Author Archives: RickHocker

Be The Light That You Are

How often have you compared yourself to others? “He’s more outgoing than me. I wish I were more compassionate like her.” After such comparisons, we judge ourselves inferior and then pressure ourselves to imitate those people. We assume we’re “supposed” to be like them.

You Are Unique

But you’re unique by God’s design. When I realized I’m not supposed to be like everyone else, I finally gave myself permission to be an introvert. Instead of resenting my differentness, I learned to embrace it, even celebrate it. I discovered I could stop comparing myself to others because they were no longer the mirrors by which I had to judge myself.

Each of us is intended to be a reflection of God, but a unique reflection of that same God. The infinite God is multi-faceted, so each of us offers a mirrored facet that reflects God through our unique personalities, all of us comprising a giant disco ball that catches the light as it spins. Our individual facet combines with all the other facets to offer a fuller picture of God. We contribute a tiny part toward the whole.

Think of the massive sun dispersing rays of light into the universe. God has given each person a ray of His light to shine forth. These rays, when unimpeded, gather together to create a brilliance like the sun. God is light and the fullness of light. The light you’ve been given by God is yours alone and has its own unique signature. My light is not your light. We don’t need to compare each other. Instead, we can choose to be the light that we are, our singular light, our unique reflection of God.

God’s Spectrum

The electromagnetic spectrum is a diverse and widely spread range of frequencies and wavelengths of energy, from x-rays to visible light to microwaves. In the same way, God has created a diverse spectrum of humanity, each person contributing a unique wavelength to the whole. Some people are conspicuously visible like the colors of the rainbow, but visible light is only a tiny segment of the entire spectrum. Humans can’t see some wavelengths of light, such as infrared or ultraviolet, so the talents of some people go unnoticed, yet they still contribute to the full expression of God. God notices these talents since He can see the entire spectrum, both visible and invisible.

In a sense, God radiates across the entire spectrum and we’re particles that emit energy, with our own unique vibration, to fill out this divine spectrum. So, be the light that you are. The more you become that light, the more you become who you are. I love this statement by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee from his book Love is a Fire: “…each created thing glorifies Him (God) just through being itself…” We reflect God most by being ourselves, not our outward selfish selves, but by being our inward true selves. When we live out of our authentic selves, our souls shine forth and God shines forth through our souls as light passing through clear prisms.

Being Ourselves

We don’t need to try to be like someone else. The better task is to discover our authentic, unique selves and nurture that to fullness. In doing so, God is made manifest to us and to those around us. Not only do we connect to God more profoundly by being our true selves, but also we can connect to ourselves in a deeper way than ever before.

In my book, Four in the Garden, Creator told the angel Radiance that she had been given a drop of His glory. Later, she realizes that this drop of glory is the same as her inner self. In response to that realization, she says with astonishment, “So if I allow my inner self to come forth, then Creator’s glory is revealed.” Our uniqueness is the glory of God manifest and an expression of His uniqueness. Our authentic self brings glory to God as the true God is reflected through our true self.

Jesus said it well by saying, “You are the light of the world. People do not light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Describe some traits or talents that make you unique.
  2. What traits or talents do you keep hidden from others because you think they are too unusual or easily misunderstood?
  3. How might God be seen in those traits or talents?
  4. How might you offer those traits or talents to bless others?

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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

God is Beyond Comprehension

We often think of God in human terms. Since God has no equal, we fall back on describing God in relation to ourselves, which serves neither Him nor us. Yet, the eternal, invisible God is not human in any sense. He is beyond time and matter, and unconstrained by the events on this tiny speck of a planet. All things are as nothing when compared to His sublime greatness. His unbounded vastness exceeds the scope of His created universe.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways.” (Isaiah 55:8-9). God is not a human construct, not a product of our imaginations. Instead, we are a product of His imagination. He is beyond us, ineffable, too enormous to be grasped, and yet it is the quest of many to attempt to grasp God nonetheless. When we die, I expect we all will be surprised to discover how much we believed about God was incorrect. It is impossible to understand God fully or to confirm what we think we know about Him. By faith, we believe in God and, by faith, we rely on God to direct us toward His unfolding truth.

God’s Love is Not Cuddly

In this article, I wish to elevate God above those human attributes we give Him. We do God a disservice when we assign traits, such as love, and then ascribe human characteristics and imperfections to those traits. For example, people view God as a loving father—the Bible teaches us to do so—and then conclude that God could never cause pain because no loving human father would do that. But God is not human.

From God’s eternal perspective, pain is a momentary condition and is unlabeled, neither good nor bad. Pain is a triggered response to circumstance. Growth or discipline can be painful, and God is not averse to sending those circumstances when we need it and because He loves us. God’s love is the greatest force in the universe, but that force can sometimes leave ripples of pain in its wake. Just look as the immense suffering Christ had to endure in order to fulfill the highest expression of God’s intense love for humankind. The existence of pain does not negate God’s love. Suffering can coexist with love.

God’s love is not protective like the human variety of love. It is more concerned with deeper, spiritual goals like character development and transformation of the soul into something that more clearly reflects God’s image. Scripture is full of examples of those loved by God who were not spared suffering, even martyrdom. God allowed his beloved people, the Israelites, to be oppressed as slaves by the Egyptians for generations. He expressed his deep concern regarding their misery and suffering in Exodus 3:7-8. From a human perspective, it makes no sense that God would allow that calamity to continue for so long. Why didn’t He rescue them sooner? Yet God’s higher purposes were at work and required delay until He had prepared His chosen prophet, Moses, to lead them out of slavery with an amazing demonstration of power.

God’s Priorities

We have to be careful not to judge God by human standards or to think that a loving God would never punish or destroy. In my book, Four in the Garden, Creator says, “I create. I destroy. In all I do, I love. My purposes encompass joy and pain, life and death, growth and decay. You can’t comprehend all My ways. I only ask that you trust.” It takes faith to believe that God is always acting according to His best intentions, especially when we can’t understand outcomes.

Unlike humans, God doesn’t give priority to preservation. From God’s eternal perspective, nothing endures forever except Himself, so He doesn’t strive to make anything last. Even heaven and earth will pass away (Matthew 24:35, 2 Peter 3:10). Psalm 103:15-16 says, “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” Nothing lasts. Everything comes to an end, sometimes sooner, sometimes later. We can be grateful, however, when something does last and we are able to enjoy it. Besides God, one thing that endures is our souls, and God promises to preserve our souls (Psalm 121:7).

God’s justice is unlike human justice. His punishment is not swift, but can be deferred, even after a person has died. We humans prefer swift judgment and immediate punishment. 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” God delays so that people have a chance to change and turn to Him. This doesn’t mean that God won’t execute justice. Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.”

