Tag Archive: God


One of my dearest friends is an officer in the army. In what we think, the ways we think, the convictions and beliefs we hold, it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that we are diametric opposites. He once said to me, “Steph, we’re never going to get anywhere talking about religion. You’re as stubborn as I am!”

I remember grinning at him, sheepishly.

The funny thing is that it’s totally true, but also totally not.

1. There is a world of difference between a person who is stubborn, and a person who holds a conviction strongly.

I think one of the many blessings of university, is that the longer you spend time in an environment where your views are constantly rubbing up against the views of other people (who are often a heck of a lot smarter than you are), the less likely you are to be overconfident about what you think.

I think it is possible to listen to a person attentively in such a way that you genuinely seek to see the logic, or at least merit, of their opinions. Even if it is an opinion that you really disagree with to start out with. Especially when it is an opinion that you really disagree with.

I think there must be a way of listening in which, instead of calculating in your mind all the ways in which you could undermine their argument with interjections of your own, you listen. Not just attentive to the argument. But attentive to the person. Because until you understand the person, you won’t really understand the argument. Because you won’t understand the worldview that underlies the argument.

But I don’t think it’s accurate to say that if, after listening to the other person sincerely, you hold the same opinion you did to begin with that you are stubborn. It might just be that the other person has not presented you with evidence convincing enough, or an argument compelling enough, to sway you from your strongly held conviction. And that’s legitimate!

2. The pride residing at the root of stubbornness is a poison that we cannot root out by trying harder

Every day for a month last year I wrote “Phil 2:3” on my hand, to try to retrain my mind to resolve to “consider others better than myself.” It was an attempt to train my mind and my mouth.

I think it was a good thing to do.

But it didn’t go deep enough.

You see, I don’t just have a stubborn mind. I have a stubborn heart. Gosh, even when I’m thinking to myself in a conversation, “Consider this person better than you,” another part of me is thinking, “And aren’t you just GREAT for trying to think of them (a person who is clearly inferior to you) better than you?”

!!

You see, I am fundamentally incapable of considering other people better than myself; it’s going to take a lot more than looking at scrawls of ink on my hand throughout the day for me to consider others better than myself!

I need to go deeper. To trace back my words to the thoughts underlying them, and the ways of thinking underlying my thoughts, and to the genesis of these ways of thinking. And, maybe you’ll agree – the spring from which these ways of thinking, from which all of my life flows, is my heart.

3. It takes a heart transplant

I do not think that holding an opinion strongly is necessarily ‘stubborn’ in a negative, ignorant, unresponsive sense.

But I do have a stubborn heart.

When I jotted down this thought a few weeks back, I had just had a week of many refreshing conversations in which I had been reminded of my spiritual amnesia, of my inability to root out these stubborn and poisonous weeds in my heart.

When I say stubborn, I mean this: like a smoker, my heart returns time and time again to the same unsatisfying addictions; like a disobedient dog, I stray back into bad habits; like a distrustful two-year-old, I deliberately forge on towards decisions that I know will upset the ones who love me, and I can’t change it.

I genuinely can’t change it.

Sure, I can change the behaviours: I can stop speaking badly of a person, I can try to think differently about them and rebuke myself every time I slip in the hope that, like Pavlov’s Dog, my behaviour will change. But changing behaviours doesn’t change a heart, and if the heart doesn’t change, then the root which bore the fruit of the behaviour will simply crop up in a different part of my life, in a different way.

4. Persistent grace

The reason these conversations were refreshing and not depressing?

I was reminded of the astounding work that God has done in me by regenerating my heart and giving me new cravings and affections to replace my old ones. I was reminded of the relentless pursuit of God in His endeavour to reclaim ALL of my heart for Himself. I was reminded of His faithfulness in saving me from myself, from my stubborn heart, and from the unkind masters I am prone to devoting myself to.

He hasn’t withheld any of His infinite resources in His redemption of this death-bound creature. It does not make sense to think that He would save me on a cosmic, eternal scale, only to leave me to change myself, alone.

No. His grace is persistent. He persists in wooing me to return to me from the rebellion of sin, and He persists in the gradual work of regenerating all the cravings and desires of my heart.

I am fundamentally incapable of changing my own heart. But He is not. He is the only one with hands that are strong enough, delicate enough, and loving enough to change my stubborn heart. But the incredible thing is that unlike my manufactured self-resolve, His purposes cannot be thwarted. He will overcome my stubborn heart.

