"I wonder if all the bad brokenness in the world begins with the act of forgetting - forgetting God is enough, forgetting what He gives is good enough, forgetting there's always more than enough and that we can live into an intimate communion. Forgetting is kin to fear. Whenever I forget, fear walks in. We're called to be a people known by our remembering - a remembering people. Forget to give thanks - and you forget who God is. Forget to break and give - and it's your soul that gets broken. Forget to live...into communion - and you end up living into a union of emptiness."
Okay...so my soul and yours need this reminder today. Whatever adversities and heartbreaks we may be facing, whatever fears may be pressing in hard, whatever struggles may be causing you to lose hope in the sovereign plan of God...remember this: those fully praise Him who do so when they have every reason not to. Choosing to thank when life indicates otherwise is what defines a surrendered heart. The author of this hymn had nearly everything taken from him...but he chose to bless God - even in the midst of his greatest sorrow. He knew that his tragedies weren't the end of the story and that God's love would ultimately triumph and His will would have the final word. Keep open hands. Stay open to Grace...because with God, it can always be well with your soul!
"...To renounce self, to live upon Jesus, to walk with God, to overcome the world, to live against hope, to trust the Lord when we cannot trace Him, and to know that our duty and privilege consist in these things, may be readily acknowledged or quickly learned; but, upon repeated trial, we find, that saying and doing are two things. We think at setting out that we sit down and count the cost; but, alas! our views are so superficial at first, that we have occasion to correct our estimate daily. For every day shows us some new thing in the heart, or some new turn in the management of the war against us which we were not aware of; and upon these accounts, discouragement may arise so high as to bring us (I speak for myself) to the very point of throwing down our arms, and making either a tame surrender or a shameful flight. Thus, it would be with us at last, if the Lord of Hosts were not on our side. But though our enemies thrust sore at us that we might fall, He has been our stay."
"Jesus is the only one who lays down his life for you first, before He asks for yours. He pursues, He dies, He gives up everything and then calls us to Himself...His love is so great that it compels us to lay down our lives in return."
"We are by nature at variance with Him. We are too proud to be indebted to His grace, too wise in our own conceits to desire His instruction, too obstinately attached to the love and practice of sin, to be capable of relishing the beauty and spirituality of His commandments. And our love of the world, and the things of it, is too strong and grasping to permit us to be satisfied with the lot and with the dispensations He appoints for us. We wish, if possible, and as far as possible we attempt, to be our own carvers. We are unthankful when He bestows, impatient if He withholds, and if He sees fit to resume the gifts of which we are unworthy, we repine and rebel against His will. This enmity must be subdued, before we can be pleased with His government; in other words, we must be made new creatures. To produce this change, this new creation, the gospel is the only expedient; and when revealed and applied to the heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, the miracle is wrought. The sinner who is first convinced of his guilt and misery, and then reconciled to God by faith in the great atonement, willingly yields to His administration. He owns and feels the propriety of his proceedings, is ready to acknowledge, in his sharpest afflictions, that the Lord is gracious, and has not dealt with him according to the desert of his iniquities. He considers himself no longer his own, but bought with a price, and brought under the strongest obligations, 'to live no longer to himself, but to him who loved him, and gave himself for him.' And what was before his dread and dislike, becomes now the joy of his heart, the thought that the Lord reigneth, and that all his concerns are in the hands of Him who doeth all things well."
"In our sufferings, we need to be more concerned about our duty than our deliverance. We should seriously consider what it is that God desires in our present dispensation. There is no condition or trial in the world but we have opportunity to exercise some special grace or duty. To desire deliverance alone is self-love and quite natural to man. In affliction man seeks to be delivered and released from his burden. Men make more haste to get their afflictions removed than to be sanctified in them. Men should sit down, consider their ways, and make new resolutions for better things...God intends good to the soul by the present chastisement, and He directs the soul to discern His aim."
"No opposition can prevail against us, if God be for us. It is impossible to deny, or even to doubt, this truth, upon the principles of reason; for who, or what, can injure those who are under the protection of Omnipotence? And yet it is not always easy to maintain the persuasion of it in the mind, and to abide in the exercise of faith, when, to the eye of all sense, all things seem against us. But, though we believe not, He continueth faithful, and will not forsake those whom He once enables to put their trust in Him."
"Dear friend, make much of your trials: they are treasures and blessings in disguise, and they quicken to prayer. Pray in the trial, pray over the trial, and pray after the trial, that you may not lose the good it is designed and calculated to import. It is through much tribulation that we are to enter the kingdom; and it is our wisdom and our blessing diligently to watch His providence in all that befalls us in the smaller events of life as in the greater, and when we are tried, to go and ask the Lord to reveal to us the why and the wherefore. If He does not answer us at once, He will in due time make it plain to us, and it shall bring forth good in us and glory to Him."
