Friday, March 31, 2006
“Many times in my life God has asked me to wait when I wanted to move forward. He has kept me in the dark when I asked for light. To my pleas for guidance His answer has often been “Sit still, My daughter.” I like to see progress. I look for evidence that God is at least doing something. If the Shepherd leads us beside still waters when we were hoping for white water excitement, it is hard to believe anything really vital is taking place. God is silent. The house is silent. The phone doesn’t ring. The mailbox is empty…” (Elisabeth Elliot - The Path of Loneliness)
So often when I read something written by Elisabeth Elliot, I feel as if she were writing about me or to me or that I am reading something I could have written in my journal. The quote above is one such excerpt, which could easily be found scribbled in my own hand in a notebook somewhere. These days, the call to me is a very consistent “Sit still, My daughter…ask me and trust me…even when it looks like nothing is happening. Sit still and wait on me. Hope in me. Hope does not disappoint.” This is the reality of the Christian life. We operate not merely in the natural. Our reality is not limited to what we can see and what we can do. As my friend Elisabeth Elliot reminds us, “There is a secret place where the Christian dwells. It is the shadow of the Almighty. Transactions take place there which none but God know.” (from The Path of Loneliness)
So often, though, I focus on what I can see…what I can do. In so doing, I miss the true reality and risk stepping outside of the will of God and into sin. Last night I got a really clear picture of the disparity between the life of the unbeliever and life of a Christian. I watched a pretty horrible movie called “Uptown Girls.” As movies go it was fairly clean…but that isn’t saying much. Where they attempted to be discreet, there was enough suggestion to give you a clear idea of what they were leaving out. But that wasn’t really what made it so horrible…and that wasn’t what gave me the understanding I am referring to. After the movie was over, I thought about the lives depicted and how people live similar lives each day…receive similar mercies and graces and providential care…and ignore the reality behind them. Like most “feel good” movies, we are led to believe that things just work out and somehow we all get a happy ending. But the reality is that behind every trial which then leads to blessing there is a God, a purposeful and kind God working all things together for the good, not as a stamp of approval on a decision or way of life, and not because we deserve it, but because He is very good. The ultimate goal of this, like creation itself, is to show forth His glory and cause men to give praise and honor where it is due; to recognize God for who He is and put our perspective of ourselves in its proper place.
I read an interview with the star of this movie, a woman who has had several public “relationships” with men. Relationships of which she has openly discussed and admitted sexual activity…and done so in a way that was matter-of-fact and as if it were just a given that that sort of thing happens. Yet she also says something like “I just believe that God guides me…teaches me lessons.” I was puzzled. But, people say things like that all the time. They also take God’s kindness and providence for granted or if they do acknowledge it, they assume approval and blessing and never consider their ways and turn their steps accordingly toward God (Psalm 119:59).
And, sometimes, neither do I.
But I am thankful that the Lord has given me this vision and knowledge of that secret place which is the true reality. That in most cases, I can see that He casts a long shadow over my life…over the good and the bad…and is working His sovereign, good and perfect will in each. By His grace, more often than not, I can say with the Psalmist: “This God – His way is perfect.” (Psalm 18:30)
Yet, still, there are times when I don’t want to sit still. I don’t want to wait. I want to see action. I want what I feel is coming to me and I want it now. I am tempted to pull myself up by my bootstraps, gird up my loins and go about the business of making my life look the way I think it needs to look. Most times, though, if I am honest, my hastiness really is not because I am convinced of the perfection of my plan but just because waiting is so tiresome.
Twice this week, I read about people who wanted to jump ahead of God. Each wanted something they felt they had coming to them…now. Here is what I read:
So the people of Gad and the people of Reuben came and said to Moses and to Eleazar the priest and to the chiefs of the congregation, … And they said, "If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not take us across the Jordan." (Numbers 32:2-5)
And he said, "There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.' (Luke 15:11-12)
In the first instance, God had instructed them to go the whole way across the Jordan to a land of untold beauty and riches, a land prepared especially for them…a land they had to continue to toil and fight for. The tribes of Reuben and Gad spied out something readily available that seemed like all they were hoping for, one which seemed perfect for their needs. They were no doubt tired of wandering in the desert and wanted to get about the business of setting up homes and just settle somewhere. They came up with all sorts of justifications and reasons why it would be good for them to ignore the Lord’s instruction and forsake His promise. Don’t we all do this? We can come up with some pretty spiritual sounding reasons to settle for what we can have now as opposed to waiting for what God has for us. As it turned out, though, the Lord did give them this land…but they still had to go the whole way first.
In the second instance, the Son wanted the part of his inheritance that was available to him at that time. He did not want to wait for his father to die…and for the Lord to increase the Father’s wealth for that future date. The father gave it – this time without conditions or strings or provisos – and the son was allowed to go his own way.
And there were grave consequences…and then, repentance and joyful reconciliation. In each instance, the requirement was to go the whole way with God. For the tribes of Gad and Rueben, the whole was crossing the Jordan and then going back to the land they desired. For the infamous prodigal son, the whole was getting his way and suffering the consequences that he might learn a valuable lesson about sin and forgiveness.
Our Lord told His disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on [or any other thing we think is essential to our life and happiness]. … which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? … O you of little faith! ..Do not seek [these things] nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. (Luke 12:22-31)
It is our nature to seek after things…to go and do…to make a way. Jesus knows this. He did not speak the words above out of context or in ignorance of our needs. He spoke these words to people that were far more needy than any of us will ever be. If you are reading this, you likely have a computer of your own. If you have a computer, you likely have more than enough money to provide for your food and clothing and shelter. In fact, if we are honest, most of us have way more than we actually need to survive. Most of us also take that provision for granted and lament the fact that we cannot have more or nicer things to fill our homes and time.
