Tag Archives: Philip Yancey

What God Wants

From Philip Yancey…

For two weeks one winter I holed up in a mountain cabin in Colorado. I brought along a suitcase full of books and notes, but opened only one of the books: the Bible. I began in Genesis and when I finally made it to Revelation I had to call for a truck to unbury the driveway.

The combination of snow-muffled stillness, isolation from all people, and singular concentration changed forever the way I read the Bible. Above all else, this is what struck me in my daily reading: in theology books you will read of God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and impassibility. Those concepts can be found in the Bible, but they are well buried and must be mined. Simply read the Bible and you will encounter not a misty vapor but an actual Person. God feels delight and anger and frustration. Again and again God is shocked by human behavior. Sometimes, after deciding on one response, God “changes his mind.”

If you read the Bible straight through, as I did, you cannot help being overwhelmed by the joy and the anguish – in short, the passion – of the Lord of the Universe. True, God “borrows” images from human experience to communicate in a way we can comprehend, but surely those images point to an even stronger reality behind them.

Jeremiah affected me more than any other book. The image of a wounded lover in Jeremiah is an awesome one that I cannot comprehend. Why would the God who created all that exists willingly become subject to such humiliation from creation? I was haunted by the reality of a God who lets our response matter that much.

When we tame God, in words and concepts filed away under alphabetized characteristics, we can easily lose the force of the passionate relationship God seeks above all else. There may be no greater danger to those of us who write, talk, or even think about God. Mere abstractions, to God, may be the cruelest insult of all.

After two weeks of reading the entire Bible, I came away with the strong sense that God doesn’t care so much about being analyzed. Mainly – like any parent, like any lover – God wants to be loved.
     ~ From I was Just Wondering (153-57)

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Filed under intimacy with the Lord, Love of God

Center stage

Philip Yancey writes…

We all experience both an inner life and an outer life simultaneously. If I attend the same event as you (say, a party), I will take home similar “outer” facts about what happened and who was there but a wholly different “inner” point of view. My memory will dwell on what impression I made. Was I witty or charming? Did I offend someone or embarrass myself? Did I look good to others? Most likely, you will ask the same questions, but about yourself.

David seemed to view life differently. His exploits – killing wild animals bare-handed, felling Goliath, surviving Saul’s onslaughts, routing the Philistines – surely earned him a starring role. Nonetheless, as he reflected on those events and wrote poems about them, he found a way to make Jehovah, God of Israel, the one on center stage. Whatever the phrase “practicing the presence of God” means, David experienced it.

He intentionally involved God in the details of his life.

David had confidence that he mattered to God. After one narrow escape he wrote, “[God] rescued me because he delighted in me” (Psalm 18:19). When David felt betrayed by God, he let God know: it was he, after all, who first said the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He called God into account, insisting God keep up the other end of their special relationship.

Throughout his life David believed, truly believed, that the spiritual world, though invisible to him, was every bit as real as the “natural” world of swords and spears and caves and thrones. His psalms form a record of a conscious effort to reorient his own daily life to the reality of that supernatural world beyond him. Now, centuries later, we can use those very same prayers as steps of faith, a path to lead us from an obsession with ourselves to the actual presence of our God.
~ From The Bible Jesus Read, p 131

So, who’s on center stage in our life?

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Filed under Humility, intimacy with the Lord, Kingdom of God, Life in General

On the wrestling mat with God

One of Philip Yancey’s earlier books is titled Disappointment with God. Apparently the publishers were concerned about the title and suggested Overcoming Disappointment with God. It seemed faintly heretical to introduce a book with a negative title into Christian bookstores filled with all sorts of material on the marvelous Christian life. But Yancey found that the Bible includes detailed accounts of people very disappointed with God.

Job and Moses are two of the more well-known but such a list would also include Habakkuk, Jeremiah and many of the unnamed psalmists. Some psalms could be titled “Furious with God,” “Betrayed by God,” “Abandoned by God,” “In Despair about God.” Here are just two examples.

