Part of the Journey

Desert-Tracks

I’ll be the first to admit that I am often unsure of where I am going in my spiritual journey. A lot of the time, I feel like I’m wandering around in darkness, hands outstretched, feeling for something tangible. Sometimes standing in a lonely room, blindfolded, just waiting for a nudge. Sometimes hearing a voice from somewhere beyond and running toward it, stumbling, bruising myself on random shadow-covered objects but embracing the obstacles that guide me to Him.

I know everyone has those times. But geez, I feel like it’s happening to me all the time! Am I normal? As soon as I’ve recovered my equilibrium, God reveals something else that sends me off into a crazy tailspin. Part of this is that I question. A lot.

And doubt. A lot.

But I’ve also learned to trust. A lot.

And, paradoxically, to trust in the midst of doubt and uncertainty.

I used to hate this about myself. I wondered why I was always going through these crazy cycles. I get tired sometimes. I just want to rest. I feel like my lungs never completely fill up before the next wave of uncomfortable revelation breaks over my head. And I used to panic and hold my breath, hoping I could pretend I wasn’t being swept out to sea. But when I was submerged in the unknown long enough that I gave up and took a breath, expecting to drown, I found that the enormity of God fills my lungs and sustains me. It’s okay to breathe in the realm of spiritual uncertainty.

Journal excerpt from June 2013:

I want so badly to surrender everything to Christ and to stay in that place of passionate abandonment. My heart cannot cry loud enough for a life that pours out everything. But I’ve been so confused that I’ve become apathetic, unable to find the joy of complete certainty in my Savior. My Bible has been closed and put away, my prayers infrequent and empty. I think I’ve been afraid of what He’ll show me. But today I cracked open the door for Him to speak to me, and in rushed His demanding love like a tidal wave, like a battering ram. He’s calling me again — up and out. It’s time to go; I can’t stay here anymore. I don’t know where I’m going, but it’s time to start following again in faith. Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders. I want to come to You on the water, the things of the world blocked out by the blinders of my love for You.

My professor Dr. Lavender is an incredible man. In addition to the fact that he was born and raised in Italy, built a model space shuttle in his basement, once ran 100 miles in a day, and has the beautiful gift of sarcasm, he is the biggest spiritual role model in my life. For one thing, I feel like he can handle my crazy thoughts — and for another, God uses his calm and gentle reminders of the Story to bring me back down to earth, to ground me, more than anything else. Last week I was in his office talking about some of my latest inconvenient questions. In the course of the conversation, he made this statement: “Most Christians tend to be satisfied with what they’ve always known.”

And in five words I blurted out my entire life story: “I have never been satisfied.”

He smiled a little. “I don’t think you ever will be.”

I pondered this somewhat horrifying, somewhat exciting, thought for a moment, and he continued: “This prophetic calling you have from God — this restlessness, this searching — will be something that He uses to draw people into the bigger story, into His Kingdom on earth.”

If this is a prophetic calling — being yanked out of your comfy chair and then being called to yank others up as well — no wonder the prophets were pretty miserable. Yet there is a sort of untamed beauty in it too. And maybe that’s why, over the past couple of years, I’ve developed such a love for Old Testament prophets such as Hosea and Habakkuk. Prophets can be perceived as obnoxious and rude, but they only speak from their own brokenness. Hosea was doomed to constantly pursue the love of an unfaithful whore — probably not his idea of a super cool calling. Habakkuk asked for deliverance and God was like, “Tell everybody that a foreign nation is going to come destroy you.” He had his own struggle to cope with this unwanted reality, but in the end, he was still able to say, “Though there are no sheep in the pens and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17-18). He and Hosea learned to breathe underwater, learned to rest in the tension of doubt and spiritual longing.

And while I can only hope to attain a sliver of the incredible faith that they had, I too am a spiritual nomad, a theological wanderer. I am always on the move, unable to stay in one place too long. But I’ve learned that the in-between times are not true crises. They’re only part of the journey.

