Category Archives: scripture

Seeing Through

Soul and sight are inextricably tied together. When my soul is rested and sated with my Savior, my eyes are full of light. They scan the physical topography of my life for the spiritual realities to which they were meant to point. 

On my best days, my eyes join my soul in looking for life from the Life-Giver who stands behind and underneath the realities of my life. Interruptions to my plans for the day can be seen as course corrections from a well-intended heavenly father. My children’s meltdowns can be seen as windows into their needs rather than weights to slow me down. 

Unfortunately, the inverse is also true. When my soul grows weary, my eyes tend to follow suit. They both give up on the hard work of looking through and begin looking at. 

Angry tears were welling in my eyes in carpool line. I felt put-upon and inconvenienced by circumstances that were out of my control. If I am honest, I felt angry with God. Angry that the days had not panned out in the ways I had carefully planned. Angry that choppy relationships seemed to be adding to an already-stormy season. Angry at the failures and foibles of others that reveal my own failures and foibles. After weeks of hard conversations and weighty circumstances, I found myself looking at circumstances and people rather than looking through them.

Seeing Through

My eyes and soul, that tired pair, had lost the ability to have a farther, deeper focus. They had stopped looking underneath and through circumstances and people and had settled for looking at them. Such sight is sure to end in disappointment and frustration, for our souls are made for a focal point far beyond this globe. Souls stilled by the gospel and lives anchored into His sure promises are able to look underneath and through circumstances back to the Savior.

Underneath that moment of disobedience is a boy who desperately needs to hear the gospel is true, not just in general, but specifically for him (see 1 John 1:9)

Underneath what feel like demands are deep needs and deep fears that are begging to be directed to a devoted Savior (Proverbs 20:5)

Underneath that angry social media post is a human heart swollen with a story needing to be heard (see James 1:19)

Underneath secondary causes is a loving Savior who is committed to my wholeness and sanctification as well as theirs (see Romans 8:28). 

Underneath the destruction of my paper-thin plans, there remains the immovable purposes of a good God. 

Seen Through

God, through His Spirt, His Word, and His people, invites me to see through because I have been seen through and yet loved. 

God has seen through my sad attempts at self-sufficiency, loving me enough to expose my utter insufficiency (see John 15:4). 

God has seen through my thick, complex walls of protection and has initiated to love the little girl who hides behind them (see Isaiah 25:12). 

God has seen through my attempts to boast in human knowledge and is slowly training me to let my only boast be understanding and knowing him (see Jeremiah 9:23-24). 

God has seen through my frantic need to have illusion of control and continually beckons me to trust Him as the blessed controller of all things (see 1 Timothy 6:15).

The reality is that I need to continually be seen through so that I might see through. I wish it were a one-and-done reality; however, God has seems to prefer an ongoing, relational dynamic with His children. 

When my eyes begin to look at rather than seeing through, my soul needs a fresh check-in with the Gentle Physician. When my focus becomes shortened, I need time to refocus on the One who sees me completely yet loves me fully. This will be my reality until that glorious day when my eyes can fully see the One whom fully sees me (see 1 John 3:2 & 1 Corinthians 13:12). 

On Secret Places

When the volume and pace of life get too loud for me, my soul starts to ache for my secret place. Almost subconsciously I find myself driving to Mission Trails, a vast regional park that provides wilderness in the midst of our city.

Even simply pulling in the parking lot, my heart begins to beat in excitement. Don’t be deceived: there is not much going on there. The landscape is mostly dry chaparral, cacti and dirt. The excitement comes from the promised lack of contrived excitement that my secret place promises.

When I go there, I know what to expect. The trees and trails don’t move. The water, which sometimes trickles and sometimes gushes with life, knows where to go. The rabbits, unconcerned with my concerns, go about their merry way.

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In The Winter of Our Discontent, John Steinbeck perfectly captures my sentiments about my secret place (not so secret now that you know; notice that I didn’t give you details).

“It is odd how a man believes he can think better in a special place. I have such a place, have always had it, but I know it isn’t thinking I do there, but feeling and experiencing and remembering. It’s a safety place -everyone must have one…”

I find it interesting that the Psalmists often talk about God being their secret place. Inwardly I know that Mission Trails is only the outer shell of my secret place, the container. The substance of my secret place is My Savior, the self-existent one who made every seen and secret place in the universe.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most high will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust. Psalm 91:1-2

The Hebrew word translated shelter above comes from the root word sathar which means hidden, concealed, secret, hidden parts.

Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Psalm 61:4.

You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble, you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Psalm 32:7. 

Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you in the sight of the children of mankind. In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues. Psalm 31:19-20.

These Psalms are merely a sampling of the cries of the soul for God to be the secret place, yet they remind us that we are not alone in our longings for the shelter, security, sameness of hidden places. We were made for them, just as surely as He knit us together in the secret places of our mother’s wombs.

I see this innate longing in my children as they seek secret nooks in our small home, create forts of blankets and pillows almost daily and request to be tucked in tightly into bed each night.

No matter what is happening in the circumstances of  life, the children of God have access to the secret place of the presence of the Lord through faith in Christ. The amazing thing about the secret shadow of His presence is that one need not drive to it or book a hotel or exotic vacation to find it. Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, we have access to the secret place in the throes of life, in line at the grocery store, in carline and in the chaos.

My favorite part of my physical secret places is that they set me for the stillness that strengthens my spiritual secret places. Literally. There is a huge boulder that I sit under when the scorching San Diego sun and lack of shade trees has me sun-burnt and sighing.

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As I sit under my huge boulder, I cannot help but think of the renewing shade of Jesus, our Eternal Rock.

Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice. Each will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place, like the shade of a great rock in a weary land. Isaiah 32:2

Oh, how I hope you have a secret place; even more so, I pray you know the secret place of His presence.

 

Overtaken

Deuteronomy reads like a father sharing his last bits of wisdom with his child before dropping them off at college. Moses, the faithful leader of God’s people, has led his wandering, often whining nation to the brink of the Promised Land. Knowing he won’t be entering with them, he prepares speeches laced with blessings and curses, reminding his beloved people to obey the Lord who had rescued them from Egypt and made them His chosen possession.

It is all too easy to read Deuteronomy through a moralistic lens. In fact, I found myself doing just that this week my studies led me to Deuteronomy 28 in which Moses begins another speech about the blessings of obedience.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, and the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, blessed shall you be when you go out” (Deuteronomy 28:1-6).

That is quite a laundry list of all-encompassing blessings. Moses uses powerful the powerful imagery of a wave of blessings overtaking, overcoming, and surrounding God’s people if they would only obey. The Hebrew word nasag literally means to reach, to overtake, or to catch. And this word is more than a mere word for Moses’ original audience. Remember, these are the children of the refugees who were almost utterly overtaken by the ensuing chariots of the strongest military in the then-known world. In fact, the exact same word is used to describe Pharaoh’s army catching up to God’s people as they were encamped by the Red Sea.

If only imaging a wave of blessings overtaking us were motivation enough to enable our obedience. However, both history and the human heart show ample evidence that Moses’ impassioned pleas were not enough to secure the obedience of God’s people.

The Christian worldview offers so much more than a list of blessings for those who obey and curses for those who don’t. Every other religion offers those. Karma promises that good will catch up to those doing good, while evil will catch up to those doing evil. Christianity alone offers a Savior who was overtaken with curses that we might be overtaken and surrounded by such abundant, undeserved blessing. Curses encompassed him so that blessing could encompass us.

Overtaken

A wave of curses,
Gathering strength
By human weakness,
Overtook the One
Who always obeyed
In total meekness.

The consequences and
Curses we earned
By hearts bent on self
Caught up to Him
Who ought inherit
All eternal wealth.

Evil overtook Him
Who hung cursed
Upon the tree;
Blessing overtakes
All who to Him
For hope flee.

Today I’m overtaken
By blessings from
The overtaken one.
Goodness catches
My sin-caught heart,
In love I am undone.

A Tale of Two Brothers

Jacob and Esau entered the world engaged in conflict with one another. Their conflict escalated to involve their favoring parents and came to a climax in a cockamamie plot in which the younger swindled the blessing from the other. These brothers were dysfunctional long before modern psychology popularized that term.

At heart, their battle was birthed in a fear of scarcity and a desperate need to secure the blessing. While that might seem strange to us, we must understand that in their culture, the blessing meant everything: promise, security, approval, significance, land, and authority. Primogeniture secured these to the oldest child, but Jacob and Rachel, informed by a promise of God, but mislead by their own impatience and imperfections, would have it be otherwise.

