“What has happened to create this doubt is that a problem (such as a deep conflict or a bad experience) has been allowed to usurp God’s place and become the controlling principle of life. Instead of viewing the problem from the vantage point of faith, the doubter views faith from the vantage point of the problem. Instead of faith sizing up the problem, the situation ends with the problem scaling down faith. The world of faith is upside down, and in the topsy-turvy reality of doubt, a problem has become god and God has become a problem.“
Plenteous grace with Thee is found, Grace to cover all my sin; Let the healing streams abound; Make and keep me pure within. Thou of life the fountain art, Freely let me take of Thee; Spring Thou up within my heart, Rise to all eternity.
-From “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” by Charles Wesley
One of the most painful moments in my life was when a person I admired announced they had no more grace for me. An annoying trait, that no doubt needed correction, inspired them to dump a load of dis-grace on me instead. I was devastated.
Trauma has roots like weeds that crop up in a garden bed far from the original invasive plant. I felt shame and ran when the flight option in the flight/fight/freeze trio of survival actions seemed most attractive. It took a while to realize that the original painful weed of rejection had spread to this corner of my life, its subconscious presence undetected for many years. I heard it sing a minor key lament from long ago, “Jesus is disappointed with you.”
Growing up in a competitive world where only the best smiled for the camera while the rest slunk out the door for the eliminated, harsh words felt like familiar shameful judgments of disgrace. I wept bitterly. The “NOT GOOD ENOUGH” stamp of disapproval showed up again on the bottom of my application for acceptance.
It was a horrible time and a good time. God can use anything and this time he used a person who also struggled with shame to point out that I was knocking on the wrong door. You can’t give what you have not received or received only in measured installments. I wanted another struggling sojourner to give me what only God could supply. That wasn’t going to work. I needed to find the source.
“Ask me,” he said.
“Ask you for what?” I mumbled, head hanging low.
“Ask me about my grace.”
“I don’t deserve your grace.”
“True. No one does. That’s the beauty. You can’t earn it. Failures only need apply.”
I did ask, and since then I’ve learned that my response to God’s empowering grace can be greater than a grudging, “Thanks for not hitting me when I deserved a good smiting.” It’s now “Thanks for showing me the way you see me and giving me the resources to become that person.”
Thank you, Lord, for grace that is plenteous and greater than barely sufficient grace, or scratch and dent grace for the less deserving, or grace that offers anonymity as a cover for permanent stains on the soul. Thanks for accepting me just as I am. Thanks for grace that heals and purifies and rises up to all eternity.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous. Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice.
A bench down by the water is a good place to contemplate. Today’s prompt word reminded me of an old hymn by Frederick W. Faber. Here are some stanzas:
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, Like the wideness of the sea; There’s a kindness in God’s justice, Which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner, And more graces for the good; There is mercy with the Savior, There is healing in His blood.
For the love of God is broader Than the measures of the mind, And the heart of the Eternal Is most wonderfully kind.
Part of the Apostle’s Paul prayer for us in the letter to the Ephesians was this: And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. (Eph. 3:18 NLT)
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,bless those who curse you, pray for those who are abusive to you.”
Jesus Christ (Luke 6:27, 28)
What if what is missing in the lives of people who hate you, who want to see you silenced, cancelled, dismissed is an experience of grace? What if people who don’t deserve it (like all of us) experience the goodness of God through the blessings of those they shun?
What if we prayed for and not against all the people Jesus loved so much that he gave his life to reconcile them to their creator?
What if those of us who know what it means to have been loved by the Lover of our souls while we were still far from him come out and demonstrate? What if we come alongside our haters in radical demonstrations of the love he has poured out for us?
Feels counterintuitive, doesn’t it? It would take a radical shift in our first-reaction mindsets.
But what if Christians believed Jesus? How would culture shift?
So I’ve learned from my experience that God protects the vulnerable. For I was broken and brought low, but he answered me and came to my rescue! Now I can say to myself and to all, “Relax and rest, be confident and serene, for the Lord rewards fully those who simply trust in him.”
Psalm 116:6,7 TPT
On the way back from an appointment with a medical specialist, (an eleven hour return trip for me) I stopped by this reservoir on the Cowboy Trail in southern Alberta. On that day two years ago, I received more information about another complication in my already complex health condition. It didn’t help that I forgot the backpack with my wallet in it at the place I was staying. I needed it for my health insurance card for the hospital and my credit card to leave my car in the underground parking maze. I went back for it, praying the whole time I wouldn’t miss my appointment and arrived, frazzled, with seconds to spare. (Have you noticed God is right on time but never early?)
On the trip home, I stopped in this beautiful place and had a chat with God. I felt anxious and very vulnerable. I reflected upon the reflection and realized the water could never produce the beauty it bore. Like the water I didn’t have to manufacture my own peace. I simply needed to keep my eyes on the giver of peace, whose nature is peace. I don’t know how to relax and rest when I know I can forget important things like my wallet. Serenity is not a natural trait. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is peace because he IS peace.
Back in the car, a song played these words, “It’s not the end. It’s not the end. You’re gonna be ok.”*
If I am in him and he is in me, then his peace is my peace. This is more than reflection. This is absorption. Learning that I am loved and accepted allows me to become what I am not without him – and I m not without him because he promised to never leave. I am changing.
This season brings more challenges. We have decided to move to another part of the province to be closer to adult children. They have pointed out that we are aging and need more help. They are urging us to let them do that for us. I am tempted to be overwhelmed by the daunting task of fixing up our property to sell, de-cluttering, and looking at finding a new place to live in a city where real estate prices are double what they are here. The process of parting with a houseful of stuff with so many memories attached is emotionally daunting. The prospect of parting with good friends made over 36 years in this place I love is even more daunting.
