When God Feels Far Away

In my book, Four in the Garden, the protagonist, Cherished, loses his connection to Creator. Because of this loss, Cherished feels as though Creator has abandoned him. In the story, I had neglected to show that Creator stayed close. I recently revised my book and added this missing scene. In this new scene, Creator kneels next to Cherished as he weeps. We see Creator’s pain and emotion regarding the damage to their relationship. We see Creator’s longing for the relationship to be restored. Cherished can’t see or hear Creator, but Creator has not abandoned him.

We all have experienced times where God seemed absent, not listening, or uncaring. During those times, our prayers feel empty and futile. We can’t connect to God. It feels as if all lines of communication have been cut. It’s tempting to give up on God when He seems unresponsive. But God says that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Deut. 31:6, Hebrews 13:5). So in spite our perceptions, God is not far from each one of us, according to Paul (Acts 17:27).

Pain and Fear

This perceived distancing from God has many possible causes, but I want to discuss two of them: pain and fear. Pain or fear blocks our experience of God. Think of them as loud noises that drown out all other sounds, including God. They steal our attention and focus away from God and onto ourselves.

When I was dealing with back pain, it took all my energy to manage my pain. When my pain was severe, I could barely carry a conversation or watch television. The pain pulled all my attention inward. I found it difficult to focus on anything except the pain because it was intense and constant. Because of that, I found it almost impossible to connect to God or feel God. The pain was much louder than God. We believe we need God most when we’re in pain, but our pain hinders our experience God during those times, so God may feel far away. Nevertheless, when we suffer, God suffers with us (Isaiah 63:9).

Love is Greater Than Pain

During my back injury, God did break through on rare occasions and remind me that His love was no less real. Some of you may see a contradiction between God’s love and pain. One might ask, “How could God be loving if He let you suffer such pain?” But I was able to embrace the paradox where love can coexist with pain, even excruciating pain. I think the best example of that is Jesus hanging on the cross and forgiving those who condemned Him. God’s love supersedes our pain. My pain did not negate God’s love. Instead of turning from God, I entrusted my pain to Him and entrusted my body to His care, because I believed that His love was greater than my pain.

If you are experiencing pain of any kind, whether physical or emotional, don’t be surprised if God seems far away to you. Your pain acts as a veil that blocks or hinders your ability to access God. Pain is a primary, raw sensation that overrides our subtle spiritual senses. Pain has that effect on everyone. But don’t assume that God has abandoned you. God is with you. Joshua 1:9 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Moving Through Pain

My advice is to entrust your pain to God. Don’t hold it close, but keep a loose grip on it so God has ready access to it. Secondly, try to move through your pain. Pain has stages, and we tend to emotionally resist the intense stages, so we get stuck on one side of the valley and never complete the spiritual crossing because we’re afraid. As we give God access to our pain, we give Him permission to heal us and transform us. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” We may never understand why our lives have pain, but we trust God with our lives and with our pain, believing He can create something good from it.

Fear is Self-Centered

Fear is the other state that blocks God. It operates the same as pain in that it steals our attention and focus. When we are afraid, we pull inward, our body constricts, our thoughts center on self. By contrast, trust is characterized by relaxing and reaching outward. If we trust and relax, then we can float during stormy seas. If we fear and panic, then we fight and resist the waters, and cause ourselves to sink. When we fear, we close ourselves off from God because we curl up like a pill bug, shielding ourselves from everything outside of our vulnerable self. When we choose to trust, entrusting our fear to God, we make ourselves open to His activity and peace. “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you,” says Isaiah 36:3.

Many years ago, I struggled with low self-esteem. I was convinced that no one liked me. I carried a continual fear of rejection. Because of my fear, I behaved in ways that gave people more reason to keep their distance. Their behavior caused me to withdraw more, to be more insecure and awkward, which pushed people even further away. One thing I learned from that struggle was how fear draws energy from self-focus. My need to be liked put my focus on me. Fear centers on ourselves, what we risk losing. When we focus on ourselves, we can’t receive much from God. When we trust, we shift our focus from ourselves onto God and open a channel for Him to help us. If your fear is active and God feels far away, it may be that your fear is blocking His ability to comfort and help. Next month, I will write about ways one can overcome fear.

God can do so much more for us when we trust Him. When we fear, we make the situation about us and keep God at a distance. If we want God’s involvement in our lives, then we need to learn to trust Him.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His goal was to help people have a close relationship with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

For more articles, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html
Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

Accepting All Outcomes

Life rarely turns out the way we prefer. Someone hurts us. We get sick. We suffer loss. If we believe in God, we turn to God for help. We pray for reconciliation, for healing, for provision. Sometimes, our requests aren’t granted, even when our requests are legitimate and sincere.

One reason people lose faith is because they relied on God to help them, but God seemingly let them down. They asked for something important, but God didn’t give it. Their conclusion is that God doesn’t exist or God doesn’t care. In either case, they lost faith.

Foolish Expectations

It’s foolish to expect God to grant our every request. What I mean is that we need to be careful with our expectations. It’s virtuous to ask God to meet our needs and to trust Him to do so. But His answer to our need may not align with our desired result. If we expect a certain result, then we set ourselves up for disappointment. God is not obligated to deliver the result we want.

When I was bedridden with a back injury, I prayed for healing, but I got worse, to the point where I was in too much pain to move. I was trusting God, but it wasn’t working as I expected. Eventually, I realized that I had misplaced my trust. My trust was in getting healed, not in God Himself. Notice the difference. I was putting my faith in a specific outcome, not in God’s care for me.