When we think of these brothers, the scenes that rush to mind are a hand grabbing a  heal, a hairy mantle, a blind and befuddled father whose stomach took over, and someone pouting over soup; however, their tale did not end there. Genesis 33 gives us a snapshot of a powerful reconciliation and reunion between these two long-estranged brothers. We would do well to let their end overshadow their shady beginning.

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Scarcity & Abundance for Them

Their estrangement began with Jacob wisely fleeing for his life; after all, his brother was a great hunter and an incredible shot. I cannot imagine all the imaginary dialogues that happened in Jacob and Esau’s heads over the decades that followed. The regret, the anger,  the longing, and the questions posed.

Genesis 33 picks up with an aged and changed Jacob who has just had his epic and limp-inducing wrestle with the angel of the Lord. He is understandably anxious about meeting his brother for the first time since he fled as a young man many years before. He sends gifts and an entourage to prepare Esau for his coming and humbly prepares for the worst.

“He himself went on before them [his wives and children], bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Genesis 33:3-4). 

Two time- and experience-changed brothers weep and hug as they are reunited. They begin tear-filled introductions to previously unknown and unmet sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews.  Then conversation picks back up with Esau asking why all the pomp and circumstance.

“Esau said, ‘What do you mean by  all this company that I met?’  Jacob answered,  ‘To find favor in the sight of my lord.’ But Esau answered, ‘I have enough, my brother.’ (Genesis 33:9). 

Then the sweetest sibling squabble of seeking to outdo one another in honor ensues. What a juxtaposition from their early squabbles over what they perceived to be a scarcity of blessing.

“Jacob said…’Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough’.” (Genesis 33:11). 

The brothers who had grown to hate one another out of fear of scarcity embrace, having finally recognized the abundance of their God.

That repeated phrase, “I have enough” stood out to me, especially considering the pair from which it was coming. As young brothers, they had fiercely fought over the blessing, thinking God was a God of scarcity. Yet,  here, as older men, they are fighting to confer the blessing on one another, having seen and experienced the abundance of their God.

Scarcity & Abundance for Us

While we may consider ourselves and our society far advanced from fights over stealing birthrights, the same battle out of scarcity ravages our society and our souls.

Parents paying to secure a spot for their children in prestigious universities. Companies, politicians, and news stations fighting for airspace in which to continue their colonization of the minds of the public. Political parties grasping at each other’s heels,  fighting for the seats of power.

The message is clear, sometimes even in the Church. There is not enough to go around. It is every man, woman, and child for him or herself. Grab and seize.

We have much to learn from the aged and experienced Jacob and Esau. After having spent their lives conniving and grasping, hoarding power and position, they realize they have enough.  If they began to recognize the abundant, superfluous nature of the love of God then, how much more might we recognize it, standing on the other side of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

In Christ we have far more than enough. We have all the spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms (see Ephesians 1). We have been conferred with blessing upon blessing (see Psalm 103).

As we trudge forward in the political power war of scarcity in which we find ourselves, may we spend more time swimming in the abundance of Christ.

Wildfires

Our state is on fire in more ways than one. As multiple wildfires rage across California, my heart is heavy on multiple levels. Heavy for those evacuating homes once again. Heavy for the families of firefighters who leave everything, drive to the epicenter of flames, and risk their lives to protect both the land and the people of our state.

But the actual wildfires serve as a visual picture of the political and spiritual reality of our state. Hardship heaps on top of hardship, question upon question, crisis upon crisis, leaving a confounded people.

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Thankfully, the Scriptures serve to remind us that we are not unique in our plight. The Bible is set in the context of broken, desperate circumstances and includes a cast  of broken, desperate people.

The poet who penned Psalm 104 prays that God would come to renew the face of the the earth. He recognized the helpless, hopeless state of God’s people and God’s place without the help and hope of God’s presence and power. Having painted a beautiful picture of the dependence of various created things upon their Creator, he writes the following.

These all look to you to give them their food in due season. When you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath,  they  die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground  (Psalm 104:27-30). 

