Down in the Weeds

But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.     Psalm 33:11

I’m not a huge fan of details.  They overwhelm and, quite frankly, annoy me.  I completely understand the necessity of paying them heed, but I’d really rather leave them to someone else’s attention.  Besides, mind them too much and you “miss the forest.”  Get too far “down in the weeds” (to mix metaphors) and you lose perspective and focus.

I like the forest. I don’t like weeds.

I like to know where I am in relation to where I’m going.  As long as I can see the plan and purpose, I can handle tough, rocky circumstances because this is all part of that to get me there.  But lose that vision, and I feel lost, aimless, and overwhelmed.

There are times when God lights the path before us, making it obvious and understandable.  Other times, he’s not so obliging.  And we face each day unsure of where we are, where we’re going, where we should be going, or how to find purpose or otherwise make sense of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  We can no longer see the forest because there are too many darn trees in the way.

For a long time, my journey was an illuminated one.  I was confident in my path and purpose.  His plan was apparent—until suddenly it wasn’t.  And that’s when I found myself down in the weeds, overwhelmed and confused by the details of a life that had, quite abruptly, ceased to make sense.  I found myself simply managing life (as a wife and mother, a lawyer and part-time professor, an active church member and deacon) without any sense of purpose.  I simply no longer knew how or why or where I fit.  I felt lost.

Nothing seems more pointless, or lacking in purpose, than being lost.

Except in a backward Kingdom, where being lost is one of the best ways find God’s plan and purpose for your life.

The problem is, being lost isn’t easy. It actually takes a lot faith to be lost, and stay lost.  To cease insisting that God explain Himself and once again reveal with clarity your place and purpose in His plan.  To walk without knowing.  I wish I could say it was a lesson I learned effortlessly or a faith possessed instantaneously, but it wasn’t—it almost never is with me.  It took a few years, but I finally discovered that somewhere deep down (and I do mean way deep down) there is wisdom in those weeds.

It was down in the weeds I found that my purpose isn’t a what, it’s a who.  The plan isn’t a path, it’s a person.  I don’t need a destination, I need a determination and dedication to the person of Jesus Christ.  Because only then am I truly able serve whomever, wherever, whenever and for whatever purpose God plans.

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Love Like an Ocean

I remember singing as a child about love like an ocean. I don’t know that anyone ever explained exactly what that meant, but I recall equating the phrase with the vast, never ending nature of God’s love. More recently, I have been singing about God’s love crashing over me in waves, a thought that similarly calls to mind the unceasing character of God’s love as it pours over us. There is a certain warmth and comfort that accompanies these sentiments.

But there is more to the ocean than the breadth of its expanse. And God has rendered a very different meaning to these words by taking me to a place where his love did indeed crash over me in waves. Wave after wave … after wave after wave. There was no warmth and little comfort in this place, rather I lived in constant fear of drowning, barely able to catch my breath from one wave, before another broke over my head.

The waves were His, though, a fact he reminded me of repeatedly. There was no point in attempting to pray this storm away, it would not cease. Not in my timing, at least. I had waded out into these deep waters willing, knowing it was He who called me there.  I was blissfully ignorant of the fate that awaited me. Had I known, it is doubtful I would have gone so readily.

The only comfort I found in this season was the knowledge that others, much greater than myself, had suffered the same experience. David wrote about his in Psalm 42:7, “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.”

I wept upon reading Charles Spurgeon’s exposition of this passage, so familiar his description of David’s plight it could have been describing my own:

As in a waterspout, the deeps above and below clasp hands, so it seemed to David that heaven and earth united to create a tempest around him. His woes were incessant and overwhelming. Billow followed billow, one sea echoed the roaring of another … [H]is soul seemed drowned as in a universal deluge of trouble, over whose waves the providence of the Lord moved as a watery pillar, in dreadful majesty inspiring the utmost terror. As for the afflicted one he was like a lonely bark around which the fury of a storm is bursting, or a mariner floating on a mast, almost every moment submerged.

[W]hat a plight to be in! Atlantic rollers sweeping in ceaseless succession over one’s head, waterspouts coming nearer and nearer, and all the ocean in uproar around the weary swimmer.”

Though my circumstances did not merit the measure of suffering experienced by David, the sensation of sinking beneath God’s watery depths was indistinguishable.

But David did not drown. Neither did I, and nor will you.

