First things first, “Merry Christmas!” What a precious, beautiful, wonderful time of year this is. A time when the whole world takes a breath to pause and remember the Prince of Peace who came and who is coming again one day. We fall on our knees and hear the angel voices from the night divine when deity became flesh and moved in among us.
And amidst all of the holiness and beauty…there is also real life. Real life with four kids under the Christmas tree. Real life wrapping presents until 2am on Christmas Eve, something you promise yourself you will not do again but find yourself doing again every year, running last minute errands to buy gifts for people who bring you a gift and you don’t have a gift for (worst feeling ever), taking sick kids to the doctor who have styes in their eye (who has time for styes or anything other sick thing on planet earth for that matter the week before Christmas), hauling your six year old to her first basketball practice at 8am three days before Christmas (what in the actual heck), trying to get things done but getting nothing done when you have a two-year-old underfoot who sneaks nail polish from her sister’s stash and paints it all over your desk chair in your kitchen, and, of course, icing sugar cookies in your kitchen and destroying your kitchen when you need it to stay clean for the rest of the year.
My six-year-old, Caroline, made this beauty of a cookie:
I was puzzled when I first saw the cookie and asked, “Caroline, that looks like a cross, but what is that on the cross?”
“Jesus. That’s Jesus, mom.”
Right. Not totally sure if I should laugh or cry, I chose the former option and had to wipe away tears I was laughing so hard. Jesus with a mustache on the cross on a sugar cookie. We’re keepin’ it real around here.
And that’s what I love about Christmas. It’s the mix of beautiful moments of mystery when I am caught off guard by the glory and holiness of Immanuel made flesh in all of the sweet fragrance and vulnerability of a newborn and the moments of reality of Jesus with a mustache on a sugar cookie cross made by a kid with a sty in her eye you have to wake up early to get to basketball practice.
This Christmas, more than ever, I have seen that somehow I live in the intertwining of those two moments, and the trick is to learn how to stop when the mystery overtakes me and let it in, let it into my ordinary tasks, routines, problems, short comings, failures, messes, and joys whenever it has the notion to come knocking on my door.
The Sunday before Christmas I was doing the very ordinary task of addressing Christmas cards while keeping one eye on the 60 Minutes show in front of me. The show was highlighting a group of Syrians in Aleppo known as The White Helmets. They are a group of very ordinary men who perform extraordinary feats of courage.
Aleppo is in the center of the Syrian rebellion against the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad and has undergone intense siege and starvation for the past five years. According to 60 Minutes, the past few weeks, the Assad dictatorship has increased their air strikes over Aleppo’s dense neighborhoods. Many times, military targets are not targeted; in fact, the terrifying thing is that nothing is targeted. Barrels of shrapnel and TNT are dropped indiscriminately over any neighborhood the Assad forces do not control. Concrete homes collapse with full families inside, and people’s greatest fear is that they will be buried alive, trapped under the rubble without any hope of digging themselves out. Their fate will be to die by suffocating or bleeding to death under the rubble of their own homes as so many have done before them.
Civilians’ only hope is the Syrian civil defense known as the White Helmets, a self-appointed, all-Syrian volunteer force of rescue workers whose sole purpose is to bring people out of the rubble…alive.
My task of addressing Christmas cards was abandoned as I glued my eyes to the screen in front of me to learn about these extraordinary men. Every time a bomb goes off and a home or building collapses, these men rush to the rescue in their white helmets, taking their very lives into their hands. They have a 50/50 chance of survival, for many times, a second bomb is dropped within minutes after the first, targeting and terrorizing the rescue workers who have come to dig people out of their concrete graves.
Two young rescue workers were interviewed, and I watched as they talked about digging for six to seven hours at a time and then having the indescribable joy of pulling someone thought to be dead out into a second chance at life. They said, “We feel as if we brought that person back to life. The joy is indescribable.”
Over the past five years, it is estimated that the White Helmets have saved close to 70,000 lives, and every time a survivor is pulled out from the rubble, the workers shout their gratitude to their God. Don’t miss this opportunity to watch as a ten-day-old baby is pulled from the rubble after sixteen hours of labor from The White Helmets and given back to a mother who lost her husband and only other child in the destruction of the bomb. Contrary to what the commentator in the clip says, the baby was a boy, not a girl, and the child did survive and is a healthy two-year-old today:
At one point in the 60 Minutes segment, the rescue of a sixteen-year-old boy was highlighted who was completed buried under the weight of his concrete roof except for his shoulder and one part of his arm. Rescue workers dug for hours in order to pull him out, and once they had uncovered his face, you can hear one of the White Helmets asking him, “Brother, can you see our light?”
The purpose of Christmas was redefined for me as I learned about the White Helmets. The coming of Christ to earth showed less like a Hallmark Channel Christmas special and more like a 60 Minutes segment on a White Helmet rescue operation. The baby who was born was born to die under the weight of our sin so that we would have a second chance at life, life resurrected from a shallow grave. And as followers of Christ, every day for us should bear the mark of the intensity and self-abandon with which the White Helmets work. Bombs go off around us continually in the hearts and families of people we love. We, too, are to respond and to dig with little thought for ourselves, all the while asking those who are buried in the dark around us, “Brother, can you see our Light?” The Light of the One who came to die so that we might live.
When asked at the end of the interview if he was afraid of dying or losing his life in the work of rescuing others, one of the young White Helmets replied, “The goal is to save the most people in the least amount of time…But in the end, I’ve left my mark. I’ve left children who are going to live and complete our future.”
What about you, and what about me? Are we living giving great attention to leaving our mark by working as hard as we can and as fast as we can to pull people from death into everlasting life? Are we living in the dark with our light on, asking those around us, “Can you see our light?” Are we experiencing that same joy and victorious celebration every time someone else is pulled out from the rubble, dead in their own sin and circumstances, and given a rebirth because of the One who laid His life down?
The mystery of the rescue mission of the Gospel entered my reality, and I was given a new lens through which to see. Can you?
So how are you and I to receive the gift of Christmas? The White Helmets and my friend Ellery helped me answer this question this year. Watch this video clip of Ellery receiving her Christmas present, and if you are anything like me, you can’t help but watch it…and cry:
When Ellery received her gift, she received it with overwhelming gratitude. She received it with shouts of victory and celebration and great joy. She received it with humble thanks given to parents she knows love her, sacrifice for her, and have overwhelming love in mind for her in the gifts they give.