Jesus is not ignorant of that either, and still speaks those timeless words to us “For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” This applies to each of us, regardless of our positions, our wealth or our specific wants. This applies equally to my desire to be married, as it does to someone else’s desire for a raise in salary or a bigger home for their family or a new car. We can deem these things as necessary for our lives, but in truth, only God knows what is necessary and He will freely give all things which fall into that category…and often, beyond. He does this not because we deserve it or because our behavior warrants blessing or because of how we have walked out our lives or phrased our demands/prayers/pleas but because He is good and kind and it is His nature to freely give as He pleases…to have mercy on whom He desires to have mercy.
Still, He calls us to seek His kingdom. To, in effect, seek after Him and His glory on earth the way we currently seek after a spouse, a raise, a home, a car, … [insert your thing here] “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21) Seeking after anything else first or more is to settle for something less and ultimately it will never satisfy. Our hearts were not made to be satisfied in anything but him. To try to do so is to “strive after wind.” It is also to sin.
O Lord may our treasure be you and you alone. May we seek after you and trust you with everything else! And may we also be willing to wait and not move forward until we know you have gone before and prepared the way. And may we always be willing to go the whole way with you…not for the promised prize but because “at your right hand is fullness of joy.”
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
The Love of God is beyond our comprehension – and that means that sometimes the application of this love on our lives may require us to set aside our understanding, logic and rationale and simply respond with praise and obedience.
Like peace that passes understanding, resting in His love is not resting in intellectual assent to some directive or providence or denial; it is resting – despite and in the midst of confusion or uncertainty – in the complete love of God, knowing that He is moving, working and caring for us.
It is choosing the eternal truth over the temporal and momentary reality.
It is choosing to hope in God regardless of circumstances.
It is trusting God to do beyond all we can think, imagine, foresee or even believe because His love “passeth knowledge.”
Lord grant me this rest…grant me faith that chooses to hope for what I cannot see…faith that knows there is a kind and powerful God behind all that is unseen…working for my good…grant me rest in the unknown because of whom I know, not what my experience has been or what logic tells me or what I can convince myself of…grant me rest in your love because it is incomprehensible and all encompassing and more than enough for me.
What wondrous love is this
Oh my soul. Oh my soul.
What wondrous love is this
Oh my soul…
Monday, March 27, 2006
In her book, "Passion & Purity", Elisabeth Elliot says that the walk of faith and obedience to Christ isn’t just about forsaking bad things; sometimes it is about giving up some very good things to and for God.
No polluted thing…
I’ve been reading in Numbers lately. A large part of what I’ve read so far has been about offerings and sacrifices (or at least that is the part that has jumped out at me this time around). One thing that struck me was the regularity and purposefulness behind offerings and sacrifices. I think there is something to that whole ritual that the modern church has lost. Week in and week out, sometimes even daily, the people were made to give things up, to take things that were precious…required…even the only things they had for life or of wealth…and offer them up to God. In so doing, they not only acknowledged their devotion to Him, but their faith in Him to provide for them regardless of how things looked circumstantially. Though they were far from perfect in their faithfulness, I think these offerings and sacrifices worked something in them that we do not have. Because of Christ's once-for-all sacrifice, these types of regular offerings and sacrifices are no longer necessary. The debt is paid forever. But, I don't believe this grace we live under means the end of offerings and sacrifices as a way of life. In fact, I believe we should be even more compelled to give all we have. I also believe that the loss of this type of living has made us more convinced of our own self-sufficiency and thus we fail to rightly acknowledge or even know what it is to live in utter dependence on God.
These offerings and sacrifices were the firstfruits, the cream of the crop, so to speak. They weren’t the leftovers, the scraps, whatever was unnecessary. And, though we don’t have rituals and rites and rules to follow, that is what is required of us. Often, we want to look at our relinquishing or renouncing or repenting of our sin as an offering or sacrifice to God, but I don’t think the whole of scripture would support that thinking. Repenting of sin is what is required…not something that is fit to be an offering to the Lord. I can’t hand Him my pride and expect it to be a pleasing aroma. It is a vile thing that should be taken and burned outside the camp…not brought with me into the Holiest place. So, if sin is not fit for an offering or sacrifice…what does that leave?
Some very good things…
From Oswald Chamber’s My Utmost for His Highest…It's as if Paul were saying, "My determined purpose is to be my utmost for His highest -- my best for His glory." To reach that level of determination is a matter of the will, not of debate or of reasoning. It is absolute and irrevocable surrender of the will at that point. An undue amount of thought and consideration for ourselves is what keeps us from making that decision, although we cover it up with the pretense that it is others we are considering. When we think seriously about what it will cost others if we obey the call of Jesus, we tell God He doesn't know what our obedience will mean. Keep to the point -- He does know. Shut out every other thought and keep yourself before God in this one thing only -- my utmost for His highest. I am determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him and Him alone.
For Him and Him alone. Not for us. What a battle this is in the heart of each believer! We want things…passionately. We don’t like to lose things, either. Yet God comes in and asks for everything. For precious things. For our treasures. He asks us to turn from them, to put them on the altar, to sell them, to give them away, to relinquish all claims to all we claim is ours. To give all we are for all He is.
And more often than not, I falter. My flesh and my heart fail and, even worse, rage against the very notion. But this is what is required. There is no other way to live a truly crucified life. Repentance of sin merely gets us to the starting gate. The real race is run by sacrificing our life daily, surrendering our will for His, and offering our treasures (whether they are actual things or plans or hopes or people) for His use. For His use as HE sees fit. We cannot offer or sacrifice with conditions or strings attached. It is all or nothing. Sometimes He will purify our offering and return it better than it was. Sometimes our sacrifice is consumed in the fire and we are never to see it again. We cannot know when we put it up on the altar, what the Lord is going to do. We can only trust that He will do what is best. Not just good…or something we can tolerate…but what is best.
God wants everything…but it must be clean…it must be our best…and little by little, fire after fire, He will have all.