Trust in God, not Outcomes

God wants me to put my faith in Him and not in an outcome. I had to be willing to trust God with permanent disability. That required a much deeper trust than what I was exercising. I needed to entrust God with my life and my future. This was the level of trust that God wanted from me, trusting Him with any outcome, believing He would take care of me no matter what the circumstance.

So when you pray, be careful with your expectations. Don’t “expect” God to meet your desires, although you can still ask God to meet them. Rather, expect God to work in your life or the lives of others according to His good purpose. His purpose for us isn’t a trouble-free life. His purpose for us is to know Him and to grow in love and trust. And those things only happen when life challenges us. So rely on God, not outcomes. Learn to trust God with those outcomes. Believe that His love is enough to carry you through any trial. Allow His purpose to transform you into the person He wants you to be, a reflection of God Himself.

We Decide How Bad Things Are

One way to accept undesirable outcomes is to realize that things are only as bad as you judge them. Your response to circumstances depends on what you tell yourself about them. We decide how bad something is. Then we respond according to our judgment. Imagine that you discovered the word “bigot” spray-painted on the side of your car. This would trigger many feelings for most people. If you tell yourself this is a terrible and unbearable situation, your emotions will escalate in response. You will be more upset and angry. If you tell yourself this situation is manageable, then your emotions will be more tempered.

You think you respond to situations. The truth is that you respond to your “thoughts” about a situation. If you think something is horrible, then you will act as though it’s horrible. If you think something is not so bad, then you will act accordingly. So, be careful with what you tell yourself about your circumstances. Your thoughts determine whether your life is awful or manageable. Your judgments can create more stress for you.

Resistance Versus Acceptance

A situation has no inherent emotion. It’s neutral. It’s just an event. We decide what emotion to attach. We decide how upset it should make us. We make a story out of it. “This terrible thing happened to me and I freaked out because it messed up my plans.” An alternative narrative for the same event could be, “This thing happened, and I accepted it while learning how upset I still get when things don’t go my way.” We can choose to accept a circumstance or resist it. When we resist it, we make it our enemy, and our fight instinct kicks into gear with all the accompanying stresses. Resistance takes a toll on our bodies. When we accept it, we place our trust in God and try to enter His peace, at the same time asking for wisdom for what we can change about the circumstance.

Release your judgments about your life and entrust your circumstances to God. “With God all things are possible,” says Matthew 19.26. “Surely God is my help. The Lord is the one who sustains me,” says Psalm 54:4. With God, all things are manageable. We have no reason to tell ourselves that our circumstances are intolerable. If we can learn to avoid judging our circumstances so harshly, we will be more at peace and will find it easier to trust God. God wants us to trust Him more, and He is willing to help us do so.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

For more articles, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html
Website:
http://www.rickhocker.com
Email:
mail@rickhocker.com

The Insidious Self

Our greatest enemy follows us wherever we go, and yet we consider it our best friend. It is our self. Time and time again, our self gets us into trouble because it’s insecure and fearful. In spite of this, it gives us our marching orders, setting the direction of our lives. And we listen to it, allowing it to control us.

Because our self is insecure, it worries about anything that might threaten it. It worries about instability, loss, rejection, betrayal, and its ability to cope. Much of our insecurity arises from the fact that we can’t control these things or entirely protect ourselves from them. Our predisposition to worry affects our everyday choices.

Fear Controls Us

We make decisions that mitigate our fears. We stay in the abusive relationship because we are more terrified of being alone or because we think no one else will have us. We don’t speak up because we’re afraid of confrontation or retribution. We stay in our hated job because we can’t see how to provide for our family any other way. We let people take advantage of us because we’re afraid of offending them, hurting their feelings, or them rejecting us.

Much of the time, we don’t realize how fear drives our choices. We act and react without introspection. We don’t examine our decisions to see if fear is at work. Is fear causing us to rule out available options? Do we shrink back from taking risks because of fear? What are we telling ourselves to justify our choices? What we think is a wise course of action may actually be a strategy to keep us safe from what we fear.

My major insecurity is fear of rejection. From the beginning, I felt different from the rest, out of place, unable to relate to my peers. As a result, I kept aloof, thinking that people wouldn’t accept me. In high school, I ate my lunch with the outcasts. I hardly spoke, even to them, because I feared saying anything that might cause people to reject me. In P.E. class, a budding friendship with a classmate encouraged me, but when he suggested we practice throwing and catching a baseball, I knew our future friendship was doomed. Sure enough, once he saw my ineptitude at sports, he never interacted with me again. Years later, I wrestle with this insecurity on a regular basis. What I have since learned is that the presence of fear doesn’t mean it has to control me. I acknowledge the fear, but empower myself to take risks, believing I can survive rejection because I know I’m accepted by God, myself, and others.

Guilt Trips Us

Another weakness that trips us up is guilt. Whereas fear is focused on the future, guilt finds its focus in the past. Our decisions are tied to what’s taken place in the past and our judgments of those events. We make guilt-induced choices because we feel indebted to others or bad about our past behavior. We overcompensate for our failings by going the extra mile and allowing others to take advantage. We may even be aware of this dynamic but tell ourselves that it’s a necessary penance for our sins.

In my life, I allowed guilt to have power because my soul was too fragile. The most effective manipulation was for someone to say, “If you were truly my friend, you would do this for me.” I had no choice but to comply. The alternative was to be rejected as a “bad” friend. I have learned a lot about boundaries since then. “No” is not a bad word and can be used with grace and respect. In addition, maturity must make room for self-nurture, which can’t happen when we allow others to direct our lives.

