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.
His story hits home with this heart… maybe because I see in it a faint glimmer of myself… a glimmer of all humanity.
Robert Robinson was only a small boy when he was tragically left fatherless. He was bright and headstrong and without the guidance of a father, he found himself in ever increasing trouble. His teenage years were wild and empty. The happiness he searched for always seemed to elude him. He longed for something to fill the void inside of him and secretly hoped for an opportunity to attend George Whitfield’s meetings nearby. Too ashamed to admit his desire, he rounded up his equally degraded friends and suggested that they go and make fun of the meeting. But amid the laughing and joking of his peers, Robert’s heart was deeply touched by what he heard. For three years those truths replayed in his mind to haunt him. Love was seeking him and would not give up until He had his heart.
Finally, at 20, Robert decided he had had enough of himself and was ready to let the King of Love have his heart. Heaven rejoiced. Shortly after, he felt called to ministry and for several years was associated with the Wesleys. He was a powerful speaker and impacted many lives by his service.
But maybe the biggest thing Robert ever did was to write a simple poem to compliment one of his sermons. The poem was later set to music and became famous as the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. Not only would the song change lives for centuries, but it would eventually change his own.
In his later years, Robert drifted from the God he loved. His poem had become his autobiography…
But Love was not content to leave him in himself. While on a train one day, the young woman next to him who had no clue who he was, began sharing with him the huge impact the hymn “Come Thou Fount” was having on her life. Try as he might, Robert could not make her change the subject. Finally, with tears in his eyes, he quietly responded, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who composed that him many years ago. And I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” The young woman gently quoted his own thoughts to him, “Sir, the streams of mercy are still flowing.” His heart was touched. He turned his heart back to the Love that had so tirelessly sought him and gave his heart to the only One who could truly seal it for the courts above…
Two lines of his song have been a soundtrack running through my consciousness lately…
“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it…
Prone to leave the God I love.”
Sometimes I think we class wandering as giving up on God completely and having a fling with the world. But what about those moments when we become consumed in our work at the expense of taking time to hear His heart? What about those mornings we just don’t feel like talking to Him, and so run off on our own? What about those times when we feel confused and hear a gentle voice saying “Come to me. Please. I just want to help you” but fight it off with the excuse that I can handle this myself? What about the times we turn to amusement and entertainment to give us joy instead of relentlessly seeking His heart? What about then? Isn’t that wandering too?
Honestly though… we don’t like to think that we might be guilty of wandering. We like to think that we are the faithful ones.That we wouldn’t dream of leaving Him. Meanwhile, an honest look at the facts proves quite otherwise.
But in avoiding the reality of the state of our own hearts, we miss the beauty of the reaction of His.
One of the most beautiful and lovable things about my Jesus is the way He loves me even when I fail Him… I don’t know how many mornings I’ve gotten up and told Him how excited I was to spend the day with Him and how I wanted to put Him first, etc, etc… and proceeded to run off into the day and be totally consumed in my tasks, only to have it dawn on me as I tumble into bed or catch a few quiet moments out in my meadow. And somehow, every time He seems to gently welcome me back with arms wide open and a little comment about how He missed me. It always melts me. I go away determined to do better. And gradually, His love and patience is changing this heart from a busy and activity centered girl, to one who knows the greatest joy is to sit at the feet of Jesus.
But so often we stop Him from transforming us because we don’t admit our own wanderings. Or if we do, we quickly shove them into the back of our mind.
I wonder if we are sometimes afraid to recognize the love and patience of our Jesus in the face of our failure because it is a heavy blow to our human pride. We like to consider ourselves deserving of love. It’s cuts at that pride to admit that on our own we are little wretches who deserve to be left alone… but are loved more deeply that we can imagine anyway.
Truth is though, that all human pride is an obstacle to really knowing His heart. We have to be willing to lay ourselves low. To recognize our failings and wanderings and look up into the eyes of deepest Love and accept that they reflect a depth of love we could never deserve.
Maybe we wander because deep down we still think we can do it on our own. But when we are willing to lay low and look up at the One who was bruised and bleeding for me-- maybe it is then that Love will transform us into hearts that wander no more.
Could it be that the very chord which binds our heart to His heart is our recognition of our frailty and His everlasting loyalty?
Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me ever to adore Thee,
May I still Thy goodness prove,
While the hope of endless glory
Fills my heart with joy and love.
Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
Hither by thy help I’ve come;
And I hope, by thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed his precious blood.