So like Ellery, let the mystery enter your mundane this Christmas season and draw you into the greatest gift, the greatest joy, and the greatest rescue mission this earth has even seen. No matter your reality, put on the lens of wonder, the lens that lets you see that we are rubble survivors, pulled from a narrow grave when we had no ability to save ourselves. Let receiving that gift be your greatest joy this Christmas season, and again and again throughout the year.
Brothers and sisters, can you see His Light? He has come to dig you out and to give you…great joy.
To watch the full 60 Minutes episode on The White Helmets, click here.
And for more encouragement this week, don’t forget to connect with me on Facebook.
A couple of weeks ago, I went for a run in my neighborhood. It was a beautiful day, the sky was blue and the air crisp. I had just finished a long day of homeschool and went to pound the pavement, push Mia Grace in the jog stroller, and clear my brain from the fog of a long day of homeschool. And that’s when I saw it. A circle. In a neighbor’s front yard. Three women with their children in a circle. And I wasn’t a part of it.
Immediately my thoughts began to race, “Why wasn’t I included in the circle?” “Had they forgotten to text me?” “Was it a purposeful circle of leaving out or an accidental circle of everyone converging?” I didn’t stop, didn’t say hello, barely waved, and ran on…with an ache in my heart and tears in my eyes.
But as I ran off, I knew that I knew that I knew all three of those loved women loved me. I knew that not one of them would ever hurt or purposefully exclude me. But I still saw that circle as closed. I still saw their being “in” as my automatically being “out,” and I spent the rest of my run having it out with God.
And by the end of my run, here is what I came to: something has got to change in the way I see circles. I’m not ten anymore, or thirteen, or sixteen, or eighteen, or twenty-one or even thirty-one. My goodness. I’m forty. 40. And it’s time to see circles as an invitation to step in instead of a barricade designed to keep me out.
Can any other woman relate to me here? Because I hear it all around me regularly. We all carry these wounds and aches inside of us that cause us to see circumstances and circles through the lens of the little girls we once were instead of the healed, whole, beloved women of God He has made us to be.
I’ve done a lot of praying over the past year about turning 40 – about freedom and joy and what the journey looks like from here. And I can tell you this: I decided on my run I want to do whatever it takes, whatever healing it requires, however many counseling sessions are needed, to spend this year of 40 seeing circles as open invitations in instead of daggers made to wound and keep me out.
Now I know not everyone wants me in their circle. That’s just called life. That’s called women and the result of the fall. But that’s ok. Because if I’m honest with myself, I don’t always want me in every circle either. But part of growing up and growing 40 is learning to stand securely in the places and in the circles where I know I am loved. Part of turning 40 is ceasing to put everyone’s love around me to the test and simply resting in the fact that I know it’s there.
And it’s impossible to do that in any human circle unless I know I stand securely in the circle of the love of the Lord. Standing in His circle, sitting at His table, putting on His nature, taking up and taking on His identity is the key to walking confidently into any other circle He places me. And when I am confident, securely confident of His love, I know I will be confident to walk up on or into any circle, closed or open, where He sends me.
Last week was sweet. I was able to go to each and every neighbor and confess my defensive, introspective, incorrect lens with which I viewed their circle. Their forgiveness was sweet and receiving redemption was even sweeter. I learned that confessing the places where I felt “out”, knowing it was wrong, was just a humbling opportunity to receive even greater measures of my neighbors’ love.
So I encourage you to do the very same thing this last week we have of Advent. This last week we have of preparation for the One who came and the One who is coming again. Put on a different lens this week. Put on the lens that lets you see life through the love of the One who came to invite you into His circle to give you a perpetual seat at His table. And look beside you at the others who are sitting there. For those who love King Jesus, we are all a part of the same circle. It’s a circle of grace. It’s a place in a circle we did nothing to earn, and therefore can do nothing to lose. It’s a place is secured by the love of Another, Another whose love never fails. So…you and I have nothing to lose by walking confidently into the circles God places us. We have nothing to lose by humbling ourselves, asking for forgiveness from those we have wronged. We have nothing to lose by inviting all those God sends on the path beside us to join the circle we are in and the path we are on. But what we stand to gain is firm footing in the House of God, with the family of God and the people of God, with those He chosen to call in.
“Why is it that so often I return
From social converse with a spirit worn,
A lack, a disappointment – even a sting
Of shame, as for some low, unworthy thing?
Because I have not, careful, first of all,
Set me door wide open, back to the wall,
Ere I at others’ doors did knock and call.”
George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul, “September: Eighteen”
This time of year, I love turning in the pages of my Bible to read the story of the birth of Christ in Luke. Each time, I wonder if the words will sound trite or boring, and each time I am captivated anew.
I was reading in Luke 1 about Zacharias’ response to the angel and it dawned on me afresh, anew, about the way God broke into the world, about how this whole Christmas story began and begins.
Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, are barren. The Bible doesn’t give us the specifics, but I can imagine this couple who loved God and loved His people spent years in prayer, asking Yahweh to open Elizabeth’s womb. But her womb remained barren and heaven remained silent.
In fact, heaven had been silent for longer than the totality of Zacharias and Elizabeth’s prayers. Heaven had been silent for 400 years. After God spoke through the prophet Malachi in Malachi 4:5-6, saying, “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse,” the Word of the Lord was sealed for 400 years. It was sealed through Greece’s triumph over Israel; it was sealed through a pagan pig’s slaughter in the temple’s most holy place; and it was sealed through Roman occupation. God’s people had groaned, and while we know God heard, we also know God was silent. No prophets. No Davidic kings on the throne. No recorded miracles. No answers. Only questions filling the silent spaces.
But God broke the silence by filling the barren space in a womb.
His first response to deliverance was to overcome barrenness.
And don’t you wish you could have seen the look on Elizabeth’s face, one who was “advanced in years,” (Luke 1:7) one who must have had wrinkles in her skin and grey at her temples, when she first discovered that she was pregnant?
The one in her womb was “Elijah the prophet” of whom Malachi spoke before heaven was sealed. John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah to make a people ready for the coming of the Lord. John’s arrival was the first word spoken to prepare God’s people for the final Word spoken. “There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light….And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten fro m the father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:6-8, 14).