     How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?
     How long will your wrath burn like fire?…
     For what futility you have created all men!
          ~ Psalm 89

     Why, O Lord, do you reject me
     and hide your face from me?…
     the darkness is my closest friend.
          ~ Psalm 88

At first glance it may seem strange for sacred writings to include such uncomfortably raw emotions, but actually their inclusion reflects an important principle of therapy. Any good counselor will tell you that before unresolved issues can be settled there must first be the admission of ugly emotions connected to them. Yancey comments:

“The odd mixture of psalms of cursing, psalms of praise, and psalms of confession no longer jars me as it once did. Instead, I am continually amazed by the spiritual wholeness of the Hebrew poets, who sought to include God in every area of life by bringing to God every emotion experienced in daily activity. One need not “dress up” or “put on a face” to meet God. There are no walled-off areas; God can be trusted with reality.

The Hebrew poets considered God big enough to handle our wrestling with real-life issues and how faith factors into them. Sometimes I get discouraged when I feel like I am wrestling too much over such issues; but wrestling itself is evidence of an ongoing relationship.

Are you on the wrestling mat with God?

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Filed under Authenticity, Christianity, Courage, Faith, Life in General

God at Large

From Philip Yancey:

A friend of mine recently returned from a visit to Asian countries where Christians are experiencing persecution. Christians in Malaysia told him, “We’re so blessed, because in Indonesia they’re killing Christians, but here we just have to put up with discrimination and restrictions on our activities.” In Indonesia, where Christians are indeed dying for their faith, they told him, “We’re very blessed, because in Malaysia they can’t freely publish the gospel. Here, we still can.” The church in Indonesia values the power of words.

My job as a writer affords me the opportunity to visit a variety of countries, including some that oppress Christians. I have noticed a striking difference in the wording of prayers. When difficulties come, Christians in affluent countries tend to pray, “Lord, take this trial away from us!” I have heard persecuted Christians and some who live in very poor countries pray instead, “Lord, give us the strength to bear this trial.”

Allen Yuan had served a term or twenty-two years at hard labor for holding  unauthorized church meetings in China. When he emerged from prison and returned to church, he announced that he had kept a daily count on his dangerous job, and had coupled together one million railroad cars without an injury. “God answered your prayers for my safety!” he rejoiced. Working near the Russian border without warm clothing, he had also avoided serious illness all that time.

According to some estimates, Christians in developed Western countries now represent only 37 percent of believers worldwide. As I travel and also read church history, I have observed a patter, a strange historical phenomenon of God “moving” geographically from place to place: from the Middle East to Europe to North America to the developing world. My theory is this:

God goes where he’s wanted.

That’s a scary thought in a country like the United States, home to five hundred satellite TV channels for diversion and entertainment. (From Finding God in Unexpected Places, p 57-60)

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Filed under Courage, Faith, Surrender

The rejected one

From Philip Yancey:

Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo’s story reads like the plot of one of his novels. As a child in Manchuria he had lived as an alien, a despised Japanese occupier. Returning to Japan and converting to Catholicism along with his mother, he suffered once again the anguish of an alien. The Christian church comprised less than one percent of the population. Classmates bullied him for his association with a Western religion. World War II intensified this sense of estrangement: Endo had always looked to the West as his spiritual homeland, but these were the people now vaporizing the cities of Japan.

After the war he traveled to France to study French Catholic novelists such as Francois Mauriac and George Bernanos. Yet as one of the first Japanese overseas exchange students, and the only one in Lyons, he was spurned this time on account of race, not religion. The Allies had cranked out a steady stream of anti-Japanese propaganda, and Endo found himself the target of racial abuse from fellow Christians. “Slanty-eyed gook,” some called him.

Before returning to Japan from his studies in Europe, Endo visited Palestine in order to research the life of Jesus, and while there he made a transforming discovery: Jesus too knew rejection. More, Jesus’ life was defined by rejection. His neighbors laughed at him, his family questioned his sanity, his closest friends betrayed him, and his fellow citizens traded his life for that of a common criminal. Throughout his ministry, Jesus purposely moved among the rejected.

This new insight into Jesus hit Endo with the force of revelation. From the faraway vantage point of Japan he had viewed Christianity as a triumphant, Constantinian faith. He had studied the Holy Roman Empire and the glittering Crusades, had admired the grand cathedrals of Europe, had dreamed of living in a nation where one could be a Christian without disgrace. Now, studying the Bible in its homeland, he saw that Jesus himself had not avoided “dis-grace.”

