We were created by a creative God who put every detail of the universe in place with the utmost precision and for the upmost purpose. When we ponder upon the ramifications of the Imago Dei, we center ourselves on the communicable attributes of God’s goodness, kindness, graciousness, and mercifulness. We know of who God is by our awareness of these very attributes, but there is one characteristic of God’s being that we marvel at, but never fully correlate to our lives: his creativity. You and I have an awareness of the objective beauties and truths of God through His creation. One does not have to search long before being struck with awe and wonder of creation. Our jaws dropped seeing the sheer scale of a dinosaur’s skeleton as our imaginations tried to fathom how such gigantic creatures existed in our world. We stop in wonder of the galaxy when astrological phenomena are captured by NASA’s telescopes. Our scrupulous studies of the microscopic world reveal an intricate level of detail that is hard to fathom. Everything detail of the universe, no matter how large or small, was designed from God’s creativity. Awesome and mighty. Fearfully powerful and intensely methodical. A wondrous intentionality that is beyond our capacity to fully comprehend. Our God is awesome!
We often think of creativity as something that is limited to those who possess artistic ability, but creativity is so much more than the arts. Creativity is problem solving. Creativity is looking beyond the immediate to see the potential of something larger. Creativity is developing the potential of others. Creativity is adapting ones experiences into something that is relatable. Creativity is an inherent part of who we are as created beings. We were created by God and have been imbued with an inherent need to create in some way, shape, or form. Our creativity takes many different forms, but our inherent need to be creative is evidenced by our awareness of the objective truths and beauties of God and His creation. Creation reveals its creator in what is known as general revelation. The world around us, in partnership with the moving of the Holy Spirit, draws our attention to the higher being that created everything around us. This revelation is not enough to bring us to salvation, but is enough to seek after who God is. What purpose would this serve if we had no appreciation of the intricacies of creation? While there is subjectivity in our appreciation of works of art, there is simply no subjectivity in God’s character. His truth, beauty, and justice are absolute. They are whole just as He is whole. There exists no blemish or error within their intrinsic essence, nor is there any deviation in God’s essence. Thus lies the intentionality of God’s purpose behind creation.
Creativity and intentionality are in an inseparable relationship. When God created the universe there was no force acting upon Him. He created from within Himself. His motivation alone was the intent behind creating. He didn’t see anything done halfway. God saw everything that He created through to its completion with the greatest intentionality (What makes you think that He’s not as intentional with you as He is with what He made? He created you after all!). We see in Genesis that as God looked over the Earth and Heavens that He declared that what He had made as good. Yet, as good as everything that He had made was, He was not done. God created Man in His image and declared that Man was very good! Above all the things that God created, you are the pinnacle of His handiwork! Every part of you is intentionally made by God, and He breathed life into you. You are more precious than the finest jewelry or the purest diamond. You are the craftsmanship of the holy God!
You possess something far greater and more powerful than you may realize. Something that comes with a responsibility for stewardship. God, in creating you, bestowed upon you gifting, talents, passions, and a calling. You are a messenger of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those around you. Those gifts that you possess are tools in your arsenal to communicate God’s truths to those who most desperately need to hear of God’s cause. We must be intentional in carrying this message. Intentional in expressing these truths creatively though art, writing, conversation, story telling, and so much more. Whether you realize it or not, you have a platform to communicate the Gospel wherever you are and a command to leverage your life for the sake of the kingdom. If you are a believer of Christ, you must not neglect that purpose God has bestowed upon you.
When you stop in awe and wonder at the sunset, remember that God who painted it uniquely. When you pause to take in the beauty of the waves crashing upon the shore, remember that God who created you unlike any other. Embrace the calling God has bestowed upon your life and chase after him with all that you are. Run with all the tenacity you can muster after Him! You are a created being and, as a believer, a reflection of God’s handiwork. Be confident in Him and find your assurance, your creativity, and purpose in Him and Him alone.
I still feel terrible for my childhood friends who would invite me to sleep over, because I routinely would wake up in the middle of the night requesting to go home. Time after time, my mother would arrive to pick me up, apologize for the disruption, and take me home. I never intended to leave their homes in the middle of the night as I truly delighted in their company and friendship. I would have a good time with my friends and enjoyed the games played, time spent exploring the neighborhood, and the like… but I was uncomfortable. I was not home.
Since I joined the world of adulthood, I’ve only grown more aware of the fact that I am not truly home. In those quiet times of exhaustion and disillusionment, I’ve cried out to God for being handed over to seemingly insurmountable trials and tribulations. If I’m being honest with you, I have felt as though every blessing that has come from God has been met with a curse. I have felt that every bit of effort to take care of the endless parade of fires has gotten me nowhere, like a dog chasing its tail. This nagging feeling has plagued me for the better part of a decade and has only been exasperated in the last year by the passing of someone that I loved deeply. In the following year, as we find ourselves in the middle of the most unsettling, divisive year in my lifetime, I see how God has done a work in my life to address the brokenness within me and to open my eyes to that which is not so easily seen.
This past weekend I was given some important news that was an answered prayer. A blessing that ends nearly two years of uncertainty that has weighed heavily upon myself and my family, but this blessing reveals that there are going to be difficult days ahead. There are going to be serious struggles ahead in life that will continue to weigh heavily upon me. God has given an answer to a prolonged need, and has given insight into what is to come. A year ago, I would not be so thrilled by this news. I would be dreading the misfortunate that lay around the preverbal corner that would most certainly follow such a blessing. God, at times (in my brutal honesty of my thoughts and perspectives), was a bully. Toying with me. Teasing me by getting my hopes up, and then yanking away whatever it was that He was seemingly providing. God is not how my emotions perceive. God is not my feelings. He is so much bigger and more perfect than that.
I had one of those moments that things just clicked in my mind. I know that God is good and that He is just. I also know that things are not going to be fair in this life. I know that God is not toying, bullying me, or teasing me with false hopes. That’s not His nature or character. When God blesses us, He’s answering a prayer that we’ve been praying or providing for something that we did not know we needed in the moment. Those blessings are also necessary tools to equip us for the hardships of life. The trials and tribulations that shake at the foundations of our lives. When I received the news of God’s provision over the weekend, I immediate recognized the dual nature of what it meant. To put it into a phrase, God said, ‘I’ve got you in this moment, and I’m showing you where to prepare.’ This is not a message that’s unheard of to any follower of Christ. The Old Testament is filled with passages of God speaking directly to His people of what He is doing and what is about to unfold. At times, Israel failed to understand just what that entailed. Which brings us to one of the most popular verses of scripture. Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
This verse is often taken out of context, but that is primarily because we only focus on the immediacy of the words spoken by the prophet Jeremiah. This foretelling comes at a pivotal time in the life of Israel. God is about to do something completely unprecedented. He’s condemning Israel for their failure to live up to the purpose God had called them to. Their idolatrous, lustful, unfaithfulness hindered their capability to be a light unto the surrounding nations of who God is, and so God changed the game, so to speak. God used the prophets to condemn Israel and to speak encouragement to them for what was going to come later. God blessed them time and time again while also allowing for greater and greater trail and tribulation upon Israel. When Jeremiah proclaims the word of the Lord to Israel, God is telling Israel that something drastic is about to occur, but that this plan is for their welfare and not harm. For their future and for their hope.
