I’ve noticed a tendency in myself lately to try and light my own fires – to make my own way, to serve, lead, love in my own strength. Fires that burn out quickly like a match. I don’t think it’s a new thing for me, but I think the Lord is letting me become more aware of it, his kindness leading me to repentance. And yet, it’s really hard to see how I trust in my own flesh instead of trusting in the Lord and essentially put myself above God. Yikes. That’s hard to write, but maybe you can relate. My friends at Parakaleo have worked through this truth for years, but I think its finally smacking me in the face. Listen to this:
Psalm 18:28 says,
“For it is You who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.”
Oh, how this is my desire and longing and hope! However, I am convicted by the stark contrast, and often my reality, that looks like what the prophet Isaiah warns of:
“Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.” (Isaiah 50:11)
Ouch. I have to let that sink in….and when I let it sink down deep into the crevices of my heart and get the confidence and humility to ask God to reveal to me where I’m lighting my own fires, I stand convicted.
I’m convicted that I often try to change my day according to what I think is best, without prayer, without living like a daughter of God, and without trusting in His goodness and sovereignty over the day – filled to the brim with expectations unmet.
I’m convicted that I more often than not, listen to myself instead of preach to myself. As Martin Lloyd Jones poignantly reminds us – someone is always talking to us – are we listening to the play back tape of the fears, mistakes, sins, and worries or are we preaching to the truth of the Gospel to our hearts? I’m often found listening to the lies and trying to fix my “problems” by lighting my own fires.
I’m convicted that I let fear rule inwardly as I work outwardly, in my flesh, trying to “tame” the fear it but it nevertheless comes spewing out in a conversation with Ryan, leaving me and him wondering: am I lighting my own path of self reliance in complete gospel amnesia?
There I go again, lighting my own fires in my darkness: trying to fix what’s not up to me to fix, despairing over what seems impossible, or praying impishly as if it’s all up to me.
I, ironically, wail about my kids wailing, fear getting older, think too hard how I came across in the text I just sent, the conversation I just had, or what others’ thought of me and how I just parented, how good a friend I was, what kind of pastors wife/church planter/leader I am.
And yet, I know that the light I try to light myself will never be strong enough to keep me from lying down in torment; just how Jeremiah reminds me that “cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength” (17:5) and David declares, “the sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply” (psalm 16:4)
And, strangely, that’s a good thing. What a grace it is that He lets my sorrows multiply as I chase after false promises or don’t believe in the truths of scripture. My light is like a match that burns bright and quick, but for a moment, and then I’m burned if I don’t blow it out quickly enough. If I felt blessed doing life in my own strength, I would never depend on Him, or get the promises of Ephesians 3 which put God in His rightful place:
“Now to HIM who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to HIM be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, Amen.”
And I go back to praying and repenting and preaching over and over again …
it is God who lights my path, the LORD my God lightens my darkness.
*I’m going to follow up this post with a continuation in a few days about the treasures hidden in the darkness, so stay tuned and check back in!!
I have an MRI coming up this week. As I was talking with Ryan about the schedule of events for the day – the MRI, the Neurologist appointment, the kids and babysitter, Ryan remarked, “you mean you’re going to be laying inside the MRI tube for an entire hour!? What are you going to do!?” It was a little funny to me since I’ve had long MRI’s before and it just seems normal now, so my response was “the same thing I always do! Grab onto a piece of scripture I’ve memorized and let my wandering thoughts settle on a truth to replay again and again in my mind and heart.”
Not that I do this perfectly. I want to be better at scripture memory. I go in and out of working hard at it or forgetting about it completely. However, I can tell you that those verses I memorized in 5th grade for Bible Drill are still stuck in my brain. I can tell you that if I didn’t have scripture memorized, that first really scary MRI when the specialist said “tumors can cause this kind of blindness in your eye. You need an MRI immediately” I would have been a mess. So it’s become a habit. Preparing for an MRI for me (if I know about it and have time to prepare) means making sure I have an arsenal of truth ready.
I need a rich soil to sink my roots deeper into while I lay still and someone takes photos of my future as the lesions in my spine and brain want to predict it. Whatever story demyelination and active or old lesions want to say, I have a better story. A story that begins and ends with King Jesus who is the ultimate Author of every story and holds me and those lesions and rogue white blood cells in His very capable and tender hands. It’s a story that must be recited to my mind and heart as often as possible through the truth of Scripture.
All that being said, I want to share these words I wrote to a sweet friend, who truly has no choice but to cling to Jesus with everything within her, recently as I gave her a bible marked with all my truth claiming passages. But I needed the reminder of my words and maybe you do to, so her are some of my words to her (and me & you)…..
