FINDING FAITH IN THE FERTILIZER

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

I know we’ve all heard this a million times.

Our husband (or kids or friends or family or boss or – fill in the blank!) doesn’t appreciate us the way we think they should. Especially not the way THAT woman’s does.

Our home is too small, or too far from town, or too close to the street, or doesn’t have enough bathrooms or a big enough yard. THAT house over THERE would be PERFECT!

We’re unhappy in our job and we think it would be better if we quit and went to work for another company. In another industry. In another town. In another state. In another country. Anywhere but HERE.

We’re miserable HERE, and it MUST be better THERE.

I once had a neighbor, Sandy, who had THE most amazing yard E-VER. Seriously. I’d look at the withered, brown, crunchy grass on my side of the fence and I’d long for my lawn to be lush and green and soft and inviting.  Like the lawn over THERE.  In Sandy’s yard. If I could just get to over THERE, I would be happy.  I could lie in the sweet tender grass and relax in the warmth of the golden sunshine that seemed to only shine in Sandy’s yard. Over THERE.

Clearly, I was missing something.

Finally, I humbled myself and asked Sandy how she got her yard to be so beautiful.  She listed all the same things I was doing in my yard… the watering, the weeding, the aerating… and then she said something I hadn’t thought of before.  She. Used. Fertilizer.  FERTILIZER??!!  She gave me the name of the brand she used and I immediately picked some up and sprinkled it all over my lawn, just the way she instructed. Within a couple months my lawn was green and lush and gloriously magnificent!!  All because of fertilizer!!  WhoooHooooo!!!!  It was awesome!!

One day, several years later, I was grumbling to God (again!) about something in my life and how “it would be SOOOO much better if…” The Lord gently said to me, “Find faith in the fertilizer.”

Uuuuuhhhhhhmmmm…. what??

I had absolutely NO idea what He was talking about, so I forced myself to sit down and be quiet for a little while so I could hear Him speak more clearly on this subject.  Suddenly a memory of my beautiful lawn of long ago drifted through my thoughts. I remembered how lush and green it was after I’d started using the fertilizer… but I was still confused by what exactly the Lord was trying to get me to understand.  How do you have faith in fertilizer??

“What is fertilizer?” He asked me.

My first thought was the “scientific” blend of teeny-white-popcorn-ball lawn fertilizer I’d used per Sandy’s instructions, but He said, “No, no… more basic than that.” Well…  the most “basic” fertilizer I can think of is manure.  Horse manure. Cow manure. Bunny poop. Chicken poop. Goat poop. Composty poop. That’s right.  A bunch of crap…

It’s completely natural but… it’s stinky… and unpleasant… and, it’s no fun to STEP in, let alone be buried in!  But, it’s great for the soil. It actually changes the chemical makeup of the earth and brings it into balance. It makes it healthy. Where things can grow.

I felt Him smile as His message began to take root in my heart.

We all have “crap” in our life that we don’t like to deal with… all the stuff we think of as “waste.” We think we’re in the wrong job or the wrong  marriage or car or house or city or discussion. We think if we just got out of these stinky, unpleasant situations our life would be sooo much better. Even when we feel completely buried by it all, God told us He will never give us more than we can bear, (1 Corinthians 10:13) but ONLY because He doesn’t expect us to bear it alone! It IS too much for us to bear if we try to do it WITHOUT Him.  Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians speaks of the incredible trials they endured, but he said “but that was to keep us from trusting in and depending on ourselves instead of on God.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)

Some situations ARE toxic and you DO need to get out of them, but those are pretty rare, and you still need to walk with God through them. Instead of escaping the “fertilizer” in our life, what if we allowed it to change us?  What if we worked through the yuck – with God! – and allowed the crap to actually change OUR makeup and bring US into balance, just like the manure does for the earth? What if that’s why God allows these things to happen?  What if we trusted Him in it?  What if the “fertilizer” actually helps drive us into His arms and increases our reliance on Him instead of ourselves?

It still feels like crap and it still stinks… but, I’m starting to understand what He meant when He said to find faith in the fertilizer. It’s not the fertilizer itself I find faith in, it’s finding my faith in GOD while I’m IN the fertilizer of my life.

The grass IS greener… where there’s plenty of water, and sunshine, AND fertilizer.

Amen.

SCRIPTURES

1 Corinthians 10:13 – No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

2 Corinthians 1:8-9 – For we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about the affliction and oppressing distress which befell us in the province of Asia, how we were so utterly and unbearably weighed down and crushed that we despaired even of life itself. Indeed, we felt within ourselves that we had received the very sentence of death, but that was to keep us from trusting in and depending on ourselves instead of on God Who raises the dead.

 

ALL IN THE FAMILY

We recently drove to see my dad in the assisted living facility he’s in.  He is declining rapidly, so his brother came down to see him as well, and we got to spend some time catching up with both of them. My uncle has spent the last 30+ years researching our genealogy… tracing our roots back, back, way, waaaay back… and he shared some of his research with us. He’s gone all the way back to the Mayflower, where apparently some of our ancestors were passengers from Europe to America. It was really interesting, and incredibly complex, and the records show we’re related to several very famous people. (Of course, THEY don’t know we’re related, so I don’t foresee myself being written into any of their wills. *deep sad sigh*)

This got me to thinking about genealogies in the Bible.  The Old Testament is filled with them, and Luke records Jesus’ lineage all the way back to Adam. (Without the archives in Salt Lake City and the internet! What a testament to the record keeping of the Jews!!) Jesus is related to some pretty famous people too, and not all in a positive way. His human lineage was just that… very, very human, with a few kings, a couple prostitutes, and loads of normal-every-day-Joes.  But, to my knowledge, this is the last recorded genealogy in Scripture. (I could be wrong, but I can’t think of another one after Jesus’.)