For the first time since He created all things, God separated Himself from Israel. After sending the prophets to condemn Israel’s sinful nature and prophesying of the hope to come, God was silent for 400 years. When you turn the page between the last page of the Old Testament and begin reading the Gospel of Matthew, 400 years have passed in which God was silent. The world was not outside of His sovereign reign, but He did not speak to His people. He was at work preparing something far more grand than any of us could have ever imagined. He was preparing the way for Jesus. The hope and future that God is speaking of in Jeremiah 29:11 is the Messiah. The one who would make a way where there was no other way. The one to bring both a hope for and a future in life! God’s greatest blessing was in response to a need and was given with an encouragement for those receiving that blessing to prepare themselves for what was to come.
God is at work, friends! For every follower of Christ, we know and can trust that God’s blessings are good things that have the purpose of both meeting our needs and to prepare us for what is to come. These trials and tribulations can be the heaviest, most difficult things we’ve ever faced, but they all pale when compared to the eternal weight of glory that is to come. These trials and tribulations can bring about some of our greatest suffering. Still, in the presence of such difficult realities, God is at work to bring about something greater!
When I would stay at someone else’s home as a child, I was never in harms way. I was never in danger. Everything was pretty normal as things go, and yet I was not comfortable. I wasn’t in my bed that I knew so well surrounded by the walls of my home that were so familiar. I was outside of the known and that in and of itself was terrifying. I, eventually, got to the point where I would stay over all night, but I often times did not sleep at all. I would get lay on the sofa or wherever I was placed and would lay there throughout the night with nothing but my imagination. This was a time before smart phones and ubiquitous internet connections. Even though I would remain at my friend’s house overnight, I was not any more comfortable. Such is the nature of trials and tribulations. They stretch us and draw us out beyond our comfort zones for the purpose of growth and exemplification of the hope that is found within us. We are not handed over to tribulation without purpose. That purpose is always so that we may be made more perfect in Christ (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, James 1:2-4).
We can trust God through our affliction. At times we may feel as though God is against us… I know I have certainly felt this way toward God. In the midst of the greatest suffering and affliction I’ve ever experiences (see Deep Calls to Deep), something in the depths of my soul clung to the truth of God’s goodness and faithfulness. I was on the bring of hopelessness and despair, but all I had was God. There, in my brokenness, God began to restore me in ways I could not have predicted a year ago. This moment, the here and now, where I have seen God bless beyond measure, is speaking to the challenges that are yet to come. I may choose to hope for that which He is going to continue to do in my life to prepare me for the trials yet to come. I may choose to know that He will see me through. As uncomfortable and difficult as they may be. Whatever it cost me is nothing to that which it cost Him to see me sanctified in His death and resurrection.
In Him, I am made new. Day after day, He is my everything. My one desire. I have a home in who God is.
Have you every asked for something from God? It didn’t need to be something super spiritual or serious, but it could have been. Perhaps you asked God to give you more patience. Maybe you’ve asked for more discipline. Shoot, you may have asked God to deliver you from some affliction. But, I must ask you, have you ever asked God for a coconut? Seems silly, right? Why would anyone ask God for a coconut, that seems unnecessary? Perhaps, in asking God for a coconut, He took the opportunity to remind you that He hears you and your requests. What you are about to read is an actual, true event that I witnessed last summer while I was in Southeast Asia.
I woke up early on my second to last day in Southeast Asia to the sound of bustling streets, howling monkeys, and the constant stream of vehicles honking. Even with the window mounted air conditioner cranked as low as I could get it the room was humid and warm. I lay, ceiling fan revved like an airplane prop, waking in the darkness. My bunkmate was still asleep as I stirred. Today was the second to last day of an incredibly productive week in the jungles and mountains. I had witnessed God move in mighty ways, and use my fellow laborers in very specific ways to reach the people. Still, something was different this morning. I set my feet off the side of the bed as I rubbed my eyes in the stuffy room. As my mental prowess matched my awakening state, I realized that it was too early for breakfast. I had a couple of options: stay in bed or step out into the courtyard of our hostel. Slipping my sandals on, I walked down to the steamy morning sun.
As I came outside, my friend Hayley sat on the end of a concrete bench having some personal time with the Lord. I quietly waved as I stepped into the courtyard, as my presence was noticed. I apparently arrived at the end of her study, as she invited me over. Part of my role on this trip was to document the work that was taking place, which meant that I was hopping between teams throughout the week between job sites. Thus far I had not been sent out to her team’s location, so I struck up conversation by asking her how she had been doing and what she had encounter during her time. At some point in our conversation, we turned to the topic of, I think, unexpected things that had made an impression upon us during our time in the field.
On my first day, we arrived in a tiny village that welcomed us warmly. I was taken aback by the people’s hospitality as the local villagers climbed up a palm tree to cut down some coconuts for us to enjoy. The team that I was with were seated on plastic chairs before the community in the afternoon sun. Monkeys hopping from colorful home to colorful home. I’ve travelled to many places across the globe. I’ve slept in the desserts of the Middle East, backpacked across Ireland, been the typical tourist in London, and more. I’ve been to places where I’ve been a tourist, places where I would been considered poor by comparison, and to places like Southeast Asia where whole families live in poverty. One of the most impactful things that I think we can learn from our neighbors is hospitality.
In sharing this rather small and inconsequential part of an otherwise huge, God-led week, my friend shared that she had not yet experienced this form of hospitality. She had been shown hospitality in other ways, but she longed to drink from a coconut. She chuckled as she confessed that she had prayed the night prior for God to provide a coconut for her enjoyment. — It’s important for you to understand the arrangement of things for what is about to happen next. I sat across from Hayley on a concrete bench, my back to one wing of the hostel. Hayley sat with her back to a small garden that was lined with palm trees. — As she laughs at how silly it appears to be asking God to provide her with a… THUMP!
I know what you’re most likely thinking right now. I’m making this up. There’s no way this actually happened. This is all plot convenience for the sake of this blog post. Well, I can tell you that it’s certainly one of those things that just seem to happen while on mission trips. Yes, a coconut had fallen from one of the palm trees in our hostel’s courtyard. Yes. God provided a coconut. I wish I could describe the complex sequence of micro-expressions that occurred as Hayley realized what just happened. She smiled as she asked me, “was that a coconut?” She turned to see a fresh coconut lying in the grass behind her. God had provided! Shortly thereafter, as we and the rest of our crew gathered for breakfast, we ate fresh coconut that had been given to us.
You may think that what you’re asking for from God is silly or unrealistic. Whatever it may be. Whatever you’ve been asking for. He hears you! He knows your request. Your petition does not fall on deaf ears. He knows the depths of your soul. Those desires that you express only in the most private of companies. Those secret wants that you only divulge to your closest of friends. All of it, He knows! There is nothing that is hidden from Him, and He answers those requests according to His purpose. Sometimes, we have these seemingly silly requests, but God is willing to answer them so that we may be reminded that He is listening. He cares about you, even in the simplest of ways.
This very true story is a great encouragement to you and I as we navigate life. Yet, this story also reveals another truth of reality. Sometimes God’s kindest answer to our requests is no. I know, that’s not what you may want to hear, but the truth is that sometimes our requests are outside God’s will for our lives. This past weekend, I took part in the Heart of Dating conference, and one of the sessions centered upon this very truth. Sometimes, God is going to deny us what we want. We may be denied that certain job, that specific opportunity. We may long for the companionship of marriage, and be denied. None of us truly know what life has in store for us, but God knows where He is leading. Coming to terms and swallowing this truth is not pleasant nor easy, but God’s denial does not diminish our value or purpose according to His will.
