The Deeper Halo

By

“Being in love,” that intoxicating feeling, is sublime, heady. It elevates us, changes our perceptions of the world, of our present, of our future. Our heart sings. Our dreams for ourselves ring with angelic voices.

But it can’t last; it isn’t meant to. It’s like learning an instrument. We hear an acoustic guitar and want to play it. There’s excitement at the beginning, the potential, the thrill. The learning process begins – and soon we find “this isn’t easy.” Playing an instrument requires commitment, focus, determination – and a whole lot of time.

The halo melts away. It is at this point that our will must engage – the will to believe, to faithe, to trust that we do love it even if we don’t feel it.

If we try to hang on to that halo we won’t advance. If we cling to that in-love-ness, the mere feelings, we will be using our will to cling to the mere romance of it rather than being propelled into deeper knowledge and proficiency. We’ll continue to romanticize – and we’ll be disappointed time and again as our largely illusory dream slams up against reality.
I’m not knocking those in-love feelings. But feelings come and go, and yet love doesn’t have to.

I’ve often heard people say the Greek word “agape” means “God’s love.” But it doesn’t, since John 3:19 says “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved (agape) darkness rather than light.” That means they were wholeheartedly committed to darkness. Their love was a choice of their will.

That’s what God’s love is like. It is the wholehearted, committed giving of Himself even at His own expense.

The story is told of the great violinist Itzhak Perlman having a fan approach him and say, “I would give my life to play like you.” His reply? “Lady, I did.”

Marriage can be a lot of work at times. It is a giving over of oneself to a partnership, a union. That’s going to be costly at times, because to say “yes” to one thing is to say “no” to many other things. For me to be committed to playing music and writing means all of my work/hobby time is taken up with those things. I don’t have time to be a great photographer or fly model airplanes as well.

We vow to love, honor, cherish, till death do us part. That’s costly to the flesh that wants to do what it feels. Our flesh wants to avoid pain and find pleasure. That’s natural; that’s just the way the flesh is. Jesus, in the days of His flesh, attempted to avoid the pain of the Crucifixion there in the Garden.

But if we, like Jesus, recognize that we are not meant to be flesh-driven, that pleasure and pain are both included in the package, it will take much of the sting out of sorrows; This is going to be very hard at times, but in Christ I am filled full with everything I need to follow through.

In the end what we find, in marriage, guitar playing, and following Christ, is a deeper halo – not our dream for ourselves but “God’s idea of us when He devised us” (George MacDonald). We finally find the identity, and the daily expression of it, that we were made for. That’s real satisfaction and fulfillment.

Profile photo of Ron Block

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


16 Comments

  1. Brance

    I often tell people that getting married made me realize just how selfish a person I was. Then when I thought I had become selfless, we had a child and I had to learn all over again how selfish I am.

    Giving up my own desires for the good of my wife and daughter required that I value and treasure them above myself. Placing that kind of value on them has made me love them more.

    The same is true with Christ. When I sacrifice my fleshly desires in order to submit to his Word, I place greater value on him. When Christ becomes my treasure, my love for him deepens, and my joy in serving him increases exponentially.

  2. Mike

    It all seems too hard at times. I guess that’s the flesh. But I still want, need to know what to do. Or what I’m not doing that may get me in trouble with the Lord. The message to Jackson Browne’s Rebel Jesus is taking the joy out of the holidays for me. What do I do with those who have so little when I have so much. The little tokens that I hand out seem worthless. I want my love for my family, my wife to be enough. I’m just not feeling it though. Guilt is a nasty thing.

  3. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Mike,

    It seems hard – and it is. Yet a lot of the “hardness” comes from the way we think of ourselves. Inadequate. Selfish. Unloved. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce that “what we call love on earth is mostly the craving to be loved.” We’ve got to get God’s love for us straight, and then move into His power in us, before we can be (in our daily life and actions) the whole, complete persons that Christ has already made us by His one sacrifice.

    The first thing is to take all our guilt and hand it over to Jesus. No condemnation if we are in Christ. When we keep holding on to guilt, we’re living in sin-consciousness – the state of Romans 7. We’re not meant to stay there. Hebrews says that if the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins the worshipers would have gone away without a sin-consciousness. But instead what they got was a continual reminder of their sins. In Christ we have a once-for-all sacrifice that does away with guilt and shame; this is the doorway out of the Romans 7 self-hatred – “no condemnation” – and now we can put our concentration not on the negative (mere sin-avoidance) but on the positive power of Christ living in us: the power to love unconditionally, the power to change our childhood-based fleshly thinking, our bad habits. All this will be found when we give up on our own human ability to love and do as Lewis also said, “No temptation is ever really overcome until we ‘throw in the towel.'”