Friday, March 24, 2006
Last night I went to bed with a bit of a limp. I felt fully convinced of my wrong, my lack, and my inability to do anything to correct it. My hope that the Lord could or would was, sadly, overshadowed by my “Woe is me. I am a woman of unclean lips…heart…mind…hands…feet…everything” state of mind. What really got the wrestling match going was the faithful wound of a friend. I’d been struggling emotionally with an issue and she challenged me on the area of my thought life. I “thought” I’d been doing just fine there, thank-you-very-much. Sure I thought about this particular circumstance, who could help but think about it?…it was big and important (to me anyway)…but, I reasoned, I was also faithfully taking it to the Lord in prayer and coming out of it with great (though somewhat momentary) peace. But, I was casting my cares on Him, going to Him for help, and crying out to Him in my moments of distress. Isn’t that what I was supposed to be doing? So what if in the moments of distress, I felt like I was going to die and sobbed uncontrollably…I was responding to the emotion appropriately…isn’t that all that mattered?
Well…no, was the answer both from my friend and from the Lord. Somehow, in trying to take care not to obsess and think too much and make this issue something it wasn’t…I did exactly that. I’m not sure how that happened…but that is where I found myself and what the Lord revealed. It wasn’t all for naught, though. The great surges of emotion are part of what the Lord is doing in me. I was to learn to take that emotion and go to Him with it and trust Him to protect my heart and lead me and keep me from falling. It doesn’t stop there, though, the next part of the lesson is learning that my “emotions are the servants of the will,” as Elisabeth Elliot says, and I can choose against my will. In fact, I must chose against my will when it crosses the will of Christ. I simply must. There is no other way to live a faithful and crucified life.
That night, I went home, and instead of opening the books I’ve been reading, I picked up my copy of Elisabeth Elliot’s “Keep a Quiet Heart.” I opened to where I had left off a few months ago and read: Let is suffice you…to know that God knows. If it’s time to work, get on with your job. If it is time to go to bed, go to sleep in peace. Let the Lord of the Universe do the worrying. To which I added…”and He is not worried.” Then I did “go to sleep in peace.”
I decided I needed to be really proactive about this whole thing and purpose to take thoughts captive, discern which emotion I needed to submit to the Lordship of Christ, and fill my mind with other things. To that end, I went on-line to see if I could find some good messages on dealing with emotions. What I found was a message on Endurance by Elisabeth Elliot, which was actually aired in 4 parts by Nancy Leigh DeMoss on her radio program called, Revive Our Hearts. I was thrilled. Elisabeth Elliot is someone I call my friend. I quote her almost as often as scripture in conversations, my journal and my blog. I am indebted to her not only for her life and testimony and the impact it has had on my life, but for introducing me to my dear Amma -Amy Carmichael of India. She may never know of the debt of gratitude I owe her on this side…but I look forward to rejoicing with her in glory.
Anyway, when I saw the message on Endurance, I knew this was the one I was sent to find. A day or two before, the Lord gave me this verse:
Enduring is your dwelling place and your nest is set in the rock (Numbers 24:21).
So I downloaded the messages, put them on my MP3 player and hung on. The sound of Elisabeth’s clear, resounding voice (which sounds a little bit like Sigourney Weaver’s) brought tears to my eyes. Many times through the message I was moved to tears hearing her actually speak familiar phrases or recount bits of her life that have so touched and changed mine.
She was addressing a group of college students and asked them 3 questions:
1. What do you live for?
2. How do you get it?
3. Is it worth it?
One cannot ask a believer, “What do you live for?” without sufficiently challenging them. The answer MUST be “For God and His glory.” But the challenge comes in reconciling that with how we live our lives every day. Did that choice I just made, that response, that word just say “I live for God and His glory”? Did the last 10?
That was the question I had to ask myself. One I pondered and put aside all day. That evening I went home and decided to spend some time reading “Through Gates of Splendor.” She had spoken so much about her first husband, martyred missionary Jim Elliot, and his life…I wanted to read a bit more about it. I’d purchased the book months ago and got caught up reading Passion & Purity and a few other things, so I just never got around to it. This night I would.
In the message she quoted Jim, who said: He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. This wasn’t just a nice turn of phrase written in the journal of a sentimental college kid. This was something he truly believed and lived. The example she gave was of their courtship. Each believed the Lord might be leading them to go into the mission field unmarried. They had to make a decision regarding what to do about the feelings they had for each other. The decision was made to obey God and subject their emotions, strong emotions, to Him. They knew this was right because on the morning of the day the decision was made, Jim read the story of Abraham and Isaac in His bible. He knew the Lord was asking him to put his precious one on the altar and trust the Lord with the rest.
She read the verse and the words just leapt out at me:
God said take your son…your only son…whom you love…
Your son…your only son…whom you love. God knew exactly what He was asking of Abraham. He was not ignorant of the treasure He was requiring of this man. And, He is not ignorant of just how precious the things He asks me to sacrifice are to me, either. He does it on purpose because it is only through this type of offering that we can see what is really in our hearts.
So…with “What do you live for?” ringing in my ears, I went home and read “Through Gates of Splendor.”
In the first chapter, I was zinged again. So much so, I had to put the book down and the wrestling match began. Elisabeth was quoting Jim again, who said I am as sure of His direction as I am of His salvation.
As sure of His direction…whew. That cut to my heart. Now a new question was ringing in my ears, “Do you trust Him equally to lead and save?”
I can't say yes to one without the other. I can't trust Him to save if I don't trust him with all the steps between now and eternity. So...I had to give an answer. I had to say Yes. I could do nothing else. And that Yes was followed by:
I choose you - though all quakes within me. I choose you - though hopes are dashed. I choose you - though all else fails me. I choose you - though I must watch those I love suffer and sin. I choose you - though it invites slings and arrows. I choose you - though I stumble and fall. I choose you - though I must remain single and childless. I choose you - no matter what. I am yours. Here I am. Have your way. Strengthen my heart that I may stand and not dishonor you. Thank you Lord! Keep me true! Thank you.
