I’ve always known priorities are important. I’ve grown up hearing it— and seeking to live it. But then there’s those times when I’m taken off guard and I realize how much I still have to learn.
This summer was one of those…
Our schedule this year has been more full than any other year I remember. It's been exciting and crazy all at once. After being away on ministry trips for almost the entire spring, we set off for six weeks of ministry interspersed with family time. Little did I know how much I would learn about myself and my priorities along the way.
Often we think of priorities as choosing to put God, family, and ministry before other less important matters. But what about the times when we have to choose between giving our greatest energy to God or in ministry to people? What then? Is it more important to pour ourselves out on behalf of hurting humanity until we are spent, or to give our Jesus our freshest energies? Is it selfish to take time to talk to God about the little things that bother us when so many are fighting for life? How does one balance between taking time to “be still and know” and fulfilling responsibilities that seem to increase exponentially? Might there be a difference between real loving service of our Jesus and the load we so often place on ourselves of doing everything we think others expect us to do?
Hard questions that call for hard answers.
I’ve always known that I want Jesus to be priority number one. Over and over He has reminded me that He comes before school and work and any of my own plans. I think I’d finally begun to learn that one. And then He reminded me last fall that He comes before even my closest friends and family. That one is a little harder to learn, but when I began to grasp it I started to experience the beauty of loving Jesus most of all.
But our enemy is never content to see Jesus exalted. And sometimes he catches us where we least expect it.
For me that was in putting ministry before my own deep connection with Jesus. Sure, I didn’t consciously lay Him aside for something else. In fact I spent many hours seeking Him and trying to understand why His face seemed further away. But when it came down to sharing the deepest corners of my own heart with God or running off to seek to fulfill the needs around me, I chose the latter. I’m the type who hates to say no... who finds it easier to run myself dry in the hopes that someone else will be spared emptiness themselves. After all, isn’t that what it means to be selfless?
When we choose to put the needs of the hurting before our own intimacy with God we neglect Him and prove to be far less of a blessing to the very people we were seeking to serve.
When Jesus does not come before absolutely everything else, everyone suffers.
When we allow ministry to come before Jesus we cheat Him of the devotion He deserves. And not only that… we cheat the world of seeing a life who loves Him above all else.
Maybe it’s not real selflessness that puts ministry before our own intimacy with God. Maybe it’s a warped perspective.
When I see the needs of the hurting and think that I must jump to be all things to all people I miss the place He designed for me as His friend and coworker, and end up trying to do His job for Him. When I don’t choose to resist feeling guilty for not touching every heart I see, I miss the opportunity to live in real contact with His. When I try to spread myself too thin, there is nothing left to invest more deeply in the people He specifically wants be to touch. Really, when I think I have to reach the whole world I miss the unique opportunities He has handpicked for me.
Maybe saying no is actually saying yes to something greater.
What if the greatest ministry is only found in loving Jesus with the whole heart and then willingly accepting any cross He gives us? No less. No more. He already carried the cross that saves the world. Maybe my strained efforts to carry a cross I was never meant to lift not only hurt me but the heart of the One who already bore it. Isn’t it a diminishment of what He has already done to think that I must reach the whole world?
After all, His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
I can’t claim to have learned all these lessons yet. I’m still getting there. Letting Him change old thought patterns and our natural nature doesn’t happen overnight. But it can happen. It will happen if I let Him. My Jesus never gives up.
We’re heading out now on our fall season of travel, and I go with a fresh recognition of how desperately I need Him to be my priority.
We fly and I look down on the lights of the city below and I remember that He holds the whole world in His heart. I don’t have to carry that weight... I simply have to carry Him in my heart and be willing to go wherever He leads and love whatever He asks me to love. This is life.
I share because I know I’m not the only one who struggles to give Jesus His rightful place. I don’t know what it is that blocks you from the deepest intimacy with His heart, but I know that if He can begin to teach me, He can teach you.
Nothing, nothing in all the universe is more important than Jesus.
Everything but Him is merely ashes. And honestly, anything that steals our heart from Him is our idol.
