As I drove the mower over the rebellious grass, along a five-acre piece of land, finishing up a long day’s work, a young buck bounded out of the surrounding forest and across the lawn in front of me, over the asphalt of the opposite road, into the other side of the wood. I stopped driving and gasped as I watched him, seeing the muscles in his legs move as he did, driving him forward. His hooves seemed to just glide over the ground.
And then, on the same stretch of lawn, in the same day, a giant toad the size of the palm of my hand nearly got himself caught under my wheel, and I stopped again to rescue the silly old toad, catching him and putting him in the forest, from where the deer came bounding. The toad’s skin was warty and full of texture, soft and peppered with black dots and brown circles and tan streaks, like drops of rain streaming down a dirty face. He seemed rather miffed at me, but I thought he’d rather be miffed than squished.
That’s one way God has blessed me with my job this summer; I get to be around His creation, to be intimately exposed to a side of Him I don’t always get to see so clearly or closely during my time in the City. I get to see things grow, too, which is encouraging 🙂 . I work the garden of an elderly gentleman, and one day there are small pea branches, just intertwining with one another, and the next week there are fat pods full and ready for picking 😀 Seeing this physical growth in a garden reminds me of Mark, especially since lately I’ve been wondering, concerning relationships between people and with my family, if I’ve just been making everything worse or causing more harm than being helpful:
“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
The man sleeps and rises night and day, not becoming weary of doing good, seeing that the seed of the kingdom sprouts and grows, though he knows not how. The kingdom of God grows. But when the grain is ripe, which is the proper time, he immediately puts in the sickle, knowing that this is the harvest that he’s been waiting for, having refused to give up. God works in the invisible become visible. He works behind the scenes until it’s time to manifest His work. He works in the unseen heartstrings of man and woman, and He asks us to trust that He knows what He’s doing. “The seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.”
You may be reaching out to someone: a sister who’s drifted from the God she used to praise, a mom who’s been stuck in a hopeless situation for too long, a complacent father, a broken friend, a shattered child. You may be reaching out and seeing no fruit, no healing, nothing that signifies or implies any hope of growth or progress, no heart change.
Don’t give up. God has the endurance you need, and it matters that you’re trying. He does see what’s happening, and it hasn’t caught Him off guard, which means He does have a plan for it….He not just sitting and watching you ache for someone you love, and He’s not kicking His feet up and eating popcorn, waiting to see what you’re going to do next. He’s more involved than you could possibly understand.
“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9)
“For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” (Lamentations 3:31-33)
God is a professional at using situations and people to show me truths about Himself. One thing He’s shown me, or reminded me of, along with the time at my summer job, the fact that He’s actually okay with being seen with me.
There was a time when I used to be very ashamed of my past, of the things I’d done and the things that had been done to me. I withheld my testimony of how God rescued me from where I was in my heart and where I was physically because I thought people would reject me because of it, or that they would use it against. Maybe that’s because I let myself and my enemy use it against me on a regular basis.
I wasn’t proud of it, and I was hurt, and wounded, and I couldn’t imagine how God could want me, how He could stand to be near me, how He could be proud of me, even after He’d really shown how deep His desire for a relationship with me went by saving me in the first place.
Each time someone I love “claims” me, which is usually some kind of innocent physical affection, in front of people, I’m reminded of how God claims me that way too. He’s actually okay with the fact that I’m His…more than okay, He wants to show to the world that I’m His, and that He is mine. Yes, there’s the risk with me, because I’m human and I fail, to have His reputation ruined…but He knows that risk, and He’s willing to take it because He loves me. Really loves me. As in “there is no way you, Hunter, could possibly better me in any way, but that doesn’t matter. I’m going to make you better, expecting nothing of the sort in return. I am strong enough. I am wise enough. I have enough love to heal your wounds, and enough time to be eternally patient, and enough of Myself to give to you so that you will always be satisfied by Me. I am enough for you, and I’m proud of that.”
How could I forget this? I never knew this about myself, but I guess that’s a another area of life in which God is a professional: He knows us much better than we could ever hope to know ourselves. He’s been all over and reviewed every pore in our skin, every vein lining our muscles, every scar, every freckle, every hair follicle. He’s understood and empathized with and maneuvered every fear, every insecurity, every misunderstanding, every confusion, every disruption, every worry, every lust, every desire, every dream, every nightmare.
