Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sure of What I Hope For/Certain of What I Do Not See

Let Thy Goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee...

Familiar? This line from one of the latter verses of the hymn Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing has been sung as a fervent prayer by me many, many a-time. And, over the past several years, the attribute of God which has been most brought home to me is... His goodness. His absolute, undeniable, unquenchable, all-encompassing, every-life-invading goodness.

And recently, as we sang this song in a worship service, I realized that my prayer had been answered with a resounding, "Yes!" You see, it is the goodness of the Lord that causes me not to despair. Life may be ugly sometimes, awful sometimes, achingly painful sometimes, and most times completely unlike what we thought or wished it to be. But God's goodness is what keeps me hanging on.

So when, as I asserted in my last post, I am in 'backwoods Sinai,' please don't let that mislead you to thinking that I despair. In fact, I am anything but despairing. I wrestle, I struggle, I press in to hear His purposes and to see my Savior's hand. And I seek to understand because I know God HAS a purpose.

And His purpose is GOOD, because HE is GOOD!

So, with that in mind, I thought I'd share with you some of God's good purposes--at least the ones I have eyes now to see--from over these years in backwoods Sinai. This sojourn so far has been almost a dozen years. Life went from full-speed-ahead to go-directly-to-Sinai-do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-$200 in about a millisecond. Or so. But the monotony of this place has taught me...

*I've learned what it is to hurt emotionally in ways I cannot pass over nor can I solve. And I've learned what it means to survive on His strength alone.

*I've learned to walk under the heavy burden of long-term physical pain. And, I've seen my Savior miraculously, instantly heal me--Praise His Name!

*I've learned not just to wait, but to wait on the Lord. 'Them's' two different beasts, I can assure you.

*I've had God call my bluff--when I didn't even know I was bluffing--and lived to tell about it. And even enjoy the journey beyond it...without ever understanding the "why" of it.

*I've learned what a spiritual battle looks like...and how to lose. And blessedly, also how to win.

*I've had my perspective on the Church, on Ministry, on Grace & Mercy, and on myself completely and utterly re-written. In very, very necessary and good ways.

*I've learned that when I'm banging on heaven's gates, begging God to, "Do something," He often is, just in ways I cannot see.

*I've seen God take places where I was shackled by sin and doubt and fear and set me free. In entirety. In ways that others had to acknowledge, to His glory!

*I've been disciplined for my lack of faithfulness...and then given another chance to serve Him.

*I've discovered the joy of offering God my pain in worship. There is a beauty in that offering that is unmatched by any other, I think. Worship through tears--to the praise of His glorious grace.

*I've learned to increasingly "entrust myself to Him who judges justly."

*I've discovered what a complete "patootie" (Southernese for one's hindquarters) I have been at points in my life (and possibly today), and thus, I have discovered how MUCH grace has been granted to me by friends and family. (I thank you all!) And more so, by my Savior.

*I've fallen in love with Jesus. I was His a long, long, long time before that was true. But praise His Name, it's true now!

*I've been deeply wounded by the Body of Christ, and in His grace, I've been healed so deeply that I can again love Her without reservation.

*I've begun to truly discover that I am utterly, every-fiber loved by a Holy God. THAT will change you!

So despite the disconcertion of my previous post, my Good God has had Good purposes in this, the 'stalled out' portion of my journey. I just wanted you to know that I knew that.

And you know what? I believe so much in His Goodness and His Good purposes, that I really do believe the best is yet to come. So I choose to wait on Him. For 'the fullness of time' never came when the story's characters thought it should, but it always came when the Master of time had perfectly planned for it to do so.

God teaches us in ways that are perfect for each of us. Some people learn best through the rigors of daily life, some through fiery trials. Some must have a thorn in the flesh, some prosperity. I, apparently, need long periods of monotony. Long, looooooong periods of monotony. ;o) But if that's the only way I can look more like Jesus at the end of this thing, may the monotony never end. (But just for the record, I'm hoping there are other ways, too.)

Hopeful at Sinai,

P.S. How about you? What do you 'have eyes to see' of God's work in your journey?