The first few times I was uprooted, it was disconcerting and painful. There was a lot of kicking and screaming involved. “I don’t like this! I don’t have time for this! I don’t want to want what You want! I want You to be who I always thought You were!” But I feel as though I am beginning to find my rhythm in the lack thereof, and learning to embrace the wilderness with a sigh of, “Hello wilderness, old friend, what devastating and beautiful truth will you teach me this season?” Faith wouldn’t be faith if it wasn’t a stretch, if it didn’t routinely push us out of our comfort zone, if it didn’t call us to that which we cannot see or understand.

So, resigned, my prayer has lately become something along these lines:

God, reveal to me as much of Yourself as I can handle in my present weakness…and increase my capacity for more.

Destroying Strongholds

Each of us has a stronghold built around our lives.  Each of us has a defense.  Some more apparent than others, perhaps, some more difficult to detect, but they are there nonetheless.  They are there because at some level or another, we each have deep underlying insecurities, and we want to protect ourselves from the world.

Why are these insecurities there?  They may be there because you’ve been abused.  They may be there because you feel inadequate.  They may be there because you have known poverty, or loss, or any number of worldly struggles or suffering.  But at the heart of it lies one simple reason: they are there because of sin.  They are there because this world is broken, because we all fall short and are incomplete without Christ, but none of us has been able to bridge the gap so completely that we are whole this side of heaven.  Desperately seeking safety that can never be assured on earth, we try to guard ourselves.

What’s wrong with being guarded?  Strongholds are walls that we have built to keep others out.  It may not seem that way, but sometimes we do it subconsciously.  Guarding yourself comes at the price of relationships, both with God and other people; the higher your wall, the more superficial your relationships will be.  First and most importantly, strongholds keep us from God because God is supposed to be our stronghold (Psalm 27:1).  Therefore, anything else that we depend on is an idol of our own making.  When we build walls, we replace God’s protection with our own.  Our lips say that we trust God, but our actions prove otherwise.  Second, strongholds keep us from having deep relationships with other people because we only let them see what we want them to see.  When they look at us, they don’t see the beauty of our soul; they see a wall.  And who can love a wall?  When we build strongholds, we forfeit the depth of love and acceptance for the shallowness of popularity.

What are your strongholds?  Some of you may know right away.  For others, they’ve so long been a part of you, so cleverly disguised and hidden even from yourself, that it may require discernment and guidance from the Holy Spirit to seek out these strongholds and destroy them.  Prayerfully consider the following questions:

What am I most afraid to let go of?

What do I turn to when I feel uncomfortable or threatened?

What do I feel like I most need to prove?

What makes me feel the most exposed?

What do I fear will happen if I lose my protection?

Answering these questions will give you valuable insight into what your strongholds are and why they are there.  If you can understand why you do what you do, it becomes easier to work through your emotions and get rid of the strongholds that keep you from God.  If you don’t, there may come a day when they are taken from you.  God is jealous, and His love is a tough love; if anything is keeping Him from your heart, He will stop at nothing to win you back.  When His people Israel continued to chase after other things, seeking security elsewhere, God decided to put a stop to it: “Israel has forgotten their Maker and built palaces; Judah has fortified many towns.  But I will send fire on their cities that will consume their fortresses” (Hosea 8:14).  With their strongholds burned to the ground around them, Israel had nowhere else to turn but to the Lord.  When all of their sin and weakness was exposed, they had to face their utter helplessness and depend on God.

Destroying strongholds can be a scary business, not only because we feel exposed, but also because we’ve worked our defense mechanisms into the fabric of our being for so long that we feel they’ve become a part of our identity.  If we strip them away, what will be left of us?  If our stronghold defines us, who are we without it?  The beautiful part is that God doesn’t leave us there; He transforms us into something new and beautiful.  As He did for His people Israel, He will replace our facade with a true identity, the security of which can never be taken away.  He will give us a new name: “I will say to those called ‘Not My People,’ ‘You are My People'” (Hosea 2:23).  Once the stronghold is torn down, we are no longer captives within our own walls.  We are free to know and be known, to love and be loved.

We are free when we are His.

Seeking God

“Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge Him.  As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” –Hosea 6:3

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” –James 4:8

If you felt like God was distant in 2012…

If you’re longing to hear His voice again…

If you want to experience the adventure of a relationship with Him…

…Take these words to heart.

God is not hiding from you, beloved.  He is waiting for you.  Seek, and you will find.