God may deny us of the desires of our lives, but He knows and hears them the same. Sometimes our desires are not met because we never invite God into the process. We do not go to Him and ask for them. When is the last time you asked God for that one specific, deeply longed for desire? Some of you may be screaming at me because you’ve asked repeatedly day after day for that thing, and God has not answered you yet. Some of you may realize that you’ve held that desire at the center of your being, but have never relinquished your desire to God. My encouragement to you, no matter where you fall on the matter, is to remember that God knows. He knows you. He knows what you long for. He knows your pain. The longing. He knows and He is going to provide for you in such a way that it serves you and His kingdom best. We may not always recognize that by denying us what we ask for, God is giving us a greater blessing.
Equally, we ought to be turning to God with our requests. Big or small. Whether you’re asking for marriage or a coconut, ask it of Him. Surrender the desire to God, and trust that He has His best for you even if it means that your desire is answered with a loving ‘no.’ God is working, friends. He is not unaware of you, your wants, your struggles, your strengths, or where He is leading you. Take courage in your identity in His son, the purpose He’s bestowed upon you, and to where He is leading you. No matter where you are in this moment, God is near. He is moving. Working. He is in control. He will not forsake you.
Last October, I wrote an article upon the nature of grief after unexpectedly losing a beloved friend two months prior. Everything in my life was shaken and trembled as a result of many difficult challenges, trials, and circumstances that afflicted me throughout last year. I continue to find difficulty in labelling 2019 as a terrible, dreadful year, because there were so many incredible things that took place throughout the year, but those wonderful things are marred by the realities of the tragedies, struggles, and tribulations that were ever present. My life came to a halt in August, and the subsequent months continued to see my life tossed about by the storm of grief and despair. Life as I knew it continued on, but I was still nursing a wound that cleaved my heart in two. I hobbled forward with a limp through life toward new challenges that would bring new tribulations and deeper hurting. My life has never been the same, but, as I sit writing, something is different. Different about my life, different about my perspective, different about myself.
When I got up this morning, my heart was heavy (and remains heavy even now). A deep groaning that cannot be put to words bellowed from the depths of me. A yearning to go back to when things were different. A longing to draw near to that beloved friend. Grief had come to visit me today. I am not surprised by the timing as the days creep closer to that one year mark. This most unwelcome, unrelenting guest has become an occasional traveling partner. A year ago, I cried out to God from the depths of pain and suffering. Uttering my grievances, shaking my fist at God, and making my anger known to Him from the depths of my affliction. A pain that is incomprehensible. The brokenness and frailty of my human nature on full display as I wanted to hurt God as He had hurt me…
The ugliness of death permeates beyond the physical world. Death – grief – sin, tear at the very fabric of God’s design. We were not designed to die. We were not created with the capacity to understand grief. Sin’s corruption opened the door for our suffering, affliction, and our despair. The way our bodies and mind react to death are completely unnatural. When we are being subjected to the waves of emotions brought upon us by grief, we have difficulty explaining them to others who ask of us, “how are you doing” or “are you okay?” The words are never sufficient to describe the breadth and weight of grief. Even with the most refinement, I could not ever truly describe the excuriating pain that I was experiencing. Grief is one of those things you never fully understand until it comes to visit you…
The physical pain of grief has largely subsided, though this morning I could not hold back the tears that burned as they flowed as fire from my eyes.. I have found that it’s the quietest, stillest moments of my life that my mind settles upon my beloved friend. A longing for this person who is missing from my life. A fleeting desire, from the depths of my soul, for things to have been different. The thoughts come unexpectedly, without warning, and it has become bittersweet. I have a more difficult time with ‘happily ever after’ at the end of movies, books, and music now than I did a year ago. The realities of the Christian life tells us that ‘happily ever after’ is not found exclusively here on Earth, but in the presence with our Creator. My heart twists, somewhat selfishly, because I would much rather have my beloved friend here with me today… Yet, my heart and soul rejoice because I know that they are in the presence of God! My friend is made whole again, set free from the suffering of sin’s corruption! Those memories and thoughts bring about wonderful, joyous sentimentality of this wonderful person, and they bring a tinge of sorrow for their absence from this earth.
“Grief is like a bomber circling round and dropping its bombs each time the circle brings it overhead; physical pain is like the steady barrage on a trench in World War One, hours of it with no let-up for a moment. Thought is never static; pain often is.”
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Although we were not designed to experience grief, I am a better man as a result. I am a better man because God deemed it necessary to bring my beloved friend into my life. I am better because God began to draw our hearts together. I am a better person because God has walked by my side every step of this long, agonizing path. Something within me is different, vastly different, and I can feel it. I am not the man I was, nor am I fully who God has intended me to be — yet. I recognize that that was a strange sentence to read, but by virtue, the fact that I am writing this now is evidence that God still has plans for me and my life. The transformative, sanctification process is not yet complete in my life. He continues to draw me toward greater repentance and Christlikeness.
Navigating grief is hardly an easy task. Grief is a violent storm. A raging war. Grief shakes at the foundations of our faith to reveal where we’ve placed our hope. The longer I’ve walked through this process, I have become more aware of how helplessly vulnerable my heart is to the afflictions of this life. However, in the same way, my heart is vulnerable to the work God is seeking to do in my life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a cynic. Everybody and everything is motivated by their own self-interest. Selfishness. This perspective toward life is highly pessimistic (and problematic). My outlook on life was rigidly negative because, by its nature, cynicism looks for the worst in people. The cynic expects people act on their own self-interest, and cynics are rarely caught of guard because of it. The trap of the cynic’s worldview is in their hardness of heart. A snare that sniffles and suffocates the heart from seeing things from God’s perspective of grace and mercy. Grief would be my undoing.
I have been on a path of unlearning since high school. My self-preservation, coping mechanisms, of cynicism, sarcasm, and skepticism were deeply rooted in the facets of my life as I began down the path toward sanctification. I am a deeply flawed man. I fail (frequently). My hard heart has been one of my greatest hinderances in growing toward Christlikeness… A friend asked me some months back in the (what as at that time) height of coronavirus quarantine what I thought God was trying to teach me through my experience with loss and grief. I’ve honestly given up trying to come up with some rational answer to that question because every conclusion I come to is contrary to the character of God. If God took my friend away to teach me a lesson, then their life was more about me than it was His and that can’t be right. If God took them away because I was not holy or righteous enough, then God’s is cruel which is not true in the slightest. Still my friend’s question has lingered with me as I’ve mulled over my life with introspection. Instead of rationalizing this time of my life, I’ve instead searched the scriptures. Seeking to understand the nature of grief, of death, of God, and of grace. How can I learn from this time, and help those who are experiencing grief? What can we learn about God through our grieving? Scripture speaks directly to our frail, broken hearts. God whispers into our sufferings, and bellows into our lives with hopeful expectation.
I am nowhere near the end of the grieving process (though admittedly, I do not believe that it ever truly has an end on this side of Heaven). The process has changed, and I can see God’s hand at work in my life through this process. I have become more compassionate toward things that I was once cynical about. My outlook on life and on others has begun to swing toward something more optimistic. My hard heart is softening as God stirs in my inequity and works through my brokenness. God is good! He is awesome, powerful, and mighty! He is good, gracious, and merciful! I dearly love my beloved friend. From that very first encounter with them, something was different. As I spent time with them, the more I was drawn to them, and from the very depths of my soul all I wanted was to see God’s best for their life. True love. Not infatuation marketed as ‘true love’ by Hollywood, but the genuine expression of love. God is at the center of the very essence of what we know as love. He is, after all, the one from which we begin to understand love. Thus, as I’ve come to realize through this undoing, I cannot love anyone truly if I am hard of heart. My cynical view toward life has been contrary to the very essence of God’s grace and mercy.
