The Journey

Glistening stars swirled around the night sky as I lay over the radiating golden sands staring out into the heavens. The air hung in silence, only broken by the warm desert breeze and the occasional snorting of nearby camels. The otherworldly beautify of this rugged place was tranquil and captivating. Far away from the familiar customs of civilization, I was lost amidst the rolling dunes and the brilliant skies above. Laying there, staring out beyond the heavens, I would not have expected to find such immaculate beauty of God’s design among the seemingly mundane and barren. There, among that desolate beauty, I cannot help but reflect upon the path that led me there…


Welcome to the Journey

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”
-Proverbs 16:9 ESV


Several years have come and gone since my time in the deserts of the Middle East, and all the while life continues to be one ever growing adventure. I’ve always been an inquisitive soul and rife for adventure! As a child, I often asked my parents to explain how things functioned. ‘Why’ was always a common question from my tiny self. Not the vindictive or petulant ‘why,’ but the awestruck ‘why’ of a child that was constantly awed by the wonder of nature, technology, and human behavior. While I may be romanticizing the breadth by which my childhood-self could comprehend or articulate such things… that sense of curiosity continued to expand.

“The wilderness must be explored,” exclaimed Russell the (nearly) senior wilderness explorer to the elderly Mr. Fredricksen. Pixar’s UP holds a very dear place in my life, as it captures (as only Pixar can) some of the foundational and emotional connections to my childhood. You see, my family enjoyed traveling together wherever we could in a day. Whether it was to visit family, visit small Texas towns, or to just drive away from home, we were always on an adventure. In the days before smartphones, global positioning devices, and smart cars… if you took a wrong turn or failed to have the most precious of commodities —a paper road map — you were sufficiently lost. Not in my family however! If you took a wrong turn or found yourself somewhere other than where you intended to be… You were on an adventure! An opportunity to see something unexpected. Experiencing something you didn’t know you were not hoping for. Discovering a hidden beauty that would have gone unnoticed had some causation brought you to its doorstep. Thus, as Texas found itself frozen over, I found myself reflecting — Where I am. How I got here. How absolutely everything in my life defies every expectation that I had — and was struck with a revelation. Is this not the Christian life?

I don’t know about you, but I never anticipated being here I am in life. I never anticipated the struggles, the heartbreak, the pain, the suffering. I also would have never anticipated the immense joys, the forged friendships, the beauties of God’s handiwork in my life. At times, I felt lost. Aimless. Purposeless. I felt crushed. Broken. Helpless. I was never lost… I was merely on an adventure. On the map that is my life I may have felt lost in a sea of people, things, places, and circumstances, but I was never beyond God’s sight! I was exactly where He intended me to be. Did He allow me to experience suffering that I was unprepared to handle? Absolutely. Did He leave me alone to suffer through it on my own? Absolutely not, He was with me. Sharing in my anguish all while ushering me forth to something more beautiful than I could have ever anticipated.

Proverbs tells us that we plan our own way according to our own desires, but it God who guides our steps (emphasis mine). If I were completely left to my own devices, I could not tell you where I would likely be today… If every passion of my heart were left to burn in its fleeting way, I’d very likely be chasing every whim and fruitless endeavor. I very likely would not be satisfied by whatever it is that I would be doing. Thus revealing the shortcomings of our own ambitions: they’re shortsighted. Perhaps I’m the only one who has experienced this (though this notion that I am the only one who has observed this suggests that others, too, have experienced similar observations), but when we make plans for ourselves those plans very seldom account for setbacks, failures, and the unexpected. Our plans are straight paths. Our plans are the ideal. The cause of this disparity between what we expect and what is more feasible stems from the fleeting nature of our hearts. We plan, but only for what we expect to happen (or more accurately, what we want to happen). This way of thinking leads to disappointment, frustration, and stagnation. What’s the point of trying when every (selfish) endeavor we commit ourselves to results in disappointment? We plan, but God guides.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)