Why??

Well, maybe what’s really important isn’t Jesus’ genealogy on His mother’s side… (Luke 3:23-38) but His genealogy on His Father’s side.  I’m not talking about Joseph, as we get that genealogy in Matthew. (Matthew 1:1-16) No, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and so He is the Son of God. (Luke 1:35) And, the amazing thing is,  because of His great love for us, what He did on the cross made a way for US to become God’s children as well! (John 3:16-17 and 1 John 3:1) Jesus said, “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.” (John 3:6)  2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

This is awesome news!!!

So, while our human genealogies are interesting, and it’s kinda cool to be related to some famous people, what’s really incredible is the Family we have been adopted into!  When I look at it this way it doesn’t *really* matter if Clint Eastwood writes me into his will… I’m a co-heir with Christ! (Romans 8:14-17) And my treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20) is way beyond my wildest dreams. (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Amen, amen, and AMEN!!!

SCRIPTURES

Luke 3:23-38 – The Genealogy of Jesus through Joseph, the son (in law) of Heli
(Mary’s father) all the way back to Adam…

Matthew 1:1-16 – The Genealogy of Jesus from Abraham up through Joseph…

Luke 1:35 – And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be
born will be called holy—the Son of God.

John 3:16 -17 – For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

 1 John 3:1 – See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be
called children of God; and so we are.

John 3:6 – 7 – Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives
birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born
again.

2 Corinthians 5:17 – This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Romans 8:14-17 –  For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children
of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in
fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to
sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies
with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we
are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his
sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Matthew 6:19-20 – Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.

 1 Corinthians 2:9 – But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear
heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.

SEASONS

“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.”  ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1

My schedule has been out of control the past few months. Very few of the things I’ve planned to do have gotten done as I’ve planned, or WHEN I’ve planned. My tendency has been to beat myself up over this, but as I picked up the whip again for another round of self-flagellation, God gently spoke this verse into my heart. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) Of course, I never quite get His hints immediately, so I asked Him to explain in my typical eloquent fashion.

I said, “Huh??”

He said, “What have you been doing with your time lately?  Did anything big happen this summer?”

Well…. let me see….  my dad got really sick in May and we had to make an emergency trip to go see him. Then I got engaged, then we went down to see my family in California, then we got married, then we did Vacation Bible School, (which I’d never done before,) then we had our wedding celebration, then my boss went on vacation for a month so things were a bit more hectic at work, then my uncle and his fiancé from China came to visit and just left and……. yeah… I guess I’ve been a little busy this summer. *sigh*

Maybe you’re a little like me.  The only “season” I ever have, is “NOW!” I want what I want NOW. I don’t want to WAIT for… well, pretty much ANYTHING.  *laughing* I want what I want NOW. I know that’s truly the only time any of us have… there’s a million quotes letting us know, “There’s no time like the present!” and “This moment’s a gift, that’s why we call it, ‘the present’!” and “Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today!” and blah blah blah.  And while I truly believe all these are true, I don’t think the spirit in which “I want things NOW” are what these quotes are talking about.

God reminded me recently that He knows the thoughts and plans He has for me, (Jeremiah 29:11) and they are GOOD plans… and HIS timing is different than MY timing, His time is different than my time, His ways are not my ways, and His thoughts are not my thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9) I was still wrestling with Him on this a bit, and since I kind of need REALLY clear examples with small words, He brought this example of “seasons” to my mind…

The last 10 years have been really difficult for me. There were good times, to be sure, but there were seemingly endless nights when I would cry out to God to change my situation. For a long time He just told me to wait. To be “present in the present” and learn from what I was going through.

It was hard.

It was painful.

It was grueling.

And exhausting.

It drained the very marrow from my soul and I felt like I was just an empty shell of a woman simply sucking in air every day. And even that, just barely.

It seemed like an endless, blistering hot summer of searing pain and scorching torment.

But, it was just a season. A long, LONG, season. But, it WAS just a season.

At last, a gentle season of healing began. A cooling autumn settled over my spirit and soothed my weary, war-ravaged heart. Wounds and memories, like crisp brown leaves that had died on the limb long ago but were still clinging desperately, were blown away by refreshing, brisk blustery breezes, and showers of love and support from family and friends flooded deep into the core of my desiccated soul.   A quiet winter of rest and restoration, deeply soaking in His abundant aquifers of Living Water prepared the soil of my heart for a springtime that exploded with new life and new love and new joy and new hope and new peace… the likes of which I’ve never known.

Left to my own, I would not have chosen any of it.

I would not wish any of the pain on my worst enemy, to be sure, but I would not change a single moment of it. Because God used it ALL for good. Even what was intended to hurt me.  (Genesis 50:20)

And looking back, at who I was before this season… it was necessary. My personality was hard and calloused and cracked and chipped, and only by grinding through that season were the rough edges of my heart sanded smooth, and softened.