God speaks, even in our suffering. Our afflictions are not purposeless. God may teach us through these difficult and often painful experiences, but that does not inherently mean that God allowed them solely for that purpose. That purpose is beyond our ability to comprehend. However, I rest knowing that there is a ‘happily ever after’ for those who lay their faith in Jesus. There is hope! We, as believers, may hope expectantly for that happily ever after because God is at work! We may share that hope with others by striving to love those around us genuinely. Free of our self-interest and gain. Our hope is for the work God is doing, even now, in the midst of difficult seasons. We hope to see God’s best fulfilled in the lives of others. Even from our suffering, we may hope! Hope for deliverance. Hope for new perspective. For God’s transformative work to be done in our lives. Hope for our lives to be leveraged in such a way that we may serve others as examples of true love!
Y’all, I’m beyond exhausted. The coronavirus has sent my already turbulent life into chaos. The country shut down and I continued to work. States began reopening, and now they’re shutting down once again. Everything that was level is now suddenly upside-down again. How do you aim at a target when the ground is shaking, the target ever moving, and your feet are increasingly unsteady beneath you? Life as I knew it changed forever a year ago, and now COVID-19 is the icing on the cake. My social life has been suffocated by, well, distance. Day to day workload has increased, changed, morphed, grown, and multiplied by the unending pandemic. Relaxation has been limited to what I can do at home, behind a screen, and through the internet. I do not feel as though I am living, but fighting a current that pulls me farther and farther away from the shore. As an essential employee, the effects of coronavirus were being felt by it was different. My daily schedule changed a little bit, but it was still relatively normal. Now, I’m busier than ever and I yearn for a break.
I’m feeling discouraged in this moment. It’s very easy for me to latch onto everything that’s going wrong or not going how I would like it to be and to complain. There is a place to grieve that which we are not having currently… I don’t know how to describe what it feels like, but there’s something different that is stirring within me. I sense that some of what I’m feeling stems from the lessons I’ve learned walking through grief over the past 10 months. There’s a softened stance toward things that seems to be working against me. Since or just before the pandemic swept over America, I’ve: been promoted at work to an incredible position full of possibilities, found a beautiful home to rent, moved in with two Godly friends, and have continued to have a job throughout this whole ugly pandemic. God has provided for me throughout this season. I cannot deny that. Yet, even with these awesome things, I am weary. I am tired. I am spread thin.
I very actively try to use my platform(s) as accurate representations of reality. I do not try to portray my life as being something that it’s not on social media. I try to be very transparent through this website. I try to learn and share from my experiences. Yet, with that being said, there are things that are going on that have etched away at me. Burdens that weigh heavily upon me. Trials that have been excruciatingly unpleasant. How does one handle these things when you’ve been trapped by COVID-19? I’ve certainly felt trapped. Trapped by grief creeping in as anniversaries approach. Trapped in my helplessness from things that are beyond my ability. Trapped in the missed deadlines of an unrelenting education. My life is madness. Chaos.
Still, even as I feel and write this, I hope… I hope for many things. I hope for rest. For companionship. For finished goals. For relief from my afflictions. Above all, I hope that the Lord would shine His face upon His people. To remind myself and us that He has a reason for allowing this madness. I wish I could say I knew what that purpose was on an individualistic perspective, but I know at the end it is to make us more Christ-like. I wish I knew what the purpose and reason is for most of everything that’s occurred over the last twelve months. Alas, it is not for my to know on this side of heaven. Yet, still, this pandemic has increased my appreciation for the people God has placed in my life.
We’ve been all over the place. Distanced. Hanging out via Zoom. Moving forward in life. Celebrating anniversaries. Yet, we’ve grown closer together. I look forward to the day that we can do things normally once again. Where game night is not limited to our separate homes but packed around the kitchen table. I miss the laughter, the hugs, the simplicity of just being in the same room as people. With the way Texas is presently, it appears as though it will be some more time before that’s going to be possible. Still, God’s placed these wonderful people in my life, I am grateful.
Honestly, life has been hard. A mixed bag. I’m up and down. Tossed left and right. Optimistic and skeptical. Praising God and questioning what’s coming next. I am not doubled minded, but torn between the world I inhabit and the one I was designed for. The brokenness of sin being put on full display through this pandemic. As I learn more through the wisdom that comes with life experience, I realize more my need for God’s provision. I cannot do it with Him. He is the reason I get up each morning. The source of my hope. The one who’s given me a purpose to love others deeply, fully, and unconditionally. It’s not about me or what I bring to the table, but how I can love other how God has loved me. I don’t have a teachable lesson or deep meaningful insights to the Christian life, but just where I am currently. The good, bad, and ugly. Life’s not perfect, but there’s a reason to hope in God through it all!
Yesterday, I got out of the house for a little while. I packed my bag and drove over to my favorite local coffee shop and ordered a chai tea before driving some ways away to sit in the shade of a tree on a bench with my Bible and journal in hand. I had no real purpose in being there and really had nothing to say to God before I feverishly began laying things out in my journal. Social distancing, quarantine, and isolation have only amplified the waves of my emotional ocean and the words began pouring out. “I feel adrift,” I wrote. “Aimless. Stuck in a cycle of repetition. Lost in the failings of my broken mind. Trapped by the circumstances You’ve allowed. What are You doing? What have You done? What purpose do these afflictions serve?” The novelty of COVID-19 is wearing off and prolonged emotional distress is beginning to manifest for many of us.
As some of you know, there’s been ongoing hardships in and around my life. Most of these have been minor stressors, while others have been major rifts in life. The disruption of the coronavirus is only the latest addition to college deadlines, increased productions at work, and the depths of my soul during this season of unrest. Isolation has been the vice in which I’ve been bound. Weighty deadlines pressing down upon me as I try to hold the overflowing plate steady. These factors darkened by the shadow of depression that looms just overhead. What does one do when the walls start closing in and the world begins to fall away? Desperation sets in and despair cries out from the depths of our souls. The mental toll of coronavirus is just beginning to set in for many of us.
I sat there on a bench in the warm spring breeze, and had no purpose in being there. After letting my thoughts flow from my hand, I set my journal down. There is so much that I do not know. When I try and wrap my mind around the things God has allowed in my life, the blessings He’s provided, the joys taken away, the fulfillment of desires withheld. I’m left going, ‘I have no idea what’s going on. Why have You done this? Why me? What’s next?’ I picked up my Bible and thumbed through the pages mindlessly. I had no intention of really getting into the Word, but I held my Bible. The weight of it’s truth hung around my neck. The shifting winds seized the pages of my Bible and opened to Ecclesiastes 3. I glanced down at my hands and was met with the subheading: A Time for Everything.
