Lying-Awake Nights

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I’m lying in bed and it’s 11:31 p.m.

And my face is sticky, because I’ve been crying into my pillow. My nose is dripping. I’m hoping to avoid a mirror for a while. Good thing it’s dark in here.

I keep rubbing the back of my neck, hoping for the words to well up again.

All I hear is “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” It’s playing from my computer speakers, speaking to me in a language I’ve known so long. The words that I know by heart echo inside me, even though all I hear are simple piano notes.

It’s like my heart knows the way home, even when I’m tired and it’s dark and all is ajar.

I’ve been praying my thoughts with Psalmist-like honesty. I know that I’m not alone in these nights. How many of you, my friends, have also laid awake in bed kept awake by your fears?

I keep finding myself on the edge of a negotiation with God:

“Lord, I know you’re in control. I just don’t know what that means for me. What does that mean You’ll do? I trust that You’re good…but how does that help this situation? I still don’t know what You’re going to do. What if it’s painful? What if it hurts someone I love? What if Your plan isn’t the one I want? If You’re going to do what You want anyway, does it do any good for me to pray for what I want?

You know, at least for me tonight, I’m not really asking God if He’s in control.

I’m not even asking Him if He’s good.

I’m asking if He cares about what I care about. I want to know if He loves my hurting friend as much as I do. I want to know if He cares about my future as much as I do. I know He’s powerful and working out all that is good.

I just want to know how that applies to me right now.

On nights like tonight, the built-up emotions swirl in me until I’m left dry and tired.

But I lifted my head out of a soggy pillow in sudden joy and grabbed for my computer to tell you this story.

As I prayed gut-wrenching prayers, the knowledge stole over me.

“Lord, you love this friend more than I do.”

“Jesus, You don’t withhold anything good from me, not for one minute more than necessary. Something else better is happening right now, or this waiting would be over.”

THIS is what can sustain me through a night of tears. It’s not just that He rules and plans. The thing that puts my heart to rest is that HE LOVES ME! He loves me, He loves my people, and He cares about the things that weigh on my heart.

The idea of distantly-loving and powerful God doesn’t do much for me. But a personally-involved and caring One? He is a God I can rest in.

So I sniff and wipe my tears and smile in the dark.

“Rock of Ages” plays now. I will hide myself in Him.

“Rock of Ages, cleft for me. Let me hide myself in Thee…

Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to thy cross I cling.”

 – Augustus Toplady –

 

 

 

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Treasuring Me

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“Then, as the sun was setting, all those who had friends suffering from every kind of disease brought them to Jesus and he laid his hands on each one of them separately and healed them.”

 – Luke 4:40, Phillips –

Healing was more than a job for Jesus.

He healed very few people en masse, although He did heal the ten lepers with only a word (Luke 17:11-19). But ten isn’t a very large crowd for a God who spoke a galaxy into motion.

“Our God is at home with the rolling spheres, And at home with broken hearts.”

– M. P. Ferguson –

He could have very easily said the word and healed everyone at once.

But He didn’t.

When He called a rag-tag group of disciples to follow Him across the countryside, He could have used supernatural revelation to reveal His vast knowledge to them in an instant. Instead, He spent three years walking and talking with them. He didn’t infuse their minds automatically with Himself–He let them slowly soak in and learn of Him.

He lived in moments and worked in the context of time. More importantly, centering His will on His Father’s plan, He concentrated on whoever was in front of Him.

Not to say that Jesus had a people-centric view of life. He was always God-centric.

But that divine fellowship daily overflowed into moments focused on loving others. Complete in His triune nature, God, in His great grace, overflows to those who could never repay it. We are poor companions, yet He delights to know us. We are unfaithful partners, yet He is pleased to wash us and bring us back home.

I was listening to the Daily Audio Bible this week and heard a passage from Luke 4. Eager crowds flooded Jesus with friends in need of healing, and the passage takes great care to record His response: “Then, as the sun was setting, all those who had friends suffering from every kind of disease brought them to Jesus and he laid his hands on each one of them separately and healed them” (Luke 4:40, Phillips).

