A Garden of Grace

In Psalm 119:71, David talks of learning (exercising) God’s laws through affliction (being bowed down). The word laws comes from a Hebrew Word meaning “to cut, inscribe, decree” (source: https://biblehub.com/hebrew/3925.htm). It reminds me of 2 Corinthians 3:3 ESV: “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

Beautifully, trials and affliction cause us to drop down to our knees and cry out for God’s perfect understanding and His perfect living and breathing law – Jesus. It is then that any stones of pride, idolatry, doubt, unbelief, bitterness and unforgiveness that have been allowed to hide away in our hearts are exposed, dug out and removed. 

Sometimes we can allow the enemy to accuse us in these moments of exposure and removal. But when we still and listen, we will be able to hear Christ’s heart calling us to come to Him, just as we are. To come boldly before His throne of grace in our time of need. 

To help us distinguish His Voice from the enemy’s, God may also choose to repeatedly lead us in and out of places that trigger trauma in us. In doing so, He teaches us to recognize and release the lies we once embraced (as children). For, He longs for us to know who He truly is: a loving High Priest, who knows our every weakness and kneels down to extend kindness and mercy to us in our time of need.

Only He truly knows what we have been through. His heart breaks for us, and He longs to free us from the trauma and idolatry of our past. He longs to lift away the stones that are stopping the Word from rooting in our hearts, so that we might lean, no longer on our own or others’ understanding, but upon Him: our Rock and Redeemer. 

When those stones are removed and piled up, one upon the other, they become – no longer a hindrance to the Word taking root in our hearts – but proof of Christ’s abiding work in us. They become a living monument to His saving grace, a testimony to His perfecting power in our weakness.

The cold stone tablets of the law prove us guilty of breaking the laws of God and make us deserving of death. But Christ has fulfilled the law for us. He became our sin and died on the Cross to annul the charges that once stood against us. And He rose again that He might take up residence in us to unveil His soft heart in us.

He has overcome the grave, rolling away the stone to rise in victory over sin and death. Now, we can walk in daily repentance, turning to our accuser and the accuser of our brethren to declare:

Romans 8:33-39 (ESV)

33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And with each stone lifted away, Christ roots His Word ever deeper in us. Our hearts hearken more readily to His living Word speaking in us, to us and through us. For, rather than interpreting the Word from our own or other’s fleshly understanding, we learn to recognize and obey Christ speaking His living Word to us, from moment to moment.

Yes, through every trial sent our way, Christ shows that we are a letter sent from Him, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Thank You, Father, that like Paul, we can “count everything as loss compared to the priceless privilege and supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord [and of growing more deeply and thoroughly acquainted with Him—a joy unequaled].” 

Father, bring us to the point, that we, like Paul, may also be able to declare in response to Your patient pruning: “For [Christ’s] sake I have lost everything, and I consider it all garbage, so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him [believing and relying on Him], not having any righteousness of my own derived from [my obedience to] the Law and its rituals, but [possessing] that [genuine righteousness] which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from [You] on the basis of faith.”

Thank You that through the trials we face, You are helping us to “know [Jesus] [experientially, to become “more thoroughly acquainted with Him, understanding the remarkable wonders of His Person more completely] and [in that same way [to] experience] the power of His resurrection [which overflows and is active in believers], and [that [we] may share] the fellowship of His sufferings, by being continually conformed [inwardly into His likeness even] to His death [dying as He did]; [a]so that [we] may attain to the resurrection [that will raise [us] ] from the dead.”

Father, we know “that [we] have [not] already obtained it [this goal of being Christlike] [n]or have [we] already been made perfect, but [we] actively press on [b]so that [we] may take hold of that [perfection] for which Christ Jesus took hold of [us] and made [us] His own.(A)” 

Thank You that You have promised to complete the good work You have begun in us. Help us not to become discouraged through the repeated trials and losses, but to recognize and bless You for the stones You are removing from our hearts through Your patient gardening. Thank You for making room in our hearts for more of You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen 

(Quotes from: Philippians 3: 8 – 12 (AMP) )

Footnotes

[a] Philippians 3:11 Lit if somehow.

[b] Philippians 3:12 Lit even if I may. Paul knew that he could not really reach perfection in this life, but his goal was to “press on” as if it were attainable.

Cross references

(A) Philippians 3:12 : 1 Cor 9:24; 1 Tim 6:12

Thanks to CDC @cdc for making the profile photo for this post available freely on Unsplash 🎁 https://unsplash.com/photos/_Vq-x0tE38o

Answered Prayers

Today, my thoughts have turned to answered prayers. As I reflected on Easter, I thought about Jesus being the answer to generation upon generation of prayers. And how that answer to all those prayers came in such an unexpected way that many missed the answer. They missed our Savior’s coming, misunderstood or even helped bring about His death and couldn’t believe in His resurrection.

