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Monday, 29 June 2015

The Gospel in the Dumping Ground

Back in the day, I was dumped.

Not from a great height- it hadn't been a long relationship- but I was nonetheless devastated by it.

To make matters worse, when I scoured the internet for wisdom on dealing with it, the best I could find were articles such as How To Get Revenge on Your Ex or Getting Your Rebound Right or Get Fit and Get Over It.  These gems didn't quite articulate how I was feeling, and didn't offer godly advice- which made me feel worse. The Christian world did not seem to have much to say on this issue, which meant that not only was I dumped, but I was also a weirdo. The fact I didn't really know any other dumpees added to this complex.

So, if nothing else, this is a belated post plugging that gap; an assurance to Philippa of yesteryear that though being dumped is painful- it will lead you to know more of the kindness and goodness of God.

Thus, The Gospel in the Dumping Ground:

SHOCK
The break-up shattered my faulty doctrines of a) relationships and b) suffering ; I'd not even realised I'd held to it, but I had decided that if I was godly about it, if I did everything right, if I followed the advice of the Big Relationship Books, chose a Christian, prayed, stayed accountable- then things would work out: I'd marry my first boyfriend, we'd have four or five kids, I'd become an amazing baker and homemaker, and everything would be great. At this point, people were pairing off left, right and centre- and my unexpected trip to Dumpsville, aka my failure to "succeed" in this area (and the absolute absence of any Christians talking about it on the internet) added to my utter disbelief and shock. 

My thought that because I'd read the right books, tried to make the right decisions, and had got up at 6am to go to the Pure course I'd be guaranteed a smooth ride was legalism. My shock betrayed my incorrect belief that husbands were a gift for godliness: if I put in the right change, the vending machine would deliver.  The dumping was a wake up call: this life is tough, and bumpy, and at times the curse of the Fall is uneven . But the goodness experienced by the residents of Relationshipsville was not earned, but a gift, and the experience of having been dumped was not evidence of condemnation. In both of the 'hoods there is the fall, and there is redemption: and the steadfast love of the Lord will never cease; his mercies will never come to an end. 

REJECTION
After I removed my jaw from the floor, in flooded the feeling of shame and a huge weight of rejection. I felt bottom of the pile, unchosen, unloved. I hadn't been enough. And the future looked bleak. "Biblical womanhood" had often seemed painted in terms of marriage and children- but suddenly the years gaped open before me again. I'd have to be a missionary! I'd have to do some great deed! I'd have to get back on course to convert some ganglords! That's what it felt like the relationships seminars were saying- you're single: go be awesome!

But I was not awesome. I was shocked and afraid and confused.

But into the confusion came these words about Jesus: He is not ashamed to call us his. (Hebrews 2:11). I was overjoyed to remember that he defined me: that in Him I was justified, in Him I was chosen, in Him I was accepted, in Him I was dearly loved. In times of distress I was driven back to take refuge in the shadow of His wings, driven back to find my peace and my very self in Him.

ANXIETY
I spent a lot of time worrying about my ex. Partially, I was worried about what terrible thing could have happened to mean he'd changed his mind: I mean- dump me, really!?!

I've since realised that it's possible to not want to "do life with Philippa" and yet still have more than adequate mental health. Nonetheless I was genuinely worried about him. I was concerned, because that had been life for the preceding months. This was someone who had been my best friend and favourite companion. And who very suddenly, wasn't.

The shock of the road ending meant at times the sadness felt like grief. The lost person was still alive, though- but I couldn't know what was happening with him. I cared- but I could no longer be the one to help.

Time and again I had to face up to the fact that I was not my ex's Help. Time and again I took comfort in knowing that God was his refuge, his provision, his strength. My ex had a more faithful friend than me in Jesus, and this helped calm my worries.

DREAD
A huge part of dealing with "the break-up" was learning to trust God with a future I dreaded.

