This week I have an audio for you (yay!). The was recorded at my church, New City during a congregational prayer time. But if you prefer to read, here’s a transcript, but I hope you’ll listen in here as well!
There’s this truth from Luke chapter 7 that’s been resounding in my heart and mind lately. It’s a time when a Pharisee, a teacher of the law, had Jesus over for dinner when a woman interrupts the dinner to anoint Jesus’ feet with her tears and perfume.
The people in the room knew who she was – she was a sinner of the more obvious kind. But the woman knows who she is too – and that’s why she came.
Jesus, knowing the Pharisee’s harsh thoughts about the woman, responds to the situation and his unspoken words by saying:
“He who is forgiven much loves much, but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
The truth is, we all need to be forgiven much, but it’s our awareness of this that makes our love for Jesus either grow or shrink.
This makes me wonder where I minimize the cross.
Where do I shrink the cross by not admitting that my sin is as evil, and big, harmful, and horrible, as it is?
How often do I think someone else’s sin just couldn’t be forgiven, but mine, well, mine’s not so bad so it can be forgiven?
When we shrink the magnitude of our sin, we internally minimize our need for the cross and the power of Jesus’ blood over us.
When we minimize our wonder and awe at His love, we shrink His holiness and perfection and justice and in doing so, we shrink His unrestrained mercy, love, and grace.
We shrink the cross.
Because of His cross, I can be the biggest sinner in the room and admit it because his mercy, his grace, His cross is bigger than my sin.
I can repent because I know I am hidden in Christ. I know His blood on the cross was enough to cover me. I know He delights in freeing me to walk in the light of forgiveness as His child.
I can say, I’m worse than I thought I was at first, but it’s okay because I’m far more loved than I ever thought imaginable because His grace is bigger and the cross looms larger in my life.
Will we let these truth lead us – lead us straight to the cross? Lead us to admitting our sin and need for Jesus more freely? Repenting more often – even when it hurts?
Do you know, in Christ, that:
You are fully known.
You are dearly loved.
You are fully forgiven.
May the cross loom large in our hearts and minds and life, because we know we are desperate sinners, and even in our admitting it and fighting for repentance, we are loved more deeply that we ever dared imagined.
*I’m deeply indebted to many for the illustration of “the cross chart“, but specifically, my grace-filled and adoring husband (!!), Sonship, Parakaleo, and my friend, Kristy, whose husband who posted it in the link above!
What if we saw our needs as opportunities to trust, grow, and learn. Have you ever tried to replace words like trial, frustration, difficulty, or fear with words like opportunity or invitation? I do this with my kids a lot now, for instance, “this is an opportunity to grow in character and persistence as you love your brother who just put peanut butter in your hair” or “what a great invitation to serve Jesus by cleaning up a mess you didn’t make!” Ok, they are starting to roll their eyes, but I trust it will sink in one day…but not just in them, mostly ME too, if I’m honest with you! For example, “what an opportunity to trust God through this seemingly impossible task (of raising kids! ha!)”, or even, “I have an opportunity to invite someone else into my sin and hold me accountable”. All those are still scary, BUT opportunity and invitation encourage wonder, change, growth, and maybe a little excitement. They draw me out of myself and into something grander.
Embracing a limitation, be it physical, emotional, time, or place, is an invitationto simply be where you are; a freedom to see more clearly what is in front of you – a time, space, and physical limitation that invitesme to abide more deeply. To be connected to a real place and time. To stay in my lane. To remain connected to the Vine right where I’m planted.
In a fantastic podcast I am listening to, Emily Freeman asks the question, “what if your limits aren’t holding you back, but pointing you forward?” If you’ve been around me awhile you might know that this resonates with me deeply – I may have been know to ask, what if your limits are actually gifts?
Do you know the story in John 6 – with the boy who had 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish that Jesus fed over 5,000 people with? The boy who offered his lunch to Jesus? He gives what he has, and gives generously. Maybe he knew what Jesus would do – but that’s unlikely considering God always does far more than we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3)!
