Who are you? How do you identify yourself? When someone asks this question, what do you say? Do you talk about your job? Your family life? Your positional standing with another person? When you think about you in the core of your being, how would you answer this question? When all the trimmings and "trappings" of life are stripped away from your being, who are you?
We are all passing through this world. This is not the goal. This is not the objective. And this is certainly not our home. This is temporary. What is not temporary, however, is our standing before the Lord Himself. Before the Lord, we are children of the most high. Hold onto that for a minute. Think on it. Dwell on it. Children of the most high. Sons and daughters of God. Outside of the context of Scripture, it sounds crazy, doesn't it? It sounds like we're reading a fantasy novel. But when accepted as Truth, it provides an identity that so far surpasses anything we could possibly identify with that nothing else is needed.
Temporarily, we might be mothers or fathers, teachers or office workers, single or engaged. But there will come a day when every one of those identities are stripped and we are no longer bound by the restrictions of title or role. We will be perfect, whole, and complete. We will live in perfection before the Lord we serve. We will walk in fullness and newness of life, the Lord having completed the good work He has begun in us. And what a great and glorious day that will be! But our identity as His children is not only for then - that identity is for now! No matter what else we are, we are His. That is our identity. That is who we are. We are His.
I have been so challenged to walk and trust, trust and walk, and walk and trust some more lately. It's a funny thing, isn't it, how we as Christians will learn a lesson, walk pretty well for a while and apply the lesson learned, then somewhere along the way forget what we learned and have to learn it all over again. I am finding that each season of life has lessons, often each day has lessons, and that they are frequently repeated.
A friend of mine has probably taught me more about trusting the Lord than anyone I know. Through good times and hard times, through all the in-between times, he has a philosophy of trusting the Lord and relying upon Him unlike anything I've seen. Where the world and even the Christian community at times would think his approach is kind of crazy, he solidly believes that the commands we are given to trust the Lord, rejoice always, and in all things give thanks are really, truly commands to be lived out. He does a pretty darn good job of it and in so doing challenges me greatly.
What stops us from trusting the Lord? Or rejoicing during the difficult times? Or giving thanks when we don't feel like it? I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we just do not want to give up control. We want what we want and regardless of whether those things might be good things to want, we often do not want to give them up. In practicing a life of trust, we have to repeatedly "give up" everything to the Lord. We have to be willing to place ourselves, our "things," and our hopes, desires, and dreams upon the alter before the Lord. We have to take our hands off proverbial the steering wheel of our lives and allow the Lord full control to drive in whatever way He sees fit. And that is the challenge. To truly and in every sense "let go" and let God direct your life.
A number of months ago this question first presented itself to me. It came softly and subtly at first then settled in and decided to make my heart its home. It held long conversations with me and asked me many questions in return. It challenged me, caused me to examine my understanding of the Gospel, and forced me to look straight into the eyes of Jesus.
The understanding I came away with from that lengthy dialogue was this: we are all redeemed. Every single one of us who have trusted Christ for salvation have had our past sins and failings wiped away. We have all been given a new life, a new heart, and a new mind. Though still human and flawed, we are no longer our own and instead are owned by Christ. He has taken us from the slavery of sin and set us in His kingdom, willing servants to do His will. He has taken our lives from the pit and is now using them for His glory.
The critical realization that we are all redeemed is something I have come to own with all my heart. That every single one of us, from the most morally upright person to the person who, like the prodigal son, was mired in muck and sin, are redeemed sons or daughters of Christ. Often times we forget this crucial aspect of who we are. We forget that we are not "good" before Christ. We are not even "okay." Apart from the blood of Christ we are completely unworthy, destined for hell and an eternity of bitterness without Him. Even with the cross, we are still wretched sinners, guilty of sin and worthy of hell - but we have been made new and delivered from both. That is the definition of redemption.
Before the cross, we are all on even ground. There is none better, there are none worse; there are only sons and daughters of Christ. There are none on higher ground than others. Some may be a little farther on in their walk, but just as the first are last and the last first, we are all the same before our Savior. All His children. All His beloved. And all redeemed.
I am watching a time-elapsed video. Storm clouds are enveloping the sky. Shutting out light. Enclosing the land in darkness. Rain like teardrops pour down upon parched and thirsty lands. Far from a refreshing rain, it is a mournful rain which flows like a torrent, sweeping away all and everything in its path of destruction. Higher the water rises, faster the wind blows, more ominous the clouds appear. Hope is gone. Despair and anguish replace hope and joy. And then I realize I am not watching a documentary about the weather. I am watching our nation. I am watching our world. I am watching as overwhelming sadness, grief, loss, and despair envelops everything in its path.
