When God Says “No” (Part One)

 

Photo Credit: https://redeeminggod.com/book-of-job-a-parody/

There are few things more difficult than God saying no to what we think is the best plan for our lives. We see many examples in Scripture of God doing miracles, saying yes, and giving abundantly but we sometimes don’t want to admit that God’s answer sometimes is simply “no” and we never understand the reason why. As the Lord impressed this topic on my heart I asked Him where I should begin studying this scripturally and He pointed me to Job. Not Job! I said. No one likes that story. It’s hard to fit it into our perception of God. We don’t want to admit that sometimes God does take things away. However, if we truly believe in the sovereignty of God then we have to also believe that He does allow pain and suffering. Job is a perfect example of that experience. Pain and suffering is a result of sin and sin a result of freewill, which was created so that we could have true intimacy with God. This is how we arrive at the conclusion that God operates from  a Spirit of reconciliation foundationally and yet, if God is sovereign then He does allow free will, sin, and suffering to continue. It is always for a greater purpose but it doesn’t make the loss any less tragic.

Sometimes I hear the story of Job and think. God? How could you allow that to happen to Him? I have to rest in the all-knowing merciful Savior whose intention is to restore intimacy with His bride. He first and foremost longs for our attention. It is not ever about purposefully bringing pain into our lives. Everything He does is to the end of restoration. When we operate from that understanding, we can rest even in the things we don’t understand. We don’t have to question the character of God even when we struggle to understand His methods. In studying Job, I discovered many interesting things about grief and loss. I encourage you to read Job front to back. Being a narrative, it offers a much different perspective to read it as a story.

Here are some things I discovered:

First, loss does not equal punishment. God does not give or take things away based on merit. Job 1:1 says that Job “was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” It is easy to blame ourselves when there is loss and sometimes loss is a consequence of choices we make but oftentimes, it is just the way things happen. It is not something we earned based on bad behavior or can fix with good behavior.

Second, there are much greater things at work in the entirety of God’s plan. Oftentimes, things we can’t see. Sometimes, things we will never see. As far as we know, Job was never privileged enough to hear the conversation in heaven between God and Satan (Job 1:8-12). What if all of Job’s experience had more to do with God’s relationship with the enemy than it did with Job? It’s a weird thought but for some very important reason, that conversation was included in Scripture. Could this be a picture of Lucifer, God’s beloved creation, who rebelled and left perfect union with God for power, being taught a lesson in loyalty and love? Could this be a foreshadowing of Christ’s death and His forgiveness of those who would betray Him? We don’t know for sure but these are interesting questions to ask. Why would God bother having a conversation with the enemy and bringing his blameless child suffering if it wasn’t for some shadow of love or reconciliation? Any other conclusion leads us to believe that He is just simply cruel. Was He trying to tell the enemy that He loved Him and that different choices could have been made, as per Job’s example? Was He grieving over the loss of fellowship with the Lucifer? Sometimes, our suffering is not about us. It is hard not to be completely self-absorbed in our pain but trusting that it is serving in places we can’t see helps us to realize God isn’t picking on us and intends to redeem every moment of suffering whether on this side of heaven or the other.

Third, we know from the narrative that God gave free reign to Satan to test Job but as we see in 1:16, the servant immediately blamed God for the fire that fell from heaven. Sometimes, I forget that there is an enemy of my soul. I would rather be more comfortable in the belief that for good or bad, only God exists. The trouble with this is that when things get taken away I immediately run to blaming Him instead of recognizing the order of events for what they truly are. Loving God – Free Will – Influence of the Enemy – Sin – and ultimately, Death. Sin, pain, and death only exist upon the intention of the enemy and although I don’t want to give him too much attention, recognizing his role in suffering allows me to re-frame God as a God of love and choice, not death and destruction.

Lastly, we see that Job begged and pleaded with God for most of his experience. We don’t know exactly how long this period lasted but it must have felt like an eternity for Job. The heavens were silent, seemingly not responsive to his plea for help. He prayed day after day, looking for answers and deliverance. Then, at the very end (Job 38-42), we finally get to hear from the Almighty Himself. I don’t know how many years are between the beginning and the end of this story but one thing I do know is that the waiting period can easily cause us to doubt whether God cares or is even listening. When we don’t hear from God or can’t hear from God we can easily fall into feelings of abandonment and resentment. The long response from God we receive in these five chapters however, proves our feelings unreliable. These chapters point to the detail in which He pays attention. He makes it clear that He is watching and participating in each moment of the Earth and skies; the comings, goings, and survival of every living creature, including us. He is intimately aware of each stirring among His creation. We can be sure that when it feels like He has forgotten us that it merely is not the right time for us to hear Him and that He will surely reveal Himself when He knows we are ready. We can lean into these chapters and into the truth when we become confused about the role of our Heavenly Father in our lives.

On a more personal note, I started this blog post 8 months ago, shortly after I received some of the most devastating news of my life. Then, before I could finish it, I hit a wall, a black hole I thought I would never climb out of. I thought I would never survive the pain and never again have a life worth living. Praise be to God alone! that was not to be the end of my story. I am here to say 8 months later that although my role in this world has changed dramatically for the moment, there is much gold to be found in the refining. I learned during this time that God never took offense to my grieving or ways of processing loss. He was never angry when I questioned Him and asked Him “why?” or the many times I told Him it was just plain “unfair.” Every time I walked away from a prayer time where I was too angry to hear anything and even the private moments where I wondered whether God was really a loving God, He continued to pursue me passionately. He led me to continue studying Job and asked me to allow myself all the room to process as Job did. He is the ultimate counselor and He knew what would not only help me to move forward more quickly but what would allow me to trust in the dark times that He had not forgotten me. I still have a long way to go in this journey but I am excited to dissect Job’s responses to grief with you and remind you that its okay to be right where you are, as long as you need to be. Stay tuned for “When God says ‘No’ (Part 2)”.

 

 

The Joy of Barrenness

Genesis 1:2-3

“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”

Have you ever been in a place of barrenness? Maybe not physical barrenness but emotional or spiritual barrenness? Have you ever felt like you were in a place of nothingness? This is a scary place to be. It’s a place that leads many to suicide and many more to depression and apathy. Sometimes all we can see is the darkness.