God tracks time differently than we do. “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Peter 3:8). From that point of view, the oppression of the Israelites in Egypt wasn’t long when considered in light of eternity. Our lifetime is but a quick blip on God’s radar, so it’s amazing to me how much “time” and attention He give us. God created time and lives outside of time, so His touch on your life is timeless and eternal. We have to be careful with timetables when it comes to God. His “soon” is not our “soon.” Two thousand years ago, Jesus said He is coming soon.

Bigger Than We Can Imagine

In Isaiah 6, the prophet describes his dramatic vision of God. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” The concept of a king seated on a throne is a human invention. God appeared to Isaiah in a form he could understand in order to illustrate His ultimate sovereignty. Yet God is so much greater than a king on a throne, but that illustration is the best we have to describe His supremacy and power. He is far beyond what we can imagine and without equal (See Isaiah 46).

In the forward to my book, Four in the Garden, I describe God as “transcending our understanding, the inscrutable God who defies our man-made definitions and imaginations. We do not capture and subdue God for purposes of study or control. Rather, we gaze and marvel so we might be changed. From that place of awe, we approach God and find the meaning and connection we long for.” The main goal for us on this Earth is not to understand God as much as to be transformed by His love. As for understanding God, we will understand more when we see Him face to face. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”(1 Corinthians 13:12). Until that day, let us remain in awe that we have such a wondrous God that created this amazing universe. And let us be ever thankful that such an awesome God loves you and me.

Questions for Reflection

  1. God is always bigger than the mental container in which we try to hold Him. How can you expand yourself to allow God to be bigger in your life?
  2. If God can’t be fully known because He is beyond our comprehension, then what value can be found in seeking to understand Him?
  3. What is your response to the knowledge that God is vastly superior to you? Does it help or hinder your relationship to 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

When God Disappoints Us

Have you ever trusted God and been disappointed? You placed your trust in God and He let you down. After many such disappointments, we can lose hope. When we lose hope, we are tempted to despair or walk away from God. If we manage our expectations at the start, we spare ourselves a lot of anguish.

Faulty Expectations

We must be careful when we place our expectation on God. God isn’t manipulated. Yet we try to manipulate Him by our actions and words. We believe if we say or do the right thing, we can get Him to do what we want. That may work on people we know, but it doesn’t work on God. God is sovereign and He operates outside of cause and effect. He behaves in line with His will and purposes, not ours. Jesus taught us to pray for God’s will to be done (Matthew 6:10), so it’s foolish to try to get God to align with our wills. Don’t expect God to do what you want Him to do. That kind of expectation will lead to disappointment.

Many years ago, when my boss invited me to start a software business with him, I prayed about it and felt I got God’s approval and blessing. So I sold my half of my house to fund the business. After a couple years, all the money was spent and the business failed. I couldn’t understand how God could have misled me. After much prayer and reflection, I realized that God never promised success. In retrospect, I learned more from the failure than I would have from success. My biggest mistake was having placed faulty expectations on God.

Misplaced Trust

Our trust is often misplaced. We believe we are trusting in God but don’t realize we are trusting in a substitute. We’re trusting in a specific outcome or desired result from God. We’re trusting in our knowledge of God or doctrine. We’re trusting in a message delivered by a person or by God Himself. We’re trusting in our pastor or priest or spiritual director. All these things can be replacements for trusting in the person of God.

In my book, Four in the Garden, Cherished declares he will trust in Creator’s help. Creator responds by saying, “In your time of need, look to Us, not to Our help. If you expect the help We aren’t intending to give, then you may lose hope when your expectation isn’t fulfilled. Our help will come, but We are more apt to give you endurance than rescue you. Endurance creates more character than rescue.” Like Cherished, we need to learn to place our trust in God alone, not in His help or rescue or answer. When we look to the latter, we envision how the answer will appear and set ourselves up for disappointment when God doesn’t deliver our imagined answer.

Don’t misunderstand. It’s okay to ask God for specific things, but we don’t place our trust in the answers. We place our trust in God, believing He hears us and will act according to His mercy.

God’s Promises

We trust in God’s promises, but even that can be misplaced trust. The Bible declares that God’s promises are sure, so we do well to believe them, but we shouldn’t pin our hope on them. Our trust ought to be in God alone. We pin our hope on God. Some people regard God’s promises as an ace up their sleeves, something they can pull out to save themselves when needed. God is the one who saves us, not His promises. Trusting in promises can lead to disappointment when we misinterpret them. Instead of trusting in a promise, it’s better to trust in the One who made the promise.

Many of God’s promises are spiritual and conditional, but we can twist them into false expectations. The benefits God promises are often spiritual blessings, such as contentment, wholeness, inner abundance, or joy. Earthly blessings like prosperity aren’t guaranteed, so expectations of earthly comforts or rescue often go unfulfilled. The conditions attached to these promises usually involve putting God or others first, so selfish interests tend to invalidate the promises. I believe God’s promises are not intended to be enticements for reward. Rather, they are statements of consequence. Our motivation shouldn’t be to gain reward but to live with integrity as its own reward. By doing so, we discover that God’s blessings will follow (consequence).

Our focus needs to shift from God’s promises onto God Himself. These promises are statements that reflect God’s nature and character. Our core trust is in God’s character, God’s person, not a collection of promises. So we believe in the promises, but we trust in God. Promises give us something firm to hang our hopes on, so it will feel less substantial to trust in God only. We may feel more insecure trusting in God alone, but that is the nature of true faith and will keep our expectation centered on God, not outcomes.

The Strength of Relationship

Promises also have an unspoken condition, that of relationship. Promises are usually given within the context of relationship. What weight does a promise have if we have no relationship with the person who makes the promise? The strength of a promise is often tied to the strength of the relationship. If you are relying on God’s promises, make sure your relationship with God is active. “Not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23. After these people give noble reasons why they should be accepted, Jesus declares to them, “I never knew you.” God will not reject those who have nurtured a relationship with Him. In these verses, Jesus says that the one who does the will of His father will enter the kingdom of heaven. The way we learn God’s will is through having relationship with Him. Relationship is the basis for receiving all the promises of God.

In the end, it is relationship that saves us, not our knowledge or doctrine or good deeds or church attendance. It is whom we know, now what we know. It is whom we trust, not what we trust.

What Can We Expect of God?

So, how can we insure that our expectations are sound? What can we expect of God that won’t leave us disappointed? We can trust in God’s love and His ability to guard our souls. He doesn’t protect us from lack, but He can protect us from want. Those who trust God know they will be okay, no matter what. In this sense, we will be okay in that we are taken care of by God within our present circumstance, even when our resources are completely gone.