Transferring Control

When self is in control, then ego sits at the steering wheel. We are driven to and fro by our fears and insecurities. If we can recognize how counterproductive it is to allow self to be in charge, then we might be ready to set self aside and rely less on our ego. By this I mean we reduce the influence of fear, guilt, and insecurity in our lives. We move away from trusting in ourselves to trusting more in God who is more reliable than our feeble egos and who can empower us to push past our fears.

It’s not enough to identify our fears if we can’t overcome them. As one who has spent time in therapy, I recommend it for everyone, but therapy can only take us so far. God can see deep into our souls and uncover those wounds that impair us. Not only that, but God can mend those wounds as no one else can. Fear is not a wound. It is a weakness, like bad eyesight, that handicaps us if we let it. With the help of eyeglasses, we can clearly see. So with fear, we can overcome it with God’s help. Fear doesn’t go away completely; it still whispers in our ears. But we can learn to ignore its threats and take risks and live the abundant life that Jesus spoke about (John 10:10).

In my book, Four in the Garden, Creator tells Cherished, “When fear is strongest, you won’t trust. When trust is strongest, you won’t fear.” If we can learn to trust in God, then fear will have less hold on us. People who have great trust in God fear nothing. That’s because they know that God can take care of them in any circumstance, no matter how terrible. They rely on Him for strength and peace that will sustain them through any adversity. But even during times of contentment, they still rely on Him knowing that living for Him is far better than living for their egos.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

For more articles, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html
Website:
http://www.rickhocker.com
Email:
mail@rickhocker.com

Willfulness

In my book, Four in the Garden, I avoided the use of the word “sin” because it’s such a religiously-loaded and off-putting word. It conjures feelings of shame, guilt, and condemnation. Rather than driving us to God, it generally has the opposite effect. Sin is often used to describe “bad” behavior or to describe the lifestyle of “bad” people. The traditional view of sin is that it makes us the object of God’s anger and subject to His judgment. In some unenlightened circles, we’re told that sin is sin because it’s “wrong.” Or sin is wrong because it’s sin. This shame-inducing mentality doesn’t lead us to experience the abundant life that Jesus talks about: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” – John 10:10.

So I chose the word “willfulness” in place of sin. I think the word willfulness more aptly describes the true nature of sin. When we are willful, we insist on our own way, we resist authority, and we are unyielding. From a relational perspective, willfulness pushes others away and doesn’t take into account their thoughts or feelings. When we are willful, we push God away, we reject His participation in our lives, and we refuse to listen to Him.

A Meaty Example

Let’s suppose I’m on a road trip with friends and we stop for dinner. I suggest we stop at In-N-Out because I’m in the mood for one of their hamburgers. Others weigh in with their suggestions, but I insist on In-N-Out. A friend says, “You had a hamburger for lunch. Don’t you want something different for dinner?” I say, “It wasn’t an In-N-Out burger. It’s not the same. It’s In-N-Out or nothing.” Another friend says, “Eating hamburgers isn’t healthy. Shouldn’t you have a salad instead?” I say, “I don’t want a salad. I want an InN-Out burger. I won’t change my mind.”

The above example illustrates how willfulness behaves. Willfulness is usually expressed as “my way or no way.” It’s stubborn, doesn’t listen to reason, doesn’t consider consequences, and doesn’t make room for the will of others. It’s an energy that asserts its will and resists or discounts any opposing forces. We use it to justify our unhealthy or addictive behaviors. Can you think of situations where you were willful? In what ways have you been willful toward God?

It’s About Relationship

We need to discuss the effects of willfulness in light of our relationship with God. Jesus died to make relationship with God possible, so sin (willfulness) is defined in terms its damaging effects on relationship. The wrongness of willfulness is due to the relational harm it causes. When we are full of our own will, we disregard others and disregard the interdependence we have with others. From the beginning, God wanted relationship with us. When willfulness enters, we set ourselves as independent of God, severing our relationship with Him. That’s why God abhors willfulness. God hates anything that damages our relationship with Him. His primary concern is our relationship with Him and how our behaviors affect that relationship. Some people think His main concern is whether we are “sinning” or not.

God can’t work with willfulness because it’s oppositional. Willfulness resists God. And God resists willfulness. Willfulness can be subtle. It manifests when we rationalize our behavior, when we make excuses for our faults, whenever we shove God aside or ignore Him.

Laying It Down

When we recognize willfulness in our lives, we have a choice between holding on to it or to holding on to God. We can’t do both. True spirituality is to lay down our willfulness and submit to God’s will instead. It’s a choice between our will and God’s will. The humility God seeks of us is to lay down our will and to choose to trust Him, believing that His will for us is good. The hard part is doing this on a regular basis. It’s a daily practice to recognize willfulness within our hearts and to intentionally lay it down every time. In doing so, we make ourselves open to relationship with God. Instead of resisting Him, our humility invites Him to take residence in our hearts so He can engage us daily in ever-growing relationship with Him.

In my book, Four in the Garden, the protagonist, Cherished, chooses forbidden knowledge. This act of willfulness is seen as a declaration of independence from Creator. In effect, Cherished chooses knowledge over having to depend on Creator for guidance. His willfulness has shoved Creator aside, thus destroying his relationship with Creator. Self-rule becomes the norm for Cherished, but he learns that being master of his own life isn’t that great.