I very selfishly did not want to get into it. I’m weary. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. Drained by the circumstances around all of us in the moment. Yet, before me, reality became abundantly clear. Everything that you and I experience in life has its place. If thing have their place then they must have order, and if they have order they must also have purpose. Purpose, then, suggests that things have reason and meaning. I do not believe I or any of us truly understand purpose and the subsequent meaning in the moment, but only in reflection upon that which has happened. Still, our sinful nature has limited our understanding, I have given up the attempt to rationalize the event of my life and their relationship to God’s sovereignty. I am given glimpses at the larger plan God has, and must trust that there is more than the pieces that I hold from my vision. I will not never know the full extent while I am on this side of Heaven. As I try to rationalize the afflictions I’ve been given over to, I have found that my answers are unsatisfactory. My conclusions differ from the truth of who I know God to be. Therefore, my understanding of the circumstances at hand must be incomplete. There’s got to be more…
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
Many of us are hurting under the weight of the sudden changes to our daily lives. We miss our friends. We miss what was. We long for the days when life was less complicated and far easier to navigate. I have yearned to be near my closest friends. To hear their sweet voices once again. To see their faces and embrace once more. Yet, today is not yet that time. We shall have to wait a little while longer. However, there is a God who reigns sovereign over creation. I would be remised if I did not tell you that God is in control and that He has not been caught off guard by COVID-19. We may find comfort in Solomon’s recognition of God’s control over creation, as nothing that has happened to you or I has been beyond the knowledge of our precious God. He has allowed this affliction to seize the world, just as He has allowed tremendous blessings to be poured out to all people. He is here and He is working through this time for a greater glory than we may fathom.
The words of Solomon were not words that I was looking for, nor did they sufficiently explain the every why of the events of my life. However, I received an answer that is far more fragrant and potent than anything this world has to offer. There is more and it has a place in both space and time with specific purposes that may not be revealed to me immediately or ever for that matter. This conclusion is not the waving of a wand and the dismissal of the suffering I’ve experienced of my afflictions. Nor is this a sleight of hand technique to distract you from the realities of pain, suffering, grief, or despair. The truth of the matter is that you’re going to hurt. Things will weigh upon your soul. Your heart will be broken. Situation will unravel before you. Circumstances will be beyond your control. You will have breakdowns. You will be squeezed and pressed, but you will not be overcome. God is above all of these things and is actively present with you through them.
You see, I don’t know if you know it, but God has placed a calling upon your life. A calling that is completely unique to you and you alone for the purpose of bringing glory and honor and recognition to God! Levi Lusko put it this way, “There is a calling on your life. A great, big, God-sized calling. God has plans for you and has been dreaming about them since before you were even born. You are destined for impact... As long as there is breath in your lungs, you have a microphone in your hands. There are things God intends for you to accomplish that no one else has been chosen for. Words he wants you to speak. Actions that speak louder than words. And through it all, he wants you to leave a mark, to put a dent in the universe (Through the Eyes of a Lion).” As a follower of Christ, I will tell you that being called also means that you will be pressed.
Life is difficult. There is no way around that reality. Sin’s corruption of God’s design means that things will not be fair. There will be injustice. There will be things that happen in your life that you cannot explain. Your hope, joy, and peace will all be challenged. You will be beaten down, seized by suffering, and faced with a relentlessly broken world. Things will not always be very pleasant and, in fact, life can be very ugly. So where do we begin? The deck seems stacked against us. The task too daunting to fathom. I tell you, you’re not alone in the fight. You have an ally who has tread the realities of life before you, and who will walk with you through them once again. His name is Jesus.
You may feel as though you are alone in your journey through life. That nobody knows what you’re feeling or aware of the battles that are waging around you, but you are not alone! I want you to hear me: you are not alone! The weight of your afflictions are a burden that Jesus has held. The suffering that you are experiencing is the very reason Jesus came to earth, so that He may lift that burden from you. Jesus knows your pain, because He’s faced the same pains that you are experiencing. Jesus was betrayed, rejected, beaten, mocked, cursed at, and murdered. Jesus experienced the most despicable, revolting cruelty that humanity has to offer, and yet, in the midst of it all, Jesus cried out to the Father, “forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).” Jesus was put to death for a crime that He did not commit.
Christ understood the purpose in which He was sent to fulfill. Do you understand the purpose God is calling you to? If you’re like me, there are aspects of your calling that you know without a shadow of a doubt, while there are other areas that remain unclear. Questions may remain, but one thing is certain: God has you placed in this specific time with a specific reason for a particular calling. You are here, not by accident or coincidence, because God is using you to carry forth a mission. You, if you have laid your faith in Christ, are a messenger! Moreover, you understand the burden that comes with this mission. You know the weight Christ endured to bring about reconciliation between God and Mankind. Christ was fully aware from the beginning that the vile, ugly, torturous cross was the reason He came to earth in flesh and bone. Even still, being aware of the death that awaited Him, Christ wholeheartedly pursued the will of God. Death did not frighten Jesus. Rejection did not deter Jesus. Persecution did not dissuade Jesus. Every affliction that Jesus faced only strengthened His reliance upon the Father. Jesus came to die on the cross for you, so that you may be redeemed from the wages of sin. In Jesus, you may come to know God as Lord. Jesus understood the purpose the Father had given Him, and He pursued that purpose with steadfastness.
Just before He was betrayed, Jesus took the disciples to a placed called Gethsemane. He instructed His disciples to wait while He went further ahead to pray. Jesus asked Peter and two sons of Zebedee to accompany Him to where He was to pray. Matthew 26:38 says that Jesus “began to be sorrowful and troubled.” The weight of Christ’s calling pressed upon Him… The weight of reality pressing upon His humanness, Jesus turned to Peter and the sons of Zebedee saying, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” Knowing what was about to occur, Jesus felt the emotional toll of His calling. You and I may be dismissive of Jesus’ emotional disposition as He is fully God, but we ought to take notice that Jesus was also fully Man. If Jesus did not feel every human emotion, He certainly had the capacity to. We may readily affirm that Jesus felt joy, anticipation, expectation, friendship, and beyond. To what extent did Jesus felt like you and me, I couldn’t answer. Yet, my understanding of this stems from Jesus’ own words throughout the Gospels and in how the disciples describe Jesus’ ability to understand our human condition. The author of Hebrews states, “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (4:15-16).“ While Jesus may not have experienced every human emotion as you or I have, He is certainly capable of feeling those very things. In my understanding of Jesus’ character, according to the quoted scripture above, He most certainly sympathizes with us throughout our experiences. He celebrates with us in our victories, and He mourns with us in our grief. He lifts us up through difficulties, and He wipes our tears away in the trenches. While He may not have felt hopeless or despair, He knows the pain and suffering they bring. He felt the physical burden of pain and suffering, and He endured them to see the death of sin defeated. Jesus was pressed, twisted, and wrung through as He pursued the calling the Father had given Him. So too, will you be pressed in following God’s calling upon your life.
Gethsemane, a garden that resided at the base of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, has an important name. In Hebrew Gethsemane (גת שמנים) translates to oil press, which is rather fitting for the topic that we are discussing today. The process of extracting oil from olives is an intensive task. Olives, when harvested, are not soft as we often think of them being, but rather hard. In the first century, olives would be pulverized by a giant stone turning them and their pits into a paste. This paste would then be gathering into baskets and transported to the olive press. Ten to fifteen baskets of olive paste would be put into a vice to be squeezed as oil is collected. Take a look at this video demonstrating the first century technique of extracting olive oil:
As we know from scripture, oil is a precious commodity. It’s worth derived from the process of extracting such small quantities from immeasurable amounts of olives. The process requires not one grueling crushing, but two. As we observe Jesus as He enters the garden with His disciples the immense pressure that enclosed Him in those final hours. He knew exactly what was awaiting Him. The betrayal. The rejection. The torment. The physical pain. The suffering. The ugliest, most vile treatment of fallen man, but He also knew what would come after. The reconciliation of a fallen creation being brought back into relationship with its Creator. Salvation. For this, to see the Father’s will fulfilled, Jesus endured the pressing. He sought out the will of the Father to bring Him through to the end, even as it meant facing death. Jesus paid the debt sin amounted, and He brought forth liberation. Freedom for those who lay their faith in Him, and are born again.