    It takes a radical reprogramming. We can read about our identity in Christ, we can study books on it. Heck, we can write books on it. But no amount of mere knowledge will change our behavior. We have to step out in faith on a daily basis and rely on our real identity in Christ; we step out expecting Christ to live through us, based on the Word.

    That right there, that stepping out, has changed my family life more than anything else ever could. Knowing who I am in Christ – that in Him I am a loving Dad, a loving husband, kind, compassionate, strong, wise – enables me to access His limitless riches. And of course don’t get me wrong – I don’t always access Christ by faith. Sometimes I step back temporarily into Romans 7. But those times don’t last long, and these days I find myself jumping back out into 8 and 9 within mere moments, because I’ve found through experience that “trying to be a good Dad or husband” doesn’t work. What works is faith – reliance – trust – that I put in the Father, the Husband, who lives in me.

    To those who aren’t yet done with their own effort I’m doubtless that this sounds like gibberish, or at best a few nice thoughts, or “good theology” or “bad theology.” But to me they have been the opening, the gate, the doorway into the abundant life for which Christ suffered, died, and rose again for me. The power to live truly is found in only one place – in Christ.

  4. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Brance,

    Marriage is in fact a school – and so is parenting. If we look at it that way, we realize that we go to school in order to learn – also called “being a disciple.” It takes a humble attitude on the part of both husband and wife to grow together; if one or both are proud and unyielding the other person will feel like they spend every day smacking up against a brick wall. But seeing marriage as a school eradicates pride, because we go to school to learn, to grow, to gain deeper knowledge of the way things work. Having Christ at the center is crucial – and of course in most Christian marriages that isn’t the case until the in-love-ness dies away and the couple is stuck with learning to truly love – to love by choice even when they don’t feel it.

    Screwtape writes, “Courtship is the time for sowing those seeds which will grow up ten years later into domestic hatred. The enchantment of unsatisfied desire produces results which the humans can be made to mistake for the results of charity. Avail yourself of the ambiguity in the word ‘Love’: let them think they have solved by Love problems they have only waived or postponed under the influence of the enchantment. While it lasts you have your chance to foment the problems in secret and render them chronic…The erotic enchantment produces a mutual complaisance in which each is really pleased to give in to the wishes of the other. They also know that the Enemy demands of them a degree of charity which, if attained, would result in similar actions. You must make them establish as a Law for their whole married life that degree of mutual self-sacrifice which is at present sprouting naturally out of the enchantment, but which, when the enchantment dies away, they will not have charity enough to enable them to perform. They will not see the trap, since they are under the double blindness of mistaking sexual excitement for charity and of thinking that the excitement will last.”

    “When once a sort of official, legal, or nominal Unselfishness has been established as a rule – a rule for the keeping of which their emotional resources have died away and their spiritual resources have not yet grown – the most delightful results follow.” And then Screwtape goes into the passive aggressive, self-righteous, self-justifying games that go on in marriage and other relationships.

  5. kelli

    Ron…I love this!

    I recently read in Henri Nouwen’s The Only Necessary Thing (an excellent book on prayer) about how we don’t always “feel” God’s presence when we pray. In fact, most of the time we don’t. But as I was flipping through the New Testament yesterday morning, I noticed that time after time we are told to pray and to pray without ceasing.

    And it is the same thing with love. (I keep writing more, and I realized I’m just repeating what you’ve said!)

    Thank you so much for writing this. It is such a good reminder of not only how to “do” love in our marriage but how to “do” life as one indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

    Only then can we become “God’s idea of us when He devised us.”
    …kelli

  6. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Kelli,

    I can’t recall where it is, but Lewis talked about how a boy in the nursery thrilling to the myths of Greek gods has to die to that mere thrill when he buckles down as a schoolboy to learn Greek, and that it is no use as a swimmer trying to keep the feeling you had when you first went paddling as a small boy. He said this is why we find so many middle aged people “maundering on about their lost youth at the very age when new horizons should be opening up all around them.” He said we’re to die to the mere thrills and go on into the period of quieter and deeper interest that follows. That’s what I tried to represent with the Deeper Halo – it’s a quieter shine, but a deeper and more enriching one. It happens in every human endeavor where we begin with desire, with thrill, with potential.