He just came with what he had. He came with what looked like a limited supply of food.
Not knowing if he was giving up his food for the day and would walk away hungry, or if he would walk away full.
But here’s the thing: he was honest about what he had and at the same time he didn’t hold back. He didn’t shrink from the service because the need was so great. He took the need as an opportunity to trust, and trust isn’t a passive thing. Trust is incredibly active.
When we come with open hands, bringing what we have, even knowing it won’t be enough, something miraculous happens. We know it’s never been enough, nor could it ever be.
He invitesus to be a part of the miraculous. The mundane bread and fish. The ordinary PB&J. The constant questions. The fear of the future. The sin we can’t forget. The anxiety deep and hidden within. The gifts, talents, and abilities we’ve forgotten we have.
Why not ask? Why not admit the need, the want, the hope, the desire, the dream, or the anxiety?
Why not come to Him with an open hand, where you are, with what you have?
Even in our needs, in our limitations, we have something. What are your limits pointing you forward to? Or maybe the better question – are they pointing you to Jesus? Allowing you to point others to Jesus?
We have something to offer a watching world, our kids, our friends, our spouse, our church. If we belong to Jesus, we’ve been placed in a specific place, at a specific time, with specific gifts and yes,even specific limits – for the glory of God.
Let’s give it to God first and see what He does with it. How will He multiply it? If we’re bold enough to ask, honest about both our gifts, our weaknesses, and our needs, then we open up our awareness to the answer and the miracle He is doing right in our midst.
We are invited to walk into an opportunity to be where we are, offer what we have, and actively trust and wait to see what God will do.
Somehow, I imagine it will feed hungry people, it will break chains of sin, it will offer someone hope, it will meet a need, and it will transform us.
Somehow, I imagine these opportunities will be beyond our wildest dreams.
Can you really be satisfied in Christ?
A friend recently asked me this question. A friend who knows the Word, prays, memorizes scripture, is involved in discipleship groups, leads groups, and gives to others, without asking for anything in return. She wonders about satisfaction in Jesus putting into words what many of us feel or have felt, saying, “So that is real? More than just reading the verses and enjoying the nice idea of it? I don’t by any means expect to live in a constant state of contentment or “spiritual high”, but should I at least be acquainted with a sense of spiritual satisfaction at this point?”
What beautiful honesty for a question many of us are too scared to ask. I mean, I wasn’t going to ask it. But maybe asking it is part of the answer. Maybe its an awareness that there’s something more, a creation longing that can’t be satisfied on earth, an awareness that things aren’t quite as they should be in our own idol-factory hearts.
The basis for the question came from a recent sermon from my husband focused on our union with Christ – that the fullness of deity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, dwells within us. (Colossians 2) We often forget our union and let our reality frame our union with Him instead of letting our union frame and shapeour reality. This led her to a discussion of satisfaction in Christ alone with her husband. It’s a good conversation – a conversation, if we’re honest, we should all have aloud with someone we trust.
I think for people who are as introspective as me, it’s easy to let “the barbarians roaming the streets of your mind” ( I love this phrase from the book, Think Again) condemn and even may be more prone to let Satan, the ultimate accuser, tell us we aren’t satisfied enough in Christ so we must not really have pure or real union with him. This is a lie from the pit of hell used by our enemy to torment us. I can almost hear the enemy’s filthy whisper of “you’re not satisfied enough. It’s not good enough for this God who you claim to be your king and savior and friend. You. are. not. enough.” When Satan can’t get us to sin loudly, he makes us quietly question the truths that have been proclaimed in the Bible, too scared to those questions to others who will remind of the truth. He makes us question the perfect blood of Jesus that has covered us.
What happens when you’re not believing the truth?
The more inward focused I am, the more dissatisfied I am. The more I lean into morbid introspection, the more hopeless I feel. The lies from the enemy get watered and begin to grow. I forget that the Spirit of God is LIVING inside of me. He is POWERFUL inside of me. If I don’t fight for satisfaction in Christ, for knowing Him more, then I walk in weakness, from a place of my own supposed, yet empty, power – not from His.
