The week brings a New Year. I feel like it was only a minute ago that we were beginning the last one or the one before. Time seems to be flying quicker and quicker.
Sometimes I think though that as the time flies a flame inside of us quietly dies. The flame of our first love. It’s strange how time does that… how weeks dull the intensity of emotions— good or bad. I wonder if the only way to never loose that first love is to experience it every day?
Maybe the coming new year would be a good year to learn how to do that. To learn to fall in love again. Everyday.
Maybe it’s time to look back over the lessons of the last year and remember, lest they too grow dull… To determine what we want for the year ahead in light of the lessons from the past.
I want to come to Jesus in every struggle instead of waiting until I realize I can never do it alone.
I want to see who He really is. To let Him be Himself instead of trying to be the one in control.
I want to let go of my striving to change my own heart and let Him melt me with His love in ways I couldn’t have predicted or produced.
I want to ask Him what is my part— for His advice— and do it immediately instead of trying all my own ideas.
I want to remember He always always comes before people. That my duty to Him will forever be most important.
I want to see ministry through His eyes. To act on a love like His, not merely a sense of obligation.
I want to open my heart and tell Him about it’s deepest corners.
I want to be completely honest with God 365 days a year.
I want to read my Bible with Him every single day.
I want to immediately give Him any fear or guilt I may have instead of fighting them alone.
I want to live slow and full. To not let the word busy describe my life but instead the word beautiful.
I want to count gifts everyday. To live with hands open and a heart of gratitude.
I want to trust Him.
I want to put Him first in my affections and time. Always.
I want to love Him with every ounce that is in me.
I want to fall in love again every single day.
I want our relationship to be fresh and never stale.
I want to walk with Him like Enoch did.
Whatever it costs me. Whatever treasures He deems must be removed… Whatever plans canceled. Whatever longings unfulfilled by things here that they may be filled with things above. Whatever heartache He knows I must endure to be drawn to His heart…
It’s been burning in me of late… this longing to have nothing but Jesus. To be laid low if it means I can be drawn closer to His feet. To have my heart torn to shreds if those shreds can then be held closer to His own. To walk through the furnace if it can make my love for Him burn hotter. To be stripped of every treasure I posses if that is the way for me to treasure the greatest Treasure of all. To let go of any expectations I may have for this life if I can just have more and more and more of Jesus.
Really, there isn’t time for anything less. There’s a whole world out there dying to know our Jesus. There’s a whole heaven up there aching to have us with them and bring an end to sin and suffering.
New year after new year comes and we have dreams but somehow they don’t always translate into reality. I have to wonder… what is it going to take? How much longer are we going to be here living our life as usual and prolonging the process of sin and death because we aren’t ready? How much longer is His heart going to have to break because He misses us, and He wants us, and He loves us, but we don’t want Him?
Jim Elliot puts it so powerfully… "We are so utterly ordinary, so commonplace, while we profess to know a Power the Twentieth Century does not reckon with. But we are 'armless,' and therefore unharmed. We are spiritual pacifists, non-militants, conscientious objectors in this battle-to-the-death with principalities and powers in high places. Meekness must be had for contact with men, but brass, outspoken boldness is required to take part in the comradeship of the Cross. We are ‘ sideliners' -- coaching and criticizing the real wrestlers while content to sit by and leave the enemies of God unchallenged. The world cannot hate us, we are too much like its own. Oh that God would make us dangerous!”
Oh my soul. Maybe the world too can see when time dulls our first love. Maybe the all of heaven is praying for us to find our first love again.
What if this year everything changed?
What if this year we fell on our knees and begged to see the face of our Jesus?
What if we really did fall in love everyday?
What if we really were His friends, and we really lived like it?
What if we were willing to bear any loss or pain if we could have more of Him?
What if we walked with Him like Enoch did? What if we realized that was possible and it wasn’t just a story in the old testament, it was a story for now and for us? What if we didn’t just talk about it, but we really chose to do it?
I’m pretty sure we could change the world… that He could change the world through us because we walked so close to His heart.
We could be a generation of Enochs.
And maybe in the end it could be said of us…
“And the last generation walked with God. And they were not; for God took them.”
Something about his life hit home to my heart. Maybe because I want to have open hands to whatever Jesus gives like He did… because I want to love Jesus like he did. And maybe because I know deep down that it won’t be easy.
Here is his story…
His name was Joseph Scriven and he lived in Ireland. His future was bright with promise… in one day he was going to marry his best friend. That evening he was headed to meet her for a few moments together before the sun went down and their beautiful day began. He was riding up to the spot they were supposed to meet when he saw men pulling a body from the nearby creek. His heart skipped a beat. As he got closer he realized he was looking down into the lifeless face of the girl he loved and planned to marry the next day. Something had scared her horse as she rode to meet him and she had been thrown from it and lost consciousness when she landed in the stream. She had drowned only moments before he had arrived.