Heck. Yes. !

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

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Renewal

I have been sick, lately. Like the rest of Sydney, apparently.

My usual approach to sickness is to ignore it. If it gets worse I’ll drug up and become more socially inept than I normally am. But very rarely, I get slammed by a flu that morphs into an infection, and end up bedridden for days.

It must’ve been years since the last time that happened, so I was more than a little frustrated when it happened to pop by on the last week my dear friend, Blythe, was visiting Sydney from Oklahoma.

During this time, another friend, Cloudy, sent me a text one evening. It instructed me to check my front doorstep. ‘Lo and behold, this is what I found:

What an act of unmerited kindness!

The card she’d written included this poem, by Helen Steiner Rice. It’s entitled, ‘A Time of Renewal’. It might be a bit cutesy for some (it rhymes, so all the indie kids out there will be cringing in their skinny jeans and fake frames), but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe you will too.

No one likes to be sick

And yet we know

It takes sunshine and rain

To make flowers grow.

And if we never were sick

And we never felt pain,

We’d be like a desert

Without any rain,

And who wants a life

That is barren and dry,

With never a cloud

To darken the sky?

For continuous sun

Goes unrecognised

Like the blessings God sends,

Which are often disguised.

For sometimes a sickness

That seems so distressing

Is a time of renewal

And spiritual blessing.

Grit and Glory: The Church 1.0

If you follow me on Twitter, you would have noticed that last week, I was perpetually hashtagging “ancon11” at the end of pretty much every single tweet.

The reason for this is that I was engaged in a highly competitive race to the top of the Twitter Cloud of the Annual Conference (AnCon) of the Sydney University Evangelical Union (EU). The elbows were out, attempts to sabotage reception were rife, and …

(I really shouldn’t try to be funny)

But the purpose of these next few blogs is to try to consolidate the crazy amounts of teaching we received. Rowan Kemp is notorious for his thorough and illuminating theological instruction, and the Spirit often uses him to explode our minds with His truth over the course of the week.

Sadly, I missed the first talk, which was apparently a ‘framework’ through which we could understand the week’s talks. That said, the notes in the booklet we take notes in are very thorough, so I will attempt a concise summary of each talk (and some of my own tangential ramblings). Keep in mind they were an hour+ long, so there is a lot of content to cover.

TALK 1: MY TREASURED POSSESSION

The Story of the Old Covenant People of God

Summary:

1. God has a view of the Church that is different to how Christians see the church. We ought to align ours with His.
2.  In order to understand the Church now, we need to understand how God has interacted with His people, His own, throughout redemptive history. i.e. the Israelites.
3. God rescued a people for Himself out of slavery and idolatry and into holiness (set-apart-ness/distinctiveness) so that they might testify to the character of God as holy, faithful and loving.
4. The holy worship of God’s treasured possession was to be expressed primarily through (1) loving the Lord alone and (2) loving your neighbour as yourself.
5. God blessed His people with His presence, manifested by His Word and His Spirit.
6. The glory of the Church is that God chooses to show mercy, shower love upon, and be faithful to His promises to a people who are thoroughly unimpressive, unfaithful and outright disobedient. Their brokenness serves to highlight the character of God and magnify His great worth and glory.


From 4/7/10. It’s funny how forgetful we are.

Distrust is a stubborn root to weed out of a heart. I think it’s nurtured by wariness of people and the ways they can hurt us; also by a reluctance to ever be in situations of vulnerability. It’s the negative extreme of guarding your heart, in that it is preemptive and suspicious to the point of cynicism.

And cynicism cripples hope and limits possibility.

The other thing about distrust is that it constrains the heart to fear, and disallows stepping out in faith. If you’re constantly over-analysing every interaction with a person, or every situation you’re in, and safe-guarding yourself against any possible infliction of embarrassment or wounded pride, then you immediately shrink your life down to what is safe and predictable.

Horrible!

But on a deeper level, and one more fundamental to the human experience, is our distrust of God.

Uncertain situations tend to breed a few responses: fear, distrust, excitement, faith. I’m sure there are more.

But I was just reading an article called, ‘Can You Bear Uncertainty?’ by Jon Bloom and I thought it was particularly insightful. Maybe you’ll agree…

He was looking at the story of Jesus’ reply to the confident assertion of the eager would-be follower of Jesus that they would follow Him wherever He went, in Luke 9:

So when an adoring fan announced his desire to follow him anywhere, Jesus deglamorized things a bit by replying, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58).

