wrestle but worship

But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went in to the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Who have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart my fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. ~Psalm 73:16-17, 23-26

 

He welcomes the wrestling for He knows. He knows the pain attached to the wrestling heart, He cares for the truth to become imbedded in the soul, He desires for me to yield completely. But righteous wrestling with Almighty God must always end with worship. The heart of the wrestler needs to remain submitted in the end to the greatness and sovereignty of the One who knows His plan. When we see David, Jacob, or any prophets wrestle with the truths of God, the end result is submission and worship.

Hannah in the Old Testament is a beautiful picture of the wrestling I long to do – she was married to Elkanah, and Scripture tells us that he loved her deeply. As was often custom then, he had another wife who had been able to have many children. Hannah had not. Hannah grieved over her barrenness. On one trip for the yearly sacrifices, Hannah went to the temple and began to cry out to the Lord in such a way that the priest mistook her silently mouthed prayers as drunken miming and confronted her. She answered with this, “I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” (1 Samuel 1:15-16)

Psalm 62:5-8 echoes this idea, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress, I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory, my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. To wait for God, to long for Him to work and move in my life is part of the wrestling. Often while I am struggling with a trial or storm, I am grieved by the lacerations or wounds of doubt and fear. I frantically try to cover those up, hiding the anger or impatience that grow as I wait for His movement. But the impatience and fear allow me to believe the lies the enemy sends that maybe this time He has forgotten or rejected me. That maybe this time is the moment when He won’t prove trustworthy; or perhaps this is too radical of a request or need and so He is displeased.

Yet You have done no such thing!

Why do I default to chafing, whining and fear in my trial? When Hannah wrestled, she poured it all out before the Lord in the temple, and I can just imagine her heart. Crying over her barren womb and empty arms, worried about the affections of her husband, tortured by the other woman who provoked her with great hatred, looking across the years of waiting wondering why? and when? Yet she poured it all out like fine perfume, allowing her soul to grieve but in a posture of worship before Almighty God.

And then Scripture says she went her way, ate and her face was no longer sad. There in the midst of her waiting but after her wrestling, she trusted the trustworthy One. She had poured out her heart and now she was trusting the great I AM. Help me wait in silence even when all the questions come – my hope is from You and in You.

And after baby Samuel was born, weaned, and brought to the temple, Hannah exults in God. She prays again, and this time we hear all her words — maybe because now they are the worship of all God has done.

He who is faithful is faithful forever. There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. So let me know to run to You. Let me remember I stand in Your sanctuary.

From Now On

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. ~Colossians 1:9-14

Paul wrote many prayers out in detail for the different churches and people he addressed in letters. This prayer is one that has become a benchmark prayer for me as I pray for my children or friends. Specifically I am praying this for one child who is overseas on mission and one who is serving this summer at a camp as they grow in and walk out their faith. As I studied the passage again this morning and working out exactly what I was praying for and how it applied to each child, I realized that Paul’s emphasis in this prayer is often different from my own. And the Spirit began refining me again. You see if I can confess one thing (if you haven’t yet figured it out from reading other writings of mine), I like to check a box or please others with performance. So the outward display of my actions compared to my heart has always been a refining ground for the Holy Spirit. God is interested in the heart. Period. And Paul prays in line with that truth.

I so often will pray this prayer skipping straight to the part that says walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. Isn’t that what we want for our children? for ourselves? that we would please God, bear His fruit, increase in our knowledge of who He is and all He’s about? But what slayed me this morning was the sentence structure and Paul’s order. You see that’s not what Paul is praying for – those things are products of something else. Looking back into the scripture, Paul prays that they may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding and then flowing from that filling is the walk.

My husband and I have been having on ongoing discussion about how we disciple our children, remaining faithful to the Word and navigating all the different obstacles, storms, and troubles that come. One of the big ditches on this journey I believe is that I can get my equation wrong. I will focus on the walk – the fruit I see or don’t see, the manner in which they walk – is it pleasing?, do they know God more and more?, constantly examining perhaps in minutiae the lives of my children with a measuring stick which I don’t even truly possess.

Oh God forgive me. How often have I missed the great truth – Paul prayed that the church would be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. So what is that? When I look at the words using a concordance, Paul is praying that they would know with first hand experience God’s preferred will to bless mankind with Christ with all clarity and wisdom as well as a discernment that can apply His gospel to their lives. That was his focus. That was his prayer. That was his mindset. He knew that a life rooted in the Gospel, in what Jesus Christ did to pay for sin and redeem from wrath, will outflow into a life that pleases Him and bears fruit. The Spirit that indwells the heart of the believer will see to that process.