This week, I have been reminded of a simple, yet profound truth: that often my greatest disappointments are, in reality, my greatest soul-blessings that I could not otherwise live without.
Through my own struggles recently, and those of some closest to me, I've had to speak this over my heart and recall to memory that God is not after my comfort but rather, my growth. While I know this to be true, I so quickly forget it and am prone to question God when He changes directions on me unexpectedly. My human response is to say, "Hey God: didn't you get the memo?!" when what I should be saying is, "Forgive me, Lord, for ever thinking that I knew better."
And, when in the midst of great pressure and testing, I frequently ask God to remove the trial, forgetting that such a request is, most often, a lack of faith and desire for ease rather than sanctification. I pray for God to fix the situation when I should be asking Him to simply show me the blessing.
His goodness never fails. His love never runs out. I know this. But too often I neglect to preach this truth to myself in the midst of my challenges, and I choose the sinful response of ingratitude instead. Rather than choosing joy - rather than making the conscious choice to be thankful - I just turn right around and tell God to take away the pain. Take away the hurt. Take away the inconvenience of it all. I just want to be comfortable.
Thankfully, God doesn't answer these prayers that stem from my feelings. He patiently allows me to rant and puts up with my ungratefulness, but then gives me the truth I need desperately more: "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (James 4:3). Ah...yes...pleasure is, once again, what my foolish heart is after. And thus, I ask amiss.
Disappointment bound to happen to us all. Dreams die. Hopes are dashed. Plans change. It's the nature of life. But our response to all of those things is what determines our growth or lack thereof. God's primary goal is that we become more Christ-like in our attitude, and suffering is His primary means to achieving that purpose. He knows that, were He to leave us comfortable, we would never be forced to grow or change. It is in being made uncomfortable - in facing uncertainties - that we learn greater trust in Him and His marvelous plan.
Whatever it is that you may be going through right now...whatever may be tempting you to question God's goodness and His love toward you...whatever situation you may want out of...remember this: God placed you in it for a reason. Your place isn't to ask Him for removal of the difficulty but rather to obey and say "yes" to Him. Such surrender will often be on a moment-to-moment basis but, in the end, will result in great faith which could never have happened otherwise.
"...The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
"...God teaches the necessity of a life of faith through our disappointments. O the bitter disappointment without faith to provide support! He only lives an unchangeable life who by faith can trust in an unchangeable God. We have lived too long trusting in a life of feelings and reason. And to patch up a life between faith and feelings is not a life of faith at all. If we do not live all by faith, we do not live at all by faith."
"If the Lord of hosts, the Lord of lords, be for us, what weapon or counsel can prosper against us? However dark and threatening appearances may be, we need not tremble...when He will work, none can hinder. Nor need you fear for yourself, if you have committed yourself and your all to Him. 'The very hairs of your head are numbered.' There is a hedge of protection around you, which none can break through without His permission; nor will He permit you to be touched, except when He designs to make temporary and seeming evil conducive to your real and permanent advantage."
"It should affect us with an admiring and thankful sense of His condescension...His eye is always upon His people, His ear open to their prayers. Not a sigh or falling tear escapes His notice. He pities them, as a father pities his children; He proportions their trials to their strength, or their strength to their trials, and so adjusts His dispensations to their state, that they never suffer unnecessarily, nor in vain."
You are too weak for this life, but He makes you strong. You are too fearful to take on your greatest trials, but He gives you the faith you need. And nothing...NOTHING in this life can ever separate you from His love.
"...They who dwell under His shadow are safe; for all things are in His power, and He always careth for them, and keepeth them, as the pupil of His eye; and therefore, though they are exercised with trials, and suffer many things for their good, His eye being always upon them, and His ear open to their prayer, they are supported, supplied, relieved, delivered, and, at last, made more than conquerors."
"Our mercies do not flow from God all at once, but some today, and others tomorrow. All together they are too heavy for us to wield and manage. Our mercies come in great numbers, but God distributes them by parcels that we are able to acknowledge them and be thankful for them. he loads us daily that we may not forget Him but have new reasons for praise. Each day we are in need of new strength, new grace, and new supplies. Every day affords business, trouble, care, and burdens enough. We do not need to anticipate and occupy ourselves with the next day...God would not have us to be overly burdened with worry about tomorrow; He would have us look no further than today...Take one day at a time, and go to God that He will most plentifully provide for you."
