Eric Metaxas is one of my favorite Christian authors. He has written a new book entitled “7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness.” In an interview he observed that, “There’s a crisis of manhood in the culture and it is at the heart of many of our problems.” He is critical of the notion that men and women are in a “battle of the sexes” for jobs and social leadership. The culture views strength as a selfish tool “to aggrandize myself and to keep others down, which, of course, is the opposite of God’s plan,” he observed. The cultural mindset sees strength as negative, especially for men. Thus there is the focus on greater equalization in which women should be stronger and men weaker
But “when you have a biblical view of men’s strength,” observes Metaxas, “you know that God only give us anything good to be used for his purposes and mainly to serve others. ” Strength is not bad. It is the misuse of strength that is harmful. The seven men in Metaxas’ book all had great strength, but they used it for good. “The thing that holds all of them together is that every one of them made some noble sacrifice. They had some great strength and they sacrificed it for other – for a larger purpose.”
My personal sense is that many men today feel intimidated by the use of masculine strength. They are confused regarding their deepest motivations to make a difference. It is the nature of the masculine to initiate, with a desire to succeed. Leanne Payne has observed that the masculine principle is one “of orientation, direction, order and responsibility.” We read in Genesis 2:15, “The Lord took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Adam was to initiate and take responsibility to take care of garden. But after the fall Adam’s masculine ability to initiate was taxed to the fullest. God said to him, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life” (Gen 3:17). The fall brought about the abuse of masculine strength.
My exhortation to the men reading this blog, is not to be intimidated by the voices that are rightly critical of all the evidence of male abuse in our culture. It is only going to get worse, when men feel trapped like a caged lion in a pen constructed by social engineers who have no idea of what it means to be a man from God’s perspective. Remember we are to use our God give strength to be loving, humble servants for the greater good. This begins right at home with your wife and children. It is here that we can “field test” our strength displayed with humility and compassion. It will not always be easy. But this is where we learn.
Jesus makes this very clear in Mark 10:41-45 ( Message). “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first along you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served – and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.”
We hear a lot about “‘burnout ” occurring among men in our culture. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm this fact. It found that among men ages 50-54, the suicide rate increased 49% between 1999 and 2010. Overall, men are nearly four times more likely to commit suicide than women. Men in our culture seem to be doing to much for the wrong reasons with not enough time or energy to do what is on their “to do list”. I wonder if from time to time we need to change the paradigm in our lifestyle and considered the phenomena of “drainout” rather than “burnout.”
I ran across this quote from Bernard of Clairvoux that could apply to drainout, in which he visualizes canals and reservoirs. Bernard was a spiritual leader back in the 11th century. “The man who is wise, therefore, will see his life as more like a reservoir than a canal. The canal simultaneously pours out what it receives; the reservoir retains the water till it is filled, then discharged the overflow without loss to itself……Today there are many in the church who act like canals, the reservoirs are far too rare…You too must learn to await this fullness before pouring out your gifts, do not try to be more generous than God.” We read in I Thess. 3:12, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”
What does a man do to take care of his spiritual reservoir. First I would say, don’t be concerned about the size of your reservoir. That is God’s concern. Our task is having the right spiritual habits to keep our reservoir filled, irregardless of how we feel spiritually. These habits will usually consist in taking time to be with God. Meditating on His Word and being still before him, puts you into the position to receive. Filling will not come while you are on the run. I know this is not easy for men. But there is no other option. The Psalmist tells us, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps.46:10). Just taking 15 minutes out of 24 hours is a good start.
Secondly, be convinced in your mind that “being” is more important than “doing.” The doing will come out of the quality of your being. Our attitude should be more like that of Mary when she consented to be the mother of of Lord. “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38). How God keeps your reservoir filled is his work. Like Mary our place is to consent to what God is doing. So my third point is this: don’t try to figure out how God is doing the filling. Come before him in honesty. Pray something like this: “Lord, I am dry and thirsty. I feel empty. There is not a lot in my tank. I have tried hard to be good and to keep going. I come to you in deep dependence. I don’t know how you will do it, but I come to you, asking that you renew my soul.”
Do you live with the realities of your life, or is life based on illusions, that is, who think you are and what you do. Listen to these words from Thomas Merton. “There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality, for life is maintained and nourished in us by our vital relationship with realities outside and above us. When our life feeds on unreality, it must starve. It must therefore die….the death by which we enter into life is not an escape from reality, but a complete gift of ourselves which involves a total commitment to reality.” To be spiritual alive, you needs to have the “real you” relating to the “real God”. God does not relate to unreality, but to what is really there in our lives.