Jesus himself came as the Suffering Servant, as depicted by the prophet Isaiah: “Despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces.” Surely this Jesus, if anyone, could understand the rejection Endo himself was going through.

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Making God Visible

Philip Yancey shares the following account:

On a 2004 visit to South Africa I met a remarkable woman named Joanna. She is of mixed race, part black and part white, a category known there as “coloured.” As a student she agitated for change in apartheid and then saw the miracle that no one had predicted, the peaceful dismantling of that evil system. Afterward, for many hours she sat with her husband and watched live broadcasts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings.

Instead of simply exulting in her newfound freedoms, Joanna next decided to tackle the most violent prison in South Africa, a prison where Nelson Mandela had spent several years. Tattoo-covered gang members controlled the prison, strictly enforcing a rule that required new members to earn their admittance to the gang by assaulting undesirable prisoners. Prison authorities looked the other way, letting these “animals” beat and even kill each other.

Alone, this attractive young woman started going each day into the bowels of that prison. She brought a simple message of forgiveness and reconciliation, trying to put into practice on smaller scale what Mandela and Bishop Tutu were trying to effect in the nation as a whole. She organized small groups, taught trust games, got the prisoners to open up about the details of their horrific childhoods. The year before she began her visits, the prison had recorded 279 acts of violence; the next year there were two. Joanna’s results were so impressive that the BBC sent a camera crew from London to produce two one-hour documentaries on her.

I met Joanna and her husband, who has since joined her in her work, at a restaurant on the waterfront of Cape Town. Ever the journalist, I pressed her for specifics on what had happened to transform that prison. Her fork stopped on the way to her mouth, she looked up and said, almost without thinking,

Well, of course, Philip, God was already present in the prison. I just had to make him visible.

I have often thought of that line from Joanna, which would make a fine mission statement for all of us seeking to know and follow God. God is already present, in the most unexpected places. We just need to make God visible.
~ From Finding God in Unexpected Places (xiii-xiv)

May we all make God visible today!

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Filed under Courage, Determination, Evangelism, Faith, Forgiveness, Grace, Hope, influence with the world, Inspiration, Loving others, Serving

When God is silent

Cover of "Reaching for the Invisible God&...

Cover of Reaching for the Invisible God

I have long appreciated Philip Yancey for his honesty and transparency in writing about his journey with God. This excerpt comes from his book Reaching for the Invisible God. I have experienced firsthand what he describes and wish someone had told me of it back when I first started to journey with God. This was a great encouragement to me. I hope it is the same for you or someone you know. 

We need look no further than the Bible for examples of God’s absence. “You have hidden your face from us,” said Isaiah. “Why are you like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who stays only a night?” demanded Jeremiah. Any relationship involves times of closeness and times of distance, and in a relationship with God, no matter how intimate, the pendulum will swing from one side to the other. 

I experienced the sense of abandonment just as I was making progress spiritually, advancing beyond childish faith to the point where I felt I could help others. Suddenly, the darkness descended. For an entire year, my prayers seemed to go nowhere; I had no confidence that God was listening. No one had prepared me with “the ministry of absence.” I found myself turning for comfort to poets like George Herbert, frank about his times of spiritual desolation. 

My prayers too seemed lost. When no “techniques” or spiritual disciplines seemed to work for me, in desperation I bought a book of hours used in high-church liturgy. Throughout that year I simply read the prayers and Bible passages, offering them to God as my prayers. “I have no words of my own,” I told God. “Maybe I have no faith. Please accept these prayers of others as the only ones I can offer right now. Accept their words in place of my own.” 

I now look back on that period of absence as an important growth time, for in some ways I had pursued God more earnestly than ever before. I came away with renewed faith and an appreciation of God’s presence as gift rather than entitlement. 

If you have that sense of God’s presence with you today – rejoice and keep walking! If you don’t have that sense of God’s presence right now, it’s OK – rejoice and keep walking anyway! 

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. ~ Hebrews 11:1 (NASB) 

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Filed under Authenticity, Encouragement, Faith, intimacy with the Lord, Prayer