He put his hands on them.

Separately.

Each and everyone one of them.

And they were healed.

This is how my God does business. He works in subtle moments and cultivated relationships. He moves in compassion, not just addressing a problem with a general, one-size-fits-all solution, but with a wise plan tailored just for me, just for you.

He stopped and poured Himself into each precious moment with whoever stood before Him.

He paused in a crowd to search out the woman who had grasped His robe in faith. He stopped His sermon for the lame man being let down from the ceiling. On the roads, He paused for cripples, the blind, and lepers who called out for His mercy.

And when we are stumbling along in our own confusion, He is there, also. The God of galaxies smiles upon us and puts His hand on us.

Separately. Individually. Specially.

The Church is the Bride of Christ, all the members together making one body. But individually, we still matter to our Father. We are not faceless appendages in the body. We are treasured children.

“See what an incredible quality of love the Father has shown to us, that we would [be permitted to] be named and called and counted the children of God! And so we are!

 – 1 John 3:1, AMP –

The gospel is not people-centered. God’s love doesn’t revolve around me. I am not the center of the universe or the focal point of heaven. And I was never meant to be.

But oh, what grace is mine! What have I done that He would stop and look upon me?

We should not be surprised to hear that heaven and earth does not wait for our beck and call.

But we should be surprised, eternally surprised, that God would ever stoop to look at the specks upon this planet–specks that, somehow, He has seen, and loved, and filled with the image of Himself.

Take courage.

We serve the same Jesus that lovingly attended to each person He met. He has not changed.

Sometimes God is silent. Sometimes He does not move when we think it is time for something to happen. Sometimes He says no.

But He comes when we call. He places His hand upon our heads when we cry out in need. He cares about our cries.

Always.

 

“Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you.”

 – Deuteronomy 31:6, HCSB –

Monuments of Mercy

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“You are more sinful than you could dare imagine and you are more loved and accepted than you could ever dare hope.”

– Timothy Keller –


Even when He was angry, God started out with the good news. “I have loved you” (Malachi 1:2).

I often come to passages like this with a preset attitude: “What terrible people those Israelites were! Look at all God did for them, and were they thankful about it? No!”

But in Malachi 1, as God exposes the calloused hearts of His chosen ones, I am afraid that I stand guilty as well. God declares his love, but in the next breath, I too often say, “What love are you talking about? Prove that you love me.” (verse 2).

He sets me apart as one of His dear children, but I wonder if He is really treating me better than those who are not His (verse 3).

I deny my lack of honor, show surprise that He would say I’ve done something wrong (verses 6,7).

Too much, I offer Him my leftovers — leftover energy, leftover love, leftover time. And yet I persist in thinking that I’m doing beautifully spiritually (verse 8).

After all He has done, when I can just look around at any time and see the works of His majesty, I still somehow grow weary of pursuing the One whom my soul loves. Weary of trying to understand. Weary of seeking His ways (verse 13).

All this brings me down, to my knees, in repentance…And He lifts me up.

“There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us.” – Richard Sibbes

Because — look back at that first pronouncement of His:

“I have loved you.”

Striking, isn’t it, that our God begins with that assurance. Yes, He contrasts it with our doubt of His affection. But first, right as He is about to deliver the thunder, He first gives the rain, “I have loved you.”

Related Post: Four Words

In his commentary on Malachi 1:1-5, Matthew Henry writes:

“The Israelites shall be made the monuments of his mercy, and he will be glorified in their salvation….”

When I read that this morning, I latched on to that one phrase, “monuments of his mercy.” Because that’s what we are.

All His chosen ones are monuments to mercy.

Whatever strange winds may blow on me today, I have this anchor. He loves me. Whatever failures I may fall into yet again, I know this: He loves me. Despite my dishonor, my perpetual amnesia of His grace, my quickly-wearied mind– He loves me still.