I stopped writing the last few weeks because I entered another phase of barrenness in my life, one that seemed empty and fruitless. Sometimes I feel that way in my job, like it isn’t really relevant. Sometimes I feel that way at home, like my effort goes unnoticed. And sometimes I feel that way because something I wanted gets ripped away from me, leaving me with only my raw broken desires and dreams. Whatever the reason, the feeling is the same; it’s one of being trapped and empty in a life I didn’t ask for.

In recent years, God has restored my ability to see the “bright side” of things, to focus on His goodness and continue to believe that He is sovereign and has good plans for me no matter what the current forecast from my perspective. With this particular loss, I was blessed to go to that place naturally initially, that place of resting in my Daddy’s arms, but then after some time had passed I allowed myself to feel forgotten, angry, entitled, and victimized. Not to be misunderstood, many of the emotions I experienced were “normal” considering the grieving I was doing but I desire for my normal to be the cross first, and my emotions second. I never want to forget the power of the work of the cross in my life and how undeserving I am of even the smallest gift here on Earth. I don’t want to live life as a victim but as a victor in the kingdom.

What I learned in my brokenness is that the cross is enough, enough for my every desire, enough for my sin, enough for every need, and enough to heal all of the grief I feel. We complicate Christianity to the point of making it a self-help phenomena. I can so easily move into the deception that somehow, someway, my wholeness is dependent on me. I sometimes look at the “good” Christians who always pay their tithe, go to church every Sunday, and never turn down an opportunity to serve and think that somehow I have missed the mark. Oh how the enemy loves to trap us through comparison and the false belief that we actually somehow control the sacrifice of Christ in our lives. Sometimes this feeling can be perpetuated by other Christians who don’t get that the cross is enough either. We can feel judgement for struggle, boundaries, and others’ expectations of what a “good” Christian looks like but in receiving, or giving, that judgment we have soiled the significance of the cross.

A friend told me recently that the answer to every question when you look at Jesus is always love. It’s simple, it’s love, it’s the cross and it has absolutely nothing to do with us. He is love (1 John 4:8) and His essence is still present whether we choose to live in it or not. Isaiah 64:6 says our works are like “filthy rags” and “our sin sweeps us away.” When I grabbed a hold of this truth once again and let it sink deep into my being, to a deeper level than I had ever experienced, I found peace and freedom. Even in the midst of an unchanging situation where I experience the unfairness of living on this earth I can trust that the cross is bigger and it truly is all I need. The “peace…that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) is the proof that life does not have the final say and I am not it’s victim. I believe our understanding of the concept of the cross is directly proportional to and measured by our level of peace.

I hope today that wherever you are you will absorb the truth that the cross is enough for you. The power of the cross is truly all we ever need in this life. There is nothing we did to deserve it and there is nothing we can do to earn it. Often times, our relationship with Christ leads us to other resources (counseling, community with others, service, etc.) but those things must be orchestrated by our heavenly Daddy or we will miss the point of them, making them the healing, and ourselves the healer. We will miss out on the peace God desires us to have in the process and on the relief of letting go and instead, try to control the journey. We might even miss the moment where God says “let there be light.” Emptiness and barrenness is the perfect canvas for God to create a masterpiece right in front of us and we can wait with expectation and anticipation to see His miraculous work of art. Whether this side of heaven or the other we can be sure that He will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6).

Photo Credit: http://wallpaper4god.com/en/background_bible-verse-genesis-12/

Security Under Fire

twin-towers-2_1817913c1

Psalm 139:13-16

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Deuteronomy 33:12

“Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.”

Job 11:13-15

“Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then, free of fault, you will lift up your face; you will stand firm and without fear.”

Romans 8:38-39

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Deuteronomy 31:8

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

“Security …. is a woman’s most basic need, …… A woman needs to know she is safe and well provided for in every aspect.” (http://marriagemissions.com/a-womans-four-basic-needs-and-the-ways-they-are-met/)

This post on security will obviously be written from a female point of view but I believe the need for security can certainly arise in both genders when we don’t know who we are and whose we are. When we aren’t immersed in the truth, we get caught up in the many lies our past, our culture, and the enemy feeds us.

Okay … truth time. I am an anxiously attached person. This is not evident to most people anymore but it definitely still exists in my relationship with my husband. Basically, an anxiously attached person is characterized by feeling a sense of insecurity about themselves and their relationship all the time. The need for connection and intimacy is constant as the slightest insensitivity creates fear that the relationship is deteriorating. This type of attachment generally comes from childhood and is the result of not being able to trust that another’s behavior will be consistent. There is a constant questioning of the relationship and your role in it. It leaves a need for constant reassurance. It leads this person to be the one to pursue relationships and to make provision to safeguard rejection. There is often a struggle with the inner voice constantly bombarding this person with their inadequacies and they tend to put others on a pedestal, seeing only others’ best qualities in comparison to their worst. Much of their self-worth comes from how they view their partners consistency and they often end up driving partners away because of their excessive dependency and possessiveness. They feel they have to be loud with their emotions in order to be heard and frankly, tend to be quite irrational. (http://www.psychalive.org/understanding-ambivalent-anxious-attachment/).

Wow, that was a lot of public vulnerability for me but thankfully, our faithful Father never leaves us there and that’s really what I’m here to talk about. I don’t struggle nearly as much today with this textbook definition as I used to and each day I find more and more freedom because I have the one that created attachment and ultimately longs for the deepest attachment to me.

People are sinful and hurtful. Often times, we have justification for our dysfunctional behaviors and those excuses keep us warm and safe in predictability. Our Maker, however, longs for so much more for us. He doesn’t want us to get lost in a whole bunch of excuses and justification. He wants us to be free, free from the consequences even of sin committed against us. He wants to remake us. The pain we experience now in this area was never His plan for us. His heart longs for us to be at peace, protected and warmed by the safety of His love and our security in Him.

My husband has a very different personality than I do and sometimes I can forget that my real attachment needs to be with the Father, blaming my husband for my lack of security because He views the world and relationships a little bit differently than I do.  I can easily take his well intentioned behavior and create disappointment and disrespect because instead of his intention to help in His own way, I assume he wants to hurt and reject me. I can easily hold an impossible standard to meet because my need for security was designed to be ultimately satisfied by my Maker and no human effort can even come close to comparing.