For the past few months I have felt the Lord telling us to prepare for a change. What that change was I didn’t know. The thought of moving into a place without stairs, where it would be easier for me to get around, felt like preparing for the end, like seeing a sign my exit ramp loomed up ahead. Then a little while ago, a prophetic artist had a painting for me. It was of a woman joyfully walking beside a lake. She said, “God wants you to know it’s not over yet. He has more for you.”
Today I choose to walk in God’s peace. I may be surrounded by half-sorted boxes of art supplies, music books, sewing fabric, and writing materials potential, but like the woman walking beside still water that day at the reservoir, and the woman dancing beside a sun-dappled lake in the painting, I will simply trust, leave the past behind, and take one step at a time toward the next thing.
Care to join me?
*”It’s Gonna Be Okay” by Jenn Johnson, Jeremy Riddle, and Seth Mosley
You’re kind and tenderhearted to those who don’t deserve it
and very patient with people who fail you.
Your love is like a flooding river overflowing its banks with kindness.
God, everyone sees your goodness,
for your tender love is blended into everything you do.
(Psalm 145:8,9 TPT)
When Martha complained to Jesus that her sister was not helping with the serving and doing what women were expected to do, he confronted her with this: “Martha! Your anxieties are distracting you from what is really important!”
Sometimes we are so anxious about what might happen we forget that when we invite him in, the Saviour is right here in our hearts. Even though we are anxious about tomorrow his goodness surrounds us today. When we set down our worries we can see beauty again.
Sometimes the gap between a promise given and a promise fulfilled is excruciatingly long.
I grew up in a part of Canada where signs of spring could suddenly be buried under snowstorms riding on cold winds harsh enough to take your breath away. I see yearly disappointment has struck the prairie provinces again this week.
Last week we were told that churches could open at limited capacity for Easter. Many of my friends and our brave spiritual leaders, and worship team members eagerly made plans for a special time together after months of isolation. Today new announcements squashed that hope. Due to another increase in cases of the virus no indoor religious services will be permitted at all anywhere in this province larger than a lot of countries.
For several months I have had severe pain in my legs and have had trouble walking or sleeping. One day, my doctor phoned to say the latest scans revealed the cause and although I would need surgery, there was hope the problem could be fixed. He called back three weeks later to relay that the consulting surgeon recommended against surgery, for several reasons. There are some things I can try to lessen the pain, but it looks like I need to learn to adapt to disability.
Today I was aware that hope has been deferred for many of us for all sorts of reasons. I wonder if the way we process disappointment says a lot about the way we grow or fail to grow in faith.
Like a lot of people, I’ve felt like I’ve been stuck in a perpetual spring/not spring, forward/backward cha cha dance of hope almost fulfilled/hope definitely not fulfilled lately. Sometimes the dance is exhausting. I have been guilty of sitting down, not always to rest in the Lord, but to put myself into some sort of trance-like endurance plod that looks less like producing potential springtime buds of manifesting promise and instead settling apathetically under the snow for another stretch of dull dormancy.
David, the harassed young psalm writer, often composed verse about seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises snatched away. From the perspective of hundreds of years later it would be easy to skip the agonizing equivalent of some guy singing the blues and go directly to the ecstatic King dancing with such joy that his underwear showed. But the bit in between is important.
The bit in between is called process and that’s where God likes to meet us. It’s that liminal space neither here nor there where we don’t know if we should try something else to force the promise into fulfillment, or if we should just find a way to protect our hearts from the thing we most want to avoid – disappointment. It’s that place where we realize that change in us is more important than change in our circumstances.
This morning, I remembered today is the anniversary of the day our son-in-love was supposed to die. One of the doctors treating him said, “If that guy lives it will be the biggest miracle I have ever seen.” After a week of seeing amazing answers to prayer it looked like it was all over, but God stepped in and reversed the natural order of things. Bruce lived. The creator breathed new life into his ravaged body. The miracle wasn’t instantaneous, but his extremely critical condition from sepsis and multiple organ failure changed direction and proceeded toward full healing much more rapidly than any professional medical expert could have predicted. The doctor had to admit it was a miracle. All this occurred as thousands praying for him dared to trust God in the face of disappointment and in defiance of the odds.
That, I believe, was the real miracle. People across the country and around the world dared to trust again and look for God’s intervention. They chose hope.
I’m hurting, Lord—will you forget me forever? How much longer, Lord? Will you look the other way when I’m in need? How much longer must I cling to this constant grief? I’ve endured this shaking of my soul. So how much longer will my enemy have the upper hand?
Take a good look at me, Yahweh, my God, and answer me! Breathe your life into my spirit. Bring light to my eyes in this pitch-black darkness or I will sleep the sleep of death. Don’t let my enemy proclaim, “I’ve prevailed over him.” For all my adversaries will celebrate when I fall. I have always trusted in your kindness, so answer me. I will spin in a circle of joy when your salvation lifts me up. I will sing my song of joy to you, Yahweh, for in all of this you have strengthened my soul. My enemies say that I have no Savior, but I know that I have one in you!
We are hurting, but our dancing day is coming. In the meantime, we are learning to lean on the One who loves us so much He gave everything to see us stand on wobbly legs and hear us sing in a wobbly voice, “I trust You, Lord. I know You are strengthening my soul. I trust Your timing. You are and always have been good. Breathe Your life into us.”