On their own, our hearts are shortsighted. We miss the very real dangers that threaten our precious idyllic plans. Our shortsightedness, however, is not lost on God. How many times did Israel, having witnessed firsthand the power and majesty of God, reject God’s instructions because they were so shortsighted? How many times have we? Countlessly. Yet, despite our shortcomings, God is still at work — even in the midst of a global pandemic. He is still at work in your life, even if you can’t see where at the moment. Time and time again throughout scripture, God tells us that He is working in the areas that we cannot see. Speaking through the prophets, God told Israel that they are about to experience something painful, but that there is purpose in this pain. He tells them, “I know the plans that I have for you… to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11, emphasis mine).” In the days leading to His arrest and death, Jesus told His disciples, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will (John 13:7 ESV).” In these moments, God’s words speak to the journey that we find ourselves on. Our plans in the midst of His bigger, better plan. He encourages us in the moment — the here and now — that while we may not understand in the moment He is working all things out.

God is guiding you to where He has called you! You are not alone on this path He has set you upon! The question that lingers then… are you aligning your heart to where God is leading? Do your plans match His plans? Oooph! Ultimately, God has complete sovereign control of all things, but He has given you agency. He has allowed you to make decisions for yourself. You can choose anything that you want, but He still calls you to align your life to His will. This reality presents a very serious implication: you can choose to live in the calling God has bestowed upon you or you can deny the calling. We plan. He guides. Sometimes that calling that God has given you will lead you to some wildly uncomfortable places. Your calling may be so daunting that you don’t even know where to begin. Time and time again God reminds us that we can trust Him to lead us to the places He has called us. We may not understand, but we will sometime later.

Life is messy, there’s no doubt about that. When you take the wrong turn or have an opportunity fall apart you may, as I have, feel lost among the broken pieces of hopes and dreams. Yet, there is a rugged beauty amidst those broken pieces. A beauty that comes from a wretched, bloodied cross on which a savior came to turn those broken pieces into something grand. A beautiful vessel in which His message is carried. There is an awe and wonder unlike anything else in this universe when somebody’s life is radically transformed by the sacrifice Christ paid for them. Far more beautiful than precious gems is the life of a believer fully surrendered before the almighty God! Our lives begun before we met Christ, but not before Christ met us. My life began at the moment of conception, but my journey started the moment I surrendered my life to God.

You see, it’s not a destination. It’s not the house with white picket fence. It’s not the spouse. It’s not the sports car. The wealth. The 70 inch OLED TV. The summer house. The cabin in the mountains. Life is the adventure of growing deeper in your faith, stewarding the mission Christ bestowed upon you, and caring for those God has placed around you. Make no mistake, there are good, wonderful blessings found as we continue forth with our adventure that is life, but the mission… The goal beyond every other goal, is to steward the message of the Gospel before God’s people. Leaning into God as we navigate life’s troubles. Clinging onto God as we walk through crippling grief. Seeking God’s face in the midst of depression. Crying out praises to God in the face of insurmountable adversity. Bearing testimony to who God is from the depths of being. No one said the journey would be easy, but we know the one who goes before us.

I am not trailblazer, but I know the God who goes before me is an all-consuming fire. There is a certain confidence and trust that comes to you in a moment of affliction when you know that God is with you. In my grief, I had nothing left within me. I wanted to give everything up by my own agency, yet something clung to hope, trust, and love in who God is. Tiny, yet dense, that hope that I know comes only from the Holy Spirit held true to the Father and kept with me through my agony. If you’ve been around a while, you know this about me, but I am an idealist. I like efficiency. I strive for clear, calculated processes. I’ve had to lose that part of myself. Life is not ideal, nor do I want to portray the Christian life in that way because following Christ means facing far more than we know how to handle. Yet, as I’ve said, we are never alone on this adventure. This journey is not ideal, but it is exactly what is necessary to mold us into Christlikeness.

