The Burning, Consuming Fire

In the four years that I have been consistently writing to this website, through it’s various iterations, I feel as though I’ve written exclusively on being frustrated. My life, looking back, has been chocked full of frustration. I was frustrated because I couldn’t understand why I was being picked on in middle school. Frustrated because I was angry all the time. Frustrated because nobody seemed to understand me. Frustrated because I never felt like I fit in anywhere. Frustrated because I couldn’t afford to get into college. Frustrated because nothing ever seems to work in my favor. Even now, as I sit hear banging my head upon my desk, I am frustrated because of some disconnect between my thoughts and my ability to construct them into structured sentences. I’m frustrated with life and with God.

As I’ve gone about writing, I’ve strived to be transparent about myself as to not present myself falsely or to give airs/impressions that I have everything together. I don’t. I’m falling apart, broken to pieces, suffering. I would be wrong to think that only I am alone in suffering in this way. For those of you who know me personally likely do not associate me with adjectives like broken, weak, frail, angst, etc. In fact, some of you have described me quite differently. I lament that none of you are capable understanding me more fully by having first hand insight into my emotions, thoughts, and experiences. None of us are ever truly capable of knowing somebody fully. We may know somebody intimately, know their tendencies, their idiosyncrasies, and their demeanor, but we cannot be present in their consciousness. Nevertheless, I strive to portray myself accurately and as unbiasedly as I may.

I’ve not had the typical ‘college experience’ as some would describe it. I spent two years working at a dead end job on minimum wage after high school before starting school somewhere that I was not too thrilled about studying something that I honestly had little interest in learning more about. Years have since passed since I started school, and I’m still not done yet (but I’m very close to the finish line) which is not what I wanted to still be doing this close to being thirty. I didn’t think that I would be living with my parents at my age. I did not think that I’d still be single after all this time. I did not think that I’d be working in the jobs that I did. Through most of twenties, I’ve definitely been very discontent with everything God chose to give me. The majority of my frustrations in this stage of life came from my refusal to budge from my plans. Even though I was a stubborn child, God worked in my life and changed my perspective. As I looked inward trying to get a better understanding of why I am the way that I am, I realized that I tend to be an idealistic individual. For what it’s worth, I score as an INFP on the Myers Briggs Personality Test and as a 2w1 on the enneagram personality test. I don’t put a lot of stock in these personality tests, but they offer some insight into my logical and emotional tendencies.

However it may appear, I am grateful for the path God has set me down! In fact, I do not wish that life had gone about any other way. Ultimately, I fell in love with theology and Biblical studies and God had already been drawing in that direction. God called me into ministry and has provided ample opportunities to love on and pour into the college, high school, and junior high students. God broke me down, allowed me to experience my own shortcomings, and build me back up with a great appreciation and understanding of the work He is doing in my life! Which is why it is, ironically, funny that I am equally frustrated with God while expectantly rejoicing what God is preparing. This peculiar dynamic makes for quite the internal storm that rages within the depths of my soul. I am wholly at peace while also being wholly in turmoil (if that even makes the slightest bit of logical sense) through this season.

For some time now, I have had an ever increasing desire to be in a relationship, to move toward marriage, and to, eventually, have a family of my own! This is a very natural desire to have as God commanded His creation to be fruitful and to multiply (Genesis 1:28), and the majority of believers will see this desire come to fruition. Marriage is a very intentional and specific gift given to humanity by God as a reflection of His relationship between Himself and His creation. Christian’s hold the covenant of marriage, rightfully, in high regard. But for the young twenty year old believer, marriage can appear as a destination and that singleness is an obstacle to be overcome. This could not be further from the truth. We have been afforded great opportunities to be used by God for greater things than ourselves! Singleness offers a great deal of more freedom to serve God without extra considerations, and yet, for myself and others in similar places in life, marriage is a consideration we’re looking toward.

Among my peers, I am toward the oldest side of the spectrum and I’ve watched from the proverbial sidelines as my friends have come together and moved through the stages of dating, engagement, and into marriage. I’ll go ahead and admit that it can be quite discouraging to see your friends partnering up and getting married while you’re not quite there yet. You’re super excited for them and you want to celebrate their relationship, but part of you also yearns for something similar as well. This is only compounded exponentially the more of your friends move through this process at the same time. I’m no mathematician and cannot quantify the mathematical statistics to back up this claim, but you get the idea.