It it may feel as if every breath is our last, but the waves will never take us because, as Spurgeon so aptly wrote, they have already taken Him. “…[F]or all the breaking waves of Jehovah have passed over none but the Lord Jesus [and] there are griefs to which he makes his children strangers for his love’s sake.

I emerged from the waves intact, but exhausted, numb, and more than a little traumatized. There are seasons, I think, when survival and the knowledge gained from it is the most for which we can hope.  He took me where I feared most, and left me there longer than I would have imagined possible. I do not presume to understand His motives in full, but I do know that fear no longer grips me like it once did, and there are places I would not have gone before that, for His sake, I will now gladly go.

God’s love is indeed enormous and vast like an ocean. But it also relentless and has depth that surpasses our comprehension. It will take us places we cannot fathom a good God taking us, where his love seems more like indifference and his mercy like vengeance. It is the kind of love we struggle to understand and accept because it doesn’t look or feel like love to us. But this is precisely the kind of love that sent His Son to the cross, and the kind that will render us useful in building His Kingdom if we will but let it.

The Day After Monday

You may have noticed (but I’m betting not) that it’s been a minute or two since I’ve posted anything to this blog. The thing is, I’ve been a bit preoccupied … moving a mountain.

The whole thing began once upon a Sunday in January when I left church moved by the words of a song sung in worship. That thing that had been weighing on me, dragging me down, and otherwise impeding my progress ought to be cast off, removed, and thrown in the sea. I was inspired.

I woke up the next day and declared to that thing, that mountain, and to all my friends on Facebook who took notice, that it was a mountain-moving kind of Monday. I felt empowered.

Then it was the next day. Tuesday. I felt neither inspired nor empowered. And that mountain, so utterly unmoved by my exhibition of spiritual bravado, loomed larger still. I began to feel overwhelmed by the impossibility of it all. But from somewhere, so deep inside my soul that I cannot take credit, came a sentiment that surprised me, even as a I heard myself express it out loud. Gratitude. I was thankful that thing was still there. As wonderfully inspired and empowered I’d felt the two days past, I found that I was glad for Tuesday, and told God so.

When I first spoke to that mountain I honestly pictured that thing being flung, with little more than a snap of Jesus’ supernatural fingers, into the sea (far, far away from me) in a singular, spectacular splash. It does happen that way sometimes, but not always.  And it certainly wasn’t to be the case here.  It was on Tuesday that I realized that a mountain is sometimes less an obstacle, and more an opportunity – one that in this instance, at least, I was convinced Jesus put there on purpose.

The Bible tells us to “glory in our sufferings” and to consider our trials “pure joy” because they produce in us perseverance, character, and maturity. See Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-4. What is a mountain blocking our path, if not a trial? What is the painful, tedious removal of that mountain from our path bit by rocky bit, if not suffering?

The joy in our trial and glory in our suffering is the opportunity for God to develop in us a spiritual tenacity and grit that is increasingly hard to come by for those of us who live in a culture that prizes and applauds ease and comfort. Ever so subtly, our culture creeps into our Christianity and we find ourselves sitting there waiting for God to make our lives all better in spectacular, miraculous fashion and wondering why, when he doesn’t.

It will get better, though maybe not always in the way we envision. And that mountain will move, but not because Jesus vanquishes it from our path in an instant. It will move because His death and resurrection has given us the perseverance and endurance we need to haul that thing to the sea, one carved out chunk of rock at a time. The spiritual maturity resulting in us from this endeavor is no less miraculous than seeing a massive hunk of stone spontaneously fling itself into the water.

Lest we miss it, there is also grace in that mountain — the one that Jesus won’t move for us. For most of us, it is the earnest cry of our heart to be used by God in building His Kingdom. But that kingdom will not be built by a body of spiritually soft and flabby believers seeking their own ease and comfort (and I am chief among those guilty of this). It will be built by those with strong spiritual arms and calloused hands accustomed to the moving large chunks of stones — like the ones carted away from a stubborn mountain.

When the Devil Tells the Truth

The devil lies. It’s who he is and what he does. The Bible calls him the “father of all lies.” (John 8:44). I have become accustomed to swatting like flies the many untruths that buzz about attempting to deceive me and derail me from my purpose. But what happens when those negative whispers have truth to them. What do you do when … the enemy is right?!?