O, to Grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind me closer still to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart–O, take and seal it,
Seal it for thy courts above.
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)
Sometimes we get into our little routines of day to day life and forget that there is something better. At least I do. Peaceful early mornings give way to the day’s to do list, and before I know it, the sun’s already set. And though I’m blessed beyond what I’ll ever know to spend my days with the best Friend there ever was-- a focus on today alone is a sad mistake.
I often find myself becoming content with the glory of living life with my Jesus and forget that living this life with Him is not the only goal. True love will never be content with anything but being as close as possible.
He reminded me gently the other day when I was praying and thanking Him for all the gifts He’s given. I’d journaled simple… “Good morning Jesus! I’m so happy to get to spend this day with you. I am so excited about all the things we are going to get to do together in the next month. I can’t wait to be in England. I love that place and I’m so very thankful that I get to take you with me. What could be better?
Gentle voice whispers... The moment when I can have you here with Me and you can feel My strong arms around you… the day when we can walk arm in arm along the streets of gold… the wonder on your face as you see it all for the first time… the tears in your eyes as you realize all I left for you and how much more deeply I loved you than you could ever know… a ceaseless eternity, face to face and together with no barriers…
Oh. Deep breath. Yeah. How did I forget? Of course.
It’s easy to get so consumed in the here and now that I forget there is a future. I forget there is more. I forget this is the journey and not my home. I forget that even this sweetness is only a taste of the best that is yet to come.
Catastrophes have a way of shaking us awake to the future. When I hear of little four-year old Muna Puri from Nepal who was playing outside when the ground began to shake underneath her and the buildings began to sway above her and finally collapse on top of her, I remember that this is not home. No one even knows where her crumpled little lifeless body is right now. Her mother just knows she's somewhere under all the rubble from those buildings… that the house they just took out a loan to build is a mess of stones all over the street… that she has nothing left. Nothing here. And there’s thousands more with such stories… with the death toll over 5,000, at least 8,000 seriously hurt and 8,000,000 heavily affected, the pain has to be unimaginable.
I walk through grassy fields and my heart burns. How could I have thought that this was all I wanted? How can I be so content on this broken little planet? How can I rest until I can throw myself into His arms? How can love be satisfied until it is as close as possible?
Sabbath morning the visiting pastor with greying hair shares how he never thought he would marry or have children before Jesus came and now he is an old man with grandchildren. His elderly friends are passing away, and he wants to go home. That’s when it hit me. I’ve never really thought I’d ever have my own children either. I thought He’d be here by then. What if I grow old and He still hasn’t come?
And sure, that’s not what He wants. He’s more desperate to come than I ever could be to have Him here.
But the truth sinks in… He can’t come until we fulfill His command and shout to every corner of the earth that He is God, and He is good, and His love knows no limits, and He is able to save to the very uttermost boundaries of the earth…
What are we waiting for? If we love Him, why aren’t we doing everything in our power to share that love? Why aren’t we living for the day when we’ll be forever reunited?
Instead of that, we often forget that there even is a heaven to come. We live for today. We do our own tasks and claim to be too busy to do His work.
Wait a minute. What are we even here for if it’s not His work? What is the point of today if it isn’t to love Him and share that love with His people?
It’s not all about living for now. We’re living for a brighter, sweeter, eternity than we can ever grasp here. Sure, I believe in treasuring today, but not at the expense of living for eternity. Today is a tool to bring us closer to home.
I can’t imagine living my whole life and growing old here. I can’t imagine not seeing Him for that long. I can’t be content to always live here on earth with Him in heaven, even if there is a strong connection between. This world is not my home… I don’t want to live like it is.
I can’t ignore those pleading eyes that tell of an even greater desire to be together on His part.
I can’t let my life consume me. It’s not about my to do list-- what I have to get done before the day is over. It’s about Yours… what You have to get done before You can come. I want my generation to see. I want to see myself. I can’t bear thinking that we will sit back and let the years roll by and be consumed with our own tiny stories. Please teach us to live for Your story. Give us a zeal that will be unstoppable to do our part for that day to come. Teach us what it means to love. Then we will know what it means to really live.
Sometimes I wonder if we have lost perspective. We struggle to get up in the morning to spend time with God. We struggle to take time to really pray. We struggle to be content and really happy. And all the while we sincerely claim to love God most of all.
Sometimes I doubt that we even know what that really means.