Joseph was heartbroken. He was left alone to grieve the day he had dreamed of but never was. He couldn’t bring himself to stay in Ireland. The memories were too sharp. In the end, his travels led him to Canada where he began giving himself away for the poorest of the poor. Somehow through all of his achingly heartbreaking story he had come to lean deeply on his Friend he loved more than anything else. Instead of hardening his heart, his pain propelled him toward His Jesus. He shared the innermost pain of his broken heart with that Friend and his honesty bound them together.
Joseph traveled around Canada serving the least of these. He tutored the children of poor families and cut their wood. A man once observed how well he did his work and commented to a friend, “that looks like a sober man. I think I’ll hire him to cut wood for me.” The response from the man was simple, “that’s Joseph Scriven. He wouldn’t cut wood for you because you can afford to hire him. He only cuts wood for those who don’t have money enough to pay.” The people of the area highly regarded this man who walked with God in the most mundane chores and the deepest pain.
While he was tutoring the children of a family in the area he met the family’s niece and they fell in love. Soon after they joyfully announced their plans to get married and once again Joseph had a human companion to share his life with. His heart must have soared with gratefulness. But a few weeks before the wedding, 23 year old Elisa fell ill with pneumonia. Despite Joseph’s gentle nursing, she died two weeks before the wedding.
It’s hard to even imagine his grief. He had lost the love of his life again. His dreams lay shattered at his feet— again.
But somehow this drew him even closer to his Friend— his best Friend… the one who would never leave… the one who heard every pain in his heart. Somehow He didn’t grow bitter with anger. His hands remained open to grace in the darkest of days.
Joseph fell ill some years later, and while a friend was visiting him he happened across a poem Joseph had written for his mother several years before. He was so moved by the poem he asked him about it. Joseph said simply, “The Lord and I did it between us.”
His poem became a song. And the song became famous, reminding generations of What A Friend We Have in Jesus. All because of one man who realized how beautiful and compassionate his Jesus was and made him his best Friend and all in all…
It’s easier in this world of disappointment and ache to close our hands to grace. At least it is for me. I begin to see the clouds and raindrops and miss the rainbow in my life that come because of them. I start to see things as my right. And when a loving Hand removes them I feel cheated of what I thought was mine.
It hit me again a few nights ago as I begged God to show me how I had lost perspective... The title of a friend’s blog came to mind, and with it an instant recognition of what I had forgotten… Hands Open. Heart Full. I’d neglected the one, and without the first the second won’t come.
I reread the conversation of one of my favorite modern authors with her brother-in-law and I remember…
“Sometimes I think of that story in the Old Testament. Can’t remember what book, but you know—when God gave King Hezekiah fifteen more years of life? Because he prayed for it? But if Hezekiah had died when God first intended, Manasseh would never have been born. And what does the Bible say about Manasseh? Something to the effect that Manasseh had led the Israelites to do even more evil than all the heathen nations around Israel. Think of all the evil that would have been avoided if Hezekiah had died earlier, before Manasseh was born. I am not saying anything, either way, about anything. Just that maybe … maybe you don’t want to change the story, because you don’t know what a different ending holds. Maybe … I guess … it’s accepting there are things we simply don’t understand. But He does.”
The only way to really live full in this broken world is to be content with Jesus alone. To open up our hands and heart to whatever He offers— to Himself. To keep our hands open when He takes away our treasures because really He is our greatest treasure and we’re willing to loose anything to gain more of Him.
Christmas is often a time of gifts and expectations. But really, our expectations kill our joy. And Christmas was never about what we could get. It was all about what He could give.
When we see all the world as rightfully ours and any loss as deprivation, our perspective is warped.
But when we see every gift as a grace we don’t deserve… when every thing we receive is an unexpected blessing because we know rightfully none of it is ours… when we see every loss as a treasure because it brings us closer to our Jesus… then we see right. Then we live with hands open and our heart is filled.
When I open up my hands and heart I am opening myself up to be drawn closer to Jesus than I ever could be when I keep my fists clenched.
I'm learning to see disappointment and shattered hopes as a call to draw near to Jesus.
And when I do, I am given the greatest gift of all… the gift of friendship with Jesus. A friendship that can stand any drowned dreams, dark days, and dying plans.
He’s the Friend Scriven wrote about…. and He is greater than any gift we could ever have held in our clenched fists.
What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he'll take and shield thee;
Thou wilt find a solace there.
We’ve all heard the Christmas Story so many times and sometimes I think we gloss over it and miss the impossibility… the cost… the beauty. I’ve seen it in a new way this year and it’s awed me. This story is not a little fairy tale for children. It’s the story that saves our lives.
