How might our lives change if we truly embraced the idea that we are not our own?! What would we do if we actually knew in our deepest soul that we are His masterpiece?! We were created by the God of the Universe for special and unique purposes that He knows only we can do while on this fallen earth! We must know and understand that "it is He who made us, and not we ourselves" (Psalm 100:3). We exist by and for Him and for His pleasure. He is the Great Artist, the masterful Creator by whom the entire world and the people in it are sustained. We may attempt to place ourselves on the throne and think that we are our own, but God still has the final say over our lives. We were made for Him. It would truly shake up our lives if we started living like that was true!
One of the things I made it my aim to do on this blog when I started it last year was to be honest. In a day and age when many people find countless ways to mask their true selves, to hide their struggles, to mask their pain, heart-to-heart vulnerability is hard to come by. I find that I long for it really. I yearn for those times when somebody is real and says, "I'm not perfect. I have my troubles too." Even more, I treasure those stories when the person then adds that this is proof of their need for Him. When I write, this is what I hope is conveyed: that I identify with my fellow human beings in their struggles and that I also point them to the One who is Himself the answer in the midst of such trials.
Today is an honesty moment: it's been a rough couple of weeks for me. I had a number of things on my to-do list that I had planned on taking care of - then the flu hit. And it hit with a vengeance. Through the sneezing, coughing, downright nasty moments, I have felt that list looming large. I must get well NOW! I have so much to do!! What will happen with all these responsibilities if I don't get healthy and do them soon?! Oh the pressing, the driving! Oh the need to be always in the fast lane! These days, we feel like even taking a little time to get well - in soul or body - is almost impossible! We think we can't give ourselves permission to stop and to do the one thing necessary: to heal. To come to the Great Physician and say, "Make this sick one well!"
As I've sat on the couch and had my miserable moments this last week or so, I've had to let go. To let the world spin without me. As I watch the days tick by, I realize that the gift of time is precious. That just maybe being forced to stop isn't such a bad thing. Stop all this wildness and racing pace. This need to be somewhere, do something all the time. In today's society, many are too afraid to stop. If they get away from the whirling and the pressing and the seemingly endless rhythm of motion, what might the silence and the quiet do to them? They don't want to slow down. They may say they do but even when they have the opportunity to do so, they turn it away. I know I do sometimes too.
The Savior said that one necessary thing was to sit and learn from Him. He didn't say, "Go spend all your waking hours in this fast-paced chaos and try to hear me if you can." He didn't say, "In rushing and stressing out your strength will be renewed." He said that in quiet, in sitting, in getting away from the pressing and the driving - that would be the secret to discovering Him and the daily grace He gives.
And so…a few days ago, I put the list aside and said that it would wait. If all of those items on there were really His work for me to do, then all would be dealt with in its own time. He would ensure it was completed. In the meantime, I would focus on getting well. And that's what I have done. The furious pace races on without me. I haven't left the house in over a week because I was too ill to do so. But that's okay. And I realize it now.
Let the world rush on and have no time for the important things. I will attend to the one thing necessary and be far more satisfied for doing so. Healing comes in the stopping. In the pausing. In the quiet returning to the rest that only He can give.
I sat at a memorial service for a friend, and I pondered the concept of death. For many years, death bothered me. The idea of someday passing from this earth kept gnawing at me…not in a "go spend your life well" sort of way but rather a "I'm afraid and I don't know what it will be like" sort of way. It troubled me incessantly. I couldn't escape this ever-present feeling of my life rapidly passing me by and my impending departure looming large. Morbid, I know. But it was a true reality that I never could make peace with. That is, until now. Right now. In a small church in Alaska as loved ones bid their goodbyes to a man well-liked and beloved.
As the stories about him were shared and the hymns rang loud in the church, I heard it spoken in my soul: you've been afraid of dying because you did not know how to live. No wonder you felt like life was passing you by! You did not understand how to redeem time, how to make the blessings count. How to love. How to breath and to thank Him for the daily miracles. If you knew how to live, you would know how to die. If you didn't love this fallen world and it's fleeting possessions so much - if you truly loved Him more - then would you welcome your entrance into the eternal glory He is preparing for you. But He will not take you until you have touched the very last soul you are meant to impact. He will not tell you that the race has ended for you until you have accomplished what He placed you on earth to do. You must fulfill your mission. You must live your one life well.
I fall into the Grace that has spoken such words of hope to me. The fear leaves, and I suddenly see it clearly: A life well lived has nothing to regret. One who has run the race faithfully sees only the beginning and the realization of a long-awaited reward. Perhaps my lack of understanding has not so much to do with the ending as the now…the right here. The today. If I lived as I am intended to live, time just might become more valuable. The lives around me might become more precious. I might notice God and the ways He loves - I might see more often.