For myself, I have grown more frustrated with God because I do not see where to move forward. I’ve taken notice of qualities and character traits that I find desirable, and I’ve investigated who people are. Yet, something holds me back from even considering pursing anything further. There is definitely a chasm, a schism, a disconnect between the heart and the mind which further complicates matters. Scripture speaks very clearly that the heart is deceitful and that it wanders toward whatever will immediate satisfy the itch. Christians are warned to guard their hearts for good reason, both from external and internal sources. I’ve written before about being quite ‘head-y’ meaning that I get caught up within my own mental prowess. I am an over-thinker and internal feeler. I’m not entirely sure what I am to do with emotions and states of being like infatuation and attraction. I’m a babbling idiot for all intents and purposes. Through all of this, I am frustrated with God because I don’t get it. He placed this desire on my heart, He is the cause, the source… and yet I do not see where He has provided or even if He is going to provide.

Am I inadequate? Am I undeserving? Am I interested in the wrong women? Am I not patient? Am I unworthy? I’d be lying if I said that I did not suffer in the waves of self-doubt that crash over me. I honestly do not understand, and I straight up tell God that. I don’t understand what you’re doing! As I’ve walked through this area of life, seeking counsel from my closest friends and family, I’ve heard a great variety of things. I’ve also had to navigate around and through their expectations for me and also embrace the reality that my expectations, too, may need calibrating. I’m not discouraged however! I am hopeful! God is preparing something, just as He has in every other facet of my life. I’ve been encouraged by my peers in knowing that I am going about the process properly! So what do I have to fear?

Lauren Chandler wrote an article for Desiring God that I read this morning that resonated me to my core, which is exerted below:

“…it doesn’t feel like your faith is being tested. You still believe God is able to do anything; he’s just choosing not to do the things you want him to do for you. It feels like punishment. It feels unfair and confusing. You didn’t ask for these desires, but here they are. There’s nothing wrong or sinful about them. So what are you to do with them? In your mind, you assume there are two choices: either he gives you what you want the way you want it, or he takes the desires away.

Beloved, there is so much more.

Here’s what he’s doing. He is burning away the fluff. He is pulling out every false prop on which you’ve built your trust. He is frustrating your plans so that you turn your eyes from those around you and the lack you find inside you to see and love him for who he is and not merely what he can do for you. There is no more vital work than that. He loves you too much to give you what you want too soon.”

If that isn’t me at this very moment… Even in the midst of that is going on in life, I know that God is preparing me for so much more. There are two instances involving fire in Scripture that I have been drawn to recently, one being in the Old Testament and one in the New. God has a penchant for creating incredibly vibrant and awe-inspiring displays of majesty. We have much that we can learn from God.

When God first appeared to Moses, He did so in a burning bush. What is awesome about this moment is that the bush was, while it was engulf in flames, that is was not consumed! Fire consumes. When all the usable fuel is expended, only ash remains. That is not the case for God. God provides infinitely! God does not require anything to produce something. He gives freely and abundantly and works all things together according to His will! We may find encouragement in God’s provision. As I’ve written about before, God has blessed myself and my family on more occasions than I could ever begin to list. God has provided divinely to meet needs that I could hardly have anticipated!

Secondly, Jesus as the true vine. John 15 reads as follows:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

For the follower of Christ, we are constantly being pruned, molded, and drawn toward God. There are areas in our lives, branches that are not bearing fruit, that need to be removed. Misconceptions, doubts, fears, and sins that have need of corrected. This process is not ideal or pleasant. Sin feels good, let’s be honest. We enjoy sinning, which is why we turn to it every change we get. Christ calls his disciples, meaning His Church, to abide in Him. We must be willing to let go of those things which are not necessary, the fluff, the false props, our inferior plans for ourselves, and to adopt a posture that is more inline with God’s will. Christ’s words here in John 15 offer reassurance for those, like me, who teeter between the extreme of peace and frustration.

