Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Grace

I have written this post a million times in my head. But, lately it’s really been pressing on my heart, so I decided there’s probably a reason and I should put it down on paper and post it a.s.a.p.

At the end of college, as I was beginning my adult life, I realized that I had no foundation on which to base the major decisions I was making for my future. So, God initiated a debate about whether or not I should commit my life to Him, during which I remember telling Him that I didn’t want to be a Christian because I wanted to do what I wanted to do. I was pretty sure I would have to change a lot about myself if I were a Christian, and essentially I wanted to be lord of my own life. God responded to this concern of mine by saying (clearly to my heart, not audibly), “I will make you want what I want.” To which I said, “OK then. As long as I’ll want it, I’m cool with that.” At that moment, sitting on the bed in my apartment, I gave God “permission” to be MY LORD.

Growing up, when things went wrong in my life, I can recall people saying, “You just need to get right with the LORD.” Not knowing exactly how to do that, the message I got was, “If you ‘get right with the LORD’ your life will be better and you will be happy.” In other words, if you try your best not to sin, things will go your way. I grew up in church and it seemed true that those who were “on the straight and narrow” didn’t experience the heartache that others (including me) did. I have to admit, the main reason I wanted to become a Christian was because things weren’t going right in my life and I wanted to be happy. It had nothing to do with being humbled by the realization of what Christ had done for me. It was much more selfish than that. Fortunately, God had mercy on me and took over my heart despite my impure motivations.

Early on, God was gracious enough to answer all of my prayers and I found what I thought to be true happiness. He quickly removed the desire and temptation to sin and replaced it with a hunger to get to know Him better by reading His Word and praying. Admittedly, the fact that I had “gotten right with the Lord” and things had started to go well for me created a sense of pride in me. I could easily look at others and see that their life was in shambles because they hadn’t made the effort to “get their life right.”

After two to three years of God answering nearly all my prayers, one of my prayers was met with silence: my prayer to conceive. Why was God not giving me what I wanted? I had done my part. I tried to read my Bible and pray everyday, serve my church, invest in people, etc. Where’s my reward? Didn’t I deserve it? As a Christian, aren’t I entitled to this? I mean, I wasn’t asking for anything sinful. This is NOT how things were supposed to go!

After that, Sunday morning worship was dead to me. I didn’t feel I had anything to worship Him for. He hadn’t given me what I wanted! Wasn’t worship supposed to be about thanking Him for what He has given us? Not only was worship dead, I was also finding that some scriptures seemed to be untrue as well (e.g. Psalm 37:4, John 14:14, John 16:24). But, I had experienced such a change in my heart in the few years I had been a Christian and so many “mysteries of God” had been revealed to me, that instead of grappling with the verses I couldn’t reconcile, I chose to ignore them.

I began to ask myself: Why? Why is this happening? Is God punishing us for past sins? Hadn’t He forgiven me? At that point I was faced with the realization that I was now on level ground with all the people I had been judging, the ones who were suffering. Could it be that their suffering wasn’t related to their sin? After deeply searching my heart and seeking the LORD, He continually brought the passage about the blind man in John 9:1-3 to my mind. Verse 3 says, “‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’” This had huge implications not only for my own circumstance, but also for my attitude towards others over the past several years. Thus began the process of breaking ME down.

As I was faced with the ugliness of my pride, I prayed that God would remove it, cut it out of my life. I knew it would probably hurt, but I didn’t care. It was UGLY! But, instead of pointing out all of my faults and allowing me to be guilt-ridden, God, in His mercy, began to show me the depth of His love for me. My “spiritual eyes” were opened to an understanding of God (and suffering) that replaced my pride with humility.

I began to listen to the words of the songs during worship, and realized that the writers weren’t praising God for what He had given them; they were praising Him for who He is and what He did for them on the Cross. The songs talked about His love and sacrifice for us. It seemed that the writers had a deep grasp of their depravity without Christ and the significance of their salvation, something I hadn’t fully considered before because I thought my life had gotten better out of my own efforts. But, God showed me that it was Him that made the changes in me (2 Corinthians 5:17). And, now that He had made it clear that I was no better than anyone else, I began to meditate on my salvation.

I remembered who I was before Christ, my selfish motivation for becoming a Christian, and was humbled by the thought that He would have chosen me anyway. Regardless of who I was then, He still loved me enough to save me (Romans 5:8). He opened my eyes to specific instances where He had pursued me. What I deserved was wrath, but He gave me life and love instead. What kind of God would do that? The world began to expand right before my eyes and I realized that I was not at the center of it. God was. I was humbled yet again.