Looking back on my own graduation and seeing all the times I tried to do life my own way, I realize now that the only way to live my one life well is to do it His way. Chasing my own dreams only left me empty and unfulfilled, and the only way I began to experience my true purpose was when I surrendered to Him and His will. Chasing the dreams God has for me (and you) is so much more worth it than trying to get what you want and failing at it desperately. Whatever His plans may be, I trust Him that He knows what is best.
Ten years ago on this day you walked across the stage to receive your high school diploma, knowing that you were stepping from one chapter of your life into a new one, yet having no idea how drastically your young life would be altered...or how radical Grace would surprise your soul.
As you sat there and listened to your class speaker, you wondered where the path would go from here. He spoke of being an investment in God's kingdom, of being His open letter to the world...but deep inside, you battled anger. You craved answers to what authentic belief looked like. You wondered what such a life of purpose actually looked like.
You desperately wanted to belong, to feel loved deeply beyond your wildest dreams, to be captivated by a grace that would not let you go. But yet, you felt alone. So many people sitting there behind you, so much happiness surrounding you. But at your deepest, your questions drove you to uncertainty and doubt. Your God, whom you said you believed, was a distant deity that had nothing to do with your personal, everyday living.
In your graduation speech, you spoke of the purpose of education being to enable one to know God. Oddly enough, you had yet to experience the school of adversity where God would prove your unfaithfulness and His boundless love in ways that would one day blow your mind.
You asked for Him to guide you...but little did you know that His direction would lead to the places that would bring you to the end of yourself and reveal your inability to do life on your own. Amidst all of the well-wishes of others for a bright future, you would be asked to endure the dashing of such dreams in order for you to gain a heart for what He wanted for you.
God would ask so many hard things in the years that would follow. He would ask you to give up things that you held dear, to let go of people who, at the time, you thought you'd never lose. Tight-clenched fists would often be your go-to reaction when what God was really after was an open heart and open hands. Slowly, He would prove to you that you had nothing of yourself to offer the world, except what only He could give and do through you. In His love, God would walk you through hospitals, doctors offices, death, sadness, grief, loss, and numerous dark nights of the soul in order to show you that He is good and you are always loved, even when you are tempted to least believe that. That He's still sovereign and merciful, even if the storms of life threaten to throw you right overboard.
Over time, you would come to see that His greatest demonstration of love to you isn't to give you what you want, but instead to cross your desires so that you'd come to want what He wants. That this life isn't about your comfort but rather your sanctification and continued holiness, and the person whose life makes a difference isn't the one whose been immune to suffering but actually the one whose walked through the greatest pain and still lives life big for the Savior.
In the years since you celebrated your academic accomplishments, you would glimpse the reality of the brevity of life...coupled with the simple fact that you knew little. That this life isn't guaranteed and that tomorrow isn't promised. That the only sure thing is to place faith in the hands of the Savior and trust Him for all the uncertainties. That being open to Grace is what opens one to life and therefore to God. And this truth produces hope in the worst of times.
You could've never foreseen that you would find yourself meeting people and experiencing things you would never have even dreamt of at the time. That God would bring other kindred souls into your life who would prove His unconditional love to you on a daily basis. That your soul which had such difficulty trusting would one day be able to embrace other's hearts and be known at deeper levels than you thought you could ever let yourself do.
You never would've seen that your story would be the key to openness and that God would use it to lead others to the Light you once ran from yourself.
I so much wish I could sit you down old self and tell you just how ridiculously good a life following God really is. I wish I could tell you that letting go, while painful and hard, is honestly the only way to truly find purpose in the twist and turns of life.
Ten years later...here you are: you're sharing your inner struggles with the world, you're living life big as you watch God use you to point others to the Savior. You've made some amazing friends who invest of their flawed but loving hearts to speak life to your soul every day. You're working in places with people that you would've never guessed but it feels oh, so right now that you're here...because He's led the way. And it's His story anyway.
A decade ago, you quoted John Newton's autobiography in your speech, meaning every word but not completely grasping just how true they would become to you in the years to come. But, as with any truth worth holding onto, those words are still just as pertinent to you today...and yes...they do mean so much more now than ever before!
Perhaps the best way to remember this incredible ten-year journey is to bring these words to mind again and remind yourself that God never left your side, even in the worst times, and that He continued to purpose your heart and to teach you. That He broke you in order to fix you because He loved you.
True now as ever...
"I...have found that there is no effectual teacher but God...I am still a learner, and the Lord still condescends to teach me. I have attained but very little, but I trust in Him to carry on His work in my soul, and by His grace and providence to increase my knowledge of Him, and of myself...My desire to serve the Lord is not weakened...it is sufficient that He knows how to dispose of me, and that He both can and will do what is best. To Him I command myself. I trust that His will and my true interest are inseparable. To His name be glory."