I need to be deeply rooted in the heart understanding that everything about me was intentional. My heavenly Daddy knew me and created me specifically in the womb. Nothing about who I am (my looks, my gifts, my personality, etc.) was an accident. I wasn’t shortchanged or left with less than someone else. My God wasn’t comparing me to someone else when He made me. He had a specific plan in mind for my life and I needed to be exactly who He created me to be to fulfill that purpose. I believe there is not only a general life purpose for me but there is also specific purpose in every day that only I can pursue because my design was intentioned for those specific moments, encounters, and visions. I believe security comes when I accept that I was intentional, not just my beginning but every day since then as well. There is no one else on this earth that can do what God has called me specifically to do because no one else was designed exactly like me. My God is deeply in love with me and when I begin to absorb that love, I begin to hold the world much more loosely and I am much less affected by the comparisons the enemy tries to distract me with.

I encourage you to memorize a couple of the Scriptures above. This is an area that can so easily take us out of God’s will for our life. Evaluate what you’re holding onto. Where your struggling with jealousy or dissatisfaction and be committed to speaking these Scriptures over that area. Do not let the enemy distract you from your security through comparison and be committed to believing what the Father says about His love for you. We have been created with the need for security. It is not wrong to want and need to feel secure but we must acknowledge our only true source, the only one that can truly heal that burden. The one who deeply longs above all else to connect to our innermost places and fill us with the unshakeable acceptance of our position as His children.

The song I’ve attached below says “I’m loved by you …. It’s who I am.” I encourage you to listen and absorb that truth, I’m loved and that’s who I am. There is no other measure of who we are except how earnestly our Father loves us and desires us. It is really all we are and we can rest in that.

As an aside, in honor of the victims of September 11, 2001, I chose a picture of the attacks to represent this post. I never want to forget the families who still feel this tragedy every September 11th. I never want to stop remembering their pain and praying for their wholeness in Christ. I hope you will join me in praying for them as well. I also chose this picture because when I think of worldly security, as an American, I think of the twin towers, or what they used to be. I think of the flag that stands for freedom and safety. I think of all the ways we try to build a seemingly stable life and I see it all come crashing down when I remember that horrific day. Nothing on this earth, no matter how much it promises, can shield us from vulnerability, weakness, and insecurity. Even the most powerful emblems of our security in this culture can be brought down in minutes. May we use this example to remember how frail we truly are without our Savior.

Photo Credit: http://themillenniumreport.com/2014/09/dimitri-khalezov-discusses-nuclear-911-twin-tower-controlled-demolition-explained/

The Spirit of Restlessness

 

             Jesus-sleeping-in-boat-at-peace-in-storm

Genesis 2:2-3

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

Exodus 20:8-11

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

Psalm 62:1-2

“My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”

Isaiah 40:28- 31

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? 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.”

Mark 6:31

“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Matthew 8:24

“And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he [Jesus] was asleep”

Have you ever felt tired? Physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually tired? To the point where you just weren’t sure you could function another day? I have experienced this type of exhaustion many times in my life. For me, it has primarily been the result of disobedience in following the command to rest. For many years, I didn’t realize rest was a need and a commandment. I foolishly thought it was a luxury for those fortunate enough to take vacations or days off from work. Working hard was a source of pride for me, a workaholism I had been raised to believe was the only way my life could matter. I looked down on people who rested, taking time for themselves, their family, and for healing. I thought they were weak. The truth was that I was weak. I was only functioning at half my capabilities most of the time and often spent my evenings and bedtimes in tears because I had pushed myself beyond maximum capacity.

This year, thanks to my amazing husband, I was pushed into the first two week vacation I have ever taken. It was like nothing I have ever experienced. It wasn’t fancy, just close to home, but it was heavenly. We spent time reading, talking, having coffee, swimming, hiking, and SLEEPING! lol. I had so much fear going into this vacation. Believe it or not, it was hard for me to even be excited to have time off. I didn’t feel worthy. I didn’t know what it would say about me. I didn’t know how it would feel. Could my husband and I even enjoy each other for two weeks straight? I had no reference point for what it would be like and I was terrified to rest. What I learned from this experience is that when God says He will meet all our needs, He was including the NEED to rest. My Papa God met me in a fresh way; recharging my spiritual life, my physical life, my creative life, and deepening my connection with my husband. It turns out we love spending that much time together after all, haha.

The other thing I realized is that God has always intended this rest for me and he intends it for me on a daily and weekly basis, not just once a year. We can’t all afford two week vacations every year (I certainly couldn’t for a long time) but He still wants us to make provisions to rest. I believe a true spirit of restlessness flows into our every day life, not just once in a while when we get burned out. I feel guilty sitting down when I get home from work. I feel wasteful watching a movie with my husband or sitting to read a fiction book. I obsess over things to the point of exhaustion rather than feeling like I can give them to God and rest my mind. It is a nasty spirit of control that I allow to take over. While working hard and obsessing, I convince myself I can do anything, fix anything, have anything, and protect myself in the meantime. This is a lie evidenced by the end product for me in that world: feeling alone, exhausted, and hurt. Only in rest, can I hear the plans and heart of the Father. He alone sets me up for success, not just practically and externally but wholly, fully, and completely, from the inside out. I believe that we cannot truly hear God if we don’t learn to rest in His presence. He is still always with us but we have to learn to be still before Him in order to truly hear the whisper of His heart. Even in correction, our heavenly Daddy is gentle and we must be still to experience the fullness of His presence in repentance.

Rest is still a fairly new venture for me and the practical aspects are still working themselves out. At different stages of life we are busier than others, having more time, resources, etc. but I believe that the command exists no matter what our current life situation. It can be as simple as five minutes at a time to breathe, pray, or memorize a Scripture or as complicated as a two week vacation but the point is to find a way to make rest a priority, not a luxury. How often do you sit down without feeling guilty or running through the list of things to do in your mind? This speaks to the understanding that rest is not just about physical rest but also about emotional and mental rest. I can be sleeping and still in turmoil if I have not chosen to allow my soul to rest in my Papa’s care. It  is about the giving up of control and asking Jesus to be the keeper of my to do list. If He’s not, I may miss out on a couple of the eternal projects He has in mind for me that day. I may actually hurt the testimony of my Savior by cutting someone off in traffic or yelling at my children. A spirit of rest allows me to slow down and experience every gift and mission that God places before me without fear or anxiety regarding the rest of life.