And yet –
He who SPOKE the world into being. He brings dead wombs, and people, and desires to life. He finishes what He starts. I am HIS.
When He gives me this desire to be more satisfied in Him alone and not in myself, I begin to see where I look for self-gratification more, so it appears I’m getting worse…but the truth is, I’m just becoming more aware of what’s been there. And this awareness leads me to ask the question – is satisfaction in Christ real? If it is then why am I not? Is it more that a nice thought?
So, I lean in. I lean in to the questions without feeling condemned. The Spirit leads me to the truth; he convicts to bring healing. The enemy accuses to bring hopelessness and death. But I lean into the One who has the answers. The One who holds me.(Isaiah 42:6 ) I lean into His mighty arms and ask Him to give me what He alone can give. I lean into telling my heart the truth and not listening to the wavering emotions of my heart.(Jer.17:9)
For me, most often, a deep, inexplainable satisfaction in Jesus comes most when I see my overwhelming need for Him and am desperate. It’s either in a season of suffering when my senses are heightened to His presence, and I’m clinging to His promises and Word more dearly; or, when I’m looking at the vastness of my sin and feeling the heavy weight of it and know without question that I have no ability to rescue myself, change myself, and even forgive myself, and I begin to understand the truth of His unrestrained mercy, love, grace, and power more clearly. I know who He is most in those times because I am leaning into Him and His promises more. It may be that I’m so easily led astray to being satisfied on my own that I need these more desperate measures. Either way, I’ll choose to see it as a grace.
If you want to dive more into this, here’s some questions that you could ask yourself and see how the Spirit leads you:
1 – Are there any areas of unconfessed sin in my life I need to confess, repent of? (Psalm 139:23-24, James 5:16)
2 – Could this be a mountain prayer you could pray for 40 days? For example, “God, satisfy me in you alone”, or “Reframe my desires”, praying the same very simple prayer, without telling God how to answer it for 40-45 days (Matt. 17:20). (I’m going to write more extensively about this in a later post, but for now, know that praying for 40 straight days for a mountain in your life to be moved is transformative!)
3 – Am I looking for Him and aware of His presence around me in the ordinary?
Maybe these questions prick something in your spirit, but, also, maybe they are something you can be encouraged in. Maybe Satan is accusing you and leading you to find less joy in Christ and you need to take your thoughts captive and put the enemy in his place, and put your thoughts and emotions in their rightful place. Or maybe, the Spirit is convicting you and leading you into something deeper…maybe He’s leading you to ask the question to lead you to roots of unbelief or unconfessed sin so you can walk in more freedom.
The truth is: you can walk in freedom, you can lean into the questions without fear of the answer, you can be satisfied in Christ and fully live out your union in Him day by day as He continues the work He’s begun in you.
After all, the fullness of the deity dwells bodily IN you; you a son of the King, you, a daughter of the King. (Colossians 2)
“We must lay before God what is in us, not what ought to be in us.” (C.S. Lewis)
As we approach Christmas I’m reminded of a situation I was in a couple of months ago. Now, this situation as we will call it, is not for the faint of heart, it is going to make you squirm, so be forewarned and proceed with caution….
My daughter, Maggie, had lice crawling on her scalp several weeks ago. She woke up in the middle of the night crying and clawing at her scalp and a vague recollection of a student at preschool having lice the week before buzzed in my brain, so I courageously pulled out the flashlight and checked. Yep. There they were, as clear as could be.
I nearly dropped her.
Here’s the thing: Just a few hours before, I was blow drying her hair for the first time, and we were all “ohhh-ing and ahhhhh-ing” over her smooth, soft, golden, beautiful hair – truly, all 5 of us encouraging her in how pretty her hair looked since she let mommy fix it…and yet, crawling not so far below the surface of all that shine, were bugs. Bugs that were immune to normal shampoo because, I read, they hold their breath. If you’re not itching at your head by now, you’re stronger than I. The spiritual implications stung me immediately. I remember Jesus’ proclamation to the Pharisee’s:
“Woe to you! You clean the outside of the cup, but inside you are filthy – full of greed and self indulgence.” (Matt 23:25), or David crying out to God in Psalm 51:6, “you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”
How often do I ohhh and ahhh over my own outwardly apparent righteous works, or others outward works, or long for recognition and approval for my “righteous” acts? And yet, there are bugs crawling beneath the surface.
