Today in church the pastor asked about our favorite Christmas songs. There are so many wonderful ones, but I narrowed it down to two favorites. One modern and one classic.
Winter Snow – Audrey Assad and Chris Tomlin
Something about this song just makes me want to exhale deep. It slows and settles my soul.
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus sung by David Potter
I love this hymn. The words encapsulate the message of Advent, the longing of our hearts. This version has also added a beautiful chorus that resonates as we even now long for the advent of our Victorious One.
What are your favorite Christmas songs?
Thanksgiving Day Prayer
by Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918)
For the wide sky and the blessed sun,
For the salt sea
and the running water,
For the everlasting hills
And the never-resting winds,
and the common grass underfoot.
We thank you for our senses
By which we hear the songs of birds,
And see the splendor of the summer fields,
And taste of the autumn fruits,
And rejoice in the feel of the snow,
And smell the breath of the spring.
Grant us a heart wide open to all this beauty;
And save our souls from being so blind
That we pass unseeing
When even the common thornbush
Is aflame with your glory,
O God our creator,
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
I’ve been reading through this year long, two volume devotional, Letters of Faith through the Seasons, which includes letters of faith, Scripture and reflections that correspond with the liturgical calendar of the church. In this season of “Ordinary Time” one of the series of readings has been from the letters to the churches in the book of Revelation.
Many times I have been asked, as a reflective discipline, to place myself in a passage of Scripture. It is surprising to me how difficult I find this process. I have very little trouble placing myself into works of fiction so I wonder at my struggle to find myself in the very real, historical events of Scripture.
In the passage below, quoted from Letters of Faith, J.I. Packer places himself as a member of the Church of Philadelphia and writes a letter in return to John. As Packer entered into the Scripture and drew a response I found my myself drawn in and encouraged. I’d like to share his words with you.
To the angel of the church of Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars – I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Sine you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on earth.
I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
We the Philadelphian church of Jesus Christ, write to acknowledge with a letter the letter that you sent us on Christ’s behalf – a staggering letter indeed; well might one call it Revelation – and we want to thank you, our sometime teacher, for the devoted and obviously demanding service that you rendered as secretary to the Savior, transcribing as you did all that you heard and saw during those fantastic hours of vision. We had it read out to us in church, just as you directed, and we are trying now to take it to heart. We have held special praise and prayer gatherings to express to Jesus himself our response to his words, and we thought we should write to you as well to tell you what effect his letter has had.
We saw that it came to us as a sort of report card from the Lord who loves us, and now lives for us, and is always with us and knows everything about us and searches us through and through, missing nothing. As we heard his rebukes to the other churches read out, we braced ourselves for something similar, but to our amazement, his letter mentioned none of our shortcomings and was encouragement all the way.
We found it startling and humbling to be praised for faithful endurance by the Master himself, but soon we realized what he was doing. We motivate our children by praising them for what we ourselves have helped them to do, so that they will want to do it again, and be helped to do it by that very wanting. Knowing, as he says, and as you know too, that we are a small fellowship who do not seem to have much effect on anything or anybody, Jesus, who has helped us to be faithful thus far, is motivating us for the future, and we are taking the point. (After all, as you yourself used to tell us, we are all little children really before the Lord, aren’t we?)
We saw that it was our encouragement too that Jesus said he had set before us an open door. We were unsure whether that meant for access to heaven or for reaching out with the gospel, so we have resolved to take it in both senses, so as to be on the safe side.
His promises to make the obstructionists who trouble us so much realize that we are the ones he loves put new hearts into us. Keeping them at bay in their arrogance and hostility has been a draining business. And to be told that our little church will be shielded somewhat as this empire-building persecution builds up was a wonderful mercy.
All of us were ecstatic – the word is not too strong – at Jesus’ final promises to overcomers, which fired our hearts and our imaginations equally. Whether sheep enjoy being branded we don’t know, but the thought of Jesus, who loves us, saved us, and owns us, grasping hold of us to brand us with the Father’s name – new Jerusalem’s name – and his own new name, whatever that is, so identifying us as his own for ever, and anchoring us as pillars in God’s temple, so as to be always as close to him as one can be, left us literally weeping for joy.
As a past pastor to us, we thought you would like to know this. Now may Jesus encourage you there in exile in Patmos, as he has encouraged us here in Philadelphia.
I found great encouragement and a depth of response in my own soul to the words of Scripture as I was drawn into the historical church while reading this response letter.
What about you? Do you ever place yourself in the Scripture as you read? Have you ever considered writing a response letter to God’s words?
Where do the days go?
Time keeps marching forward as I try to find a rhythm to live in its cadence.
Life has been full.
Full of questions.
Full of prayers.
Full of decisions.
Full of moments, each one requiring a choice.
This afternoon I’ve given my moments to my computer. E-mails and expense reports: that which is necessary. Correspondence, conversations that I long to engage in: that which is valuable. But all the while I hear the clutter calling my name. The moving in is not yet complete. Things linger in the hallways, the guest room stuffed full and every surface a holding place for that which does not yet have a home. To choose the computer means to walk away from the clutter. And then there is another voice calling. I’ve caught something: my body exhausted and my emotions drained made room for germs and pollen to take hold. That down comforter spread across the bed, topped with the blue afghan my mother knit, looks so inviting.
Choices. So many choices.
What is this moment for?
So I ask.
And I listen.
Only my Father knows.
Time swirls forward and I am caught up in its dance.
May I ever, always follow my Savior’s lead.
A poetic portrait of faith, futility, and the joy of this mortal life.
In this astoundingly unique book, best-selling author N.D. Wilson reminds each of us that to truly live we must recognize that we are dying. Every second we create more of our past—more decisions, more breathing, more love, and more loathing. All of it slides by into the gone as we race to grab at more moments, at more memories made and already fading.
We are all authors, creators of our own pasts, of the books that will be our lives. We stare at the future or obsess about the present, but only the past has been set in stone, and we are the ones setting it. When we race across the wet concrete of time without purpose, without goals, without laughter and love and sacrifice, then we fail in our mortal moment. We race toward our inevitable ends without artistry and without beauty.
All of us must pause and breathe. See the past, see your life as the fruit of providence and thousands of personal narratives. What led to you? You did not choose where to set your feet in time. You choose where to set them next.
Then we must see the future, not just to stare into the fog of distant years but to see the crystal choices as they race toward us in this sharp foreground we call the present. We stand in the now. God says create. Live. Choose. Shape the past. Etch your life in stone, and what you make will be forever.
When I first read N.D. Wilson’s children’s book, 100 Cupboards, I added him to my list of favorite authors. In this non-fiction work, following on the heels and thoughts of Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, I found myself once again swept away by the power of Wilson’s writing.
For those among us who eschew the abstract and would choose chess over poetry this book might be an exercise in frustration. But the artists and mystics, those whose imaginations take flight on the wings of a well crafted phrase, will no doubt find this book to be a gift and perhaps even a prayer.