    Like Dorothy Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker, these periods are roughly analogous to Father, Son, Spirit. The creative Idea, the Outworking of the Idea in sweat and blood, and the Response to the Outworked Idea. The Father has Desire and Idea, the Idea is worked out in the Son even when Desire is long gone, and the result of the Son’s outworking is that the Holy Spirit is given.

    So we have the in-love-ness (desire) + the Idea of being Married, and then move to the Outworking of that Idea, sticking to it even when all Desire seems to have vanished. And once we have gone through the Gethsemane of our marriage, our test, and stand up in choice and say to God, “Not my will, but thine be done,” and endure in faith whatever it is we go through, we come out on the other side with new abilities, new character, deeper faith – and a true, real love for our spouse.

    The world, to a great extent, doesn’t know this. I’d say most Christians don’t know it; the divorce rate of professing Christians isn’t any different than unbelievers.

    This principle applies in anything we endeavor to do. Idea, and desire, then outworking (and often losing desire) by faith, and then a deeper experience – a burgeoning mastery of the thing. Learning a language, studying an instrument, writing a song, being married, having children – all these are done by the same principle. People who quit often have seriously mistaken ideas of what marriage, or children, or learning an instrument is like (we all have mistaken ideas, but some are catastrophic). People who marry for “being in love” and don’t hold to the vow of “til death do us part” often divorce and remarry for “being in love,” once again expecting those love-feelings and the enchantment to continue endlessly. Then when it dies again, they jump ship again. This isn’t a condemnation of divorced believers, just an observation.

  7. Kevin

    Ron, you must be taking the day off again, huh? 🙂

    I too experienced the little halo in marriage and in Christ.

    Letting my post-modern roots show: For me…

    Living in a culture that places such emphasis on feelings and the following of them, it’s important for me to remember the facts when the feelings aren’t quite there.

    Affections for Christ can wax and wain, but there’s an impropriety in the waining. Perhaps our focus has shifted, and the Gospel of His free grace has slipped behind the mortgage or family situation. I’m not trying to be a Pharisee here though.

    I’m just saying that when the day I got married, I really didn’t love my wife. Not like I love her now. We still have troubles sometimes, and in those dark moments I focus on the true facts about us.

    Feelings and affections emanate from the objective facts and the focusing on them.

    “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”

    Having a bad day? Read that and think about it for ten minutes every day until you think differently. Again though, it’s not a willpower religion of the mind, nor is it “let go and let God”. May we strike the balance somehow, and “gossip the Gospel”, as I heard DA Carson once say, preaching it to ourselves and others every day will blow our minds with a halo to fill the night sky.

    Good word, Mr. Ron.

  8. Mike

    Ron, it doesn’t sound like gibberish. It sounds like life. Yet we keep sliding back into that Roman’s 7 man that you described. I stay there longer than I should. I’m sad to say that everytime I hear a sermon that heaps on the guilt over what needs to be done that I’m not doing I go back to that old attitude. I would quit going to church but I’d feel guilty over not being there ;(

  9. Jennifer

    I love how you put things into perspective….
    Especially:
    And once we have gone through the Gethsemane of our marriage, our test, and stand up in choice and say to God, “Not my will, but thine be done,” and endure in faith whatever it is we go through, we come out on the other side with new abilities, new character, deeper faith – and a true, real love for our spouse.

    The world, to a great extent, doesn’t know this. I’d say most Christians don’t know it; the divorce rate of professing Christians isn’t any different than unbelievers.

    This principle applies in anything we endeavor to do. Idea, and desire, then outworking (and often losing desire) by faith, and then a deeper experience – a burgeoning mastery of the thing. Learning a language, studying an instrument, writing a song, being married, having children – all these are done by the same principle. People who quit often have seriously mistaken ideas of what marriage, or children, or learning an instrument is like (we all have mistaken ideas, but some are catastrophic). People who marry for “being in love” and don’t hold to the vow of “til death do us part” often divorce and remarry for “being in love,” once again expecting those love-feelings and the enchantment to continue endlessly. Then when it dies again, they jump ship again. This isn’t a condemnation of divorced believers, just an observation.