Like Cherished, we struggle with the tension between depending on ourselves and depending on God. Depending on God seems fraught with uncertainty. Depending on ourselves feels like the more reliable option, but it fails us when life gets difficult. In my experience, depending on God is the better option because God has shown Himself faithful to those who trust Him.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

For more articles, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html
Website:
http://www.rickhocker.com
Email:
mail@rickhocker.com

Cultivating an Inner Life

For most people, life encompasses external things such as events, activities, people, and possessions. But another life exists for us that is inward and reflective. This inner life is what we experience when we are alone. For some, this life is rich and deep, and these people seek solitude in order to experience the wealth of their inner abundance. For others, their inner life is shallow or non-existent, because they don’t know what an inner life is or how to cultivate one.

It’s difficult to describe an inner life, but I will give it my best try. An inner life is our relationship with ourselves. It includes how we relate to ourselves, how we talk to ourselves, and how we spend time with ourselves. It’s what we do to nurture our souls. It isn’t what we think about ourselves as much as how we treat ourselves based on what we believe. An inner life is a series of experiences we have with our own being or soul. These experiences include moments of positive self-regard, exploration of one’s internal makeup, self-discovery, contemplation, or conscious acts of being present with oneself.

When we have an inner life, we are more comfortable with ourselves, so much so that we enjoy our own company. I’m not saying we become reclusive, but we learn to regard ourselves with the same love and interest as the other people in our lives. Self-interest propels us to learn about and appreciate our uniqueness, rather than despise it. It manifests as a healthy curiosity and fascination toward ourselves. Over time, we come to know and value ourselves. This pursuit translates into an ever-deepening relationship we have with ourselves, characterized by a genuine desire to nurture the spirit within us.

Starting with Self-Love

When we extend compassion to ourselves, we are more likely to nurture our inner life, our relationship with ourselves. We make a mistake when we think we have to like ourselves to start our journey. If that were the case, most of us would never start. Instead, we must start with compassion, the same compassion we would give someone who doesn’t appear to fit in.

With grace-filled kindness, we invite ourselves into our inner circle of friends as someone deserving of equal attention and worth. We need to learn to love and accept ourselves because withholding love stunts our emotional and spiritual growth.

Finding the power to love ourselves rarely comes from within. We discover this power by looking to God and allowing Him to love us. It is His unconditional love for us that frees us to love ourselves unconditionally. An effective prayer would be, “God, help me to experience Your love so I can love myself as deeply as You love me.”

We invest ourselves in what we value, so if we don’t love ourselves, we won’t invest any energy into cultivating an inner life. We’ll neglect or abandon our inner needs and fail to nurture our souls. Without an inner life, we will look for happiness and fulfillment in external things. When external things fail us, we will have no inner well from which to draw strength or sustenance. When we have an inner life, we can draw from our core from which springs an outflow of God’s graces, such as peace and joy. God isn’t outside of us where we climb a mountain to find Him. Rather, we dig a well inside ourselves and find Him when we dig deep enough. The Bible says he is not far from any of us (Acts 17:27). It’s within this inner life that we often encounter God.

Knowing Ourselves

After we have learned to love and accept ourselves, the next step is to learn to be present to ourselves. This means we are consciously attentive toward our thoughts and feelings, without judgment or fixing. We choose to enjoy our being outside of labels or performance. My therapist used to encourage me to be always curious and to channel my curiosity toward exploring my inner landscape. In those days, exploration of my inner self brought up panic and paralyzing fear. I was certain that what lurked inside me was monstrous and terrifying. After many forays into that dark place, I discovered that the things I feared were vapors without substance. They dissolved when I faced them head-on. Later, when I wondered why that inner realm was always dark, God explained that it was dark because I hadn’t invited Him there. When I did so, light illuminated that inner place for the first time. Afterward, God and I could explore the visible terrain together.

One obstacle to getting started is having to admit we don’t have an inner life. We fear looking inside and finding nothing. The sad truth is that we don’t know our own souls or the importance of knowing them. Our souls are beautiful beyond words, having a richness, depth, and mystery that rival a nebula in space. If we beheld our souls in their full magnificence, we would respond in awe and come to treasure them as they deserve.

The Basis for a Relationship with God

An inner life is the seat from which we can experience lasting joy and peace that are not attached to externals. More importantly, it is the seat from which we can have a relationship with God. Our relationship with God is between our spirit and His. God interacts with us within the realm of this inner life. These spiritual experiences and events comprise our personal history with God, a real relationship marked by meaningful interactions and deepening intimacy.

I suggest making time for solitude where you learn to be with yourself and to know yourself. Invite God to show you what He sees. Invite His love to touch the areas you are unable to love and to illuminate those areas that are in darkness. Allow God to ease your fears and coax you to become a fully spiritual being with whom He can have a relationship.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

For more articles, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html
Website:
http://www.rickhocker.com
Email:
mail@rickhocker.com

Good Enough for God

Are you good enough for God? How good must one be to please God? How do you know if God is pleased with you? Does going to church earn us points with God? By the way, going to church isn’t one of the Ten Commandments. We are commanded to keep the Sabbath holy by not doing work on that day, but nothing is mentioned in that commandment about weekly attendance at church or temple. Have you kept the Sabbath holy by avoiding physical exertion? Okay, so what about the other commandments? Have you obeyed every commandment without fault, including the commandments about coveting? Does perfect compliance make you good enough for God?