As believing parents we can’t get this out of order. But we do.

We look for the outcome, the results. We wonder about fruit, we perseverate on performance, and we teach our kids that God is after their actions. And truthfully kids can fake it. If they care at all about looking good or not getting into trouble, they can fake good for awhile. But then the church becomes a rule based organization that binds and condemns. Or they just reject it all because they’re honest enough to know they will never measure up. When the truth is we never have to measure up. We never have to have it together.

Speak the Gospel to your children. Teach them the truths of God’s holiness, man’s depravity, Jesus’ sacrifice and redemption, and our great forgiveness. Let their hearts see yours singing the joy that is only found in the freedom of Jesus. Fruit comes from trees planted in good soil. Don’t demand fruit. Tend to the soil.

So I am to pray constantly. Yes, never ceasing just like Paul was committed to doing for the church at Colossae, I will pray fervently that my children will know the heartbeat of God, His will that offers redemption and freedom at the cross. I intercede for them that they will know God’s great forgiveness of their depravity and that they will live their life for Him because they have experienced His great love for them. From now on, I will speak of the Gospel at every turn, pointing to the One who delivers from the domain of darkness and transfers us into the kingdom of Jesus Christ, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins!

 

The other side of the masterpiece

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. ~2 Corinthians 3:18

In my limited perspective, I will fix my gaze on my loved one, wondering why the great Potter isn’t “really working” on my child. I see the need for eyes to be carved in order for my child to see Him, ears to be fashioned for hearing His truth, I long to see a mind aligned with the Gospel and a mouth He can use. And I chafe because all I see are bare imprints or slight markings indicating where these features need to be. I worry about my role in creating this new clay – am I saying the right things, parenting in ways that encourage a relationship with Him?

And then in His great patience and steadfast love, both for me and my child, everything turns.

And the masterpiece He has been hard at work on is displayed.

And I realize I have been looking at the base while the great Artist has been at work on the heart and soul of my child.

My perspective is so off, and I have believed the lie that no one can love my child more than me. When in truth, the comparison of love shows that my love may be as great as a tea cup compared to the vast ocean of love He has for His child. He is trustworthy with our children and He is at work where the work needs to be done. You see, I would have carved a face into the base or on some place completely wrong for that child. I would have demanded features where nothing is needed. But He knows exactly how and where to work in the heart of each one of us in order to create His workmanship, fashioning and carving, working the clay to bring out life.

We talk all the time about how to parent, how to lead, how to help our children navigate this life. Sadly we have become hyper focused on producing a product in 18 years rather than investing in an individual designed by God. When I spend time with my child in pursuit of the Gospel, loving them according to how He has created them, trusting Him for the fashioning of this soul, God reveals the ways the Gospel impacts their lives right where they are.When we talk about poor behavior, the conversation is purposed to dive into the heart to the underlying belief/lie that has led them astray from the truth. Then the truth in God’s Word can slice through the lie, tending the hurt with tender care, replacing bondage with freedom.

So when I am loving on a resistant two year old, the Gospel speaks to his need for Jesus to help him choose to obey and be kind. Jesus is his helper, his friend, and the One who loves him most. When my preteen wrestles with friends and value, the gospel declares how full of value she really is. Success and failure are not defining measurements; rather who she is in Jesus becomes the litmus test. Practicing patience and self control at any age is pointless unless it is layered with the truth that only the Spirit within you can develop these fruits. But the fullness of the Spirit has been given to the one who is saved, child or adult. He is the Transformer.

God is committed for the duration. He is at work on a glorious image bearer for His glory and His namesake. And He works in His timing, moving each of us from one degree to another, patiently and steadfastly engaged and never discouraged. When I keep my eyes focused on the Carver and not the carving, trusting His hands at work rather than my fumbling, I am invited into the great reveal. The other side, the work unseen by me but His focus, is glorious.

The Journey

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. ~James 1:2-4

The journey with Jesus is remarkable, audacious, exciting, terrifying and exhilarating. But it is a journey, not a moment. It is the walking out of a faith that He grows and builds within me, the muscle that propels me forward into scary, uncharted places and allows me to stand firm in the places where I really just want to turn and flee.

This testing of my faith is not to prove whether it exists or not. I know that He who planted the faith within is faithful to grow and deepen it. Do I believe the faith I have been given is strong enough and will grow to see me through? Do I lean hard into the active believing in the grace, power and love offered to me by God as His child, or do I rely on myself with false hope of survival?

