How enriched are they who find their strength in the Lord; within their hearts are the highways of holiness! Even when their paths wind through the dark valley of tears, they dig deep to find a pleasant pool where others find only pain. He gives to them a brook of blessing filled from the rain of an outpouring. They grow stronger and stronger with every step forward, and the God of all gods will appear before them in Zion.
Psalm 84:5-7 TPT
Valley experiences are common to all of us who draw breath in this world. Some valleys are deeper than others. I’ve watched people who impress me walk through tough times as if they have a secret resource that allows them to remain at peace in spite of everything. When I ask them how they do it they tell me, “It’s in the dark places and stressful times that God’s grace is most plentiful. It’s not as easy as it was before. You have to dig. But that’s where profound silence invites you to come closer. That’s when you can feel his heart of love for you.”
At each and every sunrise you will hear my voice as I prepare my sacrifice of prayer to you. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on the altar and wait for your fire to fall upon my heart.
-Psalm 3:5 TPT
The tree in our front yard that failed to bloom for the past two years is loaded with abundant blossoms this morning. I was afraid it was dying and would never bloom again, but its glory has been restored.
Sometimes I am disappointed with people. More often I am disappointed with myself. Patience and perseverance are character qualities that don’t come easily. This morning the plum tree, thick with flowers and glowing in the morning light speaks to me of a new day, a new season, a fresh vision.
Lord, I lay out the pieces of my heart, the successes, the failures, the disappointments and the dreams. I wait again for your fire to fall on my heart and renew a right spirit within me.
A friend asked this question of those of us who have not been able to attend in-person church services for months at a time due to restrictions imposed by pandemic protocols: What have you missed about church attendance if you have been a regular church attender?
Note: I’m not addressing arguments against either the potential misuse of political power in church closures or the potential lack of consideration for the vulnerable in defiant church openers right now. That discussion tends produce more heat than light when many people in church leadership are doing the best they can with information that is still changing.
This is what I miss about attending local church on a Sunday morning. I miss seeing people who are not on the internet. Some people cannot or choose not to participate on Zoom or other media meetings. Sadly we are losing touch.
I miss corporate worship that includes children and young adults and, well, everybody together in the same place.
I miss celebrating the sacraments together.
I miss hugs and kind touches on the shoulder.
But thinking about my response to this question has made me realize something. Quite a while ago I learned that if I wanted to go deeper in knowing the Lord I could not depend on once a week attendance in a pulpit-centered church in a dedicated building no matter how much I liked the pastor/s. We have moved and been moved several times throughout the years. Every group seems to specialize in favourite doctrines and passages of scripture after a while. Many pastors teach at a level that new believers will understand. Steak dinners are rare. Easily digested blender-processed food is more plentiful. It’s risky to address mystery and pursue what it means to know God at a deeper level without appearing elitist or annoyingly holier-than-thou. I learned to appreciate what was offered and seek more through books, podcasts, webinars, courses, and conferences myself.
Some popular churches focus all their efforts into looking after God’s P.R. and continuing to do what they do best. I admire them, but eventually, something always seems to be missing. Although I’ve gone kicking and screaming, the Lord seem to arrange circumstances that kick me out of the nest if I get too comfortable in places like this. Sometimes, it’s the drive to know Him that pushes me out of the box.
I’ve taken courses from all sorts of lovers of Jesus who are outside the local church and outside my usual tribes. I’ve been involved in both online and face-to-face “parachurch” ministries for quite a while. I now realize that, for me, parachurch organizations have often been a healthier example of being the church than the pulpit and pew crew. The causes parachurch groups support may be different, but they have this in common. Participants are passionately involved and have actual relationships that are the result of working together in hard-won unity. They go beyond “fellowshipping” with the back of someone’s head. The ones that aided spiritual growth the most realize the necessity of prayer and worship and acknowledge the problems of being limited to denominational-style distinctives and limited forms of expressing praise. They recognize diversity and that people flourish in an environment where creativity is honoured and lay people can offer their best.
The question I am tempted to ask now, instead of what do you miss about church services, is this: What do you miss when church means only in-person attendance at a traditional time and place? If your local church has been closed or has switched to online services, has this time of being the church out of the brick and mortar box revealed anything to you? In what ways are you seeing signs of new growth? What has blossomed in your life?
There is a divine mystery—a secret surprise that has been concealed from the world for generations, but now it’s being revealed, unfolded and manifested for every holy believer to experience.Living within you is the Christ who floods you with the expectation of glory! This mystery of Christ, embedded within us, becomes a heavenly treasure chest of hope filled with the riches of glory for his people, and God wants everyone to know it! (Colossians 1:26,27 TPT)
But as for me, I will call upon the Lord to save me, and I know he will!
Every evening I will explain my need to him.
Every morning I will move my soul toward him.
Every waking hour I will worship only him,
and he will hear and respond to my cry.