Now, I’m in a new season of my life. There are still some areas where I want results NOW, *sigh* BUT because of the results of the last season He brought me through, I can now rest more confidently in His timing. I have more faith that His plans for me are better than my own. Because He has shown me clearly that they ALWAYS are.

He is “our Father in heaven,” (Matthew 6:9) and so He sees things from His vantage point that we cannot. He sees the whole picture of our lives, not just the myopic view we have. And because He’s God, and because of the miracle of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, His Spirit now lives IN us… walking WITH us through each and every moment, of each and every day, of each and every season of our lives. Because of His great love for us… (Ephesians 2:4-10) Amen!

SCRIPTURES

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 – There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die,  a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Isaiah 55:9 – As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Genesis 50:20 – You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…

Matthew 6:9 – This, then, is how you should pray, “Our Father in heaven…”

Ephesians 2:4-10 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

YES AND NO

They say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  We “intend” to eat right and exercise and spend time in prayer and devotion and tithe ten percent and write thank you notes and clean behind the fridge… but oftentimes it doesn’t happen.  Why not??  These are GOOD things.  These are IMPORTANT things.  These are things God would want us to do, right?!  So, why don’t we do them??  Why don’t *I* do them?  This is something I have struggled with my entire life, and I think I’m starting to get a glimpse of the answer… or at least, AN answer for me.

For me it seems to lie in the immense power of two little words: YES and NO.

I am really, REALLY good at saying YES.

“Yes, I’ll take on that project.”

“Yes, I’ll do that for you.”

“Yes, I’ll work late.”

“Yes, I’ll work this weekend.”

“Yes, I’ll __fill in the blank___.”

And I’m even better at “saying” YES in non-verbal ways.

“Yes, I’ll stay up later than I should to watch that TV show.”

“Yes, I’ll have one more slice of pizza.”

“Yes, I’ll hit the snooze button again. For the 5th time.”

“Yes, I’ll spend another hour online watching inane videos of cats doing stupid things.”

The problem isn’t that we say YES to things…  the problem is, unlike the word NO, we have a limited number of YESES we can use in one day.

Imagine that you can only say YES – either verbally or non-verbally – like 10 times in one day. Once you’ve used up all your YESES, everything else gets a NO.  What this means then is if you say YES to one thing, you oftentimes end up saying NO to a LOT of other things.  Good things.  Sometimes REALLY good things.

This is how this looks in my world…

“Yes, I’ll take on that project,” means, “No, I can’t take a lunch today but will work through my lunch instead, no I won’t be kind to those around me because I’m getting grumpier and grumpier as my blood sugar drops and I take out my mood on everyone and everything around me.”

“Yes, I’ll do that for you,” means, “No, I won’t allow you to struggle through this difficulty and no I won’t let you learn an important lesson vital to your growth, but will try to “fix” things for you instead, and then get frustrated when you’re not further along in your understanding.”

“Yes, I’ll work late,” means, “No, I won’t go home and cook a healthy meal and no I won’t spend quality time with my family this evening but instead will just bring home fast food and veg out in front of the TV before collapsing into bed exhausted.”

“Yes, I’ll work this weekend,” means, “No, I won’t take time to rest and revitalize myself with a walk through the forest with my mate but instead will drain myself completely and start next week closer to burn-out than I ever thought I could be.”

Basically, “Yes, I’ll __fill in the blank___,” means, “No, I won’t be INTENTIONAL with my time and energy and resources.”

When I’m not intentional with my use of YES and NO, they lose their power.

However, I’ve found when I AM intentional with them, they are INCREDIBLY powerful.

“No, I won’t stay up later than I should to watch that TV show,” means, “Yes, I’ll get a good night’s rest and wake up feeling great in the morning!”

“No, I will not have one more slice of pizza,” means, “Yes, I will feel good about choosing moderation and self-control!”

“No, I will not hit the snooze button again,” means, “Yes, I will get up and spend some time exercising and praying and being still before the Lord.”

“No, I will not spend another hour online watching inane videos,” means, “Yes, I will clean behind the fridge and face my fear of the dust monsters lurking there!”

“No, I will not work late, or this weekend, or take on another project,” means, “Yes, I will choose to spend quality time with myself, my loved ones, and with God.”

Will I be perfect at this immediately and wield the power of YES and NO properly every time?

No.

Will I choose to try again when I fail?

Yes!

HOW THEN, SHALL WE PRAY?

Jesus answers this question in Matthew 6:9-13 by giving us what we now refer to as, “The Lord’s Prayer.”   He said, “Pray like this: Our Father Who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, now and forever. Amen.”

I’ve read books on prayer and have heard the Lord’s prayer broken down into 4 parts, easily remembered by the word ACTS:

A – Adoration

C – Confession

T – Thankfulness

S – Supplication

I do use this format in my journaling, only because it helps organize my thoughts. However, sometimes things like this may make it seem like if we follow this outline and pray in this way, we will be doing it “right” and God will then hear our prayers. Again, I’m totally a recipe girl and I love any step-by-step process for doing things the “right” way, (especially when it comes to pleasing God,) but this feels more like “religion” than “relationship” to me… and religion kinda scares me.