Don’t confuse the loss of resources as God abandoning you. God is present in loss and can inject His love and care when poverty visits us. At such times, God’s provision is most pronounced because that’s when it’s most needed. When I was without food and had no money to buy it, I rejoiced and told God I relied on Him to feed me. That day, a classmate brought donuts to morning class, a stranger gave me his extra sandwich for lunch, and a friend treated me to dinner. God’s care was never more real than that day.

In summary, we trust in the person of God, not in what we want Him to do for us, believing He is trustworthy and that His will is good. If we trust in God’s love and maintain relationship with Him, we won’t be disappointed.

Reflection
  1. Identify one thing you are trusting God for. How might that one “thing” distract you from trusting in God Himself?
  2. Revisit a situation where God let you down. What was your expectation at the time? What was your expectation based on? Looking back, how might you have changed your expectation to be more God-centered and less outcome-centered?
  3. Identify one way you can strengthen your relationship with God so that it might be easier 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

A Deeper Relationship

A “relationship with God” sounds like a lovely thought. But what does it look like? Has anyone defined it for you? How does one have a relationship with a being whom we can’t see or touch? Seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?

A healthy relationship is interactive. Giving and receiving must be present. So what do we give to God? What do we receive from God? I will answer these questions by the end of this article. First, I plan to describe one’s relationship with God by defining stages of increasing depth.

Trust

In my book, Four in the Garden, Cherished asks, “Why should I trust Creator if I don’t know Him?” The answer given him is, “You come to know Him by trusting in Him.” This is a paradox, yet we start the journey toward God by trusting Him. We trust in something we can’t see in the hope that the invisible will make itself known. Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” So we start with a simple belief in God, even though we don’t know or understand God.

Humility

Humility is the first step in one’s relationship with God. We set aside our ego and our ego’s demands when we approach God. We acknowledge that we aren’t as smart or powerful as God. In truth, we know little when it comes to God’s inscrutable ways, and what we think we know may be inaccurate. Humility requires a willingness to be wrong and an openness to correction. A relationship with God is not based on doctrinal certainty, but a readiness to engage mystery as this relationship is mutable and dynamic. No real relationship starts with certainty or expects fixed responses. James 4:6 says that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. Humility opens the door to relationship, but if we are proud before God, the door remains closed.

Authenticity

When we approach God, the masks must come off. We can’t have lasting relationship with anyone if we pretend to be something we are not. Authenticity means we are honest with God about who we are, how we think, and what we do. No excuses, but brutal honesty. I think God can handle it. We come as we are, not hiding anything or making ourselves more presentable. We bring everything into God’s light: our shame, guilt, despair, self-hatred, and doubt. The important thing is that we come, regardless, instead of staying away because we have judged ourselves unworthy. If we have soiled our diapers, then we come to God with stinky diapers believing He will clean us up as any loving parent would.

The goal here is to be real and authentic before God. We are not putting our best face forward, but putting our real face forward, warts and all. When we are real before God, then God makes Himself real to us. Said another way: if you want God to be real to you, then strive to be as real as possible with God. As we drop our masks and defenses, then we remove one more barrier between God and us.

Mutuality

Psalm 18:25-26 says this about God, “With the kind You show Yourself kind; With the blameless You show Yourself blameless; With the pure You show Yourself pure, and with the crooked You show Yourself contrary.” This suggests a mutuality that describes our relationship with God. This same mutuality is reflected in the verse (James 4:8) that says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” This is a dynamic relational dance with God. We bow and He bows in return. We approach and He approaches. We withdraw and He withdraws. He meets us according to our invitation and posture, reflecting back to us a corresponding posture and spirit in response. So it’s up to us how we want to dance with God, but realize that you lead and He follows. God waits for us to make the first move, to draw near before He draws near.

Transparency

Transparency is similar to authenticity, but it goes further. Transparency is more than dropping our masks and defenses; it is an intentional disclosure of our secret selves. It’s noble to be honest in a relationship. It’s far harder and riskier to divulge our deeper selves. We’re bringing out the monsters from our basement, the critters we don’t want others to see or know about. Of course, God knows all about them, but He waits for us to be ready to bring them out into His presence. He waits for us to trust Him with our secret shadow selves. In essence, our relationship with God is all about stripping away the layers that exist between God and us. God doesn’t do it. It is our task. I liken transparency to nakedness before God. Even though God can see us, we invite Him to do so. We invite Him to peer as deep as we can tolerate. When we allow ourselves to be seen, we also allow ourselves to be loved at a deeper level.

When I invite God to see me, I feel exposed and naked. It takes effort to stay still and not retreat. In some ways, I feel like a vampire being burned by the sunlight. But I know if I stay put, then what can’t be burned away will remain. So I allow God to burn off my shame, guilt, and self-judgment. After the ashes, I find my heart malleable again and a renewed tenderness in my relationship with God.

Intimacy

Mutual self-disclosure is the definition of intimacy. When we disclose ourselves to God, God does the same with us. This sharing of selves creates closeness, trust, and affection. God discloses His nature or character to us, some aspect of Himself we can lay hold of. He chooses how and when. His disclosure usually reveals an aspect of Himself that will enable us to become closer to him and to trust Him more. God doesn’t rely on formulas and no two people have identical experiences of God. So be open to anything and everything in your interactions with God. I see no limits in our relationship with God as Christ has removed any barriers on God’s side. The only barriers are on our side. So, we can draw as near to God as we dare. Ephesians 3:11-12 says, “In Christ and through faith in Christ, we may enter God’s presence with boldness and confidence.”

Self-Relating

Our relationship with ourselves has much to do with how we relate to God. If we don’t know how to relate to our inner selves, it will be hard to relate to God. If we don’t know how to nurture our inner selves, then it will be difficult for us to receive nurture from God. It’s within our interior space that God interacts with us. This inner realm serves as a landing pad for God. If we have cultivated an inner life, then we give God an ample place to land. Take time to discover and explore your inner person and learn how to relate to, listen to, and love that person. As you do so, you will develop the capacity to receive those same things from God. Refer to my article on Cultivating an Inner Life.

Deep Calls to Deep

In Psalm 42:6, David says, “Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls, all Your waves and breakers have swept over me.” David is downcast and disturbed in this psalm, yet he expresses his earnest desire and thirst for God by beginning with, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” He feels overwhelmed as if about to drown in the waters that inundate him, yet he calls out to God from the deepest place of his soul. In another illustration of mutuality, he expects that by offering his deepest self, he will be met by God’s deepest self. This is an accurate description of our relationship with God: we give ourselves to God and God gives Himself to us. We give our very being to God as a gift, a love offering, a willing sacrifice. In return, God gives us His being, His presence, His manifest love. God’s love is often preemptive and always unearned, but in a show of intimacy when we drop our guard, He sometimes embraces us with a palpable expression of His tenderness. We give God our lives, our spirits, our bodies, our love, our everything. In response, God gives as much to us, if not more.