Absolutely nothing that has occurred in my life was apart of my plans. Not. One. Part. Today, as I reflect back upon the path that I’ve worn to this place in life has been marked by God’s sustaining. He has been entirely necessary to shaping my life into what it is today. I can, without a shadow of a doubt, say that I am all the better for His leading in my life! I’ve found friends that have become family. I’ve found a community to call home. I’ve been given a calling for ministry. I’ve learned what it means to love unconditionally. I’ve learned how to be compassionate. To be humble. To have a desire to constantly learn. To strive for excellence in all things. The path to get here has been a journey. One full of twists and turns. Thrills and scares. Hope and despair. Yet, through it all, I’ve come to know my God far better than I ever thought imaginable! Life is an adventure, we’re never truly lost when God is our constant companion. Who knows where He’ll take you?!

All I know is that I will choose to enjoy the journey God has set before me.

Be Still

I know in the end, all of this will have been worth it… Everything in this process will have been worth it, because You are in it… I know that, while I do not understand, I am secure in Your hands. You have got me. The depths of my soul are secure in You… You called me. Equipped me. Changed me. You transformed me for something greater.

It has always been You.

You taught me how to love. How to care. How to serve. How to be patient. How to persevere. You lit the spark that set my life ablaze for Your glory.

It has always been You!

It will always be You, God!

You have always been there. Lifting my head to see the things beyond. Placing a song of praise in my heart in the midst of devastating heartbreak. You are the one that has set my feet upon solid ground when everything else gave way. God, You alone, are the one thing. That one constant thing that has sustained me when nothing else would. You are my saving grace.

You are mighty. You are holy. You are worthy of more praise than I’ll ever be able to express to You. You are God, alone. My savior. My protector. My sustainer. My friend…

You are for me. You are my God. In You, I place my hope and trust.

For You are faithful.

The Created Being

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.

-Terren

Trials and Tribulations

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!

“every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing
a peculiar glory you will get because of that suffering.”

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.

Terren

The Coconut Story

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.

Terren

Fear Not: The Reason for Our Hope

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…

Isaiah 41:10

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!

Thoughts & Reflections

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.

The Heart of Selfishness

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.

Ephesians 1:17-23

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.

James 5:13-16

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.

Hebrews 4:14-16

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.

-Terren

This Beautiful Broken Life

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.

Deep Calls to Deep: What I’ve Learned Through Grief and Despair

No matter where the arms of a clock may land, there is never an ideal time to receive bad news. No amount of sugarcoating makes being told that you’re losing your job, that you’re not going to be able to attend you’re dream college, that you’ve got an illness that has no cure, that your significant other is leaving you, that you have cancer, or that your loved one has passed away any more bearable. Even if you’re braced for it — you’re still blindsided. Shell-shocked. Left with a pit in your stomach, your heart in free fall, and ringing in your ears. Suddenly, the world seems to flip. What was up is now down. Left has become right. You’re tossed around by wave after wave after wave of emotional and spiritual distress. Darkness descends upon you as the storm of grief, an ugly tempest, unexpectedly arrives at your door. Where do you go when the darkness closes in? What do you do when you find yourself sitting among the broken pieces of your heart? What are you to do?

Honestly, I do not know what to write. I have tried time and time again to make something coherent of my restless thoughts. I find that this is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever attempted to write. Honestly, this is more than I am able to process. A burden far beyond my ability to carry. A path that I am not able to navigate. I am at the end of myself. I have nothing left in me. Frankly, I do not know why I am writing this in the first place… For the last two months, grief has been my constant companion. the most bitter of fruits, an unexpected quest who’s outstayed its welcome. This season, utterly unbearable and quite insufferable, has left my heart rend, cleaved in two, and ground to dust. I continue to lose the words to say, and in the quiet moments, with stinging tears streaming down my face, I find myself crying out to God, “Why?”