I think this mentality can be hard to maintain in our North American culture. We love productivity, at any cost. Workaholism is highly regarded and rewarded. It is easy to fall into the trap of the “benefits” offered by the world for extreme loyalty and to be afraid of the consequence of setting boundaries and priorities to make space to rest. What is most important, however, and contrary to worldly values is that our loyalty must lie with obedience to our Savior more than anything or anyone else. Our heavenly Father knows how we function best and how we will best fulfill His will for our lives. He even demonstrates rest for us as He created the world. He wanted to make sure we knew this was important. I love the example of Jesus falling asleep on the boat during a storm. Can you imagine being so at peace in your Fathers will that even a storm doesn’t wake you? That is my prayer and hope as I learn to rest, that I will learn to rest like Jesus. We see rest not only commanded in Scripture but exemplified by the Father and the Son.

My challenge would be to evaluate how rested you are, spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally. If you are convicted about having allowed yourself to be ruled by a spirit of restlesness, spend time in confession. Admit to your Father God that you haven’t trusted Him and you haven’t followed His plan for you to rest. Ask Him to reveal any sinful roots associated with this behavior (pride, control, insecurity, workaholism, etc.). Admit that you can’t manage your time, schedule, emotions, or thoughts on your own. Invite the Holy Spirit to give you wisdom and teach you how to rest. Ask Him to be the keeper of your to do list and to help you to see the things He thinks are important for you to do each day. Admit that you are incapable of doing this alone. Humility is where the power to learn balance comes from (James 4:10). Then take time to listen quietly; brainstorm with your helper. What can be done practically to make more time to rest? … cutting back on ministry? … cutting back on extra curricular activities?… asking your partner for more help? … lowering your expectations? … not making to do lists? … carving out more time for personal prayer and devotion? … creating an intentional holiday fund? … counseling/mentorship (for emotional and spiritual support)? The Holy Spirit knows what is specifically important for you. Trust Him to lead you there and learn to live in a spirit of rest.

Picture Source: http://www.soulshepherding.org/2012/03/peace-be-still/

When all that’s left is Jesus

 dark-tunnel

Philippians 3:7-15

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”

Has your life ever been stripped away to the point that heaven sounded better than here and uninhibited interaction with Jesus was your deepest longing? It sounds like the ideal Christian experience right? The epitome of connection with your Savior and what every true follower of Christ should prioritize? It’s a beautiful idea but have you ever really experienced it? If you have, you would know because it lends itself to being potentially the most painful process that one can endure here on Earth. In fact, it can be so painful at times that we tend to run for cover, often deciding to find comfort in the temporal rather than the eternal. Sometimes it’s just seems too painful to even survive, or that’s the lie the enemy would have us believe.

What about when you didn’t choose to have everything stripped away? What about when everything was taken from you and you never even felt you had the option to surrender? This part of the pruning is difficult to see as love. It’s difficult to see divine protection and assurance when life begins making choices for you and seems to leave you empty handed. Yet, when we read Paul’s word to the Philippians, he says that losing everything is worth it if it means we get to know Christ. So what are we missing? Why is the surrender so challenging? Why do we fear “only” having Jesus? I dare to suggest it’s because we have never truly known Jesus. We “know” Him in the sense that we believe in Him, we accept His sacrifice for us on the cross, we know OF His character and wonderful plans for our lives but we don’t really know Him like we know our best friend or spouse. We don’t know Him like we know our jobs, or our routines. We are not as comfortable with “just” Him as we are with the things of this world. I think sometimes this is why God allows everything to be stripped away. I believe His intention is to deeply manifest His love and faithfulness to us by putting us in a place where there isn’t anything else. He is a gracious God and longs to show us that we are not only secure in Him as the world around us shifts but that we can actually thrive and have all we need in Him.

I have had many levels of stripping in my life and all were excruciating. Giving up my false sense of control and choosing to trust my heavenly Daddy came at what I felt at the time was a great cost to me.  The truth, however, is that He knows these things will fail me. He is protecting me from holding on too tightly to an unpredictable, sinful world. He knows that peace will never come as long as I cling to this world instead of Him. His desire for me is completeness in Him, peace and joy that is not dependent on circumstances, and that can only happen as I release my grip. He allows the pain I experience to point me to true hope instead of letting my flesh be merry and my soul rot. He is concerned with my long term survival and satisfaction, not just a band-aid to stop the bleeding.

Have you ever tried to achieve change the easy way? Lose weight? Make money, etc.? Sometimes there is an immediate gratification but the results are almost never lasting. Lasting change comes from a life shift (mind, heart, behavior, and beliefs) and our Father knows that this can only happen through repetition. He designed us and knows we need to consistently practice our surrender and see His faithfulness in order to be healed. He often gives us the opportunity to keep trusting when things are dark until one day, we realize, the darkness isn’t so dark anymore. We have become accustomed to trusting in our heavenly Father and we are grounded in the truth. We believe Him, we know Him, and we know that to lose everything is worth it if we just get to be near the only stability that truly exists. His light penetrates our darkness and we are no longer searching for the way out. We found it (2 Corinthians 4:6-10)!

Our heavenly Papa is not unfamiliar with this pain we feel, this sense of loss. He paid the greatest price and endured deep anguish as He sent His son to be mistreated and die so that we would have this opportunity. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, in surrendering, we find opportunity, not a death sentence. Jesus felt this great loss as well as He marched the hill to the cross. He had to let go, experience the loss, and trust that God’s will was worth the sacrifice. This feeling of being stripped away is not unfamiliar to the one who created us but He could rest in the greater purpose and the knowing that it was worth it.

Do you know that your time of stripping will be worth it in the end? Can you sense a greater purpose and peace awaiting surrender? The real question is do you trust God? Not like Sunday School trust Him but trust Him like being willing to keep walking through the tunnel when you can’t see any light at the end, when every step terrifies you, and nothing around you makes sense? Are you willing to surrender it all no matter what the outcome and walk joyfully with your Savior through the dark times. I firmly believe that this is actually what the pain is all about, it’s an opportunity to overcome, not through will power but through learning to press in to the one who gives us strength (Phil. 4:13).  Paul found this rest and we can too as we pursue unwavering belief in the Word of God and in His promises. It takes getting to know His character and it takes shifting our perspective from our circumstances to His nearness and love. The joy is in the surrender, not in the circumstances.