    You just bring it back to the simple truth…Allowing God to work though us, to be our Love flowing free through us, then and only then will we feel fulfilled, full and overflowing w/love and happiness.
    It doesn’t always come down to Feelings..but allowing God to work though us in our daily lives as profesionals, parents, wives, husbands, teachers, etc…

  10. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Kevin,

    I had a session today from 11am-5pm, so it’s given me the chance to bookend that time with RR.

    I’m not one for formulas but here’s a way of thinking that works:
    1. God states reality (a promise, or the plain truth of His Word, or He says what will happen)
    2. Circumstances contradict God’s stated Fact (world, flesh, devil)
    3. We choose – believe God’s promise, His Word, or believe the circumstance
    4. Our actions flow spontaneously; the inner choice of faith or unbelief manifests in our actions. This action is not a choice, because the inner choice which results in the action has already been made.
    5. Consequences follow, positive or negative, as a result of our action

    Every situation every day contains these elements.

    Mike,

    We have to get strong enough through faith-exercise to where we don’t go back into Law. This is the “young man” phase of 1John, where we are learning to be strong, to overcome the wicked one, and to have the Word of God abide in us. We learn to be strong with His strength in us, overcome with His overcoming power, and to abide in Him.

    For a long time, before I knew who I am in Christ, when I heard Law in a sermon I’d go back into it, into Romans 7. Then, when I began to find out who I am in Christ, I’d hear Law and get mad, often missing the good that was said. Now I’m to the point of when I hear Law in a sermon, I toss it aside – I pare off the bad parts of the apple and eat the rest of it. I don’t go back to following the Law, or being sin-conscious and self-condemning (and thus angry because I know, in my head, I’m not condemned). These truths have to totally soak into our hearts by the exercise of faith.

    Sanctification is both a one-time event (by one sacrifice we have been perfected forever in our inner being) and a process (being made holy as that inner Perfection is made to flow into our actions). We are literally filled full with Christ in us; we are complete, whole persons, new creations. But we have to learn that, and appropriate it. A billion dollar balance in my bank account will do me no good if I believe I’ve only got $100 left. We’ve got to trust the infinitely spendable balance of Christ within us (because the Banker is our Daddy), and shell out as much Christ-currency for others as they need because we’ve got more than enough to handle it.

    Jennifer –

    It is incredibly simple. We died and rose in Him. Now we have the same Spirit He did, and can operate the same way – by faith. All the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form in Christ, and we are filled full of that same Deity. What more do we need? But the majority of modern Christians do not know this, nor do many of us really step out in faith on these Facts if we do know. That’s got to change – the church has got to take up the checkbook of faith and start spending the unlimited Christ-currency. That’s the only thing that can pour Christ out to the people in each of our circles of influence.

  11. Jennifer

    That is the only thing that can pour Christ out into “our circles of influence”. You’re right.
    I’m sure this post affected others differently …but again. Thanks for taking the time to post..this was an answer to my prayers.
    We tend to make things more difficult, not realizing it often, but if we just turned the situation over to God in the first place and allowed him to work it out, we’d be much better off in the long run.
    I agree w/you and think many Christians don’t know this, but also think it takes many Christians a long time to come to realize this and adopt it for their own lives. We can say we trust…and often think we do..but actually cutting loose from the past, putting our whole trust and faith in the Lord and allowing him to live though us..And Faithe (as you always say)…that’s when we’ll realize the purpose for our lives he has planned for us and can experience the joy…love..and ture happiness he wants us all to have. But we cannot have that until we fully give it to him….Thanks Ron.

  12. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jennifer,

    There are many different areas in our psyche. For years I trusted God for my ultimate salvation (meaning “I won’t go to Hell”), and finances, and had no idea that there were other areas where I was trusting in my own effort, my own thinking, my own ways. In the mid nineties I learned to trust God for an inner sufficiency, an inner supply of worth, security, meaning. And then for years I struggled as a father, a husband, and a musician, only to find that, like finances and ultimate salvation, I am to trust God with those areas as well and stop exerting my own human effort to “be a good father, be a good husband, be a good musician.” All that self-effort, with its resultant frustration, weariness, and failure comes from fear – which is really unbelief, apistis, faith going in the wrong direction. Just as we can live life from an inner sense of assurance about ultimate salvation and finances by stepping out in faith and proving the promises of God in our experience, so we can do the same with any area of our lives.