Daily, friends, yes daily.
And yet, as we celebrate Advent, this is exactly why Jesus came.
He came to cleanse us from the filth inside, from the “bugs” that are immune to all our forms of self-denial, discipline, and good works.
I’m reminded that God made a covenant with Abraham, swearing by Himself, that He would be His God. And God did this, while Abraham was asleep. Abraham was doing nothing to add to the promise of God.
No works on His own to add to the covenant.
And like that, Jesus comes – to a sin ridden, lice infested, broken world.
Emmanuel! God with us!
He comes to us, like He did all those He encountered in Israel who were broken over their sin, to clean us, to pick out the bugs. Here’s the thing – Maggie couldn’t get the lice out by herself. She was completely dependent on me. If she hadn’t sat still for 3 hours while I washed her hair with the special shampoo and divided her hair into way-too-many-to-count half inch sections using the tiny comb to scour through every millimeter of her hair, we couldn’t have gotten rid of the lice, and they could have infected the rest of us.
I’ll be honest, I squirmed and pushed her away at the first sight of the infestation. I was scared for myself. But Jesus! Jesus, who comes to us in our sin, our greed, our self-righteousness, our selfishness, never winces, doesn’t leave us, and constantly moves toward us. The gospels remind me that Jesus is constantly moving towards sinners, not away from them. Because He must get close – yes, that close – to destroy what seeks to kill us.
And often we try to hide behind our shinning beautiful hair of good works, self-discipline, and comparison to those who are “worse”, not acknowledging that like Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul must have known the secret in acknowledging his need and dependence on Jesus, which brings us back to our C.S. Lewis quote – “we must lay before God what is in us, not what ought be in us.”
Young kids are honest, painfully so at times. Maggie will still tell you she had bugs in her hair with no shame or thought that you would scurry away from her. She knows Mom will take care of it if it happens again. She knows she needed a source outside of herself, and has no shame admitting it.
What would it look like to confess our weakness and need that freely? And embrace those who do? Now, I know my analogy isn’t perfect and does break down, but I can’t help but see it spiritually. I’m reminded of what James, the brother of Jesus tells us: “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) And we can, we can because Jesus came to “forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9), and wash us whiter than snow even though are sins are like scarlet (Isaiah 1:18). And not just for me, but for my kids! But how often am I repelled by their sin? And others’ sin? Offended by their greed, selfishness, discontentment, and anger? ALL things that I’m actually the bigger sinner in and am on equal footing at the cross with. What if I walked towards them in love in their sin? What if I could give the grace to let others’ be where they are, knowing that it is GOD who completes EVERY work the HE begins.
Let’s take to Jesus what is actually in us, not hiding in our works because we are already hidden in Him.
Let’s walk our hearts and our kids to the edge of the manger and the foot of the cross to gaze in wonder and gratitude at the One who came, who comes, and who will come again.
Let’s run towards Him and towards the sinners He came to rescue – proclaiming His light in the darkness, His healing in the parts we didn’t know were infected, and His life abundant – all for sinners, even the chief.
After all, that’s why He came.
*photo credit: Jenna Simmons, Evan and Jenna Creative
I love Autumn. I love it for many reasons, but this year in particular, I’ve identified with the dying that autumn shows us in a way I hadn’t recognized in the past. The beauty of autumn is literally in it’s dying. A woman at the library today stopped her car in middle of the road to get out and take photos of the splendor of yellow, orange, and red the trees held in their dying. No one was mad at her for stopping in the middle of the road, we all smiled and stared in wonder as well.
