Filled

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.”

(2 Thessalonians 1:11,12 TPT)

There is more.

Living Hope

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
.

(Proverbs 3:21-23 TPT)

The Beauty of Holiness

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.”

(1 John 1: 5-9 TPT)

There is more. Keep going.

Strength

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 The Passion Translation

Secreted

I like to keep up with current events. I’d like to say it’s so I can pray, but perhaps a lot of motivation for reading and watching media comes from a strong dislike for nasty suprises and a need to be prepared. But sometimes it’s too much – the anger, the accusations, the division, the manipulation. I feel myself being sucked into mob mentality that makes perpetrators out of victims and bystanders.

Then I realize that with freedom comes responsibility. I am responsible for paying attention to the condition of my heart. I need to get away from news and opinions and seek God in the quiet place where voices speaking from limited understanding (including mine) are hushed.

This morning I woke up feeling like I had been in a battle all night. In spite of the restlessness in my soul, the song playing in my heart was a verse from Francis Havergal’s Like a River Glorious:

Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

I sat down at the computer and read the scripture suggested for today in The Book of Common Prayer. This verse stood out to me.

In his shelter in the day of trouble, that’s where you’ll find me,
for he hides me there in his holiness.
He has smuggled me into his secret place,
where I’m kept safe and secure—
out of reach from all my enemies.
Triumphant now, I’ll bring him my offerings of praise…

(Psalm 27:5,6 TPT)

Under the shade of the mountain ash tree in my garden, I notice how fragrant lilies of the valley secret themselves among dark sheltering leaves. They are not worried.

Thank you, Lord. I hear you.

Leave No Unguarded Place

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I woke up with a verse of a song playing in my head.

Leave no unguarded place,
No weakness of the soul,
Take every virtue, every grace,
And fortify the whole.
From strength to strength go on,
Wrestle and fight and pray,
Tread all the powers of darkness down
And win the well-fought day.

It’s from the hymn, Soldiers of Christ Arise, written by Charles Wesley. His brother, John, is famous for leading a well-known spiritual awakening, but it’s Charles’ verses that come to memory for me.

I looked for a video performance of the song but none that I saw had the tone of gentle encouragement I felt when I heard this part of it in my spirit. Some of them used photos of modern military and others featured large choirs and brass fanfares.

None of them felt right because “wrestle and fight and pray” doesn’t take place in the middle of patriotic hoopla for me. The battle, for me, takes place mostly in my bed at night when I wrestle with doubt, fight fear, and pray from a position of being very aware of weakness. The only strutting involved is when I am trying to walk the cramps out of my legs, and technically, that looks more like lurching.

I don’t feel particularly virtuous when I am complaining about pain. I don’t feel particularly strong when worries attack without the defenses of daylight logic camouflage. My prayers contain no self-conscious public speech-making bravado. Mostly they are moans, for myself, for my family, for my friends, for my country, for this world where the powers of darkness, in a variety of costumes, seem to be clog dancing on the face of those suffering injustice.

And yet, I hear the voice of my Lord saying, “Get up. Put your armour on.”

In his kindness, Holy Spirit first points out places in my heart that need to be fortified with his love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Then he reminds me of his lavish, empowering grace.

He reminds me that when I fall, I don’t have to go all the way back to the beginning. My new starting point is where I left off last time. I am learning that I can fall, admit it, and get up to fight from strength to strength with his weapons — and aim them at the real enemy, not the hostages.

The process involves acknowledging the unguarded places in my soul where lies about who God is and who I am in Christ have slipped in unnoticed. One common unguarded place is unforgiveness. Another is complaining. Someone told me that complaining is the worship language of hell and not to be surprised by who shows up for a pity party.

Wrestling, puzzling, pondering draws us closer to God. Sometimes trust means moving in obedience without any more insight than knowing he is good and he’s asked me to get up and pray.

Sometimes one crumb leads to another on the path to closer relationship. As I was pondering this song another came up:

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
Oh, let me seek Thee, and, oh, let me find!

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heaven-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.
-George Croly

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Today is Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came in power on a Pentecost day to enable the followers of Jesus to go from strength to strength. They couldn’t do it on their own.