As I marked and placed tabs on these specific verses just for you, I couldn’t help but think about how sometimes, you aren’t going to feel the truths in these passages, but claiming them as truth and speaking them loudly and clearly to your heart will be necessary. The Word must be preached to our hearts because our hearts will falter. There will be moments when the Word has be to spoken out loud and claimed as true, by you, and also those around you claiming and clinging to the truth for you, even when you can’t.
I have marked verses that lament; verses that cry for help; verses that shout God’s goodness, provision, and praise; verses that allow you to sit in the darkness and trust even when you can’t see….physically or spiritually. My prayer is that the eyes of your heart will be enlightened — that you may know, to the very depths of your being, the hope He has called you to, the fullness of the life He has for you, and the immeasurable greatness of His power.
May you know these things to, friend, as you read this. May you be stirred to sink your roots deep into the depths of His beauty, praise, goodness, glory and promise. Not because it’s a checklist, but because it’s a lifeline.
It’s the greatest story ever told and you, like me, will need to be reminded of the truest and best story as the world tries to write another one for us.
I am tearful, joyful, and convicted as I write this. I need to go get my arsenal of truth and beauty ready, calling my mind to action so that I can behold my Savior, the Author of my story, more fully and clearly. I hope you can too.
**I’ll share with you some of my favorites and some I’m working on right now in case you need some fresh ideas or want to join me in this work of abiding:
Psalm 16, 18, 23, 34, 62, 145; Isaiah 26:1-2, 40, 55; Jeremiah 17:5-10; Ephesians 1, 2:1-10, 3:14-2; Romans 8; John 15.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve journeyed the path of burden-bearing, utter desperation for God, and worshiping Him alongside lament, frustration and even anger, if I’m being honest, at the suffering of my friends. I’ve been hesitant to polish up the thoughts of my journaling and journeying and place them here, like I typically do (even though I wouldn’t truly call this blog “polished”!), because I’m about to say that lament is a good thing, even a necessary thing. We rarely see lament as a good thing – as something to be talked about. We want to flee, or fix, or hide when the tears turn on and the questions start being asked that have no answer. But the truth is, we all, even this week, have experienced the sting of brokenness, life, death, limitations, or affliction in some capacity, and probably need to face it.
If you’re around our church at all, you’ve felt this sting communally over the last couple of weeks in gut-wrenching ways. What we do with this is the looming question, even if you don’t dare to ask it aloud. How do we walk out the tension of simply joys and laughter alongside heart breaking news and unanswered questions?
In my crying out to God, weeping, and burden bearing for my friends and congregation, I’ve come again to the purity that is in desperation, the worship that is in lament, and the sweetness of the Lord that is only tasted amidst affliction.
Here’s where the Psalms come in. They are full of honesty and reality; beauty and pain; worship and lament. They give words to our hearts, because I think, if we’re honest, we avoid grieving and loss at all costs. We avoid our limitations and fears. And yet, David teaches his people to lament, and even tells them to learn how to lament well in 2 Samuel 1. What is it in us that wants to hide from it? In regard to this, Eugene Peterson exhorts us:
“Pain isn’t the worst thing. Being hated is the worst thing. Being separated from the one you love isn’t the worst thing. Death isn’t the worst thing. The worst thing is failing to deal with reality and becoming disconnected from what is actual. The worst thing is trivializing the honorable, desecrating the sacred. What I do with my grief affects the way you handle your grief; together we form a community that deals with death and loss in the context of God’s sovereignty, which is expressed finally in the resurrection….We don’t become mature human beings by getting lucky or circumventing loss, and certainly not by avoidance and distraction. Learn to lament. We’re mortals after all…Take up your cross. It prepares us and those around us for resurrection.” (Leap Over a Wall, but I read it here: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Day by Day)
I long more for heaven for myself and those around me as I desperately cry for God to heal even here on earth. When I’m desperate, Jesus does this purifying work in me and those around me, when I persist in prayer…again and again…and with others! He purifies my desires and reminds me that this isn’t all there is, and yet, He cares immensely about the physical as well as the spiritual – He did weep for his friends and raise Lazarus, after all.
There is a work God can do only in the desperation and only in the loneliness it may bring. I long for my friends and pray for my friends, but I cannot do a work in them like the Holy Spirit can. I am burdened for the Lord to work, heal, and meet them right where they are. For His power and presence and goodness to be felt and tasted. I am burdened; and yet, I don’t shoulder it alone. And God works in me as I am burdened for others and myself. A deeper work. A work we didn’t ask for but we need. A work that is done as we see and say: God is good; no matter what. And as we say that, we let our lament become worship and we mysteriously taste and see that the Lord is good in new and deeper ways. He will do more than all we ask or imagine.