The light in my eyes dim. My heart is gripped by so much sadness. I join the many who ask 'why?' and 'how long must this continue?' Far from the once carefree days of childhood when one desires to go on living forever in this present world, my heart aches to see this world set right, to see the earth and sky redeemed, to see what all of this should have been like in the first place. My heart longs for restored relationships and people made whole. For the clouds to part, scatter, and fade away. For the sun to burst through shining, illuminating all things joyous and good. My heart longs to run through fields of wildflowers and exult in every blade of grass. I long to run free with wild abandon and rapturous delight in a place where pain no longer exists, where hurt is a thing of by-gone eras, where the only clouds which line my sky are huge and white and fluffy and blaze white in the glorious light of morning.
This is my paradigm shift. Far from wanting the imaginary and rather ambiguous perfect life here and now which this world often bills as the only thing for which we have to live, I long for the day when it really will be perfect. When this world will no longer be as we have come to know it but will, in fact, be a place of harmony, love, and peace in the purest form possible. When a daisy will not only cause my heart to thrill but will bring joy to all who encounter it. When sadness will not only be wiped away but entirely erased so there is no memory of its effect. When a brilliant blue sky will smile down upon all who dwell below it and birds will sing with joy for earth's inhabitants. It is this glorious day I eagerly await. And while storm clouds obscure my view of the sky, I will continue to live by this one truth - this world, lost and dying, must be given the hope and love of Jesus. For nothing else will give peace in the midst of so much despair.
"Jesus is all you have when everything is taken away from you." - A Friend of Mine
I was talking with a friend of mine awhile back about how they inspire me to live for Jesus. When asked how, I mentioned it was because they live for the Lord so wholeheartedly. The response that came back was in the form of the quote above - Jesus is all you have when everything is taken away from you.
This friend of mine has gone through more difficulties than I can shake a stick at. Some I have witnessed. Others I have been told about - trials that I would not want to touch with a ten foot pole. But through it all, the one thing he has clung to is the overarching principle that God is in control. Even during those pre-salvation trials which were caused by pre-salvation foolishness he somehow held onto the belief that God was going to work through those circumstances. After salvation, there have been times when that truth was all He had to hold onto. Through it all, he has become a living testimony to the fact "that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" Romans 8:28. All things work together - it may not be easy, "happy," or simple, but the end result is that our good is achieved and God is glorified.
In our culture of stress, worry, anxiety, and care, it is almost taken for granted that we will NOT trust the Lord. It's so easy to let that mindset slip in. To let the little whispers of fear creep in then justify them by saying we're all human. To fret or hold onto a problem ourselves instead of dying to self and giving such things over into God's hands. I have been so challenged by this friend's unwavering faith and trust in the One who holds the world together. I have been challenged a number of times to cease my worry and simply rest in His peace. It's so very opposite and counter intuitive to what we are taught and assaulted by every day. We are told that if we do not worry there must be something wrong with us. But in the case of worry, there is nothing wrong other than a lack of trust!
Is this friend of mine perfect? No. Does he ever worry? From time to time. But he knows far more than most that, no matter how circumstances look, there is no reason to worry. Because he knows that when Jesus is all he has, Jesus is enough.
When I think about what words I would utter were I to stand before the LORD's presence, I realize mute I'd be as I fell before His feet in humble adoration of my King. For what could I say to Him, He who gave me life itself, He who created my very being and breathed life into my soul? What could I possibly say to Him?
Perhaps, simply this: thank you. For loving me, knowing me, changing me, making me His own. For being my LORD and King and Savior and Friend. For being my everything - my life and breath and all I am and need. For never leaving me. For ever being by my side and that for all eternity! For giving me purpose and ever supplying me with hope. For taking me and using me in His Kingdom. For being good and just and loving, merciful, righteous, and true. For holding this world in His hands and every life that is therein.
He saw me when I was yet unformed, without substance in my mother's womb, and He loved me. He saw me when I first opened my eyes, when He gave me breath for the very first time, and He loved me. He watched as I grew, took my first steps, and shook my fist in His face, and still He loved me.
Upon the cross He gave His life for mine, all because He loved me. He gave the gift of eternal life, offered freely if I did but accept, all because He loved me. He reached down and breathed into me life eternal, gave to me hope and purpose, all because He loved me. He changed me, from sinful to sinless, from wretch to righteous, from filthy to purest of pure, all because He loved me. I am not who I was nor will He leave me as I am, all because He loves me.
For all these things, and so much more unsaid, I stand mute before His presence with naught but thanks upon my lips.
When I think about the LORD and the overwhelming benefits upon me bestowed, there become too many to number.
Blood bought. Bought with so great a price, I become priceless. The unredeemed granted total redemption. The unrepentant plunged into repentance.
A life, a soul, a vapor, granted eternal purpose. A flower vibrantly blooming, destined to fade, given place in the garden of God's great grace.
Eternal hope, eternal peace, and purpose for eternity given. Bestowed not just freely but abundantly, lavished upon one not deserving of the least of graces, the least of helps, the least of gifts.