They say the Christian life is all about walking the narrow road. Jesus said it, it has to be true. But it is my belief that the way is narrow only because it is crowded by our hopes, dreams, wishes, preferences, likes, dislikes, opinions, rationalizations, justifications, philosophies, cravings…by our sin. Clear all of that away and I believe where there was just a thread of a road through the wilderness, you will see a highway…where there was a mountain, you will see a level road (Isaiah 49:11).
These are His promises: He has prepared the way. If we walk in it, he will make our steps sure. He will enlarge the ground beneath our feet. He will lead us to the pleasant places He has prepared for us. And though the road may be rough, we are not to falter. He will uphold us by His righteous right hand. But, if we never step out in faith, we will never know the truth of these promises. If uncertainty, fear, and/or stubborn clinging to our own hopes and plans stops us in our tracks, we will never see the true goodness and sovereignty of God.
The righteous shall live by faith.— Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.—Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.—For nothing will be impossible with God. . . . And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. (From Daily Light 3/24)
This is the only way to get where I am going…and where I am going…where I am determined to go is to the place the Lord has prepared for me. I can’t see it. I can’t even see a signpost at this point, but I know it is there and I know, so long as I follow, I will arrive in safety and with much gladness and be able to say:
Thursday, March 23, 2006
When one thinks of “ruins” and “devastated” places, often pictures of crumbled jumbles of stone and wood come to mind…destruction so profound there is nothing to do but sweep it away and begin again. All along the Gulf Coast one can see just that: houses reduced to splinters, row after row of empty slabs, mere skeletons of what was once a thriving area. Not so with New Orleans.
Ours is a different type of destruction, one which (I think) is very symbolic. In most areas of the city, homes stand just as they were before, perhaps a little dirtier, but otherwise standing - windows and doors and roofs in tact. The only things that hint at the reality are the waterlines and (in some cases) piles of trash at the curb. New Orleans is typically a dirty city, so dirt and debris are nothing new. Clear those away and a casual observer could drive the same route I take to work each morning and think things are pretty close to normal. But if that same casual observer were to stop a minute they would see a different picture.
Our wasteland is contained inside shell after shell of homes and schools and businesses. To pass down a street and see the dirt and the side-effects of cleaning isn’t really seeing the whole picture. The inside tells the real story. Open a door, peek in a window and you will see the truth…you will see how far from normal things really are…you will see ruins and devastation.
And isn’t that the way it is with us?
The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all his innermost parts. (Proverbs 20:27)
…the innermost parts. That is where the true story is told, both in New Orleans and in man. If we do not look past the veneer we will never see the true reality…never grasp the magnitude of what needs to be done. For this City, the reality is that it was a wasteland long before the flood waters came and unless God intervenes, we will simply create shiny new shells to hide the truth. This is our nature, to cover up, hide, make things look like something they’re not. Just ask Adam and Eve.
For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)
The Lord looks on the heart of man and the heart of the matter. He looks on this strange wasteland and sees that what this City needs (what any City needs) more than rows of prettied up homes, regular trash collection and a strong plan for economic development is for each man and woman to be reconciled to God. There are indeed many decisions to make and obstacles to overcome and plans to prepare. Homes do need to be repaired and restored and people and businesses do need to repopulate the area…they do. But, these are not of first importance. They are, in fact, almost a given. People will rebuild and put a plan together and go about their business…that also is our nature. What is not our nature is surrendering all of that and ourselves to God – our nature is actually opposed to this. Without the move of His hand, the guidance of His wisdom and submission to His will, all we do or plan to do will be about purposeful and meaningful as “chasing after wind”(Ecclesiastes 1:14). And like chasing after wind, it may be momentarily pleasing but will end in disappointment.
O Lord, let us not chase after wind. Draw our hearts to you. For those who know you, lead us into joyful submission no matter what the cost. For those who are counted among your enemies, subdue and win them. Begin your restoration of our lives and the life of our City with the innermost parts so that what is on the outside may be a reflection of the truth – your truth - not a covering for it.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
[Tina] has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.
Lord, you are my portion and my inheritance
What need to I have of another?
Who loves me as you do
Knows me as you do
Cares for me as you do
Who else plots for my joy
Prepares pleasant places
And walks with me along the way?
In the darkness…you are there
When all is quiet…it is your voice I hear
When waves crash around me…you say “Peace, be still.”
When my heart fails…you lift me up.
Oh Lord, you are my portion and my inheritance
May I never long for another...
Desire anything that is not from your hand...
Walk a road that you have not prepared...
Or hope in anyone or anything outside of you.
You are all-together lovely
And satisfy my soul with good things.
Be a shield about me and keep me true
Secure my heart and all my longings for you alone.
Cause my eyes to always look upward
For my help and all I ever need comes from you.
May my eyes grow weary from looking to you
But never fail.
O Lord you are my portion and my inheritance
Make me wholly Yours
Now and Forevermore.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
My history probably shows that this is true. More often than not, I think I know better…or at the very least my heart overwhelms my senses with it’s own brand of logic and I succumb. Like most people, I want what I want when I want it. I want to be married…I want to be done with the weight loss…I want babies…I want a bigger savings account…I want deeper relationships with my friends…and I want them all now. I want to make a decision, pray a prayer and “poof” find myself “there”. But there is a bigger picture than all the “good things” I want…there is that which God is primarily concerned with: my holiness and his glory. And so I must wait. And while I wait, my heart is exposed (flayed more like) and He meets me there…and if I obey, I am changed…sanctified.
This morning, I read the following:
Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts (Proverbs 20:30).