This is what I know: God is working in my life. Preparing me for something bigger than myself, than my plans, than my expectations. Furthermore, as I’ve come to better understand, God is the originator of the true desires of my life, and as I linger closer and closer to God, His desires become my desires. I have faith that God will keep His promise to me just as He did for all those throughout the Old Testament and through His son. Whatever it may be, He will provide abundantly and appropriately. God loves me far too greatly to allow me to rush into something, to enable me to engage in foolishness. I am hopeful and eager to see what God is presently preparing to do in my life, and I know that He understands my frustration. He understands me far greater and fully than any other person on this Earth ever could! God is not withholding a relationship from me to stymie me or to deject me, but to prepare me. I must trust in Him, to ask for an ever increasing faithfulness, and to be willing to be corrected. Pruned.

-Terren

One Piece at a Time

Legos were one of my absolute most favorite toys growing up. The nearly infinite combinations and arrangements and assortments of the vastly varied pieces lent to great creativity. I, also, grew up during the resurgence of the Lego Company during a time in which they licensed popular entertainment properties to make in their now famous sets. When you buy a new Lego set, they come readily packaged in numbered plastic pouches and with a handy, but easily lost booklet of assembly instructions. A step-by-step guide to building a completed masterpiece and, sometimes, creative projects that can be made from the same parts found in the set. 

The fun of Legos are that you have a completed project to work on. I would spend countless hours assembling sets, staging epic battles, and getting lost into my imagination. However, Legos also take up a great deal of space while assembled and so they had to be torn apart for storage. Even now, I have boxes upon boxes of thousands upon thousands of Lego bricks just thrown together. What I no longer have is the instructions to reassemble all the parts of the sets that I have. With enough time and sorting I may be able to assemble most of what I had… granted that the vacuum has more than likely claimed more parts than it would like to admit. The fun of Lego comes in the construction and the inevitable destruction. Part of the fun was building massive towers out of all the assorted bricks until it would reach the point of no return. Hundreds of bricks go flying everywhere with a loud, plastic-y crash and I’m left with a gleeful smile! 

The thing about Legos was that I never had to think about how to put something together. I always had the instruction manual close at hand to help guide me through the process until I was left with the finished product. Unlike Legos, we are not given a step-by-step instruction manual for life. Life is not packaged in conveniently sorted packages for each stage we inhabit. We do not all share one path in which we progress through life. Life is more akin to the box of assorted bricks, a smorgasbord of randomly, colorfully mixed parts. We each have a foundation in which to work with, but the end products end up looking vastly different from one another.

God has created very purposefully and intentionally. He knows exactly how He wants to assemble us, but God didn’t give us an instruction manual which tells us how to get a job, how to be a husband, to be a productive adult. Why? Because God has set each of us down different paths. For some of us, we are walking down similar paths. but they’re not carbon copies of the others. Some of us walk a rather isolated path in which we rub shoulders with few headed the same way. God did not give us a step-by-step guide on how to walk through life, but rather a book on how we should live! The Bible tells us who God is, why He created us, why He works the way that He does, and how we should strive to conduct ourselves.

Life is full of unexpected changes. Challenges that seem unachievable. Times of great success and of great difficulty. Through this God is not looking for us to have a plan on how to get through it but that we would be faithful to lean on Him for direction and instruction. Proverbs 16:9 states, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” We are very much free to plan our way through life but many of us are rigidly locked into our own perspective toward life. We, very arrogantly, go through life in a mindset of doing things our way. What inevitably happens is that we go head strong in the direction our hearts yearn for, and we reach the tipping point… and have no idea what to do. We stand on the precipice after pursuing what our hearts wish for in fear. 

Why is this a problem? Because the heart wanders and yearns for many things. It is constantly distracted by the superfluous. The heart focuses on what the best of what it wants while minimizing the issues. What the verse above reveals about us, is that we’re terrible at knowing what we want. If you’re like me (single, late twenties, etc.) then you’ll understand how you start wanting something that you don’t have, especially as your close friends are seemingly getting into relationships, getting engaged, and eventually married and you ask yourself why its not happening to you. In your heart, you desire to be in a relationship, but you aren’t seeing the full picture… but God is. The other half of the verse reveals something to us about God. That He is the one working in us and around us, guiding our steps, providing opportunities to be faithful to Him while we are where we are at.

