Letting Go

misty-hills

“Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

– William Butler Yeats –

I am a firm believer in wonderful things.

In fact, I am very good at setting my sights on things I want and wishing for them with all my heart.

If you’ve read my blog long, you know that I’ve talked about surrender quite a bit–empty hands, a whole heart offered to God, trust in the future that He determines.

But all that to say–I apparently still didn’t get the idea.

There are stages to journeys.

“One does not surrender a life in an instant. That which is lifelong can only be surrendered in a lifetime.”

― Elisabeth Elliot ―

First, God led me, years ago, to say my first, halting “Thy will be done” to His plans for my future.

once-in-a-blue-moon

Since then, over and again, I’ve laid my desires out to Him and given them over into His keeping.

Every once in a while, though, a big and lovely dream creeps into my heart.

It’s hard to know what to do with such a magnificent thing. I’ll tell you what I like to do–I like to frame that dream and hang it in the corridors of my imagination. I like to set it high on the shelf of myself and  lean back and smile over that dream a little while, pull it down and stroke it a bit, then set it back up to stare at again. For such a fair and perfect dream, I can spare no expense. Every highest thought, every best energy of my heart goes to it.

I have had such big, beautiful dreams, and sometimes I have handled them well. I have let go just enough to say, “Yet, if You take this dream too, Lord, I will love You and serve You even then.” I have been able to laugh in the dark and give even my desperate tears over to my Master. But still, that dream was something I often clutched. Willing to give it up…yes, for my Jesus. If circumstances made me. If others forced me. If God Himself set blockades in the way. But give it up on my own…why would I do such a thing?

blue-nature-wallpaper-14297133009ozOnce upon a time, I had such a dream–oh, it was the prettiest thing I had ever seen. I guarded it and kept it with all my might. Sure, I told God He could have it. I even meant it. Honestly, I wrestled and I came to the sincere conclusion that if this hoped-for thing did not come to be, it would be okay. I didn’t know how it would be okay, but I really did believe it.

But I will tell you something about dreams.

Sometimes, just being willing isn’t enough.

Sometimes a dream grows so large and heavy, so lovely and blinding, that it is a weight to carry along.

I had that big, lovely dream, and I toted it along in my heart. And, even though I said the Lord could have it, I also said, “But please, I like it so much, can’t I keep it?”


A father and his little girl were taking a journey together.

“Father!” she squealed, finding a lovely object on the ground. “Look at this! Have you ever seen something so beautiful?”

He looked down on his hopeful-eyed little girl as she hoisted a too-big load up in her thin arms, and he said, “It is very heavy.”

“But please, I love it. Can’t I bring it home with me?” this little girl pleaded.

And the father smiled to himself, because he knew the treasure was too heavy for the small one. But he nodded and let his little girl heft the weight along.

Soon she began panting.

“Why don’t you put that load down?” he asked.

The little girl’s eyes flew open wide and tears pooled in them. “If you say I must, I will,” she said, quietly. “I know you want what is best for me.” Then she looked up at him tearfully. “But please, can’t I bring it a little farther?”

As they traveled along, she began to moan quietly under the crushing weight of her burden. Each time the trail steepened, she cried a little on top of her treasure and gritted her teeth to carry it up the hill. It seemed like her load was getting heavier and heavier with every small, wobbling step she took. Soon, her arms trembled and her knees buckled. She dropped the load, barely pulling her small hands out from beneath it before it crashed to the path.

“You should leave it now,” her father spoke again, so kindly. “It is only a weight to you.”

“But…” she looked down at it, then saw the red blisters on her hands and the bruises turning blue on her forearms. She bit her lip and grabbed her father’s hand. “Yes, Father.” She got up, tears falling. She started to follow him down the path, but turned back for one last glance. “I will leave it here. I won’t try to carry it myself any more.” She took a few more steps. “Father?”

“Yes, dear one?”

“What if that treasure…is supposed to be mine?”

He smiled down at her and scooped her up into his arms. “Then I will carry it home to you when it is time.”


