Twenty-five years ago, my wife and I moved into a lovely farmhouse in the country. But in our hunt for that house, we made huge blunders in understanding (or misunderstanding) each other, and those communication errors stressed our marriage.

Within a few years, those growing tensions contributed to significant marriage difficulties. We saw a Christian counselor, and after an extended time of talking and praying, my wife and I began to find relational healing; we buried the hatchet.

Three years ago, we decided to sell that farmhouse. We followed conventional wisdom like painting, countertops, and staging. Last May, after many months of selling, we finally accepted an offer. We thought the hard work was over.

Until we began the hunt for our next house.

The day we signed that offer, we went golfing; partly to celebrate the long-awaited sale, and partly to plan the search for our next home. By the fifth hole, we had both said things—words we wish we could take back—that reopened all those “healed” wounds from twenty-five years ago.

Those fresh, old memories hurt deeply. They didn’t help our golf scores either. Garth Brooks once wrote a song about marriage. In the chorus he moans,

We bury the hatchet, but leave the handle sticking out.

O Ye of Little Faith

Our new buyers wanted possession in mid-August. From May to July, we combed through every house Zillow offered, and we came up empty. We reluctantly began to look for a rental. A month before closing, the buyers said we could stay in our old house for free through October. My wife and I thanked God for removing that pressure.

But in the morning I woke up and cried, “God, why haven’t you yet given us a new house?

We closed with the new owners in August and rekindled our quest. By October, we had found nothing, and we looked again for a rental. Two weeks later, the new owners contacted us, and told us we could stay here through March.

I again thanked God for his grace, and the next morning I again cried out, “Will you ever give us the house we long for?”

Both times I had desperately prayed that God would help, and both times he answered my prayer in a way I didn’t anticipate: he simply let us stay in the house we both love.

And both times, it took me only twenty-four hours to demand again my own agenda.

Waiting

Ask me to visit a friend in the hospital, or to give money to a poor family, or to swim the deepest ocean. Just don’t ask me to wait. And yet waiting is the season God has put me in.

The tensions in our marriage continued last fall as we frantically continued our pursuit. Last November we decided to pause our search until January, and just pray. Our prayer this time was different. Instead of asking God to help us find a house, each morning we met and prayed:

Father, may you be glorified in the process of our looking, and may that search strengthen our love for each other.

Two weeks ago, we began to look for houses once more. And it has been wondrously peaceful. Our discussions have been grace-filled and loving. No hint of past woundings. It’s a miracle!

But we still can’t find a house that suits the mission we want, and we must be out of this one in eight weeks. Then, last Saturday, the new owners invited us to stay here an extra two months.

I am completely undeserving of God’s grace (which, I suppose, is why it’s called grace). I’ve acted unmerciful to my wife and untrusting in God’s faithfulness. It’s not just my past sins. My present sins deserve God’s stern rebuke.

But on the cross, he buried the hatchet. End of chorus.

Sam

P. S. For us to bury and forget past wounds, we need first to find healing in our relationship with God; and that involves hearing God’s voice. It’s normal to hear God, but most of us aren’t taught how. Healing in God means intimate theology, which means both speaking and listening.

Please watch the video bel0w (Is Hearing God Normal), and please consider buying, Hearing God in Conversation.

You and I are just normal folk: we struggle to make lasting friendships. But we also know people who casually stroll into a room of strangers, and leave with a dozen new friends, three lunch dates, and a personal introduction to someone’s dear old grandmother. We wish we were more like them: delightful and enchanting.

Last summer I read a BBC article entitled, Tricks to Make Yourself Effortlessly Charming. It rightly pointed out that all human beings long for someone to show interest in them. To do so, the article suggested a set of techniques. First:

Imagine the other person is a character in [a movie] flick … You’ll find yourself observing and showing genuine interest in their mannerisms and personality.

If that doesn’t work, the article instructed us to “fake” interest, and it offered a suggestion:

Focus on the different colors in their irises. By maintaining that level of eye contact, it will give the impression of interest.

If all else fails, it suggested a trio of facial expressions:

The three major things to do are: … a quick up and down movement of the eyebrow that lasts about a sixth of a second, a slight head tilt, and a smile.

That is all we need to forge deep, lasting friendships: either pretend other people are someone they aren’t, or pretend we are someone we aren’t. It’s quite easy: just pretense and deceit.

Shallow, Ugly, and Pretty Pharisees

That BBC article paints a picture of shallow, modern pharisaism, concerned only with externals.

Scripture paints a repulsive picture of the original Pharisees: Their rigid, outward rules wouldn’t let Jesus heal the on the Sabbath, and they relished the stoning of anyone caught in sexual sin. We think, “What an ugly, hateful people.” (If only they would tilt their heads and smile.)

On a retreat last year, a man said to me, “The whole of the gospel can be summed up this way: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.”