God is the one laying bricks, constructing each of our paths. He is actively working around us (I’m hesitant to mention the flashing orange lights, orange “construction zone” signs, and orange safety vest…) preparing us for life. God is not asking us to do anything more than to be faithful to go where He leads. God is not interested in our own works, even our best Lego creations are rubbish to His work, but rather our hearts. Our attitudes.

So often in life, when things do not go as we please or had hoped for, we question God in frustration and exasperation. We, very selfishly, tell God that if He loved us, He’d do as we wanted. But God has told us, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand (John 13:7).” In the moment, as we’re looking at the half assembled parts of our lives, we doubt God. We question God. We are not satisfied with where we are at. We do not have the full picture. Obviously, we do not understand in the moment. We look in the mirror and cannot fully grasp what God is doing in our lives, but God reminds us that we will know later. 

I know that I can reflect back on my life and see where I’ve been disappointed by my circumstances. Where in the moment I was not given support to attend the colleges that I wanted out of high school, that I was not getting the degree that I wanted, that I was did not have a community to be apart of, that I was not progressing further in life… But I now have the benefit of looking back and seeing how God was moving for me good. Afterward, I understood. When the state colleges could only offer me loans for school, God provided a scholarship to attend an accredited Biblical college getting a degree in something that I had little to no interest in which is now something that I am passionately in love with! Being apart of a ministry that is both my home and mission field! God has provided much more than I could imagine. He’s building something far more extraordinary! 

I would be would be in the wrong if I did not recognize just how blessed I have been by God. Where my sense of timing seems right, God has provided when it was most needed, when I could no longer rely on myself and my own ability but on Him and Him alone! God isn’t seeking a carbon copy, molded people. He did not design us in the same way that Ikea cranks out its furniture. God created us uniquely and has a unique path for our lives. God is more interested in the state of our heart, our souls, and our minds than the state of our assembly process. 

That is why God gave us scripture. To reveal to us, not, how to get by in life, but how we ought to approach life. T0change the attitude of our hearts to match that of God’s! As we pursue God fully, meaning that we’ve laid our lives down at His feet and been born again, covered in the blood of Christ, we have a greater preparation for the road ahead. Our perspective changes from our here and now to that of God. We look at life through the lens of God through Scripture and prepare our hearts to respond accordingly. Once again, I will quote C.S. Lewis who said “Nothing you have not given away will ever really be yours (Mere Christianity).” God does not want part of us… He doesn’t just want our sin, our good deed, our church attendance, our love, our ideas, our hearts, our money… No, God wants every part of our being! It is only when we’ve laid down and given over every part of our lives to God that we understand the process that we’re going through.

I look back and see that I am no longer who I once was. My life looks less like it once had, and looks more and more like Jesus. My life has been transformed by God! The self-destructive, angry, resentful, hateful path I was once upon changed forever when I found Christ again at the end of my freshman year of high school! I was surrounded by people, whom God intended, to pour into my life, to walk alongside me as the abrasive, rough scales fell away, and to teach me the heart of Christ. I am truly, as I live and breathe, no longer the person that I was. I have been made new!

“Do you understand what I have done to you (John 13:12),” asked Christ to His disciples after washing their feet. He had made clear what His intentions were, though the disciples did not understand fully. Christ was preparing to die on the cross, to be a living sacrifice for the sins of you and I. Christ did cleanse us from the bondage and death of sin when He died on that cross and when He rose triumphantly from the grave! 

So as I stand amidst the scattered pieces of my life, the Lego bricks, I know that I do not need to fret. I have no need to worry, because God has a place for me. I do not need to worry about what piece goes where next, because God has already shown me that I can trust that He will take care of that. I just have to be faithful to follow where He leads. God is, piece by piece, building my life into what it ought to be. Removing that which is not needed and shaping, molding my heart to be more like His. Better yet, when the table starts to shake and the tower of plastic bricks start to tremble, I know that I have a solid foundation on which God has built my life. There will be no tearing down that which had already needed to go. I stand solidly upon God’s love!