I hope I can die like the trees in Autumn. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who would argue the beauty of the leaves as they “change color”. I delved a little deeper into what’s happening with the leaves in the Fall to make sure I wasn’t leading my kids astray with my simple knowledge, and learned that as chlorophyll stops being produced because of the lack of sunlight, the green color that usually COVERS UP the true color of the leaves lessens so that you eventually see what was underneath all along (gardeningknowhow.com). I was amazed at the simple and profound statement.
The color was technically there all along, just unseen until circumstance of growing darkness brought it out for us to witness.
And my heart cries out, “oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” (romans 11:33) as this perfectly parallels our human existence. How do we die? And not just physically. How do we die every day to ourselves? How do we die when circumstances are really hard and feel unbearable? How do we die to ourselves as we trust the Creator more than our wayward feelings about what’s happening in the moment? As Elizabeth Elliot always reminds me,
“The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”
Maybe this has been so poignant to me because I have felt the season of death the past few months. Nothing happened really; nothing changed in my diagnosis or physical or cognitive ability because of multiple sclerosis, but it’s felt more like dying to self than that diagnosis did. A friend asked several weeks ago about what fruitfulness I saw in my life or around me and I just had to answer with an honest, “I don’t know. It just feels like death right now. I see no fruit.” Now, it wasn’t totally true that I saw no fruit anywhere around me, but my over arching emotion and spiritual place at the time felt like death, or maybe I could call it pruning, or even Autumn. And instead of running away, like I’m hard-wired to do (ask my mom about all those times I attempted to run away as a kid), I’ve slowly, and painfully, made the shift to abide – to stay, to dig in .…
Dig in to the multitude of times I have had to repent and humbly acknowledge my haste in word or emotion; dig in and reconcile on many different occasions, be it for myself or my child with her friends; dig in and come to terms with my limitations in things I thought I had control over or was good at; dig in and admit that I do not have the right answer, or the words to pray, or even strength to lead where I think I’m called to lead; dig in and admit my weakness. It’s a slow dying to self.
But Autumn! The gift God gives of Autumn gives me hope!
Autumn is a paradox of death and planting. Of true colors being revealed as the cover up is no longer produced. Silently, seeds are being sown. Like Jesus tell us, “…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) And I declare with Pete Scazerro,
“Lord, forgive me for fighting the ‘deaths’ you send into my life in order to plant something new.”
You may or may not be spiritually, mentally, emotionally in the season of autumn. I agree with Scazerro who says that the seasons happen to us – we can’t control them. They have much to teach us. But regardless of where you are, may you, as well as I, abide in the Source, sending out our roots to steams of living water – Jesus; not the dry streams of our own making. May we die well, wait well, and grow well, knowing that there is beauty and purpose in each season.
No season is ever a waste for a child of the Most High King.
Something has rocked my world this summer, in God’s mercy, He’s led me from a state of apathy to an awe-inspired wonder at Jesus’ care for people. It may sound simple, but aren’t the simplest things the most profound? And the hardest to believe?
While there’s many examples in the gospels, I’ve been struck lately, at Jesus’ care for his mom. As I’ve been studying John’s gospel, it hit me that Mary is mentioned twice, and both times Jesus is honoring his earthly, fleshly, sinful momma. She’s at the wedding in Cana when He turns water into wine (John 2). The author of the study I’m doing asks the question “why does Jesus turn the water into wine?”, and as I read and re-read the text, I was astounded to see that He turns the water into wine because she asks Him to. She asks Him to. Now, I get there’s a lot of theological things happening in this text with purification rites and all that, but sometimes we MISS the simple, the obvious, the human trying to fill our heads with the theological.
Sometimes we miss that Jesus cared about the physical.
Jesus cared about the celebration.
And maybe, mostly? He cared about His mom. Oh moms, may our fragile, tired, beaten down hearts rejoice with that! And not only moms, but all of us – because –
Not only does the water become the best wine, but He begins to usher in the Kingdom of God with that request.