Waiting often means dashed hopes, unfulfilled expectations and disappointments…these often feel like blows…real, physical blows. But in God’s economy these are not meant to hurt but to heal…to cleanse. They hurt just the same, but the end is not a gaping wound or throbbing bruise, it is wholeness and hope. To the natural mind, this doesn’t seem possible, but with God all things are possible…even peace and joy after suffering blows.
These past few days have left me feeling somewhat punch drunk at times. Disappointment after disappointment has left me raw and I have shed many a tear and for days lived with a perpetual lump in my throat. I have been tempted to both “take matters in my own hands” and “throw in the towel” sometimes mere seconds apart. I have prayed and cried and tried not to cry and talked sense to myself and reminded myself of the truth and at times I felt like even giving up on that, because the lump persisted which caused my chest to tighten. It was as if my whole body was responding to something and I couldn’t for the life of me put my finger on exactly what it was responding to.
But God sustained me and I pressed on…trusting Him…and He gave me peace…rest in Him. Where else can I rest? Now I only see in part. I don’t have all of the information and can only see this little square where I am. All that I see is uncertain and tainted by my own bias and expectations. But I can see Him in the midst of it all and have His promise that though I don’t understand His ways, He will work all things together for the good…for my good. All I can do is wait and trust in what is certain…and that is that He is good and kind and is always “plotting for my joy” as John Piper says. Some day, it will all be made plain why I have to walk this road, this way…in the meantime, His promises enough (or at least I am endeavoring to make them enough). What He is sowing in my life is being watered by my tears and it WILL bud and bloom and bring a harvest…perhaps “just” a harvest of righteousness (i.e., and not a husband or family or size 8 jeans). And I know, when all is plain, I will have no complaints, no reason to say anything but “Amen.” In the meantime…I will continue to wait and trust and obey in hope…in faith…that His
… purposes will ripen fast
Unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste
But sweet will be the flower
Blind unbelief is sure to
And scan His work in Vain
God is His own Interpreter
And He will make it Plain
So God…we trust in You
Oh God…we trust in You
When tears are great and comforts few
We hope in mercies ever new
We trust in You.
(Sovereign Grace Music - Worship God Live)
Saturday, March 18, 2006
Nor flight from all distress, but this:
The grace that orders our trouble and pain,
And then, in the darkness, is there to sustain.
Not grace to bar what is not bliss...
We had an altar call at the end of service today. It was for those who were feeling disappointed by the current state of their lives...those who had some thought that they should have gotten to a particular place by this point and had not and were thus feeling disappointed with their portion. Over the past several weeks, the Lord has done much to remind me that He alone is my portion...all I need desire and delight in. It has been wonderful. But these weeks have also been peppered with moments of fear, anxiety, confusion, and a strong desire to get about the business of making things happen for myself. Each time, the Lord has been faithful to remind me of who He is...and that to take matters in my own hands is to say I don't trust Him.
This point was really driven home yesterday when I read the following:
Because you did not believe me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people (Num 20:12)
We make it our aim to be pleasing to Him (2 Cor 5:9)
The first verse was the Lord speaking to Moses after he had struck the rock at Meribah. Moses had been instructed to speak to the rock, but (no doubt) frustrated with the continually grumbling Israelites and thinking they needed a good scolding and lesson, he instead struck it in anger and said "Look, we will give you water from this rock!" The amazing thing to me was that, though Moses disobeyed and sinned, the Lord was still faithful and mercifully gave water to the people. His words to Moses afterwards reproved him for his actions not because he was angry and rash, but because they demonstrated to the people that he did not believe or uphold the Lord as holy.
And so do mine.
But we are to "make it our aim to be pleasing to God." Even at the cost of our own wants, perceived rights, hopes, dreams, rationale, perspective, plans, efforts, time invested...and at the cost of our own feelings.
Nor flight from all distress...
There have been several times in my walk, and many recently, when I just wanted to run...give up...throw up my hands and say "I can't do this! It's too hard!" No one likes struggle or difficulty or distress...not really. I can't even stand to watch difficult situations on TV and movies. Back when I did watch TV, I remember cringing when there was confrontation or conflict or really tense moments. If I had the chance to watch the episode or movie again, I would change the channel or fast-forward past the hard parts. Oh how I wish life had a fast-forward button sometimes! But it doesn't...and it doesn't for a reason.
but this: The grace that orders our trouble and pain...
Read that line again. Does that sound strange to you? Grace that orders our trouble and pain? How can trouble and pain be of grace? All sin and pain and disease is of the enemy right?
Well...to say that that is totally the enemy's domain is to say there are things that are outside of God's control. That He is not sovereign over all. Scripture clearly states otherwise. In Job, Satan has to get permission to test Job. In the New Testament Jesus tells Peter that Satan has desired to sift him. Jesus' response shows us that, though the Lord certainly can prevent pain and suffering, sometimes He chooses not to. Rather than telling Peter "Satan has asked to sift you and I have told him to back off", Jesus says "And, I have prayed for you."
Scripture also says that the Lord "works all things together for the good of them that Love Him and are called according to His purpose." All things include trouble and pain...it has to...not just logically, but because we need it. We need to struggle to learn...for our faith to be built...and, yes, for God's glory to be made manifest. Struggle reminds us of our need of Him, and is the substance of any good testimony. It also humbles us, and it is in this posture that we are the most prone to hear and respond to the Lord...and which prompts the Lord to give more grace.
And then, in the darkness, is there to sustain.
Even now, I look ahead and see nothing. I know something is going to be there unless the Lord takes me home soon, but I have no idea what it will be. I'd like to think that the future will find me at the end of my weight loss...married...with children...and maybe a dog. I'd like to think, also, that there would be peace in my family...that they would come to know the Lord. But I don't know. I can't know.
But I can hope.