I was fearful, for a long time, of what was to come, and especially of what it might look like to see my ex move on. I felt it would be a nail in the coffin of my rejection, and at times I felt desperately afraid that I might have to see it happen before my very eyes.

I remember coming across these words for the first time, and praying desperately that God would help me hold on to them:

"Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take- the clouds you so much dread,
Are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head."

I scoured books for people who'd suffered- because at times it did feel pretty acute, and clung to their words. I read Spurgeon and held on to his testimony for dear life: "I am afraid that the grace I have got out of my happy times could almost lie on a penny, but the good that I have received from my trials and my griefs, is altogether incalculable."
I am afraid that all the grace that I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable … - See more at: http://livingbyfaithblog.com/2012/03/16/how-spurgeon-saw-his-pain-and-depression/#sthash.42laOYMv.dpuf


As the future suddenly seemed full of such potential for pain, I was driven back to the declaration of the psalmist: surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. (Psalm 23:6) The Lord was my guarantee of future hope, of certain goodness to come; the clouds were big with mercy.

ANGER
This isn't pretty.

But there were times in the months following "the end" when I raged at what felt like injustice. All the words of kindness and love that had been spoken to me felt like wounds now- reminders of what had been taken away from me.

I felt angry because of the shock, because of the shame, because I cared- but couldn't care, because a future that had seemed certain was now a horizon of threatening, heavy clouds.

I raged at God that my ex could be doing okay. I had felt hurt by his change of mind, and by what had been said before the change of mind, that made the end so much harder. So I raged-- how could he be happy when I felt so sad?  How could things work out for him when they seemed so hard for me?

I resented blessing in the life of my ex as though it was evidence God was indifferent to my pain.

I am afraid that all the grace that I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable … - See more at: http://livingbyfaithblog.com/2012/03/16/how-spurgeon-saw-his-pain-and-depression/#sthash.42laOYMv.dpuf
FORGIVENESS 
The biggest battle was the battle to forgive. It was a long, and emotional battle- but there were two big breakthroughs.

Firstly, I saw my own sin nailed to the cross. I saw my utter failure in relationships- this one, and others. I read The Cross of Christ and was deeply humbled that God could forgive me for the way I'd behaved- towards my ex, towards others, towards His chosen King. As I saw afresh my debt ripped up, the foolishness of demanding payment for such a proportionately petty fee from someone else seemed absurd. 

And secondly, I saw God at the cross.

The death of Jesus showed me that God was not indifferent to sin. Whether it was deeds by me, or against me, the Father saw them. And he felt with intense righteousness in response to them. He felt anger, outrage, heartbreak.  He had a perfect and profoundly emotional response to it and he had given full vent to what justice required- and Jesus had absorbed it in our place.

I could not demand further payment for the wrongs I felt had been done; his judgment and anger had already fallen. If I wanted my ex to suffer, I was saying, "the cross wasn't enough!" But of course, the cross was a perfect, just punishment for all sin- intentional or not. Jesus had taken it, for both of us. And we had been forgiven. My ex received blessing because Jesus received the curse.

And that meant there was hope for me too.

The cross helped me process the shock: whatever else had happened, my Father had not condemned me in my dumping. Because of his grace I could know that the suffering wasn't his vengeance- but would be to achieve real and lasting good.  It helped ease the dread: as one united with Christ, forgiven and acquitted in Him, I had every reason to be hopeful about the future: it no longer contained judgment, but only the favour of my Father. It humbled my anger to silence, because the Messiah had suffered- silently, patiently, completely- so that I could go free. 

LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD
I am so grateful for what God taught me in the year I was dumped.

Although many (many!) years have passed, God's faithfulness remains unchanging and strong. The struggles have changed shape, but the glories of the gospel, and of the God of the gospel, have not. 

As is so often the case, Spurgeon was right. The good I gained in the darkness, from the grief and from the trial, was altogether incalculable.