Okay… relationships do too a lot of the time! But, I don’t think God wants our relationship with Him to be scary… or prayer to be done out of fear or obligation. I know I don’t want MY kids to have to think about some formula for how to speak to me when they come to me with an issue or request. Obviously I’d like them to be respectful, but that comes from a place of love, not some rule-based list of do’s and don’ts they must refer to before approaching me.

To me prayer is a conversation with someone I love. In my heart and mind, I’m talking to my Beloved… my Dad… my Mom… my Best Friend … not some distant deity who has little time or regard for me or my problems. Yes, He is the Creator of the Universe, (never to be forgotten – hence the “Hallowed be Your name” part!) but He is also the One Who loves me (ME – not just some random human who is a part of the human race and therefore MUST be loved by default, but ME specifically,) and He so desperately wants to spend the rest of eternity with me that He gave up everything to make sure that happened. I’m talking to the Maker and Lover of my soul.

And that’s Who He is for you as well.

Therefore, we don’t have anything to hide, because we CAN’T have anything to hide. We don’t have to come groveling before Him like some filthy worm hoping to gain an audience with Him. He is always right here with us and is ALWAYS listening.  Even in our sin. He doesn’t JOIN us in our sin, but He sees every bit of it… and He STILL loves us. And even though He already knows everything, including everything we want and need, He still WANTS to hear from us. In fact, I believe He oftentimes WAITS to hear from us before doing anything, because He wants us to be a part of the miracle that is this life.

More often than not we only start talking to God by using what Anne Lamott (one of my favorite writers,) refers to as her most powerful prayer. It goes something like this:

“Dear God. Help help help help help help help!!”

While this is how I first started talking to God, now I really, really, REALLY want my prayers to be my first line of defense… not my last resort.

I have a very dear friend who always strikes me by how he prays. His prayers usually go something like this, “Yeah God, good morning… it’s me again. Thanks for this morning. The sunrise was really great. Thanks for letting me see another one. Thanks for my friends here. Please help them out with what they’re dealing with. Please give ‘em what they need and not what they don’t. Help us all get through this day, as I know you will, but please let it end well with not too much crap in between.  Thanks for how you love us and for all you do for us. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.”

I love his reverent familiarity and no-nonsense communication.

The Word tells us to “Pray without ceasing.” For me this practice, (and it IS something I practice, because I’m FAR from perfect at it!!) looks something like this…

I wake up and my (7 and 8 year old) puppies sense I’m awake and climb over each other to see who can get closer to my face to say good morning, and I say, “Thank You, Abba, for letting me experience the unconditional love of my boys here.”

I open my blinds and see the sunrise, the pink clouds, hear the birds, see the robins hopping around the grass searching for unsuspecting earthworms and I say, “Thank you, Abba, for another glorious day. Please make me aware of Your Spirit today. Please give me wisdom and discernment, and eyes to see and ears to hear.”

As I start my day at work I say, “Lord, please help me accomplish all the tasks that YOU set before me – not all the ones *I* think need to be done, but the ones YOU want me to accomplish. Thank You for allowing me to be a part of Your plan for today.”

When I’m driving through town and I’m following someone who’s actually going the speed limit, or I’m stopped at another red light, I say, “Thank you, Lord for this opportunity to practice patience.” *deep sigh*

When I see a beaten down and weary soul on a bike or pushing a cart with a bulging backpack and several bags of cans to be recycled I say, “Lord, please be with them today. Please wrap Yourself around them and make Your loving presence known to them. Please keep them safe and warm, and guide them according to Your will.”

When I see deep sorrow and pain and shattered dreams in someone’s eyes and I ask them how they’re doing and they say, “Fine,” not wanting to vomit their soul into my lap, I pray, (with them if they’ll let me, or silently if they’re uncomfortable with that,) “Dear Abba, I lift this hurting heart up to You for Your gentle healing. Please reveal Yourself in a profound way in their life right now and relieve some of the suffering, even if it is self-inflicted.”

When I’m in the middle of something and suddenly someone comes to mind who I know is going through a challenging, frightening and overwhelming time right now, I pray, “Father, please be with them right now. Please help them and encourage them. Please let them feel Your presence and know that You are with them, so they have nothing to fear. Please remind them of Your love for them.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

When I’m being torn down and ridiculed by someone, I pray, “Sweet Jesus, please heal them. You know the hurt in their heart that is causing them to feel this insecurity and I pray that you would please help them stop hurting, and stop hurting others.”

As I’m sipping my delicious tea or coffee, I say, “Oh, dear God… thank you, thank you, thank you!”

All day, every day there are countless opportunities to pray, which is why we can “pray without ceasing” – literally. So, Lord, I pray that You would deepen our relationship with You and help us to feel more comfortable with just talking with You throughout our day. Thank You for bringing us back into relationship with You through Jesus… and it’s in His name I pray. Amen.

THE PEARL OF GREAT VALUE

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.   ~ Matthew 13:45-46

I’ve heard this passage taught many times, teaching that we are like merchants searching desperately to find something of value in this life, and when we finally find the truth of the Gospel we are to give up all that we have in order to obtain eternal life in heaven. To a degree, I believe this to be true. Once we hear the Gospel and believe in the One He has sent (John 6:29) it changes our priorities. With the help of the Spirit in us we give up all that we have… our old destructive habits and behaviors… our condemning beliefs about our selves and others… our selfish desires and pursuits. But satan will do whatever he can to twist the truth just a bit, and tell us this means we must do everything we can to make sure we get into heaven, and if we’re lucky we’ll do enough to earn it… but probably not, because it is a pearl of great value and we probably don’t have what it takes.