(Psalm 55:16-17 TPT)
Sometimes it is easier to worship faith than to worship the faithful One who gives us faith. The faith walk in real time means keeping our eyes upon Jesus and not whatever method we think prompted God to give us the desired responses to our requests last time.
By his life Jesus demonstrated that character matters more than comfort. Following Christ includes valley experiences where the fog obscures the view and disorients us, making us aware of our weakness. But here’s the thing: The Holy Spirit now walks through this before us, beside us, and behind us, and he is not worried. The path is familiar to him and he knows what lies on the other side.
I often help my granddaughter with her online school assignments via Skype. Today, her assignment included a discussion of the poem, “Work in Progress*,” by Jon Jorgenson. We had an delightfully enlightening chat, but I think the work may have spoken to me more than to a pre-adolescent girl. She accepts that she is a student and her vocation right now is study (which one cannot do until they accept both a state of ignorance and the capability of changing that state. Some call the trait meekness.)
I often feel frustrated because I think I should be further along in spiritual maturity by now. The poem helped me remember I am also a work in progress. I’m still changing. Sometimes grace comes in the form of an overheard lesson.
Maybe this hurting world needs to be inspired by recognition of the pleasures of goodness instead of the consequences of sin, and news of works inspired by faith instead of efforts based on despair and resignation.
Maybe it’s time for a shot of goodness right into the heart of darkness.
“With this in mind, we constantly pray that our God will empower you to live worthy of all that he has invited you to experience. And we pray that by his power all the pleasures of goodness and all works inspired by faith would fill you completely.”
My child, never drift off course from these two goals for your life: to walk in wisdom and to discover discernment. Don’t ever forget how they empower you. For they strengthen you inside and out and inspire you to do what’s right; you will be energized and refreshed by the healing they bring. They give you living hope to guide you, and not one of life’s tests will cause you to stumble.
I didn’t see it until I was out in bright sunlight at the picnic. The grease spot, or the butter badge as my grandson calls it, sat in a prominent place on my bosom. It was too late to change my clothes. The options seemed to be 1) ignore it and pretend I hadn’t noticed (aka denial) or 2) make a joke about it.
I have good friends who understand clumsiness. If I joke, they will respond with self-deprecating stories that start with, “You think that’s bad…” The truly sympathetic might drop a blob of mustard or ketchup on their own shirts in solidarity. We could call it the sympathy badge.
No one is perfect and being reminded of that fact keeps us humble, but denial is living a lie and joking can be acceptance of shame as a way of life. I still need to get the spot out.
The thing is, walking in the light exposes things we would rather not have people see, or even see ourselves. Sympathy might relieve tension, but it doesn’t remove sin stains. After a while dirty clothes lose their novelty. They are simply, well, dirty. If we truly believe that God is who he says he is, we (and others) will see continuing change in our lives.
When I looked out the window and saw this white begonia in the sunlight, it reminded me of the beauty of holiness. I saw it as an invitation to explore what it means to live in the light.
There is a verse in Hebrews 10 that talks about provoking each other to good works. I’m not talking about walking around whilst virtue-signaling and condemning others for their flaws. That’s not provoking goodness; that’s provoking a punch in the nose. I’m talking about inspiring each other to walk in the light without fear of what will be exposed because it has been dealt with. Sympathy doesn’t inspire; sympathy accepts. With a sigh of resignation sympathy alone says, “Oh, well. It is what it is.”
I believe God loves and accepts us as we are, and he is the one who convicts and cleans us up if we let him. He loves us as we are, but he doesn’t leave us covered with filth. He’s a good father, not an indulgent one. Sins are dirty spots that have consequences, some minor, and some that play out for generations. Sin is a stain that hampers relationships and keeps us from becoming who God intended us to be.
Mercy is great, but grace is greater. Grace empowers us to become more than we have been. Grace is not an indulgent excuse to keep on repeating the same thing we needed mercy for. Grace empowers transformation.
When we agree with God when he points out that we have made poor choices that weren’t motivated by his love or his goodness for others or for ourselves, he cleans us up. Sometimes the process is like having your hair washed and sometimes it feels like a major makeover. It depends what he wants to reveal, what he wants to work on, and our cooperation. Once he starts, he is faithful to complete the job. His light makes us pure.
“This is the life-giving message we heard him share and it’s still ringing in our ears. We now repeat his words to you: God is pure light. You will never find even a trace of darkness in him.
If we claim that we share life with him, but keep walking in the realm of darkness, we’re fooling ourselves and not living the truth. But if we keep living in the pure light that surrounds him, we share unbroken fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, continually cleanses us from all sin.
If we boast that we have no sin, we’re only fooling ourselves and are strangers to the truth. But if we freely admit our sins when his light uncovers them, he will be faithful to forgive us every time. God is just to forgive us our sins because of Christ, and he will continue to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
I pray with great faith for you, because I’m fully convinced that the One who began this glorious work in you will faithfully continue the process of maturing you and will put his finishing touches to it until the unveiling of our Lord Jesus Christ!