As you follow God in faith, you will find yourself being pressed. That calling that God has bestowed upon you has an incredibly precious value that comes with it. You and you alone have been given your specific calling. Some may have a similar calling with a similar purpose, but only you have the one given to you by God. That calling is going to crush you over and over again… God allows this for one singular purpose above all others: so that our lives may reflect more and more of Christ. We read in Romans 8, “for I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain freedom of glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole of creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience…” Our suffering. Our affliction is not meaningless or vain. They are purposeful for the necessity of God’s people to become more like Christ! To love unconditionally. To extend compassion to the lowly. To know both the goodness of God and the pains beyond words. Our experiences amplify the testimony we carry upon our hearts as we wrap with those who mourn, we rejoice with those who celebrate, as we reflect the sacrifice Christ made upon that ugly cross.
Your calling will crush you, but God has not placed you here alone. No, He’s surrounded you with others who also have unique callings placed upon them. Where one olive may not yield much oil, from many olives oil flows. You and I have been surrounded by others who carry unique callings. Together, God is allowing us to be tested and tried so that our oil may flow. You’re calling, your oil, is not cheap. You are precious to God who seeks His will brought to fruition in your life! If you’re hurting in the season, grieved with the pains of affliction, know that God is not unaware of your circumstances. We may trust that God is working through our sufferings and He sympathizes with us as He’s walked this path before. Jesus, crying out in the garden of Gethsemane, asks of the Father, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Beseech God in your crushing. Lean into Him in your suffering. Seek out His will for your life as you are crushed for your calling. In this, may we echo Jesus’ words to the Father, “if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”
There is a time for everything and in everything there is purpose. No matter where you find yourself today in your walk with Christ, whether you’re on the mountain peaks or the deepest trenches, God is working to see His will fulfilled in your life. Are you willing to answer to that call? Are you willing to endure the crushing to see that calling fulfilled to the glory of God? Within the last month, I’ve written a statement in the front of my Bible to remind me of these various season that says, “for this, I have Him.” For my grief, I have God. For when I praise, I have Him. For my weakness, I have Him. For hope, love, joy, peace, I have God. For my despair, I have God. For my failures, I have God. Whatever the ‘this’ is in your life, my friends, turn to God.
We find ourselves in one of the most unconventional periods of recent history. Schools are closed, grocery store shelves are barren, travel has experienced severe whiplash, and the stock market is tanking. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has dominated headlines as the world has come to a dead standstill. I believe it would be accurate to say that people are concerned, if not outright panicked by this sweeping virus. For those who are not cynically posting COVID-19 related memes on social media, you may have legitimate concerns for how your life is about to unfold. I wish to remind you that this is not the first time in history that we’ve faced unprecedented circumstances. The 2008 housing market crash sent the United States into a recession. The terrorist attacks of September 11th stopped life in America. The Cold War pitted Capitalism and Communism against one another through espionage. The world changed forever when Hitler’s Nazi party brought the nations to the brink of despair. Each of these historic, landmark events presented unprecedented challenges to everyday people. Fears and panic were stoked as uncertainty loomed over the horizon.
I want you to know that concern is a warranted state of mind to have in this moment, but not panic. I want you to know that you ought to be informed about this virus so that you may make wise decisions, but not worried. I want you to know that there is hope for tomorrow, even when the headlines keep lighting up our notifications. If you are a follower of Christ, you have no cause for inflammatory, reactionary alarm. Yes, churches are closing their doors and telling their congregations to worship at home via the internet. Yes, your small groups are postponed for the time being. Yes, it’s not really all that great that you don’t get to see your friend group three times a week as you normally would. This is hardly what anyone wanted. Yet, in this unconventional season we find ourselves in, an opportunity is clearly before you and I to display who Christ is to a world looking for peace.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God…
During this time, you have an opportunity unlike most others. To be a person of peace and stability to your neighbors who may be terrified of what is transpiring. The world, unknowingly, is looking for security where it may find it. For most, that security is in ludicrous amounts of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but even those won’t last forever. When God spoke through the prophets to Israel, their nation had faced ever increasing bondage from its surrounding nations. Under captivity of Assyria, God foretold Israel that something was about to happen. He was at work. Carrying out His sovereign will over His creation. In the moment, Israel did not understand or listen to the prophet’s as they foretold of what God was doing. For 400 years, God remained silent. No new revelation. Nothing but silence. During those 400 years, Israel would be a puppet state to the Greek Empire then later the Roman Empire. Jewish culture continued under their Greek and Roman captivity, but was also shaped and molded by the influence of their parent states. Yet, beyond the scope of Israel’s awareness, God was at work to bring His creation back under His fold.
Right now, God is still at work. The Holy Spirit is moving. COVID-19 has not caught God off guard. He is not surprised but the incredible speed in which it has disrupted our lives. Nor is God hindered by its presence on our Earth. This is not the first time either that the Church has faced pandemics or disasters, nor will it be the last. If you are a follower of Christ, I want you to know that you have a unique opportunity before you to remember who your God is and to tell other of who He is!
for God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7
As we face ever changing circumstances, we have to chose our response! We may respond in faith and trust that God is good and that He will continue to sustain His church. We may hope in the face of despair and dismay. We may hope in the face of danger. We may trust in the midst of persecution. Through it all, we may see how God is at work to bring more and more people to salvation. No greater evidence do we have of God working to bring hope to the hopeless than what He did 400 years after the prophets.
For 400 years, God was quiet. Seemingly separated from His chosen people, God was preparing something incredible. Just as COVID-19 has separated many of us from our closest peers and family, sin separated you and I from God. Our disobedience to God diametrically kept us from being in relationship from God. Take a moment to think about that. If you are like at me in this moment, I long to spend time with my friends once again. Texting, social media, and FaceTime don’t do justice to true gathering and fellowship with one another. The immense longing you have to be ’round your peers is just a measure of the longing God had to be in relationship with you. In order to bring you and I back into relationship with Him, sin had to be atoned for by a sacrifice of infinite magnitude. True love displayed through the grotesqueness of sacrifice. That sacrifice was Jesus Christ.
Jesus was fully God and fully man. 400 years after going silent, God announced to the world that He was working when the angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherd who were working in a field and announced, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people (Luke 2:10 ESV).” Before Christ spoke His first words, God was telling the world to not be afraid! God announced, after centuries of silence, that He is here. He is working. Christ lived a life without sin. He was tempted, as you and I to disobey God, but He did not sin. Jesus attested to the work God was doing and the purpose for His presence on Earth with us. As Jesus taught of God’s purpose, the people did not understand. Even Jesus’ own disciples did not understand His teachings, and He would have to come back and explain what He was teaching to them so that they may understand. Jesus’ testimony of the Father made the religious leaders angry, because Jesus revealed the brokenness of their ways. Therefore, the religious leaders bore false witness against Jesus and had Him arrested for blasphemy. When the high priest asked Jesus if He was the Christ, Jesus answered “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:62).” Tearing his robe, the high priest rejected Christ and failed to see God’s sovereign plan in action before them. Their own agenda was their own downfall. The religious leadership stood against God and brought condemnation upon themselves.