This has been my experience: Even though I battled with my dream, trying to keep it from becoming an idol, truly wanting to keep Jesus first, the battle wore me out. 

Finally, after heart-breaking after heart-breaking, I had to just let it go. I had to leave it at the Lord’s feet and say, “Here is my favorite dream. I’m not bringing it with me anymore. I’m not counting on it to come true anymore. I’m not letting myself imagine it is true, or picture all the ways I will enjoy it, or setting it at the center of my future. I am leaving it behind and letting You do with it what You want.”

I couldn’t keep tugging it along. It was dragging me down, wearing me out.

“God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.”

– Elizabeth Barrett Browning –

blue-flower-1354931252PeKPeople say that hope is a good thing. “Never give up hope,” they say.

But I think that sometimes you have to give up on a small hope to make room for a Greater Hope.

As the persecuted Chinese Christian Li Quan says in Randy Alcorn’s novel Safely Home, “That day, hope was dashed–and, no matter how painful, it is always good when false hopes are dashed. Since then, many have learned to trust not in man but in God” (page 94).

Every dream I’ve given up, every disappointed hope,  has only driven me deeper into my need for Jesus.

Sure, each time I open my heart to His ways instead of mine, a part of me dies. But isn’t dying to my way of doing things part of becoming who I am really designed to be?

blue-nature-background-3-13861496290EF

“If my life is surrendered to God, all is well. Let me not grab it back, as though it were in peril in His hand but would be safer in mine!”

– Elisabeth Elliot –

Dreams aren’t bad–I don’t regret my dreams, my disappointments, or the pain that has been my teacher. I only regret the time spent on lifting dreams higher than I lifted my love for Jesus.

However lovely, no dream is as beautiful as He is.

The question is, do we live like we believe that?


“I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord!”

– Romans 8:38, Phillips paraphrase –

 

 

 

 

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Grace for This Day

king-of-the-world

“You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.”

– Charles H. Spurgeon –


During my research for the recent posts on God’s will, I asked many of my friends to submit questions. Some of these questions made it into the Q&A, while others seemed to go beyond simply knowing God’s will. One friend brought up this great question:

“I know I’m in God’s will in what I am doing now, but feel drawn/want to do something else. How do I find contentment?”

Ah, contentment. As humans, we all suffer from dissatisfaction at times. As young people, we are at the threshold of so much future stretching out before us. There’s just so much Out There. It’s hard to hold back the desires that want to leap out into the stars.

As a young lady, I know how deeply the struggle for contentment affects us girls. For the young and unmarried among us, we sometimes feel like our lives are frozen in place, just waiting for the right guy to come along for our lives to really start. While singleness is not the only area of discontent that touches us, it is one of the most prominent in our thoughts.

Why is this? Why are we constantly wishing for what isn’t?

More importantly, what is the cure?

Why, why, why?

The idea to take something for ourselves before the time is rather…old. Very, very old. It goes back to the first people ever, in fact, when a snake enthralled Eve with a forbidden bit of pleasure.

” Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. “(Genesis 3:1-6, NKJV)

One little nibble was all it took. The seed of discontent bore a fruit that tasted great…but how bitter it was in the end! That was true for the first people, and it is true for us still. Eve’s desires to satisfy her hunger,  her artistic sensibilities, and her intellect were not wrong desires. It was the way she tried to fill herself that was wrong.

When we deal with our hopes and dreams, they don’t have to be thrown away. They just have to be submitted to God. Eve’s weren’t. And, sorry to say, neither are mine a lot of the time.

I think I will always remember one night when I was sixteen. I sank beside my bed, struggling with the conviction that I had to offer up all my life to God, every aspect. I was afraid. Yes, I was afraid that if I said, “Yes, Lord,” that He would pack me off to be a missionary in South Asia or doom me to lifelong spinsterdom. Or probably both. (Don’t laugh. I was very serious. 🙂 ) With a multitude of tears and sniffles, I bowed my head and prayed that God would make me willing to surrender. If I wasn’t quite ready to fork over my “consent,” I was at least receptive to the idea. As one songwriter says, I was “willing to be willing.” And, in the quiet of the night,  His peace came.