Bloom continues from here with some thoughts which I think I agree with:

God doesn’t tell us how that person responded because what’s important is the implied question: can you bear uncertainty? Can you bear not knowing how God is going to provide for your most urgent needs and still trust that he will?

It is a question that Jesus wants all of his disciples to wrestle with. There are simply going to be times when we don’t know where the provision is going to come from. Circumstances will look precarious, sometimes foreboding and threatening. Plans are going to fall through. People are going to disappoint us. They may reject or misunderstand our mission. If these things happened to Jesus, we should not be surprised when they happen to us. And we are not to become angry when they do. Note that Jesus rebuked James and John for their response (Luke 9:55).

Jesus does not want us to be governed by fear at such times. He wants us governed by faith. The reason is that the uncertainty is only apparent uncertainty. Our future and our provision and our ultimate triumph are certain to God. He has all the foreknowledge, power, resources, and desire to turn everything for good for those who love him and are called by him (Romans 8:28).

Apparently uncertain seasons are usually the most powerful God moments we experience. They often put God on display more than other seasons, demonstrating that God exists and rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6).

So if you are in one of those seasons, take heart. You are likely experiencing what it means to have a God “who acts for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4).

I feel the pain of uncertainty. It would almost be more tolerable just to KNOW, unequivocally, whether life will go one way or the other. Even if it means staying sick forever, it removes the tantalising semi-hope, in which you half-wonder about what might be, rather than dwelling fully in the provision so graciously given in the present moment. Uncertainty can make us off-balance.

The thing is, I feel that uncertainty actually blesses us, because it shows up our spiritual health in a way that we could probably mask otherwise.

It shows up the presence of any distrust still lingering in our hearts. If times are uncertain, and we don’t trust God, then it’s as obvious as a fake tan.

Uncertainty forces us to deal with distrust. It forces us to wait on God, to lean heavily on Him in faith.

What a blessing it is!

It reminds me of Andrew Murray’s thoughts:

Even in the regenerate man there is no power of goodness in himself: he has and can have nothing that he does not each moment receive; and waiting on God is just as indispensable, and must be just as continuous and unbroken, as the breathing that maintains his natural life.

How I wish that I would wait so heavily on God that with each breath I would acknowledge my dependence on Him. Uncertainty, in its principle preoccupation with what is to come, would lose its hold on my heart, because with waiting on God, communing with Him with each passing breath, my focus would no longer be on trying to control the future – it would shift to dwelling in the present with the One who holds all things in His hands.

It is, then, because Christians do not know their relation to God of absolute poverty and helplessness, that they have no sense of the need of absolute and unceasing dependence, or the unspeakable blessedness of continual waiting on God. But when once a believer begins to see it, and consent to it, that he by the Holy Spirit must each moment receive what God each moment works, waiting on God becomes his brightest hope and joy. As he apprehends how God, as God, as Infinite Love, delights to impart His own nature to His child as fully as He can, how God is not weary of each moment keeping charge of his life and strength, he wonders that he ever thought otherwise of God than as a God to be waited on all the day. God unceasingly giving and working; His child unceasingly waiting and receiving: this is the blessed life.

“Truly my soul waiteth upon God; from Him cometh my salvation.” First we wait on God for salvation. Then we learn that salvation is only to bring us to God, and teach us to wait on Him. Then we find what is better still, that waiting on God is itself the highest salvation. It is the ascribing to Him the glory of being All; it is the experiencing that He is All to us.

May God teach us the blessedness of waiting on Him.

Ascribing Him the glory of being ALL to us. All. Not holding back an ounce of self-control. Rather than dealing with uncertainty by hoarding control and shrinking life down to the confines of fear-driven security, waiting on God and leaning on Him in faith lays that burden down at the feet of the most trust-worthy Person, who holds all things together.

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1.17

What security there is in laying down all things before the One who holds all things together. What a person to wait on!

Romans 11
33Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
34″Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
35″Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”
36For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

“My soul, wait thou only upon God!”

“The beginning of man’s rebellion against God was, and is, the lack of a thankful heart.” (Francis Schaeffer)
Entitlement is the disease that robs a heart of joy, infests it with bitterness, and cripples your ability to engage with people meaningfully.

Mountains, Gandalf, Mountains

I should be sleeping.

