What Would God Shout at You from a Cloud?

In the Gospel of Matthew, there are two instances where a cloud appears over Jesus and God shouts two brief, identical messages. I have often wondered what God would shout at me in a similar situation.

Honestly, I tend to think God would shout negative things at me. I imagine God telling me to stop doing something or to do more of something. In either case, the message would focus on the ways I’m falling short and have been inadequate.

I have struggled to imagine a loving and merciful God. It’s much easier to imagine a God who is either disappointed or really, really angry.

Bringing up this disappointed/angry image of God with people tends to strike a nerve.

What would God shout at you?  

volunteer more!

spend less money!

stop obsessing about your body image!

share the Gospel more!

stop lusting!

help more people in need!

read the Bible more!

pray more!

go to a different church!

spend less time on social media!

We can’t imagine that God the Father is for us and loves us. We can only imagine God showing up in a cloud and telling us to get our acts together, to start doing something different.

God the Father isn’t typically imagined as being on our side. God the Father is somehow joined with Jesus in the Trinity but remains disappointed in us and in need of a blood sacrifice to make us acceptable in his sight, working out a loophole in his infinite holiness and justice.

Before Jesus launched his ministry and before Jesus ventured to Jerusalem where he would be killed and then rise from the dead, God the Father spoke the same message over Jesus:

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:16-17

 “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

Matthew 17:5

On both occasions, God the Father affirmed the Son. On the first occasion Jesus had not even started his ministry.

I have tended to write off the significance of these moments between the Father and the Son. However, I now think that this was a big mistake on my part.

Jesus came to unite us with God, adopting us in God’s family. Paul writes that our identity is hidden away in Christ. In the midst of this union with Christ, we dare not overlook the love of God for us that goes beyond our comprehension:

“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19

Through the ministry of Jesus and our union with him, we have a new way of thinking about God. If God is our Father through our union with the Son, then it isn’t far-fetched to say that God’s first thought of us is love and a desire for deeper union with us. God desires to heal, redeem, and restore his children.

Failing to believe that I am a child of God is the most important obstacle for prayer. Once I believe that God loves and accepts me like Jesus is loved and accepted, prayer becomes a moment to rest in God’s love rather than a game of hide and go seek with God or a proving ground for my spirituality.

For years, I doubted God’s love for me, and my struggles with prayer served as validation for those doubts.

Beginning with the foundational teaching of God’s love and acceptance for his children made it possible to rest in God’s presence and to trust in his love for me. I was finally able to participate in the silence of contemplative prayer that seeks to lovingly gaze at and adore God the Father.

Contemplative prayer relies on resting in this love as the first step in prayer, letting all other distractions fall away in order to be still in God’s presence.

Imagining a God who calls down to us with loving messages before we’ve done a single thing can revolutionize how we pray. This was the God that Jesus wanted to reveal to us, and this is the God that we can pray to when we turn to him in silent adoration.

 

Take a First Step in Contemplative Prayer

After years of anxious, hard-working spirituality, I found peace with God by practicing contemplative prayer. I’ve written an introduction to this historic Christian practice titled:

Flee, Be Silent, Pray:
Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians

On sale for $8.49 (Kindle)

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There Is Life on the Other Side of Our Fears

fear-hope-prayer

When I released my first book, an author I knew shared a picture of his book in a bargain bin at a discount book store.

I gasped in horror. What if that was my book? Would I dare to share a picture like that???

Eight years later, my first book has no doubt sent plenty of copies to the bargain bins as well. My publisher stopped promoting it—that’s what they told me.

While I had long taken pride in the fact that my book was still officially in print eight years after being released and selling more copies than the majority of first time books, I started to face my fear about going out of print. This was way beyond the bargain bin. This was THE END.

We all want to be validated and praised, and that’s a big part of what publishing commercially can do for a writer.

One of my lessons in contemplative prayer has been to go through my fears, to face them in all of their menacing power and to seek God on the other side. This is very counter-intuitive for a person like me. I have anxiety issues, and the last thing I want to do is to face the source of that anxiety. However, facing the source of my anxiety has been much better than reacting to the sensation of anxiety itself, and once I face the root of my anxiety, I actually have something to pray about.

So I faced my fear about going out of print. What would it mean?

Honestly… not that much. The book wasn’t being promoted. Why did I care about an official listing with a publisher if I could actually promote it better myself?

I was shocked to see how fast my fears melted away. As it turned out, my fragile ego had been fueling all of my fears and anxiety. I didn’t want to be found out as a fraud if my book didn’t stay in print, even if something like that could never determine my identity or worth.

How often do we give such tremendous, absolute power to fleeting, fickle things? Do I really want the business team at my publisher to hold the key to my identity as they debate black and white dollars and cents related to my book?