But what a gift Jesus was and is to those of us who, through the touch of the Holy Spirit, have recognized His coming, His death for us and His resurrection to give us new life. As we walk toward Easter weekend and remember Christ’s death on the Cross and His resurrection, may He open our eyes, ears and hearts to recognize the many answers to prayers He has brought. May we also become His answer to the prayers of others as we obey His calling. And may our ears continue to hearken to His promptings to pray in the Spirit for the return of His children and the coming of His Kingdom.

May the beautiful answers He brings us, through His Presence with us, also become answers for others also. May we share the hope and comfort He has given us with those He places before us. 

Happy Easter! As you celebrate Jesus this week, may this poem and song encourage and uplift you:

HOPE

Beckoning Hope

Where it was once want

Leading to Light we now see.

Always so near

He never abandons

Ever so patient, remains.

Sending 

His palm branch 

Blessed of grace that we are.

Coming in splendor

Sun streaming glory

Bathing us here in His Light.

No longer weighted 

Our burden Lifter

Always He’s breathing to Life.

Promise in bruisèd

And smoldering wick

He will not break or snuff out.

Justice He brings 

In captives He frees

Hope’s strong Voice in us lifts.

Thankful we raise

Our anthem of praise

Casting abandoned our cares.

Raising His children 

Hand lifting faces

Shining, His radiance us glows.

Broken, victorious

Guilty, forgiven

No longer shame, here our name.

Called and He’s chosen

Redeemed and belovèd

Nothing His love can destroy.

All dark and hopeless

Purposed for Living 

Christ in us be raised.

Our eyes He gives us

“It’s finished” gifts us

Whole and His Perfect to see.

Cocooning safely

Releasing gently

Wings in His timing unfold.

His thoughts above ours

Master’s own brushstrokes

Poema loved, we are His.

Let us not draw back

Hide or strive fearful 

But come as children restored.

He will not shun us

Remove or shame us

But only break open to Life.

Give thanks for the bread broken 

His Body saved us

Living, His blood in us streams.

Every tear 

And every ache

Sin and our weakness, He’s borne.

Search here and know us, Lord

Let Your holiness draw us

Your will in grace, Christ fulfill.

Send us and teach us

Cross here to carry

Your Kingdom come to proclaim.

Comforted, comfort 

Loved first, we love

All You have given, we shall release.

Sharpened by iron

Hands clasped together 

One in Your Spirit: we each belong.

Let us not shirk 

Or fear filled withdraw now

But in Love’s own perfecting grow.

Our battle He’s won 

Our hearts now are His

Nothing shall stand in His way.

Heaven rejoices

Cheering us on

Hope beckoning us homeward.

https://youtu.be/F8iveLWYkZE

The Greatest of these is Love

Today, rather than sharing a friend’s testimony, I am sharing my Mum’s story that is woven together with my own. When we buried my Mum, I glorified her strength, perseverance and love. But in the years since saying goodbye to her, more than anything, I’ve come to realize that what I glorified her for, was Jesus at work in and through her. It was Jesus, who continually turned the hardest paths my Mum walked, into stories of beauty, through His love.

So, in sharing some of my Mum’s stories and her impact on others, my prayer is that we will not see her as someone to glorify, but rather, as someone just like us, in whom and through whom we can see the wonders of God’s love and grace for us all. I pray that through her life, you too will recognize Jesus at work in your own life, reaping a harvest of love, when and where you least expect it.

When I was little, we lived in a small town in New Zealand. My Mum led a busy life, combining study at University with (at that point in her life) three young children under the age of 4. And yet even being so busy with her own life, God opened the eyes of her heart to see and serve others in their need.

She once read about more and more young mothers taking their own life in our town. These women died from the as yet little understood illness of Postpartum Depression. My Mum’s heart ached and my Dad shared how she stayed up the whole night pouring out her heart in prayer to the LORD. The very next morning she went from door to door, getting to know the young mothers in our neighborhood. My Dad said that after that night of Mum praying, the postpartum depression related suicides in our little town suddenly stopped.

I believe, it is no accident where God places us, nor is it an accident that those in need around us are so very often in a similar life situation to ourselves. My Mum didn’t know the ravages of postpartum depression, but she knew enough about the stresses of caring for young children and the impact of depression on loved ones, that her heart bled for those young mothers and their families. Love and compassion poured forth from her, from the very heart of Jesus in her, moving her to become His very hands and feet in her town.

When I was four, my parents moved from New Zealand to Germany, answering the call of God to share the Good News with those who did not know that a personal and living relationship with God was a possibility. For the first six months, this meant my parents and their at that point four young children under six, had to live in a campervan.

One day, my Mum invited an English family of four over for dinner, after church. I remember my Dad saying that they were so surprised to find that we lived at a camping ground. What I see so much in this is how God gave my Mum such boldness in reaching out from her position of weakness. Rather than hanging out in the shame of her own family’s poverty, she pressed into God’s riches, to give to others from her place of need. And God supplied in abundance, enabling His love to flow richly.