And so, dear You, be thankful for the journey. Because these ten years have been hard but still amazingly good. You've come so far, sweet girl. Keep going. Keep believing. Keep looking up. Because you're chosen and loved beyond anything you'll ever know. And that's enough.
"The two evils charged upon Israel of old, a proneness to forsake the fountain of living waters, and to trust [in broken] cisterns (Jer. 2:13)...run through the whole of my experience abroad and at home. A few drops of grace in my fellow worms endear them to me exceedingly. If I expect to see any Christian friends, I count the hours till we meet: I promise myself great benefit; but if the Lord withdraws His influence, the best of them prove to me but clouds without water...I suffer much in learning to depend upon the Lord alone; I have been at this lesson many a long year but am so poor and dull a scholar, that I have not made any tolerable progress in it."
"All the temporal blessings and accommodations He provides to sweeten life, and make our passage through this wilderness more agreeable, will fail and disappoint us, and produce us more thorns than roses, unless we can keep sight of His hand in bestowing them, and hold and use the gifts in some due subserviency to what we owe to the Giver. But, alas! we are poor creatures, prone to wander, prone to admire our gourds, cleave to our cisterns, and think of building tabernacles and taking our rest in this polluted world. Hence the Lord often sees it necessary, in mercy to His children, to embitter their sweets, to break their cisterns, send a worm to their gourds, and draw a dark cloud over their pleasing prospects...May He enable you to settle it in your hearts that creature-comforts are precarious, insufficient, and ensnaring; that all good comes from His hand, and that nothing can do us good, but so far as He is pleased to make it the instrument of communicating, as a stream, that goodness which is in Him as a fountain."
"It is a great support and solace to the saints in all their distresses, that there is a wise Spirit setting all the wheels of providence in motion. He governs the most irregular creatures and their most destructive designs to a blessed and happy outcome. It would not be worth living in a world devoid of God and providence. God will not expose any that take shelter under His wings and who fly to Him for sanctuary. All the issues of providence are beneficial to the saints. How cheerful, supporting, and encouraging is the consideration of these things! What life and hope it inspires in our hearts and prayers when great pressures lie upon us! In heaven, how delightful a sight will it be to behold the whole design of providence that we could not understand in this world! All the dark, intricate, and puzzling providences in which we sometimes stumbled, and which we could not reconcile with the promises, and which we so unjustly condemned and bitterly bewailed as if they have fallen out against our happiness; we shall then be able to understand them. Our present views of providence are imperfect in comparison to heaven. Yet our earthly view, under all its present disadvantages, has so much sweetness in it that I may call it a little heaven. It is certainly a highway of walking with God in this world. A soul may enjoy sweet communion with Him in His providences. How often have observers melted into tears of joy at seeing His wise and unexpected productions? How often, if the Lord had left them to their own counsels, they would have been their own tormenters? We can give our hearty thanks that providence considers our interest more than our importunity, protecting us from perishing by our own desires."
The more I walk with Jesus, the more I'm realizing just how difficult the life of faith really is. It seems easy to believe initially, but when that belief gets tested time after time, doubt can often appear to be a far more reasonable response. Fear can become a go-to reaction when things get hard. The trust you thought you'd forever have in the God of love leaves you, and you find yourself wondering how you got to this place of emptiness and confusion. The human heart is our worst betrayer. It leads us to places we think we want to go, only to discover that we've lost more than we gained in taking such a path.
Just last night, I learned that a good friend of mine who was drawn to Christ in the most profound way and spent several years of his life using his testimony to lead others to the Savior has recently chosen to listen to his sinful heart and is making some poor decisions at this moment. My soul is heavy. And yet, the longer I go on, I understand how quickly one can be mis-led when they choose to listen to themselves instead of preach truth to themselves. We're all capable of disowning our calling as followers of Jesus, and it is only His grace (and our cooperation with that grace) that keeps us from turning our backs on the God who saved us.
I don't know what your spiritual battles are today or what hardships you may be facing in your life right now, but I want to urge and encourage you to press into Him. Fight hard for faith. Stand strong in the grace given to you by God, and know that you're not alone in this struggle called life. His goodness is often best seen in the face of impossibilities, so don't despair and choose the easy way. The trying of your faith, the firing of your belief, will work character in your life and will be used for God's purposes in due time.
Today, make a simple yet crucial choice that, in all you do, you'll dare to believe.
"Q: What is your only comfort, in life and in death?
A: That I belong - body and soul, in life and in death, not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of His own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil, that He protects me so well that without the will of my Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit His purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him."