At times, we all struggle with unbelief and this idea of being disconnected from our reality. There isn’t any shame in the struggle because the struggle is part of the process. Even Paul admitted that he was not there yet but that he continued to press on. Mark 9:23-25 recounts an interaction between a man pleading with Jesus to heal his son. Jesus states that with faith all things are possible to which the father responds with a cry of his belief and unbelief in the same breath. He is honest before the Savior and asks for help with His lack of faith resulting in Jesus healing the boy. This is a classic example of Jesus’ character. He honors our desire for truth and faith, not the perfect carrying out of it. He longs for our humility, our ability to let go and again, to trust Him. He will fill in and mature the places we surrender to Him. This pruning is painful but it is always for a greater purpose. If all you can say is “I’m here. I don’t trust you but I want to. Help me with my unbelief”… it is enough for our Papa to move miraculously. Don’t underestimate the power of humility and surrender or how it can change your life. Where is the Savior in your darkness today?

Picture Source: http://wordpress.tokyotimes.org/no-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel/

The Curse of Entitlement

lmecum2013eveandserpent

Genesis 3:1-6

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die. You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”

Philippians 4:10-14

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.

James 1:17

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

Isaiah 45:9-12

“Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands?’  Woe to the one who says to a father, ‘What have you begotten?’ or to a mother, ‘What have you brought to birth?’ This is what the Lord says— the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: ‘Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? It is I who made the earth and created mankind on it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts’.”

I was thinking about the concept of entitlement this morning. I was wondering if it is mostly a cultural thing here in North America because we have so much and so much opportunity. I began to seek God about this curse in my own life and I felt Him drawing me to the first record of sin. I came to the conclusion it’s not cultural, it’s human, and it sits in the core of our sinful nature.

Eve had everything and yet, she still felt entitled to the one thing God kept from her. Even without sin in the world she began to doubt the goodness of God and the reasons that He withheld things from her. She felt entitled to know more and be more than God had prepared for her. In doing so, she opened herself up to more pain than God had ever intended and she missed out on what God purposed in the garden for His creation: peace, contentment, safety, and perfect communion with Him. This first sin and the thought that we deserve more than He has given us speaks to the center of everything that we struggle with in our relationship with God and others.

It is hard to understand sometimes in a world now riddled with sin why so much of life can feel like we were dealt a bad hand but I think the key to changing this perspective is repenting of entitlement and seeking the attitude of Paul as written in Philippians (see above).

Paul was a man who struggled, deeply struggled. He was imprisoned for his faith and eventually martyred; going from a position of power in persecuting others to being persecuted himself.  Yet he was convinced that what he had in this life was enough and he didn’t even need constant affirmation that this was true. He says in regards to the concern of others “I am not saying this because I am in need ….. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.” He appreciated the support of others but his truth didn’t come from their involvement. It came from the steadfast belief that the life he was living was intentional and was worth it for the sake of the kingdom.

He most likely was not fully received on either side of Christianity but God used him to write a large portion of the New Testament and to spread the Gospel significantly in its birth. I doubt that he ever got to see the fruit of his labor while still on this earth. I doubt he had any idea what impact his decisions would make for the world and generations upon generations coming after him. I bet like most of us, he never anticipated his name being spoken for long after he was gone but he still obeyed and not only obeyed but found contentment in obedience.

I have not matured to this place yet but it is my deep desire to live life with this same knowing. How often are we unhappy because we feel we are owed more than we are given. I think in a materialistic, instant culture such as North America we fight this tendency very strongly but I think it is also part of the human condition no matter where we live. I always want more and what I have is never enough. If I have a difficult job, I want another one. If I have a great job, I want to work from home. If I am single, I want to be married. If I’m married, I want a husband who meets all of my needs exactly the way I need them to be met. If I have a great marriage, I want a baby. If I own a condo, I need a house. If I get to go camping, I have to have a trailer. If I make a good income and can pay my bills I want to make more. The list is endless and I never feel content no matter what goal I reach. The worst part is that I blame God and others for these things I feel entitled to when I don’t receive them or don’t receive them when I think I should.

According to James 1 and Isaiah 45 (see above) we are not entitled to anything. All good gifts comes from God and He has the right as the Creator and giver to decide when and how to give them. When we have bought a gift for someone we also reserve that right. The receiver doesn’t get to decide when and how we give it, or else it’s not really a gift, it’s an obligation. Jesus did not give His life for us out of obligation but as a gift. He redeemed us as a gift out of deep, deep love for us and He owns all good things (Romans 8:31-39).

It stirs my self righteousness to admit that things are not automatically mine but I have to remind myself in those moments that God isn’t punishing me or being controlling in the sinful way we think about control. When I compare my self-righteousness to the truth I realize that God’s character says He is my protector (2 Samuel 22:3-4), provider (Matthew 6:26-34), and is generous (Matthew 7:11).  He is not trying to keep things from me but He can see more clearly than I can. He knows the reason for the wait or not allowing something at all will be worth it for me in the end. My vision is too narrow to see what is good for me long term but His is not. I can rest in his goodness and trust in His timing because of who He is, not because I understand everything. The apostle Paul knew this and he endured life with contentment despite great loss and without any worldly “success.”

I believe the answer is to repent of the things we feel entitled to, the things we have coveted and blamed God for keeping from us. We may even need to tell God that we’re angry and that we blame Him, then repent for not trusting Him. We also may need to ask God where He is. Don’t be afraid to do so. Sometimes when I can’t feel Him I ask Him, or even yell at Him when I’m angry enough, and He always shows me. He is a gentle God even in our resentment. He doesn’t always give me what I want but He always shows me He is there. Then ask for a new heart, a heart that is focused on the plan that He has for your life. Ask Him for contentment in the now and for excitement for a future that is directly in the center of His will. Even if it looks different than we anticipated, we can be sure as apostle Paul was that we will find peace and joy there. Be vigilant about recognizing the enemy when he tempts you with “Did God really say…..?”. Keep your mind on all the things you are blessed with (Philippians 4:8) and refuse to engage mentally, visually, or conversationally with topics that bring discontentment. Refuse comparison and judgement of yourself or others.