Some of you are looking for guidance, assurance, security, or comfort. These things may result from a relationship with God, but aren’t the basis of a relationship, even human relationships. Relationship is based on the sharing of selves, mutual disclosure and commitment, and quality time spent together. When a vibrant relationship exists, then these other things often flow out of that. So, we seek relationship as the priority, not these other things that will elude us, otherwise.

The only thing that will last forever is your relationship with God. Everything else will fade away. The best description of eternal life was given by Jesus who prayed, “Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” Eternal life isn’t living forever, but having a relationship with God, a personal experience of knowing God (not just knowing about God). This life is eternal because God is eternal and in knowing Him, there is no end.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What is your greatest barrier in your present relationship with God? Why do you think it continues to be a barrier for you? What might it take to dismantle it?
  2. Describe your relational position with God. How does this position enhance or hinder God’s ability to relate to you? What new position would you like to try?
  3. How does your relationship with God compare to what you imagine it could be? Describe one particular way in which it falls short. Name one strategy you can try to fix that shortfall. 

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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

Finding Peace Within Chaos

With everything going on in the world, people are responding with fear or anger. They don’t realize that trust is a third option. Fear or anger doesn’t bring peace to our lives. So what does trust look like? And will that bring us peace?

Crisis or chaos threatens us. It brings the threat of loss—loss of value, loss of privilege, loss of security, loss of power. Our instinctive response to threat is fear, which can sometimes manifest as anger when we push back against what threatens us. People who are angry are also fearful, though you might not see it. Something they hold dear is being taken away or is at risk of such. For example, consider those who are angry because they feel their rights are endangered. Behind their anger is the fear of losing those rights. How can we prevent ourselves from experiencing fear when world events disturb us?

Too Attached to Outcomes

Part of our problem is that we are too attached to events and outcomes. Every outcome is personal to us. We make events about us, even if they are happening far away in Washington D.C. or elsewhere. When we do this, we invest ourselves too much in external events and set ourselves up to get rattled by life’s surprises. We carry around the things that upset us, keeping them close so we can revisit them often and upset ourselves all over again. It’s best to keep a loose grip on events. When we hold too tight, we are less able to adjust to the unexpected. Strive to be unattached to specific outcomes by having an attitude that anyoutcome will be manageable.

As part of keeping a loose grip on life, we need to have a buffer, a way to filter events to keep them at arm’s length. Remember that not everything we hear is true or about us. Try not to take things at face value, but hold them at a distance and study them from multiple angles. Then, when you’re finished, put them on the shelf. If you ingest them, you make them a part of your being. Ingesting an event is welcome when you’re convinced it adds value to your life. When your wellbeing isn’t dependent on exterior circumstances, you can create it from within your interior life, deriving it from the depth and richness of your relationship with yourself and with God.

Managing Our Thoughts

We cause much of our anguish by what we tell ourselves about our circumstances. We label and judge them as bad, and thus respond to our negative assessment of them, not to the actual circumstances, all of which have no intrinsic valuation. By doing so, we believe the worst and increase our stress and worry. We would do well to manage our thoughts. Avoid labeling things as “terrible.” Instead, use labels such as “manageable” or “okay.” Conduct regular inventory of your thoughts. Decide which are worth keeping and discard the rest. Most thoughts don’t serve us. You will find yourself discarding the same negative thoughts over and over again. Stay at it, so it becomes a regular practice and your thought life becomes tranquil. One friend incorporates an action with this mental exercise where he turns both palms downward as if dropping something into a trash bin.

God is Bigger than Circumstances

At some point, you need to decide whether God is bigger than your problems or the other way around. If you decide that God is bigger, how might you change your thoughts and behavior to reflect that belief? Any problem you have is manageable for God. Not only is God bigger than your problems, but He has the bigger picture in mind. I don’t presume to know the bigger picture except that in the end, God will work things out for my soul. My soul has greater value to Him than my circumstances because it’s my soul that endures. Everything else will pass away. So we entrust our souls to God, expecting Him to keep them safe to the end. Because I trust in God, I believe I will be okay, no matter what. I have learned to not trust God for a specific outcome, but trust that God will enable me to embrace any outcome with His help. God says in Ezekiel 18:4, “Behold, all souls are Mine.” My confidence is that He will take care of me because I belong to Him.

Trust Leads to Peace

When we trust, we can experience peace. I define peace as a confidence in God that defies circumstances. We rest in God and find contentment in Him.  I believe such confidence arises from cultivating a relationship with Him, growing to understand His actions and character, and learning to trust in that love relationship. This nurturing interior life with God becomes the bedrock for our outer lives.

In my book, Four in the Garden, Creator gives Cherished advice: “Try to stay in the present. Dwelling on the past or future will steal your peace. Only in the present, where We make Our abode, will you find Us and the peace We give.” God exists across all time, but His presence and activity happen in the present moment, and that’s where we encounter Him. We won’t find Him in our thoughts about the past or future. We experience God’s peace when we stay present and focus on the reality of God in that moment.

Smooth and Heavy

Strive to be like a rock in a fast-moving river. The water rushes past, but the rock is undisturbed. Are you slippery like a smooth rock? Or do events “stick” to you? If you are sticky, then ask God to rub away your sharp edges. He may send stronger currents in answer to your prayer. Are you heavy enough to stay in place? Or do you get washed downstream? Our “weight” depends on our relationship with God. Matthew 7:24-25 describes a person who follows Christ’s teachings as like a house built on bedrock that can withstand the raging torrents. If we are centered on God, then God becomes our anchor when currents try to sweep us away.

The Role of Gratitude

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Entrusting our concerns to God with thanksgiving is the key to peace. Gratitude is an important element as it repels anxiety. Without it, our prayers are tainted with fear and worry.

When I was bedridden after my back injury, I spent a lot of time processing my predicament, trying to make peace with it and my future, as I had scant hope for improvement. One morning as I lay in bed, I found myself thanking God out loud for “surrounding me with love and good things.” Surprised by this declaration, I stopped and considered if it were true. God had been gracious to show me His love over the course of my life and to send good things my way. I realized my injury hadn’t changed that. I still had God’s love and many good things as I reflected on my current situation, though desperate. That moment of gratitude brought me great peace and confidence that everything would be okay although I couldn’t see what that might look like.

Psalm 112 describes a person who reverences God. Verse seven says, “He need not fear a bad report, for his heart is unshaken, since he trusts in the Lord.” When we trust in God, our hearts are unshaken. All the bad reports we hear in the news need not create fear in us because God is bigger than circumstances and will enable our souls to endure. Place your confidence in God. You belong to Him. He will take care of 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 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

When Effort is Not Enough

When you pursue an important goal, you want God’s help to accomplish it, whether looking for a job, trying to lose weight, or seeking wisdom for a friend in trouble. But what is the balance between exerting effort and trusting in God? What is your part and what is God’s part? How do you know the difference?