The next time, the only other time, we see Mary is at the foot of the cross, standing beside John when Jesus says to John, “behold your mother” and to Mary, “behold your son” (John 19). As Jesus draws His final breaths on the cross, in the moments of ultimate pain and humiliation, dying for our sin, for His mommas sin, he makes sure Mary is going to be cared for.
If Jesus can take care of Mary this way, in a place of total physical weakness, then how much more, beloved daughter or son, now that He is seated at the right hand of God full of glory, riches, and power will he care for YOU?
He is no longer contained by a limited, human body. He is uncontainable, immeasurable, always present and always knowing. Always carrying you, as His beloved child, close to His heart.
Many years before, in the same breath that Isaiah declares His unfathamable power, He announces His tender intimacy –
“Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for Him…He will tend His flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bossom, and gently lead those that are with young. Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighted the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?”
None is stronger than Jesus. None is more tender than Jesus.
Jesus sees. Jesus knows. Jesus cares.
May we rest in that, and fall more in love with Him each day.
“You are here.”
Because sometimes we need reminders. Sometimes, we truly have no clue where we’re at and search the park map frantically wondering just how far we are from our hopeful destination. And sigh with relief or with discouragement or with annoyance because we’re not where we thought we were, or not where we want to be. And yet, when we look at the guide posted for us on a trail, at a theme park, or on our phone’s GPS, it’s very clear where we are. Barring a prank or some technological disturbance, the carefully labeled map’s big star, or hovering blue dot, tell us exactly where we are. Black and white. No room for grey. The clearly labeled (maybe) map points out for us how much farther we have to go, what the path looks like the rest of the way, and maybe where the restroom is if you’re lucky.
But, life… Oh, life. There’s no denying we are where we are. Oh, wait, there is. There’s lots of denying, huh? Just me? No, you too? Thought so. Sometimes we don’t even know we do it. And yet there we are, a blue star on our theoretical map, pretending, hoping, desiring to be somewhere else. Further along somehow – many times in noble ways too. And yet, in God’s wise and loving care, it’s this journey to the destination that binds us to Him in a way that simply being there does not.
We had the opportunity to go to Tuscun, Arizona a few months ago. I love mountains that spring up mightily in the midst of the desert – bold, breath-taking, and unmoving. My heart is tenderly spoken to every time I go to those mountains and am reminded of the unshakable power of our God. So, while Ryan was teaching at a training, I took off up Mt. Lemmon, driving until I reached the top, but stopping multiple times along the way to photograph these rocks sitting precariously, yet firmly, on both sides of the winding road.
I was amazed at the difference in landscape and vegetation that quickly changed – from hiking in Sabino canyon and being surrounded by enormous cacti standing grand and king-like, to the lush greens of pine trees. I was struck that the cacti stand tall and gloriously where they have been planted. The living conditions for the cacti are different from the living conditions of the pine, and yet they almost live side by side. If they had eyes, they would be able to look upon each other and their differentness and uniqueness. I wonder if they would compare? If they would judge? If they would be jealous?
But no, they sink their roots deeply into where they have been planted by the Creator, growing sturdily and steadily there, knowing that that particular ground, the amount of sun, desert, and water is exactly what they need for where they have been planted. An oak or a pine couldn’t grow naturally in the desert and the towering cactus couldn’t grow further up the mountain where the temperature drops from 80 degrees to 30 degrees in an hour.
Comparison is futile for these plants. The surroundings and soil at first glance even appear to be the same, as the landscape quickly begins to change, but they are not. The cactus, the pine, the oak, are all beautifully reflecting the image of their Creator, right where they are planted. Not comparing, or wanting what the other has – The Sovereign Creator has made and given them specific gifts to display His glory in unique ways. And I doubt they balk or whine about it.
What a lesson for me. Can I look on where others are “planted” and see God’s glory and image being reflected? Can I trust the soil and conditions in which He has me? And them? Because the reality is: I am here.
I am, by the grace of God, not where I was; and by the promise of God, not yet where I will be.
But right now, I am here.