Creation mirrors recreation. Just as the breath of the Spirit creates organic life in the first two chapters of Genesis, the Spirit’s breath renews and recreates spiritual life, as Jesus stated in his conversation with Nicodemus about spiritual birth in John 3:1-8. Both our physical and spiritual states show our deep dependence upon our Creator and Sustainer.

California needs renewal both spiritually and physically, as do I.

Wildfires

Our state is on fire
In more ways than one.
Hearts and homes burning,
The season only begun.

Our need for water
Is similarly stratified.
Internal and external ground,
Neglected, withered, dried.

Fight flame with flame.
Meet fire with fire.
Pour out your Spirit.
Point to our true desire.

Disruption, while discomforting,
Reveals our deepest needs,
Shows us the deep beauty
Of One who for us pleads. 

Breath once again, Lord.
Renew the face of the ground.
For where your Spirit blows,
Life begins to abound. 

 

An Antidote for Control

Three trips to Home Depot. Two trips to Ikea. One trip to Big Lots. Over the past few days, my handy husband and I have been in all-out task mode attempting to speedily make desk spaces for our children. The obvious felt need to make conducive learning spaces for each of our boys covered a less overt deeper need in my soul: something I could control.

My desire to order and shape what feels chaotic is not in and of itself a bad thing. On the contrary, such desires to order the private and public places in which God has placed us stem from the desired end for which we were created: to image and glorify God. After all, God spoke order and structure into the unordered world created by His words. He set boundaries for the seas, telling them where to stop. He separated the light from the dark, creating the earth’s sun to rule the day and the moon the night (along with the countless other suns and moons of our galaxy and those in the countless other galaxies beyond our own).

In the Garden of Eden, the Father gave his first human creations the compliment of joining him in his ordering work. He invited them to tend to the garden and name the plants and animals of the freshly-minted world. In the gospel of Christ, our Triune God gave us the means to begin to live ordered spiritual lives that begin with right-standing with God. The Holy Spirit continues His ongoing work of integration (making whole) in a world deeply influenced by an enemy who is constantly disintegrating (pulling apart). Much to our surprise, He does this primarily through indwelling and reshaping the hearts and minds of believers in Christ. 

The desire to order our private worlds is not wrong; however, sometimes this desire becomes inordinate and idolatrous. While the desks turned out beautifully, they were not able to deliver the peace and reassurance that I was subconsciously demanding of them. Lest you think me alone in being crazy enough to think that inanimate objects of my own making could satisfy soul needs within me, the prophet Isaiah repeatedly spoke of similar trends.

The desks were more an attempt to control a world that feels increasingly out of control. On top of the pressure cooker that is pandemic living, we have friends who are losing loved ones and relational and financial stressors of our own. There are far more questions whirling around in my head and heart than there are anchored answers. With mounting fears, comes the growing need for control, as fear and control create quite a feedback loop. When we are afraid, we grasp for control. In our grasping for control, we stir up more fear.

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What the desks could not deliver, the Word of God did, offering an antidote for my need to control. While reading one of my favorite Psalms, the Spirit opened my eyes to fresh insights.

“Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God” (Psalm 31:5). 

David, who penned this psalm, often had very little control over his circumstances. Though he had been anointed to be the future king of Israel, he spent many years being hounded and harmed by the presiding and precarious King Saul. In the midst of circumstances he could not control, he committed his circumstances and his very life to the blessed controller of all things. The Hebrew word pagad, translated commit above, can also be translated to appoint, to point in charge, and to give oversight. Thus, David appointed God to be in charge of the things that he knew he could not control. Rather than grasping for control, he gave it over to the One who could far better create, sustain, and restore all things.

When we face fearful circumstances without and conundrums within, we have a similar choice: to commit or to control.

Thankfully, we have one who did this fully and completely even in the gravest circumstances that led from a cross to a grave. The One who perfectly ordered and arranged all things took on himself all that was dis-ordered about ourselves and our world. And while he suffered in doing so, he actually quotes from this Hebrew Psalm, crying out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

May this week finding you seeking to commit more and control less.

Imposition & Accommodation

We are an imposing people. When stepping into a culture, we tend to impose ourselves and our ways onto it. We impose our own agendas. We impose our own plans. We impose our blueprints. 

Some of this knack for imposition is commendable. After all, it allowed our forefathers to create a nation in a hostile landscape against all odds. It was the stuff that shaped the American Dream. However, this same tendency that raised our nation, also caused us to raze the culture of the native people who lived in this land long before us. 