Today, I am a monument to His fantastic, immense mercy. He will be glorified in my salvation, no matter how much I blunder and fall. His work is being completed, and His beauty is coming to rest on our heads.

Remember today that you are a monument to His mercy — a visible picture to a watching world. As each day goes by, may our inscriptions become ever clearer:

“To the one who is able to protect [us] from falling,
        and to present [us] blameless and rejoicing before his glorious presence,
to the only God our [S]avior, through Jesus Christ our Lord,
        belong glory, majesty, power, and authority,
            before all time, now and forever. Amen.” 

– Jude 25-26, CEB –

 

 

What You Don’t See

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“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

– C.S. Lewis –


A friend and I were talking this week, pondering about how we view others. We decided that, much of the time, we don’t really see them.

Not the biggest piece of them, anyway.

I see only what I want to see, I suppose. The outside words and actions. Motions and syllables. Annoying things. Pleasing things.

Over and over, I condemn someone in my heart. Sometimes I assign a motivation to their bad behaviors. Other times, I keep my distance, because I just don’t want to get involved in their baggage. Judging, I judge myself.

Because, often, I do the exact same things I condemn others for doing.

A while back, I got irritated at someone for trying to tell me how to do something. I can do it myself, I inwardly argued. Don’t you think I’m smart enough to figure this out?

Of course, not long later, I was on the other side of the picture, making sure someone in my family knew exactly the right way to accomplish a task. Because obviously I am the sole Guardian of the Right Way to Do Everything.

What I condemned, I did myself.

“Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”

– Romans 2:1-4 –

For some reason, I am so much easier on myself when it comes to sin — or even preferences — than I am on others. If I want to be bossy, fine. But far be it from you to try to be bossy. You shall rue the day.

But one day, a person you silently judged will open up to you in spite of your internal condemnation, and they will tell you a bigger story.

Oh, their sin won’t suddenly be okay, but you will see a much larger story than you imagined.

One day you will wake up and see that you didn’t see them before, not at all. You shouldn’t excuse sin, but your heart will be humbled by the knowledge that you probably wouldn’t do any better if you were in their shoes.

Instead of the cardboard cutout you thought they were, your eyes will open to a real, blood-pumping, soul-scarred human being, with all of the dozens of motivations, complexities, moods, circumstances and problems that you face in your own life.

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

So, next time you get angry, next time you are wronged for the hundredth time, next time the flaws of another person shine through in all their terrible blatancy, remember.

You were an enemy. Yet still Jesus, very God of very God, died for you.

You were not lovely. But He took you anyway, to make you lovely.

You were not worthy. But He has made you an heir with Him.

The well-known literary classic To Kill a Mockingbird has this to say about our predisposition to judge:

“Are you proud of yourself tonight that you have insulted a total stranger whose circumstances you know nothing about?”
― Harper Lee

Proverbs 8:13 pronounces it shameful to give an answer before the question has even been spoken. How much more foolish is it to pass sentence on the “wrongness” of those around us before we have even understood them?

Sin is not excusable. It never is.

But if God can step out of paradise to touch feeble dust-creatures with His glory, how much more can we extend His love to those around us.

Their worthiness is not the issue.

In truth, we can see ourselves in them, as if we were looking in a mirror. It is not that they are less bad. It is that we, when we truly see them, also see that we’re not as good as we’d like to think.

But our Savior is good.

So today, pray for grace to really see. When people inevitably rub you the wrong way, stop and look beyond your nearsighted perspective. What you find out may surprise you. It will most certainly bring you to your knees in humility and thankfulness for the mercy of our great God.

Oh Father, give us eyes to see those we meet. Our families — those most familiar to us, but so often still unseen. Our neighbors — those whom God has planted us beside. Our fellow church members — co-heirs of the grace in which we live abundantly. The great, unmet horde of unseen — those we never stop to see or hear or know.

Help me see those I meet as you see them. Needy. Flawed. And just as much a candidate for Your unearned love as I am.


“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”
― Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark

 

 

 

My Inspiration

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“I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.”

