Monday, April 28, 2014

The Desire of My Heart

"What is desired in a man is a steadfast love,
and a poor man is better than a liar."
Proverbs 19:13
Every year when I look at the Easter story different things stick out. Some times it is the sacrifice Christ made. Sometimes it is the suffering He endured. Sometimes it is the fact He bore my sin in His body. Sometimes it is the pain He faced in being deserted by friends and disciples. Sometimes the scene of Him praying in the garden grabs my heart. Sometimes it is the picture of Him on the cross with His mother was watching. This year the theme that keeps coming to mind is love--the love that He demonstrated. The love fulfilled on the cross actually began in Genesis when Adam and Eve chose to sin. Even as God laid out the consequences of their sin, His words were laced with grace as He replaced their inadequate attempts of covering their shame with adequate clothes of animal skins that pointed them to the coming Savior who loved them and would lay down His life to save them. 
As a child I went to church, but I didn't discuss sermons at home. As a result, I distorted some of God's words and believed things I've learned weren't true. First, even though I understood salvation was by grace through faith, I thought I had to become "a really good" girl to be close to God, which meant I had to be perfect. The harder I tried, the more sinful I felt. Even if I didn't cuss, my mind was filled with curse words that were like fire crackers going off in my head. I tried really hard to be kind, but often the motive behind kindness wasn't love. It was a selfish attempt to earn love from both God and others or to hear praises. I might act forgiving, but I knew there were times I either built walls around my heart that no one could penetrate with painful words or deeds (or loving ones either) or simply withdrew to avoid facing the truth that bitterness was slowly brewing in my heart and twisting life out of me. There was just no way I could be good enough to feel close to God. I knew what was going on inside of me.
I believed I had to just get over the pain I experienced so I could feel joy and that would allow God to move toward me. But the problem was, I didn't know how to remove the pain from my heart myself and, ironically, without intimacy with Him pain was there to stay. I also thought I had to give up certain sins to be close to Him. Sadly, all that did was stir up Pharisaical judgments in me along with self-contempt because of the strict bar with which I judged others and myself.   
I also thought I had go to church and serve others to become close to God. But, the times I experienced the deepest loneliness was when I left church and went home. I was seeking people in the church to fill this void in my heart and God seemed to meet me there, but it was temporary. The people didn't go home with me and somehow I didn't feel connected to Him at home. I couldn't go to church enough times in a week to have a feeling of connection with God that filled the vast God-shaped hole in my heart. I felt defective.
When I came across the above verse that states, "What is desired in a man is steadfast love!" I thought maybe this deep need of love I have in my heart was written on my heart by the Creator Himself. This need doesn't make me defective, less than others, or a bad person. My real problem was that after accepting salvation by grace, I was going back to legalism to try to create a deeper relationship with God and it wasn't working. A pastor showed me Colossians 2:6 years ago, but it was years before the truth of it began to permeate my heart. "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving." I received Christ by grace through faith. The only way I could overcome sin, find healing, and serve and love others from a pure heart was to lean into Him just as I was so that I could become rooted built up in Him. I had to let go of my trying to earn a deeper relationship and walk by Faith that He was there always loving me with His steadfast love.  
I had been picturing God's love from a human standpoint. Based on feelings and based on how things are going between two people. His love is not like that. His love is steadfast. The love demonstrated by the cross is the nature of God. He doesn't change, therefore His love is steadfast. It didn't ever, doesn't now, and never will depend on me being sin free, joyful enough, or serving hard enough or loving enough people. 
His love is steadfast. Its big enough to love me at my worst for while I was in my sin Christ died for me and brought me to faith! He loves me always and as I draw near to Him and experience His love and Holiness He will expose my sin -- visible or invisible -- and give me the desire to confess and repent and the power to over come it. I can't do that apart from Him. Intimacy with Him will come in the wrestling with ambivalence of my will verses His will. It will come in the crying out to Him in the face of strong temptation that is so overwhelming that all I can do is fall on my knees and cry out to Him to help, finding that He meets me there and strengthens me to walk away from sin. It even comes in the failures in that it humbles my heart to know that I need His mercy and His grace daily and He is there just as He says to meet that need. I just have to remember to fall towards Him in humility when I fall, rather than crawling away in shame.
His steadfast love is big enough to meet me in my pain, my anger, my confusion, and my frustration. At times I've been so overwhelmed with emotion I wanted to climb a tall mountain and scream at the top of my lungs until someone sees and hears me. I have been good at hiding pain that few people would know I was experiencing it. When I broke my ankle, one of the elders from our church was pushing the wheel chair I was in so he could visit with my husband and I. He asked me if I was in physical pain and explained that he was asking because I was smiling so much he couldn't tell. It was a bad break and hurt a lot! I realized I hid emotional pain just as well, while longing for someone to notice I hurt. I came to realize even though I hid it, God noticed and was continually inviting me to express all the yucky, messy stuff to Him. After spending time in the Psalms reading David's honest cries, I began to picture God meeting me on that mountain top. I don't picture Him turning away from me in my tears, pain, anger and then coming back when I am done. I picture Him taking me in His arms and loving me until the pain is released. When I'm angry, I picture Him taking me in His arms as I lash out and holding me until the anger melts, exposing the pain underneath. His Word says He is our Healer, yet I had thought I had to come to Him already healed. So not true!  
The story of Mary and Martha helped me let go of my obsessive serving to get close to God. Sitting with Him in prayer and Bible reading and discussing the Word with others helped me begin to let go of one thing at a time to find out what it was He wanted me to do. Business didn't fulfill me, it depleted me. Business didn't fill my heart, Jesus did. Out of the full heart a different ministry began to take place--it's not a ministry about me doing anything, but simply being a part of something He is obviously doing in the lives of others. I can walk away from the nights of ministry full, because I have the privilege of seeing God at work in hearts and lives doing only what He can do and remembering He is doing that every single day for me, too!.
How gracious God is to write on our hearts the desire to experience steadfast love and then Himself step up and be the One to fulfill that in our lives. O that we would quit looking for it in the wrong places and quit trying to earn it. We just have to receive what He has already lavishly given and lean into Jesus in faith so we are rooted and built up and offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. We will experience Him because we will be more prone recognize Him and His presence and activity in our lives. I am so thankful God not only writes that desire on our hearts, He desires to meet that need in ways we can't even imagine. 

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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!