In his essay “A Native Hill,” Wendell Berry juxtaposes paths with roads. Since roads don’t typically hold my interest unless they result in an inconvenient flat tire, I was tempted to skim read over it; however, I am so glad that I stayed the course. The underlying principle he was delineating has been shaping my approach to God, His word, and His world this week. 

“A path is little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place. It is a sort of ritual of familiarity. As a form, it is a form of contact with a known landscape. It is not destructive. It is the perfect adaptation, through experience and familiarity, of movement to place; it obeys the natural contours; such obstacles as it meets it goes around. A road, on the other hand, even the most primitive road, embodies a resistance against the landscape. Its reason is not simply the necessity of movement, but haste. Its wish is to avoid contact with the landscape;  it seeks so far as possible to go over the country, rather than through it…It is destructive, seeking to remove or destroy all obstacles in its way.”

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Far from trying to make us feel guilty about roads, Berry seems more to be prodding at our hearts’ need to impose itself on everything and everyone around us. 

I don’t think of myself as an imposing person. I tend to yield adequately to others, and I don’t even like to ask for ketchup at a restaurant, and; however, Berry’s words have had me running a magnifying glass over my motives and methods of being. Unfortunately, there is far more of a tendency to impose in me than I thought. 

This should not surprise me. After all, the first act of human betrayal against God was an imposition of human judgement and desire rather than an adoring accommodation to Divine judgement and desire. At Babel, humans sought to impose their plans on the earth. When God’s people were no longer content with their unseen ruler, they imposed upon God, demanding a king they could see. The Pharisees, the trained professional religious people of Jesus’s day, sought to impose their human traditions not only on the poor and vulnerable, but also on the God-man himself. 

It seems that our fallen human nature tends towards imposition. This bent is only reinforced when set in a culture of imposition. Our culture tells us to dream a big dream and then impose it on our lives, no matter the cost, no matter the resistance. While this might lead to short-term success, it eventually ends in ruin. For, as the Proverbs say, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). 

Christ offers us another way: the way of accommodation. The one whose words created the world and whose planning parted the earth from the heavens and the sky from the sea, could have imposed himself on humanity. All power was his as rightful Creator and owner of all. Yet, that God chose to accommodate himself to our needs. Seeing that we were doomed to continue to impose our will over his own, He stepped into the world he had created. Though being in very nature God, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped or utilized, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant (Philippians 2: 6-7). 

He accommodated his infinite self to the confines of Mary’s wombs. He replaced unlimited power with the limitations of mortal man. He knew hunger and heaviness, thirst and tiredness. When tempted by His longtime enemy to impose his ways and his power immediately, he chose the way of trusting accommodation the Father’s timetable and tactics (see Matthew 4:1-11). In the garden, his desire to live sought to impose itself, but he eventually bent his will to the way of his father which would end at Calvary. 

Looking out upon yet another week of Covid calendaring, I am tempted to impose my will. To force my desires and to dig up enough grit to make the week do what I want it to do; however, I am praying that I choose the path of accommodation rather than the road of imposition. 

I want to hold the Father’s hand as we walk into a new week and try to plan for online schooling. I want to see what the Father has in store for each day and each week rather than start with my own agenda. I want to have my will bent to his rather than seeking to bend his to mine (which never turns out well, by the way). 

May we stay close to our Savior’s side and follow him in the path of accommodation this week. Happy trails to you, my friend!

 

Reigning in Unruly Thoughts

My mind has been a mob of late with untethered thoughts running amuck. From fears of school scenarios and flagging finances to stubborn lies I thought were long-defeated, my brain has been running internal marathons for weeks. I am old enough to know that I am not alone in this battlefield of the mind. I am familiar enough with the Scriptures to know which verses talk of this very battle (Romans 12:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 10:5 being chief among them). However, these realities alone cannot make my thoughts kneel.

When mobs of unruly thoughts disturb the peace Christ has purchased, we need to look more at him than them. This concept of growing by indirection is nothing new; it has helped believers in Christ since the days of the early church. We cannot directly become more and more like Christ, not can we directly order our thoughts. The more we focus on them, the more unruly they often become. We need God to soften our hearts, order our minds, and sanctify our lives.