I don’t want to make an idol out of anything. Not even the things that seem innocent— like ministry. I want Jesus first, last and best in everything. Even if that means I lay down some of the things I think are so crucial.
I want to be all He created me to be-- His friend. I want that for you.
And maybe it’s only when we learn to love Him best that we learn to love the hurting world like He does.
Maybe it’s only then that our ministry carries the power to shake the world.
His name was Samuel Rutherford. He wasn’t perfect but he was a man of rare love. Love that was forged in the fire.
Samuel was an extremely dedicated Scottish minister in the 1600’s. He deeply cared for those in his care, and was dearly loved by his congregation in return. But even early in his ministry he was faced with heartbreak. After being married for a short 4 years, his precious wife became very ill and after battling with the illness for 13 months, died. Shortly afterwards, two of their three children and his mother also died. He was left alone and in very ill health himself to take care of his remaining child and care for his parish.
His trials didn’t end there. A few years later he was banished from his parish and exiled far from his beloved congregation because of his faithfulness to what he believed. This was exceedingly difficult for him. If there was anything he loved to do it was to expand the beauty of his Jesus to the people in his care. Now he was separated from them and prohibited from preaching.
The political situation in Scotland changed several years later and he was allowed to continue his ministry. During this time he remarried and he and his new wife had five children. It would seem that things had finally changed for the better. But not for long. Two of his dear children died as infants. Two more died while he was away in London. Before his own death at the age of 61, all of his children from both marriages had died. I can’t even begin to imagine what his father’s heart went through.
The way he related to this life of bitter experiences is clear from his own words…
“Think it not hard if you get not your will, nor your delights in this life; God will have you to rejoice in nothing but Himself.”
And again… “they lose nothing who gain Christ."
Spurgeon later quoted from one of his letters saying,
“dear Samuel Rutherford, when he wrote to a lady who had lost, I think, seven children, congratulated her and said, “I am sure that the well-Beloved has a strong affection for your ladyship, for He will have all your heart. He has taken away all these children that there may not be a nook or corner for anybody else but Him.”
His heart was captured by the love of the infinite. He willingly confessed that he was not his own…
“Since He looked upon me my heart is not my own. He hath run away to heaven with it.”
To lose all on earth was considered a very small sacrifice indeed to gain Christ. He wanted nothing but Jesus… Jesus was heaven.
“O my Lord Jesus Christ, if I could be in heaven without thee it would be hell; and if I could be in hell and have thee still it would be heaven to me, for thou art all the heaven I want.
I can’t help but be struck by such a love. It makes me examine my own. Is He really all I want? Is He my heaven?
So often I seem to think I deserve things here on earth… you know, that certain things are my right and it’s not fair if I don’t have them. And then I remember… I deserve nothing. Nothing but death. But because He loved me so much, He bore that for me and gave me the greatest gift in the universe— Himself. And I dare to think I deserve something more?
Oh my soul, claim nothing as your own.
For you there is God and God alone.
And really what could be sweeter? If I lose all I count dear, I still have Him… if I am called to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He comes too… if I am asked to pour myself out for His people and receive nothing in return, He will give me Himself.
How can anything but gratitude ever formulate in my heart?
God alone! God alone!
In Your courts, oh my Lord, is my home
You are my treasure, my portion delight of my soul
My life, my salvation, my fortress
My God and my all.
I want Him to be my heaven. Nothing but Him. Because if it is, who says heaven can’t start now and increase in sweetness every time I’m called to bear a burden because in bearing it I find more of His heart?
Spurgeon again quotes Rutherford…
“…he speaks of the coals of divine wrath all falling upon the head of Christ, so that not one might fall upon His people. ‘And yet,’ saith he, ‘if one of those coals should drop from His head upon mine and did utterly consume me, yet if I felt it was a part of the coals that fell upon Him, and I was bearing it for His, and in communion with Him, I would choose it for my heaven. ‘“
Oh heart. Be still and think. Could I say that? Or do I still want things for myself?
or can I sing...