Friday, 26 June 2015

For Desperate Days


He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.
Isaiah 53:3

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee,
Leave, ah, leave me not alone- still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring,
Cover my defenseless head, with the shadow of Thy wing.

From the ends of the earth I will cry to you, even as my heart grows faint.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I
For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.
Psalm 61:3

She heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, "if I touch even his garments, I will be made well."
Mark 5:27-28

Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings.
Psalm 61:4

Oh how I need You Lord, You are my only hope, You are my only prayer!
So I will wait for you to come and rescue me,
To come and give me life.

But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength: come quickly to help me.
Psalm 22:8

To you the helpless commits himself; You have been the helper of the fatherless.
Psalm 10:146

A bruised reed he will not break, a faintly burning wick he will not quench.
Isaiah 42: 3

You have not forsaken those who seek you.
Psalm 9: 10

Deliver me.
Deliver me.
Deliver me.
Deliver me.

All I am and have and long for, all I love at your dear feet.

He has said, never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.
Hebrews 13:5

I am your God: I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him. I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble: I will rescue him and honour him.
Psalm 91:14-16

Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
Psalm 30: 5

If we have died with him, we will also live with him.
2 Timothy 2:11


Thursday, 18 June 2015

Endurance Exercise


Here's a little snapshot of some of the thoughts that pass through my head when I'm on the treadmill:
  • When do I get to stop?
  • I don't belong here. 
  • Is being here really going to make a difference to anything?
  • Is this really doing me good!?
  • I actually think I am in a worse mood than when I arrived.
  • I really wore the wrong thing...
  • This is just a social club. And I'm not part of it. 
  • My lack of progress is shameful... am I even moving forward!?
  • Everyone here is weird. 
  • Is it time for food yet?
  • I am not good enough to be doing this.
  • Is this a good use of my time? I could be working right now. Or sleeping. Or eating.
  • Is it time for food yet?
  • This is boring. And painful. And difficult. And stupid. And emotional.  
  • I can't keep going.
Just a few reasons why I am not next in line to the Mr Motivator throne. (#ontrend #1996trend)

However, what's great about exercise is that, in order for it to continue happening, I have to do it in spite of the above avalanche of anti-motivational thoughts. And that's been a great discipline for me. As I slog away on the treadmill getting ever wheezier, ever sweatier, ever tomato-ier, I am presented with the choice: listen to yourself and give up, or tell yourself something different and keep going. 

The other day I was struck by how often I have pretty much identical thoughts about church. 

Have another read of the list: any of these seem familiar to your Sunday experience?

Now, before I go on I should say-  I don't feel particularly let down by any church. I know many people who do, but this post isn't skillful or sensitive enough to be for them. It isn't a" gripe post" or the Christianese version of Taylor Swift's Bad Blood. It is just an acknowledgment that my experience of congregational life (and maybe others?) can feel, at times, disappointing or humiliating or irritating or painful or pointless (or all of the above). And at those times, I am presented with the choice: listen to yourself and give up- or tell yourself something different and keep going. 

With both the gym and church- I know I should keep going. 

On the treadmill, I tend to tell myself things like: "you will look stupid if you stop now- it's been 3.12 minutes..." or "you almost certainly won't die." (Like I said, Mr. Motivator- your legacy remains unsurpassed.) 

But with church, I need something better. It's not just that I need to tell myself something different, but something in some sense truer than the natural "go-to" list.

So, here are some of the things I tell myself when I'm trying not to listen to myself:

1.     You belong here. Maybe you’re wearing the wrong shoes, or went to the wrong school, or don’t add “do” as an infinitive clause in your prayers- but you still belong here. And do you really think any of those things could every really make you belong with God's family!? Of course not! The King makes you belong! He bounded out to meet you, set your place at His banqueting table, delighted to invite you near. So draw near! If he has said, "you are mine"- who else (including you) has any authority to say anything different?

