Recognizing God’s Presence in Our Suffering

The Following is an excerpt from The Uninvited Companion: God’s Shaping us in His Love Through Life’s Adversities  © 2017 Scott E. Shaum pp. 113, 116-117.  

The book is available from Amazon.com in print and Kindle versions.

Earlier in this book, I made several references to the silence I experienced during the Printearly days of my illness. Though I can now look back and see God’s loving hand doing a deep work in me to open me and draw me into his love,

at the time the sensation of God’s absence simply piled on top of the physical challenges I was facing. On top of all the physical discomforts, God seemed to have up and left.

I often describe the experience in the following manner: It felt like I had been riding down the road of life with God, and then one day he pulled the car over and told me to get out. So I did. Then he drove off. I looked in every direction and had no idea where I was. All I saw was a barren, featureless terrain I had never been to before. This barrenness went on to the horizon in every direction. I sat down and waited for God to return.

And I waited.

I cried out to God in anger and confusion. The silence was simply overwhelming.

It was one of the most confusing, disorienting, and disrupting times of my life. What was God doing?

A Better Offer

Frankly, this passage (John 16:33) was a confounding one to me during the time of sitting in that barren and silent place. God was not speaking to me. I could not sense his presence. I did not have the discernment at the time to sense his abiding presence and work, but he was there all along. Herein lies an important spiritual reality: We often want from God what he can do for us, more than we want God himself. In my case, I just wanted all the pain to go away—and fast.

But God’s primary longing for us is not for our comfort; it is for our communion. He is not merely extending his gifts to us, but he is extending himself. His primary desire is always relational. Suffering is but one means he uses to catch our attention and draw us deeper into himself. It was in this barren landscape that I was being awoken to the greater gift he was extending to me than the mere removal of suffering. I wanted resolution. He invited me to an enduring companionship with him in the midst of suffering. I wanted explanations. He offered his presence instead. He was using all the disorienting, painful stripping of my inability to solve my own problems to invite me deeper into his loving presence.

A New Recognition

There are spiritual truths we will otherwise never learn unless we find ourselves in similar barren places. Our life situations are as varied as could be, yet God is up to something beautiful in each of us. What is common to all, though, is his unbridled commitment to draw us into his loving presence. This is one of those unforeseen gifts of our sufferings.

 

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Mastery And Mystery

Mastery
We seek competency and proficiency in many areas of our lives. That is good and proper stewardship of what God has graced us with in life. As caregivers, it behooves us to provide as excellent of care as we can.

We feel most comfortable discussing and pursuing mastery. Mystery, though, is another reality IMG_0785.JPGaltogether…

Mystery
Its the mysteries in life that undo us.

Mysteries are the life circumstances in which we often feel stuck, confused, and undone. We cry out to God for relief and nothing seems to change. Even the Apostle Paul experienced God saying “no” to him when he cried out for help (see 2 Corinthians 12 for example).

Tolerance for Mystery
God seeks to grow us in our tolerance for mystery. As we grow in tolerance for mystery, we actually become more competent in our mastery. However,  we often, sometimes unknowingly, ignore and hide the broken places in our lives; those places that undo us.

How is God growing your tolerance for mystery? How might this growth impact your mastery of journeying with others well?

At the annual Mental Health and Missions Conference (November 2017. See mti.org for information)  I addressed this paradoxical dynamic we find ourselves in. You can listen to it in its entirety.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and responses.

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Book Release: The Uninvited Companion

PrintThe Uninvited Companion: God’s Shaping Us In His Love through Life’s Adversities is a culmination of  wresting with God and his Word through year’s of personal, physical adversity.

Here is an excerpt:

My Hannah-Like Prayer Moment

I remember clearly a Hannah-like prayer that was formed within me. This was not some well-crafted, long-thought-out prayer. It simply rolled off my lips, unrehearsed, one day. I was not prepared for what I said. It makes me wonder that Hannah’s may not have been planned either (see 1 Samuel 1:1-11).

My wife, Beth, was driving me home from yet another unhelpful medical appointment. I was simply too chronically exhausted to drive. My head was resting on the passenger window of our car. A tear rolled down my cheek and a prayer rolled off the edges of my heart: “Allow this to continue for as long as you want, to do whatever you want in my life.”