Why would you do this, God? Why? Why? Why? I don’t understand! Help me! Help me understand, because I don’t! In my distress, I’ve cried out to God in worship with songs that speak to my present sorrows and to remind my weary, defeated soul that God is still good. Never, not for a moment, have I doubted God’s goodness, but I don’t feel it. I know, from the depths of my soul, that God is working in this season, but I don’t see it. Day after day, I have to preach God’s word to myself. I have to remind myself, and my broken heart, that God remains faithful no matter what I feel. In spite of what I see, God remains true. Yet, I continue to find myself asking God, pleading really, did it really have to be this way?

As I’ve searched through the scriptures, seeking anything that would comfort my anxious heart, I’ve found myself repeatedly in the psalms. Here, among the songs of psalmists, I have found that grief and despair exist simultaneously with joy and peace. I have chewed, day after day, on the vivid imagery and deep meaningful expressions of the psalmist in Psalm 42:

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

-Psalm 42 (ESV)

Here, within the words of the psalm, the psalmist is despairing. His heart hurting beyond measure, weighed down with an a burden seemingly unable to be carried. Yet, in the midst of such anguish, the psalmist is reminding himself that God is bigger than his pain. Hope in God; for I shall again praise him. In the moment of despair, the psalmist looked toward God and the hope that would come again. The psalmist writes as though he does not feel as though God is near to him and that he cannot see God in the midst of this present struggle. Hope is hard to come by as his heart and soul are overcome with grief. As I reflect upon my present anguish, I cannot help but see my life echoed in this psalm. How long must I keep going before I’m no longer over taken by the waves of grief? How long until my heart finds solid footing in God once again? Why are you cast down, my soul?

I feel so weak, so weary. At times, I feel like a broken record skipping and repeating as wave after wave crashes over me. Suddenly up and then suddenly down. Every day, I seem to learn something new about God’s mercies and the deep wounds of grief. I’ve come to learn that I’m not alone in my suffering. Somewhere, through my sobbing, I heard, as if a whisper, God tell me that it wasn’t suppose to be this way.

Losing my beloved friend has been the single greatest struggle of my life. This affliction has been and continues to be insufferable, unbearable, and has wounded me deeply. Death is not part of the natural order of life, because death was not apart of God’s original design. You and I are not equipped to process death! We should not know what grief feels like, to know what it feels like to be dying, or to have somebody that we love pass away. Our flesh, our minds do not know how to respond to these things because they were never intended to experience these things. When God created all things, placed Adam and Even in the garden, and gave them dominion, death was not apart of the equation. Death is the side effect of sin, and when sin entered the world all of creation groaned out. Deep calls to deep. All of creation, with Heaven, with God cries out in anguish because it’s design has been corrupted! Death has tarnished that which God has created.

This world, broken by sin, cries out to its creator. Bemoaning it’s fallen state. It’s cries echoed back from Heaven in an deafening roar of God’s glory and majesty! The psalmist is (metaphorically) caught in a sea that is churned up by restless winds, thrown about by massive waves that leave him desperate to catch his breath, as he’s deafened by roaring cries of his brokenness. His words back to God are not of desolation and destitution, but of lament. Where has God gone? Why has God forgotten me here as I stand among my brokenness? The psalmist is not doubting God’s presence or reality, but rather lamenting the lacking of feeling! The great disparity of what the psalmist knows in his heart and what he’s presently perceiving. This disconnect is perhaps best illustrated through attempting to walk when your leg is completely numb. Your mind knows that your leg is there and how to operate it, but you can’t really feel it. Thus, you either stumble along with your hand on any surface to help steady you or you stand and wait until you’re no longer incapacitated. Grief hinders our connection to God with its stormy interference.

Heaven roars back into the deep, the maelstrom, in recognition of the disparity that lay between it and the rest of creation. As though creation, in it’s anguish, is reaching up to Heaven seeking deliverance. Heaven reaching down to bring creation back across the fold with compassion. Our grief extends beyond just the immediate causes in this life. Grief, as incomprehensible and ill-equipped as we are, is the manifestation of the separation we have from God! Sin separated us from God. Sin brought death. Sin brought grief. The overwhelming brokenness I am feeling is an echo the brokenness I feel because I am, presently though saved by grace, separated from God. Moreover than the inexplicable, excruciating anguish that is ravaging my heart and my soul — God is angry that I am experiencing this!