I found myself moved to tears, laughing out loud and laying on my face before the throne of God as I wandered the pages of this book. And I thought that the best way that I could give you a glimpse into Death by Living is to share with you a “Found Poem” – words I’ve pieced together from words that Wilson penned.
A Found Poem from N.D. Wilson’s Death By Living
- – -
Is it a waste to grasp at moments?
To try to catch the wind between my forefinger and my thumb?
The music of the world
To glimpse the transcendent in the simple
And the simple in the transcendent
To shiver with awe
At the sight of a child studying foot-pounded dust,
while twisting slowly in the air above it,
head and shoulders through a tire swing
To stare for an hour
At the still, black surface of a lake
To marvel at the invention of water
And my need to swallow it
And ride it
Every rock is spoken by the Word
Every time I touch a stone
I am touching the Voice of God
Every cell of me is crafted by that artistry
My life is in His breath
But we mortals grow numb
We want to feel more
Make us all Lazarus
And even though
I have never felt further from Him than in this place
How I feel is irrelevant
He is here,
and His image is in me,
and in her –
When the snow flies in the headlights like stars at warp speed
When we stand next to danger we cannot control
And feel its hot breath on our necks
When steam comes off its sides
And we can do nothing
but hang onto the wild mustang
We are no more or less in God’s hands than we have ever been.
God is a God of galaxies
Of roaring seas
And boiling thunder
But He is also the God of bread baking
Of a child’s smile
Of dust motes in the sun
He is who He is, and always shall be.
Look around you now
Can you see time flowing past your edges?
Don’t resent the moments
they cannot be frozen
Give thanks for that daily bread
Manna doesn’t keep overnight
More will come in the morning
By His grace
We are the water made wine
We are the dust made flesh
Made dust made flesh again
We are the whores made brides
And the thieves made saints
And the killers made apostles
We are the dead made living
We cannot grab and hold.
Don’t resent the moments simply because they cannot be frozen. Taste them. Savor them. Give thanks for daily bread. Manna doesn’t keep overnight. More will come in the morning.
Our futile struggle in time is courtesy of God’s excessive giving. Sunset after sunset make it hard to remember and hold just one. Smell after smell. Laugh after laugh. A mind still thinking, a heart still beating.
These quotes from N.D. Wilson’s Death by Living encapsulate so much of my journey over this past year. So many relationships. So many experiences. So many gifts, slipping through my fingers like sand.
In fact, a tagline for the story of this interval of transition could easily be: Life is meant to be spent, not clutched tight or held fast.
While preparing to leave the US for Wales I found myself listening to Audrey Assad’s Good to Me on a continuous loop. I was filled with longing to have my eyes fixed on the faithful promises of God and the grace upon grace that He continually pours out on my life in the midst of the struggles and the sorrows of saying goodbye one more time. As this became the prayer that I breathed in and out, I determined that the foxes in the vineyard would not steal my joy.
And isn’t it interesting that when you open your hands and spread your fingers wide, so that the constant stream of grace pours through, then the hardships and trials and losses cannot cling to you because they are caught up and swept forward in the ever moving stream of grace. The loss that you grieve becomes the very instrument that awakens your heart to the gifts that you have been given.
Life moves on.
Grace never ends.
Time is spent and His mercies are new every morning.
So I’m here . . . in Wales. After all this time of transition and travel, I’ve arrived.
It’s mid-afternoon and I’m yawning. My eyes long to close in sleep and give in to this jet-lag weariness that dodges my steps, but I know that the greater part of wisdom is to keep my eyes open.
So I fight the physical weariness.
My eyes remain open,
but do I really see?
In this state of half-alertness I’ve looked at rental properties. I’ve walked up and down streets, into stores and offices, through pastures and along the beach, but I wonder how much I really see? When my brain is foggy with adjusting and all the sights are new I find that I see less than I do when I am rested and engaged. My awareness of my surroundings loses some of its sharpness and where I would normally take note I simply drift along.
Early in the quiet of the morning hours, after another night with not as much sleep as I’d wish, I reflected about the familiarity of these feelings. Not just the physical familiarity, though I travel enough that jet lag is a well know sensation, but the spiritual familiarity of these experiences. In my relationship with God I find that when I neglect “set apart” time of communion with the Lord I take on these same jet-lag characteristics in my spiritual life. I begin drifting along, encompassed by a fog of busyness and distraction rather than being truly aware of the Father’s leading and His work unfolding all around.
Shortly after reflecting on these things I read the quote below referencing Christ as he was choosing His disciples after having spent the night in prayer.
“Spirit enabled to see each one through the Father’s eyes…”
And I couldn’t get past these words
so I made them my morning prayer.
I want to live in communion with the Lord in such a way that I am Spirit enabled to see each one (each person, each decision, each circumstance, each moment) through the Father’s eyes. I don’t want to stumble around in a fog. I want to live in the power of the Holy Spirit that is available to me. I want to live wide awake seeing the whole world through my Father’s eyes.
This is my longing.
This is my prayer.
I’ve been reading and re-reading Henri Nouwen’s little book on prayer: With Open Hands. (And despite the tension I experience with some of Nouwen’s overarching theology this is a fabulous book and well worth reading.)
But I’m not writing today to talk primarily about Nouwen, or the book, but to unravel the thoughts that one simple sentence stirred in my own soul.
You see, Nouwen isn’t always the most concise communicator. Rarely can you simply take a single sentence and quote it without misrepresenting his thought. He writes heavily in context and a good deal of his writing will sound heretical if you pull it from the chapter and paragraph in which it was placed. So I wasn’t shocked to find this sentence among his ponderings and I immediately backtracked through the chapter to re-visit the context in which it was said.
Here is the statement (out of context):
“Don’t be afraid to offer your hate, bitterness, and disappointment to the One who is love and only love.”
That God is only love is a popular misunderstanding of Scripture. The Bible clearly tells us that God is love and justice and holiness and righteousness. God can be angry. He exercises wrath. He judges unrighteousness. God is more than just love and not even the love of God will keep Him from allowing his creation to choose eternal separation in hell. So, when this sentence caught my eye I wanted to be very clear on what I was reading. Thus began my journey into the context of the statement and the beginning of my musing.
As I retraced the train of thought, I first discovered that Nouwen was speaking to people who are entering (or have entered into) a relationship with God: the One who wants to heal, the One who desires to remove sin from our lives.
The first clue of context: The person approaching God is in relationship with God. Nouwen is speaking to believers.
Second, I discovered that the person approaching God has a certain posture. They must be willing to allow God into their whole life, to “touch what you would rather leave untouched.” They must be open to healing, as well as open to the pain that this process of healing may bring. There must be surrender. There must be trust.
The second clue of context: The person, who is in a relationship with God, approaches God with trust and a willingness to walk through a painful process of detaching from all that is ugly and broken and even from those things that are superficially attractive, in order to find true life with God.