Only recently, three friends of mine became part of God's family. Yes, I say. Yes there is time. There are still lives to influence and there are ways to be sanctified, and there is work to do for Him! As the service comes to a close and the timeless lyrics of "I'll Fly Away" fill the small church, I think of eternity. I think of the reality I shall one day experience forever. And I sense a peace that I still have time. I have time enough to live my one life well.
I love watching this guy's videos. They are so convicting and thought-provoking. This one is especially pertinent to this day and age where we are missing so much of life because we are checked out via our technological devices. We are afraid to be alone with our thoughts…to let God speak. Jeff asks a serious question - what if??!!
"Guilt and shame always say that there is no hope, but the sorrow that comes with repentance told me that hope is all I have…I confuse grief and sadness with shame and hopelessness, when it's necessary that I sit in grief. The sadness is hard but important along a journey of hope. When I bypass repentance's sorrow, the sadness turns to despair. Repentance is a sorrow toward one's own sin, a recognized need, and a change of heart. Repentance is the turning point, a place of very active transformation and also a place of release…
Repentance is not living in heaped-up shame…It isn't about how much I give away or how much I'm willing to suffer. Rather repentance is the grieving of something lost or something that feels wasted; it's the recognition that you chased other desires when you could've had God - your satisfaction - all along.
There is sorrow that comes in repentance, but it's a comforting kind of sorrow that brings rest and release."
"One of the devices of Satan is to persuade the soul that repentance is an easy work. 'Why! Suppose you do sin,' says Satan, 'it is no difficult thing to return, confess, beg pardon and cry, 'Lord, have mercy upon me.' God will pardon your sin and save your soul.' But repentance is a mighty work, a difficult work, a work beyond our power. You may as well seek to melt adamant stone as to melt your own heart. Repentance is a flower that does not grow in nature's garden. It is not in the power of man to repent at leisure. Repentance is a turning from darkness to light. It effects the sinner's whole heart and life. It changes the heart from the power of sin unto God. Every sin strikes at the honor of God, the being of God, the glory of God, the heart of Christ, the joy of the Spirit, and the peace of a man's conscience. A truly penitent soul strikes at all sin, hates all, and will labor to crucify all…Repentance is also a turning to all good…Repentance sees sin's sinfulness, and how contrary it is to the blessed God."
"…Jesus tells us to come to him, all we empty and weary ones. Those of us who can't bear up under the weight of the void any longer, he tell us to come. Come, and he will take our heavy and fill our empty, because he is meek and humble. He gets low down…If Jesus gets low, then maybe the low way, the broken way of humility, is the best way to be in the peace of his presence, where he whispers in us the direction to a promised land."
What do you choose when the days are long and the trials are many? What do you choose when loved ones' ill health keep sending them to the ER? How do you find peace when the nights are long? When sin seems to come creeping and preying on you while vulnerable?
I can feel the heart rate speeding up. The doubts, the what-ifs come flooding in with no end. I sense the dis-quiet in the soul. The joy is leaving. The worries are taking over. Stop! Stop this madness!!
But into this chaos of the mind I hear it loud: look for God! Perhaps He is up to something. No trial has befallen anyone without a redemptive plan in mind. Because that's how He works. Maybe some lost soul looking for hope needed to see Christ at this moment and that's why these things have happened. So that we could be His hope-bearers. So that He could shine. I breathe, and I slow. The heart-pounding eases, and I trust. I choose belief over fear. I choose to see through. I pray for Grace because, in this faithless moment, I need a large dose of it! I can fall into His peace because He is here. Right here. Full of all that I need to get me through.
Some days, life challenges you with everything it's got. It has done so to me lately. But I still praise. I still thank and bless. Because my God is good. Even when things seem to be going all wrong, I can rest in the truth that He rules the world - my world - with love and grace. And there is more than enough in Him to sustain me and carry me through. I can see light…even in the dark.
I walk along my neighborhood road and look at the fallen trees. An early snowstorm did its damage the other day, weighing down the still leave-laden branches. I stroll on and I think to myself: maybe this is an analogy for life. Perhaps there might be truth for the soul hidden in this scene I behold.
The thought occurs to me that so often, God uses snow as a picture of the purifying effect of Himself on the heart. There is the promise that the scarlet-red of my sins will be made white as snow in the redemptive work of Him who makes all things new (Isaiah 1:18). There is the hope-laden confirmation that His words of life will come to the receptive soul as sure as the snow falls from heaven and will offer water to the parched (Isaiah 55:10). I also see that I am often like the trees that now lie fallen and life-less on the ground. I have been, at times, inflexible and unwilling to bend under the weight of His purifying and sanctifying work. I have not accepted the pressing conviction of the Almighty and have fought to walk the paths of His mysterious ways. The trials which He intended for my benefit have, instead, become my enemies, and I have snapped in anger. In doing so, I have cut off myself from the Grace that makes me live and have meaning. I have died in the soul.
