I have a pastor friend who loves to teach. He especially finds timely and important messages from the Old Testament, which his church elders and board had issues with. You see, people sitting in the pews didn’t understand why he preached from the Old, when the New is what they expected. The Old… messages were tough to swallow sometimes, more judgement and not enough of the love of Christ.
So they let him go.
Sometimes it’s hard to see ourselves in ways we don’t like- the tough messages are best yet shoved to the side so we can feel good.
At church this past Sunday, my pastor mentioned he had a hard time all week trying to put the message he had on his heart together- because he knew it would cause discomfort for a lot of people with a particular denominational background. But he chose to teach the truth anyway, and apparently in the first service he was met with quite a few blank or not so friendly faces. Sometimes the truth is not what we want to hear.
This is probably going to be one of my out loud rambling, winding tales- things that I’ve been working out in my heart ever since I was born again. Some folks probably get it a lot quicker. I’ve never been a quick study. Just a diligent one when the subject is important to me. When it comes to understanding things, most times it takes me longer than others. Sometimes it takes a slap upside the head to “get it”.
Sometimes it takes devastation to get it. Like driving to the hospital behind the ambulance, looking at your 14 year old when he asks if his dad is going to be ok, and telling him the truth, “no matter what, God loves your dad, and He loves us. He will be with us no matter what.”
Then trying to remember those words for real that night as you look around the house and know you’ll never see the man you’ve not spent a night apart from other than the hospital stay earlier that year in 14 years.
I got a crash course in reality, God’s love, provision, care and patience the first few months after Michael died. And it’s continued over the past (November 22. Twenty three days away from 3 years) as so much in my life has changed in ways I’d never chosen for myself.
Did God ‘let’ this happen to me? To my boy? To our family? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s something I’ll have to wait until I go home to find out.
I look around at others now, my friend Melissa who was battling with stage 4 cancer as she lost her husband to his own brain cancer, leaving the same question for their 3 kids who are my son’s age.
I look at Sufferfortribe, who most of us have known for a few years now- and know he is in constant pain- every. Single. Day.
I could write for days of the things effecting so many people we all know… real, hard and tough things.
And that doesn’t include Christians around the world who have lost kids, parents, whole families, homes, everything… to violence, murder, pain because of the simple fact that they love Jesus.
Does God let it all happen? Who knows. His ways are not our ways. I don’t know if He allows things to work out His own purposes for us, or for others, but whatever it is, I know His purpose is worthy, righteous and good.
Then there is the other side of things. The geographical, traditional… the way we have grown up to believe in the God of the secular or American Christian faith. You know the one- The God of love for sure, but also that big ol’ grampa in the sky who loves his kids and wants to give us our hearts desires, if we only have the faith of a mustard seed. The living our best lives, abundantly now.
It’s been a long time wrestling with conflicting messages of love and holiness, of selfish desires and selfless sacrifice. Of what messages I’ve heard since childhood and what I see in the world.
Sometimes things are hard put into words what’s in my head, and maybe I over analyze things, but a lot of times it takes a lot of thinking, talking out loud and prayers to finally get the picture.
What things I’ve learned boil down to is that God doesn’t need us, but He loves us with such a perfect love, indescribable. We display different kinds of ‘worship’ and thanksgiving to Him, but really, is that what He calls worship? We sing songs, most times, just repeating lyrics we memorize, that make us feel good, and yes, sometimes even ‘feel’ in tune with the Spirit as we do, and I know God appreciates that.
But it should be more than that. It should be more than going to church and doing church type activities, more than learning and talking about doing. More than talking about following Him.
God doesn’t need us. He could have created the world, people, to automatically accept and worship Him, but He gave us free will instead. Because He loves us and wants us to love Him for Him, not because we have to.
He uses circumstances, choices and consequences in our lives for sure, to work out in us a more deeper relationship with Him, to draw us closer, but also to work in others around us- like those ripples on a pond. There are so many things we won’t know until this world is gone and we are in His presence.
But He does often use broken things, because as SarahAnn reminded me earlier, the sweetest aroma comes from a crushed rose. Jesus was broken for us, and He can use our brokenness for His purposes.
What does Jesus say to do? If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
What was Jesus’ work on the cross? He was Broken on it.
Often times it’s the broken that understands deeper than just the here and now, understands others’ pain and others’ trials, even if it’s something completely different. Jesus understands because He’s been there. He did His Father’s Will, and expects us to do His Will as well.
This is hard to put into words- It’s easy to say we trust Him. It’s easy to say we follow Him. But even if things are going well, how often do we display our worship to Him by trusting completely and following- willing to be broken?
When we are broken, how much do we trust that His will be done, even if things might not get better? Are we still willing to go through a life of pain and hurt or things we don’t necessarily want, because He has a plan for our lives that doesn’t involve what we think we want or desire?
The Bible is full of promises- and the knowledge that He knows us before we’re born, that He does have a plan for each and every one of us. Most of us live not knowing what His plan is for us. I know I do. And right now, everything I know is gone or changed, and the immediate future is shaky at best, and downright scary if I think about it too much. But isn’t that the point? That I don’t know- but He does. And by my trusting that to Him, no matter how scary it is to wonder if I’ll have enough money at the end of the day for bills and rent, trusting Him, even if I don’t have it, is true worship to Him?
I’m sorry for such jumbled thoughts, and maybe it’s hard to swallow some of it- because in our society it’s not a pleasant thing to think that God might use us more if we have painful lives, but it’s the truth. The promises of an abundant life are true, but not necessarily the way we think of when feel good messages promise it. Our God is a good Father, and does want what’s best for us, but sometimes it doesn’t come in this life- and I’ve come to a place where I can trust in Him in that. Jesus was broken on the cross after unimaginable torture and pain. And He is victorious. So will we be, no matter our circumstances if we follow Him.
I’m trying to use my own circumstances and fears to show how sometimes you just have to give up every last thing you know, and completely have the faith to trust what you can’t know or see. Hebrews talks about it in the “Hall of Faith”
The Apostle Paul’s life is a great example as well, even though his sufferings were specifically because of his faith, not just life circumstances. Yet he still suffered oftentimes not knowing what the outcome would be.
He endured times in prison, being shipwrecked, beaten, and hauled before high authorities, yet his suffering wouldn’t seem to modern western Christians as an abundant and prosperous life, because those terms are equivalent to material things in our times. Still, Paul counted it all joy.
Following the Lord, whether things we ‘want’ or the abundant life the Bible tells us about come to us or not is the sweet aroma to Him. All the talk, all the activities may keep our thoughts on Him, but when we grow through our brokenness- that’s when the worship is real.