And John’s arrival from a barren womb made a fruitful womb is the precedent for how Christ still comes – He comes into the barren places. He comes into the places where you and I are least expecting it. He comes where the branch has long been withered; He comes where the ground is cracked and dry; He comes where the heart is broken and the desire forgotten; He comes where dreams are forsaken and the soul is aching. He comes.
So if you are looking for a Word this Christmas, look first to the barren place, the place God often comes when He wants to speak. Sometimes He gives a child, sometimes He gives an answer, but He always gives Himself. For the barren place is sacred space God makes for Himself to come.
To prepare the way in your heart this Christmas for the Child who came and the King who is coming, consider praying through the barren places and hurting places in your heart using this prayer guide: Advent Prayers – Prepare the Way 2016
And be expectant. Expectant that because God came, He will come again to all the places in our hearts that are aching and longing for life and fruitfulness to grow.
Just ask Elizabeth, the fruitful one.
For more on asking God to fill the barren places, walk through Waiting on the Lord in the new year, and watch and wait expectantly for Christ to come to the places you least expect.
This past Saturday, Jason and I retreated for the day and did what we always do this time of year – set goals for the upcoming year. Now I know for some of you, the very thought of setting goals sends a grimace to your face and forms a pit in your stomach. You would rather pour lemon juice on the worst paper cut imaginable than set aside an entire day to set goals. For others of you, the very thought of setting goals sends a flood of joy to your heart and puts a lift in your step – new goals, new year, new start.
If you’re not a goal setter, don’t worry. Today isn’t a push to try to get you to set goals, stick them in a drawer, and then never look at them again until you are cleaning out that same drawer a year later. Some of the most productive people I know hate to set goals. I think most people are either wired to set goals or they’re not.
Unfortunately for our children, both Jason and I are wired-to-the-core goal setters. Often times, I am pretty sure they are looking at both of us thinking, “Good grief, people. Live a little. Lighten up.” But like it or not, their year and our year ends and begins with setting goals.
After 15 consecutive years of talking through our past and future year together, Jason and I have learned we can only sit still for so long. Breaks are frequent, so on one of my breaks, I got up to heat up a bowl of turkey chili. I went into our mud room, opened the fridge, and pulled out the huge tupperware container containing a doubled recipe of turkey chili I had made the day before to make sure we would have enough to eat on throughout the weekend. As I pulled out the container, I quickly discovered I was pulling the lid but not the container, and two pounds of turkey, corn, tomatoes, tomato juice, black beans, and kidney beans dumped all over the bottom of the fridge, into all the drawers, ran under the fridge, and all over our fairly new rug in front of the fridge.
I kept looking around wishing one of my four children was there to blame for the ginormous mess in front of me. But it was me. Just me. Standing in my barefeet in front of the fridge holding a now empty container.
It took me a moment to come out of shock and actually begin to move, but once I did, it took Jason and I a solid hour to clean up that turkey chili mess. Jason was a champ and cleaned right beside me the entire time without a word of complaint. Not exactly the way you want to spend an hour of your day sans kids in the quiet peacefulness of your home.
During that hour, we pulled out every refrigerator door and cleaned every crack and crevice of that fridge. We pulled the fridge out from the wall and cleaned the floor underneath the fridge, floor that hadn’t seen the light of day in probably a decade. We pulled up the rug and cleaned not only the rug but underneath the rug, trying to wipe down every spot that had been stained by turkey chili. And while on my hands and knees wiping out the fridge, I realized I wasn’t just wiping out stains from the mess I had made just moments before, I was wiping out stains from messes made years before…stains that I had never bothered or taken the time to clean.
And here’s what hit me while I was on my hands and knees: some of our lives are one big gigantic turkey chili mess right now. We have stains all over the floors and rugs of our lives, spilling out and over into all the drawers, and we are dreading the clean up we know is ahead of us. Cleaning up this mess isn’t how we were planning on spending our time, our lives, or our energy, and the whole process feels like such a waste.
But I firmly believe this: sometimes God allows the big, messy explosions in our lives because He knows we would never get down to the business of cleaning out some pretty old, stained, dark, and dirty places unless there was an oozing mound of turkey chili running into every crevice and cranny demanding our attention.
Goal setting is messy business. Pulling up the rug and pulling out the drawers of the past year isn’t always fun. Every single time we sit down to set goals, I cry at some point in the process. I become frustrated with myself, with the year, with my marriage, with my kids, with my life, because setting new goals always requires looking at how the old ones have failed. How I have failed. At becoming who I want to be and who I know I should be. And sometimes it’s only when I have the size of a turkey chili mess in my life do I slow down for long enough to clean up all the other messes besides.
So here is my encouragement to us at the end of this year peering into the face of another: don’t be afraid of the mess. Don’t be afraid of the size of the task in front of you. Don’t be afraid of the size of the hole of grief a missing spouse or child has left or the damage a wrecked friendship has done or the failure of an empty bank account to provide. We all have turkey-chili-size messes on the rugs of our year and our lives. Because we are all human. No one’s life is exactly where they thought it would be or what they thought it would be, and if it is, like Tim Keller says, no one can keep it that way.
Just get down on your hands and knees, and start to clean up the mess. And here’s the thing: as you clean, you will look up, like I did, and see your spouse cleaning right there beside you, without a word of complaint. I’m not talking about an earthly spouse. I am talking about your heavenly spouse who cared enough about cleaning up your mess to enter into it. To take on human flesh, think human thoughts and walk a very human life so that He could get down beside you, right in the midst of the messiness, and clean those hard to reach places no one can touch but Him.
F.B Meyer says it this way in his book, Love to the Uttermost: “Again He stoops from the throne, and girds Himself with a towel, and in all lowliness, endeavors to remove from thee and me the stain which His love dare not pass over. He never loses the print of the nail; He never forgets Calvary and the blood; He never spends one hour without stooping to do the most menial work of cleansing filthy souls. And it is because of this humility He sits on the Throne and wields the scepter over hearts and worlds.”
Whatever mess is on the floor or year of your life doesn’t surprise Jesus. It doesn’t phase Him or overly concern Him. And cleaning up your mess doesn’t feel like a waste of His time. It feels like time spent close to you, next to you, scrub brush in hand, cleaning out all the drawers and washing out all the stains. It feels like relationship. It feels like Calvary. It feels like humility. And it feels like perfect love.
So don’t avoid the mess of your year, embrace it, knowing there is One who can clean it as you do the most menial task of getting low and picking up the scrub brush beside Him. And there, in the midst of the mess, you will know no matter what your year or your rug looks like, you are held in the perfect grip of Love who works all messes for good.