So, after exploring the statement and the context I arrived at this thought:
When a believer approaches God with repentance, trust and humility, asking to be transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, God relates to them as love and only love.
In correction of their sin, He is love.
In teaching them discipline, He is love.
When He allows suffering, He is love.
When He strips away all that stands in the way of their relationship with Him, He is love.
When they walk through the valley of the shadow of death and all hope seems lost, still, He is love.
And this is not some sentimental, indulgent love, but real love, the kind of love that is always working for good no matter the cost.
In Christ, we have a completely new way of relating. God does not look on those who are in Christ with an attitude of disappointment, but with a loving commitment to their transformation. He does not look at His children through a lens of holy wrath, but with loving (though perhaps stern) correction. As His children, redeemed and covered by the blood of Christ, nothing can separate us from His love: Not His holiness or His justice or even His righteousness as all of those things have been settled when we died with Christ and were raised to walk in new life.
In Christ, God will never relate to me apart from His love. And whenever I approach Him with a longing to be transformed (which is the very thing that He is committed to do) I will never be met with anything but love.
So, the question on my lips and the thought in my mind is: What if I believed it?
What if I related to God really believing that He is love and only love toward me?
What if I related to God believing that He is always loving me and working for my good in all circumstances?
Would I then move from brokenness over sin through a deep repentance into a free abandon? Would I not then open my hands and hold it all up to the God who looks down on me with such a loving gaze?
Would it that change the way I see my disappointments, my failures, my sin and my struggles? What if every day I would really come as I am, in all my mess, surrendering all my ugliness and all the acceptably attractive false fronts that I present to the world, believing that none of it makes an ounce of difference to the way God relates to me?
Could this bring a release into a life of freedom, a real abundant life?
What would it look like if I lived believing that I am fully, completely and in all things, loved?
Today, July 9, begins the month of Ramadan for Muslims.
Ramadan is a month of intentionality. Of community. Of prayer. Of dreams and visions.
It’s a time when God often speaks and moves and transforms lives.
Last year God did something unexpected for me as I prayed for Ramadan. This morning I read a blog by Marilyn at Communicating Across Boundaries and another by Rachel at Djibouti Jones. I’d like to share some of what they said and offer a prayer challenge. Perhaps God has something unexpected in store for you too.
On her blog Rachel explains that:
Of the five major pillars of Islam, only the first one, the Shahaadah, deals explicitly with faith. The others: prayer, giving, fasting, and pilgrimage are actions. Islam emphasizes orthopraxy, the rituals and traditions of faith in contrast to the orthodoxy of evangelical Christians, who emphasize matters of faith and theology over rites.
Ramadan is an entire lunar month devoted to fasting and preparation for the Eid holiday when sheep or goats are sacrificed to symbolize forgiveness. The feasting that follows is rich with meaning and celebration. Eating in the middle of a sunny afternoon! Ice cold water whenever one is thirsty! The entire community has been through a month of hunger and thirst and the anticipation of Eid is thick, the rejoicing on the morning of Eid filled with relief and a sense of victory.
Marilyn, in her post, shares the purposes of Ramadan quoted from an e-mail sent out from a local Mosque.
The Prophet (sa) said that this month is one of the “pillars” of our faith. Its goal is piety and its means is to increase good works at all levels – the refinement of the soul and good character and increasing in acts of worship. In order to have a successful Ramadan, it is encouraged to focus on the following:
1. Repentance. The Prophet (sa) said, “A person who repents sincerely is like a person who has no sins.” Starting the month with a clean heart and record is one of the best ways to energize your relationship with Allah.
2. Establishing the individual obligations (Fard al-‘Ayn). A person who fasts and fails to establish the individual obligations, such as prayer, does not understand the purpose of fasting.
3. Increase in voluntary acts of goodness. Give generously, serve your community, and increase your supplications, prayers and God’s remembrance.
4. Focus on making this the month of Qur’an. Read as much Qur’an as possible. This includes listening to it on the way to work, during the day at home, or on your computer or phone on the T.
5. Increase the din, reduce the dunya. Focus your talks, chats, tweets and Facebook posts on the Hereafter, reducing your conversations about things of no benefit in the Hereafter.
6. Make this a month for your family. Strive to be home for Iftar after work if possible. Studies show that family meals act as major influences in keeping families healthy and strong.
7. Forgive those who have wronged you and hold nothing in your heart towards others. ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ood said, “Everyone is forgiven in Ramadan, except those who have hatred in their hearts towards their brethren.”
8. Be a constant source of good wherever you are. The Prophet (sa) said, “Best person is the one who is best to others.”
9. Worship with your family or friends. Parents should worship Allah together by completing a reading of the Qur’an together (with their children if possible). And roommates or friends should try to complete one together as well. Praying in the night together is commendable as is remembering God in gatherings – driving in the car or at home.
So as followers of Christ, how do we respond? Clearly we don’t believe the same things. For example, we certainly don’t believe that sincerity in repentance is all that is needed to wash away sin. Yet, you cannot read these lines without noticing a commendable intentionality to align physical life with spiritual values. And in this intentionality is an invitation. This invitation may be answered by God. It could also be answered by the deceiver.
Only God can see a person’s heart. He alone knows whose heart He is opening toward His truth and who is simply going through religious motions. So we engage with curiosity and love whenever God gives us opportunity and we pray.
We pray for our secular neighbors and our religious friends. We pray for those who have never heard and those who have heard a million times. We engage the God who is Redeemer on behalf of those who need redemption.
So I would challenge you to pray now. This is a month for prayer.
Ask the One True God to reveal the truth about Jesus Christ to Muslims
around the world who are observing the traditions of Ramadan.
And pray for believers who are representing
the Word of truth to their Muslim friends and neighbors.
My mind is too full.
And time is too fast.
I’m both too slow
and not nearly slow enough.
I’m an anchor
the rapid flow.
There is danger for feet that mark not the path.
I’m a journey-man
not yet arrived.
Life is never static.
Daylight does not wait.
Slow my mind
Measure my steps.
Find the rhythm.
Make life a prayer.
Make prayer my life.
Awake. And see.
It’s only mid-April, but at 90 degrees, summer has arrived in Florida.
Summer, that season that drains my body of energy and leaves me to wilt in the heat or sends me rushing to hide in the cool of the climate controlled indoors.
Parched. That’s a word I think of when I think of summer.
Parched gardens longing for moisture. Parched throats longing for a cool drink of water.
Have you ever been parched, shriveled dry and desperately thirsty?
Imagine that feeling of longing, that deep need to be restored. Then imagine someone brings you a glass of water, clinking with ice, shrouded with drops of condensation. And for a moment all you can do is stare at the glass, memorizing the look of it. Longing for relief you reach forward and run a finger down the side of the glass through the condensation. You press the finger to your lips and the dampness brings a momentary relief to your lips even while it stirs your thirst. You reach down and with both hands encircling the glass and you hold it. The cold seeps into your skin and the ice clinks in the glass. You raise the glass and you press it to the side of your face and then roll it slowly across your forehead savoring its cool touch against your hot and dehydrated skin. Then you set the glass down in front of you and with a sigh you arise and return to your work.