It’s past midnight, I’ve been driving for over 5 hours, and my body is kind of shutting down without my consent. But in these last moments of consciousness, I have such a brimming sense of joy and satisfaction that I feel an urgent compulsion to scrawl some derivative of this feeling down.

My eyes are crusty with the bleariness of wind-exposure followed by hours of wide-eyed observance of the road. Every inch of my legs are (nigh) incapacitated with a screaming ache. My feet are mottled with blisters and my ankle swollen from a bit of a scuffle with a mountain. And I cannot explain to you how much I am loving life right now.

Hiking in the Blue Mountains on the outskirts of Sydney is beautiful. Well, it can be. When there is impenetrable fog and constant rain, it’s less beautiful and more extreme; the drenched rocks and leaf matter conspire against you getting anything resembling traction at every footfall.

But, my goodness, it is so much more of a character-revealing experience.  The relentless rain removed the incentives of the normally stunning vistas of the vast wilderness, clouding visibility to virtually nothing, but exposing more about our hearts than we had expected.

As we sat huddled in the girls’ tent on the first night, we laughed, exchanged stories, and laughed some more. We also spent a beautifully uncontrived time listening to the Scriptures and praying. Sitting in the darkness, we lifted our gaze out of our circumstances to remind our stupidly forgetful selves who it is that we exist for, and who it is that the world, every tree and every rock, every person and every situation, exists to magnify the worth of.

Getting outside into the bush clears my head and reminds me in a very physical way who is God and who is not. When scrambling across a sheer, and very (frighteningly) slippery side of a mountain that is being pummeled by waves of rain and gusts of icy wind, instantly everything that had been clouding my awareness of the power and majesty of God strangely evaporated and His enormity was in my face every precarious step.

Every moment, we have to decide who we are going to be. I’m not suggesting that we have the power to instantly recreate our self with every passing breath; that’s silly. I mean that we have to choose from the reservoir within our personality how to react.

On a practical level, there are decisions like: Will we climb this mountain as night is falling, or will we camp here, far away from where we expected to be by this time? Will we risk climbing the staples in this rock face which are slippery in the rain, or will we take the slippery traverse around the side that we are unfamiliar with? Will I charge at this hill and push through the pain barrier, or will I fall behind by 10m?

On a deeper level, the questions we are faced with, whether we are on a mountain ridge or in our office or at home, are ones like this:

Will we choose to love another at our expense, or prioritise our comfort? Will we take a risk and be forced to lean heavily (more than we might like) on God and His faithful provision, or will we veer off into the safety of convenience? Will we choose to foster gratitude or bitter complaint? Will I choose to throw off everything that hinders me from running after Jesus, from burrowing into deeper depths of intimacy with Him, or will I tolerate them as though they weren’t robbing my affections for Him?

I think being on a mountain brings the consequences of these decisions into sharp relief. As the season of Lent wrapped up on Easter Sunday, being away from the world gave me much-needed clarity about and reprieve from the clutter in my head and heart: What do I treasure more than Jesus? What is displacing Him from the first place in my heart? What hampers a growing affection for and intimacy with Him? What manifestations of my traits do I justify to myself so that I don’t have to root it up out of my heart?

To be honest, the reason that I think it’s a problem to have anything apart from Jesus occupying that place in my heart is that those things were not designed to withstand that pressure. If I look for wholeness in a particular relationship, then not only am I going to be let down (I don’t believe we can be fully satisfied in romantic relationship, however great and beautiful), but I am going to pin that person down under the weight of expectation to be the X factor that will make me whole. And I don’t think any person can bear the weight of that. It’s destructive to them, it’s destructive to me, and it’s destructive to our relationship. Don’t mistake me; relationships ARE good! But they work best when they orbit around a relationship that is already fully-satisfying, so that you do not stake your wholeness on a person, who, for all their beauty and value, cannot make you whole. When you, a broken person, look to other broken people to make you whole, it is not going to end well. If, on the other hand, you anchor your self in a relationship that CAN make you whole, you are free to relate to others in a way that doesn’t expect them to be something they cannot be. That’s why I don’t shut up about wanting Jesus being the first place in my heart; because all of life works BETTER that way.

I don’t suffer from the pretence that I’m there yet. I constantly displace Jesus from that place in my heart with other things. But I want Him to override those other things, so that I can love others more fully – not with a power-playing game of leveraging and self-preservation (whoever cares least in a relationship has the most power, right?), but with a reckless abandon, disregard for self, and a genuine desire to prioritise the interests of the other person above my own. Because when that part of your heart is already filled up to the overflow, and is fully satisfied, whole, you can afford to love people dangerously.