Published in: on January 2, 2013 at 4:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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working on my bible study curriculum…

I’m making a little bit of progress on my Hosea Bible studies.  I haven’t done much writing yet, but I’ve done a lot of reading and praying, and have divided it up into 13 sections for 13 weeks.  This may change as the project progresses, but here’s a sneak peek:

1. The Story

2. A Call to Action

3. Chasing After Lovers

4. Searching for Healing

5. God’s Anger

6. God’s Broken Heart

7. When Discipline and Mercy Collide

8. Exposed

9. Betrothed

10. Breaking Up the Unplowed Ground

11. Destroying Strongholds

12. A Prayer of Repentance

13. A New Identity

I’m sure I’ll keep you updated with bits and pieces from time to time.  In the meantime, I’d encourage you to dive into it yourself and explore these topics.  I did a couple of talks from Hosea for youth ministry classes this semester, and I can’t wait to dig even deeper.  It’s a beautiful book and one that’s been working on my heart since this summer.

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“I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.” — Hosea 2:19-20.

Published in: on December 18, 2012 at 11:33 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Alluring

I awake in the night and he is gone. The sheets are still warm from where he lay beside me, and his scent lingers in the air. But he is gone. Love is a mist, only an illusion that hangs in the air, fading with the morning light. I must have been kidding myself to think he would stay this time. As if in a dream, I swing my legs out of bed and shudder as my toes touch the cold floor. I wrap myself in the red satin robe he gave me and slip outside.

It is a foggy night, the moon obscured by the silvery clouds. I stand on tiptoe and strain to see. Distant, shadowed, but there he stands at the end of the path. My lover.

He sees me standing there, the breeze toying with my loosened hair, self-consciously fingering the front of my robe as if I suddenly feel  immodest. He turns and begins to walk away. His back is disappearing into the mist, but I can still catch him and somehow convince him to stay. It’s not too late. I begin to run, but in the darkness the trees suddenly seem to hem me in. The path narrows as the hedges thicken, creating a wall on either side of me. Am I still dreaming? I can barely see him now. Which direction has he gone? I look desperately around me at what now seems to be a threatening forest. I have lost my way, but I continue to push through the undergrowth. The thorns begin to tear at my robe, at my hair, at my skin. I feel like I am fighting, but what for? My lover has gone.

I stop, panting for breath, choking on the tears that have begun to surface. I hear footsteps behind me. Is that him? I spin around quickly…and there He is. Not my lover. The one I had left. The one had forgotten. The whole time I had been chasing my lover without a backward glance…He had been chasing me.

I walk towards Him slowly, apprehensively,  not sure what to expect. His face is difficult to read. I can’t quite place the emotion I find there, but somehow it tears me apart inside. He extends His hand to me. As I place mine in His, He pulls the gaudy ring from my finger and examines it. Then He tosses it away and pulls me to Him, roughly. I brace myself; this wouldn’t be the first time I had been hit by a man. With a jealous fury He snatches the adornment from my neck, throwing it to the ground with an anger that frightens me. He tears off the scarlet robe. It cascades to the ground, leaving me standing before Him naked and exposed. I cry out and try to cover myself with my arms, but it is no use. There is no hiding from Him. He is looking not even at me, but straight through me. I duck my head, guarding myself against the shouting and the beating that is sure to come. Surely His patience is worn through by now. Aren’t all men the same in the end?

But nothing happens. I open my eyes. He reaches out and tilts my chin upward to meet his gaze with a touch so gentle it gives me chills, and the look of intense longing in His eyes makes me catch my breath. Can He really still love me? The harsh voice I was expecting never comes. Instead, He begins to speak in a low, tender voice. “Stop cowering, beloved. Why are you so afraid? You will no longer call Me ‘master’; you will call Me ‘husband.’ For I will betroth you to Me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion and faithfulness.”

The words wash over me like a cleansing rain as I fall into His arms, their purity healing my heart of all the lies and the broken promises. Because this time I know…I know. This is the last time He will ever have to come after me, because nothing else will ever satisfy the way this love does.  I will look for love no further than here, where it has found me. This time I will stay.

~Hosea 2:6-20~

Published in: on August 31, 2012 at 9:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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