Fort Knots and other strangleholds

I’m grateful for periods of sifting. But to make the best out of such times requires focused acts of thought, which sometimes means having to choose between reflecting or studying. But what’s one worth without the other? Either way, I can’t muck about. That’s why I have little patience for pastimes or past pleasures now. Denying the self might be a culinary matter of chocolate and ice cream (and strawberry shortcake), but could also mean an attitudinal shift on the importance of sleep.

Anyway, sometimes the heavy spadework of reflection has already been done and published, so when you’ve amassed enough sorrows and if you read with any frequency, there’s a good chance some questions on your heart will be answered through extra-curricular reading. This happened to me during the March school holidays with Christopher Wright’s Knowing the Holy Spirit Through the Old Testament (see previous two posts), and it’s happened again with George Verwer’s No Turning Back*.

Here are some meaty chunks of choice excerpts that might be helpful if you’re struggling with cynicism (and stinkin’ love songs) (the bits in orange I am especially taken by):

If you cast your cares upon the Lord, and as you pray they come rushing back, then cast them up again. You may find it useful to keep a pen and paper beside you as you pray: as concerns for the day ahead crowd into your mind, write them down. You can offer them to the Lord and go on praying without fear of forgetting whatever it was that occurred to you. I lay such stress upon this point because I am a fearful worrier, and suffer daily from anxiety and fear and a sense of failure. My greatest help in Christ is that moment by moment I can pass my distress over to him. This is not a point you should agree with and skip over, but a discipline to appropriate for yourself. Without it you will find yourself avoiding prayer — and ultimately service — as too painful and burdensome. …

Love is the hallmark of the true disciple. If however we think that love will come easily into our lives we are making a serious mistake. There are two extreme views which are both common: that love is a product of extensive training and discipline, and that love is a natural result of a deep encounter with the Spirit. The second view is very widespread: yet as we grow in Christian maturity we must expect to go through ‘dry patches’. These are valuable times, for they allow us to learn for ourselves that Christian truth is bigger than our own feelings. …

Do not be led astray by the popular way of thinking that if you feel it to be right, then it is right. For years now hit records and romantic films and novels have been saying, in effect, that while the feeling lasts, everything is fine, but as soon as the feeling dies then it is time to move on. The Christian faith certainly offers plenty of joy and love and deep satisfaction, but it works from the other way round: do what is right, and your heart will follow. …

Some Christians find it very tempting to be so very certain about what is right that they start laying down the law. Often it is difficult to be both firm and loving. A.W. Tozer put it this way:

It requires great care, and a true knowledge of ourselves, to distinguish a spiritual burden from a religious irritation. Often acts done in a spirit of religious irritation have consequences for beyond what we could have guessed. It is more important that we maintain a right spirit toward the others than that we bring them to our way of thinking, even if our way is right. Satan cares little whether we go astray after false doctrine or merely turn sour. Either way, he wins.

Do you know what Tozer means by ‘sour’ Christians? Often they have a good grasp of doctrine and a clear analysis of the situation, but seem to lack gentleness and peace. …

Just as it is easy to judge others, so it is easy to be cynical. We look around at our fellow Christians, and see all too clearly how far they are falling short of the standards they profess. Unless we are abiding in Christ — trusting in him, praying, worshipping, reading his word, opening ourselves to his love — we are likely to fall into the trap of cynicism. … It is very simple to see people’s inconsistencies and to mock them, forgetting that communication is an art and not everyone is a perfect thinker with the gift of self-expression. God looks at the heart when people pray, no matter how clumsy their prayers may be. Cheap jibes are just that — cheap.

Please beware of a cynical spirit in any area. Don’t be cynical for any reason. Don’t be cynical even towards yourself. For every Christian who is troubled by pride, I suspect there is another whose opinion of himself is so low that it hinders him from seeing that God is bigger than his faults.