I’ve had to go back to that place many times since then,  surrendering and re-surrendering. Marriage, health, opportunities–all these have come to the table to be sacrificed. I’ve found that the One who accepts my offerings is gracious. Sometimes the sacrifice can be a living one, subdued but released to caper around again like a spring lamb. Sometimes He hands back my dreams; sometimes He keeps them. But whatever He hands me next, I can accept it knowing that it is better than what I might have chosen. He is much wiser than I am, you know.

How can I find contentment here?

My friends, as much as we doubt it, joy is not a place. Joy is a choice. Joy is a gift.

A young woman, martyred for her faith, had this to say about her Savior’s faithfulness:

“And shall I fear that there is anything that men hold dear Thou wouldst deprive me of and nothing give in place? That is not so, for I can see Thy face. I hear Thee now. ‘My child, I died for thee. And if the gift of love and life you took from Me, shall I one gracious thing withhold to all eternity? One beautiful and bright, one pure and precious thing, withhold? It cannot be.'”

– Betty Scott Stam, “My Testimony” –

It cannot be, dear ones, that He will keep back anything good from us! The God who loves us for His own glory will not fail us.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32, NKJV)

Trust in the love of God is the root of contentment. If we hold to our God in trust, we can let Him take us anywhere. It is with Him that we will be happy–and nowhere else.

Pride, on the other hand, is the root of discontent. “I deserve this” is my unspoken theme song–how about you? I hum along to it when I set my sights on something I simply must have to be happy. (Because, obviously, my happiness is vital to the continued functioning of the universe.) I chant the “Deserve it” lyrics when I presume upon a future I cannot control, plotting and planning my course (Prov. 16:9). The “I deserve this” mentality cripples many God-fearing girls who are waiting for a spouse. Christian thinker John Stonestreet calls this assumption “Princess theology,” a Disney-like happily-ever-after that we girls think we deserve for all the suffering we’ve been doing during our single years. But we don’t deserve happiness, if we think about it. We deserve nothing less than eternal hell for our sins. Christ’s atonement means that we can stand clean before God–but it doesn’t mean we now deserve our every whim.

But–if marriage is a gift we covet, we must also realize that singleness is not a curse. It is a gift too. The most powerful, beautiful, comforting thought I’ve ever read in this area was written by missionary and author Elisabeth Elliot:

“Single life may be only a stage of a life’s journey, but even a stage is a gift. God may replace it with another gift, but the receiver accepts His gifts with thanksgiving. This gift for this day. The life of faith is lived one day at a time, and it has to be lived–not always looked forward to as though the “real” living were around the corner. It is today for which we are responsible. God still owns tomorrow.”

– Elisabeth Elliot,  from Let Me Be A Woman, page 31

So, my friends, contentment is about today. Not yesterday, with its regrets. Not tomorrow, with its hopes. Today–the beautiful, undeserved, fresh place that God has formed for us right now.

How do you embrace today? Not by never thinking about tomorrow, but by giving up your right to tomorrow and realizing Who has tomorrow well under control.

Contentment is about today. Contentment is about faith. Contentment is about raising that white surrender flag and flapping it as hard and high as you can. Contentment is the path to joy.

In her book Singled Out for Him, Nancy Leigh DeMoss tells the story of young William Borden, who left behind his family’s fortune to serve God, dying before he even reached the mission field. While he moved straight into glory, the impact of his life continues through his motto, found written in the front of his Bible. May it be ours:

No reserves.

No retreats.

No regrets.

Amen.


“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”

– Jeremiah Burroughs –

In These Hands, Part 1

outstretched-cupped-hands

“Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.”

― Corrie ten Boom ―

Even Christians do it.

Some call it “snapping shut to grace,” the way pain and sin curl our hands into unbreakable fists of control (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts).

Toddlers do it, tightening hands until faces redden and screams peal for their way.

Angry people do it, when a leering face just beckons for that balled fist to take its best shot.

And fear–fear just constricts all of a person, doubling them until their curled-up body looks nearly ready to hide in the safety of a womb again. A vulnerable fetal position can quickly become the default position.