I want that.

I am so thankful for Caitlin, Tim, Mim and Jez for their company in the mountains. Thanks for your graciousness, your love, your ridiculousness, your metaphysical discussions about fog, your vivid imaginations and recreational mythologising about emerald seas and ships captained by talking bears, (your apparent descent into insanity), your sincere pursuit of God and His purposes, and just generally for being fun people who are up for killing themselves impaling their bodies on unkind mountain ridges on their holiday. TBC indeed.

Grace and peace 🙂

PS. Another great thing about hiking is the people you meet on the track. We met an hilarious troupe of 5 men in a hiking club at the top of Narrowneck. They were on the fifth day of their treck, and were on the final leg of it. They appeared a very unassuming lot for a 5 day hike: some wearing volleys, others in boardies. We soon realised why.

“Where’ve you come from?”

“We started on the other side of the Falls.”

“Oh! How the heck did you get here? What track did you take?”

“We swam across the dam.”

“… Sorry, you what?”

“We swam across the dam. Well, actually, we went across on lilos and pool ponies.”

I couldn’t stop laughing. The image of these tough-looking guys frolicking across a kilometre of icy water, very much illegally (the fine, had they been caught, was $1000s per person), was utterly fantastic. We exchanged stories and bantered back and forth for a while, as it progressively dawned on us just how extreme these guys were. We hope the Park Rangers weren’t waiting for them at the end of the walk!

Jez and Caitlin. Narrowneck ascent.

Tarros Ladder. We lowered our bags using a very sophisticated pulley system... (Also known as fanging them down with a rope).

The Sauna. Dubbed thus after spending time on the other side of this cliff face, which was bearing the brunt of the wind; this side was practically a sauna comparatively. As Tim said, 'Bring on the pina coladas! Hola chicas!' Discussions about why on earth none of us thought to bring a hipflask of whisky ensued.

The first of the lilo gang (to the far right).

Caity and Me. Incredibly thankful to have made it to the top of Narrowneck intact.

Just another word

Today I spent the morning with a friend who is no longer at uni. I have missed her dearly.

There was a stillness about her. A stability, a centredness, a quiet contentment that has a smile tucked in the corners of its frame.

“He has a commitment to my heart.”

Her boy has shown her what it is to be loved by someone who is not phased or impressed by her external attributes, by her erratic words, by her irrational behaviour, by her inconsistencies and irritating traits, by her abilities, by her weight, by her clothes. He loves her, not these external things. He is committed to her heart.

We thought that relationship is the most powerful way that God can communicate to us what He means when He says that He is love, and that He delights over us. That His love is an anchor that goes deep beneath the rough surface of the waves, deep down into our self, to a still place underwater, where our sense of self is firmly secured in the seabed. Unmovable, unchanged by our behaviour, our words, our inconsistencies. Constant.

There’s a freedom in that that I really want to know more than I do.

I’ve left this for about a week now, in the hope that it would crystallise more coherently in my mind and heart. But tonight, after being broken down about the things we treasure more than Jesus, my family at my home church sang with deafening earnest about the freedom purchased for us in brutal fullness by the death of Jesus.

And in a moment of fleeting clarity, this same thought resonated in a chamber of myself which I often can’t feel. So I thought that maybe it was time to just write it out, regardless of how much sense it makes. So please be patient with me!

When I’m at the gym, I often listen to people explain parts of the Bible rather than listen to music. And a couple of weeks ago, I listened to Tim Keller speak about how the glory of God. It impacted me so much I listened to it again as I walked through the city to meet a friend. Here’s the gist:

If to you God is something that fits into your pre-existing ideological framework, then that isn’t God. It’s a concept that you’ve created. As Eckhart Tolle says, that’s man making God in his own image! The Hebrew word for ‘glory’ means ‘WEIGHT’. When God enters your life, He shakes your paradigmatic framework up and displaces the way you used to think about just about everything!

In speaking about this, Keller uses the illustration of a displacement, and quakes. He essentially says that when something heavier than water is dropped into the water, the water quakes – it gives way, it is displaced. The object has more ‘glory’ than the water. Similarly, when God drops into your life, because He is ultimate reality, He has more weight, more GLORY than I or my ideological framework do. I experience a God-quake, a self-quake, and a WORLD-quake.