Tozer offers some good sense on the subject:

In this world of corruption there is real danger that the earnest Christian may overreact in his resistance to evil and become a victim of the religious occupational disease, cynicism. The constant need to go counter to popular trend may easily develop in him a sour habit of fault-finding and turn him into a critic of other men’s manners, without charity and without love. What makes this cynical spirit particularly dangerous is that the cynic is usually right. His analyses are accurate, his judgements are correct, yet for all that he is wrong, frightfully, pathetically wrong. As a cure for the sour, fault-finding attitude, I recommend the cultivation of the habit of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving has great curative powers, and a thankful heart cannot be cynical.

It takes a certain amount of humility to allow others to do things for you: and perhaps in refusing to let his feet be washed [Simon] was betraying that he felt he didn’t need Christ. This is one of the frequent stumbling blocks for those who are close to the kingdom: to admit a need of salvation seems like a recognition of failure — as of course it is. …

Kindness is not just going around with a goofy smile on your face; rather it is the exercise of the imagination God gave you to see how others are feeling and to work out what they are likely to need. …

Confidence in the Bible makes radicals of us all. … there are so many people who give lip service to the authority of Scripture, but do not allow it to dig into their lives. …

As you progress in the Christian life, and get deeper into the ways of the Lord, you will find more and more that the Spirit shows you your sin. This is good. It is an essential part of the victorious life: without repentance and instant forgiveness you will go on struggling in self-pity and self-revulsion, and will be useless in battle, incapacitated by your own misery. The path ahead is to get down on your knees and say, ‘Lord God, I have sinned against you. Have mercy on me.’ …

Forgiveness doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences. …

Let me outline a few basic things that we can do to stand against discouragement, remembering … that great faith is forged as we battle through with our eyes upon the Lord.

(1) Deeper knowledge of God himself … Our goal is God, and when I am much beset by problems then my first and most immediate means of relief is to turn away from Christians, who are weak and fallible, and to concentrate on the majesty, love and awesome splendour of our great Lord.

(2) Greater knowledge of God’s word … Simply spend time in the word of God. Memorise, meditate.

(3) More emphasis on faith and less on feeling … I have found it necessary to be ruthless with my feelings, to dominate my gut-level reactions. It is not easy but the reward is great.

(4) Greater understanding of those around you … Be a good listener, by using your imagination and calling on your reserves of sympathy, and try to believe the best about the person concerned.

(5) Keep some kind of spiritual perspective … We have a big God, with a big heart, and this is the reality behind the bickering church.

(6) Set yourself more realistic goals … By all means claim great things from God, but do not try to manipulate him by lofty rhetorical prayer. It is just as well the Lord has a sense of humour!

(7) Put more of an emphasis on praise and prayer … Keep your eyes on the Lord, and avoid overmuch introspection.

(8) Learn how to be hurt … Being hurt is a part of living on this planet, and forgiveness is utterly necessary.

(9) Realise that God is easy to live with … He is a God of love and mercy and forgiveness, ready to note the smallest effort.

(10) Learn to refuel … Since you can’t achieve perfection, acknowledge the fact and give yourself some time off when you need it.

Many people have a basically negative outlook on life, with a streak of cynicism, a tendency to look on the black side of the picture. … A negative spirit shows an unbelieving heart, for you are not really convinced that God can work things out. It is a contradiction to the injunction in Philippians 4:8–9 … I realise that cynicism is a protection against the disappointments of life, but it carries a very high price. …

There are time when we have to offer reproof to another believer, though always in love. Judgement is a vital part of the Christian message and from time to time particular people will feel called to speak of judgement. … Always your judgements must be motivated by love: if you cannot speak hard truth in charity, then let someone else do so. You are disqualified. This is equally true whether the other person is a Christian or a nonbeliever. …

Christians are called to have faith, not to be credulous. There are a lot of naïve evangelical people around who simply believe everything, especially if it sounds spiritual, or concerns a miracle, and particularly if it is in book form. A lot of people have been misled this way, and it is important to pray for discernment. … Search the word of God: use the Bible as a check for all teaching, including this book.

* George Verwer and Tony Collins, No Turning Back: The Path of Christian Discipleship, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1983), pages 20–21, 42–46, 49, 54, 92, 101–105, 110–111, 113.


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