You know the love and overflowing happiness on the faces of a newly married couple? The way they look at each other, always want to be together, find everything fun when they can do it as a team, make the simplest tasks a great joy just by being in each others presence, feel like nothing in life matters as long as they have each other, and can’t seem to stop smiling— just because they love each other so much. They are fun to be around… it’s almost like there is something in their joy that we all longing for deep down, even if we don’t know it.
Truth is, we were all meant to love like that. We were all meant to be that happy. We were all created with a deep longing to love and be loved and when that need is fulfilled, we can’t help ourselves from smiling.
We were all meant to love Him like that. But I have to wonder… how many of us do?
How many of us “look" at Him with adoration in our eyes? Do we really want to be in His presence as much as newlyweds want to be together? Do we find everything fun because we can do it as a team and find the smallest tasks a joy just because we’re together? How many of us feel like nothing in life matters as long as we have Him? Are we really radiant with a joy we can’t suppress?
Have we fallen in love with Him as much as a pair of newlyweds have with each other? Because really… if we claim to love Him best, our love should double theirs.
Perhaps we need a dear girl in the underground church in Romania to put things in perspective for us… We don’t even know her name, but the legacy she left has had me thinking for months.
Though young, she was totally committed to her Jesus, no matter what it cost her. Despite it’s being illegal, she spread copies of the gospels among her people, and did whatever she could to teach the children about her God. The secret police found out, and determined to arrest her. But to make it as painful as possible they decided to wait a couple weeks. You see, in two weeks, she was marrying her best earthly friend.
"On her wedding day, the girl was dressed as a bride—the most wonderful, joyous day in a girl’s life! Suddenly, the door burst open and the secret police rushed in. When the bride saw the secret police, she held out her arms toward them to be handcuffed. They roughly put the manacles on her wrists. She looked toward her beloved, then kissed the chains and said, 'I thank my heavenly Bridegroom for this jewel He has presented to me on my marriage day. I thank Him that I am worthy to suffer for Him.' She was dragged off, with weeping Christians and a weeping bridegroom left behind.”
Her husband-to-be waited for her release for five years. She went through terrible torture and when released she looked like a woman thirty years older. But she had no complaint. Instead she said it was the least she could do for her Jesus.
It moves me every time. Because honestly? We’re still trying to get up early enough to have an hour to talk with Him before the day starts. And sometimes we think that is a sacrifice. Heaven help us! We need a totally different perspective on what being a Christian is all about. At least I do.
Because the thing is… He loves us far more than any love we’ve seen here— even more than newlyweds. But we don’t know it. Sure, we’ve heard it a million times. We’ve read it in the Bible. We’ve heard it from the pulpit. We know He loves us. And most of us pass it off as old news, like something not worth giving a second thought to.
I wonder if any of us really know… Or maybe we have become so used to hearing the truth that it's never really sunk in. And maybe because we’ve never really known what it meant to be loved by God, we’ve never known what it means to love Him back.
He has a beautiful way of gently shaking us into the reality of that love though. He’s doing it for me… and if He can do it for me, He can do it for anyone. There really is nothing that compares to being deeply loved by the Almighty God. It’s an awesome thing.
And when I can grasp even a millionth of that love, I want nothing more than to be with Him and love Him back. And though He has to be very patient with this little slow learner… I am learning. There’s nothing sweeter than falling in Love with the greatest One in the universe.
I don’t want to be too complacent to take time to see His love. I don’t want to be content to love Him a little when I was made to love Him with all my heart. I don’t want to pass His love off as an old truth… to be so caught up in my own little world that I forget what it means to be in love with Him…
And I wonder how He feels when we claim to love Him but find it so hard to spend time with Him… when we treat His love as an old truth that we’ve heard a million times… could it be that our Prince stands with aching heart, longing for us to fall in love with Him and want to be in HIs presence even a tenth as much as He wants to be in ours?
I've always admired people whose writing is raw and honest. It has a freshness and grace that polished words just can't carry. But truth be known, the numerous unfinished blog posts stored away on my computer are proof that I am naturally inclined to polish my posts for so long that they become outdated. The likelihood of any of them every reaching my idea of eloquence is rather slim, thus the long silences on this blog.
Perhaps though, to be genuine is more beautiful than to be polished. Maybe the whole philosophy behind my hesitance to blog is actually an issue that runs much deeper in us than we like to think.
It seems to me that society has painted an image of what we are supposed to be, and we feel that to be anything less proves us to be inferior. We feel like we have to have it all together to be valuable.
Truth is, we don't have it all together. None of us do. We are all broken and messed up.