Advent began yesterday. For weeks now, I’ve been hearing its quiet, persistent call and feeling its pulse beneath the earth’s hustle and bustle in preparations for the holidays. Its call is beneath the lights, deeper than the roots of the Christmas trees, quieter than the stillness of my house once all the children are in bed, yet louder through the pages of my Bible than my culture’s cries of consumerism all around me…Prepare the Way…Humble Your Heart…Don’t Miss the Child…Immanuel is coming.
God has been gracious to help me hear Advent’s call early this year and to begin to think and prepare because in years past, Advent was easy to miss. With four children in the house, I have missed Immanuel more than I have held Him. I have followed Christmas’ crazy trail of seasonal to-do’s rather than quieting my heart, examining my heart, and humbling my heart in preparation for Immanuel.
I have spent many more hours on planning, purchasing, and wrapping gifts than I have unwrapping the gift of Immanuel, God with us, that has been given. I have spent much more time preparing for Christmas Day in the grocery stores, my car, the kitchen, and in crowds at parties and shows than I have in letting God, through meditation on Scripture and prayer, prepare my heart.
And it’s really tough, this tug of war that happens each and every year between the call of Immanuel and what is really Christmas and the call of the lights, gifts, and busyness and what my culture has made Christmas that happens all around me. I don’t want to be bah-humbug, but I also don’t want to miss the sign post God has given to reorient my heart towards the One who came and the One who is coming.
The prophet Isaiah wrote centuries before the birth of Christ:
“Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God.
“Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended,
That her iniquity has been removed,
That she has received of the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins.”
A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed.
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
This is the same call each of the Gospel writers attributes to John the Baptist, the one who prepared the way for the coming of Christ when He walked this earth 2000 years ago. Before Christ came and began His public ministry, God first sent John to “make ready the way of the Lord,” to straighten every path, to humble every exalted place and exalt every humble place. And John did not come crying, “Prepare the way” armed with lights, a Christmas tree, ornaments, and gifts. He came armed with repentance. “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4).
If the church is going to be the church, we have got to rethink the way we prepare the way for Christmas. We have got to get serious about using this season of Advent, this pause and breath of four weeks before remembering the day of Christ’s birth, to prepare the way in our hearts, not just around our tree.
Because here’s the thing: for weeks now, I’ve been looking at the words of Isaiah 2. And this is what verses 5-11 say:
“House of Jacob, come, let us walk in Yahweh’s light.
For You have abandoned Your people, the house of Jacob,
Because they are filled with influences from the east,
And go fortune telling like the Philistines.
And with the children of foreigners they shake hands,
And their land has become full of silver and gold,
And there is no end to their treasures,
And their land has become full of horses,
And there is no end to their chariots,
And their land has become full of no-gods,
To the work of their hands they bow in worship,
To what their fingers have made!
And humankind is humiliated,
And each individual is demeaned –
Impossible that You should forgive them!
Go into the rock,
and hide yourself in the dust,
because of apprehension of Yahweh,
and from the splendor of His eminence.
Humankind’s haughty looks will be demeaned
And the cockiness of individuals brought down,
And Yahweh alone will be exalted in that day.
(Translation by Alec Motyer, Isaiah by the Day)
Look at verse 11 once again: “Humankind’s haughty looks will be demeaned and the cockiness of individuals brought down, and Yahweh alone will be exalted in that day.”
Which means this: you and I can do the hard work of humbling ourselves before the Lord and getting rid of all “the influences of the east,” all of the bargains and treaties we have struck with the systems of this world to give us security, strength, and influence, all of the idols or “no-gods” we have fashioned with our own hands so that we can worship the god we want when we want on our own terms, or we can wait for the sure and certain coming Day of the Lord when He will humble our hearts for us and we will be left in the dust, trembling from the terror of the Lord (v. 10).
Again, I am not trying to be a naysayer here, but church, we must wake up. We must do the serious business of letting the God who came and the God who is coming work in our hearts to bear our sin so that we are not borne away by our sin on the Day when He comes again.
I have a Christmas tree in my house. My stockings are hung and, Lord willing, they will be filled on Christmas morning. Our roof line is strung with lights and two brightly lit angels stand trumpeting on the lawn. My daughter is dancing in the Nutcracker, and I’ve already responded to several Christmas party invitations. But again, here’s what Isaiah 2:11 says, “The proud look of man will be humbled.” The real question is not where your steps are walking this Advent season but where are your eyes looking. What are the aims and interests you have for your family, your children, yourself? Is it to accumulate certain gifts for yourself and your kids? Is it to make sure they don’t miss out on anything and attend every event? Is it to fill their schedules and their palates? Or is it to redirect their eyes? To help them see Immanuel and prepare the way for His entrance in to their hearts?
It will take saying “no” to a few things over the next few weeks. It will take redirecting your steps to make sure the Word is dwelling richly within you with its interests and aims instead of the mall, stores, and culture around you.
But please…please…heed the call to hear the call and prepare the way. As C.S. Lewis writes in his book Until We Have Faces, “Die before you die; there is no chance after.” In other words, do the hard work now of bending the heart and scraping the knee, suffering internally, even, in the here and now, so that your hearts are ready for eternity.
To help us in the process of preparing the way, I’ve come up with seven meditative questions and responses based on Isaiah 2 so that a way can be cleared in the wilderness of our hearts for the coming of Christ. You can use these questions in the mornings or evening to facilitate a prayerful response to Christ throughout the next four weeks. This is not a traditional Advent devotional but something to use to supplement any devotions you might read. These are questions to push us towards repentance, prayer, and preparing our hearts in the way of humbling our hearts before Immanuel for Christmas Day.
I’ve attached the document here: Advent Prayers – Prepare the Way. Please consider printing it out and putting it in a spot you will see it often over the next four weeks.
Whatever route you decide to take for Advent this year, please join with me in preparing our hearts. I look forward to taking this journey together.
For more encouragement on Preparing Our Hearts during the Advent season, connect with me on Facebook this week.
If I have learned one thing through our journey of ascension over the past three weeks, it is that we are sojourners now, pilgrims on the way, but not forever. Our steps up the mountain are taking us Somewhere to Someone. And each step upward is one step closer to our heavenly home where we will be pilgrims no longer but citizens with a secure home, a secure citizenship, and a secure identity.