Once earthly joy I craved,
Sought peace and rest;
Now Thee alone I seek,
Give what is best.
This all my prayer shall be,
More love oh Christ to Thee
More love to Thee,
More love to Thee.
I’m willing to learn to claim nothing as my own. I want God and God alone.
Jesus, mold our hearts so that you are all the heaven we want…
Because, after all, we are all the heaven You want.
Written May 7 (not posted till now for a lack of internet that will actually load a webpage. :))
We live in a broken world. A world full of people aching to be noticed... to be worthwhile... to be loved.
Sometimes I think we forget that there are hurting people right here. When we think of a mission field, we think of starving little children living in a mud hut in Africa... little Indian girls being trafficked... wounded families in Katmandu... people on remote islands who have never heard the name of Jesus...
Thing is, there are people here who have never seen the love of Jesus. They know He exists, but they have no concept of what it means to be loved by Him.
It's easy to stand by and say that they should know better... that they should believe the promises. But really, aren't we partly responsible for their struggle to believe if we have never shown them love?
You imagine trying to explain water to someone who had never seen it? Like, how do you even start? And yet we do much the same thing when we indifferently charge people to just believe that God loves them while ignoring our own duty to love them the same way. Sure, God can do miracles to show broken people what it means to be loved by Him when they've never been loved by anyone else... but ultimately, He has placed the responsibility in our hands to show His people what love means.
A failure on the behalf of the hurting to believe that God loves them is often a reflection of the failure of His people to reveal that love to the world.
And just this week... the quiet "no" of a precious child of His in response to my question of whether or not they thought God loved them, has been reverberating through my mind ever since.
No one should ever have to say no to that question. Our love for His children should be so strong that they will have no question in their minds as to His love.
As long as there are broken people on this planet, we will have work to do. And really, what could be better than loving His hurting children with the love that He's loved us with?
Before we rebuke a dying world for having no concept of a the face of a beautiful Jesus, we have to ask ourselves what kind of concept of His face we are showing them.
Because you may be the only Bible some people ever read... the only real Christian they ever meet. Who will they think He is when they look at you?
Few pics from UKFR... (Photo credits, Eden Hanson-Bartholomew, Jehlise Woodburn, Caleb Rayne, and yours truly)
We’d only been climbing for an hour or so and I literally felt like I couldn’t go much further. It seemed like every hill I fought to get up would only give way to another one twice it’s size. We’d still had no glimpse of where we were actually going. I just wanted to know how close we were… how many more miles we had left to climb… how many more hundreds/thousands of feet I still had to battle up…
I didn’t know all I had gotten myself into… I did know that when we’d set off from the parking lot that morning to climb a mountain I still couldn’t see I felt a little fear and trepidation about the adventure.
It wasn’t until we’d mounted the hill I never thought I’d get up, and the landscape opened up in front of me, that it hit me. Sure, we had a very long way to go… yeah, that mountain in the distance with the snow on top was the one we were supposed to climb… true, we had to walk along an edge for an hour with a death fall on both sides… yes, my feet felt blistered and sore… But the question wouldn’t leave my mind and somehow it spurred me on—like somehow all the gusto I poured into climbing that mountain was a bit of an answer…
How high would I climb to fall into His embrace? How hard would I fight to see His face?
Maybe it’s fear that stops us. Fear of falling, fear of letting go of the idols that hinder us from loving Him…
I had to face a few of my own fears on that climb. I’ve never been a huge fan of heights… most of my nightmares end in falling off the top of some skyscraper and waking up seconds before I crumple on the concrete. But in climbing that mountain, we had to walk across an edge with a death fall on both sides. And though I had a few moments of panic, my mind was so set on the summit that I didn’t have time to let that fear consume me.
I wonder if part of the reason we don’t work through our fears is because we’ve gotten distracted and taken our eyes off the goal. We look around at all the things that might happen if we really throw ourselves into seeking Him… we look inside and see how messed up we are… and we shake with fear and say that there is no way. But just maybe, if we looked ahead to the moment when He’ll catch us in His giant arms and we’ll be able to gaze into His eyes, we’d be able to look up now and determine that we’ll be willing to do anything to reach that moment.