Jesus tells us, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:34). Jesus came to show us the truth. Truth is the reality about knowing ourselves, others and the world. John declares, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). So if the Lord Jesus lives within your heart, you are receiving grace (help to live the spiritual life) and truth (what is true about our lives). But all of the help God offers (grace) will do little for us if we are not willing to face the truth about ourselves.
So are you willing to face the truth about yourself. God cannot have a relationship with our illusions, but only with the real you and your experience of life. We cannot be selective, only giving attention to those parts of our experience what we feel ready to accept. As David Benner has said, “We must welcome all the visitors that come to the guesthouse that is our self. Doing so will give us depth and substance that we will always lack when we live in a place of pretense, under the illusion of being in control over who gets access to our house and who does not.” Failure in accepting unwelcomed guests does not drive them away, they just go into hiding, while we are kept from facing reality
So my encouragement for men is to face the good, the bad, and the ugly in your life. Always remember that God is at the center, loving you with unconditional love, waiting for you to come home. Learn to be honest with yourself, accepting who you really are. God want a “real” relationship with you, one in which you share your hidden parts with him.
You may have read or even watch as high wire artist Nik Wallenda walked without a harness on a 1,400 foot long high-wire across a 1,500 tall gorge near the Grand Canyon. In his memoirs he wrote, “I believe that God gives us the power to transform any story from darkness to light.” In a recent interview before he walk he said, “I visualize myself crossing the Canyon over and over again. I visualize myself making that first step, quarter of a way, half way, three quarters of a way and then finishing that walk. That’s really a lot o the mental prep.”
What got national attention was the fact that Wallenda prayed to Jesus the whole time as he walked along, completing the walk in 22 minutes and 54 seconds. “Thank you Lord. Thank you for calming that cable God” was one of the prayers he prayed as he reached the halfway point, having to deal with wind gusts of over 20 mph. What is fascinating for me is the fact that the name of Jesus and prayer got a lot of “free press” because of this man’s faith in God. There are some interesting analogies we can make from this event
Wallenda mentally prepared for his walk by visualizing the crossing of the Grand Canyon. Likewise, we need to visualize our walk with Jesus. Heb 12:1-2 reads in part, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Like the high wire artist we are not sure what awaits us as we walk with Jesus on the tight rope, that is life, in our culture today. One observer of our culture describes “a world that has gone on the decline as subversive policies and agendas have belittled the importance and impact of moral men in our society.” Men, we need to continually visualize Jesus with us on our daily journey in our day. With our eye on Jesus, he is able to turn any situation of darkness into light. Jesus is the light of the world
Sometimes we will feel we are halfway across a dangerous part of the journey. There are winds that will come our way, that could knock us off our path. We might not be able to change the conditions. But we can cry out for help. It is all to easy for us to react like Peter when he was on the water during the storm, coming to Jesus. We can get fearful with the conditions around us. But like Peter and Nik Wallenda, we can cry out to Jesus. Peter’s prayer was short and to the point – “Lord, save me!” Jesus will be there to rescue you. You will learn out on the tightrope spiritual truths that you would never have learned staying on the sidelines.
Recently Bono, from U2, was interview by Jim Daley, of focus on the family. They talked about spiritual matters since Bono is a follower of Jesus. During the radio interview, Bono made comparisons between biblical characters and music. “First of all,” he observed, “David’ s a musician, so I’m gonna like him. What’s so powerful about the psalms are, as well, as they’re being gospel and songs of praise, they are also blues. It’s very important for Christians to be honest with God, which often you know, God is much more interested in who you are than who you want to be.”
What is interesting to me is the fact the Bono recognized the value the laments in the Psalms. He calls these psalms “the blues.” Many of the Psalms of lament are written by David, who had his share of problems. Here is a little taste from Ps 13. “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (1-2). Ps 86, 142 and 143 are some good examples of laments (or blues). Bono is right – we need to be honest with God. the psalms are not to just be read but pray. In so doing you will become honest before God. You will be real, since deep emotions, not just thoughts are expressed by David.
Two more quotes from the interview. Daley mentioned one of his favorite quotes from C. S. Lewis. “When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that’s left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understand his own badness less and less.” Bono replied, “Yeah, I might…that could turn up on the next U2 album, but I won’t give him or you any credit.” Bono evidently saw truth in Lewis’ statement. The more we grown in Christ, the more we see our need of God’s help. It is when we think we are doing a good job “spiritually” that we are in danger. It is so easy for men to get into “Sin management.”
Our spiritual life becomes more about what we are doing for God and how we are changing. But the ego is still front and center, directing our spiritual life rather then the Spirit of God. It is so hard to let go and let God do it in his way. That is why the psalms of lament are so good to read and pray over on a regular basis They deep us grounded in real life. God meets us there. He will not meet us in our illusionary efforts to be spiritual and acceptable to God. Remember David prayed, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heat you, God, will not despise.” (Ps 51:17)