2.     Being here won't make a difference in that being here doesn’t justify you. You come, fully righteous, because of Jesus. You are not here to "get filled", because in Him you have complete fullness already. So if you're here to make yourself acceptable in some way, you may as well have stayed in bed. If you're here to get secure: waste of time- your life is hidden with Christ in God. It doesn't get more secure than that.

3.     Being here will make a difference. Whatever else happens, you’ll hear the Bible. If the preacher is having an off day- God’s Word will not- it will achieve a glorious purpose, so get under its rays.

4.     It is doing me good, even when it feels like it isn't. God intends to do good for these people through you, and to do you good through them. Does it feel like that's impossible? It's not the goodness of your congregation you are doubting; you are doubting the goodness and redemptive power of the God who called them (and you) and has created them (and you) to be his masterpieces.

5.     Yes, everyone here is weird. As are you. They have deep and awkward needs, as do you- and Jesus has power to meet all of them. Rejoice that you gather in broken awkwardness- because you have a glorious Saviour who can redeem all those depths. Rejoice that you have a Saviour who is more inclusive than you. Rejoice that you have a God who sees a warrior in Gideon and a rock in Peter. Rejoice that you have a Father whose very nature it is to overflow in love, to shine his light and warmth and life in to darkness.

6.     Yes, it is painful. Jesus knows what it means to love the church. For him it was costly, and painful. So, he understands the battle. He understands the cost. He understands the pain. In learning to love the church, you are also learning something of the depth and quality of Jesus' love for you.

7.     It will be worth it. Jesus persevered for the joy set before him. There is a joy in loving others that you will only learn if you keep on going. So keep going.

8.     You will get to stop soon. Hebrews 10 says: " Don’t give up meeting together… and all the more as you see the day approaching". Because you get to stop soon, keep going! The day is approaching.

9.     You are right- you can't do this. You cannot keep going as a Christian and you cannot keep loving the church. But Jesus can. It doesn't matter if you feel weak, exhausted or empty. It will not be your strength, your energy, or your fullness that will enable you to complete the race: it will be Jesus- he will carry you in His arms. And more than that- it will not be your own strength of character, your own supplies of love or your own power that keeps you committed to His people- but His. Go in faith- that he will carry you, and that he will give you what you need to love your family.

10. It’s not quite time for food yet... but that time is coming! The awkward, disappointing experience you have of church right now isn’t the end of the story. A feast is coming: and it will be warm, and rich, and you- together with all the other needy, awkward people will be present- fully healthy and fully healed. You'll want to hang out with them then. Church now can be dreary and dull- but the glorified church will be vibrant and joyous and feasting. (And there will be more than just poorly diluted squash on offer).

11. Behold! Look at the church. Just look at her. She is a ramshackle bunch of broken, odd, sinful people... and YET... she has been redeemed by the blood of Jesus! This fragile, foolish and bizarre bunch of people (rest assured- you fit right in!) has been paid for and will one day be completely redeemed and glorious: presented without blemish!  Look at the church... but look past her, to her Redeemer!  Just look at him! Look at the worthiness of the One who has committed himself to people like this! Look at the one who has power and grace to redeem these depths, to strengthen this weakness, to heal this brokenness Keep going to church to remember something of the worthiness of the Lamb who was slain for such as these, who makes priests of these sinners and kings of these weaklings. Church is a reminder of your total unworthiness and a beautiful reminder of the worthiness of Jesus. 

"You are worthy... because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You made them (them!) to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." 

Revelation 5:10 




Friday, 12 June 2015

The Foolish Things



Although this is a true story about myself from a few years back, I’ve told it in third person. 

This is partially for dramatic effect, and partially because it is embarrassing.  For me. So just to make sure I give it to you in all its cringe worthy glory, I need to keep my distance. 

Enjoy... 

It’s a bright morning on the tranquil Norfolk coast. The early calm is occasionally interrupted by the squawk of a seagull soaring across the sky, the sun glows promisingly behind a curtain of haze and the sea blurs gently into the horizon.