I believe that is what sustains. The grace gift from God of faith...hope...in Him and His goodness. Through prior struggles He has proved Himself faithful and kind and able to do all that I thought impossible. He has been strength when I wanted only to escape. He has made a way when I saw none. And He has done this though I sin, though I doubt, though I fail to uphold Him as holy in front of the people. Why? Not because I am special, but because He is very good and "kind [even] to the ungrateful (Luke 6:35)."
He is kind to the ungrateful...even in pain and suffering and correction. I haven't liked seeing all that has been dredged up in my heart these past weeks, but it has been a kindness. Today was a kindness as well. Though I'd just had a conversation about how well things were going with me and those words of praise to the Lord were still ringing in my ears, He showed me that what lies behind or beneath moments of fear and anxiety and prompt my strong desire to go and do for myself is dissatisfation with His portion, His plan, His timetable. So I had to respond. I had to go forward and make it right. It was a painful kindness, but kindness just the same...and I can take comfort in knowing that He has been and will be "there to sustain" as I walk the rest of this out.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
God sifted men’s hearts in OT times.
“The time came when God put Abraham to the test…”
God was still sifting hearts in NT times:
“…A man came up and asked him, “Master, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”…
“No man is worthy of me who cares more for father or mother than me;…”
“I count everything sheer loss, because all is far outweighed by the gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…”
Great spiritual principles. Unarguable. To all of them, my intellect gave full consent. A giant of the faith like Abraham or Paul the apostle – of course THEY had to be tested with great tests. I was only a college girl, trying to do well in my studies, praying for direction for my life, attracted to a very appealing man whose primary interest was the Kingdom of God. Anything wrong with that?
“If you wish to go the whole way…” It was not to the intellect alone that the question came. My heart and my feelings were involved now, and I must give an answer. God was sifting ME this time. Did I want to go the “whole way”? Yes, Lord.
“Do you want to be worthy of Me?” Yes, Lord.
“Do you want to know Christ Jesus as Lord?” Certainly, Lord.
A friend of mine wrote me recently, responding to an e-mail I sent her about what has been my on-going battle for the past month or so. That battle is the submission of my hopes and thoughts regarding marriage. I believe the Lord had done a major work in destroying the idol I’d made of marriage a couple of years ago, but lately I feel I am being tested and tempted to begin rebuilding that altar…and so it has been a battle. Daily I am presented with the supplies, daily my hands reach out for them, sometimes I even hold them and begin to plan…and daily I am led to put them down and turn to the Lord…to His plan which I cannot see but I know is unfolding just the same.
“God will use your testimony for many in the future...and NOW!” She wrote. I couldn’t think of that as a possibility. Not then. Not for many hours after. “Every step has been significant and a very big deal to me, but it certainly isn’t to anyone else,” I thought. Then, the Lord (I believe) brought to mind the passage I quoted above from Passion & Purity.
I was only a college girl, trying to do well in my studies, praying for direction for my life, attracted to a very appealing man whose primary interest was the Kingdom of God.
I am certain that college girl could not…would not think for a second that the Lord could use her “silly” battle for purity in thought, deed and devotion to Him as it regarded her “love life” as a testimony to anyone else. I am sure she could see only one of two things happening…the Lord would either allow her and Jim to marry and live happily ever after in a jungle hut somewhere or He would not allow them to be together, and thought she would initially be crushed (and I am sure the very thought made the breath catch in her throat), He would then bring her into what was actually the best for her.
I am sure she could not see that they would marry and live in a jungle hut for less than 2 years. She could not see that he would be taken from her when their first child, a daughter, was less than a year old. She could not see long years of single-parenthood in that same jungle leading the man who killed her beloved to the Lord. She could also not see, I am sure, marrying and becoming a widow for the second time or then marrying for the third time to a man who was a boarder in her home…and younger than she. Finally, I know she could not see the Lord taking this life he carved out for her…a life that has known more than its share of sorrow and joy…and use it to speak to countless men and women and begin to turn a generation towards the long lost notions of honor and purity.
No doubt, she also could not see that her experience and her words could be used by the Lord to lead a single, 34 year old woman who has been kept pure despite a lifetime of pursuing every avenue to impurity, along the straight – though rough – way, leading up to the hilltops of her life.
I can’t see any of that coming from my “story” either…which isn’t much of a story at this point, truth be told. But God…BUT GOD ( I love saying that! ) “moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform. He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm. Deep in His dark and hidden mind, with never failing skill. He fashions all His bright designs and works His Sovereign will.”
I don’t yet know what that sovereign will is for me, but I do know that I can trust Him. I can trust no other…especially myself. That trust does not need to be proven, for His name is “faithful God” but He proves it just the same; not by giving me a peek at tomorrow or even the next hour, but by meeting me where I am and always satisfying me with good things.
Lord help me to rest in the knowledge that you are working your sovereign will and that you are good and kind and your ways are perfect!
Thou sweet beloved will of God,
My anchor ground, my fortress hill -
My spirit's silent, fair abode -
In thee I hide me, and am still.
O Will, that willest good alone
Lead Thou the way, thou guidest best
A little child I follow on
And trusting, lean upon Thy breast.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
My soul has been very hungry lately…hungry for things which I have been commanded to put aside, put away, limit, or wait on. Things which, to some degree or another, the Lord has said would be best for me to do without at this time. In the midst of this hunger, and through it, He has truly satisfied me with good things.
Hungry, I come to him…hungry for creature comforts, ease, fulfillment of cherished hopes and dreams, immediate answers…and He satisfies, not by answering or meeting my perceived needs, but with Himself.
Fearful I come to him…that I will never know another creature comfort, a bit of ease, have my dreams fulfilled or receive the answers I long for…and He satisfies with peace that baffles my feeble understanding.
Faithless I come to him…with my hunger and fear…despite His continued and abundant faithfulness to satisfy me and bring me peace. And for the 357th time that morning, He comes and again satisfies, brings peace and builds my faith.
And yet, still, I continue to find myself hungry…fearful…faithless.