About a year ago, I was sitting across a table with a friend, lamenting about turning 40 and not having accomplished everything I had wanted to or hoped to by this particular point in my life. She looked at me and said, “Why don’t you stop seeing 40 as a destination and start seeing it as an embarkation?” And that one question changed everything. I turn 40 next week, and the past year, instead of worrying about all that hasn’t happened on the path I have walked the last 40 years years, I have been thanking the the Lord for where He has me and asking Him to prepare me for the journey ahead.
Because as long as we live on planet earth, our steps here are not destination, they are embarkation. Our way here is not the end but the beginning of living with the Lord not just for 40 years, or 80 years, but for all of eternity, in His House, in His Presence.
So take a moment to read the following poem, our last poem in a series of six, and then take a quiet moment to answer the questions that follow.
The Journey, it is arduous
The path is steep
The nights, they darken
But the Warrior-King, He beckons on.
Never will the One who found you
Leave you alone.
Never will the One you follow
Leave you for a “better” one.
For you are His
Your worship precious
The paths He gives you
He will defend.
And when you stumble
He will aid you
Set your feet back on to Him.
And the views He gives are mighty
Stunning and so glorious
So take the Hand of your Companion
Ascend the path of Obedience.
- I want to ask you the same questions my friend asked me last year. Many of us are stuck on the path or the season God has us in because we have stopped seeing it as a pilgrim’s path, a sojourner’s way, and have started seeing it as a final destination. Listen to me: this is not the end. The path you are on is not your home nor the final destination. You are on the way. You are here today and gone tomorrow. Whatever season you are in right now is a blink of the eye, a momentary mist and shadow. So don’t stop on the path. Keep walking. Keep stepping upwards and onwards. If you are in a joyful season, soak it up with grace and thanks knowing that while we are on this earth, troubles will come. Hard seasons will arise. So thank the Lord for the grace and peace that surrounds you now. And if you are in a difficult season, remind yourself day after day, step after step, this will not last. Your light and momentary troubles are achieving for you a weight of glory that will far outweigh them all (II Corinthians 4:17). Take a moment to remind yourself of the ways you know the path you are on is temporary, not eternal. Then set your heart on hope and on home. Thank the Lord that the final destination is coming and ask Him for the grace and strength to keep walking until you see Him face to face.
- As stated above, many of us see the path we are on as destination, not embarkation. Take some time – take a day, or a week, or a year, like me – and ponder this question: How can you begin to see the path you are on as embarkation rather than destination? What desires in your heart are you asking God to fulfill? Are you open to God fulfilling them in ways you have not expected or anticipated? Can you shoulder the pack He is asking you to carry, and begin walking the way He has opened up in front of you, asking Him for fresh eyes to see a fresh path, even if it is not the way you were wanting to walk while here on this earth but trusting Him it is a way that leads to His good purposes for you in His good time?
- Spend some time asking the Lord as my friend asked me, “Who are your traveling companions?” Who would He have you walk with in this season of your life? Are you open to thanking Him for the companions He has given you in the past and receiving who He has for you to walk with in the present and the future?
- Finally, close with spending time thanking the Lord that no matter what path He has you on right now, for all those who love King Jesus, the path He has you walking down now, in this particular season, is the path home. You are not an eternal desert wanderer. You are not a perpetual pilgrim. You are headed to your permanent country, your eternal city, where your citizenship awaits you. Ask Him for eyes to see Home, for ears to hear its call, and for feet to walk its path, staying close to your Traveling Companion no matter where He takes you. You can be confident the way before you is the way up. We go up to fall down…at the feet of our Good Father in our Forever Home.
Several years ago, my family was in the Lake District of England for several weeks. The list of activities for each day consisted of hiking, hiking, or more hiking. While my girls were not big fans of the long walks this particular part of England is so famous for, I was in heaven. One day, we took the long drive from our village of Elterwater up to see the small but beautiful Lake Buttermere tucked up in the northern part of the Lake District. As we walked around the path encircling the lake with the girls, a trail of smooth stones ascending up the side of the surrounding hills caught my eyes. I can’t quite explain it, but I felt a strong pull to follow the path and go…up. To wherever it led. Jason took one look at my face, knew the look in my eyes after 13 years of marriage, and said, “Go for it. The girls and I will play down by the lake.”
So up I went. I followed the grey stone path up under a canopy of trees, hidden in the shade of the forest, until it came out of the forest upon a stream rushing down the side of the mountain. By now, I was racing against the clock, knowing the time I had with the girls down by the lake was limited. I walked at as quick as a pace as I could, following the path and the stream upwards wherever it led. After about an hour or so, the stream leveled out, and I came to the end of the path, to see a shining blue lake ringed by even higher peaks. I scrambled up the side of one of the surrounding peaks to get a panoramic a view of the lake below and surrounding countryside. I sat for as long as I could, soaking up sounds of bleating sheep and the feeling of being the only one for as far as the eye could see, led up a path by the tugging of a good God who knew how beauty and walking speaks to my soul.
I will never forget that day. And I’m hoping to go back one day and ascend those ancient grey stone steps again. For that path reminds and represents God’s call to me to go up. To pause long enough in the every day paths I walk to follow the Lord’s lead when I feel the tugging of His Spirit on my heart to ascend a particular way, a particular truth, a particular path of obedience.
To humble myself and forgive a certain friend. To humble myself and ask for forgiveness for a specific incident where I was at fault. To risk loneliness for the sake of an untrodden path while knowing the companionship of the Lord awaits. To risk companionship when my tendency is to shrink back and stay back instead of entering the circle of friendship around me. To give when I want to keep. To keep and be still when I’m restless and discontent and just want to give.
I’m learning to follow the path. What about you? Are you too immersed in the predictable everyday to lift up your head and see the ancient way that calls to each and every believer if we just have ears to hear and eyes to see the One who calls to us?
Take a quiet moment to read the following poem, our fifth in a series of six, and then with a journal and pen in hand or in the quietness of your own heart, answer the questions that follow.
You are the Warrior of my Worship
Defender of all Ancient Ways
You keep the paths of wisdom open
For all who lose their life to save
O my God! Fight for my worship!
Keep my heat set upon You!
These feet of mine, they stray so quickly
Off the path, off of all good.
And when I stumble, bleeding badly,
I feel such shame upon my soul
Come and lift my head up higher
To follow You, Lord of all Love.