I hope you see the problem here. Our perceived status with God varies depending on what measuring stick we use. The most common measuring stick is comparing ourselves to other people. “I’m not as bad as those people,” we might say. That’s a cop-out because we can always find someone who is less righteous that us. When I make myself righteous at the expense of others, that’s called self-righteousness. Jesus hung out with the unrighteous, not with the self-righteous. Awareness of our failure at being righteous is the beginning of true humility.

God’s Holiness is the Standard

The proper measuring stick is God’s holiness. Leviticus 19:2 says, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Isn’t God making an unreasonable demand of us? Let’s be realistic. Who can attain to the level of God’s holiness? No one can. And yet, that is the standard God uses. God imposes such a high standard because He wants us to realize that we can’t attain to it. Jesus says in Mark 10:18, “No one is good, except God alone.” Psalm 14:3 says, “No one does good, not even one.” Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. By God’s standard, no one is righteous, no one measures up, no one is good enough.

But we need to feel good about ourselves. Our fragile self-esteem requires a positive self-view. We don’t want to be self-deprecating people who see themselves as miserable sinners. We want to believe we’re okay. The truth is we aren’t good enough, not even close. But we don’t have to be miserable about it.

Why Jesus Matters

If we could be good enough by our own efforts, then Jesus wasted his time on Earth. Jesus came because we weren’t good enough. God knew we weren’t good enough from the beginning. That’s why he sent Jesus. The human Jesus was the only one good enough for God. In him, God said He was well pleased. The divine Jesus fixed our problem of not being good enough.

1 Corinthians 1:30 says that Jesus has become our righteousness. His goodness becomes our goodness. We no longer have to be good enough because He is good enough. That’s one of the basic tenants of Christianity. The implications are wonderful. We don’t have to strive to please God because, in Christ, we are already acceptable to God. Our status with God isn’t based on our behavior, but based on our belief in Christ’s death in our behalf. We need not compare ourselves with others anymore. We are free from the pressures of guilt or fear in our relationship with God. No longer do we worry if God is displeased or fear whether God will punish us.

Never Good Enough

I struggled with how best to present this point, so if I sound too strong, it’s because this topic is the most important I’ve ever written about. So many people wonder if they are good enough to get into heaven. The answer will always be no. We will never be good enough. Jesus died so we don’t have to be good enough. Instead, we can have a relationship with God that supersedes such worries.

When guilt or fear assails us, we have a choice. We can justify ourselves before God based on our own merits. Or we can lean on Jesus. Jesus justifies us before the Father as our loving advocate. Our confidence need not rest in our goodness, but in God’s goodness. I want to trust in God’s goodness and not my own. For years, I condemned myself for failing God. Now, I understand that God accepts me unconditionally, not because I did anything right, but because Jesus brought me into loving relationship with God.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

Trust Versus Fear

The opposite of trust is fear, and fear causes us to make wrong choices. Trusting in God frees us from desperate actions because we believe God will take care of us. When we don’t trust in God, we are left to rely on ourselves. But when we doubt our ability to manage our security, we fall into fear. The uncertainty of the future causes us dread and we feel uneasy because we have little or no control over it.

Fear and trust oppose each other. When we’re filled with fear, we find it hard to trust, if not impossible. When we fully trust, we don’t fear because we have complete confidence in God’s promise and ability to care for us. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. We’re afraid to trust in God because we doubt He exists or doubt His love and concern. Every choice we make is based on what we believe about our security, what or whom we rely on.

Trusting in God’s Provision

A few years after college, my roommate, Tim, and I went crabbing off the Pismo Beach pier. We had a crab trap, fishing line, and some bait. In setting up the trap, we discovered we had nothing to cut the fishing line. Tim left to search for something sharp to cut the line, hoping someone might help. While I waited for him to return, I asked God for something to cut the line. As soon as I had finished praying, I saw a knife less than three feet away at the edge of the pier. Why hadn’t I seen it before? Was it always there? Had my expectation of God opened my eyes? When Tim came back empty-handed, I held up the knife and smiled. “Look what God provided,” I said.

When we trust in God’s provision, we believe He will provide for our needs. He doesn’t promise to give us our dream job or house, but He will take care of us, often in unexpected ways. Nor does He promise to keep us in our current job or housing. What God will do is keep us in His care when we trust Him to do so, even if it shows up as a friend’s couch to sleep on. If God responded to need alone, He would meet all the unmet needs in the world. But God responds to belief, not to need. He responds to what we believe about our needs and God’s ability to meet them.

When we don’t trust, we fear we won’t have what we need. So we worry about how we will get those things. We worry about what will happen to us. Because of fear, we rationalize our need to keep more for ourselves or take more for ourselves. We lie, cheat, and steal to insure our security because we believe we alone are responsible for it. When we trust God for our needs, we have peace because we know God will meet our basic needs in response to our trust.

Trusting in God’s Protection

I grew up in a neighborhood built near an undeveloped shoreline. The shoreline had unmanaged trails between the tall scrub where kids used to ride their bikes on the weekends. Most of the time, the area was devoid of people. I used to go to this deserted area to think and pray. One time, I noticed a pack of four teenagers in the distance moving in my direction. Feeling unsafe, I turned around to go back to the street. I heard someone shout, “Hey, you,” but I didn’t look so as to pretend I didn’t hear. I asked God to protect me. Then I heard many feet running toward me from behind, getting louder. I continued to trust in God and didn’t run or look behind me, but stayed calm. It would be a lie to say I wasn’t afraid, but in spite of my fear, I placed my safety in God’s hands, believing that if they attacked me, He would be with me. To my amazement, the running sounds stopped abruptly. Curious, I looked behind me, but saw no one. When I looked ahead, I saw a police car parked on the street fifty feet away. God has answered my prayer and protected me.