All we need to do is scan a magazine rack at the grocery store to have proof that more only brings more baggage, unless it is given to us by God in His timing and we use it for His purposes. Central figures in our world who seem to have everything also seem to struggle the most with contentment. They are often left in broken marriages, with broken children, broken esteem, addictions, depression, and loneliness, among other things. This is of course not true of all but it is a truth that we need to absorb so that we can begin seeking healing for discontentment. I believe God wants to heal this in us so that He can open up the floodgates of favor and we won’t drown in it. What do you feel entitled to today and how is it impacting your level of peace or connection with God?

Picture Source: https://englishi2009-2010.wikispaces.com/Eve%27s+Labyrinth

“Like a Tree Planted by the Water”

palm

Jeremiah 17:5-9

“This is what the Lord says:

‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.’ The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

I have been both the “bush in the wastelands” and the “tree planted by the water” but if I’m honest, I mostly oscillate somewhere between the two. I believe and am learning that the root of this choice is in the last verse quoted here: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” I think grasping this truth is actually the key to understanding freedom.

So often in our culture we refer to the heart as the measuring stick for right decisions. “Follow your heart” or “What does your heart say?” are commonplace phrases that I have even heard Christians use, phrases I’m sure I have used myself. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our hearts and hence, emotions, that we make devastating choices. The spouse who leaves for the love of another because their heart says to? Giving up on the responsibilities God has given us to pursue a dream that we believe our heart is leading us to? Planning for a child because our heart longs for one, regardless of whether the environment is good for the child? Pushing others out of the way because we feel in our hearts that a position belongs to us (this even happens in churches)? The one thing all of these and other “heart choices” have in common is fantasy. The heart likes to indulge in fantasy and convince us that it’s reality. It is wicked and deceitful.

This was not God’s intent for the heart but since sin entered the world, we have had to contend with misguided emotions. They now have to be be purified and redeemed by our maker in order for them to be used effectively. In their original state sin and selfishness are their primary motivators. That being said, emotions are God given and they are oftentimes important warning signals. Learning to listen to your body and what your emotions are saying is very important but making decisions based on them is a road headed for disaster.

There are so many things that can impact emotions in this world; hormones, loss, chemical imbalance, misread behavior, physical handicap, insecurity, abuse, anxiety, depression, and on and on and on. Our emotional state is too fragile to rely on and it is notoriously fickle, in a moment it can change. I can think conflicting things about the same situation based on my emotions all in the same night because of a trigger or a misinterpretation of someone’s behavior. The answer? I MUST BE GROUNDED IN AND FIERCELY COMMITTED TO THE TRUTH!

The bush in the wasteland is exhausted, dry, worn out, and can’t bear any fruit. Have you ever felt like that? I still do sometimes. My heart can be hard and I “follow” it right into my own misery. Whatever decision I make based on it only gives me ten seconds of peace and then I have to go searching again for sustenance to feed my dry, broken branches, usually hurting people in the process. Ultimately, it never satisfies. I feel satiated for only a moment in my self-righteousness, unforgiveness, and selfish pursuits but as soon as the mask falls and the fantasy becomes disillusioned, I’m right back to where I started. It is a fraud offering lasting enjoyment that fades as soon as we indulge. One of our enemy’s favorite tactics since the beginning.

The good news though is that our Daddy never leaves us there. He gives us another option, to be like a tree and root down in Him. A great example comes from the Palm tree. They have a fibrous root system,  roots that grow interconnected, almost like weaving a mat, and they can spread out a great distance in search of water and security. They are planted, firmly “rooted,” and press in deeper and wider when things get dry. They can withstand tsunamis and hurricanes because their root system is woven so tightly and is so intentionally connected to the earth.

This rooting for us is in the truth. The truth of Christ and His word never changes. When our “confidence is in him,” we know that He will do what He says He will do, even if we can’t see it in the moment. When we trust Him and choose to walk in truth no matter what our heart condition, He promises that we will have “no worries in a year of drought and never fail to bear fruit.” It means we will be able to rise above the emotion instead of being drowned in it or run by it. It means we can learn to be a little less affected by the pain in this world, even while we are in the middle of it. That doesn’t mean we wont have pain. In fact we are promised to in John 16:33 but it means we will be able to overcome the world because Christ has overcome the world.

The practical application then, because I always need those, is to identify the emotion, feel it, and then compare it to what we know is real, the Word of God. If it doesn’t line up with the truth, we need to press in to the truth until our feelings change, as they inevitably will. If we can’t find a specific truth to match our situation, we need to ask if what we think lines up with God’s character and spend time seeking the Holy Spirit to illuminate His character for us. God’s will never conflicts with His Word or His character. This practice not only gives us a calm in the middle of the storm, it keeps us from making devastating choices that we may never be able to rectify. This seems like such a basic principle but speaking from experience, my heart often keeps me blind to the truth and if I’m not intentionally seeking it, I miss it.

Picture Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGGnBk7SyU8

Community in Crisis

Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

Hebrews 10:24-25

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Romans 12:4-5

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

Matthew 18:20

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

There is no doubt that we are created for community. We have been made in the very image of God (Genesis 1:27) who is Himself a relational being (1 John 5:7-8). We see from the very beginning that God created a need in humanity that He chose another human being to fill, that of community. When he made Adam he created him with what I believe to be a loneliness for human connection (Genesis 2:18). The God of the universe and the creator of Adam, with all perfection before sin entered the world, chose to put Adam in community rather than leave him alone on the Earth. Of course we know that God is enough and could have satisfied everything that Adam could ever need but He chose not to. Why?

Well I’m not God and can’t really answer the why but I know that He emphasized it early on in creation, making sure that we wouldn’t miss it’s importance.

The significant question is, how much community is in your life? Real community? Not Facebook friends or texting buddies but people who really see you, at your best and worst, and who choose to share life with you consistently no matter what the circumstances? People you can call when you have a flat tire or pour your heart out to when your worst nightmare comes true? Who are honest with you and love you despite all your flaws? Who help you to have fun when the rut of life begins to eat at you? And who, most importantly, encourage and challenge your faith?

These are all questions that I have to consistently ask myself and evaluate.