And I do it. Fearful, perhaps. Controlling, yes. Angry even, sometimes.

Yet, this week, my mind keeps drifting back to two ideas.

1. Unfurling Fingers

“I know not what He is about to do with me, but I have given myself entirely into His hands.”

– Catherine Booth –

First, that I must open my hands to Jesus. It’s hard, even in stillness, to be brave enough to open my fist and bare them to the cold air and expose them in vulnerability.

It seems that He asks to see what is in my grasp. There’s so much. Future. Dreams. People I care about. Ideas I don’t want stolen. Hopes I fear will be broken.

His prompting has continued for years. It still persists, my Savior’s call to unburden and release and open my hands. He took my wicked soul and made it new. But now I clench old again. He speaks.

So I uncurl my fingers.

It hurts a little. They’ve clenched too long. They’re stiff and a little unaccustomed to bending at His command. My fingers are numb and cold. I wonder, with a heart bounding, whether I’ve made a mistake.

Yesterday, I opened my hands again.

It’s something I’ve had to do a lot.

My journal tells the story, from a few months ago:

“My heart seems to be slamming on the brakes.

I am so full, so full–and my tether seems to be flying, coil upon coil.

Because I can’t keep focus for two minutes straight.

I don’t seem to be able to breathe without my eyes and heart going back.

And my eyes fill and heart clenches. And I fall again. O God, how many times today can I be laid out?

How many times, how thin can I stretch from something I’m giving over to You every minute it seems and taking back with more longing every other minute?”

What do I need to do? Yes, lay open my hands again. Hannah Whitall Smith has something to say about this:

“What you need to do, is to put your will over completely into the hands of your Lord, surrendering to Him the entire control of it. Say, “Yes, Lord, YES!” to everything, and trust Him to work in you to will, as to bring your whole wishes and affections into conformity with His own sweet, and lovable, and most lovely will.”

I’ve found that saying yes is not a one-time prayer.

It’s a way to live. More than that, in the hardest moments of surrender I have ever faced, I’ve found that it is a way to breathe.

When your heart is about torn in half, sometimes all you can do is breathe yes. “Yes Lord, Your will and not mine. Yes Lord, whatever the cost. Help me give over more. Yes Lord, I believe. Help me believe more. Yes Lord, I still love You. Help me love You more.”

The storm eventually drips and drains away. Wreckage strews your life in the aftermath. Things are blown a bit askew. You can hardly hope that you’ll ever be able to walk straight up again, after so many hours of leaning into a beating wind.

But it all fades. The pain of one moment or the dull throb of grasping at something that vanishes into vapor. When the ache seeps less and less, one things still remains. God was there with you. And in that hour you learned how desperately you needed Him to be there. Even more, you caught a glimpse of how much you need Him to carry you all the way through this life.

Trials that make us want to clench our fists can be one of two things. They are the tormenters that incapacitate us, or they are the teachers that show us how much our God can do. The question: Will we lay ourselves open, or close up tight and shrink from His touch?

“I have held many things in my hands, and have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”    — Martin Luther

For those of you who really paid attention, though, I did say there were two things I’ve been pondering. Opening hands, yes. But what more?

Will open hands cradle only air?

You see, God is really good at filling open hands.

How He does that will have to wait until “In These Hands, Part 2.”  But first, next week we’ll talk about the Christ who makes Christmas an all-year celebration. And I, for one, can hardly wait for that.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind….”

– Romans 12: 1-2a, NASB, emphasis mine –

Thanks to George Hodan and Public Domain Pictures, we had another great image for today’s post!

Living Safe

old-ship-and-flowers

“A ship is always safe at shore but that is not what it’s built for.”
– Albert Einstein –

There is a part of me that craves safety.

Something deep–maybe fear? A wishing that the storms would never blow in.

This part of me–I know it’s selfish. But it is so tempting to just hide and pretend all is well when life has blustered up snow clear past the windows. The cold is everywhere and I’m snowed-in for a good long while.