When we trust in God for protection, we believe in God’s peace in the midst of threat. God doesn’t always protect us from harm. The apostle Paul was jailed and beaten. But he had peace because he believed God was with him. God gave him strength and endurance in those situations. When we don’t trust, we don’t have peace, we feel unsafe everywhere we go, even at home. We buy a gun, we distrust all strangers, we don’t go out alone, we always fear the worst. When we entrust our lives to God, then He becomes responsible for what happens to us. Whatever happens to us, He can give us peace and confidence that He will take care of us in the midst of threat.

Trusting in God’s Justice

When a close friend had wronged me, I was deeply hurt and disappointed. But I entrusted the situation to God. My friend felt justified in his actions at the time, but a year later, he contacted me to apologize. He said that what he had done to me had now happened to him. He now knew how awful he had been and how it felt to be on the receiving end of such treatment. I wasn’t expecting an apology, but God had worked in his life to open his eyes. In my mind, God had brought about His flavor of justice.

When we trust in God’s justice, we believe God sees everything. We believe that God feels deeply about what He sees and will respond when we entrust the situation to Him. I think we often judge God for being inactive, but we often fail to exercise our belief in God’s justice by committing situations to His care. God responds to our belief regarding His handling of injustice, not to the injustice itself. When we don’t trust in God, we feel we must secure our own justice. We get even, we protest, we sue, we refuse to forgive. When we entrust our lives to God, He doesn’t protect us from injustice. But God will work circumstances toward our eventual good, if only to teach us trust, patience, and forgiveness. An example from the Bible is the story of Joseph whose brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. Joseph experienced many injustices, but he trusted in God who eventually rescued him and raised him to a position of honor where he saved many people during a time of famine.

Trusting in God’s Kindness

You may have noticed a theme in this article that God doesn’t protect us from hardship. What good is it to trust in God if we can’t be assured of an easier life? We experience hardship either way. When we trust in God, we can live in peace instead of fear. Hardship becomes a vehicle for God to show Himself to help us through challenges. God uses the hardship to teach us and change us into people of strength, confidence, and joy.

What we believe about God is important. If we believe in a stingy, distant God, then we experience that very thing. If we believe in a loving, generous God, then we experience mercy and abundance. Our experience of God is based on what we believe about Him. Our belief is often formed by how we have judged the circumstances of our lives. We interpret hardship as God’s abandonment. If we entrust our hardship to God, He can work it to strip away those blocks in our lives that prevent us from experiencing Him.

Benefits of Trusting God

If our experience of God has been negative, then it will be hard to trust. Try to move past judging God for your disappointments. Learn to trust God with your life circumstances. In doing so, fear will have less hold on you and peace will have a stronger hold. When we trust, we find it easier to be patient, to make sacrifices, and to take risks. When we fear, we take shortcuts and miss out on the benefits of a life lived deeply.

Romans 14:23 says that whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Using the language of this article, I can rephrase this to say: Whenever we don’t trust in God, we sin. When we don’t trust in God, we act from self-preservation that results in behaviors that oppose God’s law of love and deny His goodness. When we trust in God, we are free from sin because we are depending on Him. The goal for me is not freedom from sin because I know that Jesus had died to free me. My goal is freedom to experience God in every way possible, to experience His goodness and presence. When we trust in Him, we experience His involvement in our lives, which encourages us to trust in Him more.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

Engaging God

How do we come to know God? Do we grasp God by reading books? Or by listening to others tell us who God is? Reading a book about someone isn’t as instructive as interacting with that person firsthand. Someone can read all the books written about God, but never experience the living God who interacts with us humans. Our relationship is with an actual person, so our understanding of God ought to include a direct experience of Him. The various people in the Bible all had a direct experience of God. For God to be real to us, we need to experience Him in a real way. I believe God wants us to experience Him.

I want to know the living God, not the God confined to pages in a book. A book cannot contain God because His nature is unlimited. John 21:25 says, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” Besides, our relationship isn’t with a book, but with a living God. The Bible points us to God, but the Bible shouldn’t take the place of God. So how do we engage the living God, the One who right now is watching you read this article?

Starting with Trust

Here is a spiritual principle: God reveals Himself in response to our trust in Him. God doesn’t stand on a street corner and say, “Here I am.” He has no need to prove His existence to the skeptic. If we wait for God to show Himself, it won’t happen. Rather, He waits for us to make the first move in His direction. We risk by choosing to trust God. In response, God makes Himself more real to us.

For the novice, it starts with an initial belief that God is real, often with no solid proof. Later, we understand that God expects us to fully entrust our lives to Him in light of His mercy and sovereignty. At that point, we take the scary step of entrusting our lives to a being we have never seen. For many people, God rewards that step of “faith” with an undeniable experience that validates their act of trusting.

This principle is repeated over and over in our lives. We entrust God with a specific situation, believing that God will work it out according to His wisdom. We place at risk our control over the outcome. By trusting, we risk failure, embarrassment, and loss. Nevertheless, we choose to trust God with the outcome. In response to our trust, God intervenes and makes Himself real by how He answers. We experience God when He sustains us, encourages us, surprises us, or when He sends people who lend a hand or speak the words we need to hear. We glimpse God in those things. We learn about God’s love for us. We learn that God hears us and helps us. We experience God in a way that’s real, but it’s in response to our decision to trust in Him.