Jesus was then taken before Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, to be judged. Pilate asked Jesus the same question as the religious leaders, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus responded simply, “You have said so.” Pilate made a decision to give the people of Jerusalem the choice, Jesus or a known murderer. Even Pilate suspected that the religious leaders had subjected Jesus to him out of envy, and yet Pilate sought to satisfy the Jewish people. The religious leaders stirred up the crowd to choose the murderer of Jesus and have Him crucified. Jesus was whipped, beaten, and nailed to a crude cross. Mocking Him, he had a crown of thrones shoved onto His head. I wish I could describe to you the brutality and utter grotesqueness of the cruxifixction. Israel had forsaken Jesus and chose to put Him on the cross to die. Yet, as He suffocated upon the cross, Jesus prayed to God, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).” In their condemnation of Jesus, Israel forsake the one who came to save them. Jesus died upon the cross as a sacrifice to bring Israel and the rest of creation back into reconciliation with God!
As Jesus died upon the cross, one of the centurion who watched over Him observed, “surely this man was the Son of God (Mark 15:39).” Just as the first tellings of Christ’s arrival on earth, so too is the first observation of who Christ is came at the moment God’s purposeful work was unfolding. Three days after Jesus died, He rose from the grave. Having been placed in a tomb, sealed with a heavy stone, and watched under guard of Roman soldiers, Christ had been resurrected. He folded the ceremonial cloth that had been wrapped over His body. The stone was rolled away, and the Son of God was alive. Those who came to mourn Jesus, noticed the stone had been rolled away and entered the tomb. The angel of the Lord met them as they entered the tomb and said, “don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here (Mark 16:6)…” Death could not hold Jesus. He who was without sin, defeated death. Jesus is the living sacrifice that made a way for you and I to be reunited with God!
Jesus brought hope to the hopeless. He loved those who did not deserve love. He revealed the purposeful work of God. During those 400 years of silence, God was not passive. He was actively working to prepare the way for Jesus to come and fulfill God’s sovereign will. God is in control and is working despite the brokenness of the world. Despite evil’s best efforts, God has won. Sin and death has been defeated by Christ’s sacrifice upon that ugly cross. My friends, if you have placed your faith in Christ, remember who God is during this season of fear and uncertainty. Remember that you are a vessel for the good news that we were told about! Do not be afraid of what may come, for God is reigning over all of creation. May we, the Church, take the testimony of Jesus’ life and sacrifice to the world that is desperately needing peace. At this moment, we have an opportunity to make God’s love, grace, and mercy known throughout our communities. How we respond COVID-19 is a direct reflection of our walks with Christ. May our faith be a spark that brings repentance to brokenness. May God spur us on to be even more bold messengers and witnesses of His majesty!
May we respond to times of crisis with steadfast faith. May our hope shine into the darkness. There is hope in tomorrow, for Jesus is our hope and stay!
Hello friends, it’s so good to see you again! I’ve had many topics in which I’ve thought about writing about, and every time I sit down to write this annoyingly small creature perches upon my shoulder called writer’s block. Like every other block in my life it’s… um… frustrating! I’m not exactly sure what I have to say or how coherent or structured this piece is going to be, but I just want to share what’s been going on and be transparent about things. I ask that you take what you read with a grain of salt, because what I share is not necessarily the reality of things… rather what I am feeling.
If you do not know me, there’s a couple of things you should know about me that may help you have insight into what follows from here. I am a deeply internal processor. I feel things deeply. My emotions are felt strongly. I relate to the world based on how I feel. At the same time, I am a very literal and cerebral thinker. I process everything through the lens of what makes most logical sense. What is most effective or efficient. Thus, I have this (admittedly troublesome) ability to over-think things. In seeking efficiency, I tend to make things WAY more complicated than they need to be. I am, undoubtedly, my own worst enemy.
Moreover, I am also my biggest critic. The hubris of humility (at least as I analyze myself) is that I am completely unremarkable. I’m not the best writer, my photography is okay, I can come off too strong. Again, take what you read with a grain of salt… what I feel is not what is true. Perception is not always reality, especially when I know that my thoughts often betray me. At times, I feel relegated to my eleven foot by ten foot corner of the universe as though it’s a storage unit for me to reside in until a task requires my technical abilities rather than my presence actually being wanted. As if I’m known for what I do and less for who I am. I feel as though people depend on me to be strong, even though I feel as though I’m crumbling to pieces…
I have a hard time admitting these things to others. I have difficulty finding the right words, in the moment, to describe where I am at. It frustrates me to no end, because I know (although do not always recognize) that none of these things are inherently true in their nature. So why am I so insecure? What is it that these ideas seemingly reoccur time and time again when things are going so well? I have been and continue to be so undeserving of the blessings God has bestowed upon me in this life, and yet every blessing seems to be met with an ever increasing attack from the enemy. I do not always fall to the attacks of the enemy, but it has lingering heaviness upon my soul in the process nonetheless.
A couple months ago, I wrote about how difficult it is for me to pray for my own needs while incredibly easy to pray for others. I’m still working on that because I’m stubborn… but something that I’ve had to face recently goes back to the paraphrase of James 4:2-3. You have not, because you ask not. Apart from my pleading to God to take up the weight of my grief, I cannot remember the last time I told God what I wanted. Not as some petulant, obstinate, selfish child, but shared with God the deepest, intimate, sincerest desire of my heart. Who better to share with great confidence than God the desires of our hearts and souls?
Last year, when I was in Southeast Asia I was sitting outside of our hotel with a friend of mine. We had been talking for a little bit about our time over there, and how hospitable the people had been to us. One of the things that I got to experience was drinking coconut water straight from the coconut, but she had not. She confided to me, that she had prayed for a coconut as silly as that may be. I kid you not, the moment that she shared her prayer with me, we heard a dull thunk on the ground a few meter away. A coconut had fallen out a tree. You guys should have seen her smile as her request had been heard and met. As simple as it may seem, God is faithful to provide. He hears our requests and encourages our souls by His simple reminders.
Each of those things that I’ve described above appear when certain topics or desires begin pressing upon my heart. I probably would not describe myself as insecure, but as I lay all of these things out there… perhaps there are some deeply rooted insecurities that I need to address in my life. Self-doubt. Self-deprecation. There is always a hint of the truth behind humor, especially when it comes at our own expense. Ye
Normally, I try to have some teachable lesson from my experiences that may help others. Yet, in this instance, I believe (somewhat ironically) that greater self-reflection is necessary in order to really lay down these things at the feet of Jesus. Even more so, letting my closest peers in to help me work through some of these things. Learning to just speak plainly about the insecurity, doubt, and fears of my life. Beyond that, I do not know how to end this post apart from leaving it open-ended. A topic to revisit at some later date for writing and discussion.
Have you experienced that moment when your heart is suddenly rend as you have a realization that you’re not okay? Staring into the vivid reflection of your life after it has snapped into focus before you. The numb aching of acceptance is set upon you by the yoke of the Holy Spirit as it brings conviction. As the warm evening lights of passing cars and street lights streaked over my vehicle, I became aware of an ever-present reality of my life. I am incredibly selfish in one particular area of my life. An intrinsic reservation that I have continued to harbor for quite sometime. Prayer.
One tool that has been quite, admittedly anecdotally, useful in illuminating how I view and relate to the world has been the enneagram. This word brings great excitement to some and intense trepidation to others within Christian circles. To some, the enneagram is a beneficial tool in exploring their personalities and how God has uniquely gifted them. For others, the enneagram is something to be avoided at all cost as it touts Christian origins but lacks sufficient evidence to be considered inspired by God. To dispel much of these concerns, I will tell you that the enneagram is not biblical in its origins or in its claims. Merely a tool, like other personality assessments, the enneagram may be beneficial to others as they begin the process of self-reflection. Along with the proper application of scripture, one may find deeper answers of their own self, which is where I find myself tonight.