Trust Alone

Let’s look at the extremes, first. I’ve known people who, desiring to be spiritual, wait on God to make the first move. These people expect God to provide income, housing, or a spouse without any effort on their part. It’s like trusting God for good grades without studying. “If God wants me to have this, He will provide it,” they say. When the desired thing doesn’t happen, then it must not be God’s will. The Bible says, “You have not, because you ask not,” (James 4:2) but some things require more than just asking. I believe God wants us to participate in the answer. These days, new age spirituality emphasizes the power of intention, but we need to apply willingness and effort, along with intention, toward our goals and desires. Our participation demonstrates to God our seriousness of intention. “God will provide,” but only if we do our part. We collaborate with God as we work toward our goals. It is meant to be a joint effort.

Effort Alone

At the other extreme are those who believe that goals are accomplished by pure effort alone. In effect, they take God out of the equation. But we can only do so much on our own. We have limitations. We need God to bless, extend, or multiply our labors to get us to the other side. It’s foolish to think that effort alone is sufficient. Our efforts fall short. We need God to open doors, grant us favor, manifest resources, and bring about what only He can do.

Sowing, Waiting, and Reaping

The challenge is to know when to restrain effort. For example, we could spend twelve hours a day looking for work, but anyone who has tried will tell you that nothing is more depressing. A farmer plants seeds, then waits for the seeds to sprout, trusting that God will bless him with a harvest. We invest ourselves, then we step back and wait and trust. We try to be wise with how we use our time. When we are desperate or fearful, we tend to over-invest and employ a scattershot approach to things, doing everything and anything that might make a difference. That leads to despair and burnout. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself whether your effort is driven by fear or trust. Fear-driven effort produces far less results than trust-driven effort. We do our part, trusting in God, then we step back and trust God to do His part. We must remember to give God time to do His part. Seeds don’t sprout overnight.

We have to be careful with over-exertion. Sometimes, our efforts get in God’s way. We can be so focused on our labors that we miss God’s provision. I remember when I had to be out of my apartment by the end of the day. I should have spent all day looking for a new apartment because time was running out. Fear and panic could have driven all my effort. Instead, I chose to go to church that morning. I spoke with someone at church who happened to have an available room. That day, I moved into my new place. A farmer knows the seasons, when to sow, when to rest, when to reap. After sowing, the farmer scans his field for any changes, looking for first sprouts. In the same way, we step back and widen our view to look for any movement or change that God has brought about. If we keep our heads down all the time, we miss what may be happening around us. One purpose of the Sabbath is to remind us we need to rest from our labors and enjoy God.

The Bigger Picture

In my twenties, I struggled with a dysfunctional friend, not knowing how to deal with his codependency and attachment. I pushed back and set firm boundaries, but he became more passive-aggressive and resentful. Years later, out of the blue, it occurred to me that I needed to ask his forgiveness for hurting him. Up to that point, I was focused on his hurting me and my having to forgive him, since he was the problem. When I asked him to forgive me, he broke into sobs. We both experienced much healing as a result of that action. The friendship became more manageable after that. He had never been given an outlet to release his hurt and anger until I gave him an opportunity to forgive. If only I had stepped back and looked at the bigger picture, I would have seen the pain I had caused him by my actions. My point is that we need to remind ourselves to look at the larger picture and not always be so focused on our goals. The answer sometimes comes when we get rid of our tunnel vision.

When We Lack

In some situations, we can do nothing, such as a sibling’s cancer diagnosis. But even then, our part would be to pray for them. Or we can offer practical support. A friend was diagnosed with stage-four esophageal cancer. Never have I known anyone to put so much creative effort toward his own cure. He changed his diet and his thought life, banishing all things unhealthy or negative. He underwent alternative treatments, even flying to Asia for a special detox procedure. He tried experimental drugs, one of which proved effective. He’s now cancer free, and attributes people’s prayers and positive intentions to this miracle. From my perspective, his attitude and spirited efforts were contributing factors.

After we have done all we can do, all that’s left is to trust, and that’s sufficient. There comes a time when we surrender. We’ve done all we know to do and nothing has worked for us. At that point, we give everything to God, trusting God to do what we cannot do. That is the point where we abandon all effort. We give up. It’s now up to God. God may or may not act, but we have tried. In my experience, God often waits until I reach the end of myself as the prompt for Him to act. I suppose He wants me to know my limitations and wants to break my pride. Sometimes, we place our faith in our own efforts, when our faith ought to be in God, so He lets our efforts come to naught in order to teach us this lesson. On occasion, new direction comes during this surrender and we are given a new task or a shift in focus, but we need to be in a posture of watchful waiting—the farmer looking at the entire field, not the patch of dirt at his feet.

We all experience times when we don’t have faith, when we are discouraged or doubtful. In those times, I think it serves us to go through the motions. Even that is an act of faith—applying effort when we can’t see if it will do any good. We don’t have as much control over our lives as we think we do. Some goals are never realized. Some harvests never manifest. The true benefit of working toward a goal isn’t the goal itself, but the inner growth that results from the effort and faith applied. Are we learning patience, endurance, trust, and compassion? Are we being changed? That is the best measurement of a goal.

Finding A Balance

It’s difficult to know the balance between effort and trust. Am I doing enough? Am I trusting enough? An excellent picture of this balance is found in Exodus 17:10-12 where the Amalekites fought the Israelites while Moses stood on a hilltop during the battle with the staff of God in his hand. As long as he held up his hands, Israel prevailed. When he lowered them, the Amalekites prevailed. So Aaron and Hur sat Moses down on a stone and they held his hands up, one on each side, until the battle was won. The lifting of the staff demonstrated trust in God, but it took effort to keep it elevated. This action embodied faith. In this illustration, effort and faith went hand-in-hand. In the same way, our efforts should be acts of faith. As far as it’s possible, our strivings should be founded on faith and focused on God. In other words, faith generates action, and action reinforces faith.

Moses got weary, so his friends helped him to keep his hands uplifted. We, too, need to rely on our support network in our undertakings. Whether we are searching for work, housing, or wisdom, we need our friends to come alongside and hold us up when we weaken. We often forget about this important resource. Don’t be quick to write off friends because you think they can’t help or understand. They may have ideas or resources you don’t have. Or find a support group of people who can relate.

This balance between effort and trust shifts over time. At times, we work. At times, we rest from our labors and trust God for a harvest. In everything, we exercise faith, believing that God is working on our behalf to bless our efforts. It’s an opportunity to draw close to God and learn His priorities for us. In the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42), Jesus affirmed Mary for spending time with him, whereas Martha missed out on relationship because she was preoccupied with her work. In our laboring, we need to remember to stop and listen to God as Mary did. Let us cultivate relationship with God, which is God’s greatest desire for us and which supersedes the less important goals we set for ourselves. These smaller goals are but opportunities for God to teach us and transform us, through both success and failure.