Trusting Within Hardships

This principle is one theme in my book, Four in the Garden. Creator tries to impress upon Cherished, the protagonist, that every hardship is an opportunity to trust in Creator. By trusting, Cherished grows in his knowledge of Creator by experiencing Him within those hardships.

In 2004, I suffered a terrible back injury. I couldn’t stand or sit because of excruciating pain. I spent most of my day in bed. At other times, I would lie on the sofa if I could manage the trip from the bedroom. On one occasion, my friend, John, visited me while I was lying on the couch. During that visit, I learned that he had been suffering from abdominal pain for three months. I felt compelled to pray for him and asked him to move closer so I could place my hand on his stomach. After a minute or two, I stopped praying and removed my hand. He said his pain was completely gone. He wept from gratitude and amazement. I wept with him.

The Rewards of Risk

Had I not risked to pray for John, God wouldn’t have healed him that day. I was in tremendous pain during his visit. I could have focused on myself and not have considered offering to pray for him. But I stepped out in trust and faith, not knowing if God would heal him. God surprised both of us.

I suppose I could have been jealous because I was in greater need of healing than John, but I wasn’t jealous at all. I had learned a few things about God from that event. I learned that God is compassionate. I learned that God heals. I needed to be reminded of those things right then. The greatest lesson I learned that day is that God can use me when I am at my lowest point. When I was disabled and in pain, God used me. When I was most in need of healing, God used me to heal. That is a profound lesson in giving, receiving and God’s timing.

My healing wasn’t instantaneous like John’s. It came slowly, over the course of many months. But I took comfort in knowing God as a compassionate healer. So, by taking risks with God, God makes Himself real to us. We come to know God as He reveals Himself to us in response to our trust in Him. By faith, we step into the unknown, and He meets us there to make Himself known.

Getting Out of Our Boat

The story of Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33) seems to center more on Peter than on Jesus. Jesus’ disciples were in a boat fighting rough weather at night when they saw Jesus walking on the water toward them. On seeing Jesus, Peter asked for permission to come out to Jesus on the water. Peter walked on the water for a short time, but started sinking when he became afraid. At that point, Jesus took hold of him to keep him from sinking and brought him into the boat (verse 31). His experience of Jesus was more dramatic than the other disciples because he took a risk and got out of the boat. Because of that event, all of them were convinced that Jesus was God’s Son (verse 33). But Peter learned so much more. He learned firsthand that Jesus could empower him to do the impossible. Of more importance, he learned that Jesus would take hold of him if he ever found himself sinking or afraid.

If we play it safe and stay in our boat, we won’t encounter God. To the degree we risk is the degree we experience God. God wants us to know Him, but He waits for us to get out of our safety zone and step toward Him in faith and trust. I challenge you to trust God more. If you take that risk, He will engage you and surprise you.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

A Beautiful Ache

In continuing my theme on God’s love, I asked myself, “What situation most profoundly impacted me with a deeper understanding of God’s love?” The event that comes to mind was an unusual and memorable experience. It happened during a private time of silent reflection. In my mind’s eye, I saw Jesus standing before me. He brought his hands up to his chest and opened his rib cage as one would open a hinged clamshell. Inside, I saw his beating heart. As I gazed upon his heart with astonishment, I was transported into its interior and found myself in a stormy ocean. With each forceful beat of his heart, the turbulent waves surged and crashed against me. I understood that these waves were God’s love for me. But this love was wild, powerful and unrelenting, not the tender, maternal love we normally ascribe to God.

In my book, “Four in the Garden,” I wrote a scene based on this experience. Here is an excerpt:

“As each fierce wave engulfed me, I sensed an intensity of love, untamed, driving, even painful. I felt Creator’s raw desire for me, a perpetual ache of intense yearning for union. Beyond imagining, and yet so real, I discovered Creator’s love to be powerful, passionate, and relentless, coursing through His being like a mighty river that carves canyons in pursuit of its destination. In this vision, I was the target of Creator’s ardent pursual, of His anguished longing to be united with Him.”

What strikes me the most is the intensity of God’s longing. It surpasses strong desire. It’s an agonized yearning that seems unquenchable. It’s the longing of a lover for their beloved. It had never occurred to me that God aches for me, aches to be united with me as if the entire universe suffers until this love is consummated.

The Bridegroom’s Longing

The Bible refers to God’s people and church as Christ’s bride. Paul writes, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” – Ephesians 5:31-32. Paul infers that Christ and his church shall become one in the way that a husband and wife become one. He is using the example of marriage to describe our relationship to God. I believe that the sacrament of marriage is given to us to foreshadow our eventual union with God. The Bible mentions a wedding feast to celebrate this future holy union. “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb (Jesus) has come…” – Revelation 19:7.

We see an example of Jesus’ longing in Matthew 23:37. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Jesus longed to gather God’s people to himself. God, the Father, shares this same longing.

God longs for this union with the intense yearning of a bridegroom who looks forward to his wedding night. God aches for intimacy with us, for a space where both are vulnerable and see each other’s naked selves, stripped of concealments. Our destiny is for intimate union with God. This future mutual “knowing” is expressed in Corinthians 13:12. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face (with God). Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” I believe that God desires to be fully known by us, but only to those who seek to know him.