When faith proves itself stable and keeps my feet firmly planted, steadfastness results. I can run with endurance because Jesus is the author and perfecter of my faith (Heb. 12:2). It is the very thing that will bring glory to God – the work He does within me will be on display for His glory.

The walking out of my faith cannot be avoided. Life is filled with broken pieces, places that appear cracked, chipped, and even ugly. Grace died for all the broken, ugly pieces. Christ came into the mess of this life and saved me. He redeemed my life from the pit of sin, self love, pride, and carnality. He disrupted the course of my life bound for hell with the cross, nailing all my sin to the cross that I might live eternally. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14) That is the beginning of my testimony. As I journey with Him, He continues to love me steadfastly right in the middle of my doubt, arrogance, and depravity. This walking isn’t a one time event. There are many missteps I have made, many times my path has wandered off into my own way only to be brought back with His truth. He is faithful to this journey on the days I am not. He alone pursues. And I am so glad.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes through it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ ~1 Peter 1:6-7.

I can stagnate in the moment and measure outcomes based on the success or failure I just experienced. This perspective is exactly what the enemy wants because I remain fixed on a point in time – a snapshot. My faith in that moment may seem weak or tremulous. Doubt and discouragement creep in. The voices that whisper shame or condemnation grow louder. But in those moments the truth of verse 8, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy,” becomes my quietly uttered resolve. I love Him. I believe in Him. As my world turns around, He is still good. His love for me is still steadfast despite the unlovely circumstances outside of my control.

True perspective, His perspective, sees the landscape and the journey and recognizes this may be a valley I am traveling through or a mountain I am struggling to climb. But it’s not a singular moment reflective of all of life. I am so glad this journey can sustain the valleys of my doubt and fear and still point to God Almighty. I am so thankful that walking this faith walk is just that – a walk – not a moment that defines but a steady daily movement towards Him. There are places in the valley and time on the mountain, moments stalled and times of giant steps.

But God is looking down the road, not perseverating on one moment. He certainly sees and engages in our moments but also sees where this journey will go.

All for the goal of my good and His glory.

 

The Bends in the Road

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.  ~Ephesians 4:12

just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. ~Ephesians 1:7-8

As parents we get to watch God in action. I mean really watch Him molding and scraping and crafting one of his people. In the middle it often seems as if He’s not really making any changes; and if that person happens to be one of my older children, I can get a little nervous! I begin to orchestrate, implicate and manipulate in order to assure a result, to see the finished product I desperately long for. I have been guilty many times of comparing my children to those around me or to the false picture of what I believe they should look like.

 What God is teaching me is that my responsibility as a mother is to be more like Epaphras, who was characterized by his faithfulness to the Gospel and intense prayer. In Colossians 1, Paul recounts his hearing about the Colossians’ faith and love because of their understanding of the grace of God that they learned from Epaphras.  Epaphrus was a faithful teacher of the gospel who sought to establish new believers and mature them in their faith. Centering my own parenting on the gospel alone means drawing everything back to 4 major pieces: who is God in this, who are we, who is Jesus and what did He do for us, and finally what does that mean for you and me? Faithfulness to the Word involves not compromising on the truth for the sake of relationship ease but with humility sharing how the Gospel intersects this moment with my child.

My prayers for my child are vital. Often I lessen their power and heighten my own power of persuasion. Engaging in prayer for my child is not and cannot be an afterthought or a quick plea on the way out the door. Epaphrus struggled on behalf of the Colossians in his prayers. His prayers contended or struggled as in an intense athletic contest or warfare; as with an adversary. Do I have this same concept of prayer? When I plead before the throne for my child rather than lecture my child on a certain subject, consistently and faithfully God has done mighty works of faith and belief in my children’s lives. Most importantly, their heart changes are just that — their own in their budding walk with God, and not a response to a parent that often can be fleeting.

He is at work. And that is a mighty statement.

He is committed to these precious gifts far and away more than I am, and He can see around the bends. He knows the truths now that need to be shaped into my child’s character in order for him or her to walk out the moments around the bend. I am limited in my perspective and desperately want to protect my child from pain, hardship, or struggle.

But this way of walking with the Father demands I trust Him with my children. It means taking my manipulations out of the equation and granting Him the time needed to do His mighty work. It means laying aside my time schedule, my pride to have raised “good” or “godly” kids, and my understanding and instead bow my head to the One whose ways and thoughts are not my own.

But what I can also confirm is that suddenly the Mighty Potter allows his creation to turn! And then His forming masterpiece is seen! The works sown in daily life will bear a harvest mighty for His kingdom and for His glory. He is trustworthy and faithful.