But you are still parched.
The dampness on your lips and the coolness on your head will do nothing to sustain you. You must actually drink the water!
It may be a silly illustration, but I think that it describes how I sometimes seek to sustain myself. In fact, I’d put money on the fact that it’s not just a problem for me, but that many, many believers find themselves going through these very same motions in their spiritual life. We do everything but actually drink of the living water.
Jesus comes to us with an invitation. He does not speak idle words, nor are they a one-time offer.
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me,
as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you.
No branch can bear fruit by itself;
it must remain in the vine.”
We have an invitation to come to the source of Living Water. Jesus offers us rest and refreshment if we will abide in Him. But how often do we move toward Him and yet neglect to actually drink? We come to Him, but we neglect to learn from Him, to abide in Him. I think it happens more often than we care to admit, especially for those who are serving in ministry.
The Words of Life are our livelihood. The Scripture is not just for our personal edification and growth, it is our message and its truth is the foundation of all our work. We hear the Words day in and day out. But how often do we accept the invitation to drink? How often do I let the familiar words penetrate between flesh and marrow and how often do I simply observe them, like condensation running down the side of a glass, but fail to drink in that which my soul needs?
Sometimes I bring that beautiful glass of water up to my face and cool myself with its moisture. I rest against it and expect that external contact to sustain me. This is a picture of my life when I neglect solitude and silence with God. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this discipline is essential to the state of my spiritual life. If I neglect solitude and silence my mind is filled with a sense of busyness that crowds out my ability to listen well to the Spirit. Without solitude and silence I cannot abide. I know this. And yet it is so easy to allow this time consuming discipline to slip away in light of life’s day to day demands and the needs that are all around me.
Then, when I find my way back into the stillness of time set apart with the Lord it can be akin to drinking the glass down in one long draught and I wonder why I let myself get so parched with thirst. But sometimes it’s a slow reversal, like finishing a long marathon and discovering you are completely dehydrated and overcome with muscle cramps. You rehydrate your body through the pain. Sometimes I find that coming awake to God is like this. There is a painful process of toxins being removed and hydration being restored.
Still, whether the process is painful or whether it brings instant joy, I can’t deny that my deepest desire is to be refreshed, restored, renewed. I want to rest and I want to abide. The question is not should I drink. I know that I should.
The question is will I drink?
Will I daily arrange my life in such a way that I am not just gazing on or handling the living water, but so that I am actually drinking, coming, abiding in its life.
That begs the questions of how do you do it? How do you arrange your life to meet this deep desire? What would it look like to move toward daily drinking the living water?
Everyone is unique and the mix of spiritual practices that help me abide well in Christ are not necessarily the same practices that will be most effective for you. There are, however, some basic disciplines that every believer can draw from to open their life to a deeper practice of abiding in Christ.
Some categories to think through are:
- Solitude: Being alone with God.
- Silence: Being still and silent in a posture of listening before God. Giving Him your whole attention to be better able to hear His voice. Being silent before others to better listen to them and engage them at a soul level.
- Prayer: Conversation with God. Listening and responding; thanking and petitioning.
- Fasting: Going without food (or something else) in order to devote yourself to prayer. Entering deeper into the heart of God, aligning yourself with His desires above your own.
- Honoring Your Body: Paying attention to habits of eating, exercise and sleep, as it is through our bodies that we participate in God’s activity in the world.
- Sabbath: Honoring God’s provision and denying your own need for control by setting aside a day in which to rest from all that is necessary and engage in only those things that bring life to your soul.
- Engaging the Word: Opening your heart to the life changing power of the Scriptures through reading, reflection and meditation on the Word. Allowing God’s Word to be profitable in your life.
- Worship: Worship is our continual sacrifice of praise to God and can be expressed in a thousand forms. My personal favorites are worship in music, nature, creating and keeping a gratitude journal.
- Sacred Companionship and Community: Engaging other believers in prayerful conversation, listening to others in the Spirit and sharing our own lives without self-protection.
- Personal Reflection: Taking time to notice your own life so that you are aware of your circumstances, your suppositions, your sin and your holy desires in order to be able to move into a deeper freedom in Jesus Christ and to live with a fuller representation of His love.
- Service: Allowing your life in Christ and your love of God to overflow to others as you actively participate in being the hands and feet of Jesus to a world in need.
- Sacrifice: Being financially generous as an act of worship and trust in God’s provision.
- Submission and Humility: Practicing submission to God and others by refusing to assert our own cause or our perceived rights, but instead taking on the nature of a servant and living for the honor and glory of God alone. Humbling ourselves in imitation of Christ and living without boasting or seeking the acclaim of men for our good deeds.
If you are looking for a good, easy to follow resource to help you explore and discern what practices may lead you to a deeper place of abiding in Christ then I’d highly recommend Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms DVD and Study Guide.
While I personally recommend the visual imagery presented in the DVD, you can also read the same content in her book, Sacred Rhythms.
(Or you may be like me and choose to get them both so you can read the book while you follow along with the DVD and Study guide.)
You might have seen this video if you attend Idlewild on Wednesday nights or if you follow me on Facebook, but I still feel like it is worth revisiting. Sometimes just a hint of historical context can shine a huge light on something of immense spiritual significance. I find deep comfort in the truth of this lesson.
God does not plunk us down in belly deep alfalfa.
He does lead us mouthful by mouthful.
We don’t get a pasture of life long provision, but we join Him on a journey through the wilderness.
Staying close to the Shepherd moment by moment is the only way to live.
40 days to wander, 40 days to die to self
40 days to grow stronger as faith breaks open the gates of hell.
The Jubilee is over, but grace is far from gone
In the hearts of the faithful, broken on the wheels of love.
In the desert of temptation, lies the storm of true conversion,
where springs of living water drown and refresh you
And as the Jordan pours out change,
your true self is all that remains,
where springs of living water bind and break you.
40 days to remember the Paschal sacrifice
40 days to discover as passion calls us to new life
The Jubilee is over but mercy is far from gone
In the arms of the Father as the wayward child comes home.
- Matt Maher -
Several images in this video caught my attention and surprised me. I was captured by the illustrations of Jesus at play, chasing birds, finding joy. Odd as it may be, I never once thought of Jesus experiencing joy during his 40 days in the wilderness. And yet, something about these simple images stirred my soul. Why would I think joy was absent when God was present? And I thought of all of the times, when in the midst of hardship and struggle, I have found such joy in surrendered intimacy with my Lord.
In the middle of 40 days of dying to self, in the middle of this season of Lent, there is great joy to be found as death brings forth resurrection. Not just Easter morning resurrection, but present resurrection, living wide awake to God in the middle of the wilderness.