If you know, you know. I score as a two on the enneagram, which is known as the supportive advisor (though I also strongly relate to sixes). Twos “are people who see the world through relationships and define themselves through their service to others. They may be selfless, loving, and giving; or dependent, prideful, and manipulative (learn more at Your Enneagram Coach).” I find it very easy to love people deeply, to serve freely. I do not think twice about giving my time to others if it means that I can help them or be, well, supportive. Honestly, I have very little consideration to give before springing into action… but where I fail most, is taking care of my own needs. Ouch… At times, I feel completely blind to what I need most or feel as though other’s should just know what I need at any given time. It’s almost like I am an enigma to myself in coming to terms with seeking help from others. I do not want to be a burden or an inconvenience to others, even though I really need help or care or love.
As I was driving home tonight, the warm glow of headlights and streetlights streaking over the windshield, I felt my heart twist. Among my usual moments of reflection, one thought came to the surface. Why is it so easy for you to go to God with someone else’s needs, and yet so difficult for you to approach God with your own? You are so selfish because you refuse to spend time with God regarding your own wellbeing. Why can’t I seem to go before God with my concerns? My fears? Doubts? Desires? Like a child clutching a precious item in their hand, stomping their feet, refusing to share before their own parent, I have refused to go before God to hand over these things. I will, without question, suit up and wage war for my loved one’s needs in prayer, but hoard my own needs from God. How does that make any sense at all?
If God is who I believe Him to be, a loving caring father who has my best interests at the center of His heart, then why do I have such a hard time coming to Him? When I need help, I sit in silence. When I need love, I stay silent. When I need forgiveness, I stay silent. When I feel completely alone in this world, why do I not go to Him for comfort? When I feel Him tugging at my heart, why do I shun His advances? When I need direction, why do I choose to run in circles instead of going to Him? My selfish heart. My incessantly selfish heart. I’ll go to Him with everyone else’s needs, but not my own. He’s worthy of meeting everyone else’s needs, but He’s not worthy of my own! The problem is me. Myself. I. I am broken, faulty, and sinful…
The truth is that God is worthy of my prayer. He is worthy to hear my needs, and He is willing to meet them. He is working my life together for a greater glory that can only be found in Him. The issue lies within me. I do not lack understanding, nor do I lack discipline, but I lack faith. If I’m being honest, I lack faith… Truthfully, my faith has been radically shaken throughout this last year. This is not a bad thing. My foundation is firm and my life has been built upon that foundation, and yet remain things which need to fade away. Faulty facades that need to be replaced with structurally sound reinforcements. I need to learn to not be selfish with my prayers to God.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him…
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
1 John 5:13-15, 20-21
I know that God is good, for He has made Himself known to me time and time and time again throughout my life. He has cared for me, provided for me, and gone above and beyond for me. Even as a petulant little child who holds his needs so tightly clutched within my grasp of selfishness, God still cares for me and beckons me to share with Him those very things that I need to let go of. So that I may know…
that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
A common thread throughout scripture regarding prayer is the notion that it is so that we may know who God is. He is faithful to hear us and is faithful to respond to our petitions. Our requests (literally what the word prayer means) do not fall on deaf ears, but are heard and listened to. We may know because our prayers are responded to. Our natural posture, as believers of Christ, is to be bowed before our high priest who is faithful to make Himself known to us. In order to become more gracious and loving to myself (which is something I need to learn how to do), I must be willing to take my needs and concerns, my wants and desires before the Lord so that He may hear them and so that I may know Him more fully.
We all need to be reminded from time to time who God is. Even the most seasoned, knowledgable, and wise among us need to be reminded of the goodness of God. Conviction does not come to bring condemnation by guilt, but to make us aware of the very areas of life in which we need to become more disciplined in. While not always pleasant or enjoyable for us in the moment, what joy may be found when we realize that we already have a savior who knows and sympathizes with our weakness! He beckons us to draw near to Him with confidence and genuine desire to be with Him. Admittedly I am a hopeless romantic, and what is more romantic than the fact that God has a desire for us? His creation, that has been separated from Him by our own sinfulness, is being pursued for reconciliation. Our broken relationship with Him is being mended by the purifying blood that was poured out as a sacrifice by Jesus. God has done all of this, so that we may know.
Once upon a time, as most stories begin, harkens back to times of old when life was simpler and times were better. Nostalgia has long since influenced these sepia tinted reflections of life by fading away the realities of those times. Our memories, being slightly faulty, have been affected by time. We do not remember every bad day. We forget each misgiving. Our displeasures fade away int0 the recesses of our memory. By design, our minds lessen the emphasis of these memories and reinforces our recollections of our preferred days. We may long for yesteryear and the preferential memories of when life was better, easier, or lighter. We can long for the days of yore, but, truthfully, life is not inherently like the movies.
Two Thousand Nineteen has not been my year. I’ve been thrown into the wringer. Tossed to the wolves; left to be devoured. Marked at every turn by ever increasing adversity that continues to be overwhelming. I find it difficult to not be discouraged by my circumstances and have, as of late, found it ever more difficult to trust God’s goodness and grace even though I can see how He is being faithful to me. At more than one occasion, I have found myself wishing to go back to times in life when things were simpler. When the world was not as cold and dismal. However, if I am going to be transparent, the majority of my adult life has been constantly filled with adversity. I have not had it easy. God has absolutely blessed me, but every blessing has seemingly been met with curse. Finding stability remains ever elusive. Just when life stills long enough for me to catch my breath, another wave of unexpected chaos comes crashing over me. This year, more than any previous year, has tested my faith. I’ve been shaken and given over to turmoil.
I did not know how easily tear could suddenly flow from my eyes. I did not know what true heartbreak felt like. I did not know how great the disconnect between my mind and my heart could be. All of these experiences I’ve had the displeasure of gaining this year, I wish I could give back to God. Grief has continued to linger with me this year. My constant companion that rears its ugly face at the most impractical and unpredictable of times. I, at all times, am aware of that which is missing as if part of me is missing. The greatest grievance being that I know God is good and that these afflictions that have been heaped upon me are for my benefit, intended to make me more Christ-like, but in my heart it feels as though God is picking on me. That I’ve been singled out for despair… misery. The great disconnect.
I do not wish to portray my life as one of only suffering, because God has continued to bestow blessings and grace upon me. He continues to speak through other people, even though He remains largely silent to me. Thus, I know that there is goodness yet to come. In my darkest hours, I know that Christ is returning. As much as I wish that I could give up and disappear into the wilderness, I keep pressing forward in spite of my circumstances. I do not know what toward, and I continue to ask God for answers to questions that remain unanswered…
I wish that this year would have turned out differently. I long for moments that I look back on with great fondness and joy, but also with a longing sorrow now. I am broken. My faith is shaken. I hurt. All the while, I know and trust that God is good and faithful. I just wish that my heart felt it. That is perhaps the beauty of my brokenness, that God is good no matter what I feel at any given time. He is glorified in my brokenness because He is good and He is kind. Grace is given abundantly, especially to the brokenhearted. Grace is given freely to those who will receive it. Tomorrow is a new day, but also a day that remains the same. Typically, I have some cohesive, overarching theme in which I form my writings around, but this time I do not feel as though I have anything cohesive. The scattered musings of my mind. This has been a hard year for me, but it has also been the single greatest year of my life. I loved, I saw God at work among the nations, I forged new roads, I faced new challenges. God is good, in spite of what I feel or experience. The beauty of life is not in what I deem it to be, but in God’s handiwork in me.