    It takes reprogramming. We have to renew our minds on a daily basis – to set the Word of God before us and eat it. I don’t mean just read it, but actually chew it thoroughly, swallow, and digest. The modern world gluts itself on what Tozer called The Great God Entertainment; entertainment (TV, internet, games, etc) is fine in its place, but often what we look for in excessive entertainment is a sort of drugged sleep, a rest from the confines of our areas of unbelief. Until we learn to eat His flesh and drink His blood, we’ll walk around in this earth – a God-given, once in an eternity chance to trust God when we don’t see – and believe the lie that we are needy, grasping people who have to cope with life on our own.

    I’ve found I’m not a needy parent anymore. I’m not devouring parenting books by the dozen. There is an inner sufficiency in me that causes me to pause and listen to my kids more often. Of course that doesn’t mean I’m not ever blowing it. But when I do it is over very quickly, apologized for, and then I move back into sufficiency. I learned these same lessons in the mid nineties in my inner sense of worth, security, meaning. There is the mind renewal, the “saying with God” phase. Then, as we exercise faith, step out in trust on God’s Facts, a sufficiency begins to rise, and we know ourselves in that particular area as God knows us – as sufficient, able partakers of the divine nature with everything we need for life and godliness right here inside us in Christ.

    All that self-hatred and desperation of Romans 7 is meant to drive us straight into 8 and 9. We have to get to the end of our own ways, our own fleshly means of manipulating others, and begin to see ourselves as mere cups, earthen pots who are blood bought, blood washed, and are now partakers of the divine nature, branches in the Vine, meant to bear His fruit by faith (not by effort – a tree branch doesn’t exert force or effort to produce fruit; it just draws its life from being in the trunk).

    All that self-hatred, with its compensatory counterpart, self-love, has to go. When we get through all that we find we no longer hate and despise the humanity God gave us. We just realize it has a proper place, as a dependent, as a cup, as a slave, and give God His proper place as the Master of the human temple.

  13. Laura

    Ron,
    I really appreciated what you wrote in this post a couple of weeks ago. I recently got engaged and am getting married this summer, and I’ve been chewing on what you wrote here about loving in a way that is costly to the flesh (and therefore what we FEEL) pretty much ever since you wrote it. Thank you for casting this concept in a new light for me! Anyway, I’m wondering if you (or anyone else who might be reading this) could recommend any good books on marriage. I’m sure there are a million out there, but the people of the Rabbit Room seem so to be such soulful truth-seekers that I figure any recommendations here would be good. Thanks!

  14. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Laura,

    A recent good one I read is “The Five Love Languages.” But most marriage books deal with soul-issues – the way we are raised, our expectations, our reasoning, our “rightness”, our feelings. The best thing anyone can do for their marriage, and for their spouse, and in fact for everyone in their circle of influence, is to jump headfirst into deep relationship with Christ. We need to know who we are in Him, know His power and love are available to us, in us, through us, at any moment. We need to know we don’t need our spouse’s love to be complete; contrary to the Jerry MacGuire line, it is Christ who completes us, apart from our spouse.

    This recognition of our freedom from neediness, from need-love, in Christ frees us from that death-trap of loving in order to be loved. That’s what kills a lot of marriages; after the initial blast of “in-love” which is really mostly the thrill of feeling loved by someone, we set up expectations, “you ought,” after all I’ve done for you” and all that worldly, fleshly thinking that is contrary to the life of the Spirit. Screwtape said it best:

    “Yes, courtship is the time for sowing those seeds which will grow up ten years later into domestic hatred. The enchantment of unsatisfied desire produces results which the humans can be made to mistake for charity…let them think they have solved by Love problems that they have in fact only waived or postponed under the influence of the enchantment…The erotic enchantment produces a mutual complaisance in which each is really pleased to give in to the wishes of the other…You must make them establish as a Law for their whole married life that degree of mutual self-sacrifice which is at present sprouting naturally out of the enchantment, but which, when the enchantment dies away, they will not have charity enough to enable them to perform.” The Screwtape Letters, Chapter XXVI

    The real deal, then, is to find and learn to operate the only source of real Love – Christ Himself, living inside the believer and totally available at all times and in all places. But, of course, sometimes it is marriage itself that teaches us to despair of finding love anywhere else.

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