Once I faced the worst of my fears about going out of print, I started to find new energy for this book. I started looking into which chapters I could revise, and I lined up a college professor to help with the revisions since he’s been using the book for a seminar class for several years.

I still believe in this book, and I wanted to do the work to send it back into the world better than ever.

My agent and I decided that we would ask for the rights back after we got back from a major publishing conference. As it turned out, the publisher sent the official letter offering me the rights back a week after I returned from the conference.

Instead of wallowing in despair, I was delighted to see that the process was already in motion.

Before the files arrived from the publisher, I already had an order for 40 print copies.

There is life on the other side of our fears. Oftentimes, we just need to face them, bringing the root issues before God. The process isn’t neat or pleasant. I’ve certainly had enough devastating failure and struggles to make me desperate enough to find another way forward.

Perhaps you’re living in fear of something today that has power over you. Remember that God has not given you a spirit of fear, so if you’re under the power of fear, it’s not from God. There is healing and renewal for us, and we could end up in a place of freedom and hope that we never ever imagined.

We are loved. God is for us and desires our healing and freedom.

Perhaps today you need to read the words of Psalm 131:

O LORD, I am not proud; I have no haughty looks. I do not occupy myself with great matters, or with things that are too hard for me. But I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother’s breast, my soul is quieted within me.
Psalm 131:1-3

May we find God’s rest on the other side of our fears.

 

Read more about the basics of contemplative prayer and Christian spirituality in my latest book:

Flee, Be Silent, Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace with God through Contemplative Prayer

On sale for $2.99

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Real Treasure Is Always Hard to Find

dig-a-garden-treasure

The following post is from my bi-weekly e-newsletter. I don’t typically share this content on my blog, but I thought I’d offer a bit of a sample of what you can expect if you sign up: 

A man is laboring in the field for a large business. He’s removing rocks with his shovel in the heat of the day, and it’s back-breaking work.

Still, he keeps showing up and working from sun up to sun down in order to provide for his family, creating a small but pleasant little oasis in the home that they had saved up to buy.

Everything in the man’s life changes when his shovel smashes into a metal box.

He looks over his shoulder to make sure no one is looking.

He’s all alone.

Smashing the lock off the box with a fierce thrust of his shovel, he finds stacks of large bills, rare coins, and impressively large jewels. He’s never seen anything quite like this.

Although he is overjoyed by his discovery, which he quickly covers up and marks with a uniquely shaped rock, he knows that his wife may have a hard time accepting what they must do next.

In order to buy the parcel of land where he found the box, he has to convince his wife to sell their fine little home and just about everything else they own.

That evening she agrees but with grave reservations. When his family catches wind that he is selling everything he owns in order to buy an empty field, they’re livid. They mock him and some even threaten to disown him as he sells one possession after another.

We all know how this parable of Jesus ends. Who wouldn’t want to be that man who found the treasure?

Then again, perhaps we forget that gaining a treasure beyond our wildest dreams means we must make significant sacrifices and even work extremely hard in order to attain it.

That doesn’t mean we could ever possibly earn the treasure in this parable. No one is worthy of God’s Kingdom. It’s a pure gift that is given to us. However, it is a gift that we can fail to find if we cling to possessions and priorities that we mistakenly believe to be more valuable.

In fact, we can fail to receive this incredible gift if we’re too lazy or too afraid to do the work required to attain it.

I’ve been guilty of wanting quick fix Christianity and attempting drive through spirituality at times.

I want to read the book, learn the thing, add the practice, or recite the prayer that makes things better NOW.

But finding the treasure of God’s Kingdom, seeking the presence of God, or being transformed into a kind, loving person who imitates Jesus isn’t a crash diet or life hack.

I see the daily disciplines of pursuing silence, settling my mind before God to pray, and meditating on scripture as the shovels we use to toss aside the many distractions that keep us from the treasure of God’s presence.

In order to pursue this treasure, we have to leave so many other things behind, even good things. It’s not without a cost. It’s not without faith that we are setting aside good things for something better.

This is especially true in the discipline of prayer. Honestly, there are days when it feels like nothing much is going on.

Yay! I just spent 20 minutes sitting quietly on my couch! Go God!

However, if I neglect that time, I miss out on the epiphanies and holy moments that most certainly come in their time. In addition, if I fail to take that time to be still, I’ll most certainly spend my days in motion, frantically running from one thing to another.

It’s a daily discipline to keep digging, to keep counting the cost, and to keep making sacrifices in the hope that God can lead us to something better.

This is faith in action.

It’s not fast.

It’s not glamorous.

It’s not something you can capture in a selfie, sharable image, or tweet.

Some days it feels like you’re just slinging one pile of rocks into another pile of rocks.

And then some days you strike that treasure. The presence of God slowly creeps in and brings peace, hope, and joy.

In that moment, we can be assured that we have never earned this magnificent gift, but we have certainly moved what feels like heaven and earth in order to find it.

 

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