Trundling along the pier towards the beach is a student-worker. Bleary eyed, with Bible in hand, she’s off to have a super early, super spiritual quiet time. She's decided. She has a camera in her other hand. Just in case: there might be a screensaver shot waiting with the tide.

The student worker makes her way across the layered pebbles, pausing occasionally to take a snap: the paint-flecked life boats and orange buoys give a vintage feel to the photos (which is just as well: Instagram's "Valencia" filter has not been invented yet). At just the right angle the composition is perfect.

Before she gets on with her (no doubt extensive and impressively Grudem-esque) Bible study and prayer time, she decides that what this moment really requires is… a selfie.

Sadly, the Selfie Stick has not been invented yet either, so the student worker must depend on the timer function on her camera. It’s a tricky business- but she manages to lodge the device on a large rock at the top of the beach. The plan is: press the button, jump / pirouette down on to the sand, and strike a charming pose. The shutter will then wink and she'll have attained a perfectly framed shot: beach plus sky plus sea plus smiling student worker. Lovely. Maybe even one for the prayer letter.

The plan goes wonderfully. 

Until.

Until, in quick succession, two things happen.

Firstly, the student worker notices that there is a middle-aged man, up on the pier, attentively watching this ridiculous ritual of vanity. Secondly, she realises she has not executed the landing as planned. Her feet strike slippery pebbles instead of sand and thus fly swiftly from beneath her. Rather than a gazelle-ish spring to a secure base, the student worker has bounded directly from leap to inelegant heap.

She is now a pile of knotted limbs, crumpled face-down in the sand. She is praying (at last) but the content of the prayer is focused on her very urgent need for the middle-aged man not to have seen her, and if he has, then on the equally urgent need for him to go away.

Eventually, she untangles her arms from her legs, brushes off the sand and- head bowed low- goes to fetch her camera. And oh yes- Bible! She smiles at her clumsiness, but shakes off the embarrassment with the grateful knowledge that this is a story no one will ever hear.

However. 

She is just about to settle down and start reading, when she sees the man from the pier, making his way across the pebbles and towards her. She flings open the Bible and strives to look very, very absorbed in the upside down pages of 2 Chronicles she happens to have chanced upon.

“Are you okay?” the middle-aged man asks, his face a mixture of caution and concern.

Yes, fine- thank you.

“What are you doing here?”

And so begins an interesting chat.

No, she explains, she is not injured. No, thank you for asking, she is not drunk. In fact, when she’s not throwing herself into a mound on Norfolk beaches, she actually has a job(!) working with students. Her job is to encourage them to love Jesus- and to help other people love Jesus too.

The middle-aged man is staggered. He tells her that his father passed away earlier in the week, and that he’s come to Norfolk to process his mourning. He’s been thinking about life a lot recently, and death- and he can’t believe he’s arrived at this very beach this very morning and found a girl whose job it is to read and teach the Bible.

So they talk about the Bible. They talk about an active and kind God who has ordained the times and places where people are: when they’ll be on the beach, what’s led them to the beach, what bumbling tomfoolery they might see when get there. They talk about a God who lovingly sets things in motion so that people might seek him, reach out for him and know him.

The middle-aged man and the student worker talk about life and death, about John 11 and the One who claimed to be the Resurrection, about the promise of a shame-free, eternal life for all who trust in Jesus. 

Eventually, they have to part ways. The man promises to start reading the Bible, and marvels again at what to him seems an extraordinary coincidence:that he just so happened to stumble upon her (although one could argue it was more like the other way round). The student-worker heads back to her students, makes sure she isn’t too bruised and tries to think of a way of telling this story without looking too foolish.

In the end, she realises she can’t.

She is foolish. She is weak. She is vain. She is no ballerina. 

But her gracious Heavenly Father has worked in all these things to make his Son known, and to build his kingdom. 

And now?

