Satisfied in Jesus

As I was driving home from school last night, I was thinking about the start of a new ministry year and all the many things that will take place in this coming year. While I was praying for the children we will have in our Sunday school classes this year, these verses came to mind:

“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (Psalm 90:14-17)

For whatever we do this year to have any meaningful or lasting value, it has to come from hearts that have been satisfied with Jesus and all he is for us. Knowing his great love for us should make us deeply joyful (v. 14). But Moses, the writer of this psalm, doesn’t want to eventually be satisfied in God or find God after chasing after God-substitutes all day long (Jer. 2:13). He is asking God for this to happen early in the morning. He is thirsting for the water that eternally satisfies (Jn. 7:37-38).

For most of us, our lives have had pain, suffering, or loss. But the writer of this psalm is asking God to make them glad for as many years as they have experienced suffering (v. 15). It’s like he knows that is actually going to take place! That one day it is entirely possible to have a joy in God that is so overwhelmingly great as to make all the sorrow from the past days and years simply fade away (Rev. 21:4).

He also wants God’s works to be shown to both his people but also to their children. He longs for the next generation to be amazed at the glory of God in what God does (v. 16). But he has also had enough experience with humanity to know that the only way one can see God as glorious, amazing, and powerful is to first behold him for who he really is and to be deeply satisfied in him. The same goes for children…how will they see Jesus as the treasure he is if they do not see the adults in their lives delighting in Jesus?

Moses then closes his psalm by asking for the favor of God to rest upon them, but also to establish the work they will do (v. 17). He doesn’t want to just do things, as he surely remembers what it is like to do things a part from God (Num. 20). And he doesn’t want to simply do all the right things if they don’t come from a place of both knowing God but also knowing that his smile is upon them.

Ministry can and does happen with God only making a cameo appearance. It is entirely possible to serve without being satisfied in Jesus. Things get done, but there is not the joy in Jesus that should characterize our service. Instead, we are left feeling incredibly empty, lonely, and sad. It was never how it was supposed to be. Nor should we ever be content with doing the right things if they do not come from a place of deeply knowing and loving Jesus.

We must behold Jesus and delight in him as our One Thing (Luke 10:42), joyfully serve his people, and be all there in our relationships with him and with his people.

 

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Find Rest in Jesus

These past days I have been in La Crosse for work training and what a restful time away it turned out to be. The days were long and full, especially as I had school to do into the late evening hours each night. But in the midst of being busy, my soul is at rest.

Actually, my soul has been at rest and peace since Sunday. There are plenty of things to feel stressed about, plenty of things to be anxious about the future with, and not a few things that are carried in sorrow. But in the middle of these things going on around me, I have found that having Jesus is all I really need. He is all.

With hours of drive time, quiet evenings and early mornings at the hotel for restful reflection, and the sustaining prayers of dear people, my soul has found deep rest. God has been reminding me that the prescription for weak, worn-out, empty souls isn’t found in “regrouping”, just pushing through the pain, or trying harder.

No. Rather the treatment is found in Jesus himself. It is being with Jesus (Acts 4:13), resting in Jesus (Matt. 11:29, Ex. 33:14), seeing Jesus (2 Cor. 4:6), delighting in Jesus (Ps. 37:4; 43:4), and being loved by Jesus (Eph. 3:18-19, Rom. 8:35-39). I know of no other medication, treatment, therapy, or cure that could do even a pinch of what Jesus does. And even considering the good that can come from these other means, none of them will last and satisfy forever like Jesus does and will.

In the confusion and heaviness of our lives, pulling ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps is not the answer. We need Jesus. We also need to preach the gospel to ourselves. And we need people in our lives who will give us the depth and width of the Bible. It is being so overwhelmed by God and his Word, that we are able to echo the words of Peter to Jesus, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Not only does Jesus have the words of eternal life, he is eternal life itself. “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

To whom else could we even dare to go to with our worn-out souls, when we have all of life in the fullness of Jesus himself? There is no other answer. None but Jesus.

Obedience is Better than Sacrifice

This is something I wrote on December 29, 2016, in response to God’s very clear call to me the morning before.

Sometimes obedience is following a known path. But sometimes it simply means going, when you have no idea where you are even going. I believe God can and does use both of these journeys in the life of the believer.

I am experiencing the “blessed” privilege of getting to walk the second path—the journey that simply begins with, “Go.” God has been graciously and faithfully revealing more and more of himself to me in his Word, in my classes at Bethlehem, through the words and wisdom of some precious people in my life, and in times of prayer with him.