Make no mistake about it, God is not taking any pleasure in our suffering! Even though we cannot see God through the storm. When we cannot hear His voice through the raging torrent. God is present with us in the chaos. God is among our brokenness! God is feeling heartache, just as you and I are, because He knows the depths of our souls! God did not create death. Death is not apart of His design. Death is part of the opposition of God’s plans. Thus, when death entered the world, God did something radical. Something that would upheave the new, unnatural order of life. God used death to give life!

Jesus knew that it wasn’t suppose to be this way. Death should have never had a place in creation, yet Jesus found himself grieved after learning that his beloved friend Lazarus has died. John 11:33 tell us that Jesus was “deeply moved in his spirit and was greatly troubled.” Even knowing what he was about to do next, Jesus felt the weight of loss. John MacArthur notes that Jesus may have been angered because he was indignant at the pain and sorrow in death that sin brought into the human condition. Jesus then wept (Jn 11:35). Weeping for the unbelief of those grieving at the tomb. Weeping for the unfairness that death instituted in creation. Whatever cause for Jesus’ weeping, we see, abundantly, that Christ felt as we feel. Paul, later, would write to the church at Thessaloniki to remind them that for those whose hope is found in Christ do not grieve as if they have no hope. We do not mourn as if this is the final stop. We have hope in tomorrow because of Christ. Jesus would go on to resurrect Lazarus in demonstration of his divine authority over creation. Even though he was resurrected by Jesus, Lazarus would go on to die again. The inevitable was delayed, as God continued to prepare the way for something greater.

I want to let you know that you are loved! Not generally, but specifically loved! When death separated us from God bringing darkness and despair with it, God did not stand by to leave creation as it was. God immediately began to work against death. God made moves to create a way for you and I to be reunited with Him once again! He did this because He loves you! Yes, you! Specifically you! God defeated death by dying! How amazing is that? That God loved you so much that He defeated death so that He could reconcile the relationship with you! The creator of the universe, El Shaddai, wanted a relationship with you so greatly, that He faced death in order to reconnect to you! Nothing can stand against God’s love for you! No amount of fear, despair, brokenness — nothing — can stand against His mighty love for you!

Jesus knew his purpose. He knew, exactly and entirely, what his mission was as he walked the earth. He healed people’s illnesses, raised people from the dead, showed compassion to the least of the least, and he revealed his true purpose by meeting people’s spiritual needs. Jesus came to conquer the very thing which had changed the natural order. Jesus came to defeat sin. With it, defeating death. Everything Jesus taught pointed to the plan God had for redemption. Jesus’ life demonstrated everything you and I could ever need. Trust in the Lord, your God. With your heart, with your needs, with your life!

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

-Matthew 6:25-27 (ESV)

Far too often, we get so caught up in our immediate circumstances that we lose sight of the bigger picture. We lose sight of God’s plan. We work ourselves up into a frenzy as we try so desperately to control our situations by our own power. We must surrender the need for control. God isn’t seeking to see us get stronger by our own sheer will, but moreover by our reliance upon Him for our strength. As believers, we lean into God’s power through prayer, through seeking His will, by laying our selfish desires aside, and taking up God’s will for our lives. Jesus understood his purpose, and even he went before God to ask for strength and to surrender to His will.