‘God as a concept is lighter than you. You shape it. It fits in around your categories and ideas. A God concept can’t change your beliefs. It fits in with your existing beliefs. We don’t believe in him in such a way that he changes our beliefs. In NYC people are always saying “I can’t believe in this or that in the Bible because it’s regressive.” Our beliefs come from our cultural moment and our great-grand kids will be embarrassed by them just like we’re embarrassed by many of the beliefs of our grandparents. In other words, we don’t have a real God, we just have a concept. Doesn’t change our agendas, our plans, our goals. People get religious because they want help in meeting their goals. They fit God into their existing belief because God as a concept is lighter than you, but God as a reality is heavier than you. When the real God comes into our life, things give way to his glory. Instead of God being fit into your agenda he becomes your agenda. He radically changes your priorities. Our agenda apart from God is to have a very safe, tidy little life. God says “sacrifice your individual needs for me and my glory!”’

The self-quake we experience comes from this encounter with the living God. Because as soon as we acknowledge that we are a sinner and cry to God for help, He explodes into our life, deconstructing and reconstructing our self image dramatically. No longer is our self worth tied up in the trivialities it was before; we are freed from the horrible lens of self-preoccupation and into the spaciousness that is the humility that comes from an experience of radical beauty. You are freed to be caught up in something so much bigger than you are.

And the world-quake means that instead of you trying to use God, you recognise that HE is the one making the heavens and the earth new – and you can lay yourself before Him and ask Him to use you in His purposes. The world quake means you are available to God, and you are expectant about what He will do through you because you are confident that His purposes aren’t dependent on YOU! What freedom!

Read the notes someone took on this sermon for more on this topic, but the reason I unpacked that was so that I could explain something else.

This idea of a quake came to mind when the traumatic events in Japan unfolded. The torrents that ripped through those towns were ferocious. I have never seen anything of its kind in my life.

As I was watching a Youtube clip with my Dad, who had been in the village that was being ripped apart before our eyes, I think the Spirit brought to mind the reality that when the Spirit entered my heart, His glory, His weight, quaked my very self – and a torrent of mercy coursed through me, cleansing me.
And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6.11)

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3.4-7)

But I had always imagined this as a gentle affair; a bit of asplash in a kiddie pool, a cheeky dip in a lake. But I realised at this point that all the clutter, all the structures of rebellion I have set up in my heart, all the cesspools of darkness – they demand more than that! God is passionate for those He loves, and His love is jealous – He is grieved over our infidelity to Him, because He knows the damage we do to ourselves when we treasure things more than Him; He made us for Himself!

The stream of mercy that He washes us with is like a ferocious torrent, that shows no mercy on anything in our hearts that keeps us from Him. It rips it out, and sweeps it away. I’m hesitant to say this, but I think that is a violent affair; a painful affair. But not unloving! No, it is beautiful mercy. Unlike the raging torrents of the Japanese tsunami, the torrent from God is a stream of mercy.

For this is what the LORD says:
“I will extend peace to her like a river,
and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
you will nurse and be carried on her arm
and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you.”

(Isaiah 66.11-13)

This passage was in a vastly different context (directed at the Israelites in a very specific – and complicated! – set of historical circumstances), but I think it illustrates the image of a flood of mercy. And this is what I felt physically, whilst singing the ‘My Chains are Gone’ version of Amazing Grace tonight. That I am caught in the torrent of God’s scandalous mercy, and that I have been cleansed, made new, and my identity is secure in Christ. And the Spirit let that freedom wash over me.

I pray that the radical mercy would course through your life, that you would experience God as reality, not as concept. And that your very self would quake with His presence, and the torrents of the flood of His mercy would deconstruct everything.

Because only when you have been washed can the way be made clear for the healing, restoration and reconstruction of His beautiful Spirit begin. That is regeneration!! That is new life!!

Leah

As I brushed my teeth this evening, I began to turn over some of the thoughts that had made their way into my head this week. Including something that Tim Keller had said about Leah, Jacob’s first wife, in a sermon I listened to whilst I was at the gym. It was very early, and I didn’t take note of it (kind of hard to on the cross-trainer), so don’t quote me, but it was generally about how just as Jacob had fixed his hopes for happiness and validation on Rachel, so had Leah pinned hers on the requited love of Jacob. The author paints this painfully tragic marriage in which Jacob only has eyes, only has ears, and only has a heart for Rachel. Leah bears child after child after child, desperately clinging to the hope that the next child will secure the love and attention of her husband. It never does. It’s a devastating set of circumstances.