Arms they beckon, hands they strengthen
Every step along the Way
And as light banishes all darkness
I wake to find Thee in my stead –
Never have I been alone.
Never was I cast aside.
There behind me,
There beside me,
There in front,
You’ve hemmed me in.
I cannot fall
Where You can’t catch me
I cannot stumble
Beyond Your reach
For when our hearts are set on worship
Anointed One, our paths You keep.
- Are you in a place in life where it is easy to worship, easy to lift up your eyes and see the beauty and beckoning of the path God is calling you to? Or are you struggling to find joy and worship in the journey and ascension of relationship with the Lord? Go back and re-read the first six lines of the poem again: “You are the Warrior of my Worship / Defender of all Ancient Ways / You keep the paths of wisdom open / For all who lose their life to save / O my God! Fight for my worship!” Do you know God fights for your worship? Fights on your behalf to keep the ways of intimacy open with Him? Lift up your eyes today, wherever you are, and ask Him for the eyes to see the path He is calling to you to. It will never be contrary to His Word, and will always require you to go deeper in His Word, trusting in His character and His ways, but the way up will be beautiful. Far more beautiful than you or I could ever imagine.
- Since this is Thanksgiving Week, take pen and paper in hand, and divide your life into sections by age. The first section would be 0-7 years old, the second would be 8-14 years, the third 15-21 years, and so on. No matter your age, go all the way up to 91 or 98 years of age (and if you live beyond that, God bless you!), and for each section of your life, write out at least three ways you have seen and are thankful for the faithfulness of God at each step you have taken. Once you reach the age you are currently, switch to writing out at least three ways you know you will see the faithfulness of God continue to work in your life, and three things you would like Him to help you walk out on the path He has for you.
- Lastly, close by thanking Him and praying the last two lines of the poem: “For when our hearts are set on worship / Anointed One, our paths You keep.” Ask Him to keep your heart set on worship, no matter what circumstances in life may occur, and thank Him that He will keep your path set upon Him, no matter what happens, for “It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself” (II Timothy 2:11-13).
Don’t forget to check back on Wednesday for the last poem in this series of six, and remember to connect with me on Facebook if you need further encouragement this week on the way up. I am praying for your heart and mine this week of Thanksgiving. May we thankfully set our hearts on ascending the path and the way of a good God who called us, loves us, and beckons us…upward.
Last week, I was on an early morning run in my neighborhood. The streets were quiet and the sun had just risen over the tops of the trees. I was enjoying the cool air, soaking in the silence before a day of homeschool began the moment I stepped foot in my front door.
As I ran, I glanced down and noticed a random puzzle piece in the middle of the street. Just one.
I felt a pull toward the piece, and retraced my steps to run back to pick it up. As I held the piece in my hand, I wondered what the full picture of the completed puzzle pieces looked like. also wondered who had dropped it and how disappointed he or she would be when they discovered it was missing.
And then I thought about how often I feel like that lone puzzle piece in my climb with the Lord.
The reason why climbing is often such hard work because we cannot see the top and we do not know how long it will take us to get there. All we know is that we are going up. All we know we is that what is required of us is the next step when we can’t see the way.
Most of the time when I hike, I climb without being able to see the top of the peak I am trying to summit. I walk without any sort of end view in sight and constantly wonder if I am on the right path. Jason figured out years ago in our marriage, that when we hike, I have to hike with a map in my hand. Have to. I am in constant need of knowing where we are on the path. I don’t know if this strangeness stems from the fact I once became lost on a mountain in Switzerland. I had just graduated from college and was smart enough to know I wanted to spend my last summer of freedom in Europe but dumb enough to put myself in some pretty precarious positions. I set out alone one clear morning in Zermatt, Switzerland, in jeans, tennis shoes, and a light weight fleece (not waterproof) to climb a trail to obtain a beautiful, back view of the Matterhorn. I ignored weather postings about incoming fog and rain, and set off thinking about how blue, sunny skies trumped any gloom and doom weather forecast. Wrong.
About an hour in to my hike, clouds quickly began to roll in and darken the view of the sun. Fog and mist wrapped around my ankles and quick as a wink, I couldn’t see further than the next step in front of me on the path, nor could I see the drop off on the open side of the mountain next to me. I turned around and cautiously began to make my way back down, and what took me one hour to ascend took me over two hours to get back down. By the time I got back to my room, my fingers were frozen stiff, my jeans wet and heavy from the damp weather, and my fleece soaked through. I had to allow at least forty-five minutes go by for my fingers to unthaw enough to untie my shoe laces. I vowed I would never again set out on a hike without being adequately prepared with clothing and equipment and without paying attention to the weather forecast.
I think more time than not, that’s how most of us climb. Ill-prepared. Ignoring weather signs. Alone without needed travel companions. Unprepared with necessary climbing clothing and equipment. We climb tentatively, unable to see anything but the next step in front of us, holding life’s lone puzzle piece in our hands.
Or maybe we are prepared. We climb with the latest gear on our backs, a full pack of water, state of the art shoes, and an up-to-date map in our hands.
But things happen. Puzzles fall apart. Pieces fall out the car door when we aren’t looking. Or sometimes, even, when we are. And when that happens, a dark night of the soul descends. We climb with a sense of dread, wondering if the veil of night will ever lift.
A verse I have learned to pray often when seasons of darkness descend is Song of Songs 4:6: “Until the break of day, when the shadows flee away, I will walk to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense.” In other words, when I am walking in the dark, my prayer is that I would continue to walk in the dark. To keep going even when I cannot see the way. Because deep down I know that it’s not that there isn’t anyone climbing with me; it’s just that I cannot see His face.
In his book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes letters from a senior devil to a junior devil, teaching the junior devil how best to tempt humans and make them fall. In one letter, the senior devil writes this to his junior cohort: “[God] cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble ideas is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, thought faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs – to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with, the better. He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our case is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
It may not seem like or feel like it, but the times when we walk and cannot feel God’s presence or see God’s face yet continue to walk His path are the times He is wooing us to Himself, strengthening our wills to obey and our hearts to love Him and receive His love in even greater measure than ever before. The challenge is just to continue to walk, to take the next step, when all we are holding in our hands is the one puzzle piece that we can see, separated from the full picture that only God holds.
Take a moment to read the following poem, the fourth poem in our series of six, and answer the questions in the quietness of your own heart or with pen and paper in hand.