Where did that prayer come from? I suspect in the recesses of my soul, where the Holy Spirit was shaping a deep, new form within me, such words took seed. I had never prayed such a prayer before. Up until then, I only wanted to be better. Fast. But the God of Hannah was birthing in me a posture toward him that had previously not existed. Like Hannah, a livelier response was being born in my heart.

God has answered that prayer. I am a different person than I was. He has not answered prayers about getting physically better, yet he continues to use physical illness to ripen this soul of mine. What’s more is that he has shaped me in ways that allow me to tend to others more sensitively. Like Hannah, God can use all our pains for others’ gain.

Such prayers are one of the fruits of enduring through prolonged pain. What if God, in his wisdom, love, and mercy, is allowing us, yes, even causing us, to experience some pain in our lives to shape yet nonexistent reality in and around us? Does that make the pain any easier to live with? Certainly not. But it can take our engagement with God in profoundly different directions.

We can now be open to the paradigm of yielding to God in his redemptive purposes in us, rather than merely demanding he relieve us of our suffering. Hannah has shown us an entirely different response. This courageous housewife has shown us a beautiful, enlivened way to respond to suffering, even as the tears continued to flow over the losses she was asked to live with—years of barrenness followed by sacrificially giving her young son to be raised to serve in the temple and, eventually, for the well-being of a nation.

(Excerpted from The Uninvited Companion: God’s Shaping Us in His Love though Life’s Adversities ©Scott E. Shaum, 2017; pp. 38-39).

The book is due for release on November 15, 2017. I will have copies at the Mental Health and Missions Conference (IN) November 16-19 and at Grace Community Church, Detroit, MI on November 25 and 26. Copies will be available via Amazon, both print and Kindle versions soon thereafter. You can also obtain a print copy directly from me for $12 including postage mailed within the US.

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Traveling Wise in a Fast World

Several weeks ago I posted a link to a video that has garnered some good feedback in many circles. You can see the blog here with a link to the video in it.

One person commented on that video post wondering what it would look like to seek to live this type of pace while traveling internationally at jet speed. This is a great question.

Lessons on Itinerant Shepherding
Personal, on-site interaction is a core philosophy of my shepherding. I want to walk the IMG_7018streets of those I tend to – meet their community, sit in their living room (if they want that) – enter into the very fabric of their lives. We all long to be known. Long-term, particularized care leads to others being known, loved and that creates space for life change.

There are some hidden temptations that come with such a model. One of the greatest is to be need-driven.

Due to the fact that a particular visit can be short and the needs are great, there is great temptation to pack the schedule full to see as many people as possible.

But consider first: What message are we sending? Do we unintentionally communicate that needs dictate one’s choices? Are we unknowingly affirming a relentless lifestyle? Did Jesus attend to every need that came his way? Should I attempt to? Besides, is this pace sustainable?

I do hold to the adage that what we do speaks louder than what we say. We can model for others what a God-driven, sacrificial life and ministry can look like.

Here are some simple lesson I have learned along the way:

  • If I am tired and harried, that is likely how others will experience me. I don’t want others to get the weary leftovers of my heart. Therefore, it behooves me to have margin prior and during travel. This is not selfish. Its actually thoughtful toward God, self and others.
  • Once I land in a location, I try to get a day or two rest due to jet lag. This allows me to show up to appointments more fresh and able to receive others.
  • With great exception, I keep Sabbath. That day of being delighted in the Lord informs all my other days and shapes the way I engage others.
  • I try to maintain a “2/3 principle” in my daily scheduling. I split the day into thirds: morning, afternoon and evening. As a practice, I try to make myself available two of those thirds. For example, if I have meetings in the afternoon and evening, I try at all possible to keep the morning free. The unscheduled third is actually “scheduled.” That other third of the day is for time in the Word, to pray and reflect and to rest, enjoy the area, get exercise and keep to some semblance of normal rhythms.

What are some of your lessons to slow down to “Godspeed?”  What is your experience of long-term, particularized care of others on their turf?

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Toward Becoming A Father or Mother in the Faith

What are some markers of a mother or father in the faith?
I take note of John’s descriptions of three generations of believers in his first epistle:

“I am writing to you, little children,
    because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
I am writing to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
    because you have overcome the evil one.”                                                                                     
(1 John2:12-13 NIV).