So often we let the mentality around us affect the way we live. We don’t throw every inch of ourselves into the pursuit of God. We tire of really seeking His face. We stop dreaming of really seeing Him because that day seems so far away. Honestly, we don’t want to expend the effort it takes to walk with Him like Enoch did. We’re not sure if we’re ready to abandon ourselves to Him that way.
But honestly, the only goal that is worth throwing every ounce of ourselves into is to be as close to Him as possible now-- and for all eternity.
We throw ourselves into our careers— studying for years for a degree that claims we know our field… we throw ourselves into sports and athletics for a medal that will last a few years and then mean nothing… we throw ourselves into making something out of our life here, but sooner or later that too will end. But for some reason, we don’t throw ourselves into seeking God, into fighting to see the face of our Jesus. As a friend once shared with me… We know we are to dig for the Treasure, but we move one shovelful and give up because we find nothing…
It’s no new thought… maybe we have to just go back a little and remember what we were instructed.
"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith…”
There is nothing to say that we cannot walk with God now like Enoch did. And we have every reason to believe that if we fight for closeness with Him now, we will have it for all eternity. How can we be satisfied with anything less? How can stop short of doing whatever, and I mean whatever, it takes to see the face of our Jesus?
The real soldier willingly fights for freedom because He loves His country. The real Christian willingly fights for a relationship with the Omnipotent because they love their Jesus. It's not all about sitting and basking in His love. It makes the enemy mad to see heart who want to live life as close as possible to Jesus and he will do whatever he can to stop them. He attacks hardest what he knows is most precious. He's not about to let Jesus have the highest place in our hearts. He will suggest a million different "glossy" things to fill His place. If we want to spend each minute in His arms and one day see Him face to face we will have to fight hard. We will have to throw every ounce of ourselves into seeking Him.
But if we really love Him, we will count it all joy. We will want to fight because we cannot bear the thought of not being with Him.
We made it to the top of that mountain. I’m still amazed. And very very sore. But it was worth it.
And when we walk down those golden streets arm in arm with our Jesus, it will be worth it. Oh so worth it. Every ache and pain will be forgotten when we can lay our head on His shoulder and simply rest.
As we clambered down that mountain it seemed clearer to me than ever. No hight is too much to climb for Him. No fight too hard. No pain too much. Whatever it takes. Whatever.
How high would you climb to fall into His embrace? How hard would you fight to see His face?
We all have gifts we cherish. Precious family and friends, comforts and possession, dreams and plans… They give us countless moments of joy, fill up our days, and quite honestly our hearts too. We feel we have been blessed— and rightly so. This time of year often brings a fresh wave of gratitude from our hearts to the Giver…
That’s what Thanksgiving is about anyway, so we’re on the right track, yeah?
Or maybe not.
I wonder how much gratitude we would give if every gift the Giver has given was stripped away.
Sure, we may be determined that we would not curse God… we would not turn our backs…
But would we be grateful— even joyful?
Because the thing is… God is the One who is supposed to be first and foremost in our hearts. He is the One that should give us the most moments of joy and fill up our days, and our hearts.
And if we were just left with Him… we should find ourselves singing for joy that in loosing all else we can more fully embrace the greatest Gift.
But so often I find my own heart more attached to everything He has given than I am to the ultimate Gift Himself. I shrink from the thought that some of those gifts may not last forever… that seasons come and go… and so do gifts.
I look again at Job’s words— some of my favorite in all Scripture— and this time I begin to grasp a bit more what they really mean… “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
One can only say such words when Jesus is the One loved more than all else.
I remember again the story that has been burning this lesson onto my heart of late…
He was a simple preacher, dedicated to giving every ounce of himself for his Maker and the people around him. And communist Russia would test his resolve. While returning from a secret church meeting in the home of a friend, Richard is quickly taken by two police men and shoved in the back of a taxi cab. Blindfold on, he is clueless to where he is being taken, except for the nagging idea in the back of his mind. He had known this day was coming. And as soon at the blindfold is removed and he can see the dull grey concrete walls that surround him he knows he was right. He is left to wonder at the length of his sentence.
