Breath of Heaven

For many months, our church has been struggling. The hows and the wheres and the whys are not relevant to this story; suffice it to say the church has been slowly dying and those of us who remain have been grieving our once-vibrant Spiritual community. I was ready to jump ship at the end of last year. But as DH and I talked and prayed, we realized God was telling us to stay put.

I didn’t want to hear that. I cried. I would have argued long and hard with Him, but I knew even before I began that it wasn’t worth the breath or time to go on; God would win. God always wins. I felt He was asking us to be a part of His plan for new life, health, and growth. So I went back to church, and a tiny part of me deep inside started to feel a whisper of excitement in anticipation of God doing one of His God-things.

Since that night, I have seen His plan just begin to unfold. Change is slow and painful. More friends have left the church. The lessons God has for us are hard. And yet, He is with us. God has the power of life and Life is stronger than death. Even when hope seems to be dying, we can put our hope in the One who conquered death and lives forever.

These are the words of God to the dry bones, “My Spirit will bring you back to life. I will connect you with muscles and tendons; I will regrow organs and blood vessels and cover you with skin. I will breathe My own breath into you and you will live. Being alive, you will know Me as the Lord your God.” (Ezekiel 37:5-6, paraphrase)

No matter how dead, how beyond repair, how hopeless it seems, God can breathe His life into us, and doing so, He brings us back to life (John 11:21-27). Even when we have walked away from Him, He desires us; He pursues us (Romans 5:6). He calls us His own family (1 John 4:7-10). He offers life more abundant than anything we can picture (Ephesians 3:14-20) and promises to be with us always (Deuteronomy 31:8).

God,

I find it so easy to see hopelessness and desperation as the end. When I can’t imagine a way through, I don’t believe there can be a way. Yet You are beyond all I can imagine. You work beyond my wildest dreams. You are so much greater than I can even begin to understand. Let me rest in the Mystery, Lord. Let me be at peace knowing You ARE.

Long-term Care

When I was younger, long about high school, I would read or hear the story of the Exodus and all the signs and wonders of the plagues (Exodus 7:1-12:30) and crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-31), followed so quickly by the golden calf incident (Exodus 32:1-6). And I’d be dumbfounded, “How can these same people who saw such miracles ever have wanted to abandon God for this ridiculous idol?”

More recently, I’ve been reading the promises and curses for the people of Israel 40 years later as they are about to enter the promised land (Deuteronomy 28), and I’m getting that same feeling of dismay. God is very clear in promising the good that will come if the Israelites follow Him and the evil that will come if they don’t. Still, having read the rest of the story, I know they choose don’t.

Of course now, 20-some years after high school, I can see a little deeper into the story. God has worked in some amazing and unexpected ways in my life and the lives of those I love. Yet, when I face difficult and uncertain circumstances, it is disheartening how easily I fall into the deception that God must not really want to bless me and perhaps I’d be better off striking out on my own.

Today I’m giving you a choice. You can have life and success. Or you can have death and harm. I’m commanding you today to love the Lord your God. I’m commanding you to live exactly as He wants you to live. You must obey His commands, rules and laws. Then you will live. There will be many of you. The Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to take as your own. (Deuteronomy 30:15-16, NIrV)

Disbelief is exactly what it comes down to, isn’t it? God states His desire very clearly throughout the Bible: He wants to be with us. He wants to love us and to bless us. The issue is my choosing to believe that His blessings are only those things wrapped up in pretty paper and topped with a shiny bow. Or only when He gives me what I want. Or only when He keeps me from being hurt.

Yet, that’s not the way blessings are described in the Bible. James put it this way, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12, NIV). Or how about Jesus’s own words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit …. Blessed are those who mourn …. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst …. Blessed are those who are persecuted …. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:1-12, NIV). The apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians to take heart, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17, NIV). It’s good to bear in mind those troubles Paul said were achieving glory included shipwrecks, imprisonments, brutal beatings, sleeplessness, hunger, and death threats from Jews and Gentiles alike. Those don’t sound much like what I’d want to follow with a hashtag reading soblessed.

God blesses us for our eternal good. He gives us what will be of the most benefit over the long term, even though it may be hard or painful now. In the same way I require my kids to learn math facts or clean up their rooms, even though they struggle and say they’re bored and tell me I’m mean, because I know such knowledge and practice will serve them well later in life, God chooses to be momentarily “mean” to us and require more from us than we feel is strictly necessary to make our lives better in ways we can’t yet fully understand. And on some long days, that is hard to believe.

Lord,

You promise the best to us. You promise more than we could ever ask or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20). But You also require that we trust in Your goodness and love for us. That is hard sometimes, God! When life looks bleak and nothing seems to be going the way I want it to and I’m tired of the lessons You keep leading me through again and again and again, I just want to throw my hands in the air and admit defeat. And perhaps I should. Maybe if I gave up my own determined misunderstanding of Your ways and Your truth, I would find it easier to recognize the eternal glory for which You are preparing me.

Thank You that, in the meanwhile, in the muddle, You never give up on me. You are good. Your love endures forever. Your faithfulness lasts throughout the generations (Psalm 100:5). Amen.