The list of people I admire has changed. There are some names on that list you might be familiar with, but there are an increasing number who have escaped the hindrances of fame. Look-at-me people with great causes but shrill voices, are not making it onto the updated page. Obsequious, but prickly doormats remain where they dropped, still promoting and protesting victimhood in creative, but wearing passive/aggressive fashion. My current list is different than the list of approved heroes of my youth.
I admire strong but humble people, those who can both give and accept help, praise, and honour. I admire those who, enabled by God’s grace, can face their own weaknesses squarely, recognizing that the choice to act without grace is always there. Experience has taught them this. They have scars.
I appreciate those who can walk open-eyed into a mess with the vision of shalom peace, nothing missing, nothing out of place, and do it with cheerfulness. They smile before their tears have dried. Hope makes them fearless.
I am learning to listen to those who through consistent practice of the kind of risk-taking that faith requires, have gained an understanding of who to seek as their source of wisdom. They have a friendship with God that astounds me. They carry the scent of someone who has been in his presence.
I am amazed by people who are still stinging from a tongue-lashing yet respond with kindness on their own tongues. It’s not that they can’t come up with a witty but cruel response. Defensive words are probably still the first weapons to appear, but they know how to lay down Saul’s armour and go into the cache of weapons God designed for just such moments. Their weapons bear the characteristics of the Holy Spirit. They know how to wield patience and goodness. Power wrapped in soft gentleness makes it easier to hear their words of wisdom.
When I was young, I wanted to be like the famous people who had gifts and charms they had never earned, like beauty, and intelligence, status, and talent. I admired those who led their followers on to greater exploits. Now, when I grow up, I want to be like those heroes who lead from behind, who say with kindness, “I can see who you are becoming. Your own methods have given you some problems. Get back up. Keep your eyes on Jesus. You can do it. He’s calling to walk with him. He absolutely adores you, you know.”
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will give you a garland to grace your head and present you with a glorious crown.
He will be your constant source of stability in changing times,
and out of his abundant love he gives you
the riches of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.
Yes, the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure!
Isaiah 36:3 TPT
I’ve been in a court room more than once. The first time I heard, “All rise,” I was performing my civic duty on a jury. The judge frequently asked us to leave the room as discussions continued over whether or not we should hear a particular piece of evidence. We may have been charged with bringing a verdict, but he was clearly the no-nonsense authority in that room.
The second time I appeared in court was as a witness. I felt with uncomfortable nervousness the weight of responsibility. I wanted to give details clearly and honestly. I also wanted to be understood for the sake of the victims’ future. I wasn’t sure the judge would listen or take me seriously. He did.
The third time in court, I watched someone I loved being falsely accused by the defense team. I watched some of the witnesses stumble over details as the accused’s lawyers expertly tripped them up in cross-examination. I had to sit still while defense witnesses outright lied. I was terribly anxious and upset. I worried the judge would believe them, but he saw through the falsehoods. He made sure the victims were heard and protected from further harm.
The last time I was in court I was the accused. I did it — or rather didn’t do it, which is what landed me there. Somehow we either missed or didn’t receive the usual notice from the car insurance company that our renewal was due. Neither of us noticed until the policeman stopped me on the way home from the grocery store and pointed to the license plate sticker which had expired a couple of days before. I received a ticket with an eye-watering fine and ended up in traffic court. I was honest. I was polite. I admitted fault –and I was scared spitless. I gave my side of the story about not receiving notice and hoped for leniency… and then I paid the hefty fine.
Why am I telling you this? I have been trying for many years to understand what “the fear of the Lord” means. I was raised in an environment where God was presented as someone to be afraid of more than someone who loved me. I lost many years trying to appease a judge I was afraid didn’t understand, and who cared only for his own ego. While He demonstrated his sacrificial love for me and I learned I didn’t need to distrust the power of someone who wanted nothing less than an unhindered relationship and the absolute best for me, I still had trouble understanding why the Bible tells us to “fear not” and “fear the Lord” at the same time.
Looking back, I can see that each of the judges I met in court seemed scary to me because of the power they held. Fortunately, in my experience, they all acted fairly and in the best interest of society, including the one who found me guilty of neglecting my responsibility to buy car insurance on time. Not all judges are corruption free, but the God of love and the Creator of the universe who has perfect understanding of how he made everything to run is without fault.
The Triune God can say with both love and justice, “No. You may not abuse the earth, other people, or even yourself. You disrespect me when you do that.” He is merciful, but his love is not the same as indulgence. His grace empowers us to be all he intended. He sees the big picture that spans time and space in a way we cannot comprehend. He is the ultimate authority on all things.
The difference between God’s wisdom and a human’s best understanding can be greater than the difference between a tin shack and a solid mountain. Who do we trust more to be the source of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
This caused me to think about who I have placed in positions over God as the ultimate authority in my life. I co-operate with and pray for bosses, church leaders, government authorities, and yes, even my spouse, for the sake of smooth sailing in society even when I may disagree on the best route to an agreed destination — unless they try to usurp God’s throne.