“Where springs of living water bind and break you.”
A reflection for Lent. A poem for dark nights and valleys of shadows. A prayer for us all.
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always,
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
I don’t like waiting, most of the time.
Then again, sometimes I do.
I like waiting when it means I can sit in a lobby with a book and not feel guilty about indulging my love of reading. I have to spend all day waiting to see if I’m picked for jury duty? No problem. Work isn’t expected me today and I’ve got a book. I’m also perfectly happy to wait if the appointment is something I dread (think doctors and needles). Wait? No problem. I’ll wait until next year if that’s OK.
I don’t, however, like waiting for something I desire. I find that I identify with the instant gratification mentality a bit too well.
Waiting. Do I like it or do I hate it?
I think the answer really depends on whether the waiting is under my control. If I could choose, in this very moment, to wait or not to wait what would I choose? You see I’d choose to wait for the shot, so the delay is fine by me. On the other hand, I wouldn’t choose to wait for the tax refund so I move through my days mildly annoyed that it hasn’t come yet.
And this is where I run into trouble, when I don’t get to decide whether this is a waiting time.
I’ve been meditating on these verses from Psalm 62 (MSG)…
God, the one and only -
I’ll wait as long as he says.
Everything I need comes from him
so why not?
He’s solid rock under my feet,
breathing room for my soul
As. Long. As. He. Says.
This isn’t the self-indulgent waiting of immersing myself in a book or the self-protecting waiting of avoiding painful needles. This isn’t the whiny “are we there yet waiting” of something anticipated that I’m trying to hurry along.
The Psalmist is referring to humbled, trusting, resting in the goodness of God waiting.
This paraphrase renders the phrase causally. “So why not?” And yet, isn’t that the heart of the question?
If I truly believe that the LORD is good,
if I truly believe that He is always working for the good of those that love Him (me!),
if I truly believe that His plans are good,
if I truly believe that He is my supplier and that all other “provision” that I could muster “on my own” is counterfeit,
if I really believe that He is solid ground and all else is shifting sand,
if I really believe that it is only in Him
and in His will
and in His love
and according to His way
that I find rest…breathing room for my soul,
then it should be as easy as the Psalmist makes it sound.
So why not?
My “why not” springs from the lies I believe.
The one lie. The ancient lie.
The false belief that God is not good, that He withholds from me what is best.
I resist waiting time because I think I know better and that God can’t be trusted.
Oh God, grant me the grace of a deep and true repentance.
Waiting may cost me more than I want to surrender.
It may mean that I don’t get to do what I want to do…right now.
It may mean that I don’t get to live where I want to live…right now.
But Psalm 62 is a “David Psalm” penned by a man who knew what it was to wait.
And David said, “I’ll wait as long as he says.”
Lord, teach me to wait, because this dependance brings my eyes back to the truth of who you are. It brings my knees to bow before your Sovereignty. It renews my trust and stretches my faith. It teaches me to hope in your promises and let go of lesser things. In waiting I learn to surrender to your loving plan.
Waiting, when I do it in righteousness, renews my strength, because it returns my focus to the One who is the source of my strength, the source of my life and the giver of every good gift.
But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:31 (ESV)
For God alone my soul waits… Psalm 62 (ESV)
Time has been on my mind of late so I want to share a couple of posts on the subject. Below is an entry from my journal (Fall 2012).
I’m thinking of our conversation last night. And you said you’d wasted time. There was such pain in your voice as you spoke of years gone by.
And I begin to wonder if wasted time is really possible for God’s children in God’s economy?
Even while we walk on this earth within a set number of days, God is outside of time. He’s never in a hurry. And He is weaving all things together.
When I walk in sin I waste the time I’ve been given. I miss out on the blessings. I miss out on intimacy with Him. I lose the good I might have had. I trade life for death and freedom for bondage, but this is a loss of that which might have belonged to me. And in God’s purpose and plan I wonder if the end result of change in my life from the lessons that do come to belong to me (in place of the good I might have had) mean that the time is not really wasted at all.
I believe that even while I am “wasting” the time that I have been given I cannot thwart God’s plan. He is still using time to its fullest even as I squander it away. What a thought. What a comfort as I look at the road behind me.
I’ve been revisiting Jonah’s story. It could be said that Jonah was wasting God’s time…filling his days with fleeing rather than serving and rebellion in the place of obedience. Yet God did not waste a moment.
Out of Jonah’s rebellion an entire shipload of gentile sailors came to worship and make vows to the One True God. Jonah lost the blessing when he missed the joy of their salvation, when He resisted God’s all inclusive generosity of grace for all who would repent. Jonah paid a price for his rebellion, and yet, even that was not wasted time. God used those moments of running, those moments of rebellion, to teach Jonah something about Himself. The “wasted” time became a lesson in the sovereignty and graciousness of God.
So while it might be said Jonah wasted time running, in God’s economy nothing was lost. While Jonah may have missed one type of blessing (joy in service of God’s salvation grace) he gained another blessing in disguise. He gained the blessing of being taught and used by God despite his rebellious heart. I wonder if he looked back years later and thanked God for blessings in disguise, blessings that were molding and shaping Him into a reflection of God’s image.
I read that Jonah most likely wrote the book of the Bible that bears his name. And I expect that he must have looked back and seen God’s purpose in his “wasted” days of rebellion to be able to write such a blatantly unflattering portrayal of himself. He must have realized that despite his failures this chapter of his life was not wasted. There was a lesson in the story of his life that God’s people needed to hear.
So I’m coming to the belief that we don’t have the power to waste God’s time. It’s an illusion where we put ourselves in control of the universe. When we cry remorseful that we’ve wasted time, that we’ve wasted our lives, we stand on a belief that denies the sovereignty of God in the middle of the story of our failures.
That is a thought that frees from the weight of shame. We can lament sin and rebellion, fleeing and faltering, even while we trust that even in our moments of deepest rebellion and most selfish squandering we have never, even for a moment thwarted the plans and work of God. He is always working for our good and His glory.
In the end, perhaps the blessing that we all need, more than we know, is the grace that we find when He has loving us drawn us back from “wasted days” and tells us to feed His sheep.
Lent isn’t about forfeiting as much as it’s about formation. We renounce to be reborn; we let go to become ‘little Christs’. It’s about this: We break away to become.
Photo Credit: www.aholyexperience.com
If the seasons of Advent and Epiphany challenge us by God’s gracious intervention in human affairs, the season of Lent prepares us for the death and resurrection of Christ. The transition between the seasons of Epiphany and Lent is marked by deepening realism about the cost of discipleship. It involves facing our temptations, knowing ourselves, having new attitudes, changing dispositions, living prayerfully – all to become more Christlike. As a penitential season of the church, it provides for a forty day period of fasting, in imitation of Jesus’ fast in the wilderness.