And still…He comes and satisfies me with good things.
Good things from His word…by His Spirit…and even, amazingly, graciously, good things in the realm I live in too much – the natural.
His goodness causes my heart to sing…
Let my soul be satisfied
Let my soul be satisfied
Let my soul be satisfied
Let my soul be satisfied
He will provide for Himself, in every work that He has planned, all that is needed. All things, without a single exception, are in the hands of our Jehoval-Jireh. Nothing can hinder His purpose. Sooner or later we shall see what we now by fath believe. We shall see the end intended by the Lord, who is very pitiful and of tender mercy (James 5:11). We shall see and we shall sing. Let us sing now! (Amy Carmichael in Whispers of His Power)
… none who waits for you shall be put to shame; (Psalm 25:3)
In her book Passion & Purity, Elisabeth Elliot writes (quoting John Buchan) “You have chosen the roughest road, but it goes straight to the hilltops!”
The road of obedience to Christ I have chosen to walk does indeed seem very rough at a times. My death to self is not like those who slip away in their sleep…it is often a raging fight. There are times I don’t want to submit. I don’t want to yield. I don’t want to obey. I want what I want when I want it, and for a fraction of a second I think I might not even care that it might not be what the Lord wants for me.
But God…BUT GOD (thank you Lord that there is always a But God in my life!) comes in and softens my quickly hardening heart, then pricks it, then heals it…and there is always….ALWAYS joy. Without getting my way and without suddenly finding myself on the hilltop, looking down over the valley of my life with understanding of all that has gone before. There is joy in knowing that my God was a very present help and is faithful, even when I am unfaithful. There is also joy in the hope that He will continue to lead me in the way He has mapped out for me…and that one day I will stand on the hilltops and be able to say “Oooohhh! THAT’s why!” And I will praise Him…just as I praise Him now…and more so. Not because I got my way, but because His will was done and He made me glad…satisfied…in Him and Him alone!
Monday, March 13, 2006
But when in me myself would rise,
And long for something otherwise,
Then, Holy One, take sword and spear, And slay.
Lord, grant to me a quiet mind,
That trusting Thee--for Thou art kind--
I may go on without a fear,
For Thou, my Lord, art always near.
See in this which seems to stir up
all you most wish were not stirred up--
see in it a chance to die to self in every form.
Accept it as just that--a chance to die.
I’ve been hearing one line from this poem over and over in my head for the past few days: “I wish thy way…I wish thy way…I wish thy way.” I do. I truly do. Yet…I hate that I even have to put a “yet” or a “but” in there because that small word tends to mean that the thing you just said wasn’t entirely true. And that is entirely the case here. I wish His way, but I am often “clogged with wishes” of my own, as Elisabeth Elliot would say. That has been the fight for the past month…for my entire life, really…but most intensely, I think for the past month.
In her book, Passion & Purity, Mrs. Elliot quotes Thomas á Kempis: What hindereth thee more than thine affections not fully mortified to the will of God?
She goes on to say: There is no getting around the etymology of the word mortify. It comes from the Latin for death. The KJV of Romans 8:13 says we must mortify our members. A modern translation makes it even more direct. “But if by the Spirit you put to death all the base pursuits of the body, then you will live.” What are base pursuits? There is a list in Colossians 3:5: fornication, indecency, lust, foul cravings, and the ruthless greed which is nothing less than idolatry. These are the products of human desire, if human desire is given free rein. The Christian has handed the reins over to his Master. His human desires are brought into line. The desires still exist, are strong, natural, and human, but they are subjugated to the higher power of the Spirit. They are purified and corrected as we live day by day in faith and obedience.
“They are purified and corrected as we live day by day in faith and obedience.” In another section of that same book, she says that learning to subject these natural desires, submit to the purification and correction, and wait quietly on the Lord can be a “slow and painful process.” To that I can only respond with a hearty “AMEN!”
This purification process has not been fun. Not in the traditional sense, anyway. There have been moments of intense grief, fear, shame and, even, a desire to rebel. Moments when my wishes very much threatened to become willings and I was tempted to find fault with the providence of God…with His timing…with His denials. Those were the death pangs…I was dying to self and self didn’t like it one bit. Each time, I wished those things I was seeing “were not stirred up”, but then I came through and could see the good…the wonderful, even…of the stirring, the sifting, the purifying, the dying.
We are called to die daily and to look on each “chance to die” as a gift which will produce in us something that is far better, far lovelier than anything we could hope for in the natural…Christ-likeness. In a chapter called “Little Deaths”, also in Passion & Purity, Elisabeth encourages her readers in the throes of mortification with this thought…”We are not meant to die merely in order to be dead….We die in order to live.” I can’t read that without thinking of something the Lord dropped in my heart last week … “It’s not the end, this is the beginning.”
Sometimes the Lord ends things that need to be ended…but I truly believe that always…ALWAYS He intends that ending to usher us into something new, better, more wonderful than we imagined the other thing to be. I have many testimonies in my own life which can attest to this truth. So why do I struggle? Why do I still resist and try to hang on to even the idea of a something which may turn out to be a nothing? Why do I doubt, fear, worry…why do I automatically go to that mode rather than the “God is faithful and kind” mode?
Because God allows it.
He knows I…He knows each of us … NEED the struggle. We need the little deaths. We need the time to test our trust in God. We need delays to reveal what is truly in our hearts. We need to see our weakness and imperfections and unfaithful hearts to then see and appreciate and respond to His perfect strength and faithfulness.
We need to first be humbled to receive what He has for us with willing hearts.
Sad? Yes. But true.
He knows my frame and knows how I am made. He knows that I am but dust…that nothing good dwells in me (save Christ). Even my sighing is not hidden from Him. And He knows that it is only through struggle and those little deaths that I can be made pliant enough to submit to His will.
I wish Thy way,
But when in me myself would rise,
And long for something otherwise,
Then, Holy One, take sword and spear,And slay.