We have all trusted institutions which turned out later to not be exactly trustworthy. It can be a rattling experience when the foundations shake. I suspect we are about to see more shaking. Alas, some people who crave power are more enamored with self-aggrandizement than responsibility for the well-being of their charges. In the end there is only One who is the totally trustworthy bastion of both love and justice, only One who is our constant source of stability in changing times. Out of his abundant love he gives us the riches of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. His beloved children receive the right to boldly approach his throne and ask for them.
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.
The situations you are in are not more powerful than God.
They are not stronger than Him.
There is light.
There is truth.
There is wisdom.
There is revelation.
There is hope.
There is joy.
There is peace in believing.
-Graham Cooke, The Process Series
There is something particularly sweet about connecting with brothers and sisters in the Lord who understand pain and yet, even in dark times, walk in the light. It’s like a knowing wink across the room because they share a secret. They know what it is to be loved by the One more powerful than any situation.
But you, O Lord, your mercy-seat love is limitless, reaching higher than the highest heavens. Your great faithfulness is infinite, stretching over the whole earth. Your righteousness is unmovable, just like the mighty mountains. Your judgments are as full of wisdom as the oceans are full of water. Your tender care and kindness leave no one forgotten, not a man nor even a mouse. O God, how extravagant is your cherishing love! All mankind can find a hiding place under the shadow of your wings. All may drink of the anointing from the abundance of your house. All may drink their fill from the delightful springs of Eden. To know you is to experience a flowing fountain, drinking in your life, springing up to satisfy. In your light we receive the light of revelation. Lord, keep pouring out your unfailing love on those who are near you.
I’ve learned that God is not nearly as restrictive as the culture I grew up in. He doesn’t place fences around fences around fences out of fear of one of us accidently going too far – at least for those who desire to grow in relationship with him.
The more we look to the Holy Spirit to guide us with his love and empower us with his grace, the more rule-making and rule-keeping becomes superfluous. In fact, rule-keeping can keep us from a closer walk with God, for we tend to focus on definitions of right-and-wrong behaviour rather than a love-based relationship that shows in our choices. When we rely on study alone and forget that the scriptures tells us we can, indeed, hear the Shepherd, we don’t bother to listen. (for Weeding Out the Noise click here.)
My own sheep will hear my voice and I know each one, and they will follow me. (John 10:27)
But sometimes I forget to ask him. Sometimes I start to walk in self-confidence instead of Holy Spirit-confidence. It looks good to me so away I go. Sometimes I barge ahead when I need to stay close to God and pay attention to the wisdom from above. Not all is as it first appears. Not every well-intended action is wise. Not everyone has the same assignment. Not all my own unexamined motives are pure.
More than once I have gone along with projects that looked good and ignored warning signs. The road may be right for them and suited to their personal equipping, but it’s not for me, at least not now. Often, I have found myself bogged down in burdensome tasks because I was led by my own desire to alleviate suffering (or my own privilege-guilt) without paying attention and asking for discernment in this particular situation. I wanted to do something – anything. So I did.
It didn’t turn out so well.
I once joined a group of people who seemed to be forging the way for greater things to be done in this city. I was happy to learn from them, even though they seemed to concentrate more on looking for historic strongholds of evil and what the devil was doing than looking at what Jesus was doing. Then I had a dream.
In the dream I was travelling down a local country lane which is called Hidden Valley Road. I came to a red light where there is no red light in real life. When the light didn’t change, I assumed it wasn’t working and kept going. Then a barbed wire fence appeared across the road. Now my curiosity kicked in. What was it I was not supposed to see?
In the dream I crawled under the fence to peak at what was around the bend. Suddenly a rockslide tumbled down the hillside in front of me. Boulders covered the road missing my toes by millimeters.
“What was that about?” I prayed after I woke up.
Over the next few days, I came to realize that when I asked the Lord to guide my path he would. He was saying no. Exploring the hidden valleys of darkness was not for me. My assignment is to talk about his goodness and his mercy. I longed for a group of friends in which I felt I could belong and be understood so much that it was difficult to drop out, but I did.
It wasn’t until months later the wisdom of stepping away was confirmed.
Most of the time I hear the Lord say that he gives us much more freedom to grow than we have this far taken advantage of. But greater freedom comes with greater responsibility to stay close to him. When he says no we need to stop immediately, even when we don’t understand the reason or fear offending someone.
I am learning to hear his voice. Sometimes I am wrong, and I need to admit when I have missed it, but God is good and there is grace for the maturing process. The faith walk in real time means taking risks, taking responsibility, and learning how to respond more quickly the next time.
But solid food is for the mature, whose spiritual senses perceive heavenly matters. And they have been adequately trained by what they’ve experienced to emerge with understanding of the difference between what is truly excellent and what is evil and harmful.
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!
Philippians 1:6 TPT
Sometimes we are so quick to evaluate people-in-progress as if this is as good as it’s going to get. Maturity is a process. Even in old age the process continues. There is grace for you to change, so you can afford to extend grace to others.
Some people are stubbornly foolish and will not be content until everyone submits to their foolishness. Keeping a distance may be a wise decision in these cases, but many (okay, all) believers need time to fully become what the Lord created them to be. If you pull away now you may miss seeing something wonderful blossom later.
“In my search for wisdom and in my observation of people’s burdens here on earth, I discovered that there is ceaseless activity, day and night. I realized that no one can discover everything God is doing under the sun. Not even the wisest people discover everything, no matter what they claim.”