This week, God met me in such a direct way that his imperative “go” was a non-negotiable. Though I cannot see where all this next road will take me, I am confident that I am being called to leave what has been my life for the past couple years and simply go with him.

I cannot refuse him. Nor can I refuse the longing in my heart that he put there in the first place. There are things I see that could be possibilities on this winding, new trail. There are also things that cradle the depths of my soul that I fully believe are God’s good gifts to me that are meant to be poured out as an offering to the One who gave them to me. Jesus has my heart and I cannot stay any longer when he has so clearly told me to go.

What I have come to see in my own life is the fact that sacrifice is often easier than obedience. But it is not better (1 Sam. 15:22). More often than not, I am willing to sacrifice various aspects of my life for God; but it is far harder to obey him in the unknowns, in the undesirables, or in the messy situations. But God does not want or need the sacrifices that come from a disobedient heart. As God works in my heart, I am aware that at times, I have sacrificed much but obeyed very little. I have given for him, but I have not gone with him. The Christian life is the chance to truly die to fully live. It is also the life of the greatest joy, the fullest purpose, and the deepest relationship.

So, to all the unknowns, uncertainties, losses, pains, and brokenness that will likely find me on this new road, I say, “Jesus is better and enough. I cannot refuse him. It would break my heart.” And to all the joy, hope, beauty, relationships, and life that will also be found on this path, I simply say, “Jesus is also better than any and all of that, as he is the greatest of all good gifts.”

Following Jesus brings a richness to life that is impossible to find anywhere else. With unspeakable joy and hope, I look forward to this next season.

The Deepest Depths

Tonight I’m listening to “Depths” by Hillsong Worship, and it reminds me of listening to it over and over and over again just two, short years ago. That song was one of a handful that saw me through the roughest 1+ years of my life.

I know I’ve eluded to that year in a few posts, but as I am far enough removed from that time, I feel much freer to share about that dark season.

For much of my childhood and young adult life, I thought God hated me. No one knows how many times I cried to him, “Why do you hate me so much? If you hate me this much, why did you ever make me? And if you hate me this much after creating me, why don’t you just kill me?”

2014-2015 had all of those years beat by a longshot. While I may not have been as mentally absent as I was as a child, teen, and young adult, I very well could have been, for as awful as I felt. No matter what anyone said to me, I was convinced God loathed my life as much as I did. I was immersed in church and ministry, and yet, the very place one would expect to find God the closest was the place where he was the farthest.

The verses about God being near to the broken-hearted and keeping all our tears in a bottle mocked me. In the deep sorrow of my heart, I did not feel God anywhere. And if he were keeping track of my tears, I was surely well on my way to reaching a record for crying the most consecutive nights in a row. It seemed that he peered at that giant blue bottle, squinted at how close to the “full” mark the liquid had reached, and set it back down. Pushing it away, he sighed and said, “Let me know when it overflows. Then—and only then—will I do something about it.” Then he turned away and went back to more important things.

I poured my very life into ministry and service and it amounted to nothing. God didn’t love me anymore. Worship wrenched my soul. How could one honestly sing of an awesome, magnificent God when he was that to others but not to you? Words that were attempts at comfort and counsel were empty, hollow, and fleeting. No mortal in my life truly knew the depths of despair, desperation, and heart-break that characterized my life in that long, dark season.

During this time, I lost my two best friends—my 17-year-old cat died the day after Christmas and my then best friend’s and my relationship simply ceased to exist. Life couldn’t get much worse. But it would have been bearable, if I’d known in the deepest depths of my soul that God loved me—that he wasn’t against me, even when it felt that way.

This time of greatest darkness lasted a good year and a half. Sure, there were moments when the thick cloud would crack open to let in a shaft of light, but those times were all very short-lived. I just didn’t want to live anymore. And for someone who had a fairly strong theological foundation to sink my heart and mind into, this was a new, scary thing to go through.

There really are no reasons or explanations I can give for why the darkness finally lifted. I simply believe that sometimes God allows us to go through extreme “dark nights of the soul” (as Mother Teresa and John of the Cross referred to them as), to force us to trust in a God we can neither see or feel. There is no better way I could explain the theological belief commonly known as the Perseverance of the Saints than to actually walk through a darkness so thick, you are a hairbreadth away from cracking…but Jesus is stronger.

And while I may have emerged from the darkness stronger in my trust in Jesus, it is unlikely I’ll ever be who I used to be before that season. That time aged me like nothing else ever did, while also giving me a greater empathy and insight into the extreme depths of sorrow and depression people drown in. Also, some of my deepest writings and reflections came out of this season.

