Monday, April 16, 2012

Wisdom Teeth

This is an adapted journal entry (1-25-12) that I felt compelled to share for the sake of those who may similarly feel stuck in a spiritual rut. The thoughts are somewhat scattered due to the nature of journal entries, but the overall theme is the necessity and wisdom of spiritual discipline:

This is my first entry of the new year? Wow. It may not be a coincidence, considering I'm going through a critical period of spiritual formation. I would describe it as painful and beautiful, the pain being a necessary precursor to the beauty. It's very much like the people I know who have had their wisdom teeth extracted recently: you can either leave the tooth in and live with constant pain, or you can choose to extract the tooth in a procedure of intense agony that lasts for only a short duration and be done with it. The tooth represents our impurities and barriers to God, while the extraction is God's refining work in our lives. I think that God is willing and able to provide Novocaine if we ask for it (Philippians 4:6-7). The name "wisdom" tooth never really struck me before, but I think it speaks to the wisdom of going through temporary pain for the sake of lasting peace.
The situation through which I've been drawn to seek God as my refuge has almost always been the same; however, this time in my life has been unlike any other in terms of my response to my circumstances. A good summary of the lesson God's been teaching me can be found in the chapter of Walt Russell's Playing With Fire that I read this morning (chapter 8: Wisdom literature). One section says, "Even though we may not fully understand all our suffering, we must still choose to cling to God and His ways...If our spiritual maturity is dependent on our understanding and neatly categorizing everything we observe or experience in life, we will be sorely disappointed and probably end our days in skepticism or cynicism." Skepticism and cynicism have been growing up in me, because I have falsely believed that my increasing "maturity," knowledge, experience, etc. have all equipped me to understand and accept everything that I run into. I thought I could "understand and neatly categorize" my life. This turns out to be a foolish perspective and led me to become somewhat bitter and apathetic to God. "Wisdom" teeth have grown up in my life.
After a wonderfully comfortable first semester at college, I came to develop quite a distaste for trial and suffering and fell out of practice with certain Christian disciplines that strengthened me for so many years. I hope to learn them again, because when I walk in them...there is a feeling of peace and clarity that is unlike any other. I imagine that it's the spiritual affirmation of walking in the Light, abiding in the Vine, and tasting the sweetness of Wisdom. It's a thing I've had but lost. I now want it back. I want to want it back passionately. I suppose that when I say "it" I mean God Himself. I'm just now recognizing the presence of my wisdom teeth, and I want them gone.
Perhaps I've been leaning on the shadows of things that I once knew to be true, because it's not like I've consciously chosen to "give it all up" but have rather become embittered to all that hasn't been working for me and have lost faith in "God's ways." I have actually twisted them into a state of ineffectiveness without even realizing it. Wisdom teeth grow in very slowly.
THE KEY to a life of real wisdom is to fear the LORD (Proverbs 1:7) and seek out wisdom and instruction with reverence and humility. Transforming my mind used to be the very thing I was most passionate about, but I've come to a place where I'm blind to what needs to be changed and healed in me. I want God to remove the scales once again, though the light may hurt my sensitive eyes for a time #Dante. Lose the idea that you know anything and just set your focus on Scripture itself. You can't get too much of it and you're certainly not getting enough. Make transformation via the written Word a daily discipline. The spoken Word can have just as much influence throughout the day. Do not neglect praying, and beware of the excuse that you don't "need" to, you don't "feel" like it, or you "don't know what to say." It's not about doing prayer perfectly but about showing humble devotion, love for God, and faith in His gracious response.
I am fully convinced of all this in spite of the uncomfortable spiritual warfare that accompanies my choice to believe such things. These wisdom teeth won't hold their roots forever.
Another lesson that I've been reminded of is the fact that our lives will never not need "proofreading." We are works in progress until the day that Christ returns and we are clothed with perfection. Continually set your eyes on the Shepherd and follow Him with the utmost humility and reverence, always seeking to better grasp His majesty and your own lowliness. I was reminded of this constant need for refinement as I again read through this journal entry and discovered a plethora of careless mistakes in grammar and punctuation. I would not have known that corrections were necessary had I not chosen to examine the whole of this entry, and I would have been unable to make improvements without an education in what proper writing looks like (it's still probably pretty bad). We must consciously examine our lives in humble recognition that we are, in fact, in need of surgery and must actively seek out an education in God's medicine in order to engage in an effective procedure. Once you realize the wisdom teeth are there, don't pull out the pliers, consult a Dentist.
You may ask, "What is God's part in all this? It sounds to me like too much legalism and responsibility. What about freedom and God's grace?" My struggle with this same question is what led me to abandon a truly devoted walk  with the Lord in the first place. All I know is that God's grace is a huge part of a spiritually responsible life and that the kind of freedom He offers is freedom from the bondage of sin and death. Salvation comes by faith in grace alone, but let us remember that we are called "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (ESV). Training pays off. Runners don't train because it makes them feel miserable. That would be masochism, and masochism makes no sense. Instead, being responsible, committed, intentional, and courageous about training eventually leads to a joy that far outweighs the pain (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Similarly, spiritual training can turn the sore muscles of life into eternal rewards, and believe me when I say that we have the best Coach anyone could ask for. Just remember that your performance depends mostly on what you're willing to put into it, not just on the coach's proficiency.
As humans, above all else, we want to be happy. It's hard to be happy with wisdom teeth, so we either deny their existence and get by or whine about it. The Dentist offers to take them out, but we refuse, wanting to avoid the agony or believing (as the Enemy wants you to) that He'll only make things worse. We must remember to let God have His way in us. It's NOT always comfortable, and it often goes against what makes sense to our understanding. But who are we, as sheep, to demand understanding? All we need is protection, provision, and love, and this He offers freely as we humbly surrender to Him. I'm giving up my time, my life, and my desires; my wisdom teeth. It hurts, but I know that His Truth is good medicine and will sustain me longer than life's pain pills.