But somehow, we feel pressured by society, and because of that, we fight to look like we are fine. We think that if people know what we are really like, we will loose our value. So we answer the questions of "how are you?" with a typical "I'm great!" and carry on our way with a smile on our face, while we fall apart inside.
And while having such a mentality messes with our human relationships, it really distorts the beauty and intimacy we were made to have with our Jesus.
When we feel like we have to come to Him in our church clothes, with smiles on our faces, and our problems safely hidden inside, we totally miss the reason for coming. What is the point of bandaging ourselves up and then coming to the Healer? How can we even get close to Him when we have a mask in the way?
Real intimacy is always preceded by real honesty.
We don't come to Jesus polished and perfect. We come broken, bruised, and messed up. We don't come to tell Him how good we are. We come because we are angry, confused, discouraged, and afraid.
I come because I have tasted a love "that makes me more that what I was, and sees beyond what I am." I come because I know I am broken. I know I am selfish. I know that I am a mess. And I want to remove the mask and let Him see me just as I am. I want to tell Him every last little thing. I want Him to know. I want to open my heart up to Him completely and let Him into the deepest and darkest corners. I want His love to melt my hard heart. I want it to break down every barrier. I want it to transform me completely.
His heart desperately longs for us to know that there need be no masks with Him... in fact, our masks actually limit Him. How can we expect Love to do a deep work in our hearts when we are unwilling to give Him access to our deep places?
Our hearts can only be healed when they have first been opened. And while we are in no way to boast of our failings, we can only be healed from them when we are willing to admit them.
David is a beautiful example of how raw honesty binds our heart to the heart of God. He was a broken man. He had made mistakes that some of us would never dream of. He had been through exceedingly painful circumstances. But he didn't try to hide his brokenness from his God. Instead, he opened up his heart and laid every ounce of if before the eyes of his Jesus.
He wasn't afraid to come to God and admit that he was so heartbroken he forgot to eat, and that his bed swam with tears. He didn't try to gloss over his pain. He wasn't afraid to admit to God when he was angry with his enemies. And when he had fallen, he openly acknowledged that he was a great sinner and that he needed to be cleansed. He didn't try to be polished before coming into God's presence. He was perfectly frank about what was going on in his heart. That honesty gave him a level of intimacy with God that few people taste. Because of such, he was called a man after God's own heart.
I want that. To be called a girl after His heart. To be as close to Him as is humanly possible. To give Him complete access to the deepest things in my heart. To be totally honest with God.
To stop thinking that my value is in having it all together and realize that the most valuable thing I can do is throw open the windows of my heart to my Jesus and admit that I am broken...
...and find my value in being fully known and yet fully loved by my Jesus.
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 :)
Sometimes I wonder what it must be like for the Omnipotent God to look down at a world of hearts that are closed to Him…
David said it so profoundly…
“God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Every one of them is gone back… there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”
It’s heartbreaking. And it’s so far from all that God longs to give His children.
The last couple months have shown me a side of God’s heart I had never grasped before…
We’ve all heard a million times that God is personal and the One who will always be there for us and I’ve always believed and loved that thought. But somehow, it’s only been lately that I’ve more fully realized what that really means for me.
This God of ours is not some nebulas being who loves us but is somewhat distant from our lives. He is not merely a Master. His love is not some vague concept that we cannot feel.
The Jesus I serve passionately loves me with all His heart. The thought of loosing me is so hard for Him that He would rather come to earth and give His life than watch me slip away. He’s always there for me during the day to check in and see how I’m doing. He always has an encouraging word to speak when I’m down. When I fall, He picks me back up and holds my hand. All night long He watches me sleep, eagerly awaiting the moment I wake up, so we can be together again.
And I just can’t help myself falling in love with this Jesus. He is so tangible… so personal.
It’s not a matter of trying to want to spend time with Him. I just can’t wait for it.
Nothing in the world is as sweet as the time when I can leave behind all the distractions of my day and go out to my meadow below the ridge behind our house and just be with Him. It’s not an obligation now, it’s a privilege. I want to open my heart completely to this God. To tell Him absolutely everything about me. I want to give Him total access to the deepest corners of my heart.
I want Him to look down from heaven and find my heart open to Him… all day. Every day.
And I realize more and more that all He really wants is our hearts. I mean, everything is His. He owns all... except what He wants most-- the hearts of His children.
My heart burns to give Him more. I wish I had a thousand lives to lay on the altar for Him.
But nothing puts a bigger smile on His face than when we offer Him our little wounded, dirty, broken hearts.