I pray you worship Him in your lament, and not apart from it; to feel the sting of pain, and yet feel a deeper comfort that the Lord promises to bring; to know that God is only ever good, and is ultimately The Victorious One.
This may sound silly, but I’m always hesitant to start writing in a new journal…. I start filling up the last page and back cover of the old journal even more with tiny, illegible words and thoughts, cramming letters into the crevices of the worn out book, even though a fresh empty book longing to be filled may very well sit beside me. This has been particularly true since my MS diagnosis. Each time I feel like there’s such a fullness contained in the journal that I’m leaving behind. As if I’m going on a new unknown adventure and am scared to leave the old, known, familiar, wrinkled pages of the old journal (aka, adventure) behind. At this point you either: 1 – think I’m crazy, 2 – completely agree, or 3 – feel opposite because you are a journal-er and get excited about the new journal and blank pages waiting to be filled….and maybe I’m still a little weird regardless…
All that to say…I feel like my old journal is known – I know what pages I wrote certain scriptures, quotes, and prayers. I can fall back into it knowing it will speak truth to me. The crisp fresh new pages of the next journal (or phase of life) are beautiful and daunting all at the same time.
I imagine we all find ourselves in this place at some time or another, when a new portion of the journey, adventure, or mountain to climb awaits. Uncertainty, excitement, fear, and hope, all mingled into one giant mountain of mystery. I’ll get to the point….
I decided to start off the first page of my newest journal with a reminder of a truth that never changes, regardless of the circumstance or emotion, from the beginning of the day until the end, the beginning of the journal until the end…. here’s it is:
In Christ and because of His justification:
I have nothing to prove. I am fully known and dearly loved. I am fully forgiven. I am fully clothed in Christ’s righteousness. I am cherished, accepted and delighted in. I am no longer in the courtroom of condemnation or comparison because the verdict is in. Because of Christ’s work on the cross, It. Is. Finished. I brought nothing to my righteousness except my sin. I did nothing on the cross except bring my sin. He choose me because He loves me – because of Him, not me. However royally I mess things up or however wonderfully people applaud my gifts or my good day of getting it done and doing it right – that truth never changes.
I’m tempted to put myself back on trial for the “good” I’ve done or the bad, but the courtroom with the devil is no place for a beloved daughter of the King to be. I’ve nothing to prove because it is finished.
You too friend. You too. Let’s get up and live in that. The freedom and joy it brings is indescribable. It changes everything. To very briefly summarize Watchman Nee’s excellent book based on Ephesians, let’s sit in Christ’s righteousness as our own, walk out of His love for us speaking and living love to others, and stand against the schemes of Satan (Sit, Stand, Walk).
Now, do I do this perfectly or daily even? Absolutely not. I’m the biggest sinner I know and hopefully I will continue to see and know myself that way so that I will cling to His grace even more and judge others even less.
May our roots go deeper into His limitless love friends. I’ll close with some stanzas from the hymn, Rock of Ages:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.
Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfill thy laws demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save and thou alone
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
(Scriputres that speak of what I said in this post today so you can build your arsenal of truth: Ephesians, Deuteronomy 7:6-8, Romans 5:1, 1 Peter 2:24, Romans 4:5, John 19:30 to name a few!)
A friend once told me, “Worry about tomorrow saps my strength for today”. That truth has hummed in my heart ever since. And, not only does worry steal my strength; worry over tomorrow causes me to miss the gifts He has for me today. The truth is that in the gospel, in Christ, there are thousands of gifts waiting to be seen – gifts always pointing to and drawing us to the ultimate gift – God Himself. He promises to be enough, completely sufficient. And because He is enough, He gives me grace for today, not tomorrow. If He gave me grace for tomorrow ahead of time, I wouldn’t need or depend on Him. Today, I have to trust He will provide it tomorrow. Today, I have to see what He has for me in this moment. This mundane moment. This overwhelming moment. The truth is, the grace He gives for today is enough. I have to trust the grace He will give for tomorrow and for 57 years from now will be enough as well.
The thought “manna” rings in my mind.
Manna for today. In the desert, when the Israelite’s tried to hold onto the manna that God had provided for that one particular day, it rotted. It caused unneeded problems. It was a gift needing to be received by hands that were open, not grasping and clenching the gift, asking it to provide life for tomorrows needs.