Now comes the darkness
Night of all deepest despair.
I cannot see where I am going
I am blind by all my fear.
I stumble, trip, bruised in the darkness
No one here to hold my hand
Loneliness, it presses closer
Paralyzes, from the heart down.
I call to You –
But all seems silent
Where are You, my Lord of Love?
You beckoned me upon this Journey,
Yet on the path, I feel alone.
All at once, I hear the summons,
“Take one more step, you’ll see the way.”
And so in faith-fraught, fearful courage
I step along the ancient way.
And once I step, when fog has lifted,
Now the next step beckons me.
So through the night
I step, and follow,
Faith-filled path of mystery.
- Have you ever experienced a dark night of the soul in the past or are you currently experiencing one now? If so, why do you think the darkness descended and how are you doing on the path?
- In Song of Songs 4:6, the verse I referenced earlier, myrrh in Scripture almost always represents sacrifice and frankincense represents prayer and intercession. Ascension always requires sacrifice. Just think back on the temple sacrifices. Their smoke ascended upwards and was a pleasing fragrance to the Lord. And think back to the sacrifice of Christ. The aroma of His death was pleasing to the Lord, for it ascended heavenward and fulfilled the requirement for our sin. Your sacrifice as you choose to ascend the mountain of the Lord, even in the midst of darkness, will be to strengthen your will and to determine to keep walking, even when you do not feel like it. It will be a commitment to keep in close contact with the Lord, through prayer, through intercession, through staying in His Word, even when you do not feel like doing so or experience the immediate benefits of doing so. But God doesn’t waste anything. Ever. He sees “your will to walk” and is pleased, “even with your stumbles.” If you have stopped walking and stopped communing with the Lord during your dark night of the soul, stop right where you are, repent, choose to look up and out to Him even when you cannot feel Him, and begin to walk His paths again through a commitment to obeying His Word and listening to His Voice, even when you don’t feel like it.
- Psalm 84:10-12 says, “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than dwell in the tents of the wicked. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord gives grace and glory; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, how blessed is the one who trusts in You!” Humility is never a bad thing; it is always a good thing to be reminded how dependent we are on the Lord, even for our very next step and our next breath. And in our humble places, we remember that the Lord gives grace and glory. He never wastes anything, nor does He withhold anything from those who love and trust Him. Keep walking; keep taking the next step. The dark night will not last forever; the Son will rise with healing in his wings, and when He does, you will experience the blessing of someone who has chosen to trust in Him. Close today with a commitment to trust the Lord as a sun (one who gives light) and a shield (one who gives protection), even when you cannot see the way. And close committing to trust in Him for every good path, every good step, every good way. No good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.
Last week I posted the first two poems in a series of six, each poem in the series speaking to a different aspect of walking with God, heeding His call, and choosing to journey on, even when the way is hard. This Monday and Wednesday I will post the next two poems and provide a few questions for you to ponder through prayer with pen and paper in your hand or simply in your heart. My prayer is that each of us is encouraged and strengthened in the journey God has called us to walk, up His paths, in His ways, ascending His mountain, straight to His heart and eternal home, even on, and especially on, mundane Monday mornings.
In the first two poems, we started the journey of ascension, of learning how to walk when all of life is weary. So much of beginning the climb is getting over fears of perfection and performance and having the courage to just start walking, no matter how perfect or imperfect your circumstances seem. And no matter how significant or insignificant you feel in your role throughout the day, knowing that God has called you, YOU, to walk with Him, right where you are, as you are.
But this week is about the actual climb. And how hard it often is.
I love to hike. There isn’t a better feeling to me than the steady climb up a mountain, breathing in mountain air with mountain scenery all around. It’s always a time when I can soak in God’s majesty while sorting out my thoughts as I pace my steps. I learned a long time ago, too, that hiking with my husband isn’t a chance to “catch up” on what’s been going on in life. Hiking with him means putting your ear phones in, keeping your head down, and going as hard as you can as fast as you can the whole way up the mountain. With such a great pace setter in front of me, the crowds at the base or in the car park thin out, and the trail provides incredible time to reflect and let the Spirit of God speak to my heart through the Word of God in meditation, worship, and prayer.
But somewhere in the joy of the walk, there always comes a point on every climb when I think: “I cannot go another step. Cannot.” My legs burn right along with my lungs and every step takes major effort.
I took our oldest daughter Lillian on her first hike up Bald Mountain in Ketchum, Idaho this summer. It is one of Jason and my favorite climbs to do every summer we are there, and I have been looking forward to the day when our children would be able to hike it with us. The hike is 5.4 miles from base to peak, and it’s pretty much an uphill climb the whole way. Jason promised Lillian a new pair of chacos like her cousin’s and a Dr. Pepper if she made it to the top, so the Dr. Pepper sealed the deal and off we went. Two hours and fifty-five minutes later, we finished. The last mile and a half, I literally thought I was going to have to drag her up the rest of the way.
Maybe some of you can relate to Lillian’s end of the trail shuffle – IMG_4445
But she did it. She made it. And so much of it had to do with the fact that she knew she had a traveling companion who wasn’t going to leave her by the side of the trail. She made it because I knew where the good rest stops were, and when we came to one, we stopped, drank, and waited until she caught her breath. She made it because I made sure we started out with an ample water supply. She made it because I knew she would need snacks along the way to give her legs and body energy, and I knew how to tell her to keep her body nourished. She made it because I had been up that mountain many times before and knew the way and was there to point out the correct path, telling her which way to go when there was a fork in the road. She made it because to keep her mind occupied off of the ascent of the path, we played more rounds of “Ask-me-20-questions-to-guess-who-I-am-thinking-of” than I can count and guessed a wide range of people from Johnny Cash to her cousin Seth.
When we climb, and the trail is hard, and we cannot see the summit, and our legs want to give way, we don’t make it to the top by heading back down the mountain the first moment things are hard and the trail is steep. We don’t make it to the top by refusing to rest and drink water along the way. And we don’t make it to the top by thinking we can climb by ourselves. We make it to the top by listening to our traveling companion. The mountain we are climbing, after all, is His mountain (Isaiah 2:1-4). The path we are ascending is His way. He knows every fork in the road, every spot to make sure we rest and have enough water; He knows how to prepare for storms that roll in quickly and descend, and He knows how to make our footsteps firm.