– Ephesians 3:18-19, CEB –


Thinking of a blog post topic can sometimes be quite the challenge. Yes–believe it or not, I actually run out of words sometimes.

When I do, I think back over my week, or month, and ponder the struggles that my friends are experiencing. I think of what I’ve been reading. I mull over a verse or two from my family’s Bible reading time. Most of the time, I come up with something that I hope will be of use to someone.

So I came up with a topic a few days ago, and even started a draft today. I know at least two friends that would directly relate to the topic. I pondered making it into a list post. Lists are always good.

And then I stopped and realized…maybe this week we don’t need another how-to. Not this time.

Maybe — for just a moment — we need to stop and remember.

This morning, I read this quote:

The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.”

– Julian of Norwich –

That’s it. It is very simple.

This is not a test, or an indictment, or an accusation.

I don’t want a show of hands.

I won’t ask you to rate your “living gladly” experience last week.

Because that isn’t the point.

I know you’ve messed up. I know I’ve shamefully disregarded an amazing love. I know that the sin we choose is sometimes piled a mile high. It is painfully apparent. We just don’t often live gladly.

We just don’t often ponder his love. At least for me, not often enough.

But take your eyes off your failure for a moment. And fix them on Him.

Live gladly.

This is not another task for the to-do list. Forget the to-do list.

Live gladly.

But…why? Why live gladly? And how…how in all this mess do we live gladly? In the middle of traffic and stress and neighbors that die, and friends that lie, and churches that split, perpetual bad news, and muffins that burn in the too-hot oven.

How can we live gladly? Why, even?

“Because of the knowledge of his love.”

Not cognitive assent. It’s more like fixation. Obsession. Total focus. Unashamed staring at the sublime mystery of grace. It’s less an academic exercise and more the awed gasp when the dawn clouds break away from the mountain tops.

Captivation with His love.

I can keep writing. I can spin you a few hundred more dancing words, but there is something else even better:

Why don’t you look at Him a little while and ponder His love for you?

You won’t ever live gladly on your own. You can’t. Not by following the commandments. Not by getting your life together. Only in turning away from your insufficiency and basking in His absolute sufficiency, you will unearth the only spring of joy. Or perhaps He will unearth it in you.

The One who alone can make your life glad with His immense goodness.

Now that is inspiration.


“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
― G.K. Chesterton ―

An Ode to the One Who is Not a Wave

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Oh rock! immovable by the surf, immutable in the froth of change,

As I, ocean inconstant, wavering, digressing, mulling again and again, chase up and down the shore.

You glisten and glow in the dawn, undaunted by my surf, a range

Of immaculate, solid goodness, refuge to wind-tossed kites, lonely gulls’ moor,

While I, restless surface, marred goodness, toss and strain in an endless race for the sand.

 

Oh moon! drawer of my unseen depths, quickener of all my hidden things,

Wresting me in whirling tides out of stagnation–serene, wild, terrible pull.

Grace irresistible, hold unbreakable, patient hounding of all my vagrant ways,

Bring me at last to the haven, to rest, to sand-sodden home, to artful

Reflection of your dear, down-cast face, clearest copy of your beam.

 

Deepest one! a floor to my rushings, undergirder of all my stablished ways,

Erupter of steam, holder of secrets, haven to creation’s abyssal dark, conceiving the trapped-up glow

Of fire-mountains beneath my tracks; in you, my surest foundation, yawning mysteries stay

Forever deep and holy in the uncharted, unfathomed places of your beauty. I know

My own depths are upheld by your strength; your unbounded chasm is my rest.

 

Dear one! you who are not a wave, this ode proclaims your unwavering traits:

Rock to my vacillating, moon to my torpor, floor to my flood–

You my border, my crown, my surrounding. Yet, you also fill me, permeate

My every atom, warm my waters with the heat of joy; what is this wonder?

That on every side you are greater, higher, deeper: yet still you love.


 

“How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.
When I awake, I am still with You.”

– Psalm 139:17-18, NASB –