Of course, he’s wrong.

As with most of the Word, there are many levels of meaning, especially in Jesus’ parables.  I recently heard this taught completely differently, and I believe this is not only what Jesus meant, but really what satan does NOT want us to get. At all.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls…”  He didn’t say WE are like merchants. He said heaven is.  God was searching for fine pearls, and upon finding ONE of great price – YOU! – He gave up everything to purchase it. (John 3:16-17) You are the pearl of great price.

It’s really, REALLY hard for me and my tiny human brain to even remotely comprehend what Jesus gave up on the cross. I kind of get the human side… I get that He was only in His early 30’s when He willingly gave up His life. I get that He was brutally tortured. I get that after having most of the flesh scourged off His back He was physically nailed to a rough, splintered cross. I get that He hung there, slowly suffocating in agony while the ravens perched nearby waiting to feast on His remains. My brain can *almost* comprehend this horror.

However, I think this sacrifice was nothing… nothing compared to what He gave up in heaven. We truly have no idea what heaven is like… even in our wildest imaginations I don’t think we even come close to how magnificent it is, in every way. (Isaiah 55:8-9) But Jesus did know… (John 3:13) … and He came anyway. But… I think even this sacrifice pales in comparison to what He gave up to become a human being. If you think about it for a moment, it’s staggering.  The God of the universe, the One Who created EVERYTHING, willingly chose to give up everything He was as God and limit himself to the life of a human. Yes, Jesus was fully God AND fully human, (John 1:1) but He chose to show us how to live as a human in constant relationship with God. He chose to become vulnerable. He chose to leave His throne and put His life in the hands of frail, faulty humans, becoming a defenseless baby.

He gave up ALL that He had. For YOU. The pearl of great value.

This is probably the one thing satan really, REALLY wants us to miss. He never wants us to see our value to God. He never wants us to come remotely close to comprehending the depths of God’s love for us. So we’re fed lies for the majority of our lives. We’re taught to create a recording of these lies and play them over and over and over again in our head, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year… for a lifetime.  Lies. You’re unworthy… in fact, you’re worthless. You’re not valuable. You’re stupid. You’re fat. You’re ugly. You’re lazy. You’re not loved… in fact, you’re unlovable. Nobody REALLY loves you, especially a perfect and demanding God.

LIES!!!  Jesus is the TRUTH, (John 14:6) and He will set you free from these lies. (John 8:32)  When you devalue yourself, thinking and treating yourself like you’re “nothing,” you’re basically saying everything Jesus did was for “nothing.”

Jesus endured the cross for the sake of the JOY set before Him, (Hebrews 12:2) and that joy was knowing He would be able to spend eternity with you.  You, precious pearl, are so valuable to God that He gave up everything to have you, because you are worth everything to Him.

SCRIPTURES

Matthew 13:45-46 ~ … the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

John 6:28-29 ~ Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

John 3:16-17 ~ For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Isaiah 55:8-9 ~ “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways… as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

John 3:13 ~ No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.

John 1:1 ~ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 14:6 ~ Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 8:32 ~ Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Hebrews 12:2 ~ For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

PRESENT IN THE PRESENT ON PURPOSE

One of the first classes I ever failed was a “Career Planning” class in High School. We were supposed to pick 3 careers we were interested in, research them entirely, and write a report on each one.  It seemed like everyone was excited about this. It felt like all my classmates knew exactly, (or at least had *some* idea of) what they wanted to be when they grew up. A fireman. A teacher. A doctor. A lawyer.  I was completely clueless, and it literally mortified me. For me it went deeper than just a “career” ~ I felt like I needed to know my PURPOSE.  Seeing everyone else (seemingly) having answers exponentially increased my feelings of inadequacy, and I became terrified. I felt trapped in my head, running from room to room in my mind searching frantically but not knowing exactly what I was looking for. The more I tried to think about the future and my purpose, the more anxious I became, and the more anxious I became the quieter God became, and the quieter God became the louder I screamed at Him, demanding to know what my purpose was! (Screaming at God always works well. So does demanding from Him. *deep sigh*)  I became frozen with fear and literally did nothing.

So, I failed the class.

It was only about 15 years later when I was finally calm enough to hear the Lord on this. I was in a job, (not a career) and just doing the 9 to 5 thing. Not miserable, but not really happy either. I felt like I *should* be somewhere else, doing something else but had somehow missed the offramp and was now stuck on this highway to nowhere. So, I prayed, “Lord, please show me what you want me to do with my life.”

He answered, “Sweetheart, if I showed you what your future held, you wouldn’t want to do it and you would stop living all together.  You would be frozen with fear because you cannot comprehend NOW how you will have what you need to accomplish what will be before you THEN.” He brought to mind what He said about the Apostle Paul in the book of Acts, (9:16) “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Needless to say, this COMPLETELY freaked me out. So, He gently spoke to my heart again and said, “Don’t be afraid. I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11) Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified… for I go with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)”

I don’t think He showed Paul in one sweeping vision how much he would have to suffer, or Paul probably wouldn’t have wanted to go forward either! No… I think Jesus showed Paul how much he would suffer by walking WITH Him through the suffering… all the way up to the day Paul died.