And now, more than ever, I believe every believer in Jesus needs to have a rock-solid foundation in the sovereignty and goodness of God. The thick darkness requires a level of faith and trust that can’t be fully test-driven until the storm comes. You have to believe in something—Someone—you can’t see, when all reason and all feelings tell you the exact opposite.

Dear people who read this, please don’t attempt to put all seasons of darkness into neat, spiritual categories that you can wrap your minds around. And if you feel compelled to speak into someone’s situation, please ask first. Don’t assume you know what the other person is going through or that you can even help them in this season. It’s very likely you will hear some very bitter, broken words—and instead of answering them in the way Job’s friends did, just listen and don’t attempt to “set them straight”. Sometimes silence and a shoulder squeeze are the best medicines.

And to all the people who have or will go through incredible seasons of darkness and doubt—I love you. You are not alone. Jesus has not left you. You will sing again. It may not be for a very long time, but you will rejoice in Jesus again. One day, you will again see, feel, and taste that he is good.

If God Sees Fit…

“If the Lord sees fit, he will bring me back to see the Ark and the Tabernacle again” (2 Sam 15:25 NLT). This was a verse my pastor shared with me today. We’d been talking about the future, fears, and trusting in God (among other things). He was telling me the story of David and Absalom, when Absalom attempted to take over the kingdom and drove his father from Jerusalem.

In the midst of great uncertainty, King David tells his men that if he should find favor in the eyes of God, God will surely bring him back to Jerusalem—to the house of God to worship him. This is an incredible statement! Leaving his future in the hands of a sovereign God, David surrenders any plans and hopes of even coming back to his homeland. And considering the context where this story takes place, it would surely have been a bitter thing to realize that you could be separated from the Tabernacle forever. This was the physical place where God’s Spirit dwelt among his people, and what a grievous sorrow to be separated from this—the most tangible presence of God.

These words of David sound almost matter-of-fact and nearly emotionless. But these are not the words of a man who just didn’t care whether he left or stayed. No, on the contrary, it all but broke his heart to leave. A couple verses after this statement, it says that “David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered” (v. 30 ESV). He felt this pain and rejection, acutely, and it moved him to deep mourning.

For many of us, we are in similar situations. We are uncertain about what the future will bring, and this is a cause for great sorrow. Perhaps some fear is stirred in too. My own story is concerned with staying when several pieces of my heart would rather leave. There is a great longing to go, be, do something different. (And finally, finally be finished with Minnesota winters!) But I do not know if God will see fit to move me away from this present place anytime soon.

I was talking to one of my sisters the other day and mentioned that I have no idea if I will ever be a missionary, if I will even do anything “important” like that, ever even leave where I am right now. And I have to face the fact that God may ask me to stay here for another season or two—or more. Being a missionary may not even be his ultimate plan for my life. He may be calling me to plough another row in this field, plant seeds and stick around to see them sprout, or go the second mile on a journey that has taken me places I never would have chosen for myself.

Surrender to a God who is all-knowing, all-consuming, all-loving. He is not confined to the four walls of a tent. No, his dwelling is with his people—us. His Spirit lives in us! Whether we leave or stay, he will never leave us. We can never be separated from him. There is no place that he is not already there. Our lives are in his strong, tender, sovereign hands. Safe.

He is a good God. He can be trusted with our leaving or staying. And he can be trusted with the most tender aspects of ourselves—our very hearts and tears.

If God sees fit, I will yet experience life as a missionary. But if God should choose for me to stay here, then I will trust that he still knows best and will seek the joy, meaning, and life that is found here. And I will trust that in the end, he will do the right thing. Just as he always does.

Who You Really Are

 

I just registered for the MAVT convention to keep up my certification for my degree. For the first time since going to college, I am not a practicing veterinary technician. I am not doing anything with animals—except being a simple cat owner. I don’t even have any exotic pets this year—the first for me in eleven years. It’s as if my past life with animals never even existed.

Two years ago, I wrote about this in a yet-to-be-published post called “Change”. It was a hard-hitter to first realize that I was paying off a loan on a degree I was barely using at that time. It also bruised my pride to not be using my college education—at all.

Some good conversations with Father God that winter changed my perspective. I had perfect peace in the current life I was living. I knew he had called me to this exact position to be a better fit with church ministry, and I was grateful. And I am grateful.

Over and over, God and people have lovingly reminded me, “Rach, who you are is not what you do” (because I often forget). My current position allowed me to take a 10-day mission trip (when I only had 20 hours of vacation time at the time), my boss has consistently honored my request to have Tuesdays off to work at the church and has adjusted my schedule to allow for various church events and outreach opportunities over the past 2+ years.

