the same with her. And we both chose to love each other, despite our failings and weaknesses.

Love that chooses is a precious gift indeed. Honesty is also the fruit of true intimacy.

Genesis says that Adam and Eve both stood before each other “naked and not ashamed”.

The nakedness spoken of here is spiritual, mental, psychological and physical nakedness.

What freedom there is when you can stand before another without wearing any masks, to be truly “naked” before them and to feel no shame!

And what happiness we cheat ourselves of when we simply interpret such a statement as referring only to the physical!

Christopher and Rachel McCluskey explain it well when they write:

“…it is important that husbands and wives enjoy intimacy without necessarily needing to be sexual, and because (unfortunately) husbands and wives are often sexual without being intimate…there is a world of difference between simply having sex and truly making love. The world uses these phrases interchangeably and, indeed, the acts themselves are the same. But the spirit of making love is entirely different from simply having sex.”

Not surprisingly, this leads to greater depths of intimacy between the couple who are prepared to take the path of truly knowing each other.

What a wonderful thought lies behind this idea of truly knowing someone!

You may be familiar with the term, “…he knew his wife…” and which is so often viewed from a sexual standpoint.

But the same word is also used to describe a person as “knowing God”. The concept speaks of knowing someone “thoroughly and deeply”.

Intimate couples are those who know each other thoroughly and deeply – they seek to know the other person and they in return, feel thoroughly known.

There are things I know about Karen that no one else has ever known and never will know. And it is the same for me with her.

In our seeking to know and be known by each other we have built security, understanding and deep love.

One of the greatest gifts Karen has ever given to me was the day she said to me, “I feel safe with you!”

Please don’t be under any illusions about what I am saying here. The path to true intimacy is filled with pain, tears, hard times and frustration but I would not exchange it for what so many settle for – a shallow existence with someone they barely know.

Far better to embrace the One who made you for intimacy and the one that you call husband or wife.?

Dance with me!

dance

THE HIT SONG Shut up and dance captures the wonder and excitement of a blossoming romance:

We were victims of the night
The chemical, physical, kryptonite
Helpless to the bass and the fading light
Oh we were bound to get together
Bound to get together
She took my arm
I don’t know how it happened
We took the floor and she said
Oh don’t you dare look back
Just keep your eyes on me
I said you’re holding back
She said shut up and dance with me
This woman is my destiny
She said oh oh oh
Shut up and dance with me

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the phrase “shut up and dance with me” is not the number one pick for encouraging love and intimacy between a couple, but I disagree!

The boy is attracted to the girl but he is hesitant to get out onto the dance floor with her. Perhaps he can’t dance; he could be afraid of making a fool of himself or that someone else will cut in and dance with his girl.

He has a question – does she really want to be out there with me or is she reluctant?

So she looks him in the eye and says, “Shut up and dance with me!”

It’s not bad advice for when a relationship hits a bump or two, regardless of how long you have been together.

A lack of good inter-personal skills can be one of those bumps. Some people are extremely shy, so sharing deeply with another person can be awkward and embarrassing.

For others, it may be that past experiences with family members or friends have them left them emotionally damaged or wary of intimacy.

The good news is that there are a wealth of tools available today that enable people to develop healthy relational and communication skills – the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality website (emotionallyhealthy.org) has a variety of resources to encourage deeper relationships among people.

Then there is the bump of fear that relationships often encounter. “What if this won’t last?” “What if the other person doesn’t really like me?” “Did I marry the wrong person?”

Unfounded fear severely hampers intimacy between two people and it will cripple a relationship.

If you are struggling with fear and it is holding you back from intimacy, then give voice to it. Speak with a counsellor or trusted friend about your fears and find healing in their objective advice.

Bring your fear into the light and see how quickly it begins to fade!

The bump of insecurity also damages a couple’s intimacy. We all have insecurities but some of us allow them to eat away at us, gnawing at our brains.

“Am I good enough for my husband/wife?”

“Does he/she really love me for who I am?”

“Will they leave me for someone else?”

I have found that the best way of dealing with some of these insecurities is to talk to your husband or wife about them. Make sure that you clearly explain to them that this is your problem, not theirs and then share openly the “what” and “why” of your insecurity.

And if you are the receiver in this conversation then listen with your ears and your heart, ready to speak the words of assurance and comfort that they need.

Every relationship will have its bumps and these need to be addressed, worked through – never ignore them.

But sometimes, as the song above suggests, we can allow the bumps to consume us and we look for reasons as to why this will fail.

Sometimes a husband or wife just needs to look their troubled lover in the eye, speak the words of love and reassurance they long for and simply say, “Shut up and dance with me!”

May you know the utter exhilaration of dancing forever with the one you love deeply!

Marriage is like dancing together

dancing

WATCHING PEOPLE DANCE can be a fascinating exercise at times.

Some are out on the dance floor, busting a move and they look great – but they dance alone.

Others dance with a partner, moving in beautiful symmetry together as they look into each other’s eyes.

Occasionally you see a couple where one partner is fully engaged while the other stares blankly over their shoulder, plainly bored and disinterested.

In case you haven’t noticed, marriage is a lot like dancing!

Great dancing requires great communication and understanding between the couple – and when they get it right, magic happens out there on the floor!

Likewise, a great marriage requires two people who are committed to each other and who are also prepared to grow and change in ways that produce a deeper understanding and care for each other.

When one, or both, partners are disengaged in the relationship, indifference sets in and the very real likelihood that you will end up dancing alone.

When it comes to dancing, I have two left feet while Karen is the dancer in my life. Through her loving encouragement, I have mustered up the courage to get out on the dance floor with her and not make a complete fool of myself!

Yet in the dance of our marriage, neither of us can claim any expertise.

Over the years, we have had to discover and apply many valuable principles that have enabled us to dance well together in our marriage.

One principle has been a commitment to be truly present with each other when we are talking.

It can be very easy to “zone out” or become distracted by something else when your partner is talking to you.

Our simple discipline to help us break that habit is that when are aware it is happening we admit it and apologise for doing so. It is humbling to confess that you were not paying attention, but it is also an effective circuit breaker that produces real change.

The principle of apologising when you are wrong in other areas has also enabled us to dance well together in our marriage.

We keep it pretty simple. We admit our mistake, apologise sincerely for it and ask for forgiveness – there is something humbling in that as well!

Most importantly, with the apology comes a genuine commitment to change our behaviour. People who only apologise but never change are extremely “unsafe” people.

Thinking of the marriage relationship as a dance also reminds me of the great dance of life that God invites us to be a part of.

One of the beautiful images that we have of God is that of the dance of relationship that exists between the Father, Son and the Spirit. They communicate, act and love in complete harmony – it is the great dance of God!

On the night He was to leave His disciples, Jesus prayed that they would all “be one”. His prayer was grounded in the unity that exists between Himself and His Father and Jesus’ desire was that His followers would experience that same unity and oneness; that they might dance in unity and love in their relationship with God and with each other.

Interestingly, the oneness Jesus prays would be between us and God the Father is also the same concept at the heart of oneness in marriage – unity, love and openness.

It was for this oneness – with God, others and our partners – that Jesus died and rose on that first Easter centuries ago.

He invites us all to the great dance of life with Him and each other, not indifferently but as fully engaged participants!?