An undivided heart

You want to know Christ, to love him and to serve him with an undivided heart.

In seeking to follow Christ, you’ve been blindsided by violent spiritual assault. Worse yet, it’s come from a place you would not have dreamed.

Elijah Blessing cr2If those two statements describe you, I may have a word from the Lord for you. It’s something he’s said to me too:

You’re not alone, my beloved. Others are out there, seeking to know me intimately and to follow me fully. You may have trouble finding them. You may be slow to recognize them. They may not look as you have thought. On days when you feel desperately alone, know that you are not. But even if you were, do not quit this pursuit. One undivided heart matters more than you can dream.

Equally important, I may have a warning from the Lord for you:

Beware of Ahab and Jezebel, my beloved. They hate you. They’re determined to own you or destroy you – and they do not look as you have thought. In me, you have more authority than they. But to walk in that authority, you have to see past strong deception. You have to walk in the blessing of an undivided heart.

The prophet Elijah has proven incredibly helpful to me in the so-very-challenging quest to be wholehearted. Elijah lived in a culture that echoes today’s Western church culture in ways we may not have seen. In that setting, Elijah laid hold of the blessing: He cultivated an undivided heart. His life beckons us to do the same.

 

Meet a man who followed God fully

Elijah lived among a people whom God called his own, yet whose hearts were deeply divided.

Long before Elijah’s birth, a king named Solomon made a very tragic, very public journey to a divided heart. Solomon’s life made it seem that God’s people can worship the true God and other gods of their own choosing, indefinitely, without consequence.

Following Solomon’s lead, generation after generation in Israel served false gods, yet assured themselves that they remained the people of God.

Then, Ahab and Jezebel rose up to rule where people’s divided hearts had made the way. Like a two-headed snake, the couple worked in tandem toward one venomous end – to take out all wholehearted worship of the one true God.

In that impossible place, Elijah lived before the Lord with an undivided heart. Repeatedly, he stood before the face of God. Day after day, he went out from there to love fiercely and live fully. In the end, he left behind a miracle legacy: He give away exponentially more than what he had.

 

See a culture trying to go both ways

Still today, wherever the people of God decide they can live indefinitely with divided hearts, Ahab and Jezebel wield great power and work great evil. Usually, we have no clue what’s happening, because:

  • We don’t know our own hearts, yet we adamantly insist that we do. We think that we in the evangelical church culture worship Jesus only. We do not recognize how deep and pervasive our collective double-mindedness is.
  • Ahab and Jezebel have fooled us too. We may see them as long-dead Bible characters. We may use their names to label people today. Yet we may totally miss their working in our midst, because Ahab and Jezebel do not look as we have thought.

 

Receive the blessing of an undivided heart

The God who loves us, who embraces us in his Son and breathes life into us by his Spirit, can clear the fog and show us what’s happening. This God invites us to stand before his face, to see him as he is, to see our own hearts and our church culture in his light. He can work mightily in us so that we love fiercely and live fully, as Elijah did.

You don’t need a book to experience that. You don’t need a book to be wholehearted in following God. But sometimes books can help, especially books that offer testimony from a survivor of the very thing you’re walking through.

The Elijah BlessingI wrote The Elijah Blessing: An Undivided Heart after being blindsided more than once by vicious spiritual attack. The attacks came as I tried to follow Christ fully. They came from Christians who I had thought were seeking the same thing. I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know what in me kept allowing it to happen. I didn’t know how to overcome what seemed intent on taking me out.

Over time, as I’ve continued to press in to God, he has entrusted me with much. I wrote The Elijah Blessing to encourage and affirm others in pressing in to follow God fully. My prayer is that this book will help you in your journey, by offering:

  • New insight into lives lived long ago. New insight into the spiritual battles you have faced, or will face, in seeking to follow Christ.
  • New understanding of the surprising things that can divide our hearts – and the simple but profound ways we can cooperate with God to be wholly his.
  • Greater discernment in recognizing Ahab and Jezebel at work, even and especially in our church culture. Greater wisdom to avoid and/or overcome the venom of the two-headed snake.
  • An opportunity to walk in authority and blessing, in that very place where you’ve walked in confusion and defeat.
  • Another step forward toward an undivided heart.

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Blessings are not sweet little things

Foolishly, we’ve thought of blessings as sweet little things.

They’re not.

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The blessings of the Lord flow from the white-hot radiance of his glory. They enlarge our human spirit, setting it ablaze. They enlarge our capacity to know and honor him, to become who we are in him and, from that place of identity and intimacy, to join him in bringing his ever-increasing kingdom from heaven into the earth. The blessings of the Lord enlarge our capacity to carry his glory.