I note that the spiritual children are marked by forgiveness, the young men are marked by aggressive activity (overcoming the enemy), and the elders are marked by a relational knowing.  An aspect of maturity is moving deeper into communion with God and others which will mandate less activity. 

Eugene Peterson taught me (in his many books) that shepherding work is not efficient work. Relationships, spiritual transformation, emotional maturation, and even organizational development is not about efficiency. It is about relationships and, boy, are relationships messy. Nurturing such organisms take enormous swaths of time. I know that you know this. Ah, the tensions of life….

What catches my attention from this brief passage in John, taken with the context of the book, is that the later stage of maturity is not marked by greater activity but rather deeper knowing – particularly of “him who is from the beginning.”

How does one go through such a transition from a stage of life marked by “overcoming the enemy” to one that is marked by “knowing him who is from the beginning?” I presume we are led through such a transition. I have no hope that I would find this Way on my own.

1 John 2:13b-14 is very similar, yet has some variances to it:

“I write to you, children,
    because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
    because you are strong,
    and the word of God abides in you,
    and you have overcome the evil one.”

Forgivness for the children brings them into an adoptive relationship with God as Father. The young men (and women) are still out there overcoming, but we now see the source of their strength – the Word of God abides in them.IMG_2170

A Relational Influence
The Father’s ( and spiritual mothers) however are steady. No varying with them. Their life in the church, in the community, and in global impact – their very identity – is not marked by what they do for God, but that same relational knowing.

As I think of the elders in the faith, those spiritual mothers and fathers, that I have had the gift of getting to know, what strikes me about their life is not how much they get done but rather a presence, a weightiness of soul, a spiritual depth.

Where are you, not in age, but experientially in your walk with God?

  • Do you experience yourself before God as an adopted child, forgiven and God as your Father?  This is the core of our identity.
  • Do you see yourself as giving your life to overcoming the enemy as an outworking of your abiding in God and his word abiding in you? This marks a large chunk of our lifetime.
  • Are you growing in your relational knowing? Experience God’s beckoning in deeper and further to your communion with him? Responsiveness to this invitation is essential for maturing as an elder of the faith.

Each is valid. Each spiritual generation makes up the family of God.

Yet I see and hear little in our society and culture beckoning us onward into deeper, relational knowing, let alone giving place for those who are aged and “less productive.” The Spirit through the Word and lives of others offers a contrary message. We are constantly invited deeper into knowing the Father in Jesus by the Spirit.

The church and the missional enterprise simply cannot have enough of those ones being matured into mothers and father in the faith.

How are you responding to these invitations? What has been your experience?

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Resource: Godspeed Video

A couple of months ago I was encouraged to watch a short video entitled Godspeed. It is a lively, engaging reflection on “the pace of being known” in the context of life and ministry.   A favorite character is Alan Torrence, a monster of a man with long red hair. Others such as N. T. Wright and Eugene Peterson are interviewed throughout.
The message of this video invites me to take a long pause and consider how I go about the shepherding work God has given me to be about. I trust you will pause and reflect upon this as well.
Grab a cuppa, sit back, and enjoy!

Watch Godspeed

“Godspeed was shot in three days, in three villages, by three friends. What began as a five minute video ended as a half-hour portrait of the people and places who had taught Matt to repent & rest.”

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Real Time Hope Amidst Real Time Life

Ours is a Personal, Immediate God

We do not promote deism – the belief in a supreme being who wound up creation then let it go on its own; a god who is aloof, passive and distant. Ours is a Father-God who is not only present but pursuant; who is a powerful, loving Presence with us in our daily lives.

His actions amongst us are both specific and practical for he knows us each by name.

Psalm 62
Psalm 62 is a wonderful expression of this truth in real time amidst real life.

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
    from him comes my salvation. 62:1

James L. Mays (Interpretation Bible Commentary, John Knox Press 1994) is one of my favorite commentators on the Psalms. He clarifies that the translation “wait in silence” misses the Hebrew meaning. The Hebrew does not mean verbal silence. Nor is waiting implied. What the Psalmist is experiencing has already been completed. The meaning rather speaks of a quietness of soul, an inner stillness that comes from yielding fears and anxieties to God as an in-the-moment act of trust.

Verse 5 is extremely similar in verbiage:

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
    for my hope is from him.