She is not a student worker anymore. She is still weak, vain, foolish and a long way from The Royal Ballet.

And though she doesn't know what happened to the middle aged man, she is grateful to remember the generosity of her Heavenly Father's kingdom building strength, and of his power to work- even through the most foolish things- for good.

She has also learnt that she should probably buy a selfie-stick. Just in case.

"But God chose the foolish things of the world... the weak things of the world... to nullify the things that are... so that no one may boast before him." 1 Corinthians 1: 27ff

"We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the all-surpassing power belongs to God, and not to us." 2 Corinthians 4:17 

Saturday, 6 June 2015

He Will Do Good Anyway


I don't want to do today.

I wake up and immediately want to be asleep again; I want to crawl back to the comfort of unconsciousness, where I’m  safe from the steady waves of anxiety- anger- disappointment-shame breaking over my waking mind.

I want to forget. The past feels like a fully-stocked weaponry for shame: that’s where the trying happened, and the failing happened. The past is heavy with disappointment and its weight seeps into my view of the future. Fear that trying again might mean failing again eats away at hope. And so the present is burdened with frustration: I feel paralysed, inadequate, sad.

I want to forget.

I should get out of bed, get dressed, call someone. But I can't think who to call, I can't decide what to wear, and I really don't want to get out of bed.

Instead, I want to forget. Get my binge watching on. Go back to sleep. Get a multi-pack of something sugar-loaded and eat until the despair subsides. 

But somehow I know I need not to forget.

I desperately, in the manner of someone gasping for breath, need to remember the Lord.

Remember that he:
  • has ordained the times and places where people will live, so that people might reach out for Him and find Him (Acts 17: 26-27)
  • ordained all of my days before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16)
  • is my refuge, my strength- and my ever present help even in this particular time of trouble (Psalm 46:1)
  • has forgiven me for my anxiety, for my doubt, for those moments and days of anger when I rage because life is not working out how I want it to work out (Colossians 2:13)
  • is not just a father but my Father, not just kind but the source of all kindness (James 1:17)
  • is with me, is upholding me, will not abandon me (Isaiah 41:10) 
  • knows what I need and will supply my need- has already supplied my greatest need (Philippians 4:19)
  • loves me deeply. Right now, as I am- in all my fearful mess. (1 John 3:1)
  • will one day swallow up darkness completely in His warmth and goodness and light. (Revelation 21:4) 

I need to remember these things.

Each is glorious alone. I see them from a distance and know- if I could just get a grip on one of them, I might be able to get out of bed.

But what if I can't? Or don't? Or won't?

The good news, the big relief and my only real hope- is that whether I remember the truth this morning or not- the Lord will do good anyway.

He will reign in robust goodness and generous kindness and sovereign providence anyway. Right in the shadows where my anxiety lurks, my doubt clouds Him out, right in the pit where the past is a barrage of shame and the future is a wall of impossibilities: the Lord will do good anyway. 

When I was dead in my sins and his enemy- without the will or power to grasp it, Jesus was battling for me on the front line; plunging himself in to darkness; aligning himself with my weakness and sin and unbelief; absorbing the full penalty for it all willingly; plumbing the depths so that no stone of my redemption was left unturned. When I was far off, blind, dead...He was coming out of the grave as a Victor for my sake. 

And that could turn the tide.

Whether I can grasp it this morning or not, He is still the ordainer of my days, He is still my present help, He is still the guarantee of my forgiveness, my most loyal companion, the lover of my bruised soul, and He is still reigning as Victor.

This morning, I am no victor.

I feel utterly defeated.  I am weak and faithless and doubt filled and afraid, and I don't want to do today. 

But He will do good anyway. 


Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Provision's Blueprint



Through the years, there are some things I have asked the Lord to provide:
  • a starring role in the school play 
  • a boyfriend/husband- both specific people and generic ideals, for myself and for friends
  • a guarded heart around boys who weren't good news - both for me, and others
  • a functioning car 
  • meaningful ministry 
  • salvation for my Grannie - and for many others 
  • healing for a close friend's terminally ill husband  
  • a healthy self image 
  • opportunities to talk about Jesus 
  • the ability to speak French well 
None of these requests have been granted in the way I hoped they would when I asked for them. 

Now with some of them, I understand the Lord's response: given the hash I made of being Chorus Child Number 3 in Fantastic Mr Fox I am sure He graciously shielded me from further humiliation in a more central role (I lost my flip flop on the way to the stage and spent my brief sung performance wriggling around trying to subtlety disguise this. I was unsuccessful. Both in terms of the disguise and in terms of the subtlety).

For some requests, I can see how they were answered eventually, or unconventionally; I see the wisdom and purpose in the response. No, God didn't grant me all the boyfriends/husbands I've asked for, and I can see quite clearly why in most cases! I'm also grateful for what battling with singleness has taught me- that being "alone" with Jesus is better than any relationship without Him. No, God didn't give me impressive French- yet it drove me to find my identity in Him instead of my words- and in that there was a deeper quality of joy.

But some of these unmet desires have left me with questions.

Top of the list being: why are Citroen still allowed to make cars?!

But other, harder questions, include:
- How could it not be my Father's will to grant this?
- Don't the alternatives seem more like stones than bread, more like snakes than fish?
- How do I go on asking if God's provision seems so unlikely?
- Why did that answer take so long? Was it really worth the wait?
- Is the benefit of that unanswered request worth the cost-to myself and others- of not having it?
- In what sense is God my Provider if he says no to all these things?

These questions are still big questions for me.

But I have recently been encouraged by Abraham's revelation of Genesis 22: "The Lord will provide!"

Abraham waited years for a son. He pleaded and wrestled and longed that the Lord would provide in this way, according to His promise. And the Lord did. But that was not when Abraham understood most profoundly that it was the very nature of the Lord to provide.

The declaration "the Lord will provide" comes later- on the mountain of the Lord.

Here Abraham sees his most profound need by far: a substitute. He has been asked to sacrifice his precious son, and his only hope for his redemption is that "God will provide the lamb for the offering." (verse 8) For Isaac to live, a substitute is required: and then- at just the right time- an offering is supplied. Because the Lord steps in, Isaac is spared. And in this moment, Abraham sees the truth about who God is: on the mountain of the Lord, the Lord will provide. (verse 14)

So that's Abraham, then- but how can I answer my big question? If the Lord has said no to these things, where can I get the conviction that the Lord is a provider?

If I search for it at the foot of my opening list, I'm bound to grumble and say: "No, the Lord withholds!"

But if I seek it at the foot of the cross- on the mountain- his revelation is loud and clear. Because Abraham's words are not just a declaration, but a prophecy. On the mountain, the Lord will provide: generously, eternally and at great cost to himself.

His provision is abundant: He does not spare His Beloved ; His precious, glorious Son is crushed so that deviant sinners like me will never be.
His provision is complete: He makes the life of Jesus a sin offering; the Father gives us His death, His righteousness, His resurrection life, His glory.
His provision is eternal: a future and a hope and in the end, all things.
His provision is ineffable: He gives us, in all these things, through all these things- Himself! 

This is the ultimate and unfathomable revelation of the Lord's character; this is the assurance that he is a Giver of bread and not of stones; this is the fundamental demonstration of his tender kindness, and excessive generosity and sky-high love.

If Abraham could declare on his mountain, "the Lord will provide"- how much more can we, at Calvary!? If every item on my list had been given to me the first time I asked for it- that bounty could not be near to half as compelling a testimony to the abundance of God's generous nature as the cross is.

Some of my questions remain unanswered. There is still a struggle with unmet desires. But can I confidently declare, "the Lord provides!"?

On the mountain of the Lord, a thousand times, yes!

"He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)


 
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