Thursday, August 25, 2011


God has grown me in all sorts of ways. Perhaps one of the ways he has shaped me most is through life plans, leadings, and questions about the future.

He has shaped me by telling me things I didn't want to hear, and leading me to do things I didn't want to do. I remember a time when I thought God telling me to go to China was the most disgruntling thing he could have said—but through that he taught me to relinquish my hold on my life plans.

He has shaped me by forcing me to trust him in his plans for me. I remember learning humility through trusting that since God had told me to go to China, he would provide the means.

He has shaped me by shoving real life and his actual plans against the stubborn framework of my own imaginary expectations. He has continually taught me that I am joining him in HIS work in the world-- he isn't joining mine.

And now he is shaping me once again. I can tell because usually when I am uncomfortable—he is changing me somehow. I wrote sometime ago about how God was leading me to seminary. I still feel that way. I feel the pull to go to seminary, and soon. So as of right now I will be going to seminary in the Fall of 2012. Awesome! Great! That really feels God led. I love it when God tells me the next step!

Except this isn't the next step. After high school the “next step” was college. After college the “next step” was China. After my internship here in China the next step is.... something that fills up time from October to July. And then its time for seminary. You see I don't know the next step. I know the step after the next step.

Which is new for me. God has made me humble myself to hear the next step. He has made me trust him to come through when I knew the plan. But he has never ignored the next step and told me all about the next next step!

Its like God is saying, “So, do you really trust me? What if I don't tell you what is going to happen next? Will you trust that I will still come through even when you don't know the plan? How far does your faith go?”

I could end up coming back to China for another six months. I could end up in Florida. I could end up in Illinois. I don't know. And you know what? I am pretty ok with that.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of things unseen.”-- Hebrews 11:1

~J. L. Smith

Saturday, August 13, 2011


I decided this summer to pray everyday for God to crucify my "self" and vivify himself in me. I learned so much from doing a focused period of one kind of prayer earlier in the year that I thought it was worth doing again.

I was right. It totally was. Its funny though. I expected to learn something both times I committed myself to a long period of prayer, but both times I learned something completely different from what I thought I would.

Honestly, this time around I really thought I was going to learn what it felt like to be radically transformed. I thought perhaps a long period of intensive prayer would push me over the edge into new territory of life with God. If I am completely honest with myself, I thought maybe it would be a magic bullet for leap in my own sanctification.

Instead, God taught me that the whole idea of a magic bullet for sanctification was a pretty stupid idea.

Somewhere in the middle of the summer thing began to get really hard for me spiritually. I was constantly under attack. I was spiritually exhausted. I was lethargic and unmotivated. I was sick of fighting temptation, sick of trying to be holy, sick of pressing on and on and on for what felt like an interminable amount of time. So naturally I started complaining to God.

"Why are you making me go through this?"
"Why does this have to be this way?"
"Why can't I just be done?"
"I am so tired. Can't you just make all of this go away?"

And then the Holy Spirit smacked me over the head. And God said, "You have been praying these past months, everyday, for me to crucify you... and you expected the road to that death of self to be any easier than the one my Son walked? Of course the way is hard. Of course the way is trying. The way of the cross if full of suffering and hardship and persecution and death. What did you expect?"

And suddenly everything over this past year and half snapped into clarity. This has been my struggle. This has been Satan's attack on me. It has been on my endurance. Sure that trying and testing may come through various different means, but the goal was all the same: to whittle away my endurance. To make me give up.

For the past year and half God has been trying to teach me that following after him is not easy. That sanctification is not easy. That I need to acquiesce not only to the death of self, but also to the way that death will come about. I have to march knowingly to my own death, knowing that to say those words means more than to simply spout some Christian metaphor for sanctification. I have to march to my own death knowing that it will not be easy or instant, but will be long and grueling and trying and exhausting. I have to agree, not only to let God change me, but also to the way he will change me: this rocky, whirling, twisting, turning, suffering, fiery, refining, trying, awesome, joyful, painful, tiring, full, empty, broken, hopeful thing we call LIFE.

~J.L. Smith


"Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly."
--James 3:1

This verse has always haunted me. I have no idea what it means, except this: If you are going to teach about the Word then you had better take it seriously. Like really seriously.

I have always admired the Jews. Both ancient and modern. Their discipline of study just amazes me. They would not only memorize most, if not all, of the Old Testament, but would also memorize huge tracts of the rabbinic commentaries on those passages. Amazing. I look at them and think that of all the things they may have gotten wrong they got this right: the Word is central--and they took that seriously.

I came to the realization the other day that our faith is one based primarily on texts. Oh sure there is a whole grand spectrum of Christianity that cannot be simply encompassed in "text" but if you throw out the Word you are on the path of heresy.

I also came to the realization that I consider myself someone who is called to teach the Word. And if that is true, I really need to start taking it seriously. Why do I let myself get away with having just a cursory knowledge of the Word? Why am I ok with being only a little engaged with the history of interpreting it? How can I settle for being merely "knowledgeable" about Scripture? If I am to teach, I cannot be content with passing along "truth" that I "heard from someone, sometime". Thats not going to cut it. James tells me so.

I must be absurdly, ridiculously, outlandishly familiar with the Word. I must be stewed in it, steeped in it, nourished and grown and swimming in it if I am to take all this seriously. I used to gawp at hearing about the way the Jews would study for hours and hours and hours to the exclusion of most everything else, and wonder how they could do it. But now I think I get it.

I really just don't have time for other things. I only have time to master one thing, and I choose the Word. I will never be a concert pianist. I will never be able to watch all the T.V. I want to. I will never be a master cook or engineer or architect. I don't have time. I have one singular thing upon which to focus: the Word. And in seeking to master it, maybe, just maybe I will find myself mastered by the Master along the way.

~J.L. Smith