This verse is spoken to self; a soliloquy to remind oneself of the truth; a trusting response amidst a world that is hostile and deceitful. A helpful rendition is: “Truly, O my soul, rest in God, for from him alone is your hope.”

Real Time Trust
There is no one and no thing in this world that will provide hope let alone a rested, still soul. Our world facilities the opposite.

We are dealt an onslaught of information that has a fear-formation upon us. The under IMG_5299pinnings of our true identities as known, rescued ones is eroded.
These dark messages depersonalize us. Our God always particularizes us. Note how personally David experienced our God:

  • My God
  • My rock
  • My fortress
  • My salvation
  • My glory
  • My refuge

So David encourages us:

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us. Selah (62:8)

Certainties
We will experience troubles in this world. Dark forces will oppress us. Others will seek to “batter” us (v. 3). Lies from without and within will assail us. These are to expected.

There is a greater One still.  Psalm 62:11-12 is a strong theological summary about the Person of God:

Once God has spoken;
    twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
     and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For you will render to a man
    according to his work.

God is powerful – he is able. God is loving – he is willing. These traits belong to God alone. Other forces will feign power over us, but it is a smoke screen. God will reward us according to our work – which is to say, whether we trust and hope in him or in our own devices to make life work on our own (Compare Isaiah 50:10-11).

As we trust him in real time amidst real life adversities, he offers to us his Presence IMG_5278which can bear within us a rested, still soul. Our daily practices of being immersed in his Presence and his Word are means of orientation as we head into a hostile and deceitful world.
May you know this rest and stillness from the One who is your Hope alone.

Shepherds: As you sit with others and hear their stories, may you
be bearers of this hope: “Truly my soul is at rest in God, for he alone is my salvation.”

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The Provisional Gift of Limitations

The God of LimitsIMG_3732
It is a truth that our infinite God made finitude such an essential aspect of all creation. Rivers flow where God deigns them and they flow to oceans that are bounded by land.
Our atmosphere eventually runs thin the higher one goes, as does our energies as we age. God has filled creation with limits.

Wisdom to Live Within
We know from Colossians 1 that all things were created by God, for God and are held together by God. He sustains everything we see. It is wise for everything created to remain utterly dependent and responsive to the Creator. To submit to God’s design for our lives is a wise response. God knows this – he knows it is for our own good to live within his wisely designed constraints.

Even Jesus lived within limits in his incarnation. He only did what his Father showed him to do (see John 5:19, 30 for example), he slept as he tired, he was only in one place at one time.

Foolish Determinations
In my youth I knew “no bounds.” Limits were there but I was determined in what I wanted to do and relentless about when I wanted to do it and how I wanted to do it. If I even smelled a limitation I doubled down. My life motto was “try harder.” That was (past-tense) a grace and mercy, all that unbridled zest for life allowed for a lot to get done – like work all day then parent three energetic boys into the night day after day after day. Now it makes me tired just thinking about it.

God knows it is not wisdom to live this way all our our life. God is inviting us to a wiser life motto than “just do more.”

Expanding Limitations
Why is that as we age our limitations increase? God is the sustaining God. He sustains the sun’s energy for thousands upon thousands of years so why does he not sustain our IMG_5779energy? Why do we bump into our limits more now than ever as we age? These are questions too great for us, but if we listen to the tenure of Scripture we’d note that output is never God’s ultimate concern. Relationship always is God’s deepest, first and foremost longing.

I have been made aware that despite diminished energies I can still have the most fruitful years ahead of me. How is that possible? God brings fruitfulness not by frenetic activity. Fruitfulness comes from deeper relationship.

Everyday Practice
This reflection on our limits and depency has innumerable applications. We grow in dependency along this “Via Limatiatio.” The sooner we allow God to move us from IMG_5388resistance to resignation to embracing our limits the sooner we can not only grow in wisdom but even in vitality and impact.  Kind of paradoxical, isn’t it?
Are you aware of your limits? Financially? Emotionally? Spiritually? Relationally? Professionally? Organizationally? Maybe these are not curses but blessings. What is God protecting you from with these limits?

How is the Spirit inviting you to live within these God-created realities? What would a wise and loving response to him be?

If you lived well within your limits over the long-haul, how could your personal and professional worlds demonstrated vibrancy?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

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