With people, it’s just so hard to keep saying yes to them and no to the things tugging my heart. It’s hard to say “I’m sorry” again and again, to wonder if I’ll ever get this daughter thing right. This sister thing. This friend thing.

Safe.

Sometimes I just want to be a hermit and make my own pretend world–not because of a lack of blessings, but a lack of security in this real world.

How can I be safe?

I can stop trying.

No more caring–doesn’t love hurt too much?

No more reaching out. At least I couldn’t be rejected.

No more working for responsibilities. Can apathy hurt more than over-and-again failure?

No more vision. Why jump at all if the goal’s too high?

These thoughts, frustrated impulses, almost sweep me away. And, along, with these, comes the deeper conviction that the problem is mine. Something in me must be desperately wrong, for it to come to this.

This. To give in, to follow this only safe way–what is the cost?

Here’s the truth: Living isn’t safe.

And if I give up all these hard things, what’s left?

Nothing.

For safety, I’d be giving up life itself.

The options weigh heavy on my spirit. The real problem suddenly surfaces in my mind, in the shape of a verse learned long ago.

Lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God….” (2 Timothy 3:4)

Conviction hits, hard.

More than God?

More than Him, I so often cling to my agenda, my dreams, my way, my rights, my comfort, and my safety.

Pleasure more than God.

But if I were to retreat to the “safe,” lifeless place where my own pleasure lives, all would be lost. This soul wasn’t made to grovel for command or shrink from light or hide away from all that stings. This soul was made to soar the heights of what God’s love can do in a vessel given over.

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

– Theodore Roosevelt –

And like that ship that Einstein spoke of, this soul might have a brief moment of safety by refusing to do what I was carefully knit together to do, formed to fulfill from the womb by my own Maker’s fingers. But if I do, I will miss everything.

If a soul does not surrender to Christ’s shaping…

…it is a tool rusting on the shelf, never to be used to carve a masterpiece…a bird content to look into skies he will never touch with outstretched wings…a stunted sapling afraid to extend its limbs, afraid to reach the heights…

And, yes, a ship.

A ship that will never feel the tickle of waves under her hull, never swell her sails with the swooping, rushing gusts of heaven, never bathe her deck in the shimmering gold cast to the farthest horizons by a sinking sun.

Even now, I’m weighing anchor.

I will not live the life of shrinking back (Hebrews 10:39).

Forget playing life safe.

This ship is setting sail.

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

– Philippians 3:12-14, NKJV, emphasis mine –

A big thank you to George Hodan at Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo!

What If?

path-across-the-bridge

“I don’t wanna go through the motions
I don’t wanna go one more day
Without Your all consuming passion inside of me

I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking
What if I had given everything
Instead of going through the motions?”

– Matthew West, from “Motions” –

Funerals aren’t so bad.

Well, some.

All the ones before today were tolerable. A few tears, a heart-wondering at how a body can just be empty of soul. How can aliveness be suddenly gone?

But the ponderings go heavenward and turn sweet at the edges, the after-glow of the sun setting soft on skin.

And it’s not so hard to remember that there’s an eternity and God is there too, holding and communing with living souls. Souls in worship, in delight far beyond ours. Far past our ant-like perspective, finally seeing the big-picture of all that was suffered and blessed and made whole in this thread that is earth-life.

But today was not one of those not-so-bad funerals.

It was a heart-scarring that happens when people who don’t know God are snatched away and the lost-too family is left groping. And I don’t have the words to comfort.

Some, like the preacher at the front, pray that the family will be comfortable.

Meanwhile, in the back, one face in a sea of them, I stand with eyes closed to the beaming-down sun and pray that God will let His own Son’s beams come down. To first make them uncomfortable—that the comfort won’t be a Band-aid on the broken pieces, but will be a contrite spirit that leads them to the only Source of comfort.

I hear the obituary—of hobbies and games and quirks and little “white” sins that are supposed to be funny.

Oh, how sad to be remembered as a game player.

How desolate, to be held in memory as a cheat.

What life-poverty, to be only recalled as ornery, one who can talk her way out of trouble.

What then, will be said of me after I take that last breath?

On my deathbed, I don’t want to have to wonder if I made a difference.