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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

The Simplicity of Death

To understand death, we can observe nature as in the lifespan of insects or the hierarchy of the food chain. Death is an integral part of the cycle of life. Death is necessary, inevitable, and unavoidable. I doubt that insects or animals contemplate their mortality as humans do. Yet, what we have in common with all creation is our need to survive. The survival instinct is driven by an innate need for continuity, but for some humans it’s confused with one’s fear of death. We humans have turned death into a terrifying phantom that sneaks in the shadows and steals our precious lives as a thief.

In my book, Four in the Garden, Cherished came upon a dead mole that disturbed him because it didn’t behave like all the other animals he had encountered thus far. He found it stiff, cold, and unresponsive. When he asked, “Where did the mole’s life go?” the Teachers explained that its life left its body and rejoined the One Life in which all living things share, the One Life that is Creator. God is the source and embodiment of Life, and all living things manifest God’s Life. When a living thing dies, its life returns to God.

The Balance of Life

In college, I used to pray atop a hill behind the dorms. Each time I ascended the hill, I passed a small pond full of many dozen polliwogs. I would always stop and watch them wriggle along the edges of the pond as if eager to climb onto the land. Over time, they grew large and began to sprout limbs. One day, when I visited the pond, the water had dried up and all the polliwogs had died. This event devastated me because I had grown attached to those little guys. For years, it bothered me because I could never understand what lesson could be gained by observing this catastrophe.

Looking back at that event now, I take heart because of the laws of physics. Energy is being transformed all the time. Matter converts into energy according to Einstein’s famous equation. We now know that energy and matter are interchangeable. Everything transforms. Nothing is wasted. The life energy of those polliwogs wasn’t extinguished, but released to the universe. Death is not a destructive end, but a transformation of energy from one state to another.

I see Life as a dynamic constant, where creatures come and go, but the totality of Life is a vast fabric that God infuses with His Life. All creatures are alive with the spark of God’s Life, and the spark returns to God when they die. In this sense, death is but the shedding of the body. Life continues. Spirit continues. Even for us, death means that we shed our bodies and continue in a new form. Think of it as shedding a skin like a reptile or crustacean sheds its skin or shell as it grows.

God’s View of Death

I believe that God views death from a wider perspective that isn’t tied to a material point of view, given that God Himself is Spirit and not tethered to a body. Most people are confounded when they read passages in the Bible about God slaughtering people. From God’s point of view, He is simply terminating bodies, not souls. I don’t mean to make light of murder (it is one of the ten commandments), but God takes a more casual and neutral view of death when taking lives, as they are His to take. We’re comfortable telling children the story of Noah’s ark, even though the tale includes the worldwide intentional slaughter of the entire human race save one family. Bodies serve as temporary housings for our souls, nothing more. We regard our human lives as only the short time we inhabit our bodies, when our existence actually extends far beyond that. “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes,” says James 4:14. Psalm 90:4 says, “In God’s sight a thousand years is but a day.” Whether we live a day or ninety years, our human lives are a momentary flash from God’s point of view.

We consider it tragic when people die “before their time.” Who decides what my time should be? It may be much shorter than yours. I think everyone’s time is too short. God, on the other hand, doesn’t hold a tragic view of death. Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones (saints).” Those mentioned are God’s favorites, I assume, but their death is deemed precious to God, not tragic. Contrast this with the feelings we have when those dear to us die. We consider it extra grievous if the deceased was a good or godly person, somehow less deserving of death, as if death is based on merit.

Why We Fear Death

Death is natural and not to be feared. The reason we fear it is because our ego is unwilling to suffer loss. Ego clings to security and substance. Ego refuses to let go. Death is the enemy of ego. The best way to address our fear of death is to stop clinging to life so tightly, to release our grip, to let go of control. In its place, we choose to trust in God, to trust in Life and Death. Death is not genuine loss, but only the shedding of our temporary bodies. I find comfort in this, seeing the shedding of my body as liberating and freeing me to experience God without the distraction of my body.

One thing that terrifies us about death is the loss of ego and identity. In this world, we are known by our outward personality and accomplishments. Those personal attributes cease to define our non-material being after death. The quality and nature of our souls is what remains. Ego and self are baggage meant to be discarded anyway along the path toward fulfillment in God. The supremacy of self runs counter to the spiritual life and to the nature of God. Ego, as self-focused, opposes the open, outward essence of God who desires Oneness with all. After death, ego and identity have no place or function. They only thrive where separateness causes one to define a distinct self in relation to and in opposition to all others. For those who experience Oneness with God, separateness ceases to be a marked reality, and our need for ego and identity fades because God’s embrace supplies the security that ego tried to provide and our new identity of being one with God replaces our old fragile identity of “I alone”. On our journey toward death, we must “die” to our sources of false security and find fulfillment in our relationship with God.

The Issue of Decay

Before death comes decay. Here in the United States with our emphasis on youthfulness and newness, decay and deterioration repulses us. I admit I join the crowd on this issue. I don’t look forward to the slow loss of physical and mental capacity or the frightful challenges that tend to strike older people. Yet, deterioration is a natural consequence as we transition toward death and it ought to be accepted. Through all of life’s circumstances, we learn to adjust and adapt in the hope that in our latter years we have gained resilience and calm acceptance of what is. If I have learned these things, I can then apply them to the upcoming challenges of aging. I will adjust and adapt to the deterioration happening to my body with humor and patience and compassion. If we haven’t yet learned to release our stubborn egos, then these final humiliations will give us ample opportunity. When we accept our limitations instead of resisting them, we are best prepared for change as it comes. We trust in God, believing He will guide us through all the stages of life and will give us what we need along the way.

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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

The Indwelling Spirit of Christ

Our identity as Christians is based on our relationship to Christ. A common phrase to describe this identity is “who we are in Christ.” Our relationship to Christ as our savior gains us favored status with God, imparts Christ’s purity and righteousness to cover over our sinfulness, and grants us unrestricted access to God so we can have intimate relationship with Him. It takes a lifetime to fully understand these deep truths, but we cannot stop there. If we want to lay hold of God, we must explore a second stage. After we have laid the foundation of who we are in Christ, we must then discover “who Christ is in us.”

All things start with a focus on ourselves. Who am I? Why am I here? What do I want? As we mature, the focus ought to shift off of ourselves. The same holds true with our identity in Christ. After we have established who we are in Christ and have arrived at a comfortable level of security in our standing with God, it’s essential to move to a more Christ-centered focus. This shift in focus causes us to ask who Christ is in us. What can we know about the Spirit of Christ who inhabits us? What does it mean that Christ indwells me? How do I live my life to give space and freedom to this indwelling Spirit? I doubt I can answer these questions with great accuracy, but I hope I can inspire you to think differently about Christ.

Christ in Us

Christ said He had to leave the Earth so He could send another, a Comforter, to be with us (John 14). Christ knew He could only be in one place at a time, so He devised a way to be with many people at one time by sending His Spirit to dwell inside those who receive Him. This isn’t some second-rate, inferior replacement for Christ. This is the full package. Everything you believe about Christ is bundled in this package because the package IS Christ. He Himself dwells inside you, not a watered-down version. Because our lives still feel unremarkable, we tend to think that the package is more like a Jesus action figure that sits on our dashboard inspiring us on our journey, but not offering much practical use. The problem is not with the package, but with us not knowing what to do with it. It’s like having an Amazon Echo device sitting on our counter, but we don’t know how to engage it, so it sits there unused and ineffective.

In Ephesians 3:8, Paul refers to the boundless riches of Christ. Other translations use adjectives such as unfathomable, immeasurable, or infinite. The New Living version translates Paul’s words to say “the endless treasures available in Christ.” That phrase inspires me to imagine a treasure room filled to the ceiling with golden riches, all available to us in Christ. Why do we not utilize this treasure? We often neglect spiritual gifts because we feel unworthy or cannot believe they are ours to use. So our treasure room remains closed even though we’ve been given the key. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:22-23, “Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” The treasure IS Christ. His boundless riches are found in us because He dwells in us.

Christ by Faith

If Christ and all He possesses are found in us, then our first response ought to be gratitude. Let us be cognizant of what a great treasure we have, Christ in us. So how do we tap into this resource? We apprehend Christ by faith, believing that Christ’s fullness is available to us, believing we are worthy of such a gift, and believing Christ will manifest in our lives in response to our faith. God wants the Spirit of Christ to be a real and active force in our lives. That’s why Christ gave us His Spirit.

Let us exert more faith in Christ, not only the Christ who sits in Heaven, but the Christ who sits on the throne of our hearts. Let us depend more on the Spirit of Christ who inhabits us. We need to give God more opportunity to express Himself in our lives. The Spirit of Christ can only dwell where He is invited. Therefore, let us invite Him into our daily interactions, into our thoughts, and into our words. By compartmentalizing our lives, we limit God’s reach. God wants to infiltrate our lives in every aspect, but we get in the way. The older I get, the more I see how much I restrict God by my own fears and insecurities.

Christ to the World

I visualize myself as a portal or doorway between God and the world. Christ is inside me, and the world is outside me. Christ yearns to reach through this opening and touch the world He loves so much. But it’s up to me how wide an opening I give God to do so. How much will I open up my heart and life to God? I believe that my experience of the reality of God is directly proportional to the size of the opening I give Him. We create an opening for God by clearing a way that’s devoid of self and ego. It is an empty space that God can fill with Himself. It is a setting aside of my agenda and attachments.

In its ultimate expression, Christ in us becomes Christ in the world. Christ inhabits us to such an extent that we become His hands and feet in this world. I believe that is what Paul meant when he prayed that we “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). In this state, Christ inhabits us fully, filling every part of our lives. This fullness overflows our lives as the character and activity of Christ is made manifest to the world for others to experience. I often wonder if such a thing is possible for someone like me, but when I consider what an amazing resource I have in the indwelling Spirit of Christ, I’m reminded that all things are possible with Christ (Matthew 19:26).

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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

The God Particle

“I believe that God is in me as the sun is in the colour and fragrance of a flower ­– the Light in my darkness, the Voice in my silence.” —Helen Keller.

Most of us think of God as being outside, up there, or elsewhere. “He is high and lifted up,” said the prophet Isaiah. And shouldn’t He be since He is so holy? What’s remarkable is that the God who dwells in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16) can also dwell in us feeble and broken humans and is willing to do so. “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).

One of my most life-changing insights was when God showed me what resided at my spiritual center. I had expected something dark or sinister, but what I beheld at my deepest core blew me away. It was God Himself. I already believed that God’s Spirit dwelt inside me, but I’d been taught that the Spirit ebbed and I needed to ask to be refilled every day as if my spiritual tank would run dry if I didn’t. It had never occurred to me that God was an enduring and integral part of my spiritual makeup. God is the foundation onto which my soul is built.

God Within Us

Water drops in the atmosphere, such as those in clouds, are created when water vapor condenses on tiny particles of dust. At the center of every water drop is a tiny particle. I now see my soul in the same way. My soul is wrapped around a tiny particle of God, but this particle is infinite, boundless. If I were to plunge into my innermost center, I would find God in His fullness. The deeper I descend into the ever-tighter center-point, the more spacious the view.

When shopping yesterday, I became awestruck on realizing that everyone around me was also a God particle wrapped in a soul. People have inestimable value because they carry God within them. Each of us contains a “drop of glory.”1

St. Teresa of Avila was a sixteenth-century nun and mystic who wrote Interior Castle. In her book, she described the soul as a castle with a series of mansions though which one journeys toward the central mansion. She wrote that God’s mansion “is the centre of the soul itself.”2 I interpret her statement to mean that God Himself dwells at our innermost center.

Flow From Within

In my book, Four in the Garden, Cherished learned that he could connect to Creator via a special connection found at his innermost center. This divine connection was called an umbilicore. It functioned as a spiritual umbilical cord from which he received nourishment from Creator. As in the story, God dwells inside us at our center, and His Life flows outward to nourish our souls.

God’s Spirit or God’s Life is often described as a spring of water that wells up inside us. In John 7:37, Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” The flow of living water comes from our innermost center because that’s where God dwells.

God’s Accessibility

Having God at my center implies that God is always accessible to me. I used to view God like a switch that would get turned off if I felt unworthy or guilty. I pictured Him as moving further away depending on my behavior. Then I would have to work to close the gap between us. But, now, I only need to find God at my center, and my experience of God is almost immediate. It sounds too easy.

Believing that I’m connected to God enables my connection. Feelings of doubt will shut it down. If I don’t believe that I can connect to God, then I don’t. Unworthiness or guilt still interfere, but the best cure for those things is connecting to God. So I push past those feelings, find God, and connect to Him, then those feelings fade away.

I realize that what I’m describing is not most people’s experience of God. God is elusive or distant for most. My intent in writing this is to declare that God is not far away from you. He is closer than you think, closer than your own breath. He is at your innermost center and available to you. We haven’t been taught how to look for God. We don’t know how to look inward, but that’s where God is found. It’s also where your soul is found. Navigating the soul’s treacherous terrain requires courage. To find God, we much deal with the stuff in our souls because that stuff gets in the way.