Below is an excerpt from an article I was reading recently about the loneliness in our North American culture:

“About 20 per cent of older people in this country report feeling lonely, according to a 2012 Statistics Canada report. But that’s not the whole picture, because a sense of isolation doesn’t arrive with grey hair: In a study of 34,000 Canadian university students, almost two-thirds reported feeling ‘very lonely’ in the past 12 months. More Canadians are living alone than at any other point in history ….” (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/life-of-solitude-a-loneliness-crisis-is-looming/article15573187/?page=all)

I tend to think that many statistics are often under reported due to the shame that most people carry around about sensitive topics and that even on an anonymous survey they often don’t disclose the whole truth; however, even what has been recorded is astonishing. We live in the technological age where people are always three seconds away but yet there is a “loneliness crisis” beginning to occur. Two-thirds of college students are “very lonely,” most surrounded by people all day long. You see, community isn’t just about having people around but it’s about evaluating all the time and energy we put into relationships and making changes where it is simply being wasted.

Although I think Facebook is a great tool of connection for some, last year God began convicting me about the waste of time it was in my life. It actually left me feeling lonely, looking at everyone else’s highlights and comparing them with my low lights. As well, I realized I could find out very personal information about people without ever actually speaking to them. People I hadn’t seen in years were giving me access to their private lives without so much as a phone call. I began to feel almost sick about it. I don’t have anything against Facebook nor do I mean to shame anyone who enjoys social media, this was simply the way that God convicted me about my community “investments.” For you, it may be something else. Maybe too much time spent with too many different people and not enough space for intimate relationships to grow. Maybe it’s isolation and not having any relationships. Maybe it’s addiction or maybe like me, it’s social media. My encouragement is to evaluate and strip away the wasted space as God directs you.

Being an extrovert, I used to think that I had to know everyone, help everyone, be everywhere, and do everything in order to be satisfied but God began to show me how unsatisfied and exhausted I truly was. He brought me an introverted husband who taught me the importance of leaving myself and others space to develop intimacy. It is a lesson that has been essential in my healing. Jesus modeled this as well. He had a close group of twelve disciples that he spent his days with but only three that he brought into the most private places (Peter, James, and John). There were three recorded instances where Jesus only allowed these men to accompany him: as He began to feel distressed in the garden of Gethsemane He pulled these three aside to pray and talk to (Mark 14:32-36), when he brought the dead girl back to life (Mark 5:37-42), and during the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9). Even Jesus, in all His perfection needed these close relationships to walk through pain and celebrate victory with.

My encouragement is to recognize this need to connect with others that God placed in us from the very beginning and to be aware of where the enemy may be trying to steal that connection. To the extrovert, I encourage you to evaluate who your inner circle is and how vulnerable you’re allowing yourself to be outside of what feels like a full social life. To the introvert, I encourage you to question motives around anti-social behaviors; is it necessary to recharge or is it withdrawal due to a fear of intimacy? If intimacy and community is something that feels very balanced in your life, my challenge is to reach out because chances are that’s not the case for the person sitting next to you. Seek God about whom He would have you befriend and bring in to your safe space.

We have much to learn from each other and from the example of our Savior! May we continue to draw closer to one another and end the “loneliness crisis.” God has made it clear that there is power in community, that He shows up in a different way when we connect with others in His name (Matthew 18:20). Let’s not allow one blessing that God has designated for our earthly life pass us by. Let’s embrace everything that He has prepared for us …. together!

Image Source: http://relevance.com/blog/5-steps-to-grow-your-online-community/

Happy Father’s Day?

299378

Romans 8:14-17

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, …”

Matthew 7:9-11

“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Psalm 68:5-6

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy …”

Matthew 18:5-6, 14

 “And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf  is welcoming me. But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. … in the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.

In a culture where fatherlessness is becoming an epidemic, I find myself saddened around this time of year. For many, father is a dreaded word and father’s day a holiday either forgotten or painful. How do you honor fathers who abused, neglected, walked away, or were never around in the first place? I couldn’t for a long time. I developed a hard shell around fatherlessness, convincing myself that fathers were unnecessary and that I could handle life without that protective covering. The truth was I was desperate to be covered. Children are born with the need to be protected and we crave that shelter from the deepest parts of us. When we don’t receive it as children, we tend to look for it in other places. even as adults, and if no safe place can be found, as it usually can’t, we begin to build a wall of self-sufficiency that makes us feel protected. This works for a while but eventually, it shuts everyone else out and robs us of a full, intimate life. The few we allow into our walls, we expect to fill an insatiable void. The saddest part of this experience is that it has marred the image of Father God in our lives. The word father, alone, brings memories of our earthly experience and we decide that this part of God is also unnecessary. We either choose to project our earthly hatred onto our heavenly Father or we choose to just ignore that part of his character altogether. Either way, we miss out on completeness in Him. This is the harsh reality of fatherlessness without adoption. It leaves a huge hole for both male and female.

So what do we do? How can we heal from something so fundamental and deeply ingrained? Here is my experience with the Father who doesn’t leave us in this state.

Firstly, I had to acknowledge that the role of father was not dispensable. I needed to be somebody’s little girl. I was tired of the self-protective mask that kept me from feeling safe in my own skin. I was tired of being lonely and I just wanted to be free to “play” in this world, not merely survive.

Second, I had to begin to absorb the truth about my heavenly Father. I had to stop comparing Him and give Him an opportunity to show me that He is kind, perfect, and giving. Our Papa God never leaves us fatherless. He knew that we could not function without this part of himself. He intended for earthly parents to take on the role of caring for us the way He would but He also knew in this fallen world, there would be gaps. He has made provision for the gaps. He has made provision for our adoption. He not only created us but He supernaturally pulls us into His immediate family. I had to meditate on the truth of what God’s word says about Him and then ask Him to prove Himself faithful. I dared Him to change my perception of Him as a father and graciously, over time, He did. I began to see that He delighted in me. That He was excited to watch over my adventures. That He had gifts and surprises for me; words and secrets only meant for me. I began to see that He thought about me as His child individually, not just corporately. I also began to see His protection over my life, even before I ever acknowledged Him. He showed me that anything He kept from me was because he had something better in mind. Just as children on this earth, we don’t always understand the danger of an “outlet” or “running into the street.”

Third, I had to bring all my pain before Him and be truthful. I had to ask Him about the abuse and trauma I experienced in my life. I had to tell Him I didn’t understand how He could let these awful things happen to me. I had to tell Him that I didn’t trust Him. Instead of punishing me for speaking my mind, as I anticipated He would, He began to draw closer to me, showing me exactly where He had been in those moments. He gave me visions of Him holding me during those horrendous experiences and He began to reveal to me the heartbreak He felt over what happened to me. Matthew 18 (above) became scripture that I had to seer into my memory. He began to give me understanding of free will and His plan. He began to show me that what He allowed was not necessarily his intention and if He allowed it anyway, it was for a greater purpose. The God of the universe actually took time to earn my trust and show me He was trustworthy. He rebuilt trust someone else had broken.