– Deborah Brunt, We Confess! The Civil War, the South and the Church

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12 signposts on the journey to rest

Return to Your RestReturn to Your Rest: A Spirit-to-spirit Journey, is now available on Kindle! May a book born from my own 10-year journey into rest help others who know they desperately need rest, but can’t for the life of them find it.

I’ve been helped on this journey by surprising insights gleaned from people in Scripture – about what rest is and how it looks. One of the first insights, and one of the most crucial, came from the ancient Israelites:

Entering rest requires pressing in to go where you haven’t believed it possible to go.

Here are 11 other signposts, placed in the path by people who came before.

Also from the ancient Israelites:

  1. Our Lord has designed rest as a place to live – and as a pause we regularly take. We enjoy either aspect of rest only as we learn to embrace both.

  2. The enemy of rest is not busyness alone. The prime enemy of rest is unbelief.

From Jesus’ disciple, Nathanael:

  1. Entering rest requires recognizing when I’m sitting under a fig tree that can never produce what it promises. Seeing, I refuse the lie: “Cling to the status quo, and all will be well.”

From Martha, Mary’s sister:

  1. Rest is refusing false responsibility. It’s not doing what Jesus says is not necessary. That requires learning to recognize his voice. It requires humbling my soul, because being “worried and upset about many things” may make me feel quite important.

From Mary, Martha’s sister:

  1. Rest is refusing false guilt. It’s calmly staying the course when I’m doing what pleases Jesus, but others disapprove.

From the tax collectors, Matthew and Zacchaeus:

  1. Rest lies in identifying what it is I’ve believed would make me whole or happy, and laying it at Jesus’ feet.

From Mary Magdalene:

  1. Rest is knowing my Lord and his truth, Spirit-to-spirit. It’s letting him calm me and refocus me when my mind and emotions have run, screaming, the wrong way. It’s hearing in my inmost being when he himself calls my name.

From the man called Legion:

  1. Rest is freedom from double-mindedness. When I live from a place of rest, my words and actions match.

From Mary, the mother of Jesus:

  1. Rest comes when I surrender to Christ. I’m not the one calling the shots; he is. That involves continually letting him show me when I’m “working him” to get what I want, and when I’m truly seeking to know and do his will.

From the shepherd-king David:

  1. Rest? It restores.

From the Lord himself, who said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me … and I will give you rest”:

  1. If what you’re getting isn’t rest, where you’re going isn’t to Jesus.

For all these reasons, and more, Return to Your Rest.

Return to Your Rest: A Spirit-to-spirit Journey

Return to Your RestSounds so simple. Seems utterly impossible. So how does it look to come to Jesus … and find rest?

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A call to cultural humility

Pondering Privilege 230x350I’m a white woman from the Deep South. Yet if I had seen Pondering Privilege 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have thought that I personally needed to read it. If I’d seen the book 10 years ago, I would have thought, “White privilege? You mean, there’s a name for what I’m just starting to see and learn?” Now, still having much to learn, I’ve read and highlighted and reread Pondering Privilege, and have started on the rich list of follow-up reading/viewing that author Jody Fernando provides.

This book is a call to cultural humility by a woman who writes with a lot of humility. It’s a call to us who are white – but who never think in those terms – to press in to see what we’ve been afraid and ashamed to see. It urges us to respond to the rest of the multi-racial world by listening, learning and valuing. It teaches us that what we count “normal” may not be others’ normal at all.

If you’re white, and trying to get a clear picture as to what in the world “white privilege” is, this book may be a bit frustrating. If so, keep in mind: Explaining white privilege to a white person is kind of like trying to describe colors to a blind person. The author defines the term more than once. She gives several examples of how white privilege can look. She asks questions that can help each of us identify our own white-oriented perspectives. She points out the primary way for a white person to begin to understand white privilege: Begin to truly listen to the nonwhite world. She references numerous places to start.

White people who are still trying to decide if such a thing as “white privilege” even exists – but who are willing to find out – may want to do as the author suggests: Skip to the appendices. Read/watch some of the other suggested resources. Listen to voices that are not white. Then, return to ponder with Jody Fernando what in the world to do.

For those who are beginning to see, and to uncover the defensiveness, fear and shame that accompany unacknowledged white privilege, this book is a gentle call, an I’ve-been-there-and-am-still-there call. It’s also a cry. It gives us a compelling reason to press in to the pain of facing what may seem so much easier to deny: What we white people don’t know about our whiteness is hurting everybody.