It reminds me that I too can trust God to supply more than I could ever think to ask for or imagine. I can reach out to others, when God prompts me to, not because I am so strong and able, but because I know my God will perfect His power precisely in my weakness and inadequacy. For, it’s not by power, nor by might, but by the Spirit of the LORD that Love Himself – God – is made known, in and through us.

When I was nine years old, my parents adopted my little brother from Romania. We had traveled to Romania several times before the adoption, my Dad having organized and helped carry out various aid trips after the fall of the dictator Ceaucescu. When we took my little brother home with us, it was two weeks before we moved back permanently to New Zealand.

My Mum was exhausted from the almost six years in missions and yet returned to a town far from her own family’s support. There, in this new town, she cared for us six children, the whole household and supported my Dad, in his new stressful and taxing position as the head of a Christian high school, while also filling in as a maths teacher for the school.

When she was dying, my Mum shared of her failings in parenting my little brother. She spoke of her regrets in punishing him physically, when in hindsight, what he had needed most in that place of rebellion was someone who saw the trauma and heartache beneath. She shared of her exhaustion, of her struggle to reach his little heart and the ache she had carried for so many years.

There have been many times, I have felt deeply grieved by the many years it took for restoration to come. But God is showing me that it is all just more proof of the persevering power of His love and grace. His Word tells us that He is not slow to save, as we deem Him to be, but that His desire is that not one of us should perish. Sometimes, a longer journey is necessary to weave His masterpiece, not just in us, but others through us.

As I have poured out my grief about the years it took, God has asked me to stop looking back in pain. He has, again and again, gently reminded me to look up at Him. He has asked me to see the beauty He has forged and still is forging in and through His love and grace to us.

Now, I see the beauty God brought through my Mum’s broken and contrite heart. And I even see the beauty He brought through the unfulfilled ache my Mum carried for so many years. My mother didn’t stay in a place of regret for the many years she was caught in blindness herself, but rather, by God’s great grace and His loving Word to her, she moved forward.

She sought and received my little brother’s forgiveness and God’s call to pray fervently for all the incomplete stories that made her heart ache. And I believe her hidden prayers, prompted by the heart of Jesus in her, are still being unveiled now, almost seven years later.

Looking back, I can now see that God’s timing in opening my Mum’s eyes to see what she couldn’t when I was little, was impeccable. I may share more about that another time. And all the years Mum’s heart ached in her blindness, God used for good. For, His love and grace continued to flow through my Mum, as it does through all of us in our seeing but in part and not in full.

In her search to better understand my little brother, my Mum reached out to love and care for numerous other little children that others couldn’t cope with. She was known as the preschool teacher to give the “difficult kids” to. And she was also known for coming alongside the parents of these “difficult” kids. Often these parents, many single-Moms, were going through really hard things themselves.

My Mum went from being a student Mum, to a missionary and pastor’s wife, to a high school teacher, to studying to become a preschool teacher in her later life. As she told my Dad, she began to understand that the early development of children is so crucial to their later development. Not surprisingly, she then progressed to studying counseling, realizing that many of the children she saw struggling had parents who were struggling too. Perhaps, she also began to recognize the support she too had needed as a struggling Mum back in New Zealand.

I have no doubt that the ache in her heart from her experiences with my little brother drove her to give love in places she never would have otherwise gone. I believe this ache compelled her to love children and parents the world had turned their back on.

God opened my Mum’s eyes to see my little brother’s rebellion with new eyes in her final months on earth. She wept and wept watching films of children who went through similar trauma to my little brother, who spent his first fifteen months in an orphanage, being given up mere days after his birth.

She shared how her counseling course exposed her to these videos, the very counseling course she had chosen to do to help others. But when she received her diploma in her final months on earth, she shared how she hadn’t realized how much healing her own heart had needed. But I believe God always did.

Beautifully the brain cancer she suffered from in her final months, took away her social filter and in fact helped her to speak up boldly and seek restoration. My little brother’s heart opened wide to receive the grace he had so longed for. And he in turn extended it to my Mum also, in great thankfulness to God.

God worked most powerfully in and through my Mum, when she was at her weakest. Even as she lay dying, unable to speak, eat or even wink, love poured out of her, through the palpable peace of God covering her, as I shared in my testimony last week. And I was not the only one to feel it or be blessed by it.

As God went about healing my Mum’s heart in quiet and unseen ways, He was also busy healing others through her and He continues to do so today: through her very much living testimony to His love and grace.

It shows me that when we give our lives to Jesus, it’s no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in and through us. Through us sinful and broken people who only see but in part on this earth. Christ’s life and love continually flows into and out of us, in ways I don’t think we will fully comprehend until heaven. But isn’t this foretaste already so glorious!

There are so many other stories I could share from my Mum’s 59 years on this earth, but I will end with a quote from a friend of ours, a quote my Dad chose to have engraved on my Mum’s tombstone. This man said of my Mum: “When you were with Margaret, you knew you were loved.”

Surely, as God’s Word tells us: the greatest of these is love. And who is love, but God Himself. The God who never stops pouring Himself into and out of us.

In His love, He makes something beautiful of each of our lives: