I was driving on Ruston Way last night. It was after dark, and I was surprised multiple groups of people out, and I thought, Yup, it’s Spring now. There are jokes about what constitutes appropriate weather for going out in the Pacific Northwest; our threshold for what counts as “too chilly” seems to be higher than in other regions, and especially after long, gray winters, we tend to look outside and think, “close enough.” The people I saw walking the waterfront were mostly bundled up in blankets and puffy coats because, despite the lovely sunny day, the evening was very chilly.
I couldn’t help thinking how these people were determined to enjoy the season. Despite the weather report or the temperature, the fact remains that it is Spring, and people are starting to live like it’s Spring. And I couldn’t help thinking that this is a spiritual truth as well: When the season we’re in changes, sometimes the weather of our lives looks pretty much the same at first; or maybe a terrific storm comes when before it was simply cold, and it seems like Winter is only restarting and nothing is improving, or it’s actually getting worse. But the fact remains that the days of death and cold are over, and the days ahead are getting warmer and brighter; new life is blossoming, things are changing, because despite the weather, the season remains.
Of course, tomorrow is the day believers across the globe celebrate the Resurrection of the Son of God, and the consequent resurrection of every story that was marred by death. This season, the season of Abundant Life, zoé perissós*, goes on without end. All the darkness tries to hide the truth, to convince us that the storm and the cold and the gloom are here to stay; but the darkness cannot change the fact that life is here and now. We are able with Christ to live the way we were meant to, to walk out the story God has written for us, despite the weather. The days of death are over; Spring is here.
The phoenix is one of my favorite symbols: It’s a mythical fire bird which consumes itself in flames and rises renewed from the ashes. It doesn’t do this just once, but many times, so that it lives on and on. It reminds me of the beautiful passage from Isaiah 61:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me. . . to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit… (Isaiah 61:1, 3 ESV)
I can’t help thinking about this creature and these verses on this first day of the new year, as I say goodbye to 2015 (I won’t miss it at all), and look forward to a brand new year. I woke up today and it was as if I had new eyes too see everything; I had hope and joy for the days ahead like I haven’t had in quite some time—maybe ever. Today truly is a new day; all the days before are gone, and they cannot tell me who I am or hold me back from where God is leading me. I am ready to leave those ashes behind, no looking back, for the beauty and the joy of walking with the Lord in His all-consuming fire.
It is a happy new year indeed.
As I was driving home tonight, I thought about that young Jewish girl who became the mother of God Incarnate so long ago. She is revered, a heroine: The little woman who said yes to God, to the impossible.
Mary was not unaware of the trouble that saying yes would bring. She knew people would not understand. They might disbelieve and even shun her. She knew raising a boy called the son of God would be difficult, to say the least. She knew her life would never be the way she’d expected or imagined it would be. But still she said yes. Why? Because she believed the One who spoke, and trusted in His words.
We all have a chance to be like Mary.
We all come to that moment when the Word of God comes, and we have the choice to say, like her, “Let it be unto me according to your word.” Not because it’s easy, not because we’re not nervous nor even terrified, not because we’re perfect and flawless. We can say yes because “No word of God shall be impossible.” He who speaks is faithful, both to His word and to us. He already favored us and chose us; we have only to believe Him.
(Reposted from my own facebook page)
So I had to share this picture, not because of the main message (though it’s still true), but because the image itself struck me. Look at the ground she walks on: Dry as a desert. There are walls of water on either side, but they don’t come down on her. Sometimes, we go through “desert times,” seemingly inhospitable and dry, and we feel abandoned. Perhaps sometimes, what we don’t see is the torrent on either side, the raging waves we walk through that don’t crash down and take us under. Sometimes the paths God leads us on seem hard, even impossible. But these are the ways to be thankful for, because on these ways God is leading us right through the midst of chaos that would otherwise overwhelm us, even destroy us. He is a good Shepherd, who walks with His sheep wherever He leads them, so we can take heart in this as well: Desert or dry ocean bed, we are never alone.
At night, and especially in the rain, everything can look very different. Streets you’ve driven many times look unfamiliar, the lines on the road become hard to distinguish among the many reflections from streetlights and businesses, and even though you know where you’re going, suddenly it seems like getting there has become more challenging.
This will be honest.
A friend of mine recently asked me why I seem to have changed so much in the past few months, and I realized tonight (while driving home, in this midsummer weather bummer) that part of it is because my life has become very unfamiliar to me. A lot of changes have happened in my life in a relatively short span of time, and I have been grasping for something that feels like the way things were; something familiar, from what I think of as a good time in my life. Even though it’s the same road I’ve been on, a turn somewhere brought me into the night; the lines on this road are harder to see amidst the distractions and deceptions coming from the side. I feel alone on this road, and I’m nervous about driving it. Suddenly the path I was sure of has become foreign and even frightening. Suddenly, I feel like I don’t know where I am.
I realized the things I’m grasping for are times and seasons and places that I have passed through, but can’t get back to, or things that aren’t here yet that I keep hoping will be. What I’m missing, what I’m really looking for, is something unchanging. I hunger for that place that can be reached from anywhere I am—I want the peace, the quiet stillness, the presence of my Father.
I’ve also realized the quiet is something I’ve come to dread. All my fears find a voice there, and all the worries begin to shout in the silence, and the many things I feel I must do to keep occupied suddenly seem so very important. I ride the wave of the clamor right past the secret place into more chaos, and the things I do just to keep busy really just keep me cluttered and confused. Then, when the desire to meet God in my prayer closet becomes so strong I might actually act on it, I feel guilty or ashamed for having put Him off, and so continue to put Him off (which totally fixes the problem..?). Yet in the times when I find that place, and the voice of the Lord breaks through with a blast of peace, I remember the comfort of His presence and the joy of His word. He is the solid ground I’m looking for while this ground seems unstable. He is the light that shines without distortion, though the night is dark and the rain is heavy. When I live by His presence, I find the road I’m on to be one I’m able to travel, regardless of how hard it is. I am reminded that I’m not driving alone, either in my own vehicle or as the only vehicle on this road.
I am also reminded in these times, when I allow the Holy Spirit to refresh and strengthen me, that there is no time or place in life when I can’t seek Him. Another friend of mine was recently talking about “getting to that place” where she can find God again, and when I opened my mouth to reply, the Spirit came out and said, more or less: “You don’t have to get anywhere. Find Him where you are, because He’s seeking you where you are.” How often we think we must be a certain way, or change certain things, or find a new circumstance, before we feel like we can come into His presence again. God is always where we are, right there with us. Certainly He wants to lead us into new places—but it’s impossible to be led by someone who isn’t there, so how can God be elsewhere? This brings a whole new dimension to that familiar phrase, “Be where you are.” You can’t live in either your past or your future, for better or worse. You’re not what you were, nor what you will be, but you are, here and now—and so is God. Find Him where you are, without fear or shame, without regrets, without reserve; and let Him find you, every part of you. Whether you feel completely lost or completely on track, seek Him; He already knows the road you’re on.
So I’ve written before about all the stressful things that are going on in my life; it is crazy hard and frustrating right now. I had had it with one thing after another cropping up without reprieve, and was wallowing in this despair one day recently when suddenly, as I was preparing eloquent complaints in my mind, I heard very clearly: “What do you want people to know about your life?” That stopped me dead in my thoughts; before I share my answer to that question though, I’d like to share this:
If anyone ever suffered for the sake of the gospel, surely Paul did. He was ridiculed, slandered, imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, threatened numerous times with death, and generally lived a fairly miserable life after his journey on the road to Damascus. Yet he writes to the Philippians (most likely from Rome during his imprisonment): “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13). Paul’s secret was trusting God and relying on His strength, in every circumstance, no matter what it looked like. Some people say faith is blind, but that’s not true at all. Faith does see, yet it does not rely on sight but on revelation from heaven. Paul went to Jerusalem on purpose, even though he knew terrible happenings awaited him; one prophet even bound himself up with Paul’s own belt as a prophetic gesture to the imprisonment Paul would face (Acts 21:10-11). Paul had a heads-up that after Jerusalem, things would not be so fun for him; and yet, in response to the pleading of his friends, he says: “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). Paul had his eyes on the Lord, and was determined to allow God’s glory to be brought through him no matter what happened.
It’s not easy to hope for what you can’t see; to keep your eyes fixed on the Lord and not on the trials. How hard it must have been for Paul, not knowing if this imprisonment would be to his death. We all hope for things to change for the better, and we know God can do miracles, but what if He allows us to be tested, as He did Job? What if He wants us to bring glory to Him in terrible dark places? To show the enemy that our praise and worship of God isn’t because of what we get from Him, but because of who He is?
Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (better known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) faced this dilemma. When ratted out by malicious Chaldeans for not worshipping Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, and threatened by the king with death in the superheated furnace, they responded (honorably) to him thus: “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18, emphasis added). The three of them were resolved that no situation or outcome would sway them from worshipping the Most High God, even if it meant death for them. What if there is no rescue, no healing, no deliverance? Do we love and trust the Lord so much that we pray, like Jesus did, “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39)? Do we really want glory brought to His name more than anything else? This kind of faith, this kind of living, is not easy. It cannot be done without the power of His Holy Spirit, His strength in us; it can’t be done without daily being immersed in His presence, falling more in love with Him, dying more to ourselves.
And so, as the question of what I want people to know when they look at my life echoed in my mind, I realized that I don’t want people to know how poor and miserable and pitiful I am, sucking the life out of every conversation and relationship. My spirit rose up in me then with a desire for people to know instead how God is always faithful, always good; how He is trustworthy, and gracious, and powerful, and worth all of the suffering there may be ahead of me: for the people who would see Him clearly for the first time because of His light shining from me, illuminating His face for them, and for the glory that might be brought to Him through it all.
Hebrews talks about how all those great faithful people of the Bible never actually saw the fulfillment of the promises made to them while they lived on the earth, but they were not dismayed because they knew they were part of something huge, bigger even than their whole lives; something that had eternal significance. This is what they had faith in; this was their hope.
This is why I am striving to be joyful in my life, no matter what it looks like. By no means have I even begun to live this way. But my heart and my eyes are set on Him, as I slowly let my own desires die, because really, my life was never supposed to be about me anyway.
I was talking to my very good friend last night about my current life situation(s) and all the uncertainty that comes with, and she remarked that “Limbo” seems like the story of my life right now.
Oh, that is the most apt description of my life I have ever heard.
My autobiography could be titled “Limbo” with the subtitle, “How low can you go (and still trust God)?”
(I know that’s mixing metaphors, but it’s still true.)
In the past year I have started college solely by financial aid, lost my job, been unable yet to find a new job, had to move out of my lovely apartment and in with a friend (who is absolutely wonderful, by the way); and just today I found out that a class I took this quarter may be worthless as it pertains to my degree requirements. These are a few of the recent major happenings of my life and, needless to say, I am stressed.
I’ll admit it, this post is a little ranty, but I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way.
My favorite passage in Scripture when I first got saved was Matthew 6:25-34; you could call it the “Do Not Worry” mini-sermon (it is part of the portion known as the Sermon on the Mount). Jesus says that no one should worry about anything: if God feeds sparrows and clothes flowers, both of which are virtually useless, then He will certainly take care of a person’s every need; if one seeks Him first, that person will be supplied from heaven. It is certainly true, and I believe God keeps His promises, but man is it hard!
I feel like I am going through training on how to be Paul: “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4:11-12).
Some may say I should think about people in other countries, especially those experiencing actual persecution for the faith. It is true: I can’t hold a candle to their suffering. When I look at the things other people go through, it makes me seem downright “whiny”. A wise woman once said something to effect of, “We don’t get to decide what is a big deal to someone else.” We can’t compare our own suffering to that of others.
After writing all of that, I am reminded of this: God Is Who He says He Is, regardless of circumstance or experience. He Is faithful, He Is love, He Is power.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
His plans for our welfare don’t mean we all get a Ferrari and a house on the coast. His plans for our welfare mean everything will be taken care of, even if it’s not the way we imagined or planned: I didn’t plan on being an unemployed student, while seeing many of my friends happily married, some with kids, able to pay their own bills.
God’s plans are also for His glory. What seems hard to us on earth—finding a job, finding a mate, breaking addiction, leaving the past, fighting through illness, mastering emotions—all of this is easy for God, not because it is meaningless, but because He is God. Jesus lived on the earth: he experienced the hard life first-hand—he even asked God to not have him go to the cross… But he went, because he trusted God, and God said that was the only way that Jesus could be The Way.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Romans 8:18 (Paul)
We can’t compare our sufferings on earth with those of others, because what tears the heart of a person can’t be measured by other people. But when I look to heaven, not as a coming thing but as something that is here now—as Jesus said, it is in our midst—then my hope is restored; there is glory to be revealed to us, and also through us:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
God has something amazing to bring through us, to be witnessed by those on earth and in the heavenly realms. Some of those in the heavenly realms include the enemy, who hates us and will do everything he can to get our eyes off God and on what’s wrong, and he’s good at it. But my God is greater, and I know my story isn’t over yet.
…we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
I know that His love is big enough for me to tell Him how I really feel; I know He holds me, and I know He is leading me. So after I’ve flopped down and complained, I get up and brush off the dirt and follow after Him, and I know He’s still smiling at me.
I wrote this in my personal journal over a year ago now, when I was feeling very discouraged. Perhaps it will encourage someone else today.
A Soldier’s Complaint
I am walking to the land He has given me to possess; I am walking in it, to possess it.
I’ve walked through deserts; through dim valleys and lush fields.
I’ve scaled high, steep hills; I’ve climbed long, shallow ones.
Through rain and sun, night and day, I have walked.
When I have walked alive, I have been dead. And when I have died, I have walked in new life.
And what I have lost along the way—it is worthless; to what I have gained, all the world does not compare.
I have nothing left, yet I have everything I have ever needed; indeed the desires of my heart are mine.
I’ve fought—I’ve fought, and been victorious, and I’ve also given up victories.
I’ve swung the sword and thrown the dagger and held fast the shield.
I’ve put on the armor, and I’ve forgotten the armor.
I’ve been wounded. I’ve been in pain.
I’ve been healed, restored, renewed.
In battles, in the war, I have fought.
I’ve died to all things, slowly and assuredly; and even to this day, I am dying!
I am walking, I am fighting—fighting for what? Walking where?
My Darling, do you not trust Me?
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for harm, plans to give you a future
and a hope.
I am so weary, I am so drained…
Run, and do not grow weary.
I can’t see where I’m going, I have to stop…
Walk, and do not grow faint.
What if I can’t run this race set before me? How can I go on?
I am with you always
Even to the end of the age…
My life is not my own. I am not my own.
You are all I have; You are all I want! I am only alive in You, and life flows through me from You.
You refresh my soul, restore my strength, and quench my thirst.
You fill my heart when I open it wide, and I overflow when I do not shut it up.
I will never leave you nor forsake you.
So I run.
I run, sword in my hand, shield on my arm.
I run, my face to the sky and my eyes to the hills; through the tempest and the eye, through the shadows and the light.
I am the torch, I carry the flame; running always for the prize,
For I know the plans I have for you
plans for welfare and not for harm
plans to give you a future and a hope.
Running home, to my Father and my Groom; fighting alongside my King and my Lord.
I have a future.
I have hope.
[Original: 28 January 2012]
When I was a teenager and my dad was teaching me how to drive, he once told me something I’ll never forget. I’m the sort of person who likes to know the whole plan and have it all laid out before I even start. So as we went along I kept asking him where I was going, and what turns I needed to take and what lane I should be in. And finally at one point he said, “You see that yellow line on the left? You see that white line on the right? Stay between them ’til I tell you otherwise.” I realized this statement applies to life in general, not just driving.
One day when Abram was minding his own business God spoke to him:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
Genesis 12:1 (ESV)
So Abram (who later was called Abraham by God) got up the next day, packed up his family and left. I imagine if anyone passed him and kindly asked him where he was headed, he might have replied, “That is an excellent question!” and kept on going. God didn’t tell him where the land was that he was going to, but He just said to go and He’d tell him when he got there. Abraham trusted God and followed Him all the way. Hebrews 11, or “The Hall of Faith,” talks about him and many other great men and women of God because of their great faith in God and willingness to trust Him with everything, no matter what. Hebrews 11 also says that all those people never actually saw everything promised come to pass—just as Abraham never saw his offspring become a great nation while he lived—which is what made their faith that much greater.
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
John 3:8 (ESV)
God doesn’t usually show us the full map of our lives, but it is all laid out before Him. Many times He doesn’t tell us where we’re going, but He always gives us the turn-by-turn directions to get there. He planned a lifelong roadtrip for us before we even existed, one meant to be awesome, though not easy. Sometimes the road gets really bad and the ride is rough; sometimes we look around and have no idea where we are. Sometimes it’s lovely out, and sometimes it seems like the wipers can’t move fast enough to clear the downpour from the windshield. God gave us the Holy Spirit to guide us, like a spiritual GPS; He will never steer us wrong, no matter what the road looks like. It’s only when we don’t trust His leading that we get lost.
Maybe you’ve felt before the way I’ve been feeling lately: that life feels smothered in a thick fog, and I have no idea where I’m going or really where I am. I never knew until recently that the bright white line on the side of the road is called the fog line, and it is there to guide drivers when inclement weather (like fog) keeps them from seeing clearly, so people don’t go driving off the road or crashing into each other. Sometimes God takes us on roads that are covered in fog or darkness, where we can’t see more than three feet in front of us (or even less). On these roads He is the fog line that we follow to keep us on course, until the fog lifts an the sun comes out; it always does, even if it’s not until the end of the road.
So when you don’t know where you’re going, just stay between the lines until He tells you otherwise; and if you can’t see the road, then hold to the fog line; keep trusting His word, and drive on.