Hours before he would be seized, Jesus entered into Gethsemane to pray and I, in this present season, resonate with Christ’s words as he separates from his disciples: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death… (Mt. 26:38).” Anguish was building within Jesus’ soul. He did not fear the physical torment that he was about to endure, but rather Jesus was sorrowful because of the bitter cup he was about to be given. There, Jesus fell to his face and cried out to God, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as your will.” The cup, a symbol of divine wrath against sin throughout the Old Testament, was about to be given to Jesus. Upon the cross, Jesus would bear the sins of you and I and of all creation as the divine wrath against sin would fall upon him. All the anguish, the pain, the suffering was bore on the cross by Jesus. Jesus cries out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” — “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus died upon that cross. His fulfilling cry out to God, at this moment, was Christ experiencing the abandonment and despair that resulted from the cup being poured out upon him. He, Jesus, was the sin-bearer for you! Jesus paid the atoning price so that you and I could be reconciled back to God. Jesus died to defeat death. To defeat sin! God changed everything when He sent Jesus to die on the cross! Where sin had corrupted God’s original design, God had turned death against itself! When we lay out faith in Jesus, something radical happens. We are covered by the blood of Christ, the ultimate sacrifice, which nullifies the punishment for sin in our lives. We are able to have a relationship with God once again!

In your time of grief, of despair, you are not alone. God knows and feels the depravity of what you’re experiencing. He does not delight in it, but He calls out to you because this is not the end. For those whose faith is found in Christ, there is hope for tomorrow. Hope in God’s awesome, mighty, sovereignty! Jesus felt every bit of the pain and sorrow that you are inundated with. Knowing that this was what he came to earth to do, Jesus submitted himself to God’s will. His prayer to God, “not as I will, but as you will,” reveals how Christ’s humanity voluntarily surrendered to the will of the Father in all things so that there would be no conflict between the divine will and his desires. Jesus submitted himself to the will of the Father so that we may not grieve as those who have no hope. Jesus died so that we may have hope that defies all logic and understanding. Jesus died so that we may be able to weather through the tempest of grief in our times of crisis.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus prepared the way in which we should follow. Exemplifying laying our trust and our faith in God, and living that out in every facet of his life. At times, his disciples were baffled by Christ’s words and actions and Jesus, giving the most poignant of responses told them, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand (Jn 13:7).” Grief can breed many different responses. Consistently, I have found that grief obscures our ability to see God at work in the midst of our lives. Only through purposeful reflection, somewhere down the road, are we, then, able to more clearly see how God had been preparing the way. In the moment, we have great difficulty seeing beyond the brambles of our present suffering. Looking back, we can see how God was working to clear away the path He set us upon. Does this make trails and tribulations more bearable? Perhaps not. However, we may be grateful that God was there with us, working through our lives, to assist us as we continue down the trail set before us. Time and time again, I find myself crying out to God seeking “why?” Why did it have to be this way? The only answer that I have found is that I do not understand now, but one day I will. This has not eased my pain or my sorrow or my suffering, but it has eased my anxiousness. I can keep taking steps forward, though small and tepid at the moment, deeper in faith. This path, while presently twisted and choked out with thorns and thistles, is mine to tread. I am not alone on this path, however. God is with me, feeling as I feel. Picking me back up when the burden becomes too great to bear. Wading through the raging sea of pain and grief with me.

I have shed so many tears as I’ve written this article. Tasting the bitterness of my brokenness, and having my heart rend because I’ve had to preach these things to myself over and over and over again. I have a burden far beyond my ability to carry, and even as I set it down at the feet of Christ, I feel as though I’m only given more. I find it unbearable. The honest truth is that God will allow us to experience things that are so wildly, unbelievably beyond our abilities to carry, to process, and to experience on our own. His purpose being that we’re not intended to carry these burdens apart from Him. I wish that I could say that things have gotten easier, but they haven’t. My heart is pierced repeatedly by the very things that had once been sources of hope and delight that are now, suddenly, daggers of sorrow. At times, I feel so selfish because I wish for nothing more than for things to have been different. Reconciling what I would have hoped for and what God’s will has been, has been my greatest trial. Here, as I sit among the broken pieces of my heart and my life, I know that God is with me. He is putting things back together in a way unlike anything else. This process is not easy or comfortable or quick. But as the storm continues to rage around me and the tempest only grows more turbulent, I hear God whispering through it all, ‘I’m not finished yet.’ I reply, ‘not my will, but your will.’