Inside his cell, Richard Wurmbrand contemplates his fate. He had given himself to ministry and served with all his strength. But in the flurry of activity, it was easy to miss the depth of experience possible. His mind drifted back to the words of a friend… “there are only two kinds of Christians: those who sincerely believe in God and those who, just as sincerely, believe that they believe.” Now he would know which he was.
Richard later wrote, “Did I believe in God? Now the test had come. I was alone. There was no salary to earn, no golden opinions to consider. God offered me only suffering— would I continue to love Him?”
Years of imprisonment followed. Richard had plenty of time to answer that questions. 14 years in fact.
Over and over he was questioned for his faith, and given every incentive imaginable to give it up. But to Richard it had become more than a faith. It was his best Friend he was being asked to turn his back on. He couldn’t do that.
Torture was the result.
And in the midst of unimaginable suffering Richard was content… even incredibly joyful. He writes, “Words alone have never been able to say what man feels in the nearness of divinity. Sometimes I was so filled with joy that I felt I would burst if i did not give it expression.” Many times during the three years he spent in solitary confinement the guards found him dancing for joy. “I did not mind if my captors thought I was mad, for I had found a beauty in Christ that I had not known before.”
During torture he had a phrase that he would repeat over and over to keep his mind from the pain… “Jesus, dear Bridegroom of my soul, I love You.”
His captors were infuriated at his commitment to God and his fellow men, and arranged for a trial. Richard was quite ill when it took place, and when asked to speak he could only think of three words to say… “I love God.”
After eight years of appalling treatment and suffering Richard was set free… but he couldn’t rest while he thought of the many prisoners who sat in darkness without hope of the Savior he loved. He began to tell God that he was willing to go back to jail if that was His will. And after a few short months he was arrested and taken.
For six more years Richard faced horrible suffering for the God he loved so much. While the men around him crumbled and lost their faith in socialism and other political positions, he stood firm. All the tactics, torture, offers, and physiological methods the communists could employ could not induce him to leave the God he loved so much… the very God who had allowed him to be separated from his wife and son for fourteen years… the God who allowed him to live years without seeing the light of the sun, or eat a square meal, or sleep in a comfortable bed… the God who allowed his dreams to be dashed, and all his possessions to be taken. The God who knew that the real source of happiness is not found in material gifts, but in the incredible gift we have of cherishing Him as our best Friend.
Richard’s words sink into me… “I knew now that I was not play-acting. I believed.”
And I wonder how we have allowed God to become anything less than our all... How we’ve become so consumed with all He gives that we miss Him.
Because so often we are like customers coming to Him and expecting Him to give us what we want.
How often do we come to Him purely for the joy of being in His presence? Just because we love Him?
The words of one of my favorite songs have been engraving themselves on my heart of late…
...What if right at midnight Jesus softly struck a match
Could that change everything, the light one flame could bring?
The deepest dark surrenders when One candle flickers brights
The same flame that in daytime would be lost in worlds of light
The night is not the enemy, for darkness tells this truth
Only One light lasts forever, only One light is truth.
God, if you have to make our world dark so that we can discern the Only One who lasts forever… do it. Our treasures are all yours. We want the true Treasure. We’re willing to face losses, prison walls, loneliness, the loss of all things save You so that the continual motto of our heart will be…
Jesus, dear Bridegroom of our souls, we love You…
...We love God.
This thanksgiving the deepest gratitude of my heart is for You. You are all. You are enough.
High King of heaven… my treasure Thou art.
*Photo credit-- Yours truly :)
MEN WANTED: FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY, SMALL WAGES, BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS, CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOR AND RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS.
-Sir Ernest Shackleton-
Quite a proposal. What would inspire a person to sign on to such a trip? What motive could possibly make a man want to leave his home and family for that? What if he did never come home? Could it be worth it?