Fasting is any spiritual discipline of restraint we may exercise before God to live righteously.
From Letters of Faith through the Seasons – James M. Houston
I’ve been surprised at the amount of resistance in my soul this year as I’ve approached the season of Lent. I sat with God just this morning still torn.
I don’t want to make that sacrifice. I don’t.
I told God that I’d give up TV instead and was immediately ashamed. It’s rare that I watch more than an hour of television a week and some weeks I never even turn it on. How is that a sacrifice?
David proclaimed: I will not offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing. (1 Chronicles 21:24)
And then I find tears filling my eyes. How can I be so selfish? In light of His sacrifice for me how can I not offer even this little thing. A surrender to honor Him. A letting go to embrace His transformation in my life.
I do want to. I want to honor Jesus by learning to live with greater discipline and less self-indulgence. I do.
And I don’t.
So I’ve determined to do more than just cut something out of my life this Lent. I’ve determined to change my attitude and face my temptations by a continual asking of God:
“If I do this…if I eat this…if I drink this right now…can I do it to the glory of God?”
I’m sure I will fail and I’m equally sure that I will succeed. For this question takes me to a place that is beyond willpower, beyond law and into my heart. And in the deepest recesses of my heart I long to surrender and I long to glorify God in all things. So I’m sure that God’s purpose will be served in this season.
But this is also a call to awareness. A call to not put anything in my mouth without thought. And I know there will be forgetful moments. Moments that I will need to fall on His grace.
I have a feeling I will be learning a lot this Lenten season. Where I am most aware of my resistance then I am also most aware of my need.
I pray that I will stay awake to my deeper desire to honor God and to be transformed into His image day by day as I journey together with the fellowship of the saints through this season of Lent.
As we His Church move together toward the cross, the ultimate sacrifice of God for His beloved, may our eyes be open and our lives be surrendered to His great love and the total transformation of our lives.
Flash floods of tears, torrents of them,
Erode cruel canyons, exposing
Long forgotten strata of life
Laid down in the peaceful decades:
A badlands beauty. The same sun
That decorates each day with colors
From arroyos and mesas, also shows
Every old scar and cut of lament.
Weeping washing the wounds clean
And leaves them to heal, which always
Takes an age or two. No pain
Is ugly in past tense. Under
The Mercy every hurt is a fossil
Link in the great chain of becoming.
Pick and shovel prayers often
Turn them up in valleys of death.
Quoted from: The Contemplative Pastor
This isn’t a carefully written post. It’s more of a “directly from my heart to the screen” post.
I haven’t blogged for weeks now, because I’ve been driving. I set out from Florida on November first and I’ll reach California tomorrow.
When I first thought about this home assignment and the supporters that I wanted to visit I had a strong sense that I was to drive rather than fly this time around. But to be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure that it was what I wanted to do. I spent a lot of time wrestling over the decision. It’s a lot of miles to cover…alone. Flying would be more…convenient.
Yet, the more I prayed about it, the more certain I became that God was telling me two things.
First, I was to trust Him in this.
Second, that this trip was His gift to me.
Nearly two weeks, three thousand miles and more than fifty road hours later I understand just a bit of the gift that He has given me.
I’ve had hours and days of just me and Jesus time. Oh, I’m not always focused on His presence, but I’ve had the opportunity to be with Him in a special way. I’ve had hours in which to pray and converse with my Lord. Further, I’ve never been alone or lonely for He’s been my constant companion.
I’ve gotten to see people that I wouldn’t have seen if I’d had to buy a plane ticket to get to them. And I’ve met people along the way that I never would have met if I’d hopped on a plane. Just a couple of days ago I went for a meal in a place that was fairly full. A couple asked if they could join me at my table and we got to talking. What a joy it was to share with them about God’s work around the world! It was also an answer to my prayer that I have the opportunity to represent the Lord to the people I meet. Only God can arrange that kind of divine appointment, but I had to be willing to trust Him and follow His lead when driving seemed an unconventional choice.
But most of all, this gift to me has been about seeing His beauty scattered abroad. The earth is filled with the glory of the Lord and I’ve gotten to feast on it for weeks now. Every changing landscape is unique in its beauty and each Jesus follower that I have met along the journey bears His radiant image in their own distinctly fashioned way.
Today the lyric by Rich Mullins kept running through my mind…”So much beauty for just two eyes to see, but everywhere I go, I’m looking.”
So as I embark on my final leg toward California, where I will stay awhile before the long drive back to Florida in January, I want to lift up His name with thanksgiving.
I’m grateful that He called me to this journey and gave me this gift.
He is so good to me.
If you haven’t read yesterday’s post: Scripts, Stories, Porcupines and Community then I’d recommend you read it first. It will give you some perspective on my conclusions in this post.
“Notice that nearly always our interpretation of our days will reveal what we long to be but fear we really are not.” John Eldredge – Waking the Dead
I was driving home from church on that dark stretch of road. The rain poured, lighting slashed the sky and the man walked on the shoulder, hand out, asking for a bit of grace.
I was alone and for days I’d been praying a dangerous prayer.
“Awake. Awake. God, wake me up. Wake my heart to hear your voice. Awake. I want to be wide awake to you. I want to know you. I want to love like you. “
But then again,
And I knew the contradiction deep in my soul as my eyes took in the form of the hitchhiker.
I heard it as clear as day, that voice that disturbs my heart. It spoke no words, but I heard it nonetheless. And my heart ached for the contradiction ran deep down to the very depth of my soul. Compassion battled deeply ingrained thinking.
A woman alone in the country at night; I could hear every warning ever spoken. Foolishness! Don’t even think about it. Why are you still thinking about it? It crossed my mind that the bed of the truck may be safe to offer, but the voices drilled into my head since I was a tiny tot screamed loud and long against it.
Yet, I knew how it felt when the roles are reversed. I’d tasted the longing for a bit of grace. I’d been the one on the side of the road. In that Siberian city there were no taxis: a hand, a car and a haggle over the cost made every hitchhiker a customer, every car a cab and every ride a risk.
The seconds were years as the truck barreled over the pavement. Never slowing, no one could perceive my angst. And I heard my heart scream.
“How dare you,” it yelled. “How dare you choose self-protection over love?”
Yes. Tears blurred my vision as I drove on. How dare I?
Yet, every single day I dare.
And in that moment I didn’t want to be awake. The blind cocoon of slumber seemed vastly preferable to the war in my soul. I wept over my betrayal of my very prayer.
I’m all contradictions.
I long to love, but I don’t.
I long to give, but I hold back.
I long to be awake and then weep wanting to brick up my soul rather than face the pain that such awareness brings.
I’m all contradictions.
I don’t know if in not picking up that particular hitchhiker on that road that night I quenched the Spirit, but I suspect that I did.
I don’t know for sure if I rejected an invitation or if it was meant to be an object lesson all along, but one thing of which I am certain is that I was supposed to see him. I was meant to really see him: that man lashed by the storm with dripping white shirt and hand held out for a ride on a dark country road.