We are distracted when we focus on avoiding repulsive behavior. Because we can be pharisaical just as easily by focusing on good behavior. Loving God and loving our neighbor is attractive. We’d like to be around a person like that. But we forget: those commands were from the Old Testament law. They are good and right, but they aren’t the gospel.

To preach these commandments as the gospel is just practicing pharisaism with a makeover. Spiritual hypocrisy (pharisaism) is like a shadow—deepest and sharpest closest to the light.

What Do We Most Need?

The evil nature of the Pharisees wasn’t the ugliness of their behavior, it was their independence from God through a focus on externals. Jesus told these legalists to wash the inside of the cup and the outside would be just fine.

We’ve all tried to wash the outside of the cup, from the shallow tips of charm to wise tips on healthy marriages, even to trying with all our being to love God and our neighbors. And nothing of lasting, inner change was produced. We are working from the outside in.

Jesus says the solution we most need is for Jesus himself to live his own life through ours, that his spirit would make a home in our hearts. That is the inner cleansing that we need, to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), to live a life hidden in Christ.

It’s a deep, personal, and intimate, life changing, and genuine relationship with him. No more mock smiles, fake friends, or false selves.

Sam

PS: We constantly ask ourselves, “Is this all there is?” Oh, we may not ask it consciously, but all our outward cleansing (whether shallow, ugly, or pretty) is our inner desire to find something more in the life of Christianity.

May I suggest sometime? All we need is greater intimacy with God. Watch this video and consider buying, Hearing God in Conversation, a book on nurturing Intimate Theology with God.

What is spiritual fruit?

My father pastored five different churches between 1949 and 1994. His first four churches averaged 200 members, and his last church grew from 250 to 750 during his ten years of care.

A few years before dad retired from that last, rapidly growing church, I came home for Christmas. We went out for coffee, and he shared with me some reflections on church growth.

When he pastored his first four churches, he felt the “fruit” of his ministry was show in the parishioners’ growth in prayer, Scripture, fruit of the Spirit, and outreach. But when his last church doubled in size, he began to think of “fruit” in terms of Sunday-morning attendance.

He said he had never thought about numbers until he saw the membership increase. And when he saw numbers increase, he began to think of little else. He concluded,

Who would ever imagine that spiritual fruit could be measured by numbers, the same way GM measures a good year, by the sum of the pickup trucks produced?

Significance

The details of my dad’s temptation differ from ours. Most of us easily see through his bogus gauge of attendance. He did too. We are not pastors. We are nurses, mechanics, bus drivers, engineers, and homemakers. But we still have his exact temptation. Ours just looks different.

We each long to make a difference, to live a life that matters, to leave lasting footprints on this earth. And we scrutinize our lives, sifting through each conversation, studying each interaction with friends, hunting after that elusive quarry called “fruit.”

We stalk significance like the lion prowls its prey. Will I be remembered? Will my children ever thank me? Will my colleagues every miss me? Did anyone notice my brilliant idea?

When we see hints of harvest we rejoice, and when we make mistakes, we despair. Why did I give that stupid answer? Why did I run from that risk? Why did I never listen to my kids? 

Spiritual Fruit

Jesus says that genuine, lasting fruit is the result of dwelling in him and him in us. Period! That he is the vine—the source of all fruit and nourishment—and we are branches through which his crop is unveiled.

I once heard a pastor say that if Jesus preached this today, he would say that he, Jesus, is the electrical outlet and we are the plugs. I suppose he is partly right. When we are plugged into God, his life flows through us, and our lamps give light to the world around us.

But mostly the metaphor is horribly wrong. It’s too mechanical. Every metaphor God uses of his connection to us is relational not machine-like. He never says, “I am the piston and you are the crankshaft.” He says he is our King, Father, friend, and (breathtakingly intimate) our spouse.

We would never cut an engine in half to make it produce more horsepower, but the Father prunes us—his branches—so that we produce more fruit. How can this be? The pruning drives into us a thirst of desperation to cling to the vine.

All lasting fruit arises from that spiritual, quantumalgorithm of our inner-soul grasping onto God for all we are worth. Actually, for all he is worth. Any other bounty—no matter the numbers—is bogus.

The world says fix your eyes on, examine, and measure your fruit; and you’ll know your worth. God says, “Come to me, thirst for me, hunger for me, cling to me, and I will satisfy you beyond all you can imagine.”

Our fruit is not the cold assemblage of transmission gears but the cluster of grapes created by an intimate relationship with Him; spiritual fruit is the explosion of intimate theology.

Sam

P. S. For many believers, our spiritual lives also seem unsatisfying. We ask, “Is this all there is?” God says that true, abundant, fulfilling, eternal life can be found: It is simply in knowing Him (John 17:3).

God made us to hear his voice, and in hearing His voice, we come to know him and find that overflowingly rich life. To nurture that conversational relationship with your Father, I suggest you read Hearing God in Conversation.