Love does away with fear. In this case love of adventure...
Another quote comes to mind... this one from a famous astronaut.
"If we die, we want people to accept it. We are in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us, it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life." Virgil (Gus) Grissom
And later he and two friends did give their lives. While testing the Apollo 1, a fire broke out in the capsule and all three men died.
Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chafee before the fire.
What could have motivated them to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice?
Yet again we find love. In this case, not only love of adventure but love for conquest.
And it makes me think... What would motivate us to endure long months of complete darkness? What would give us the courage to live a life of constant danger? What would we deem a worthy cause for which to expend our life?
And the same answer strikes again. Love. This time capitalized.
Because that add was not just something written to inspire men to join an adventure to the South Pole. Someone much greater asks for similar courage.
And if hundreds of men could apply for that because of their love of adventure, shouldn't hundreds of Christians be willing to face the same for love of their Master?
If three men were willing to give their lives for the conquest of space, shouldn't we be willing to give our lives for the conquest of something much greater?
Shouldn't we be willing to face hardship this year?
Sometimes God uses hardship as the very means of our growth. And I say that with more confidence than ever before...
Dec. 31 2012
Lord, I want a year of growth-- if that means a hard year-- let it be a hard year. Take me out of my comfort zone. Send me trials. All I want is the year of greatest growth in you that I've ever had. That will make it my best year so far.
Little did I know what I was asking for...
After various trials and several months of fighting an unknown illness, and then being diagnosed with Lyme disease in August, I have a little more idea.The seven months of sickness and pain have been God's answer to my prayer in the above journal entry. And yet I wouldn't have that prayer unsaid, or those seven months "unlived" for anything. I can truly say that hardship was my greatest blessing.
Fast forward to another journal entry a year later...
Dec 31, 2013
...Though I now know more than ever before the heart definition of pain, I know also the heart definition of upholding Love. I may have known personally what it is like to be utterly weak, but I have also known the amazing power of sustaining grace. I might have known disappointments and confusion but it was only so that I might now truly know trust. I may have experienced darkness, but it was only so that I could now appreciate more the one true Light.
I now see my greatest struggles as my greatest blessings. Hardship is not our enemy. It is a gift the Master allows that we may be strengthened to fight our real enemy.
This year, I'm excited to see what new things He has in store. I know my Jesus doeth all things well. I praise Him that the last few weeks have marked improvements in my health, and the beginning of a slow, but sure, recovery.
And for the record, Lord, I am willing to endure hardship for You this year. I deem You worthy of risking my life.
After all, didn't You deem me worthy of risking Yours?
It was a simple thought, but one packed with power. My brother was telling me that he had been contemplating the other morning how water can only produce an accurate reflection when perfectly still-- how we can only produce an accurate reflection when perfectly still.
That thought really struck a cord with me. The depth of it's meaning is something I'm still trying to get my mind around. Just as the restless water produces a distorted reflection, we produce a distorted reflection of our Maker when we allow the storms of life to shake our trust, or when we become so frazzled by the business of life that we lose sight of Him. It's no accident we are told to "be still" and know that He is God.
A complete reflection of our Jesus can only shine from the heart that is perfectly still.
That rules out anxiety, which is really just a lack of trust.
It rules out the all-consuming business that leaves no time for Him.
It completely dispenses with frustration of any kind.
Instead this reflection requires trust. The kind that believes in the heart of it's Savior, even when it doesn't understand.
It asks us to be willing to accept His plans instead of our own, without having a "grown up tantrum." We've all seen the little child's version, but do we ever consider that sometimes we throw grown up "internal" tantrums when God says no? This summer has given me plenty of opportunity for them (like even this afternoon when I found out there are only four more GED testing dates this year at the "local" college before the new GED comes out, and two of them are on Sabbath, and one we are likely traveling, and the other will probably be booked by the time I get the necessary papers. :)) But I'm learning that real peace is found in giving Him the pen. I had definite aims and deadlines, ones that I'd prayed about and thought were right for the last few months. But sometimes He knows we need the gentle push towards deeper surrender and reliance on Him that disappointed plans will bring. And then, we can either struggle or surrender. But the restless water caused by the struggle reflects the Image poorly.