Who I am is not dependent on whether I am currently using my degree—or if I ever use it again. Who I am has less to do with what I do and far more to do with who I am—who God is making me into. That is what matters to him, and that is what should matter to me too. The mundane, seemingly insignificant aspects of work matter to the degree they affect me—negatively or positively.

As my favorite author and missionary, Helen Roseveare, once wrote (on being whittled arrows in the hands of Jesus), “God can either use me or hide me. The choice is his.” How I respond is up to me.

Jesus, you must increase and I must decrease (John 3:30). Help me more fully realize that I am dead and my life is hidden in yours (Col. 3:3, Gal. 2:20) and that you are the only and ultimate Treasure. I want my only boast to be you (Gal. 6:14), and that will never happen if degrees, education, promotions, and positions have a leading place in my heart and life.

He is better. So much better.

 

Exploring the Mysteries of the Gospel as Fellow Travelers

We miss so much God when we devalue the creation made in his image—Imago Dei.

Goodness, life is a giant soup pot of mess, nastiness, stink. But it is also in this melting pot that so much beauty, worth, value, and life is found. Possibly, might could be found—if one is just willing to look with eyes wide open and heart wide open.

This week had every possibility of being a mess, a disaster of sorts. This week, situations at work reached such a climax, I seriously considered one of two different job opportunities. I no longer loved my job. I cannot tell you yet whether I will ever love my job again. That remains to be seen. This post isn’t about that. That is simply the background for this post.

Wednesday, a new trainee “graced” my kitchen. Not a word of greeting, no smile, just waltzed in like she’d worked in our store for years. I smiled and introduced myself but she did neither. I couldn’t bring myself to extend my hand, as touch felt far too intimate, vulnerable, precious for this dark moment. My heart sank when I looked at the schedule of trainees and found her to be on my next three shifts. Rude, bitter heart, no joy—some apt descriptions of what was being glaringly presented.

I found reasons to stay out of the kitchen, and managed to be away from her for over an hour. New people stress me out. Difficult new people nearly make me cry and quit. Near to Point B, I took a trip of garbage to the backroom to remove myself completely from the situation.

It was back there that I asked Jesus to give me a heart that loves like he does. A heart surrendered to him as Sovereign over all circumstances and the One who ordained for this very event. I asked him to help me be a gracious strong—that I would be gentle and tender like the meaning of my name but also carrying the strength and dignity of being a daughter of the King.

The Rachel I am when Jesus is free in me walked back into the kitchen and began to develop a relationship with “Gretchen”. It was painful, halting, and scary at first. I didn’t know if she was going to tell me to be quiet, glare at me, or give some other fear-inducing response.

God was in the kitchen that day, and the next day, and the next day. Truly, he blessed the fragments offered and gave a miraculous feast. We talked about so much over the course of three days. By the last day, she was calling me “dear” and “hon”—and not in the derogatory way they can be used. She even smiled and laughed. My heart fairly danced when I saw her teeth and heard something beautiful erupting from her lungs and mouth.

We talked about Jesus. Together, we entered into the mysteries of the Gospel and Christ and church. We were two travelers on different paths, but for an instant, we were on our own version of a Road to Emmaus experience. We shared questions, thoughts, and reflections on having a relationship with Jesus vs. being religious. Honestly, there is nothing worth more than simply making it the aim of living, breathing “to know nothing but Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).

This is not to say that you refuse to know anything else. No, as Paul said, it is a decision to not fill the space with empty, lofty words. It is refraining from using great theological terms and concepts, when all a situation requires is entering into the mysteries of the Gospel as a fellow traveler. Just give them Jesus. The real Jesus requires no doctoring up to look beautiful, no defending to make him more appealable. No, just let Jesus be Jesus. Let him speak and live for himself.

Tears are oozing from my eyes as I write this, knowing how close I was to completely missing all this beauty! If I had remained as aloof as she was for those first hours, we would have both had three fairly miserable days. And there would never have been any mention of Jesus. At all.

Jesus is seeking worshippers from every people group, everywhere. And it is my deep hope and prayer that he will draw Gretchen to himself. The force of his Spirit is unstoppable and uncontainable and I believe that he is already beginning to soften her heart.

It was an incredible honor to represent him this week. I am humbled that he would allow me to give her a greater glimpse of the greatness of God. And I am grateful that it is when we are broken that he is able to shine all the more brighter and clearer through the cracks. Just as we are, so just as he is can be seen.