His blood poured out, not a drop spared in redemption of my soul. My soul, blackened, poisoned, made to perish; with a mere drop would be made whole. But far from solitary drop, I am plunged into the stain-cleansing, life-giving blood of my LORD and Savior. Not merely healed or made whole, I am resurrected indeed, made alive from death, wrested from its inescapable bonds, eternally freed to joy and rejoice in the very definition of life itself.
Just after I posted about how the Lord often uses bends in our road to grow and mature us, I received a prayer letter from missionary friends who are experiencing one such bend. They have gone from ministering in a country in Asia to a country in Europe. Another missionary couple I know recently changed countries of focus from a place in central Europe to western Europe. Often times, when bends like this occur, those at home scratch their heads and, whether it is stated aloud or not, think that the first time something must have gone "wrong" and that now they've got it "right." Now they're "right" where they're supposed to be. Now they're "right" about where they feel the Lord wants them.
There is serious damage done in thinking that bends in the road mean a person wasn't listening to the Lord. In the book of Proverbs we are repeatedly entreated to fear the Lord and we all ought to find ourselves doing so. We all should seek the Lord and strive to walk in His will all the days of our lives. But when someone is doing both of these things and plans change or lives take a different turn than expected, it would be foolishness to believe that these changes are because the Lord was not leading or involved in those decisions and the changes regarding them.
You may not understand why there is a bend in your road. Other people may not understand your bend and you probably won't quite understand theirs. But that's okay. What we all need to realize is that the Lord's arm is never shortened regardless of our circumstances and that He will always work His will for our good and His glory. We need to realize that He will never allow us to walk blithely into a place where He is not when we are seeking His will. "Never leaving" and "never forsaking" and always "working all things for good" are promises that cannot be negated regardless of time or situation or circumstance. As we follow the Lord, He will direct us. That's a promise. Bends in the road are, often times, simply a part of His leading and direction; they are not necessarily things to be deemed needful because we got it wrong at first and now we've got it "right."
Life is full of them. Twists, turns, changes, loops, stop signs, red lights, slow for pedestrians, you get the idea. I don't think I could find one person who has lived this life beyond the age of seven who has lived it in a straight line with no surprises or twists they weren't expecting. Change is as common and universally expected as death and taxes. Though death and taxes are not appreciated they are generally accepted. Change, however, is often mentally fought against, blithely ignored, or otherwise futilely resisted until it is grudgingly accepted as a last resort. But change is also often the means through which the Lord takes us further down the road on this journey we call life and is necessary for our growth and maturity.
Change can be hard. Often times the waiting game consists of an "I don't know" stage, as my best friend calls it, a resigned period of knowing a solution will come, and the final stage when the sun comes out and answers are finally had. The "I don't know" stage is my least favorite. You know the stage - this is when every single answer to every single question you have is "I don't know." I find when I can finally be resigned to waiting and trusting in the Lord, this is when peace comes and I find that I really don't need to know the final outcome because I know the Lord will reveal it in His perfect timing. Then the answers arrive and it is often accompanied with a bend in the road. A direction changes. Plans are different. Understanding about a calling or job switches. And you have a bend in the road.
It's a life-long growing process to get to the point when these bends, these changes of life, are not only expected, but accepted as well. When the "I don't know" stage becomes "I don't know but He does so it's okay," you know you've learned something and matured just a little bit. Then the next change comes along and you go right back to "I don't know but I sure want to!!" and you realize you still have a lot to learn. And that God is gracious. And that as you resign yourself to waiting for His direction, He will guide you. And that answers will come and that He will continue to lead you on down the next bend in the road.
We hate weakness. Think about it. We take pain meds for a headache, work out to be strong, eat healthy so our bodies will run well, and do everything in our power to stay well all year long. None of us like to be weak, ill, in pain, or run down. I don't know of any nation that does not want to be strong and powerful. It's a built-in part of our psyche. We all want to be strong, self-sufficient people who can, in America at least, "pull ourselves up by our bootstraps." But here is the kicker - only when we are weak can the Lord be strong on our behalf.
None of us, when given the choice, would rather trade weakness for strength, illness for health, or insecurity for stability. But it is in our weakness that we not only discover, but are witness to, the Lord's strength and work on our behalf. When we stumble and fall, grace abounds and He picks us back up and helps us keep walking on. When we should receive harsh reprimand and holy judgment, His mercy abounds and His grace is poured out. When we walk through wretched turmoil, we are given peace that surpasses all understanding. The Christian life is one that is full of paradoxes. When we seek answers, we are told to be still. When we die to ourselves we are given life. When we lose our life we gain it. When we are weak, we are made strong through Christ.
Only in our weakness are we made strong. Only in realizing how weak we are, do we come to terms with how very strong He is! So instead of kicking and fighting to overcome our weakness, let us rest in Him so that through our weakness His grace may abound, His mercy may abound, His love may abound, and His strength may abound on our behalf.