This reflecting Him... It calls for time daily to come apart and learn of His heart. Only the individual who knows the Master can reflect Him...
It asks us to be still. So still that not only the world-- but also our Maker-- can see His face perfectly reflected in us. It's the kind of stillness that only comes through trust.
*Be all at rest and let not your heart be rippled,
For tiny wavelets mar the image fair,
Which the still pool reflects of heaven's glory.
And thus the image He would have you bear.
*Streams in the Desert
Photos taken at NJFC
Credits: father :)
Pain is the richest backdrop for joy.
Words written in my journal three days ago when I had no idea that He had a plan to put a smile on my face in a few short hours. But there's something beautiful about trusting without seeing.
Peace found on the roughest road is sweeter than peace found because the road is smooth.
Joy because we trust His heart is deeper than joy because we see His hand.
Singing in the midst of trial means more to our Jesus than singing on the easiest day.
And Love that loves so much that it allows pain, is to be valued far more highly than any love that will only permit sunny skies.
A true friend will be willing to pray that you will be placed in the furnace of affliction so that you may come forth as pure gold. And He who loves you so much as to place you in the furnace of affliction, can be counted on to be the truest Friend of all.
We are told that He "weeps with those who weep..." (DA p. 533), and in my minds eye I can see His hot tears falling on the gold as He purifies it. Every time He puts it in the fire, it breaks His heart too.
Maybe more than it breaks ours?
Could it be, that it would be easier for Him too, if all we had were sunny skies? But He is willing to suffer Himself, to see us made whole by the fire?
"...I wound, and I heal..." (Deuteronomy 32:39)
That's the God I serve.
That's the God I trust.
The last several weeks have provided a lot of “think time” for me. Time that was not on my to do list… Time I didn’t think I could afford. I had plenty of plans and deadlines for this summer, but sometimes He blows our plans apart so that we will accept His much greater ones. I’m grateful He does.
And so instead of fighting Him, I’m choosing to make the most of the time He is giving me. I see already that He’s had a purpose in my unlimited “think time.” I’m learning lessons… far greater than anything I thought to learn in school this summer.
The lesson that is engraving itself on my mind and heart first came through our evening family story time. Let me share...
*He was an ordinary guy, only nineteen. He had felt God’s call to go and give his life to reach a certain Indian tribe for Him. So he left all he knew, home and friends, and purchased a one way ticket to South America. After years of seeking to get to them, he was brutally injured by an arrow shot into his leg by the Indians he came to love. But he did not give up. The work God did in him to reach the Indians was miraculous. Despite enduring terrible injuries and potentially fatal illnesses, he was faithful. And because of his efforts, God brought the whole tribe to a knowledge and acceptance of Jesus. The cross was exalted. Captives were freed.
In time, our young friend became engaged to a sweet girl who also loved the Indians and the the Savior. They eagerly looked forward to their future of service together. But the devil can never stand the exaltation of the cross. Their wedding day never came. She died in a heartbreaking car accident. Her fiancée received the telegram sent by her mother weeks later.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Indians were being threatened with the loss of their land or death, by the colonists. And it was our missionary's best friend and adopted brother, the first Indian to accept Jesus and the spiritual leader of the tribe, who was first to suffer. He was cruelly murdered.
In the midst of his heartbreak and dismay, our missionary friend went to visit one of the Columbian officials to report the death of his Indian brother. It was their conversation that has been burning itself onto my mind the last few days…
The Columbian official reminded our friend that the struggles and death they were going through were not in spite of Jesus but for Jesus.. They were because of the honor and exaltation of the cross. The devil was angered at the work done.
It was for this cross that they suffered.
The lesson imprinted itself powerfully on my mind. So often we find our willingness to suffer, in the knowledge that the pain is for our good. But is that the only reason for our suffering? Might there not be a greater reason, a reason that is far above our little lives?