Being Desired

For a long time, I believed that God loves me, but this experience impacted me because I came to understand that God also desires me. Not only desires me, but passionately yearns for me. I didn’t know that God could feel such intensity of longing or ache with anguished desire. Sometimes, I forget that God can feel any passion at all. This experience removed any doubts I had about God’s feelings for me. I now know how much he wants me, more than any person could ever want me. And I understand how Jesus could be so willing to die in my behalf. His longing to gather us to God was a driving force for him. He still longs to gather us to God, to join us into holy union with himself. The people of Jerusalem were not willing. If we are willing, we will know God and be fully known and loved.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

Website: http://www.fourinthegarden.com
Email: rickhocker@fourinthegarden.com

Hiding From Love

We’ve all heard the statement that God is Love. If that’s true, then why don’t we throw ourselves at Him like an adoring fan tries to get close to a favorite celebrity? In spite of all the glories ascribed to love, if we look deep inside, we’re afraid of it. And God’s love is the most frightening of all. So, whether we realize it or not, we hide from love.

Being Seen

Love sees us for who we really are. It sees past our defenses and disguises. It peers into our very souls. It sees what we want no one to see, including God. Most of us dislike the intensity of close examination. We prefer to control our secrets. We keep love at a safe distance to prevent it from peering too deeply into our souls. We chose to hide from love’s scrutiny. If we are truly seen, then we will be rejected, we tell ourselves. Sometimes, we hide because we are ashamed, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. I’m encouraged that, in spite of their hiding, God sought them out. That shows God’s desire for relationship. When God asked them why they were hiding, they said because they were naked. They weren’t ashamed because they were nude. They were ashamed because they now had something to hide, their sin against God. When one has nothing to hide, then exposure is no threat. Because we have something to hide, we don’t want to be exposed, even before God.

God’s love sees you as you truly are. God unconditionally loves what He sees.

A Mirror

Love acts as a mirror. It shows us ourselves through the eyes of another who reflects to us what they see. We don’t like to see ourselves in this manner because it requires another to relay what they see. They might see something repulsive. Can we trust others to tell us the truth? Do we want others to tell us the truth? It’s difficult to trust people to be an impartial mirror. People withhold or exaggerate. Yet, we need mirrors in life. We need someone to tell us the truth about us. On our own, we can’t see ourselves accurately because the proverbial plank in our eye (blind spot) gets in the way. We can’t see the sign taped on our back that announces our foolishness. That’s why we need a mirror.

God’s love speaks the truth if you are willing to listen. It reflects to you your true nature.

Being Safe

When love draws near, we don’t feel safe, sometimes. It’s like a hound dog sniffing at the door of our pantry. We cringe because we don’t want it to discover our stash of candy bars. If love only knew what we did in secret, it would withdraw, we tell ourselves. We want to control what love sees and has access to. We welcome love, but on our own terms. So we keep love at arm’s length, lest it be too threatening. One reason love is scary is because it requires us to be vulnerable. When we are vulnerable, then we can be hurt the most. When our heart is exposed, rejection and reproach can wound us deeply. Knowing that, we try to protect our hearts as best we can.

God’s love can give you a sense of safety if you learn to trust it. It holds you when you are most vulnerable.

Hidden Monsters

Love shines a light into our souls. It exposes what’s hidden in the dark, things even we don’t want to see or admit to. Our monsters are those things we’re ashamed of, those things no one is ever meant to see or know about. We believe that these monsters are so ugly, they would repel even the most tolerant. If they threaten us, then they will certainly threaten others. We don’t venture into the dark of our own souls because we know the monsters are hiding there. We think that love isn’t strong enough to handle our monsters, that love is too pure to embrace such ugliness.

God’s love is strong enough to enter the dark of your soul and seek your monsters. Although perfectly pure, it’s capable to love the ugliness you cannot bring yourself to love. But you must give God permission to enter your soul.

Intimacy

Intimacy is being known. I have heard it defined as “into me you see.” Being known is one step further than being seen. It means we are understood. The knower “gets us.” We find comfort in knowing that someone understands us, even if we don’t understand ourselves. God’s love understands you.

God knows your thoughts and motivations. He can make sense out of your jumbled feelings and desires.

No Sense In Hiding

We cannot hide from God although we fool ourselves in thinking we can. God already sees everything and knows everything. He knows all about our monsters. He knows about the defects we aren’t aware of. When the mirror of His love exposes new monsters, our normal response is shame and embarrassment. But the monsters have been there all along, undetected by us. God has known about them for years. Others may have known of them, but didn’t tell us. So when God exposes them, be grateful because God thinks you are ready to see them. It also means He is ready to deal with them, so don’t beat yourself up but let God have access to them so He can heal you.

The Great Seer and Knower

When God sees you, he sees past your stuff. He sees past your history, past your deficiencies. He sees your soul, the unique person you are, the person behind the mask, the child within the adult. He sees the pure essence of your being, beneath the layers of debris you pack on yourself. That is what God really sees and wants to see. He sees past your hurts and fears, and sees you as a beautiful, fragile soul. It is your soul He loves. Everything will be stripped away one day, and that which will be left is what God sets His sights on, what He desires to embrace, what He chooses to love.

God knows you. He knows your thoughts, your desires, your obsessions, your destructive behaviors. And yet, He loves you. Unconditional love is not based on merit or worth. It is based on its own ability to love for its own sake. It is based on choice. And God has chosen to love you because His core nature is love. God is love manifest. He loves because He cannot help but love.

Freedom

All these observations support the claim that love is freedom. Freedom to be seen. Freedom to be known. Freedom from fear and hiding. Love makes you free, free to be yourself. Be open to love and let love free you. Let God love you and show you who you really are. If you dare, look into His eyes and see what He sees, the person He embraces with unbounded love. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear” – I John 4:18.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer and artist. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com