For the last three years, my journey has taken me to places that have exposed virtually everyone one of my weakest points. While there are things about my circumstances that call upon and highlight my God-given strengths and talents, there are many more things about where I find myself that reveals my short comings. Yet despite this, I have been promoted and lauded to such an extent that it has become increasingly difficult not to feel like a complete and utter fraud.

I cannot tell you how many times in the last three years (and truthfully many years before that), I should have fallen flat on my face. Shamed and exposed. I keep waiting for it to happen, expecting it, almost welcoming it, so that I no longer have to bear this burden of inadequacy. But the reproach I look for has not come. I try to tell people directly that I am undeserving, but most of them shrug it off as false humility.

And every day the voice of the enemy grew louder in my head, telling me what I already know is true. I don’t deserve this. I’m not the person they think I am. If they knew who I was — the awkward, selfish, incompetent mess that I am — what would they think then?

How do you fight the enemy when his lies aren’t lies and he makes a valid point? I’ve been killing myself for three years to prove him wrong, to turn my weakness into strengths, and to truly deserve the praise that is heaped on me. It probably took me longer than most to realize the futility of my efforts, and the truth hit me like a ton of bricks.

Nothing is more backward than grace.

Unmerited favor. Something that God has showered on me my whole entire life. There is no explanation for the favor I have been given personally and professionally. It is most decidedly undeserved. I look around and am constantly humbled by the people who work harder than me and are more faithful than me – yet God smothers me with blessings right alongside them. I have nothing in which to boast. This is grace that goes beyond just saving my sinful soul from the fires of hell … which by itself is more than enough. This is grace that blesses me as if I were … when I am most decidedly not. It is incomprehensible, and humbles me to previously unknown depths.

I should not cease in my pursuits to bring strength to areas where I am weak and to cry out for God’s help to make me the best me I can be. But I absolutely need to stop trying to merit the favor He has inexplicably chosen to lavish on me. And when the enemy comes again to torment me with the truth, I shall simply incline myself to agree and say, “I know! Isn’t God’s grace amazing!?!”

Religion is for the Weak

There was a time when I was strong. I was confident and unflappable. I prided myself on this. Stress was handled, and obstacles that dared to hinder were overcome. I had little time (or energy) for messy emotions. Just watching some of my friends emote exhausted me.

Then I met Jesus.

Ironically, I was a Christian at the time. In fact, having been “saved” at the tender age of seven, I’d been “walking with Him” for over two decades when this encounter occurred. I did not emerge from the incident unscathed. Although some changes were visible immediately, the loss of strength happened slowly, almost imperceptively over time. I cried more, got my feelings hurt, and seemed incapable of handling the stresses I once dispatched with ease.

I knew the emotions were part of the healing that Christ was working in me. I sometimes cringed at the idea that I was now just like all the women I once thought weak, but given what it cost God and His Son to afford me that healing, my pride seemed the least I could give up in return.

But losing my self-confidence and the ability to “manage” my increasingly complex life — that was another thing entirely. I resisted and lamented this change, foisting blame anywhere I could in a frantic effort to justify my mounting inadequacies — my marriage, my kids, my new job, my age. I could not bear to face the fact that I was becoming what I feared the most … weak!

I began to cling to Jesus and the provision He promised with increasing desperation. I suddenly needed Him to do more than forgive my sins, help me decide major life choices, and extricate me from messes of my own making. It seemed that now, I needed Him just to get out of bed in the morning. It became a mystery to me how anyone could survive in this world without Christ, because I knew I couldn’t. Not because of how much He loved me or the debt I owed him, but because He was the only thing giving me the strength I needed to put one foot in front of the other, to get from one day to the next. He quite literally became the air I breathed.

And the moment I realized this, I knew that it had all been His doing. Several years earlier, still high on my mountaintop encounter with Christ, I prayed in a fit of passion that God would make me desperate for Him and become the very air I breathe.  (Oh the prayers we pray and then forget!) That “noble” request on the mountaintop … was a humbling reality when walked out in the valley.

Once, during my strong years, a close friend told me that religion was for the weak, and that those who were truly strong had no need for such a crutch. I was offended, and deeply so. I didn’t need a crutch, it was simply my choice to believe in God and Jesus, His Son.

Hah!

The reality is that I am weak. God has lovingly and graciously walked me backward from strength to weakness, knocking out from under me the illusions I had propped myself up with for years; artificial confidences — crutches supporting a lie. I cannot stand on my own, and I do indeed need something upon which to lean. Perhaps religion really is for the weak — for only in my weakness did I recognize the extent of my desperation and need for the person of Jesus Christ.