Wineskin in the smoke

My soul longs for your salvation, I hope in your Word. My eyes long for your promise; I ask “when will you comfort me?” For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes. They have almost made an end of me on earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts. In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth. ~Psalm 119:81-84, 87-88

This is me lately, testimony of where I have been stuck or frozen. Somewhere between absolutely longing for and leaning heavily on God’s faithfulness, His Word, and His love and being in a furnace of heat, wondering if I will survive or shrivel up as ash. I was reading through Psalm 119 because I needed to cling to His Word, to love the truths alive in God’s promises, and to rely on the stability of His precepts when it seemed as if every piece of my world was spinning and unclear.

The heart cry of verse 81 resonates with me. My heart must settle on the assurance of His Word ever true. My anchor must be in the truths of Scripture. Security is sourced in understanding the truth of Jesus’ life and death – what that means for me both for now and for eternity. In the depths of me and every aching heart is the longing for salvation. My eyes scan the horizon to see God at work, looking for his hand to move or change my circumstances, but sometimes He is after changing me instead.

Like a wineskin in the smoke, I feel stretched tight, brittle, aching, shriveling into dusty parts, withered more than vibrant.  I want to be out of the smoke, out of the heat, and away from the fire. I wonder. I doubt. I cry out. And His Word becomes my lifeline. It has to.

Jesus in John 17:17 prays for us that God would “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Sanctification, the process of being made more like Christ, can only be done by Him and will be based in the truth of Scripture alone. Forsaking sinful patterns and setting us apart in holiness is the transformative work of the Holy Spirit because of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t come from feel good mantras or easy quips, it often doesn’t present itself like the easiest path, and it certainly stretches and carves on us to rid us of our flesh. Ephesians 5:25-27 details the truth of how Christ loves us and gave himself for us that “he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” And so I run to His Word; his name becomes my strong tower.

The wringing of my hands becomes hands uplifted in worship. The slumping of my shoulders becomes the bowing of my head before Almighty God. The crying eyes of grief become the eyes fixed on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of faith. The stretching of my soul becomes the growth of new trust and faith. The fire may not be quenched. The heat may not diminish.

But His Word stands. And His truth will become my testimony.

 

As a deer pants

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. ~Isaiah 54:10

Overwhelmed, undone, weary, discouraged – these are the words that float through my mind these past several weeks. Painful bruises on my heart are seemingly on every side until it almost feels like each area of my life has become tender. I don’t want to do anything but pause in paralysis. Stay frozen that nothing else can happen (similar to the childish belief that if I’m still enough under these covers, the monster won’t see me). I teeter on the edge of emotions so any little thing can tip me yet I know the truth:

You are calm in the storm,

a deep well for the thirsty,

rich satiation for the hungry,

compassionate with steadfast love,

Your love, mercy, peace, and kindness follow me – purposefully pursue me – You won’t let me stay frozen. Like steady, warm water dripping, You melt the ice of protection that surrounds my heart. Your love intrudes where I feel alone, Your peace breaks through my anxious thoughts with your steady presence. You never withdraw, others might, but You never reject, never turn away. You seek me out — You reached into death and pulled me out! You are actively engaged in restoring and renewing!

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? These things I would remember as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. ~Psalm 42:2,4,8

This journey of the psalmist echoes in my own life. I cannot escape the truth that I long for God, yet I am living in discouragement and fear. There are seasons where it seems the decay of our lives is abundantly clear, whether it is loneliness, doubt, worry, illness, betrayal, or something else. The destruction and rot that mark our lives because of sin become abundantly clear. The gut punch of pain that accompanies this state takes my breath away, and I am left gasping and heaving. And the whispers become shouts, “Where is your God?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” (Ps 42:10)

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God (vs11). Hope – full assurance; not wishful thinking.  The remarkable steadiness of eternal God turned to me because of Jesus Christ. He is my salvation. God is engaged in my life for my good and His glory. This truth ignites trust coupled with peace despite my circumstances.

Worship is vital to recall and to return to when I feel overwhelmed and alone. Remembering who He is and who I am to Him, His steadfast love that He commands and the song He gives to me – these are the truths that solidify my quavering soul. I begin to sing songs of praise and worship, not because I can see my way out of these breakers and waves that pour over me, but because I know He does. And I want His best for my life.

You are my Sustainer, my Great High Priest, Defender, Ancient of Days, the great I AM, Redeemer, Restorer, Joy Giver, Friend, Father, Counselor, Teacher, Strength Giver, King of Kings, my Rock, Tower, the Lifter of my head, steadfast Lover of my soul, and the great Peacemaker.  You are my salvation – let me lead in procession to worship You, longing only for You as you call me to come deeper still.