I’ve had this conversation with the Lord countless times throughout my life. In fact, this is probably what I ask of Him the most. What is my purpose?! I want to see what the future holds. I want to know all the questions so I can prepare all the answers and NOT fail. I’m a recipe girl. I like knowing all the ingredients that are required and having all the instructions for making things turn out amazing. Call me a control-freak, it is what it is.

I was expressing this to Him again a while back and He softly answered, “Trust me.”

“I DO trust You, Lord. I just don’t trust ME! I screw things up SOOOO easily!” I answered.

He smiled and said, “I’m the one in control, my love, not you. I’m God, and I’m much bigger than any mistake you could possibly make. I specialize in taking “bad” things and working them for My good.” (Genesis 50:20)

“But what do you want me to DO with my life?! I’m a DOER!” I pleaded.

“No,” He answered, “I created you as a human BEing, not a human DOing.  BE still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

“I hate that answer!” I said, laughing.

He smiled and said, “I know you do. That’s why I keep repeating it to you. What I want you to do is be present in the present. This is where I am. I am right here, right now. You typically worry about the future because you fail to see Me in it, which is why it terrifies you. I don’t tell you where we’re going because when I do, you run off ahead of me, thinking you know how to get there.  But My ways are not your ways and My thoughts are not your thoughts. My thoughts and plans for your life are much bigger than yours, (Isaiah 55:8-9) and if you will trust Me and walk WITH Me, you will be blessed. When you are present in the present, you can receive it for what it truly is… a “present” … a sacred gift from Me to you. Dear one, when you are present in the present on purpose you WILL be on your purpose – MY purpose for you.”

This sounds much easier than it is. I’ve had several decades of practice, firmly establishing the habit of using my present to bemoan the past or fret about the future. But, I *have* noticed that as I continue to practice being present in the present on purpose, I am more aware of the simple gifts He scatters through my days, like rose petals strewn on the path before a bride. Simple encounters with others that show me I DO have a purpose… and I trust that if I stay close to Him I WILL be on purpose. His purpose for me. Which is what I’ve always wanted.

I may have failed the class in High School, but I’m learning the lesson now. My true purpose is to BE with Him. Always. Period. Present in the present. On purpose.

SCRIPTURES

Acts 9:16 ~ I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.

Jeremiah 29:11 ~ For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Deuteronomy 31:6 ~ Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

Genesis 50:19-20 ~ But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Psalm 46:10 ~ He says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Isaiah 55:8-9 ~ “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways… as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

TRINITY

Don’t worry…  I am not going to try to explain or define or try to comprehend or try to get YOU to comprehend the Trinity.  The Father. The Son. The Holy Spirit. It’s way, way, WAY too big for me.  I totally agree with what He says in Isaiah 55:9, as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than my ways and His thoughts than my thoughts.  And honestly, I’m okay with that. I want God to be God and me to be me. I want God to be bigger than anything I can explain or define or try to comprehend.

But… there’s still a part of me that wants to know Him more. Better. Deeper.  Allowing Him to reveal Himself to me in different ways is part of how I’m allowed to experience Him more. Better. Deeper. And so, I will share with you how He has revealed Himself to me, and maybe, in some small way, this may help you allow Him to reveal Himself to you uniquely as well.  This is very childlike and simple, but Jesus said in Luke 18:16 that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these! *smile*

FATHER

Growing up, I didn’t really have a dad. I never met my real father, (he’s passed,) and every other “dad” that came along made many promises and kept very few.  And so “Father God” became my “Abba” – my “Daddy” – my “Father who art in heaven.” He’s always kept His promises. He’s always there when I need Him. And, no matter what, He loves me. He loves me so much that He sent Jesus to die for me, (John 3:16) so I could be with Him forever.

SPIRIT

My mom and I did NOT get along when I was young, so the Holy Spirit became my “Mother” of sorts. (God is Spirit (John 4:24) and we (male and female) were made in His image, so I have NO issues with seeing the Holy Spirit as a “Mother” figure.)  The Spirit is the one who counsels me, who comforts me when my heart is broken,  and whose raised eyebrow I can feel from across the room when I’m about to do something I know I’m not supposed to do. She pulls no punches in telling me when I’ve screwed up, but She also forgives me immediately when I admit it, and then helps me make it right and/or not do it again.

SON

And then, there’s Jesus. Growing up He was always kind of just an acquaintance of mine.  I knew Him, and He was cool to hang out with sometimes at church, but outside of church we didn’t really talk much.  Until I got older.  Until I got hurt.  Actually, it wasn’t until I was done being hurt.  Then I realized that I was supposed to be HIS bride.  He wasn’t just there to hang out with at church, He wanted me by His side. As His. And when I finally surrendered to Him being my Beloved and me being His bride, that is when He showed me how much He loves me, by bringing the most amazing man into my life and loving me through him more completely than I’ve ever experienced, or even dreamed possible.

So… there’s these three. The Father. The Son. And the Holy Spirit.  Different, yet… all God – right? How?  Again, I don’t really get it, but when I was praying about it the other night I got an example of how 3 things can be very different, and yet be the same thing.

Water.

In it’s liquid form, it’s kind of like Abba.  The mighty oceans, the roaring rivers, the gentle rain.

When it’s a gas, like steam or clouds, it’s like the Holy Spirit… always present and yet a bit elusive.

Jesus became flesh. He’s more solid, like ice and snow.

