vines part 2

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. ~Hebrews 12:1-2

Why a part 2? truthfully because the Lord won’t let me leave this truth. I am in a season of great threshing or pruning, whichever picture you would like to use. The process is similar – there is a discerning hand at work moving over me, working in me, pulling out of me the things that are not like Him. Discouragement and weariness beckon me, bite at my heels, and whisper to me to just crawl off the floor. Just walk away for awhile, take a break. I wish for a breather, just some moments to catch my breath. My heart aches, my soul trembles a little.

I used to run long mile runs (back before all my kids – now I just run after them and hope it counts as exercise!) and loved the feeling at the beginning of each run, knowing this was my time to think and pray, just looking around in the neighborhoods I loved to run in. Until. Always there was a mile or so in my 6 mile run that was brutal. It wasn’t necessarily the steep run mile or the end of my run, but often the brutal portion was about a mile into my run. My arms would ache, my muscles would feel crampy, my breathing would not be rhythmic, and I would have to work to put one foot in front of another. Now I’m not a “good” or knowledgeable runner – I never read any books or articles about it – I really have no idea why this was my pattern, but it was consistent. And every time I would battle in my mind whether this time I should just slow to a walk, or just turn around and make it a short run. But I learned that if I persisted, if I endured, I would pass through this horrible phase into a gentler rhythm of running, in which I could breathe with ease, enjoy the scenery, and just run. But every time it was a choice to endure. Every time I wondered if I would make it out to the pleasurable place.

The race is set before me. God has ordained a lane in which to run, purposed for His glory and His kingdom work. All of my race is His – the big, the little, special, or mundane – all purposed to change me and grow me in Jesus. In Hebrews 12, the word race in Greek means a contest, a struggle in the soul, a grueling conflict struggle or battle. I’m not running around a track or even cross country – NO! This is an epic battle fought as I press forward.  Maclaren wrote, “By faith we enter the race; through faith we receive His power to run and not be weary but we need to run to advance.” I need to run. Am I in continual movement in this race? Am I walking more deeply with Jesus today than last year, 5 years ago? Growth should be seen, muscles grown – landscapes changing as new obstacles come, new experiences occur to grow deeper in dependency and in faith.

Yet Jesus is the center. He is the faith giver, strength fortifier, lifter of my head. He is the race maker and the race winner. And he promises to lead me out to broad places, to be my refuge in my pantings, to steady my steps, make my bones strong, and make me like a watered garden with abundant springs. So while I am running a mile that feels like torture, He is always with me. He is not only refining me on this threshing floor, He is comforting me and holding me tightly. I choose to praise your name, Jesus.

For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead and guide me. I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul, and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.  ~Psalm 31:3,7-8

 

 

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.

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 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.

 

 

you, surrendered

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. ~Matthew 11:28-29

You are exactly who God chose to parent the children you have been given.

The enemy wrecks us with this lie – that you aren’t the best parent, your kids would be better off with someone else, that woman is a better mother, that dad is a more diligent father than you. Maybe it’s the belief that you don’t understand your child, your personalities or temperaments clash so it will always be this tough. Maybe you’re weary of it all and just want to retreat from the rejection, the anger, the constant need for discipline without much apparent progress. Maybe you’re in a place where if someone could see the dark parts of your heart, they would see you just don’t like your child right now. You know you shouldn’t feel this way, yet you do if you’re honest. Your child is hard, battling, disobedient, rejecting, and just bone wearying. Maybe you lie in bed at night and swing between crying out for help and crying out for rest. Do you wonder if you’re just messing your child up or do you think it’s simply hopeless?

The enemy’s staccato drumbeats of retreat, fatigue, and doubt are loud in our ears sometimes. They seem to beat credibly that someone else would be better or that this is just too much. The banging that no progress is being made chants, “Why keep going?”

If there is one truth that we need to understand, it is this: We cannot parent perfectly. But we can parent surrendered to the One who does parent perfectly, and we will become His tool to work and display unconditional love, affection, and discipline.

And He chose you for them.

He chose you for each child He has given you.

He knew their needs and knew you were the best. Not because you bring anything to this parenting thing. He knew that you, surrendered to Him, would be a formidable, powerful force displaying love to lost unsaved children, leading them to Jesus, showing them their need for a Savior, that they too can walk rightly with God in peace and rest in a world fraught with fear and frenzy.

We must reject the cultural mandate that says we have to have all the right answers. No, we have to go to the Teacher. He knows our children intimately. Scripture says that the Holy Spirit searches hearts, understands the motivations that lie within, and knows exactly what to pray. John 15:7 reminds us that as we abide in Him, as we rest in His truth, we are free to ask anything and it will be done. God invites us to call unto Him and He will show us insights we do not know which include the mysteries of our children.

We have to stop believing that parenting is a sprint. Deuteronomy 6 & 11 paint the intimate way parents are to walk with their children, instilling in them the constancy and pervasiveness of relationship with God. The conversation of who God is, what Christ has done, and our response to Him should be hallmarks of our walk with our children. These truths color every facet of life. Discipling our children in the gospel is a race we will run until we die. It may change courses, the scenery may change, but the race ends when we stand breathlessly in front of Jesus Christ.

But until we become a people who abide with Jesus, who rest on Him alone, who bring all things before His throne, present all requests to Him and seek Him first, we will flounder. And we will be easy picking for the enemy who delights in discouragement and defeat.

So on the days of deep discouragement and doubt, when condemnation yells about my failures that day in parenting, I need to run to Jesus Christ. I need to stand before Him in light of the the truth of the gospel. He died for all my sin, including my rudeness, selfishness, impatience, anger or whatever has erupted from me that day against one of His children. And He is working in me to change me, granting me forgiveness with repentance. When I recognize my own desperate need for redemption and grace, my eyes can see the desperation within my child as well and the boundless love of the Father for that little one right there in the midst of their sin.

I must stand before Him, seeking first His way and not my own. I need to measure my words and my actions against His wisdom. My agenda for the day may need to die in order to make space and time to share the gospel with one of my children. My order of operations may have to be mixed up in order to hear the heart of a child being fooled by the lies of his or her flesh or the world. But no agenda, no career, no chore compares to the charge of sharing Christ with our children. When I understand what I have been given, I am far more able to embrace the charge of discipleship and lovingly lead my child to the Lifegiver every chance I can.