Fourth, I had to allow myself to approach God as a little girl. I personally had to change the words I used for God. I had to start calling him daddy or papa to personalize the experiences and eliminate triggers from other names. I had to allow myself to be undone, curious, angry, giggly, and expectant before the Lord knowing that he delights in my childlikeness. I had to let my guard down and be free before Him. I  had to let myself be raw and safe in His presence, leaving worry about worldly expectations of my adult behaviour behind.

After the process of all of these things, I began to find forgiveness and freedom from the pain of my earthly experience. My Papa God had actually filled all the gaps, as He told me He would. I still feel a sadness that my relationship with my earthly father is nonexistent but it is just that, a sadness and a compassion that comes from brokenness God never intended. I believe it’s actually the same way God feels about it; it no longer controls me or identifies me. I know whose daughter I am and I have not been left orphaned. I have been able to see that not all men, or fathers, are bad and I learned to rejoice with men who have taken seriously the responsibility to lead their families. God has used many of these brothers in Christ to translate my healing from the spiritual realm to the human realm.  In recent years, I have even been able to see fathers day as a wonderful opportunity to bless these men as well as take the opportunity to celebrate this day with my papa God. I realize that I have not been left wanting in this area.

Although this post is largely written from the perspective of someone without a father, all fathers are flawed (Romans 3:23) and although this in depth search of God as Father may not feel as immediate for some, I believe when we embrace the father heart of God, it frees us up to accept and love our earthly fathers without hesitation, even without expectation. It makes forgiveness easier and produces in us the capacity to love them even more deeply where they are, regardless of their flaws.

How will you spend this fathers day?

 

Picture Source: https://kroniclesofk80.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/a-little-jesus-confussion/

Emotional Honesty

Luke 22:42-44

Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Psalm 34:17-20

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.

Psalm 147:3

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

2 Corinthians 12:9

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Psalm 30:11

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,

Have you ever thought that desiring something other than God’s will was sinful? That your emotions were ungodly? And that your struggle to desire the right things made you a weak Christian? I have. Many times I have avoided God for fear that disagreeing with Him meant I would be completely rejected. I was scared of His presence because I thought my emotions were sinful and I was bound in a lie that He only met with fanatical Christians who never said a curse word or questioned where he was leading them. I allowed my own brokenness to determine how much of myself I gave to God rather than allowing my brokenness to be the reason I gave everything to Him. We are called to obedience, to consistently pursue holy lives as the Spirit changes and directs us, but I don’t think that’s really the point. The point is surrender and complete acceptance of our brokenness before Christ. After that, God takes care of the rest. He walks with us, convicts us, and changes us. We don’t have the power to reroute our desires on our own. Isn’t that a relief? Coming from someone who used to be a control freak, it is a relief that God actually desires to take that burden from me. All I have to be is honest.

I have recently struggled with this in my desire for a child. I felt angry that the process isn’t as easy as I had hoped. I blamed others and I blamed God. On top of that, I told myself that all my feelings were wrong and I was ashamed at how ungodly I felt my pain was. I oscillated between self-talk to “have more faith” and wallowing in my resentment, all the while actually avoiding the only place of rest, my Papas arms. I felt God would be as ashamed of me as I was of myself and how “dishonoring I had been in my heart and mind”.

If you reread Luke 22 above you will see that Jesus’ human will actually differed from the Father’s will. He did not want to die and he was so overwhelmed that “his sweat became like great drops of blood.” I don’t believe this visual is figurative. It is an actual condition called “Hematohidrosis…… a condition in which capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat glands rupture, causing them to exude blood, occurring under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress” (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2810702/). There is no other cause for this condition other than “extreme stress.” It is largely unexplainable and very rare. Can you imagine being so distraught over God’s will that you sweat blood? We also see God incarnate pleading for a different scenario. This wasn’t just anyone. This is Jesus, with perfection and all the power of the universe at His fingertips, desiring a different outcome for His life. Wow, I’m in awe just writing this at how deceived I have often been. What this proves to me is that it is human to desire what we desire, not sinful. However, what we see by way of obedience is that Jesus submitted to the Father’s will even though it wasn’t what he wanted. The question of obedience is in our actions and in our submission, not in our human emotion. Even Jesus needed encouragement to do what God asked. The angels came to give him the strength to continue to pray and face what God had called Him to do because He was in “agony”.  This is God’s will for us as well I believe, that we would feel and face every emotion on our knees, not censoring them but giving them all to God so that He can change us and strengthen us to do His will. God created our emotions. He knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13) and he already knows. Our pain is His pain and He longs to show us a way through it.

There are many verses in Scripture (some listed above) where we see reference to our imperfection, brokenness, and sadness as God sees it, an opportunity for His faithfulness and comfort, not a place of condemnation. Judgement of ourselves and our emotions; the feeling that what we desire is disgraceful and dishonoring; this is not how God sees us or our human experiences. It is how we have perceived God based on lies and cultural expectation. Our Father longs to give us insight into our motives and change them so that we can experience all the peace He has to offer. The Holy Spirit is referred to as our counselor (John 14:26) and He is more acquainted with our inner lives than anyone else, including us.

A great illustration of this is the story of Jonah. He actually told God no when He was given a specific task but God lovingly continued to pursue him even though his heart was rebellious. I believe a major theme in the book of Jonah is the trust and connection God was trying to build in their relationship. He accepted Jonah’s temper tantrums and put him in a space (the whale) of seeing God’s protection and grace instead of just moving on. Our Papa never just moves on. We can take a cue from Jonah and speak honestly with our maker, not trying to hide one emotion or thought. He can accept and transform them all. More importantly, He has work for us to do, specific work, and He longs for us to be emotionally free as we pursue it. Jonah’s rebellion and running away put him in the belly of a whale, not simply the feeling of apprehension, and even in that experience God was protecting him and waiting for him to call out. His emotions actually led him back to his creator. What emotions have you been withholding today?

Picture Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00wdnz1