It’s That Simple!

I have it on good authority that I’m not the only one to question God’s logic or insinuate there might be some madness to His method, particularly in regard to the some of the things we are called by Him to do. The Bible records more than one instance where those chosen by God to accomplish a particular feat have doubted the appropriateness of His selection for the assignment. Moses was perhaps one of the more persistent in his skepticism. After being told by God that he was to go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses questioned God repeatedly.

Who am I, that I should go …?”

“Suppose I go … then what …?”

“Well, what if …?”

“Pardon your servant, Lord, but you do know I’m not good at this, right??”

“Please send someone else.”

So many of us strive to find our place in the Kingdom and discover the particular purpose for which we were created, but when God finally reveals it to us we are often terrified and run screaming in the opposite direction. We question, like Moses, why God would choose us for a calling we are so ill-suited to fulfill. We feel compelled to inform God of the many shortcomings we possess that, in our humble estimation, rendered us quite unsuitable for the assigned task. And in the end, many of us plead with Him to send someone else, and even go so far as to identify better candidates – just in case He overlooked them initially. (What other explanation could there be for His having picked us ???)

I recently found myself wrestling with God over this very thing, and His rebuke was gentle, yet piercing. To summarize, he told me that it was presumptuous (even arrogant) of me to tell Him things about myself as if He didn’t already know; that I cannot possibly know myself as He knows me – the one who created me and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Beyond that, He reminded me that I was created for the very purpose that I was now telling Him I wasn’t equipped to handle.

You can see how this conversation did not turn out like I thought it would. What I saw as humility, He called arrogance. In pointing out what I thought were my shortcoming, I was really accusing Him of falling in short in the way He designed me. Yikes!!! God’s response to me is reminiscent of His reaction to Moses in Exodus 3.

“Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” Exodus 3:12

Having accustomed myself to things not making sense and God’s counter-intuitive logic, I honestly felt my purpose was yet another demonstration of just how backward He can be. But the profoundness of His response to my Moses-like skepticism is that His calling on my life is decidedly not backward. I was made by Him on purpose for a purpose, therefore, in Him, I am and have everything I need to fulfill that purpose.

Some things are just that simple.

A Different Drum

The scenery changes when you walk backwards. Things just look differently when you are approaching from the opposite direction. Walking backward doesn’t alter the circumstances that make up the landscape of life, it simply changes your perspective of them.

In Biblical terms, this is referred to as walking by faith, not by sight.

I realize that none of us are likely to fall off our chairs at the profoundness of this revelation, but maybe we should. It is truly revolutionary. I think this scripture has been used in ways that have stolen depth from its meaning. On one hand we over-generalize and reduce this passage to signify little more than our belief in an invisible God.  On the other, we invoke it narrowly in the context of believing in God for big, impossible things. But “walking by faith” is way more intrusive than either of these applications suggest.

Faith is defined in Hebrews as the essence or substance of things unseen. The unseen is described by Paul in 2 Corinthians 2 as that which is eternal. Conversely, what is seen is only temporary.  And it is on the eternal and unseen that we are urged to “fix our eyes.” To put this together, we do not fix our eyes and walk according temporary things that we can see, but eternal things that we can’t see.

Moreover, to “fix our eyes” and “walk” entails more than professing belief in a deity or conjuring up the spiritual for guidance on major life decisions or to provide a matrix through which to process difficult life circumstances.  Although these are certainly a part of it, the call is to reorder our very existence in accordance with an altered reality–one where the things that appear so touchable and permanent are fleeting, while the things that seem remote and unattainable are in fact the most real and enduring.

Ever met someone you thought “marched to the beat of a different drum?” Someone who made decisions and reacted to life in ways that seemed to fly in the face of social norms and conventional expectations?  People like this just seem to see things differently than everyone else. I think this is exactly what it looks like when we “walk by faith.” We interpret our circumstances, react, and relate to the world in a way that won’t make sense to those who don’t know Christ.  At times, it might even seem illogical and unnatural (in a Jesus kind of way).

It is certainly not easy, in world where fitting in is often prized above sticking out, to desire being counted among those whose drums beats differently … but we ought to wish it.  As Christ-followers, the drum we march to is different.  It is also invisible to many, and its eternal rhythm unheard.  How we march, therefore, is some of the most compelling proof we have of its existence.