Sometimes the next step is simply a practical one. While he fried up bacon and eggs, my husband patiently listened to me verbally process the significance of the music in my head and its metaphorical meaning.

“By the way,” he said, when I paused to take a sip of coffee, “You left the back door open last night.”

Note to self: check the doors before going to bed.

When We Have Exhausted Our Store of Endurance

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In northern climates, spring is just beginning. Oh, how I welcome the signs of season change this year. Sitting in the warm sun without a coat, even if I am sitting alone on my deck, feels like the world is starting to open again. This has been a tough season – for nearly all of us.

As a student, I noticed a pattern in my educational history (because I notice patterns). I seemed to have seasons when learning new things came easily and seasons when study felt like slogging through hip-deep snow. The slogging season ended with new shoes and clothes, because in those seasons I grew physically. Another common season, the one my mother thought was my perpetual dwelling place, was the season of not much happening, not visibly, at least. Those times became the opportunity to enjoy relationships and put into practice and some of the good habits Mom tried to drill into us.

Years later, I read an article by someone else who noted the same pattern – and took time to research it properly. Children tend to alternate physical and mental growth spirts.

As an adult, I noticed that spiritual growth also came in spirts. Just as there are rhythms in nature, there are rhythms in the spiritual realm. I’m learning to ask the Lord what he wants to show me in whatever season I find myself in. I don’t believe we are all in the same place at the same time, nor do we all progress at the same rate. Sometimes change occurs suddenly. Some seasons do drag on. This has been a drag-on one for me.

A verse from an old hymn showed up in answer to my prayer about what this season is about and what provision the Lord has set aside for me now.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

(From He Giveth More Grace by Annie J. Flint)

It’s about endurance. Patient endurance. It’s about provision of physical, emotional, and spiritual strength fueled by hope and learning to run with it.

Our cross-country running coach back in high school trained us for endurance races by pushing us to go farther each time we ran. His was not my favourite class. Not even close. Undiagnosed exercise-induced asthma made gym class a miserable experience for me. I didn’t wheeze. I went directly to heart-pounding dizzy and sick. I just about puked on his shoes in an oxygen deprived moment one day, but even that failed to win sympathy. He tolerated no whining. If I dawdled, I got an extra lap. I didn’t die, and even though I often came in with the last stragglers, my endurance improved significantly that year. After I forgave him, I could acknowledge some gratefulness.

The writer of Hebrews talked about the necessary quality of endurance in running the race set before us. I want to whine that I’m hurting, that I’m tired, that this is too much. It’s as if the coach is indicating that another lap is required before this season of uncertainty is over. Really? I don’t think I can do it, but he thinks I can. And he is right. I can go a little farther in trust than I did before.

Seasons when I learned about God’s goodness and discovered his love and abundant grace and favour were more fun than this one has been, but learning that God is faithful, steadfast, and will provide what I need, when I need it (and not a moment sooner) builds endurance. Learning that pain is bearable siphons off some of the fear the enemy used to manipulate me in the past.

The discipline of running the race set before me, and not another person’s race, has helped me to stop comparing. I may take longer than others, but I make better time than I used to. That feels good.

There’s also something about patient endurance with focus on a goal that makes us willing to pare down and drop things that don’t matter as much as they once did. I’m travelling lighter.

The unexpected prize in this season of patient endurance is joy. Jesus’ endurance was a result of seeing the joy set before him. I’ve been praying for more joy. This joy doesn’t feel like giddy happiness, but it does feel like something inexplicably wonderful lies ahead. The joy I see reminds me of something as wonderful as new life awaking on  branches that appeared dead for so long. It smells like the scent of hope blooming in the spring sun. It feels like the certainty of sweet fruit.

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Jesus encourages, “Look at me! Eyes here! Come on. You can do it…”

One more lap. One more…

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1,2 NKJV)

Like a River Glorious

Shuswap River

Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious, in its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day,
Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.

Every joy or trial falleth from above,
Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love;
We may trust Him fully, all for us to do;
They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.

– Frances Havergal, 1876

 

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.