Mary couldn’t have been that old, probably a teen, when it was arranged for her to marry Joseph. We don’t know if she really knew Joseph, but certainly their marriages back then didn’t role out the way they do today. There was no love at first sight weddings, but a simple arrangement by the parents. It had to have been an exciting but unsettling time. Everything was changing.
And then, in the middle of all that an angel appears to her with the most unusual message. You will conceive a Son by the Holy Spirit and His name will be called Jesus. He will be great… the son of the Highest. God will give Him the throne of David and His kingdom will never end. And your elderly cousin Elisabeth-- she too has conceived and will have a son.
I can’t even imagine what must have been going through her young mind. I’m going to have a baby? How can I have a baby since I am a virgin? How can my elderly aunt be having a baby? And what does the angel mean by saying my baby is the son of the Highest? Won’t He be my Son? But He will take David’s throne and His kingdom will last forever… He must be the Messiah. My baby— the Messiah.
With her mind whirling she set off to see her cousin Elisabeth. Her heart must have trembled as she got closer. God, let Elisabeth be pregnant as the angel said.
And then there she was... Elisabeth with her own little one growing inside of her. She runs to meet Mary, her face a huge smile. Blessed am I that the mother of my Lord has come to visit me. As soon as I heard your voice the baby I carry leaped for joy within me. And somehow I think the glow in Mary’s heart shone out of her face too.
As she felt the little One she carried growing, Mary must have been stirred with awe and joy. But somehow I think there must have been some fear too. How will my family believe this when I return home? What will Joseph think? How can anyone understand? Nothing like this has ever happened before. Why would anyone believe it has happened to me? Will Joseph make an accusation that could cause me to be stoned? After all, that is the law. How will I escape such a fate? But then, how could something like this happen to me when my Baby will have a kingdom that will last forever? God’s plans for this Baby must be greater than any danger we will face.
After three months Mary knew it was time to go home, so she bid Elisabeth and Zechariah goodbye. The moment had come. The moment to stand firmly for her belief in the words of the angel.
We don’t know how God intervened for the girl He had chosen to bear His son, but we know He did. Her life was spared. The life of her baby was spared. The looks from condemning neighbors still stung, but deep down she knew she had been given a gift no one could even understand.
And Joseph-- he must have been heartbroken. What now? How could he claim this child as his own when he knew that would be a lie? How could he take a girl like this when he was a man of honor? He took the only route he knew… quietly break off the engagement without putting Mary to shame. And with that, every hope he must had for their life together was broken too. On the other hand, Mary was left alone to face the pain of not being believed.
But God knew. He had more in store than the two young hearts could ever have dreamed. He sent His angel to Joseph in the night… Joseph, don’t be afraid to make Mary your wife. The baby she carries is hers by the Holy Ghost. She will have a Son who’s name will be Jesus. He will be a Savior to His people lost in sin. Joseph must have jerked awake in awe. This is exactly what Mary told me. It must be true. Maybe the future is brighter than I ever dared to dream. How can He have chosen me to be the father of His Son? What will it be like? What will He be like?
I can only imagine what a reassurance it was to Mary to hear that her now husband-to-be had heard the same message from the angel that she had. She would have someone to share this journey with who understood and believed.
It wasn't very long after his dream that Mary and Joseph were married and the decree came to return to the land where they were born for a census. A journey this far into her pregnancy couldn't have been anything but a heavy thought for Mary. I don’t know if she knew the prophesy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem but if she did, her heart must have been awed at the ways God was bringing His word to pass. What else might the future bring?
While we don’t know exactly what route they took, we know their journey was long and arduous. With no modern transportation Joseph had to walk the whole way leading the donkey for Mary to ride on. They had many quiet hours to ponder and discuss the awesome and unknown future they were stepping into…
By the time they saw Bethlehem in the distance, Joseph was very weary. But his concern was for Mary. She desperately needed a place to rest— a place to give birth to their little One. He ran from inn to inn but none had room for the tired travelers. Finally someone showed them the stable… the place where the animals rest. They settled down into the little spot that would be mentioned in carol after carol until the close of time. The time had come. Mary’s labor begun and before they knew it a little cry pierced the silence of the night. The cry of the King Himself. Their baby was born. The baby for all mankind.
Meanwhile, they were clueless to what God was doing only a few miles away. The shepherds in the fields nearby were longing for the Messiah. In their nights of watching they would hope and pray for His coming and then hope and pray some more. This night as they watched their sheep the darkness was suddenly pierced by a bright light. The angel told them simply that the Messiah was born and that they would find Him in a manger wrapped in grave clothes. The heavens rung with a song that echoed so loud that earth couldn't help but hear it.
While Mary and Joseph gazed into the eyes of their little boy in awe, shepherds drew nigh. The couple heard a stir and looked up. What can this be? Men approaching the stable? At night? Why are they kneeling? Bowing in fact? Is it because of our baby? How do they know? Did the angel come to them too? This really is for real. Maybe His kingdom is starting already.