“I have been hunted like a bird by those who were my enemies without cause; they flung me alive into the pit and cast stones on me; water closed over my head; I said, ‘I am lost.’ I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, ‘Do not close your ear to my cry for help!’ You came near when I called on you; you said, ‘Do not fear!'” (Lamentations 3:52-57)
“You came near when I called on you….”
Now, Lamentations is written by Jeremiah (I didn’t know that, so it’s cool to me, and makes much more sense 🙂 ), and, reading the book of Jeremiah, I can see that this prophet had it pretty rough…okay, really rough. Obviously I’m not in Jeremiah’s position physically…I wasn’t physically thrown into a pit. But there’s another kind of battlefield, another realm of captivity and hopelessness: the mind. So here, when it’s Jeremiah in a pit with water coming over his head and his thinking “I am lost,” it’s me in my head and in my heart, sinking down into the mud of my thoughts, thinking “I am worthless, and everyone is ashamed of me” and then following that with all of the reasons why.
Everything really does come back to Christ and who believers are in Christ, what their new identity is in Him, what it really (really) means to belong to Him, to be new in Him, to be changed by Him.
Jessica and I are studying John chapter four, and in this chapter, Christ is combating a woman’s foundation in the history of her people (“How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”; “Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”; “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain,”) and the way she’s defined herself thus far (“You (woman) are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband”) with the newness of the Gospel, the eternal change He’s bringing to just rock her world. And the newness of what He’s saying, how absolutely different it is from what this woman has known her entire life just hit me, if I can be cliche, yes, like a ton of bricks.
Christ made me new, and He reminds me of just how new I am every day, showing me how to walk in that way, how to step in His footprints, how to let Him carry me, how to run, and even how to just sit with Him. No, He is not ashamed of me. He is proud of me. And even as I type this out, the temptation is to delete it and not share with you all of the things God is doing, the truth of His word, and the power that it has in my life.
The cool thing is that this doesn’t apply just to me. It applies to everyone who’s in Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). I imagine it being like spring cleaning, but in my heart, and, because the Cleanser is very skilled and thorough in what He does, it doesn’t have to be done to the same sins and the same tendencies every springtime. It’s dusting out my closets and pulling out my skeletons, and showing me fears I didn’t even know that I had, showing me patterns in my thinking that I didn’t even know where affecting me as deeply as they were, and further showing me where they come from.
So, with the shame. It comes from feeling ashamed of what I’ve done and who I’ve been, wondering if anyone will truly want to claim me as theirs if I’ve had a history of being so lost and despicable. And then there’s Christ, who is not ashamed to be my God (Hebrews 11:6). And I think this whole shame thing, not just in me but across the board, has a lot to do with a fear of being vulnerable, and a fear of being intimately known by someone. Definitely. And yet when you know you’re known by God, and He still isn’t ashamed to be called your God, because you’re after Him and have let Him come after you, after you’ve let Him in, it’s freeing. You can be confident and sure when uncertainty is a running trend, the only trend. You can be yourself, your true self, the self God made you to be in Him, no matter who you’re with. You can be solid when the world wants you broken. You can be at peace when the enemy reminds you of who you used to be, when your flesh brings up guilt and fear and worry that you’re not a slave to anymore.
In Christ, you do not have to live that way anymore.
You are no longer a prisoner of war.
You are no longer lost.
You are found, rescued, precious, and protected by the God who created the world, who rains down fire from the sky, who heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds, who gives good, godly men their strength, who uplifts the lowly, who places the roar in the heart of a lion, who paints sunsets for the pleasure of His creatures, and who lives within the saved hearts of godly men and women as Savior, as Friend, as God 🙂
“I am poor, I am spent,
I am filled with much regret,
From what I’ve done,
From where I’ve come,
And what I owe is, above my head.
And my account has nothing left…
And my debt, it is nailed to the cross,
It is all gone, my life has been bought.”
—Rush of Fools, “Nailed to the Cross”