Finally, I understood grace and my worship was transformed. I came alive and began to praise Him for who He is. I realized that even if nothing else goes right in my life, I’ve been SAVED, and that’s enough! He said to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, and my power is made perfect in weakness.” I now knew what the Apostle Paul meant when he said he could find contentment in any circumstance (Philippians 4:11-13). I began to understand James when he said, “consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1:2-7)

My new understanding of God’s grace redefined “true happiness” for me. Previously, my happiness was based on whether or not God gave me what I wanted. But, when he removed the things I wanted, the things that stood between me & Him, I could see that He had already given me the greatest gift possible: life and victory over sin and death. Nothing else on earth could compare to that!

I’ve realized that God does not demonstrate His love for us by giving us what we want. That may be how we operate as humans, but God can see the whole universe from beginning to end; He created it! We are his children (John 1:12-13). Children don’t always understand why their parents withhold things from them, but the parents know what’s best. God, our Father, knows what’s best for us. Sometimes He doesn’t give us what we want to protect us. Sometimes He has something He wants to reveal to us through our suffering. We can’t understand God’s ways, but we can trust that He has our best interest at heart (Jeremiah 29:11-18). He doesn’t demonstrate His love by giving us what we want, He demonstrated His love for us on the cross, once and for all (Romans 5:8). No matter what we face in life, we know that God loves us.

Likewise, our love for Him can’t be based on whether or not He gives us what we want. He knows the desires of our heart; He created us. He placed within us a desire to be loved and feel complete. We may think that can be accomplished by getting the things we want. But, God knows that those things are just a distraction from the one who can truly fulfill those desires—Him. So, when we read Psalm 37:4, John 14:14, and John 16:24, we must remember that He is our Father and His Will is perfect (Romans 12:2). When we’re reading scriptures that we have not experienced to be true, we can still believe them by remembering that He is sovereign and we can trust Him with our lives.

Recently, a friend asked me if I felt “complete” when I got pregnant (when I got what I wanted). I could honestly say, no. I didn’t feel any different about God after I got pregnant than I did before. I didn’t feel like He was finally showing me that He loved me by giving me what I wanted. He gave me that sense of love and completion when He revealed to me the gravity of what He did for me on the cross and showed me what He had saved me from.

Through infertility, I have learned to praise God for my suffering. God has a special message for those who suffer. When you suffer, you can be sure that God wants to go deeper with you. He loves you. Your suffering is not in vain. Had we not suffered, I may have never come to these realizations. This experience has given me the courage to face future suffering with joy, knowing that He has a reason.

Andy preached a message on December 28, 2008 at Eternal titled Suffering and the Comfort of God. It brought to light many of the beautiful reasons we don’t have to be afraid of suffering. You can listen to it by clicking on the link or download it on iTunes.

Ephesians 3:16-21
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.

8 comments:

David M. Staples said...

Awesome post. Thanks for sharing. I love that passage at the end. The phrase that always gets me is the "to Him who can do immeasurably more that we can ASK OR IMAGINE." I always say, "I have a very active imagination. You sure about that?" But He is so much bigger that even our biggest dreams can seem paltry to God.

Think about if God has given you and Andy a child right away - doing what we asked and imagined. You would have missed out on that powerful lesson you just shared. You would have missed out on the moving experience in Guatemala. You would have missed out on experiencing his power first hand. So many of us miss out on just how incredible having a baby is. You truly know Beulah is a miracle from God. I think all that qualifies as more than you ask or imagine.

jimmy (dge.y.m.ie) said...

Dang girl! That was a long post, but I read every beautiful word of it. What a lovely testimony. Thanks for reminding me of my own testimony, which is always good to remember. I also still have to remember not to have a selfish "faith" even today. I want everything to be just so, and it's just not gonna be until heaven.

And thanks for this too: "When we’re reading scriptures that we have not experienced to be true, we can still believe them by remembering that He is sovereign and we can trust Him with our lives."

Christie said...

you are beautiful

niles said...

Where were you when Job needed you? :)

carrie said...

Wow...What a write you are. What a story you share..I love you so much. You are amazing...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing! Grace is a beautiful name.

Diane S.

Slish said...

WOW! This blog made me realize a few things, one of them being, how slow of a reader I am! :)

Great testimony! So true! It's great to know as we go through any type of suffering that it isn't some way of God punishing us. ...if only we can always keep the perspective that nothing on this earth will satisfy us! God alone satisfies...and HIS will is perfect!

...but how often do I think that I know better! ha. I'm so stupid! He's so great and wise!

Good stuff!

Niles was right! Where were you when Job was suffering. Your advice is WAY better than Bildad or Zophar's!!!

PS. I'm going to start borrowing your husband to stay on a strict Tennis schedule! :) I hope this is ok.

Lisa said...

Thank you so much for this beautiful articulation of the goodness in suffering. My husband and I are right in the middle of this same discovery as we wait to conceive a child and are finding God's presence and love to be closer and more real than ever.

...more than we ask or imagine...