The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? ...Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident. One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. ...I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. --Psalm 27:1, 3-5, 13-14, NIV

1. Come thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise His Name I'm fixed upon it
Name of God's redeeming love.

2. Hither to thy love has blessed me
Thou has brought me to this place
And I know thy hand will bring me
Safely home by thy good grace
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Bought me with His precious blood.

3. O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it;
Seal it for Thy courts above.
18th century Methodist pastor & hymnist Robert Robinson
--this version: E. Margaret Clarkson, 1973

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Destination: "Backwoods Sinai"

Blogging is an emotional act for me, and though the intervening months have been filled with many good things & experiences, emotionally, I am very raw. So raw, that blogging has felt more like pouring alcohol on a cut than a cathartic experience.

But last night, I think I understood something new, something related to my emotional state. And it is something worth blogging.

I have struggled for at least a year with something I've called 'stirred waters', a longing for what I don't have that feels more awakened from the outside than from the inside. And I often--and increasingly--see my life as just being frittered away, wasted, empty of meaning. I'm not one given to self-reflection or moroseness, which makes these intertwined perceptions all the more troubling.

So I've begun to ponder: why would I feel my life is wasted, wanting? Obviously, I have some kind of unmet expectation. But what?

I grew up believing my life would just be poured out for Jesus, willingly given in the hard places doing the hard things for the glory of my great Savior. I said, "Yes," early and I wanted it badly. Later, I realized that I expected (just by the nature of life's progressions) to marry, to have children. Since I'm not the meta-cognitive type, I never really thought about how these would mix.

But apparently, I reached an unrealized expectation in the midst of these thoughts. Both ministry and marriage were good, but I could see how one might exclude the other. That was a sacrifice I was willing to make. Use me up, Lord, either in the crazy extreme ministry I long for, or in the sacrificial offering to the future that a family is. But use me up.

And last night, as I realized that this was my expectation, it became clear to me why I was so haunted now. Because now--in the life I live today--I have neither. I am neither being used up in ministry, nor am I pouring myself out into the lives of a spouse and children.

I am simply sitting in "backwoods Sinai."

Moses spent so much of his life waiting, yet having already been told He was THE one to deliver Israel (see Acts 7:25). Forty years seems like a long time to be in such a place as backwoods Sinai, especially for someone coming from palatial Egypt.

But there was a reason he was there. We tend to jump to the spiritual reason: he was there to be humbled. While true, and while that was a huge success (see Numbers 12:3), it isn't the reason I was thinking of. He was there because he was a fugitive, a murderer. He had done something to place him there.

So last night, I found myself asking the ungracious and unflattering question: What did I do? Why have I been sentenced to backwoods Sinai?

Knowing this story, and feeling paralleled to it, I should feel hopeful. I mean, in the fullness of time, God showed him His glory (and he lived!). He powerfully and perfectly used this man to do things which had never been done before (or since!). And talk about a man 'poured out'!

But the truth is, right now, I just feel the grime of the dust and the monotony of the thankless shepherding. It doesn't feel preparatory; it feels stagnant.

I know the truths and the platitudes.

*God's plans for us are good, and perfect, and loving.

*And I know that in God's economy, nothing is wasted.

*I know that my feelings aren't always true reflectors of reality.

*I know I don't have to understand, that I don't even have a right to understand.

*I know, I know, I know.

But I'm still sitting in backwoods Sinai. I'm tired and bored and grimy.

And I don't know why I'm here.

In a few minutes or days, I'll relax into the place of trust in my Savior's perfect plan. After all, my life is His, and if He wants to play it out in backwoods Sinai for the rest of my days, it is His right to do so. As a servant, I have no claim on how my days are spent. And His goodness causes me not to despair. His love gives us so much more than we ever, ever, ever deserve.

But today, I find myself with empty hands in a squalid place spinning my wheels. And I don't understand.

Just speaking this moment's truth,


"O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water. Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise. They keep saying to me, 'Where is the word of the LORD? Let it now be fulfilled!' I have not run away from being your shepherd; you know I have not desired the day of despair. What passes my lips is open before you. Do not be a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster." --Jeremiah 17:13-17