Might it be that our suffering is for the exalting of the cross?
The devil is angry when we give our lives to be a testimony to the power of the cross, angry when he sees captives set free.
Could it be that we are called to suffer because the cross is being lifted high?
And might it be, that through our suffering, our Jesus wants to raise the cross higher still, by it’s visible power in giving us strength to bear our pain with trust and joy?
Could it be that our suffering is God's tool to break our self-reliance, so that He can then use us to lift the cross higher still?
I’ve noticed something lately. Many of us who are giving our lives fully to God’s work are facing trials. Sometimes its health challenges, or loneliness, days when it feels like the sun forgot how to shine.
But could it be that its for this cross?
The thought makes my heart leap. If this is the reason for our pain… Oh Jesus, send us more, that through it the cross can be lifted just another inch higher.
And when we suffer, more and more of the cross becomes our own. Jesus becomes dearer.
Paul counted his gain as loss, and his loss as gain. Think about that.
And so I’ve started praying a scary prayer-- scary because I mean it.
My plea is that I would be allowed to suffer more if the cross can be lifted higher by it.
That every gift I treasure most will be taken from me, so that I can gain more of my Jesus and His cross.
And that He will break me, so that I can be a more powerful vessel in His hands to uplift the cross.
Isn’t it worth loosing everything to gain everything? Even if we loose life itself?
I don’t know what will be the result of this prayer. It still makes my heart skip a beat when I pray it. But I'm convinced... Anything suffered or given up for this cross is not in vain.
I long to say with Paul,
…I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and so count them but dung, that I may win Christ.
Don’t run from your trials, from your losses. Be encouraged that even pain, health challenges, confusion about your future, and lonliness are not your enemies, but tools in the hand of the Master. Count them as gain.
Through them you may lift the cross an inch higher. And you may make an inch more of it your own.
Oh Jesus, we’ll willingly bear anything….
…for this cross.
A month has passed since my last post... and what a month it's been! Despite the fact that it's not been an easy month, I thank God for it. We don't grow half so much on the easy days as we do on the tough ones.
I'm remembering how two years ago today, my Jesus proved Himself to me, and prompted some friends to sing "Blessings" at an FC on just the day I needed it. It totally changed my outlook on trials, and ever since that day, I've prayed for trials... and longed for them.
And now two years later, I'm so very grateful for the way trials have changed me... the way they are changing me right now.
This last month has been filled with moments of intensely realizing my own weakness, and having to rely wholly on His strength. I've been brought to the end of my rope more times than I can count, but He's always been there to help me grasp onto Him instead. I've fallen on my knees in desperate need of the help and strength He can give. And there's something fundamentally different and powerful about being on our knees because we feel obligated to, compared to being there because we feel totally incapable of doing anything without going there first.
Sometimes He allows us to feel we have no strength to stand so that we will instead "live" on our knees.
And I've found myself pleading, even in the darkest moments, for Him to keep allowing trials, because I love the way they turn my heart to Him. I was lying on my bed this afternoon, and honestly felt a wave of joy sweep over me that He is taking the time to refine me. He's answering my prayers for trials.
He reminded me last week that trust is learned in the darkness... not in the light of day when everything makes sense, but in the night, when we can't see or understand.
And He reminded me this afternoon as I stood outside in the pouring rain soaking in every drop, that my blessings may come through raindrops.
Jesus, I've promised you that I will embrace the cross. Don't let me give up just because it takes me far out of my comfort zone. Don't let me ever be so distracted with the weight of the cross that I forget it's purpose-- it's beauty. Don't let me ever shrink from raindrops because they come from dark clouds-- for it's in those clouds that the rainbow is seen.
"I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown."
Jesus, I'll embrace darkness, weakness, and raindrops willingly, if through them I can learn to trust you more fully. Help me remember...
Weakness pulls us to our knees.
Trust is learned in the dark.
Blessings come through raindrops.
20. Lover of Jesus. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Servant. Fan of the kitchen. Graduate of Masters of Biblical Counseling.
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