As I accept this option, this reality, of being here, it means I embrace my limitations. I embrace my strengths, weaknesses, and desires. I embrace what I can’t do and what I’m not called to. I embrace what I can do and am called to. It makes my yeses and no’s a lot easier as I lean into some options and not others. It is simultaneously humbling and freeing.
My husband said recently, “we try to cover up our aimlessness with a lot of activity”. Hmmm. As I sink into where I am, I have a goal in mind, an aim, a purpose. A place in mind. People in my heart. I don’t have to cover up my aimlessness with lots of activity because I can see the “you are here” star reminding me that there’s a purpose in where I am and how God has designed me, even the limitations He has, in His loving care, given me.
This is a continuation of a previous blog post, where I talk about my tendency to make my own way, and light my own fires. Maybe you, along with me, can acknowledge where we’ve tried to light our own fire and make our own way apart from the Lord. In His mercy, he reveals to us where we live in unbelief, act like our circumstances didn’t first pass through His hands, and we try to save ourselves. It is a deep, slow work, this adventure of Him putting out the fires we make, watching for His light, and letting it shine through our brokenness.
You know by now that we don’t always sit in the sunshine with the birds singing gracefully around us. There’s a purpose in this. There’s a purpose in the darkness – it’s never wasted. Sometimes we sit in the dark because God’s mercy has let the flames of our own self sufficiency burn out, but often times we may find ourselves sitting in the darkness and don’t know why.
D. Martin Lloyd Jones reminds me that often times a child of God is called to keep journeying forward although it is dark:
“the child of light is sometimes found walking in darkness but he goes on walking. He does not sit down and commiserate with himself – that is the thing – the child of light walking in darkness. He does not see the face of the Lord at this point, but He knows that He is there; so he goes on.” (Spiritual Depression)
Nevertheless, He calls us to treasures in the darkness – in not knowing the perfect answer, in not at all understanding why this is happening, in not being able to see or fix the future, or fix today for all our apparent hard work, planning, and control.
And yet, there’s a treasure here, as Isaiah says,
“I will give you treasures of darkness and the hoards in the secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.” (Is. 45:3)
Treasure. My heart thrills at that word. And I wonder, “what is the treasure?” And then I see Isaiah 42:16-18,
“And I will lead the blind in a way they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are things I do, and I do not forsake them.”
Maybe the treasure is the closeness of the Guide. Maybe it’s seeing Him more clearly working miracles in our own hearts and around us. Maybe it’s the unshakable knowledge that even in the darkness we’re not forsaken.
My friend told me once she took her kids into a dark closet and tried to cover up any places where light could come in. She told them although it seemed scary, they were going to sit in complete darkness to wait and watch…and then slowly it happened, the slightest glimmers of light peaking through the crevices of the door. Their eyes sought out the light, and as they watched and waited, slowly they began to see it.
There’s always a glimmer of light if you are really looking. Jesus is light and He never will leave us or forsake us. Listen to what the prophet Micah declares in foretelling the promise of Christ:
“Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light unto me.” (micah 7:8)
Because, the darkness isn’t dark to Him.
The darkness didn’t overcome Him.
The darkness will not overcome His light.
He came into the world and He extinguishes the flames of our own making and tells us that He is with us. (John 1)
The light of the world, who is all sufficient in love and strength and power is the One who enlightens the eyes of our hearts to the hope He has called us to. (Ephesians 1)
If you’re sitting in darkness, for whatever the reason, keep looking, watching, waiting, and walking. There is a treasure hidden there.
I’ll leave you with a favorite quote from Vaneetha Risner:
“I see that God has answered some prayers with a resounding yes in jaw dropping, inexplicable ways. I remember those answers with gratitude and awe. But the answers of ‘wait’ and ‘no’ have done a far deeper work in my soul. They have kept me connected to the Giver and not his gifts. They have forced me to seek Him. And in seeking Him, I have found a supernatural joy beyond all comparison. A joy not based on my circumstances. Not based on my deliverance. Simply based on His tender presence.”
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!!