3 very different ways of experiencing water… and yet, they’re all water.  So, I personally don’t think it really matters HOW we experience God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. I think what matters is that we DO experience Him. That we open our hearts enough to allow Him to reveal Himself to us in whatever way He wants to, whether its clouds or rain or snow.

SANDPAPER STORIES

I don’t remember where I first heard it, or read it, or whatever, but at some point I was told, “Whatever you like or dislike about someone is what you like or dislike about yourself.” The first time I heard it I thought it was only half true, that the things I LIKE about someone else are things I LIKE about myself.  This is the easy part to believe – the positives, right? I didn’t believe the second part of that at all, because when I really (REALLY!) don’t like someone and they really (REALLY!) rub me the wrong way, I KNOW I have NOTHING in common with them! I am NOT like them at ALL!

Uh huh.  You can see this coming…

Years and years ago I worked for a medium-sized, well-established organization.   A very top-level executive of this company really, (REALLY!) rubbed me the wrong way, as I was in a position to know he was cheating the company. A LOT. Lots of people knew it, but because he was so influential nobody was willing to reveal it, and there was no way I could get my hands on the documentation to prove anything.  So I just seethed every time I saw him.  Or heard his name.  Or thought of him.

One Saturday morning I was driving to work, grumpy that I was going in on a Saturday and even more grumpy because I had to work with HIM.  As I sat at a stoplight waiting for the light to change, I found myself seething over this man again and suddenly I heard the Lord speak to my heart.

“What are you so upset about?” He asked. (As if He didn’t know. Ha!)

“Lord,” I said, “I know I’m supposed to love everyone, but I really can’t stand this man!”

“Why not?” He asked.  “What is it about him you don’t like?”

“Well, I HATE that he steals from the company!” I fumed.  “It’s just WRONG and I HATE it!”

“Ahhh, I see,” Jesus answered.  Then He asked, “Do YOU steal from the company?”

Of course, I was highly offended.  In self-righteous indignation I replied, “Absolutely not!”

“Ohhh…” said Jesus, “so when you purposefully wait until 6 minutes after 5 to clock out because you know anything after 5 minutes after the hour you get an extra 15 minutes on your timecard… that’s not stealing?  And when you take printer paper or a box of pens or a box of paperclips or pencils home… that’s not stealing?”

I was mortified.  “Well, yeah…” I said, “but… that’s different.  Those are *little* things… they don’t cost very much… and besides, EVERYBODY does it!”  I was sounding more and more like a guilty 4 year old with every word… and I knew it.

Very gently, Jesus spoke to me, “Child, as I told my disciples over 2000 years ago, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest wth much.” (Luke 16:10) This man is in your life to reflect your own sin back to you. I know you think he is “worse” than you, but sin is sin. You may be stealing less than he is from the company, but you are still stealing from the company. You have no control over what HE chooses to do, so let that go. You DO have control over what YOU choose to do, so focus on that instead.” Immediately I knew He was right. Well, I mean… of course, He’s right – He’s God! But, He made it very clear in that moment that even though my sin wasn’t very big in my eyes, and maybe not even in others’ eyes, (and certainly not when compared to this man’s sin!) it was still something God wanted me to address. He has called us to more. In Leviticus 19:2 God says, “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”

Needless to say, I stopped taking home office supplies and started clocking in and out on time, but the amazing thing was this man no longer rubbed me the wrong way. I knew that his stealing was between him and God, just as mine was, and because I had addressed my own sin I was no longer convicted by his.

I have a million stories like this, because they happen every day of my life. I call them “Sandpaper Stories.” Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” A blade becomes dull when the edge becomes microscopically warped or damaged. (Just like us!) Sharpening the edge of the knife is done by essentially smoothing out the rough edge of the blade by grinding the edge with something grittier than it is.  So now when others are “rubbing me the wrong way,” or when something is “grating” on me, it’s usually because I’ve become a bit dull to my own flaws, so the Lord brings someone into my life a bit grittier than I and they irritate me. (Like in the story above.) If I stop and ask, “What is it about this person that’s irritating me?” and am truly honest with myself and with God, He reveals a rough edge of my personality He’s trying to grind away and straighten out.

Maybe someone is being proud and arrogant.

How am I proud and arrogant?

Maybe they’re talking to me disrespectfully.

How do I talk disrespectfully, to them and/or to others?

Maybe they have NO concept of time and are always running late.

How can I be more disciplined in my own schedule?

Maybe they’re selfish and insecure.

How am I selfish and insecure?

Like the example above from my own life, the degree of sin is really irrelevant, and the irritation really isn’t about the other person.  May God give us the grace and humility to recognize that the Sandpaper Stories of each day are just one of His ways of using relationships to grind away our ragged edges and create a sharper way for us to cut through to the real issues within ourselves. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