Little do they know this is only the beginning. As their little One was born a star of angels hovered over Bethlehem... Hundreds of miles away, men of great wisdom in the east had been tracking the stars and noticed this new star they had never seen that drew them to the prophesies of the Messiah. Convinced that this star had something to do with His birth they set out on a long journey to find Him. As they drew closer they saw the star hover over Bethlehem. This must be the place.
If shepherds who came earlier were shocking, wise men must have been even more so. How did these men like kings know who our son is? Why do these great men bow down to a baby? Our Jesus must be greater than even we imagined… God must have opened heaven and poured it out in this gift.
Oh Mary and Joseph, He did. He did. And sometimes we forget. We forget what a story this really is. We forget we wouldn’t even have eternity if it wasn’t for this story. Our future would be nothing if He hadn’t made Himself nothing.
This time of year isn’t just for Christmas trees and Jingle Bells and red ornaments and snow. This time of year springs from a story of pain, and blood, and tears, and joy, and heartache, and grace that is our salvation. This time of year is because our Jesus loved us so much that He couldn’t bear to think of living His future without us, and so He gave Himself. It cost Him pain and blood and tears too.
His little baby face lay in the manger because He loved us, not to the moon and back-- but to the earth and back. And so often we get consumed in the sparkle and the glitter of Christmas and forget to love Him above every other thing in the entire universe. We get distracted by all the gifts He gives and place our love on them and forget that He is the greatest Gift. We celebrate the joy but we forget the pain it cost Him.
But this Jesus of ours… He counted it worth it because He valued our companionship more than His own life. He wrote an impossible story in which He gave Himself because it was His dream to make it possible to be friends with us once again.
And I have just one question this Christmas...
Will we write the ending to this impossible story by saying yes to His friendship and make His dream come true? We choose how the story ends.
Unless we say yes to Him, even an impossible story come true can’t make His dream of companionship come true. Only we can do that. You and I get to choose to make His dream come true this Christmas…
Because somehow I think that all He wants for Christmas is you.
*pics from the web
I don’t even know how many posts I’ve written here about putting God first, but somehow I’m still learning the most basic of lessons in that art. I know it all with my head. But I have oh so much more to learn with my heart.
The last few months have been exciting ones. I’ve watched God unfold plans for my future... There’s nothing quite like watching dreams for ministry come true after giving them up for years. Not only did my future seem brighter than ever before, but I’d come to love the life I live right now too. Everything seemed so perfect.
But somehow it was in the years of continual surrenders that I had found the deepest peace. When nothing was going the way I wanted, it was much easier to look to heaven as the place where all my treasure was stored. But when I had begun to see earthly dreams coming true my longing for heaven started to dissipate a bit. After all, I had so much here.
I realized that God needed to do something in this heart. I wanted every single iota of affection I had to be His. I just wasn’t sure how to get there.
And then one of those treasured events on my calendar fell through. It wasn’t a huge thing. But it was important to me. I grappled with it as the stars rose outside my window. I continued to battle with it when I woke up with the stars still overhead. In the end I went to the best place I knew— my altar. Somehow I felt like I wasn’t only choosing to give up those few days but every dream that had stolen my heart.
For years I had given up my dreams because He had asked for them. It was hard and there were times I wondered if this would ever end. As I watched His hand at work in my future and saw foggy areas becoming clear I thought the time of surrendering dreams was over and it was the time of receiving. But I missed something fundamental. The time of surrendering my future will never be over because even dreams coming true must still be relinquished to the care of the One who knows best. And you know what? I’m so glad about that. I see now that I’d never want the time of giving up to be over because it produces the most beautiful fruit.
Maybe those dreams will continue to come true. I’m pretty sure some of them will. But it’s not about that anymore. They aren’t what makes life beautiful. They aren’t what makes my heart happy. They aren’t what makes my future bright. The answer to every question is Jesus.
Life is beautiful because He is in it. The future is bright because He will be there. My heart is happy because He loves me. Heaven is my home because He lives there.
When anything but Jesus becomes the dream we invest all of our heart in, we have to know we are headed for disappointment. Nothing is sure but Him. That doesn’t mean we stop dreaming. I still dream big. I’m not sure I can help it. But every single dream, every sign of a dream being fulfilled, every act of Providence, every hope fulfilled can only be enjoyed with a surrendered heart— a heart that keeps everything continually on the alter.
the only One in the world that is truly ours…
the only One that never fails...
the only One that brings ultimate joy...
the only One that deserves every last little iota of our heart…
My earthly dreams may come and go but I smile because really, my dream is Jesus. And He never fails.
And somehow I feel His smile and know I am His dream too.
20. Lover of Jesus. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Servant. Fan of the kitchen. Graduate of Masters of Biblical Counseling.
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Hands Open. Heart Full.