I cannot promise you that the way up the mountain will be easy, and I cannot promise you that you will not want to turn around many time during the climb and head back down the trail. But I can promise you when you journey with the Lord, He will not slumber or sleep, He will not let your steps falter, and He will not leave you by the way.
So wherever you are on your climb today, stop to find rest underneath a shady spot, read this next poem, “Climbing,” and then ask yourself the three questions that follow.
The garments cling
The sweat, it drips
My legs burn with every step
Weary-worn and tired of speaking
I stop for a moment to pause…and rest…
The valley teems with life below
Those who have chosen to stay beneath
The mountain is lonely, the paths are ancient
Is what I am doing insanity?
But the view, oh, it is breath-taking
Peaks and valleys, snow-capped ridge
Silent is the sacred journey
My heart, it sings
The songs You give.
- Where are you in your climb today? Are you enjoying the walk and the challenge in front of you? Or are you weary with each and every step, in need of a rest? Be honest with the Lord about where you are today.
- Have you been relying on yourself to get yourself up the mountain, or are you trusting in and relying upon your traveling companion? Are you tightly clutching the map in one hand, lost and anxiously trying to figure out directions? Is your mouth bone dry and has your water supply run out, leaving you in deep need of a drink? Or are you lonely, in need of someone to walk alongside you and take your mind off of the ascent? Again, be honest before the Lord about your specific needs for a traveling companion who knows the way, holds all direction, water, and nourishment in His Hands, and is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Then receive the answer He provides in the Person and Spirit of Jesus, the Shepherd, Guardian, Savior, and Traveling Companion of your soul.
- Slowly read through the words of Psalm 23:1-6 today, and pray them back to the Lord as you trust Him as Shepherd of your soul, no matter phase of the journey you are in: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
For encouragement in your climb, don’t forget to check back in on Wednesday for the fourth poem in this series of six. You can connect with me on Facebook, as well, throughout the week.
The next few weeks we are on a journey of ascension – learning to go up when all of life pulls us down. Monday I posted the first poem in a series of six about the call to go up and walk with God when, and especially when, our legs are tired from walking. Today marks the journey of the second poem. Take a moment to read it in a quiet place and give yourself time to respond to the questions that follow with a prayerful heart.
The Sun it rises o’er the valley
Giving Light to all I see
Fingers tracing, Fingers probing
Paths of well-worn antiquity.
Sends it fleeing
To furthest corners of space and time
The paths are open
The hills, they beckon
“Come and see!”
“Daughter, Come and climb!”
He’s set my heart to come and worship
He’s clothed my heart to truly live
The One who beckons, I have tasted
He is glory, deep within –
All my ways are known before You
I have told You everything
Yet You take me,
Own me, know me
Want me, with my everything.
So clothe me with Your lovely glory
Teach me Your Paths, O Gracious One.
Remove the false,
Get rid of darkness
For I have tasted lips of the Son.
(Proverbs 2:1-15; Psalm 119:26, 29; Psalm 2:12)
After putting on the new garments described in the first poem, “Clothed,” and receiving covering from the God who loves, forgives, and accepts us though Christ, we next begin to hear God’s call on our lives to ascend and go up the mountain, walking in His paths and His ways.
For years, I’ve wrestled with this issue of ascension and calling: who am I supposed to be? What am I supposed to do? Where am I supposed to go? And after years of struggle in trying to measure my life by what I’ve become and the things I have accomplished while coming up short every single time, I have come to realize that God’s call has nothing to do with vocation, accomplishment, or perfection. Instead, it has everything to do with obedience. His call doesn’t come when we do a certain thing or perform a certain way or head down the perfect path. His call comes to us, to those who love the Lord Jesus, no matter what we are doing or how imperfect our circumstances have become.
I’ve learned that as we choose to heed His call to walk in His ways through His Word, through prayer, through living out the life of love, forgiveness, humility, submission, and obedience He calls us to walk, we become the people He has for us to become along the way, as we walk.
So whatever season of life you are in today, if you are stuck at the bottom of the mountain asking yourself if you will ever make it to the top of the mountain, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you stuck at the base of the trail, trying to find the perfect route up through the perfect profession or city or job or relationship or circumstance before you try to take the first step up the mountain? If so, tell the Lord as honestly as you are able what keeps you feeling “stuck” at the bottom instead of ascending towards the top.
- Consider the prophets’ words in Micah 6:8 and Isaiah 66:2: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”…”But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:2). The person God is with, with whom He chooses to dwell, is the one who trembles at His Word, or, in other words, the one who reads His Word, absorbs it, meditates on it, and chooses to believe and obey the One who is speaking. And the call on every Christian’s life is to take God’s Word and begin to live it out, walking humbly, loving kindly, and doing justly. It’s that hard and it’s that simple. That’s your calling and that’s my calling, no matter who you are or what you do. So this means we can put our maps down, we can stop trying to figure out the perfect path, the perfect circumstances, the perfect “calling,” and we can just begin to walk. As a stay-at-home mom or a working mom. As a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or janitor. As someone who has lived in the same place her whole life or moved every single year of life. So here’s your question…finally. How do you need to begin the journey up the mountain today, right where you are? When was the last time you were in God’s Word, reading it, thinking on it, meditating over it, struggling to comprehend and obey it? And what was the last specific thing God told you to do? Did you do justice? Did you love kindness and forgive and take a step towards your enemy? Did you walk humbly with God, yielding to His leading or did you demand your own way? Did you obey Him or did you just think He made a good suggestion? As George MacDonald says, “Obedience is the soul of knowledge.” So go back and do the thing God told you to do, and you will be amazed at how the way opens up before you. Take a moment to write out the next step or steps up the mountain God is asking you to take, and begin taking those steps…today.
- Finally, be confident in your calling to walk up the mountain with the Lord beginning today, this moment. In the immortal words of G.K. Chesterton, “Don’t be afraid to start badly.” Just start. Just take the next step, and then the next one, trusting that God doesn’t call you to then abandon or forsake you at the first fork in the path. Nor does He call you without having a clear picture in His mind of the end result and who He wants you to become. His job is to make sure you cross the finish line; your job is to just take the next step. Consider the words of Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Close today by being honest about your fears going up the mountain with the Lord, but also about your choice to trust Him. He will not abandon you, and He will not allow you to become less than He has intended for you to be. Ask for the faith to surrender to His voice and lean upon Him along the way for the next breath, the next decision, the next step up the mountain. You can trust Him to be faithful every step of the way.