And teach me to wait only for Thy perfect, holy and sovereign will
Teach me to wait patiently, quietly, full of hope in your goodness alone
Not my way...Not in the fulfillment of my plan...Not in the deliverance of a cherished dream...but in You, my Maker, my Savior.
Dear Lord, Thy ways
Are past finding out,
Thy love too high.
O hold me still
Beneath Thy shadow.
It is enough that Thou
Lift up the light
Of Thy countenance.
I wait -
Because I am commanded
So to do. My mind
Is filled with wonderings.
My soul asks "Why?"
But then the quiet word,
"Wait thou only
And so, not even for the light
To show a step ahead,
But for Thee, dear Lord,
--Elisabeth Elliot (in Passion & Purity)
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Before the winds that blow do cease,
Teach me to dwell within Thy calm;
Before the pain has passed in peace,
Give me, my God, to sing a Psalm.
Let me not lose the chance to prove
The fullness of enabling love.
O Love of God, do this for me:
Maintain a constant victory.
Before I leave the desert land
For meadows of immortal flowers,
Lead me where streams at Thy command
Flow by the borders of the hours,
That when the thirsty come, I may
Show them the fountains in the way.
O Love of God, do this for me:
Maintain a constant victory.
--Amy Carmichael (in Edges of His Ways)
Tuesday, March 7, 2006
This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.—You shall no more be termed Forsaken . . . but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her . . . for the Lord delights in you . . . and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.—He has sent me . . . to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit. (from today's Daily Light)
I have been in great need of comfort and a garment of praise lately. The most recent area of intense testing/pruning (my hope for marriage) has been heart-wrenchingly difficult. Fraught with emotion and overwhelmed by thoughts, fears & hopes…finding myself as Elisabeth Elliot says in Passion & Purity, “clogged with wishes.” But the Lord has been faithful. I don’t mean he has granted my wishes, but He has been a comfort and fitted me with a garment of praise…and he has been as near and real and loving as any husband could hope to be.
I don’t know that my hope will come into being. I have no word or assurance that what I wish for is what the Lord wills for me. But I do know that my redeemer lives and has been a very present help in moments when I have felt troubled…when I have mourned what I felt I lacked…and who has proved again and again that in Him I lack nothing…that He is my portion…He is my all.
This same God also says:
And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.
From this love, I cannot ever be separated…not even in death. How great is our God! How pitiful I am for thinking for a moment that what I wish for is greater…could make me happier…could satisfy me more!
Monday, March 6, 2006
There should be neither undergrowth, nor overgrowth, but balanced growth.
Spiritual equilibrium alone will bring forth much fruit both in us and in others. We were created for more than our own spiritual development; reproduction, not mere development, is the goal to mature - reproduction in other lives.
There is a tendency in some characters, running parallel to the high cultivation that spends its whole energy on production of bloom at the expense of seed. The flowers that are bent on perfecting themselves, by becoming double, end in barrenness, and a like barrenness comes to the soul whose interests are all concentrated upon its own spiritual well-being, heedless of the needs around.
The true, ideal flower, is the one that uses its gifts as means to an end; the brightness and sweetness are not for its own glory; they are but to attract the bees and butterflies that will fertilize and make it fruitful.
And His "thou shalt know hereafter" carries us on till the day that is nearing, when His sequel shall be seen... so till then He shall have our trust, unquestioning, illimitable.
For He is worthy.
Text and art by I. Lilias Trotter
Thursday, March 2, 2006
From Today’s Daily Light…
“For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. Now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.—But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me. Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
As Christians, we are called, Daily, to one thing…surrender. It is, indeed, something we must purpose to and consciously do each day...and more and more I feel the need to do so each moment. I am called, as Paul says, to die to myself…my thoughts, ideas, motives, hopes, dreams, plans, ways, nature, agenda, traditions, routines, habits, understanding, abilities…my everything when it comes at cross-purposes with Christ’s. Of course, self doesn’t want to die…nothing does, really. But anything that is born or blooms or comes into being is the result of death. Our pastor used a wonderful analogy of a seed and a tree. The seed must die…must stop being a seed…must surrender all its seedness…in order for a tree to grow. If only I were more like the seed and didn’t insist on holding on to what I am, what I have, what I know (or think I know), and just “let go and let God” do His thing.
A few days ago, I was having one of those moments. Fear of the unknown gripped me. I was afraid of making a mistake…or that I had already…that I would make some inalterable misstep. As I expressed my concerns (in a very emotional state, of course) to my friend, she said “You know what I am hearing? I am hearing ‘I don’t trust God.'”
Those words pierced my heart. She went on to remind me of the trust He had built up in my life…the testimony of His personal faithfulness that I have and the fear was replaced by grief…and then peace. She did for me what I could not do in that moment. I couldn’t see the forest for the shell of my own seed.
A few mornings later, I read the following in “My Utmost for His Highest:”
Unless we are experiencing the hurt of facing every deception about ourselves, we have hindered the work of the Word of God in our lives. The Word of God inflicts hurt on us more than sin ever could, because sin dulls our senses.
Sin dulls our senses…how true it is. Of course, in the moment when sin is reigning, we feel we are at the height of our senses – but that is deception. Our senses are dulled to the true reality. We are so distracted by and focused on our feelings and thoughts – our flesh, the natural – that we can not see the reality – what is going on the spirit. In those moments, I believe our estimation of God and His ability is displaced by our estimation of our own worth and ability…in so doing, we limit God…and we sin.
Yet, in what is probably the single most unfathomable and confounding thing about the Lord to me, it is precisely at these times that we are primed to have deception about ourselves revealed…to die to self…and to see more of God…and our faith is strengthened. Only the Lord could work a good and perfect and loving purpose in my sinful, wayward, and rebellious ways. But, as I’ve said before…we don’t really give Him much choice, do we?