Today was one of those days where I had to see the whole thing before any part made sense. On the way to church, we had a short discussion about how difficult the Bible is, sometimes, to understand. It seems to make no sense. Oh, how I know that feeling!! It was only when I told God that I didn’t get it and would definitely need help here that the meanings held in Scripture were opened up to me. But that makes no sense either. I’ve tackled some pretty weighty books and concepts over the years – why can’t I get this one?
Precisely because I’m relying on my own power to comprehend it. The issue here is that it’s not a book I’m trying to understand, it’s a relationship I need to build – with someone I cannot wrap my head around. One cannot have any relationship alone, based solely on intellect. I have to open my heart to invite the other in. The more vulnerable and completely honest I am with my warts, selfish desires, and all, the more realistic the relationship and the more we can accomplish together. Essentially, I wouldn’t understand before. When I let my guard down enough to ask, I come closer than ever to His reality. Or probably more accurately, He is closer to me because I’m finally honest with Him and my feelings toward Him.
So I boiled all that down into a two-sentence entry into the discussion. You must not try to understand God in your own power; you only need open up and let Him show you. I might as well have quoted Habakkuk for how much anybody comprehended, but it was the essence of what I’ve found true. I should’ve known that I was speaking to myself. So much of what I hear myself instructing the children these days is directed more to me than them.
The sermon this morning was on the final beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:10-12), where Jesus is speaking of persecution, and the blessings that come from it. Uh-huh. Like it’s a blessed thing to be scalped by cannibals. This is so outside my reality. But the Bible has always been right before, so it must be me that doesn’t get it. And now I fall right back onto something I’ve struggled with for a while: how completely devoid of practicality most of my religious thought is. I’ve been living an illusion; tomorrow will be better, when I retire I can finally rest, and my reward comes in the next life. I read a blog just yesterday by Paul Tripp about how common this gaping hole in the center of my faith is. Y’know, it’s really great that I have life after death and fabulous reward in heaven, but what about today? How does being a Christian translate into my life before I die?
But persecution is a little more reality than I’m ready to throw into that hole. I fully understand that I am no threat to the powers of evil as long as I am silent, or just attend church without it ever impressing my lifestyle. Any threat, especially to a powerful force, will be met with opposition. Nothing worthwhile is accomplished without a struggle. And while I don’t mind a little heat from my detractors, I’d have to be pretty serious about my faith to warrant or face anything more.
Reality check: if I’d known that harassment and persecution would be more of a given than blessings and honor for signing my name on that dotted line of Christianity before I did it, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have. I’ve actually had days where I’ve looked for the rescission paperwork. But I just have not been able to pursue that avenue; I am driven to shoot for glory and bank on the promise. I’ve seen too much to not go forward. But that doesn’t mean I’m ready to face a lynch mob, either. So am I a lesser Christian because I won’t leave my kitchen and children to save the lost in the face of real persecution?
Quite frankly, the whole concept of persecution and going wherever God leads scares more than the daylights out of me. Saying that I will follow someone I cannot see wherever he leads, without an obvious payoff in sight is way beyond my comfort zone. I am stepping out in the dark, knowing there’s nothing under my feet, but trusting that something will appear as I transfer my weight. Completely unbelievable. But my mention of a relationship may be the key I’m looking for all around. I’ve seen circumstances organized so that at that precise moment I want to step out of line, I am prevented by something so ludicrous I can only explain them as the working out of His promise to never let one of His own stray. I am His already. So based on that knowledge, not some ethereal feeling, I have promised to go anywhere, do anything. It hurts; it’s very hard; but I’m convinced it’s the right thing to do.
So now I’m stuck. I’ve committed to go forward, but the familiar dark curtain of “I cannot accept this” is coming down over the stage in my head with that one awful word. Then the song leader mouthed to me to put up “How Firm a Foundation” on the overhead to sing for our final hymn. Good; we’re done and I don’t have to make sense of where my path is leading. But God wasn’t quite finished speaking.
5. “When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
7. “The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never, forsake!”
Hymn #427; Text: Isaiah 43:1-7
I think I know what it feels like when all hell is trying to shake me. And yet I still stand. I can see clearly that I have not been forsaken. How encouraging to hear that this persecution is merely refining; a process that must get hotter as the particles of impurities that don’t suit the Master’s purpose get smaller. I kinda liked me the way I was, but obviously that was not going to be helpful for whatever lies in my future. I don’t like the pressure of the refinement process one bit, but I’m reassured that its presence means I’m on the right track. Knowing that I will not be forsaken reminds me of some great hikes I took through the desert a few years ago. The heat of the day and ruggedness of the trail were brutal, but the friendships forged along the trail were my lifeline. I will be better for the walk and the company.
Then, walking in the garden after the service, I saw so many flowers, with shapes and fragrances that lured butterflies, bumblebees and birds. Each had its own purpose, and was useful even here in this protected nook tended by paid horticulturalists. I enjoyed taking some pictures and chatting with my daughter.
After a nap back at home, it all came clear. Time to write.
I know that many people, even very close to me, think I’ve lost my mind. Especially when I tackle something as heavy as persecution, I cannot always explain the reasons; but as I defend the rightness of my actions, I become stronger. God has come alongside me in the walk. His words make more sense as our relationship takes shape. I am thankful that my everyday rural existence is the worst pain I’ve had to endure. Right now, it’s right for me to sit safely behind this keyboard and write on topics that strike me. I don’t have to understand it all today because my best friend is by my side and his hand will steady me as life happens.