But when God saw that Leah was not loved, to paraphrase Genesis 29:31, God loved her. He gave her children, and one of those children would go on to have their own children, who would have their own children, and so the line of Abraham would continue until a baby name Yeshu was born to a teenage girl under dubious circumstances.

It isn’t Leah immediate reaction, but by the time she has her fourth child, she has moved away from the misery and self-pity of her desperate longing for the love of Jacob, and says, with something like resignation, ‘This time I will praise the Lord’. I don’t know that it’s true, but when I read this story, I imagine a wave of freedom flooding Leah’s heart. No longer is her heart aching with the cavernous emptiness of Jacob’s indifference to her; she has eyes to dwell in the approval and affection of the One her heart was made to delight in foremost.

The second thing that I was thinking about, this time as I tidied my room a bit, was about this phrase Keller used in speaking about how Jacob went to bed with who he thought was the beautiful object of his heart, Rachel, only to wake up and find it was Leah. First of all, WOW would that have been an awkward morning; I can’t even imagine how crippling the anxiety would have been for Leah. She participated in this deceit; but, indeed, it was in a similar fashion that Jacob had deceived his own father to procure the deathbed blessing intended for the firstborn.

“We always wake up with Leah.”

No matter how much we pin our expectations on a new relationship, degree, job, country, diet or outfit to make us feel better, we always ‘go to bed with them’, esteeming them as the Rachels of our life, held on a glossy pedestal; only to wake up the next morning to find that what we thought was the Rachel who would make everything better, is in fact the painfully ordinary Leah.

Let me be clear: I am terribly prone to idealising men romantically. On the way to the beach last night we were talking about how strangers can seem so perfectly RIGHT for you, until you hang out with them and realise that they are just normal people, with flaws and irritating mannerisms or ways of thinking that jar with your own. As Sufjan says,

Or so I’ve come to realize life is not about
Love with someone (ordinary people are everywhere)
Extraordinary people are, ordinary people are, ordinary people are
Everywhere you look, everywhere you turn’.

(‘I want to be well’, Sufjan Stevens)

Expectations, ill-placed, can embitter a heart and cripple your capacity to love with abandon. Partly, I think, because you feel let down by the object of your expectations or affections when they don’t deliver. People are beautiful. Goodness, yes, they are! But when you place on another person, or a job, or anything, the weight of an expectation that they will deliver what your heart was designed to receive from God, I think you can crush the relationship itself with an intolerable burden. Maybe you’ll disagree.

A few of my friends have been getting married, and one of my closer friends recently got engaged. Another friend from the same group at school couldn’t get his head around this. “Are they crazy?! How can they seriously think that they KNOW they can do life with one another for the rest of their lives? They haven’t even lived together!”

I get that fear. Heck, I am the biggest relationship-phobe of them all!

But I don’t think that attitude works. Because it’s based on the premise that there is such a thing as a person with whom you’re going to be, if not perfectly, then very compatible with.

I don’t think marriage is about that. Not that I am an expert on marriage in the least, but I think that if you go into the whole marriage thing expecting that your spouse is going to be a Rachel, a stunningly beautiful and perfectly compatible partner, then your world is going to be shaken when you wake up with Leah. Ordinary, inconsistent, frustrating Leah.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally realise and definitely acknowledge that some people get along way better than others. I’m not talking about that kind of compatibility. I doubt you’d be dating someone in the first place unless you were compatible! But the whole living together before you get married, try before you buy, thing doesn’t seem wholly convincing to me. “They might have intolerably frustrating habits!”

If they are a human, then they DEFINITELY will.

I’m not going to labour this point any more, because to be honest, I haven’t really thought it through more than 2 minutes whilst changing my bed. But I think that there is no such thing as a person with whom you will be perfectly compatible. I think part of the point of marriage IS that there are disputes and disappointments and frustrations, and that you stick it out throughout all that. And that that is what refines you; that is what refines your relationship. It will take work, totally. It will be scary, and maybe even lonely sometimes, not feeling known by your own spouse. But when your identity isn’t wholly tied up in your spouse, or the expectations of their affection for and affirmation of you, you can endure the buffets of those uncertainties. Because you can be confident that the steadfast love of the One who made you, and delights in you, holds you securely.

That is freedom.