Press in. Dig deep. Gaze into your soul. Deal with your stuff. If you persevere, you will encounter God. The goal isn’t to encounter God or to connect to God although those experiences can be fulfilling. The true goal is to fall in love with God and to nurture a relationship with Him. In the context of relationship we come to know God in a way that transcends what we read in a book. God becomes real to us, and we become a conduit as He flows out from our innermost being into the lives of others.

1 Rick Hocker, Four in the Garden, page 185
2 St. Theresa of Avila, Interior Castle, page 154

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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

The Purpose of Pain

I’ve noticed a growing trend in our society marked by an aversion to pain. I suspect this trend is due to the easy availability of drugs that mask pain. It seems as if pain is another malady to be conquered by science, along with cancer and heart disease. But pain is not a disease. We forget that pain is a natural and helpful mechanism meant to inform us when something is wrong. We tend to not listen to our bodies and, thus, not listen to our pain. Pain is a symptom, not a problem. When we mask our pain, we stifle the messages our bodies are trying to give us. We need to learn to listen.

I don’t intend to take on the drug companies or to convince you to not take pain medications. Instead, I want to explore the workings of pain in our lives and what we can learn from it. I believe pain can be our teacher.

Learning from Pain

At its most basic level, pain is a warning. It triggers when we touch something hot or when we injure ourselves. We feel pain when something is wrong inside us, such as a stomachache or headache. From the pain messages, we learn what behaviors to avoid, such as not touching the hot stovetop. We also learn new behaviors, such as wearing sunglasses when spending hours in the bright sun. If pain is repetitive, then we need to change our behaviors to mitigate the pain, such as not eating foods that give us heartburn. Listen to the messages your body is giving you and try to learn from them.

These principles also apply to emotional pain. Can we learn from our pain to change our behaviors so we aren’t inflicting pain on ourselves or allowing others to inflict pain on us? What is your pain telling you? If you’re experiencing emotional pain, you’ll be tempted to mask or medicate it. But sit with it long enough to understand it and to learn what you need to do to remedy it. If you medicate your pain, then you’re only treating the symptom and remain in the dark as to its cause. Seek to understand its cause so you can correct it.

Transformed by Pain

In my book, Four in the Garden, Creator said, “The soul attains full maturation when transformed by life of which pain is an integral component.” Pain has value if we allow it to transform us. Pain has spiritual purpose. The apostle, Paul, understood this and sought to partake in Christ’s sufferings as a way to know Christ better and to become more like Him. “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” (Philippians 3:10). I admit this concept is far beyond me, but I recognize that Paul’s attitude toward suffering is rare when compared to the importance placed on minimizing pain these days. This is evident in advertisements that promote weight loss or great abs without exercising. What happened to “no pain, no gain?”

Paul believed that suffering had the power to raise us to a higher spiritual state. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17). This power isn’t found in the suffering itself, but in God’s ability to use the suffering to our benefit when we trust Him to do so. God can only transform what we hand over to Him. During my back injury, I believed there was some spiritual purpose in it, although I couldn’t see it at the time. Nevertheless, I trusted God during that dark time and entrusted my body and soul to Him, believing He could use the situation to bring about spiritual growth in me. Had I not done so, I doubt I would have learned or grown as much as I had.

Paul saw benefits to suffering. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4). Paul lists three areas that can develop from suffering: perseverance, character, and hope. Learning to endure pain develops perseverance that helps us stick it out during long or tough challenges in life. Perseverance produces character that is more focused on others than on our own comfort. And character leads to hope that, in this context, means an abiding trust in God during times of trial where reward and gratification are delayed, but still believed in.

God’s Intention

If, during our suffering, we focus on our misery and complain, I believe we can sabotage God’s intention to use it to transform us. Even of Jesus, it is said that He was made perfect through suffering (Hebrews 2:10). If Jesus, our example, needed to suffer to be made perfect, then much more do we need to be perfected through life’s experiences. An attitude of trust is important. Can you entrust your painful circumstances to God so He can use it to deepen your character? Our transformation has paramount importance to God, more than our comfort. Our bodies and circumstances don’t last forever, but our souls do, so God is invested in developing our souls, making them ready for eternity.

I believe we will continue to grow in the next life, but this life is about developing an elasticity and humility that fosters the greatest capacity for future growth. Through life’s experiences, we can develop a spiritual capacity for partaking in God’s abundant and overflowing Life and Spirit. Without the necessary transformation to our souls, we won’t be able to contain the immensity of such abundance and Presence.

Benefits of Pain

One lesson I learned from pain is a deeper acceptance and trust. It’s natural to resist pain and discomfort. I resisted the thought that I would be permanently disabled. But God was saying to me, “What if you don’t get better? Will you trust Me anyway?” I wrestled with that question for some time. In the end, the question boiled down to, “Is God trustworthy or not?” I decided He was trustworthy and would be no less able to care for me if I were permanently disabled. What helped me was meeting a lady named Marcy ten years earlier. When I met her, she was still confined to bed because of a back injury five years prior. She radiated joy and gratitude in spite of her disability and had tremendous trust in God.

Another lesson I learned during that time was to live in the present moment. During my injury, I kept dreading the future, seeing it as an unmanageable burden. I also looked back at the many months of immobility and debt, and got depressed about the unproductive time of being confined to bed and not making income. God taught me to focus on Him in the moment and to not dwell on the past or future. He reminded me that He doesn’t inhabit the past or future. Those things are abstract and have no present reality. But God dwells in the present and we can experience Him there. When we focus on the past or future, we sever our active connection to God because we jump into our minds to obsess on past events or future worries.

One surprising benefit I discovered was that focusing on the present moment made my pain more manageable. The thought of an entire day of pain was crushing, but I found I could manage the current moment of pain I was experiencing. And I would manage the next moment of pain, and then the next. I didn’t worry about how I would get through the day or week or month. Instead, I stayed in the moment and managed that moment. This is a great way to tackle life when it feels overwhelming. Also, it keeps us centered on God who inhabits the present moment and makes Himself available to us in that moment.

Character and Maturity

Today’s society is accustomed to instant gratification. I worry that we are losing the virtues of sacrifice, denial, and delayed gratification. During World War II, when rationing was enacted, the entire country made voluntary sacrifices to support the war effort. The Great Depression and World War II taught my parents how to make sacrifices and to live on less. I see how those instilled values created an incredible generosity in my parents. Pain and suffering can do the same for us. Pain can teach us humility, endurance, willingness to suffer for others, and gratitude for what we have.

James encourages us be grateful for our trials. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4). Our reason for joy is that when we persevere, it produces a complete maturity that Paul defines as “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13). And that is God’s intention for our transformation, that we be filled with the fullness of God and, thus, bear His image in all its glory.

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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