However, that does not mean that we sit around and twiddle our thumbs. There is much work we can indirectly. We can choose to focus the beam of our attention outside of ourselves or our circumstances onto him who ordered the galaxies and established gravity.

Paul told the often unruly church at Corinth, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge  of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). The idea here is that our thoughts must kneel before the Lord.

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Many of us know that we are called to take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. I know this verse and have studied many of the Greek words in which it was originally written. I desperately want ordered thoughts that kneel in the presence of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords; however, in the trenches of my day-to-day life, I wrestle with getting from point A to point B. And rightly I should wrestle, because I cannot get myself there. There is no road that gets me there, no train that runs between those two points.

The only way that I have ever experienced success in seeing stubborn thoughts kneel before my Savior is by being early and often and long in his presence. There I begin to forget those thoughts because I am thinking of him. His softening gaze and His tender tones (tender even when his living and active word cuts me like a knife, as per Hebrews 4:12-13) melt my frozen fears and slowly chip away at chiseled lies.

Last night, my mob of unruly thoughts were keeping me from sleeping. I tried reading to divert them. It didn’t work. I squirmed in bed, attempting to outmaneuver them. As such, I ended up having to quietly sneak out of my room and wrestle with the Lord.

My thoughts still have not fully kneeled, but I am thinking more of the tender one who knelt to bless small children and who rose early to bend his own knees in dependent prayer on his heavenly father.

Kneeling Thoughts

My thoughts like to run,
But they d not like to kneel. 
Catching one that is racing
Is always quite an ordeal. 

Changing shape and speed,
They don’t like to be still. 
If I can barely catch them,
How can they bend to your will? 

I need stronger, smarter help
If your truth is to prevail. 
I’ve tried reasoning with them,
But my efforts are to no avail. 

They run amuck with feelings,
But they must be held liable.
In your warming presence,
Rigid thoughts are pliable.

Help me sit before you
Early and often and long-
Then thoughts will kneel
At the beauty of your song. 

He who knelt with children
Also knelt in lonely agony.
My thoughts will yield to him
Who bore the curse for me. 

 

Preemptive Weariness & a Ready Refuge

Is there such a thing as preemptive weariness? If there wasn’t, I am fairly certain that my thought-patterns of late have created such a thing.

Normally back-to-school season is my solace. I love the ordered anticipation, the list-checking, and the label-making that it affords.  I love outfitting my boys with new  (or new to them) lunch bags, book bags, and first day of school clothes. However, this pandemic has been raining on everyone’s back-to-school parades.

I keep find my masked-self roaming school supply aisles in nostalgia and confusion. Should we buy the pencils and order the new lunch boxes?  Do they even need spiral notebooks? The surface-level supply confusion is nothing compared to the storms that rage deeper in my heart throughout the day. Do I have what it takes to challenge my children? What are they missing developmentally and emotionally right now? If can barely keep myself on task, how will I keep three different children in three different grades on track? 

If I feel this weary, I cannot imagine the potential and/or proven weariness of teachers and administrators, single parent families, and those who are treading water already. I  wake up with a weighted heart every morning, mentally tired from playing out potential scenarios before eating my Cheerios. This morning, after the initial wave of preemptive weariness came over me, the Spirit was so gracious to remind me of an old favorite hymn, “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul.”

“Dear Refuge of my weary soul,
On Thee when sorrows rise,
On Thee when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies.
To Thee I tell each rising grief
For Thou alone canst heal
Thy Word can bring a sweet relief
For every pain I feel.” 

Anne Steele, the English hymn writer that penned these words, was no stranger to the storms of life. She lost her mother at age three, and then, at the early age of 19, she became an invalid. Some stories say that she was engaged until she lost her fiancee to a drowning accident; however, historical research seems to say otherwise. With or without the loss of a fiancee, Steele’s life sent her regularly running to the refuge of weary souls.  She remained single all her life, working alongside her father doing ministry. Her regular visits to the safety of the Rock of Ages seemed to prime her heart to write prolifically, as she wrote devotional poetry and hymns that have led other souls to her same refuge.

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It is likely that she had Psalm 46 in mind when she wrote these sweet words about her sovereign refuge.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,  though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling”
(Psalm 46:1-3).

