Today was all about the past…well, not about the past so much as remembering why the past is important…and remembering why it’s the past and not the future.
This morning, while I was riding the subway to church, I was reading The Grace of God. Andy Stanley brought up the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4). He talked about how, in that day, Jewish people never went through Samaria because of the prejudices surrounding the region. The Jewish people who lived in Samaria had basically married the Judaism out of their own bloodline due to a shift in political power and military positions.
So, Jesus passes through Samaria, completely out-of-the-way of his course to Galilee. He went to Samaria and met a woman standing by Jacob’s well, drawing water. While I was reading Grace of God, I read that, in order to get to the Samaritan woman, to open her up to the possibility of hope, the possibility of escaping her past of five husbands and her present of being with a man who isn’t actually her husband, Jesus had “dug around in the woman’s past. To resurface what had been there all along: thirst.”
It was then I realized that’s what Jesus had been doing with me during this entire time. The Bible Study. The move to New York City….oh my word He’d done it from the beginning.
I had always thought, for the longest time, that the past was the past and there was no need to ever bring it up or remember it. But I think that’s how bondage happens. We bury things that need to be brought to the surface, stow away mutineers when they should be brought out and executed. We pretend like we’re not broken, paint our faces to look beautiful when our hearts are so ugly, so desperate for something more.
God brings the past back to show us what He wants for our future. He moves all of the rocks and boulders out of the way to discover the dry well that is our heart, so He can finally fill it with Living Water. When we finally hate it, the bondage of the past, when we’ve finally had enough, He rips it from our stone grip and destroys it with one swipe of His mighty hand. God uses the past to protect, to grow.
I’d prayed this morning for God to remind me that the church is made up of humans, of broken, flawed, fickle, humans that need God just as much as anyone else on this earth. After this weekend, things became much harder, my emotions became much more confused, much more difficult to manage. But thankfully, regardless of how well I can handle my emotions, God can handle them much better, because He’s still infinitely bigger than my heart, and loves me far too much to let me fall prey to myself again.
The thing is, in a church family, even with the love of Christ at the center, humanity gets in the way, people get hurt, things are said. But in every group of people, not just in the church, even when they all love each other and truly care about one another, there are quarrels.
Sometimes it’s really easy to form my own opinions based on what the people around me say, but I want to find out for myself, who they are exactly; I want to give them a chance. That’s what God gave me, isn’t it? I’ve remembered that church is a place for broken sinners, and there’s a lot of us. I thanked God for showing me the broken humanity of the church, the emotional turmoil of the bride of Christ before her wedding day. Pastors sin. Christian adults quarrel. Single ladies yearn for husbands that love God. Singe men crave wives whose hearts are so consumed with love for Christ that they have to seek Him further to find her. The bride’s mirror is shattered, and blades of glass cover her vanity. But God is an expert at binding up the brokenhearted.
You shouldn’t go to church because it’s what “good Christians do.” You go to church when your face is covered in blood and grime and dirt, when you’re burdened with manacles and overweight yokes, when, even if you’ve known God’s love, even if your soul is safe, you lack fulfillment because you’re so focused on saying the right things and wearing the right clothes and quoting the perfect verse.
A lot of Christians have dark testimonies. I know that when I tell people my testimony, they’re surprised because they describe me as bubbly, kind, excited, and unselfish. But that’s the point. The only reason I can be any of those things is because God dug out my past and destroyed any connotations that came with it. The point of a testimony is to be in awe of how God’s light smote that darkness and created in them a new life, a new heart, a new creation. We can’t hold someone’s past against them; God doesn’t hold yours against you. That’s Satan’s trade.
The thing is, however, as humans, we can’t help but look at the way people act now while taking into account their past. I’ve held too many grudges, withheld forgiveness too many times, been selfish on too many occasions. But God, despite myself, despite my horrible inability to think of someone other than yours truly, gave me a spirit, the Holy Spirit, to teach me and show me what it means to really love someone, to ignore their past and even their present, in order that I may see what their future could be.
So pray for your pastors. Pray for your pastors’ wives. Pray for your deacons. Pray for the single women and the single men in your church. Pray for the upcoming generation. Pray for your elders. Pray for your enemies. Fight against bitterness; it will try to worm its way into your relationships, into your church events, into your school systems, and it will set us against each other, which is just what Satan wants.
God wants to love His bride. Is it going to be through you?
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things….
Love never fails.” —1 Corinthians 13:4-8