I was meant to see him and I was meant to see myself.
I’m a rebel with a divided heart: A foolish girl who knows what she really desires and begs for it on her knees, only to run and hide in fear when that desire might cost more than I want to give.
I’m all contradictions.
I’m just like that hitchhiker – in need of grace.
I’m reading John Eldredge’s Waking the Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive. Yesterday, in a section on intimate community, the author was speaking about a challenge to his small group.
“Write down on a piece of paper five words or phrases that capture your life right now. What does it feel like? Don’t edit. Don’t make it sound better than it is. How are you doing?”
The word “Unscripted” immediately popped into my head. I stopped this morning and wrote down four more words, but “Unscripted” practically leaped out of my head demanding that I take notice.
My life seems like a piece of a novel not yet written: a jotted note on a scrap of paper in a pile of possibilities.
Unscripted: Like writing, when you have this scene and that character and a loose association of ideas, but the ultimate storyline that ties it all together remains undiscovered, moving in an unanticipated direction.
Eldredge went on to make the case of how we need intimate community to tell us our story. He asked the members of his small group community to think using the power of myth; the means of story…of script. What story were they living? Were they Dorthoy in Oz? Or Lucy in Narnia? With which character did they identify?
And then in response, the group had the opportunity to counter the person’s perceived story with their vision of who the person was and which story they were witnessing. It was a powerful chapter based upon a powerful truth.
We need each other.
Eldredge encourages, “Notice that nearly always our interpretation of our days will reveal what we long to be but fear we really are not.”
My head knows that the “Author and perfecter of my faith” exists outside of time and that He has witnessed my story fully written and fully lived. My life is scripted by a loving hand, but it’s scripted somewhere outside of the realm of time and space in which I live. My story is full of beauty and unimaginable glory about which I fear even to dream. The plot holds hardship and trials, failures and triumphs, unbelief and faith, despair and hope, defeat and victory. It’s a tale of death and resurrection and ascension.
My life feels unscripted, because I have not lived it yet. It’s still a mystery to me. I do not have the eternal eyes necessary to discern how all the pieces fit together to form a perfect and beautiful whole. But I do have a band of believers, friends who hear my story and tell me when I’ve placed myself in the wrong tale. I’m so thankful for them!
“It was an incredible evening. All of us had chosen words that were hard (life is hard), and all our interpretations of our own lives were off. Each of us was in the process of making subtle agreements with the Enemy, and we weren’t aware of it. It was only through the eyes of our friends that we recovered our hearts, our true place, reality. But the real power of living in community is, we remembered those stories for months, and we used them for each other at crucial moments in the battle ahead. Jenny later said, ‘What makes this community so powerful is that you remember my story for me. I don’t have to carry the burden of remembering alone.’” — John Eldredge
Tomorrow I want to post something that I recently wrote and shared with a few of my “band of believers.”
It’s a snapshot: a moment in time, a piece of my story.
I needed my community to speak back to me the bigger picture. I needed their witness. The deepest thing in me now is beauty. The word rebel does not define me. My heart may be engaged in a fierce battle against my flesh, but it is not divided. My heart is His: fully and irrevocably. And my story…I’m not done living it yet.
I hope you have that kind of community. The kind where it’s a safe place to be real and authentic, because though you may be like “a pack of porcupines on a winter night – You come together because of the cold and you are forced apart because of the spines” you can gather to go to war for each others hearts, believing for each other that the good God has given His children new hearts. Remembering for each other that beneath all the prickly spines there is a beauty and a passion waiting to be released for the glory of God.
If you don’t have that kind of community let me encourage you to seek it out. Pursue it like a bloodhound, nose to the ground never losing track of the scent. Don’t let the poking spines distract you. Your story depends on it.
I enjoy gardening. I admit that I have a deep aversion to dirt underneath my fingernails, but armed with a pair of garden gloves I find myself quite happy to dig in the earth.
It’s not the soil that appeals to me, but the combination of beauty and hope. I have a hopeless attraction to beauty hardwired into my soul. Every shade of green leaf, every delicate petal unfurling, every uniquely shaped and vibrantly colored flower speaks to me of the Creator who loves the diversity that joins together in unity to sing His praises.
Gardens are places of beauty, places where many unique creations come together to form a landscape of unified loveliness.
Flowers and butterflies
Birds and Squirrels
Rabbits and Frogs
Lizards and Leaves
Shade and Sun
All these things and many more come together in the garden.
Gardens are places of beauty.
Gardens are places of hope.
When I dig down and place the bulbs in the ground,
when I handle the barren bare root rose to make a home for it in the rich earth,
when I clear the grass and weeds to create a plot of ground,
I am planting hope.
As I plant, I hope for a harvest of beauty. I till the soil longing for the day when tulips and irises and roses and lavender spring from the ground and bring color and fragrance to my little patch of earth.
This morning I read Second Peter in the Message and I found a beautiful image for the gardener in me.
“Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life? Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival. The galaxies will burn up and the elements melt down that day – but we’ll hardly notice. We’ll be looking the other way, ready for the promised new heavens and new earth, all landscaped with righteousness.”
2 Pet. 3:11-13
God has plans for His garden and He has a message for us.
We’re called to plant our hope in Him through the act of Holy living and the focus of Holy attentiveness. We aren’t to be about planting our hope in the soil of this world. It’s going away! There is no hope to be found here. Instead we are eagerly turning toward Him. We’re looking away from the world and toward the Kingdom. We look toward His beauty and are attentive, watching for Him every moment. We know that our hope is even now sprouting forth and that one day it will blossom in full.
Our Lord offers a future hope that we can hold onto, that we eagerly look forward to:
His garden will be landscaped in righteousness.
No more sin. No more shame. No more decay that seeks to extinguish the beauty. No more of those annoying pests that steal into the garden with intent to destroy the plants through their consumption.
A whole new world landscaped in righteousness.
I can’t wait to see it.
Tuesday I stood before a grave. Wednesday I stood before a cross. As the Word echoed through the sanctuary this refrain filled the air: Cast all your care upon him; for He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
Yes, I remember this I truth. I memorized this verse in Awana. Suddenly, long forgotten songs from my childhood started parading through my mind. It all seemed very…familiar.
There in the pew I began to wonder how it read in the Message. I wondered if I might grapple with the truth better if I approached it from a less familiar viewpoint. This is what I read:
“Live carefree before God; He is most careful with you.”
Talk about a new perspective.
Carefree? Live carefree? How do I live carefree when I’m so aware of the sting?
Careful? Most Careful? His handling often feels more like being tossed about, battered and bruised than handled with kid gloves.
So I started to talk with God about the words carefree and careful, wondering what He might want to teach me through these words.
The first place my questions took me was Isaiah 28:23-29.
Listen and hear my voice;
pay attention and hear what I say.
When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually?
Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil?
When he has leveled the surface,
does he not sow caraway and scatter cummin?
Does he not plant wheat in its place,
barley in its plot
and spelt in its field?
His God instructs him
and teaches him the right way.
Caraway is not threshed with a sledge,
nor is a cartwheel rolled over cummin;
caraway is beaten out with a rod,
and cummin with a stick.
Grain must be ground to make bread;
so one does not go on threshing it forever.
Though he drives the wheels of his threshing cart over it,
his horses do not grind it.
All this also comes from the Lord Almighty,
wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom.
I’ve written before about how this obscure set of verses have brought me deep encouragement in my walk with God. This passage reminds me that God knows what kind of seed that I am. He knows what it takes to cultivate me and He knows what would crush me.
Just like the caraway and the cumin in these verses, each and every spice comes to release its full flavor through its own unique process. As it is with every child of God.
God never stops the work of shaping and forming His children into the “true-self-in-Christ” that is unique to each of one. He alone has wisdom in counsel to understand everything that goes into the process of each soul becoming who we were created to be.
But when we feel the sting, the rod, the sledge, the wheel, we start to wonder about His goodness. In the midst of the pain of life it certainly does not feel as if He is being “most careful” with us.
We forget that only God sees the whole picture. We become blind to the fact that while we can’t always choose our circumstance, we can always choose how we relate in the midst of all that is happening. We so easily forget that we chose the sting; that death originated with a choice to sin. And we lose sight of the fact that God Himself took the heaviest blows of all on the cross. We start to define the idea of “care” as being pain free. We start to believe that He only cares for us if He gives us what that we want – including a life absent of pain.
I am guilty of all this and more.
I Peter 4:1-2 states:
Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.
“Then you’ll be able to live out your days free.”
What if that’s what it means that He is most careful with us? What if He is using the pain of this life to carefully and completely release us from the tyranny of our self-centered and selfish nature so that we can live free?
The word carefree brings to mind a child at play. A little girl chasing lightning bugs. A little boy tossing sticks into a stream. Trusting. Unencumbered. In the back of their mind, hidden from the joys of the moment, they have a fixed faith that mom and dad have life under control. They live fully in the moment. They aren’t worried about making super or keeping a roof over their heads or the storm clouds on the horizon. They chase the butterflies and laugh at inchworms. They delight in friendships and focus on the task of building a sand-castle or playing a game with rules that only they understand.
But what would it look like for me to live carefree? I’m a woman grown. Children are often unaware of the struggle that goes on beyond their bubble of security. I am not unaware. I have known sin and death and grief and loss and struggle. I’ve felt the sting.
How do I live carefree?
Maybe it is simpler than I realize. Maybe it’s all about that fixed faith of a child. Maybe, just maybe, freedom is found in surrender.
What would my life look like if I really believed that God is always working for my good? What if I trusted that He is wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom? What if lived out the belief that in the very midst of the rod and the sledge and the wheel and the sting that He is being most careful with me? Would that release me to live free?
Would living carefree be to let go of all my demands to have my own way; to surrender to His most careful wisdom? Would it mean not denying my pain, my hurt, my struggle, but releasing it into the care of the One who is most careful with me?
Would it mean letting go of my desire that I be protected from every pain so that I can discover a deeper desire born of the Spirit: A desire to know Him, to dwell with Him, to be made more and more like Him in the beauty of His holiness?
Would carefree living allow me to crawl up in His arms so that like the little lamb in Isaiah 40 so that I too can be carried close to His heart, laying my head against His chest and listening to His heartbeat as it thrums “I love you”?
My heart cries a resounding “Yes!”
I long to live free, carefree and surrendered before the One who is most careful with me.
I love many things about Florida. I love the bright blue skies and the fluffy white clouds piling up to the heavens. I love the green, green grass and the sound of the cicadas chirping in the evening. I love the old oaks and the Spanish moss. I love the tree frogs that sing in the rain and the squirrels that frolic in the trees. And while I dislike being hot and sticky I even appreciate the humidity that makes my skin soft, my nails grow and my lungs feel like they can drink in the air. But one thing that I do not love about Florida is the fire ants. Fire ants are tiny, red, venomous messengers of torment. They sting. Their poison bite sparks a fire under your skin. No, I have no love at all for fire ants.
On Tuesday I stood by a grave. Beautiful blooms draped the tiny casket. Words of hope and truth filled the air. And fire ants attacked my left foot.
I hopped on one foot for a moment. I pursued and squished each offender between my fingers until I could see no more bringers of venom crawling on my foot. I stood tall and hoped no one had noticed my dance of torment. But the sting remained. It swelled up and fought every sense with its demanding presence. My body ached for relief. And yet in that moment the pain in my body was no more than a dim reflection of the pain in my heart.
It comes from fire ants. It comes from sin. It entered this world with one man’s disobedience and we’ve been fighting the poison of death ever since.
It was first a judgment: A cause and effect reality of our rebellion. In Hosea 13:14 God talks about how His people are reaping the consequences of their sin and He asks:
Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?
Shall I redeem them from Death?
O Death, where are your plagues?
O Sheol, where is your sting?
Compassion is hidden from my eyes. (ESV)
In the context of this passage God is actually calling on the plague of death and the sting of the grave as a just response to the sins of His people. He is asking a rhetorical question. The answer is no. He will not move in compassion on behalf of His rebellious children.
The interesting thing about this passage from Hosea is that some translations frame this passage differently. The New International Version translates this text to read:
“I will ransom them from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death.
Where, O death, are your plagues?
Where, O grave, is your destruction?”
Now I’m not a Hebrew scholar, but isn’t it interesting that in looking at the whole counsel of God both translations are equally true. Isn’t it just like God that in the moment he is hiding compassion from His people and calling on death as a response to their sin that He is already planning their redemption? From the moment He pronounced the curse of death, He also spoke of the bringer of life.
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspringand hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.” (Gen. 3:15 NIV)
From the very beginning (before He even formed the world or set the galaxies spinning through time) God set in motion a plan to transfer the sting.
1 Cor. 15:50-55 quotes from Hosea and shows us the endgame.
“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
In Christ the “shall I” of Hosea chapter thirteen comes alive as “I will”. He ransoms us from the power of the grave and redeems us from death. Life in Christ belongs to us, but for now we wait. We wait to shed this mortality and put on immortality. We live as imperishable souls among the perishable reality of a world that is slowly rotting away under the curse of sin.
Christ has triumphed over the grave. He has won the victory. Christ suffered in our place. He took the eternal sting so that we would never know the full extent of its pain.
In Christ – We have victory and we experience the sting. I still carry with me the sting of the fire ant. I still carry in my heart the sting of death. I still sin. I still mourn. I still grieve.
It fills me with sorrow to realize all the ways that I rebel in thought and deed against my good and loving God.
It pains me to see a friend wounded by death.
It breaks my heart to stand by the grave of a child.