People always ask me “what was the hardest transition? 2 to 3 kids? 3 to 4 kids?” My answer is always the same. It is a resounding – ZERO to ONE! It was the first time I ever had to die to myself – like, really and truly. I think while it is a good question, behind the question the root is probably something along the lines of, “will I have enough grace or strength or time or love to give to the next kid?”
And the answer is No. You don’t. I don’t
But I have within me, literally INSIDE of me, the ONE who does! And He gives me grace for what He gives me – and not a moment before. Although, sometimes ,I will admit, it doesn’t feel like I have the grace needed for the hard conversation, the mourning over a loss, the embarrassing temper tantrum, the mystery of the unknown, or the feelings of inadequacy for what I’m called to do. That’s the moment when I have to speak loud and clear to myself instead of passively listening. Because contrary to the Disney princess mantra, the heart is actually deceitful above all things and it should not be followed, but led. (ok, heart rant over and back to HIM giving me grace for what He gives me!)
Richard Sibbes reminds me that, “God knows we have nothing of ourselves, therefore in the covenant of grace he requires no more than he gives, but gives what he requires, and accepts what he gives.” (The Bruised Reed)
Amen. And I’ll leave you with that beautiful truth friends.
If you know me, you know I am not a runner, by any stretch of the imagination. Hand me the weights instead, please. Don’t ask me to run. However, its funny how when you can actually no longer do something, there’s some sort of yearning for it. I guess I’ll be a little more blunt about how MS affects me physically today. I look completely healthy, I can do A LOT of things, and I feel pretty normal most of the time…..unless I attempt to walk consistently at a moderate pace for more than a couple minutes, much less run, do jumping jacks, or walk the neighborhood with the kids – my favorite. My doctor told me I could try a medicine that may potentially help with all that, making my central nervous system send the right signals – but it made me a lot worse, so we quit that. There was this little glimmer of hope for easily going hiking and rock climbing in Zion for our anniversary trip, but I know better to place hope in medicine by now. I hope you don’t hear me complaining, but longing – and seeing that sometimes my longing for physical healing is stronger than my longing for Jesus. Maybe you can relate?
But He’s too good for that.
I hope that Isaiah 40:31 will be physically true for me, “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.” And yet, as I read before that I see more context: “To whom will you compare me, that I should be like him? Says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host my number, calling them by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing…Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. HE does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” (Isaiah 40:25-28). There’s the power. There’s the Hope. HE doesn’t faint or grow weary. It’s okay for me to physically feel pins and needles in my feet that might go numb making me fall, or have legs that feel full of lead, because HE doesn’t. I hope your story picks up somewhere in my words here and that this isn’t just for me (thanks Sarah over at An Inner Disposition for the phrase!). Somewhere in this, you get it too. I get the joy – the joy – of longing for heaven more – and maybe truly for the first time ever – because my flesh is fading away.
Russ Ramsey says: “Unmet desires in this life are intended to arouse a hunger for the next. Physical limitations are felt as an ache for a perfected body. Coming face to face with my mortality has awakened my appetite for eternity.” (Struck)
Tim Keller talks about our joy being enhanced by our suffering – suffering being the servant of our joy and calls us to think about heaven until it pulverizes our discouragement (found in Be Still, My Soul).
I don’t claim to have the market on trials, by any stretch of the imagination. This is your story too. I have been overwhelmed with the seemingly inordinate amount of people for a small church plant that are walking through really hard things right now. Things, that because these are my friends, or I’m the pastor’s wife, I am privy to – I get the honor of the work of “burden bearing”. Mostly, this is praying. I’m coming to think of it like the paralytic’s friends who literally tear a hole in the top of the house and lower their friend to Jesus. Many (of you!) have done that for me, and I’ve learned that there is something sacred about that work. The sacred work of begging God to heal, to give peace, to provide, and yet knowing we don’t have to beg – He hears our cry and answers us because He delights in us (Psalm 18)! I have the sacred privilege of reminding my friends, and myself, that even lament is worship. I’d venture to say it is especially worship. Lamenting while trusting, imperfectly even, does a powerful work in us.
May He be sufficient for you today. Just as He is sufficient for me – even as I struggle to write that phrase, because if I’m being honest I need to tell you I daily wrestle to believe that He is sufficient.
Here’s a powerful thought from Elizabeth Elliot: “He is not all we would as for (if we were honest), but it is precisely when we do not have what we would ask for, and only then, that we can clearly perceive His all-sufficiency.” (Keep A Quiet Heart)
I’ll leave you, and me, with these questions: How is Jesus meeting you in your longing?
Where is He pursuing your heart in your longing for other things?
Where is He inviting you to trust Him more?