When I was in Kindergarten, I came home with a tiny sapling, a tree, to be planted in our yard, because it was Arbor Day after all. I was thrilled about the little life I had been entrusted with – and then the teenage boy mowing the lawn ran over it and my 5 year old heart was run over too. Ah, but it was a good lesson:
We run over what we’re not looking for.
We run over what we don’t see as important.
I survived. The tree did not.
I tell you this because I’ve been convinced lately that our kids are like seeds, saplings, and eventually full grown oak trees. I’m amazed at how fragile these acorns are that eventually sprout into a tiny shoot of green that I would probably think was a weed, (or my husband would run over with the lawn mower,) because they become something incredibly strong, sturdy, life producing, and shade giving.
It’s amazing that any of these little seeds, acorns, shoots, and saplings survive. The soil conditions have to be just right. They have to survive long enough not to be eaten. And they can’t be run over by the lawn mower!
When you see a seed or sapling, it’s difficult to imagine the oak that it will become given the right conditions.
This changes the way I think about parenting. An oak tree takes a long time to mature and grow, but the payoff is enormous compared to the puny Bradford Pear tree that shoots up in significantly less time. It’s all about the work in soil conditions and the waiting I want to put in.
Do I want to do ground work – hidden work – in my kids? Do I long to cultivate their roots and provide soil for them to grow deep in? Do I want to do the shovel work – the hard, unnoticed, heart work – that may look to outsiders like I’m not doing anything because my work is not outward, quick fruit producing, or behavior modifying? It is deep, slow, root cultivating heart work. It is that work that says, I’m going to work on your heart today and help us get to the root of why you don’t want to accept instruction instead of finishing the math lesson that I could check off and say “done! We did it! We’re on track!” I don’t get to say that often – checking off the “done” box – not if I’m really following the Lord in the work He is doing in my children that’s slow and hidden and usually not the way I, in my feeble knowledge and wisdom, would do it.
Do I trust Him to complete the work He’s started in them by placing them in a covenant family of faith? Do I trust that He is working in me, and in them, as I parent, discipline, listen with humility, and repent? The math lesson is far less important that the heart that needs to be seen, and heard, and walked alongside in repentance and faith.
It makes me think about my story of the tiny sapling being run over by the mower pushed by the unsuspecting teenager. How often do I run over saplings because I’m only interested in the trees that produce fruit? Am I only interested in the trees that are sturdy and good for climbing, with strong roots, that we admire? You have to admit, we don’t admire much about a seed. Rarely does anyone say, “WOW, look at that!” when they see an acorn or seed. And yet, there’s NO oak tree without it.
These days are important. The soil our kids grow in is important. We want to grow trees, not shrubs.
Jeremiah 17:5-9 poignantly says this:
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. ‘Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
I want to show my children what it looks like not to make their flesh their strength but to send their roots out to the streams; so that when they do begin to bear fruit, their leaves will remain green, even in a season of drought. This doesn’t mean not to push your kids in sports or activities they are skilled at and love. It doesn’t mean you always have the answer for the “why” or their pain as they navigate life and friendships. It doesn’t even mean that you can’t mess up – because you will; every day. (And GOD will use that.) I think it DOES mean that we point them to the source of life, of good, and of refreshment over and over and over again. And not just when they ask or we think they are watching. It starts where no one sees it – in our own hearts; in our moments of choosing between trusting the Lord or making our flesh, capabilities, control, or recognition our strength.
There is a slow, long, good work taking place in YOUR heart AND your kids’ hearts. God is using you with your kids to cultivate that soil – not running them over because they are saplings and not yet fruit producing – but cherishing the moments of love, correction, discipline, repentance, and glimpses of God’s grace and work – in you and them!
Galatians 6:7-9, “for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
Do you feel desperate? That’s good. We need to be desperate for God to work in us and our kids because we would never lead them to Jesus in our own strength and ability. God consistently asks us to do things we truly CANNOT do – and one of those things – maybe the most important – is growing these oak trees we call children.
Here’s to committing to seeing our kids; to repenting alongside them; to committing to the long, slow, deeper work of Jesus in our hearts and our kids’ hearts.