The moment between dying and death, the time between slumber and delayed consciousness, the point between gasping and drowning, between sickness and deliverance- those in between moments are the worst. Even more excruciating is the occasion between rebellion and submission.
I try hard to talk myself into it. I recite verses, I pray, I fast, I share about it; I save them as wallpapers, I journal, I write posts about it and yet here I am still battling with it. I have weeks when I think, this is easy. I love this sacrificial life; it makes me happy, makes me free. Yet, every so often, my hearts long for the chains of yesterday, my hands feel weird without them, like a baby that has lost her favorite blanket. I know, I shouldn’t miss it, but I do. Especially on days when I judge, Oh God this is hard. Why would God even require this? I thought he was interested in making me happy. This does NOT make me happy.
I believe in cause and effect, that nothing is isolated. Even if the cause is outside of one’s self. Therefore, these thoughts weren’t isolated. They never are. Something dragged a baton across the bars of the jail cell housing my sinful nature. Something awoke it, something that identifies with it, that speaks its language. Something I opened the door to.
I had falsely held the belief that once under the shadow of the Almighty, scorpions wouldn’t come there to sting me, or hornets wouldn’t remind me they still have the power to distract and confuse me. When I realized this, I turned to the Hill, looking for the ‘help’ that was promised. The help I assumed would destroy my enemies, my sinful craving and ungodly raving. To not hear the enemies you see today, you won’t see them anymore, was quite discouraging. Instead, I heard, my grace is sufficient.
My response, (very different from Paul’s I might add), first, I wasn’t even referring to that and it may be, but I am interested in getting rid of the present scorpions and hornets that are pulling me from you. Or me being close doesn’t matter anymore? Then, silence.
When my parents (who love me) give an instruction or promise and I make a rebuttal, I am usually faced with a look. The expression that makes you realize the idiocy of the presence of rebuttal. Children obey your parents, for this is right. Whether we understand or are comfortable with the request or gift, we obey. That’s the look I feel from God. The face I imagine as He says, you won’t understand everything I am doing, but one day you will.
I’d like to spend some more time writhing on in self pity about the cost of discipleship, but frankly, I have had enough. Enough of despising hiccups on this journey, of the constant up and down, all the while trying to find balance, to find something concrete to hold on to. Perhaps it’s because I am realizing the rules aren’t changing, I just never knew them. So, the more I know, the more I am expected to adjust. I must learn that my life if lived for God will never experience the false tranquility of being unbothered. It’s experiencing pain, shame, suffering, destitution, joy, nakedness, hunger, happiness, hurt, forgiveness, rest, peace, sometimes all at the same time.
Fire Without Heat
The fiery furnace has always been a favorite for me, especially the way how it’s preached. And who doesn’t love a supernatural deliverance?! After all, an angel or God himself, whatever your persuasion is, showed up! His presence caused the heat to not scorch them, he protected even their clothes! I want that for my life too. Fire without heat, a prisoner in a den of lions without a bite, red seas without water, snakes that heal instead of harm, burnt sacrifices without providing the fire, food without planting or reaping. Is He not still that kind of God? Definitely!
But what if He wants us to really see more of His magnificence and not just His back side? That’s why Jesus allowed Lazarus to die. To show not only show He can protect someone from dying, but He could bring them back to life. I admit I am not ready for this kind of God. I am not ready to experience the death of my will for God’s glory. It breaks my heart to admit it, but it’s true. I judge the Israelites for their cycles of belief and doubt, yet, here I am doing the same thing. Struggling with trust in the invisible, the invisible God, the invisible promises, the invisible heaven, the invisible hope. I am who Thomas Merton calls a coward.
“And sooner or later, if we follow Christ, we have to risk everything in order to gain everything. We have to gamble on the invisible and risk all that we can see and taste and feel. But we know the risk is worth it, because there is nothing more insecure than the transient world. For this world as we see it is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31).
Without courage we can never attain to true simplicity. Cowardice keeps us “double minded” —hesitating between the world and God. In this hesitation, there is no true faith—faith remains an opinion. We are never certain, because we never quite give in to the authority of an invisible God. This hesitation is the death of hope.”
― Thomas Merton,Thoughts In Solitude
Now, yours truly does not intend to remain a coward or give in to the death of hope. Struggle I may, but I will not stop reaching for that prize. Fall I may seven times, but like the righteous, I will rise eight. Will I allow the prisoned nature to speak to my free man? Yes, he may speak, but I won’t trust him. I will remind him, there is a reason why he is behind bars. Why he may not be in control. I will say to my soul, the affliction now cannot be compared to the glory that will be revealed. I will fight with every drop of blood, of sweat, of tears, to submit myself to God, to resist the devil, to resist me. Martyn was on to something:
Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is because you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc.
Somebody is talking… Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So, he stands up and says, “Self, listen for a moment. I will speak to you.”
― Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression (20–21)
I imagine you are having a hard time as well with submission, or a besetting sin. Let’s tell ourselves to shut up and listen. Let us know that we have a hope, that we are fighting against the carnal man. That we are no longer on the benches observing our lives, thinking we aren’t even apart from the game. That we have taken over the ship and we are now captains, submitting to the greatest Admiral. That even if we murmur because of prayer or fasting or sacrifice, we will do it anyway, because we answer to God, not ourselves.
Will I always be happy? No, but God will be with me. Will I be free from my prison instantaneously? No, but he will sit with us through it. His grace we will see was sufficient. He also promises to open its doors at an appointed time. A time I might not get to experience on earth, but a time is for sure. He is still that kind of God, who is comfortable with three days in the grave that gives way to the salvation of my soul. The kind of God who never leaves, even in weakness, even in turmoil and mess. Take heart, he can overcome yours.
I have told you all this so you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
― Jesus, John 16:33
What’s In It For Me?
The cause and effect principle I shared earlier is something God has invested in. We see him saying, if you do this, this will happen, whether blessing or curse. Abraham went through this cause and effect, yet at the time he didn’t know, hence, the demonstration of faith. After not withholding his son, this is what God says to him:
“This is what the Lord says: Because (Cause) you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that,
I will (Effect) certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies.Genesis 22:16-17 (NLT)
On the other side of submission is joy. On the other side of submission is what your heart truly desires, deep past your flesh and fulfilling the discomfort of your soul. Now, I will leave us to choose. The fleeting, temporary, insufficient or everlasting, satisfying, meaningful? Simply, life or death? Remember, you are precious.