Like Matthew West’s song:

“I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking

What if I had given everything…?”

What if?

Life will have questions, regrets. All of us that are human, besides Jesus Himself, will have regrets. We’ll wish something had been different.

Some of us will regret time wasted on frivolity.

Others will be sorry that what we perceived as spiritual crowded out the “small things,” the little gifts of the heart, to the least of these.

To be sure, at the end, His glory shining in our eyes will make our failures fade. Glory, because Christ leads us to triumph at last.

Joy, because His grace covered so much.

But, oh, how much we will regret each stepping off the path. We will mourn each moment we were not perfectly yielded to His plan.

We will have rejoicing. Yet, when tried by fire, how many of our works will remain?

I will never believe that works get us into heaven.

That is Christ’s doing alone.

But the Bible is clear on this—God wants to reward us for obedience. How good is this, girls? To reward us for what we only accomplished in His strength!

Don’t feel guilty about thinking about rewards. In a lecture on stewardship, teacher Randy Alcorn agreed that asking for rewards would be wrong of us. However, for God to offer them—this is just another grace.

As Mr. Alcorn taught, what could be more amazing than a loving Father giving rewards to the undeserving? For Him to bridge the gap and then to keep on bridging, for Him to pick us up and then be the One to keep carrying us all the way home—does this bend you to your knees?

A Parent giving a Christmas present to the child who couldn’t even stay good one day, much less all year. A Parent who knows the child deserves coal, but instead showers him with gifts, because He is good. Because He can. Because He loves.

What kind of love would do that?

The kind of Love that died, but couldn’t be kept down.

The kind of Love that is able to keep you from falling.

The kind of Love that will fill you if you will bow to Him.

How much are you willing to give?

How much joy do you want to give Him, of how great a reward He gets to give the child He ransomed?

Will you surrender?

Or, at the end of this vapor-life, will you have to wonder?

“What if?”

“What if I had given Him all of me?”

 “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

– Matthew 16:25, NIV –

Thanks to George Hodan and Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo!

How Many Times?

sunset

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

– Matthew 18:21-22, NKJV –

Peter thought he was doing pretty well.

I can just see how he sidled up to Jesus. “So, Master…”

Perhaps Jesus was still with all of the disciples in that place where he held up the child and said they should be like that little one.

Or maybe the disciples had gone to a home to rest and Peter came up to Jesus for a little well-deserved commendation.

His self-approbation was cloaked as a question: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

See, the rabbis taught that since God had only turned away three times from punishing some of Israel’s enemies, God’s people were certainly not expected to forgive anyone more than three times (John MacArthur Study Bible, on Matthew 18:21).

Peter knew he was being generous here. I mean, seven times. He must really be godly, to be willing to forgive seven times. Can’t you just see him struggling to wipe away a triumphant grin and maintain a studious expression as he waited for Jesus’ answer?

I don’t know what Jesus was doing then. Perhaps he and the disciples were still in Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee, still at the place where Peter asked Jesus before about paying taxes (Matthew 17). I can see Him on a rooftop at dusk, watching stars that His voice had created sparkle into sight as the sun sank behind the reflecting, rippling yellow-gold sea.

I have to wonder–what did Jesus do? Did he stare deep into Peter, see right through the overconfident outside to the heart-depths of a too-talkative fisherman? Did he look into Peter’s eyes for a long, breathless moment before answering? Did Peter get that sinking feeling when he locked eyes with the Teacher and knew he should have just kept his mouth shut?

Peter’s mistake was not just his. Jewish teaching still puts limits on love, bounds on forgiveness. One current-day rabbi writes:

“Our tradition teaches us to have a big heart, to be forgiving. We are supposed to pursue putting things right. But Jewish tradition also acknowledges the limits of forgiveness as well, and teaches us that sometimes we must withhold forgiveness until the individual who has wronged us has gone through a complete process of teshuvah, repentance.”

But Jesus didn’t agree. He said no to Peter’s generous seven pardons. He raised the bar.

And with those multiples of 7, that number of perfection, he showed that there was no cap on forgiveness.