As my feet walk along the crispy leaves on the road and the crunchy sound of fresh snow meets my ears, I feel my heart open in repentance to God. I beg His forgiveness for the many times I have failed to receive His instruction, even when it came in the form of hardship and suffering. I failed to bend with the cold winters when they came. I thank Him for never failing to extend His grace to me. It is renewed for me every morning. Each day there is fresh supply. I thank Him that He remains faithful in spite of my faithlessness and that He will always find a way to reach my soul and bring me hope. But I must be open to Him. I must allow the snow to fall and to purify. The life-giving words of my Lord to lay hard if necessary. For, as it melts into the hardness of my heart, I will be restored and sanctified to a glory reserved for those who know Him as their Savior.
I found it as I was walking through a small booth at the state fair. A simple little purse with a profound message - one that I need daily. It hangs in my room now, a small reminder of why I live and in Whom I am fulfilled. One sentence can change everything, can right the soul in a world gone wrong with pride and selfishness. I look over to my bookshelf and I see it there, plain and clear: Gratitude turns what we have into enough.
I sit and ponder this thought. Could so much of our trouble stem from the sin-root that first took down "the mother of all living," Eve? That one idea that He isn't enough causes us to feel as though all that we have isn't enough…and it all keeps rolling toward discontentment and eventually nothing is enough, and the gratitude has left. All the possessions, even the God-given blessings in life, aren't enough if He isn't enough. They become replacements for the one thing that truly matters: Him. When my spirit is tuned toward Him in thankfulness, when my heart is open to ways in which He loves, then and only then can I be truly grateful. Only then can what I have be enough because this world will fade and everything with it. Stuff will decay, break, get old. But He remains. Always, He remains. If it all were to be taken today, I would have the only thing necessary to sustain my grace-famished heart: I would have my Savior. In that moment, I could look up and smile to the heavens while I breathe, "Take this world, but give me Jesus."
So much of what I think I need is only the upside-down illusion of my mind. I don't really need all that. I only need to cling to the one, sure hope I have - the surety of my faith in a risen Lord who saw fit to love a broken sinner like me. That is all the comfort I need. I can walk through anything, lose anything, give up anything as long as I have Him. Being thankful…thankful for Him…turns what I have into enough, and that is all I really need.
Once again, I hear of a broken life gone wrong - a shooter taking his pain out on a small Oregon community college filled with innocent students. Lives now tragically ended, grief-stricken friends and family members left to wonder what could've been. Oh what hurt we all inflict on each other in this fallen world! I ponder the simple yet hard truth that human nature unredeemed resists and fights all that is good. Fights all that speaks of God. It does not value what He has given…including the gift of life itself. It thinks only of itself!! When our first parents bought into the lie that He wasn't good, that He wasn't enough, they forever plunged humanity into a sorry and chaotic state of affairs. An on-going war of wills between the fallen and redeemed. Between the old self and what can be made new. Tragedies such as these remind us all of what we would be like in this world without the hope of Grace. Without God. Each would be out for their own interest. Each would govern their own life with no thought for others. We would live as sad and hopeless individuals who have no future. No chance at renewal.
But God…oh blessed words these are. But God has done what He had no obligation to do. He has offered a way of hope. He has been working out His plan to redeem ever since the first fall, and He even went so far as to send His Son to die for the unloveable. To save those who are unable to save themselves. God knows we need Him. He has no need of us but He chooses to use us in spite of our immense failures. No person is beyond His reach or ability to rescue. To redeem. To renew.
Without such love, without such grace, without such hope, there is no reason to live. To value. To be thankful. Life is expendable. Life has no worth or meaning. All is lost. Perhaps such is the case with people who go into buildings and kill the innocent. Perhaps such is the case with those who take their own lives too. They have never felt His love. Never known His peace. Never tasted the beautiful reality that, even in the midst of great pain and suffering, He is still good.
I bow my head, and I pray. I speak my compassion for those who walk this lonely and hard road. I ask that they begin to see God. I ask that they find themselves at the end of themselves so that they may discover the beginning of Him. I ask Him, Who is the only hope, to show forth His goodness and make something beautiful out of the brokenness. Because I know that He can. I know that He will…no matter what happens in this crazy world gone bad. Someday, when I see Him in Heaven, I will discover how many times He really has fulfilled His redemptive promise for humanity - how many people are with Him for eternity because He completed a saving work in them. Because He never gave up pursuing them. Because He loved them enough to offer Himself for them. Is this not a blessed truth to hold onto: that my God welcomes liars, cheats, thieves, murderers, outcasts, strangers, and all of the losers that the world has given up on?! One can even be behind bars and yet still be unchained. My Savior is forever good. He will continue to bring hardened hearts to Himself - even in the midst of the greatest wounds humanity inflicts on one another.