Recently, social media has been filled with the “10-year change” picture craze. The idea was to post a pic from 10 years ago, and one from today and show everyone how you’ve aged…errrrr….changed. No pics shall be forthcoming, but I guarantee you I changed more in the last two years than the previous ten, both physically and spiritually.
Jan 27 marked two years since we left NC. Two. Years. After telling a friend from back home how much time has passed, he responded, “It feels like five.”
A lot has transpired. Much has changed. When we arrived here 24 months ago, I was cocksure and confident. I just knew I’d be back in full-time ministry, pastoring and/or leading worship, in no time. I had no clue how far from reality that was. Thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit through the body of believers who would become our church home, the Lord began to deconstruct my preconceived notions and my heart. He systematically exposed my pride as well the ministry idolatry I had become enslaved to. During the first good portion of this process, He essentially put me on the shelf.
And that was good. It was needed. Lord knows I’ve heard often enough how you just have to keep going! Just get back in there! Don’t stop! Now surely, there are times when you want to throw in the towel and quit, and that’s not God’s intent. But, come now, sometimes God says “STOP.” I think He had been saying it for a while, honestly, but I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, hear the still, small voice.
I had to be completely immobilized in order to get it.
Oklahoma in winter is quite barren, at least in comparison to the land of evergreen we come from. The stripping bare of the previous year is a necessary precursor to the new life of spring. Fields have to be plowed under, the scrub burned. I see our first winter here as a metaphor of what was to come: a plowing up, pulling up the roots, burning away the chaff in our hearts.
Part of this journey is the peeling back of my own “righteousness” and exposing what’s inside. It ain’t always pretty. There has been a revealing of just how deceitful and wicked my own heart can be (so easily masked by religion). There has to be a continual pressing towards honesty and openness, or else I’ll return to hiding and mask-wearing. I have to fight this ALL THE TIME.
It would have been easier to hide our brokenness, to “play the game”, and continue on. It would have been more comfortable for me to apply for ministry jobs and slide right back into serving, which would have been the worst possible scenario, not only for us but for any church we were a part of. Sometimes, though we resist it tooth and nail, the best thing for us is to sit, be still, and let God do what He wants. Sometimes letting go of good, yet temporary, things is a necessary step in order to gain something far more enduring and lasting: Jesus.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it is frightening how easily I replaced knowing Jesus with serving Jesus. Lord help me never make that mistake again! But here’s the thing: in the midst of it, I never saw it that way. I had no idea what I had become! It took a true break, a rest, a step back, to see it.
Most of us aren’t willing to take that step. I get it. A lot is at risk. Heck, I’m preaching to the choir here, because the Holy Spirit had to drag me out first and then show me how broken I was. I had no idea our stepping out was going to lead to 11 months without a job, a move to another state, complete career change. And yet, on this side of it, I can’t imagine NOT doing it. I shudder to think what and where we would be had we not (finally) obeyed.
Jesus loves us. Period. Not for what we do, how much we serve, how much we give. As our pastor reminded us Sunday, fruit SHOULD come from a relationship with Jesus, but that fruit doesn’t save us. It is so easy to have good doctrine, to know the Bible, and yet miss this! HE is the prize! HE is the goal! Jesus is better than anything else we could possibly hope could satisfy us! In the words of St. Augustine, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.”
I’m still learning this. Sometimes, like my Israelite predecessors before me, I look longingly back “at Egypt”, back to where we were, back to where we were brought out, forgetting that what He has called us to is far greater than what we left behind. But looking back isn’t all bad. This morning a friend texted me a pic of his morning devotion. It was from Isaiah 43. That’s a familiar passage of scripture, one that has become even more so on this journey:
“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”Isaiah 43:1-2
That chapter goes on:
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.Isaiah 43:18-19
Two years in, I took a step back today and thought of all we’ve gone through, of how faithful God has been, even when I’ve doubted and feared and faltered. I remember how He brought us out with “a mighty hand and outstretched arm.” I thought of how He broke/is breaking the idols in my heart, and how He restored the years with my family the locusts ate. The same God that did those things is with us, still. He continues to lead, to guide, and to speak. My heart’s desire is to continue seeking Him, to trust Him, and to let Him do what He wants in my life, and in my family.