The Hebrew word machaseh, translated refuge above, can also mean a place of safety, hope, and trust. It is derived from the Hebrew verb chasah meaning to run for refuge or  to flee for protection and safety.

However, the word I found most interesting in this verse was matsa which is translated “very present” above. This word literally means to attain or to find. A more literal translation might read, “a much found” refuge or a “well-proven” refuge.

The Psalmists implies that there is a well-worn, often-trod path to this sure refuge in the Lord. It has been sought out, found, and proven countless times. He has been found sufficient, spacious, and steady as a refuge for weary souls.

If preemptive-weariness exists, we can take great solace in the fact that a ready refuge long preexists it.  There was a day when the perfect Son of God wanted to run, as was His custom, into the refuge of the Father. He was not received. He was left refuge-less and ravaged on the cross. He endured this literal mountain-shaking catastrophe so that we would have constant access to the well-proven refuge.

In this season, may our feet better learn the path to the refuge of our weary souls. If this season continues to elongate, may we also elongate the list of God’s proven faithfulness to us and our children.

The Invitation Underneath Unforgiveness

Children of God are fully forgiven the moment they surrender and receive the atoning work of Christ packaged in the gospel; however, it takes a lifetime both to comprehend such fathomless forgiveness and to become those who forgive like the Father.

Jesus fully knew the depths of our sin-sickness when He swallowed to the dregs the punishment we had earned; yet, when we walk through the threshold of forgiveness, our knowledge of our own need for forgiveness barely scratches the surface of the canyon of our need.

Smuggling Unforgiveness
Periodically, usually when I am least expecting it, God reveals knots of unforgiveness that I have unknowingly smuggled into the kingdom of God. I don’t realize that I am still carrying such places of unforgiveness until God empties my emotional pockets, so to speak, revealing hidden remnants of hurt where forgiveness has not yet been fully applied.

Initially these moments of emotional exposure shock me and send me into a desperate clean up effort that still smacks of self. However, given some time and a long walk, God begins to shift my perspective to the invitation underneath the suddenly seen knot of unforgiveness.

When I receive an invitation, whether by snail mail or evite, I am being invited to a process. I open the invitation, process the information it reveals and then prepare and wait for the party. Likewise, when God exposes a knotted, gnarled place of bitterness in my heart, He is gently inviting me to a loving and often long process with Him.

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Underneath Unforgiveness
Underneath the ugliness of my unforgiveness is usually a place of deep woundedness and real pain. Underneath that place of deep pain is usually a hidden door into more gospel depths.

Like the man forgiven his massive debt by the king, I tend to find myself stingy in meting our forgiveness to those who have hurt me or triggered me in my most vulnerable places. My stinginess is a quiet invitation to enter another layer of the depths of the forgiveness that has been offered me in Christ. Clearly I must not understand the massive debt that He has completely forgiven me if I cannot forgive someone else his or her smaller, though serious debts.

I wish I could say that this descent deeper into my own sin and His costly love was quick and painless; however, I have found it to be quite the opposite: slow and sore.

To deal with my unforgiveness means to go to my most vulnerable places. My amygdala, that exquisite memory potion of the brain responsible for processing painful memories in an effort to protect us, often works against me at this point. When this complex component to my brain is triggered by a sight, a smell, a sound, a memory, I am tempted to fight or flee. However, I know what my amygdala does not; I am not who I used to be or where I used to be.

Security in the Savior 
My Savior then gets to speak into my deep and human need for security. Rather than go the easy way out of huddling my hurt around me as a protection and insulator from further such pain, He offers me another way. He reminds me that any security built solely or even mainly on circumstances or relationships is a deeply susceptible and inherently unstable security.

He reminds me that I don’t have to shield myself with unforgiveness as a protection or bitterness as a wall of safety.  He offers Himself as my shield and invites me to a safety that cannot be shaken, no matter what shakes all around me.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 125:2. 

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge,  my savior; you save me from violence. 2 Samuel 22:2-3. 

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Genesis 15: 1. 

I am safe and shielded in the arms of the One whom I used to raise my arms in rebellion against. He is my safety. Wrapped up more tightly into His strong arms, He will begin to unwrap and unwind the tight knots of unforgiveness that mar my heart in places of deep pain. It will be a process, but in the end, there will be quite the party to celebrate the stunning beauty of forgiveness found in Him and flowing from Him alone.