There’s no end to what we must forgive.

There’s no limit to how much we must love.

There’s no number on how many we are duty-bound to comfort.

Because we have a God of boundlessness, of mercies that are fresh every day.

We have the Savior who is all the fulness of God–and we are complete in Him (Colossians 2:10).

We have a well that cannot go dry, a spring that will never cease to bubble life and life abundantly.

Out of this abundance, we must give. We will never lack, never be drained. There is always filling–sweet, deep, fathomless filling–in Immanuel’s land.

How can we forgive the worst, hand over the pain and turn to love? How can we forgive the one who scars us so deeply?

The friend that turned.

The love grown cold.

The words broken.

The dreams shattered.

The trust torn.

How is there forgiveness here?

It is this—God did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all. How will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

All things.

We have healing, comfort, all the love and faithfulness our hearts could crave.

And God did not spare Him, but crushed Him–for us, because of us.

How can we not give Him all in return? Sparing nothing, holding nothing back from Him who gave everything.

Turning over the hurt, the pain, the lostness.

Giving up the ache, the grief, the anger.

For life.

Deal?

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

– C.S. Lewis –

Thanks to Bobby Mikul and Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo!

How Long Will You Love Worthlessness?

worthless 3

Just days ago, I had to wonder…

If when my life takes no faith, am I truly living?

When it all comes down to the bare basics, the end of the matter, shouldn’t faith reside there?

Maybe it’s all resting on one question:

Do I believe God or not?

Do I believe Him when He promises abundant life?

Do I honestly think I can take Him at face value–that His face alone will satisfy me?

Do I believe He can fill my soul, delight me more than anything?

As much as I tell myself that I want Christ, how much do I really?

Sure, maybe I don’t desire some things that are bad–worldly and out-there–but do I really believe He totally satisfies?

Do I really believe?

Do I?

Sitting in repentant silence, I knew, of course, that I believed God deep down. But how small that seed of faith was–how much it needed to grow. What kind of faith was this, that produced so little fruit? And the apostle James warned that faith without works is dead (James 2:14).

Mine was just barely holding on.

Holding on by a thread of devotion–a very real place in my heart that knew Jesus was more to me than the whole world.

But what did my living say? It said that after I “pay my time” reading Scripture, saying a prayer, that I was done. I could go look for satisfaction in other things now–in movies, books, friends, television, internet. Not bad things–not at all. But what was I trusting for happiness? And why in the world shouldn’t praying bring me more pleasure than a chat with a friend? Why didn’t reading my Bible satisfy me as much as getting that next novel in the series…

I sat cross-legged beneath a stairwell, asking hard questions in my journal. Close beside me, my computer began to play the Psalms on audio, Chapter 1, 2, 3.

Then, Chapter 4. The narrator spoke right to me:

 “How long will you love worthlessness?” (Psalm 4:2b, NKJV)

Oh, for grace to believe that He will give me every good thing! For faith to treasure Him and cast away worthless things.

But I was afraid, terribly afraid.

Afraid that by seeking Him above all, I’d miss out.

Afraid to be stodgy, miserable, depressed. Afraid, so afraid, to give up my way.

Afraid to obey without feelings–yet being a slave to obey my feelings.

But, see, Psalm 4 was still playing.

Soft words, pinning like barbs to my soul.

“But know that the Lord has set apart for Himself him who is godly….Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 4:3,5, NKJV)

So while I was wondering if it was worth it to sacrifice, God sent His words out with so much power that my soul stood still. My heart filled with wonder at the next words:

“You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the season that their grain and wine increased.” (Psalm 4:7, NKJV, emphasis mine)

He will fill me up, more than anything in this world ever could.

He has a better Story than any other novel.

He has a greater Love for me than any romantic writer could dream up.

He has more abundance, pleasure, joy in His presence, than a host of friends could supply.

So I open self-stuffed fists.

I surrender.

I believe.

“Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And let your soul delight itself in abundance.
Incline your ear, and come to Me.
Hear, and your soul shall live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you—
The sure mercies of David.”

– Isaiah 55:2-3, NKJV –