SAVIORS

The other night I met a woman in need.  I’ll call her Sandra.  Sandra was the only woman to show up at a homeless shelter where I was working and, having a history of sexual abuse, she didn’t feel comfortable spending the night. She said she was going to go to a woman’s shelter in the next town, but she couldn’t get a ride and the cab companies were “booked for the night” due to the hideous weather. So, of course, I felt the need to come to her rescue, even though my gut (read, GOD!) told me it was a bad idea.  Sure enough, after driving 20 minutes into town we found the emergency women’s shelter but, since it was already almost 11pm, the doors were locked tight and there was no one to be seen. As she banged on the door, I called the police department to see if there was some other shelter I could take her to, but I was disconnected just as Sandra came back to the car to tell me she didn’t see anyone. We drove around to another door and banged on that door until finally the shelter manager came to the window, but when she saw that it was Sandra, she refused to let her in. Apparently Sandra had already been kicked out of the shelter the day before and was no longer allowed in. Period. (I guess they don’t like weapons being brought into the shelter – even if they’re not loaded. *deep sigh*) I asked Sandra what she wanted to do now and she asked that I take her to the police department, so I did… but again, due to the late hour, there was nobody there. I called the non-emergency number (again) and told the dispatcher we were now AT the police department but there were no police on site. I was told they’re “all out on the streets where the bad guys are,” so we waited in my car with the heater blaring while the dispatcher called an officer to come meet us. It was only then that it dawned on me that I should pray.  And so, finally, I did. I asked Sandra if I could pray with her and she agreed. I prayed with her, and for her, and for whatever her situation was that got her to where she was, and that we would be able to find her a safe place to sleep for the night. Sadly, we weren’t instantly transported to a warm women’s shelter with a shower, so she shared more of her story with me while we waited for an officer to arrive.

About 20 minutes later a police officer showed up and, after hearing why we were there he went into his car and made some calls to see if he could help us find a shelter for the night. I went back into my warm car and made some calls as well, but to no avail. He finally came over and we got out of the car to talk with him. As we stood shivering in the 10 degree night air he said there were no shelters willing to take her, as they were either completely full due to the wicked weather, or she’d been asked to leave them previously due to her “unsafe” behavior. I thanked the officer for his help and had Sandra get back into the car with me.  She said she had a little money from begging that day, so she asked me to take her to the cheapest motel in town. I drove across town and she got out and rang the doorbell for assistance, as everything was locked up for the night. The motel manager let her in, but when it was discovered that she only had $46 instead of the $50 required for the night’s stay, the motel manager laughed at her and sent her away. (Yes, really. 10 degrees outside and they wouldn’t give her a $4 discount.) I didn’t have a dime on me, and now it was nearly midnight.

Sandra sat in my car crying and I silently prayed again for direction. In obedience I started driving and told her the only option she had (besides sleeping outside in the cold and literally freezing to death – which was NOT an option!) was to go back to the homeless shelter we’d come from, and I’d spend the night at the shelter as well. She agreed, so I called them and let them know we were on our way back. As we drove back, I told her I knew the men running the shelter, and they were good Christian men who would protect her with their lives. I also told her I knew nearly all the other men who were staying at the shelter and none of them would hurt her either. She just listened to me and nodded in agreement. She asked if she could sleep in the bathroom, or in the utility closet or something. I told her not to worry, we would figure something out for her, and reassured her that she would be safe and warm for the night.

When we arrived, the manager of the shelter met us at the door. We walked inside and I told him she wanted to sleep in one of the bathrooms or in the utility closet or something, just so she could have some privacy and separation from the men, (who were all now asleep due to the late hour,) and he took us over to a corner of the room. He had taken all the giant supply bins and had created a small room for her using the bins to form walls. There was one of the large, soft mats set up for her inside, and when she saw what he had done for her, she just melted and started crying and thanking us profusely. I asked her if she wanted me to stay with her, but she said no, thanked us both again, went into the “room,” went to bed, and fell asleep immediately.

I drove back to town replaying the events of the evening in my mind. I got home and started getting ready for bed, completely exhausted, not only because it was now after midnight, but because of the emotional roller-coaster of the night.  The word that came to mind was “weary”. Bone weary. As I stood in the bathroom brushing my teeth, I turned my attention to the Lord, thanking Him for providing a warm safe place for Sandra to sleep for the night.  It was then that He gently spoke to my heart and said, “You’re not the savior of the world. I am.”

After a few moments of letting that message soak into my soul, He said, “Prayer should not be just another thing on your list you check off as you’re scurrying around frantically trying to save people and fix everything. Just because there is a need doesn’t mean YOU need to fill it. Had you paused and come to me first with this need tonight, you never would have left the shelter and everyone would have gotten a few hours more of much needed rest. Now get to bed and go to sleep.”  It wasn’t a beat-down, it was the truth spoken in gentle love, (as always,) but it really hit me hard.

Several scriptures ran through my mind after hearing this word from the Lord.  First, Philippians 4:13 which says, “I can do all things through CHRIST who strengthens me.” I can NOT do this in my own strength. (Obviously!)  When I try, I become very, VERY weary. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” So the FIRST (not the LAST!) thing I need to do is come to Him. He can only give me rest when I come to Him. And I do this through prayer. In Matthew 6:33 Jesus tells us to “seek FIRST the Kingdom of God…”

1 Thessalonians 5:17 says to “pray without ceasing,” which means to be in constant communication with Him… only then can He truly guide me. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” When we pray and thankfully present our request to God we receive THE PEACE OF GOD which guards our hearts and minds. That’s awesome.  And finally, (one of my all-time favorite scriptures that I am always having to remind myself of!) Philippians 4:19 which says, “God will supply ALL your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

GOD will supply all YOUR needs.

GOD will supply all MY needs.

I don’t have to do it on my own.

I’m not the savior of the world.

He is.

Thank God.