Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Love is in the Most Unlikely Places

"That according to the riches of His glory
He may grant you to be strengthened in you inner being, so
--That you, being rooted and grounded in love,
may have strength to comprehend with all the saints
what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."
Ephesians 3:17b-19 
Many years ago, I found myself driving from Texas to Mississippi to attend a funeral that I never dreamed I would be attending. A dear friend had unexpectedly lost her six month old baby. I was young and had not had classes on grief that I have taken in the last few years and I had no idea what to expect or how to respond. The hours in the car that night rolled by slowly as I longed to see my friend face to face. I found myself drawn repeatedly to prayer. I prayed, acknowledging my own sense of powerless to the One whom I knew possessed all power. I prayed, then I prayed, and then I prayed some more. 
Some of the prayers I've forgotten. Others I remember to this day. I prayed that God would comfort my friend and her husband through their first night. That He would be with them as they walked into their home with empty arms. I prayed that He would comfort them through the long nights that would follow when awakened to feeding times no longer needed. I prayed for the drying up of her milk to be quick. I prayed they would give each other room to grieve in their own ways and that God would give them love and grace enough to endure the extreme pain they faced together. I prayed others would be sensitive to their needs and that thoughtless comments and religious platitudes that silence people in their pain would not be spoken to them. But mostly, mostly I prayed that they would know in the deepest recesses of their hearts that they were deeply and radically loved by God.
Our church in Mississippi was more like family than church. So, a slew of people who, like myself, had moved away came back to be with our friends as they buried their son. After the funeral we shared dinner, talk, memories, tears, and even laughter that eased the grief. Then on Sunday my friend's husband asked the pastor if he could share his thoughts in church. Now, my friend's husband was a country boy down to the core. Yet, he expressed himself so eloquently that morning. as he thanked the church for walking with them through this tough time. Then he shared that one of the things he had come to understand in the aftermath of losing his own son, was the emotional cost for God in choosing to send His own Son to die to pay for his sin. Because of this understanding he said he had come to a deeper understanding of the love of God. I whispered thanks for answered prayer as he shared so honestly. My friends ached and they grieved long and hard as they let go of their son and the dreams they had dreamed for his life. And many lives were touched and many lives were changed. We all came to realize that the life and death of a six month old baby had the power to impact people in God sized proportions. His life was short but it was a life that mattered.   
Over the years I have looked through the Scriptures to see what kinds of prayers others before me prayed and for guidance in discerning God's will so that my prayers align with His will. Last week our pastor preached on the above verses, reminding me just how God, Himself lead me to pray prayers so long ago that were so similar to the prayer Paul prayed for the Ephesians. 
The opening line of the prayer, "That according to the riches of His glory," always convicts me of how often I forget just how big our God and His glory are. Paul, on the other hand, seemed to grasp the vastness of our God and His glory and it impacted the prayers he prayed for those in Ephesus. Paul asked that his friends would be strengthened in their spirits so that their faith would grow and that the Lord Jesus' presence would be made manifest in their hearts through their faith. That is so exactly what happened when I prayed for my friends! They were believers and as I prayed for them to be spiritually strengthened they were. As a result, they were able to connect with the heart of God and were enabled to understand His love in new and very tangible ways even in the midst of their deep grief. Because they knew the Lord and because they were connected to a church that taught the Word, they had already been rooted and grounded in loved. Those roots went down into the deepest recesses of their hearts where they needed to know in their painful losses that God loved them and had not abandoned them. They were also grounded, which refers to the strong foundation on which their faith was built.  It was built on Jesus Christ. They had come to Him by faith alone and they were shown grace and in this difficult time they were continuously being shown grace upon grace by being strengthened and enabled to see His love in the mist of hard pain. 
Next, Paul asked for the Ephesians to be strengthened so that they could know the fullness of God. This reminds me even more how big our God is--that we would need to be strengthened spiritually to even ponder the fullness of God. Some believe that the breadth indicates the depth of love that required a blood sacrifice being met in Jesus, the length indicates it is extended through the ages, the depth indicates the profound wisdom of God is beyond what our minds can truly understand, the height indicates our being beyond the reach of any foe to deprive us of it and to know the love of Christ.[Bengel] It may be all of that. But, one thing I know for sure is that I saw in my friends a deeper comprehension of the mystery of the gospel of grace. I saw in them a deeper understanding of Jesus' love for them. We, came face to face with the bigness of God who controls life and death in His love scarred hands. We became more intimately acquainted with the bigness of His goodness, His grace, and His love that sunk all the way the way down to the core of my friends' being where their pain had landed.  
As the holidays approach, I know many people are grieving for loved ones that they've lost. I know that as families gather many grieve the death of perfect families for which they have longed, struggling to come to grips with fully human, fully dysfunctional families that are. The families that are so imperfect at loving, so imperfect at meeting emotional needs, so imperfect at giving mercy and grace.
I know that as a year ends many of us have the tendency to look back and contemplate New Year's resolutions that we want to make but are afraid to make because we've failed so many times already. We have failed to be better. We have failed to do better. We have failed to love better. We have failed to speak words of blessing over the lives of those who mean the most to us. We have failed to extend grace. We have failed to speak the truth in love. We have tasted failure in all of its forms and it fills us with shame that says, "Why try again?" 
I also know that many are facing Christmas this year with families divided by separation, broken by divorce, scarred deeply by addictions,  wounded by selfishness, and torn by sinful words that rip holes in hearts. So, if I could lay hands on you and pray any prayer for you, it would be the one above--that you would be strengthened according to His infinite riches in glory in the deepest recesses of your being. That He would enable you to understand to the core of your being the height, the depth, the width, the breadth of the fullness and the bigness of our God so that you would be able to begin to comprehend the love of God--a love that is so beyond our comprehension because it goes against everything we have known experientially living in a fallen world as fallen people who often demand that love be earned. It is a love that is radically sacrificial flowing from a heart filled with infinite grace. May that be the love rooted in your hearts and may that be the foundation from which you will face this season of life--life with all of its trials, life with all of its difficult relationships, life with its regrets, and life with all of your failures.
May you cling to His love, ever remembering that His love is deep and everlasting as He is holding on to you. He will never ever let you go. His love is not dependent on you, it is totally dependent on Him and His flawless character. May you experience His great love this season not only in the places of happiness, but in in the places you think it most unlikely--the places of hard, the places of loss, the places of regret, and the places of failures great and small. 

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!