Pondering Privilege can help us in the scary and complex process of overcoming our white blindness. It can help us replace shame with humility, the crucial virtue that white privilege tells us we do not need.

I found Jody Fernando’s website, and then her book, during my own journey of recognizing white privilege and trying to understand what to do. We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church describes my awakening to white privilege before I ever knew the term.

Song of rest

Beside still watersI hadn’t previously thought it. But suddenly I knew: Psalm 23 is a song of rest.

Two years later, I learned: In the same time frame as my Spirit-to-spirit “suddenly,” Christian recording artist Matt Maher wrote a song, saying the same thing.

For me, the revelation happened in January 2014. It was a sunny Sunday morning in a valley-of-the-shadow season.

For years, I had been learning what it means to answer Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me … and I will give you rest.” Searching the Scriptures, I had explored the lives of eight people who came to Jesus while he walked the earth. I saw how rest looked for each.

But more, I saw the amazing ways the life of each intersected with mine. I saw what they who lived so long ago can teach us today about our deep need to return to rest, and the ways Christ provides it.

Writing what I was learning, I had drafted most of a book manuscript titled Return to Your Rest. However, I had no clue how to end it. What would tie together all I had learned about the rest God gives and the different ways it looks?

I’ve read or heard the world’s best-known psalm countless times. Yet, that bright-but-dark Sunday, when I read Psalm 23 in the New Living Translation, I saw what I had not previously seen. The entire psalm is David’s yes to God’s rest. In that same instant, I realized: The psalm beautifully summarizes what rest looked like for the New Testament women and men whose lives God had used to teach me so much. It could be my yes to rest too.

 

The past: Eight voices in harmony

Return to Your RestListen, as eight who said yes to God’s rest sing David’s song.

First up, Nathanael, who walked away from the status and power he might have had as a religious leader in order to follow Christ. He sings robustly: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.”

Next, we hear the voices of two who once were demonized – Mary Magdalene, in duet with the man called Legion, or in The Message paraphrase, “Mob.” They sing in wonder: “He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.”

Now, the soprano and alto of Mary and Martha ring out: “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”

Then Zacchaeus and Matthew, the two tax collectors who invited Jesus for dinner, announce in tenor and bass: “You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.”

And Mary, the mother of Jesus, sings with joy: “You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.”

Finally, in four-part harmony, all their voices rise: “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.”

 

The present: Matt Maher sings “Rest”

One other thing I didn’t know in January 2014: I still had more to experience before I could finish and publish Return to Your Rest. Now, two years later, the book ends by meandering through David’s Song of Rest, embracing aspects of rest that Psalm 23 reveals.

This spring, while preparing to release Return to Your Rest as an e-book, I had another “suddenly” – a nudge to see if any contemporary songs focus on rest.

To my surprise, just a cursory search on iTunes revealed six different songs, each by a different Christian artist, and each titled, “Rest.” All but one of the songs was recorded in the last five years. What’s more, the six songs correspond in a rather startling way with the three sections of my book: “Resisting Rest,” “Snapshots of Rest” and “Song of Rest.” So I’ve happily included links on the corresponding pages of the e-book. (You’ll find a YouTube video of Matthew West’s “Rest” in my recent post, “Sort of like frog gigging.” I suspect some of the other “Rest” videos will appear in future Return to Your Rest posts.)

Most stunning to me of all: “Rest” by Matt Maher is his rendering of Psalm 23. Matt’s song is copyrighted in 2015, but as the YouTube video below reveals: He was already performing it in March 2014.

So, hmm, no less than six contemporary Christian songs reveal: We need rest, and God himself is calling us to receive it. He’s reminding us: Psalm 23 is a song of rest – a song David started, but anyone can sing.

Listen as Matt Maher echoes David’s psalm. Maybe this very ancient and very contemporary song can express your yes to God’s rest too.

Parts of this post are adapted from Return to Your Rest: A Spirit-to-spirit Journey, © 2016 Deborah P. Brunt. All rights reserved.

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God who rides

Posts in the “God Who” Series

There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides across the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. (Deut 33:26)

Jeshurun is a poetic name for Israel used four times in the Old Testament. It means “upright one,” and comes from the Hebrew yashar: pleasing, straight, approved, upright.

In the New Testament, God made the way for anyone to be an upright one in Christ. Be blessed to know him as the God who rides across the heavens to help you.

 Be blessed to know – and sing!

Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before him – his name is the Lord.

Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth, sing praise to the Lord, to him who rides across the highest heavens, the ancient heavens, who thunders with mighty voice. (Ps. 68:4, 32-33)