And this whole thing about Christianity… it’s not about trying to do all the right things and be the good people. It’s about falling deeply in love with the Jesus who it’s all about.
Christianity is not merely a matter of the mind, but a matter of the heart.
And when we open our heart up to Him, He changes it, draws it close, and makes it like His. We may not feel any closer to Him today than we did yesterday, but we can know that though we may not see, He is working. One day it will all be clear, and we’ll marvel at a grace that is as far beyond our highest dreams as heaven is above earth.
This Jesus has had you in His heart for all eternity. And when the day came for you to be born, He had the biggest smile on His face that you can imagine. The day had finally come. From now on, He could lavish His love on you, and begin the journey of winning your heart.
And all through your life, He's been on that journey. Everyday He tries to show us in a hundred little ways how deep His love is. But so often we keep our heart closed and our face turned.
He's been running after us all our lives, trying to show that He loves with all His heart and that you are the most important thing to Him in the world.
Maybe it's time to just stop running from Him, and fall in His arms and live the rest of our lives in adoration for the God who wouldn't stop seeking us, even when we were ungrateful hard hearted wretches who thought we were fine on our own.
Because this Jesus? Life is a million times sweeter with Him.
*Photo credits-- Hannah Rayne
Sometimes I wonder how we can shrink down our God to make Him more manageable for our little minds…
Not that it’s a conscious decision. It seems to happen gradually over time. Almost as if we cannot comprehend the reality of a God that can breathe the universe into existence while loving and watching you and I as if we were the only ones. And because we cannot comprehend it, we find ourselves shaving off a little of His power, while simultaneously doubting the intimacy of His love... at least, in our own minds.
My little mind can only barely comprehend the vastness of this place we call home… never mind the fact that the sun is a million times bigger… or that 9.2 billion suns could fit inside Canis Majoris, the big dog star…that traveling on the space shuttle it would take 30 years to reach the edge of the solar system… that the solar system itself is the size of a quarter compared to the milky way, which would be the size of north and south america (plus alaska)… And as if that isn’t enough, that there are 300 billion stars in the Milky Way alone, and that there are an estimated 500 billion galaxies… That just blows my mind. I feel helpless to really grasp what it means.
And it was my God who made all that?
The God who watches my sleep each night counting the minutes till I’ll be up to spend time with Him… the One who is never too busy to hear the littlest thing on my heart at that moment… the One who wants me to be radically honest with Him about my doubts and fears even though they are pathetic compared to the pain He sees in the world each day… the One who longs to spend hours with me just talking when He has a million other things to do…
Yeah, that God.
And I can’t grasp it.
And so though I may sit in awe for a few moments, my humanity shrinks Him down to my size so that I can begin to understand Him.
But I’m realizing… shrinking God down causes major trouble.
Because really… when I shrink Him down, I shrink down my capability for love and worship. I mean, how can I stand in awe of something I’ve made my own size?
We're not the first ones to have this problem after all. Back in Moses day the Israelites did the same thing. They took their pieces of wood and covered them with gold and made their own gods. And yes, they were more manageable...
But whoever said we were to be the ones to make God manageable? Isn't He supposed to manage us?
The other day I found myself trudging down our road trying to recognize the presence of God in the business of my life... trying to trust Him with everything... Sun shines bright in my eyes as I walk, as if hinting to me of the size of my God, but I miss the memo.
And then it hits me while I sit in church the next day... God is so big, so big, that His presence fills the earth. It's not a matter of whether or not He is near, but whether or not I see Him.
And I realize that I've been shrinking God down... and it's no question why I begin to doubt. Because He is not the God I've made Him out to be.
He is greater. More powerful. More trustworthy. More loving. More intimate.
And if I am not standing in awe of Him right now, it's because I have shrunk Him down to my own size and created a God of wood and gold that I can manage instead of standing in awe of who He is and letting that melt me.
When God seems powerless and I feel like I need something more... it's not because He's loosing power... it's that I've robbed Him of it in my own life by lack of belief-- by shrinking Him down. God is always enough... the fault is not His.
Perhaps that's why the Christians in Bible and Reformation times saw such a manifestation of His power and closeness. Because they believed in it.
And maybe when we believe in a God who is so powerful and loving that He can shake the world... Maybe, just maybe, that's when He will.
*Photo credits-- Hannah Rayne
20. Lover of Jesus. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Servant. Fan of the kitchen. Graduate of Masters of Biblical Counseling.
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