Welcome to Day 2 of Part 3‘s Chapter 3 of Arise and Shine. Today, Anna is sharing a free will offering in a testimony to the blossoming staff of Christ’s holiness that leads and comforts us through the valley of the shadow of death, shedding the old for the new.
Interestingly, sifting seed involves blowing it up into the air to remove the head (also called chaff) and to have it immediately drop to the ground. And this isn’t a one-time process. As I began to look more closely at this process and the prophecy Jesus spoke over Peter of allowing Satan to sift – or winnow – him like wheat, I began to see the hidden blessing Jesus wanted me to uncover in my own experiences of being sifted like wheat.
I now see how the Holy Spirit has lifted me up into positions of authority, when I, by the grace of God at work in me, have followed the law of God. But then the sins of pride and idolatry have been exposed in me, as I have denied, through my words and deeds, that it was always in fact the grace of God that enabled me to fulfill the law and that He had lifted me up and not me and my goodness.
In my pride and idolatry, I began to see myself as the head and as oh so deserving of all the gifts for “all I have had to suffer through and give up”, turning my back on the greatest gift of all- Jesus and His love for me – compared to whom all else is rubbish. But praise God, He has never allowed me to stay in that position of pride, just as He didn’t allow Peter either.
He has repeatedly humbled me, repeatedly removing the chaff of self, as He has pressed my knees to the ground to die to myself and to sow unto the Spirit. As John 12:24 (ESV) puts it:
Verily, verily I say unto you, unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
Now, I know that the seed in us is JESUS. It is He, who bowed low on the ground for us in Gethsemane, to drink the cup to take upon Him our sin and affliction, and to die on that Cross to save us. The chaff is our old self. But as Christ humbles us, yielding us to the Father’s will through HIS sacrifice, He cracks open our hardened hearts to lift off the old us (the chaff) to reveal Himself in us (the seed).
When I came back to faith, I believed I was called to and could draw others to Christ by my good example. So, God repeatedly invited me into situations that exposed my need for His grace and healing. It’s then, He had me confess my sins before unbelievers, and they responded with such warmth and compassion. As they began to confess their own weakness and sin in response, I began to see that it has been my open confessions of sin and weakness that has been drawing not just me, but them also, closer and closer to Jesus.
Sadly, after my symptoms of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder disappeared, I glorified my healing, my church friends and the steps I had taken to get to that place of healing. I even began to believe God had called me to show others “how to heal”. So, in His kindness to me, God brought new trauma triggers to bring me to my knees, to expose my desperately deceitful heart and to remind me who my only Savior, Rock and portion is.
It was like He was asking me: “Anna, are you telling me you can teach people how to heal themselves?! How dare you nullify the very grace I have poured out in abundance upon you again and again. It was never you, your steps or your church friends doing the healing.” Oh how deeply humbling it was for me, as God led me to confess my sins, one after another, and to speak of His love and grace for me in my weakness and need.
But when God called me to leave my church, rescuing me from the spiritual abuse I was experiencing, I spiraled into shame. I returned to clothing myself in the enemy’s accusations and to fighting back in anger, as I reverted back to self-righteousness, so I could “belong” to a local church body that I saw as being a necessary component to “belonging” to God. Or I sought honor and approval in the world – via jobs – to compensate for the humiliation I felt, in having nothing left to “do” and “prove my worth”, as I let go of God’s beautiful Word to me, just as I did as a teenager.
So, God just kept taking me in and out of places I longed to go, never taking away my free will, but rather, restoring it unto me. For, in each place, He compelled me to surrender my idols, one by one and to take back my self-control, so I could now bring free will offerings before Him, rooted in His love for me, rather than religious sacrifices induced by fear, self-condemnation and shame. In giving me what I thought I wanted and needed, He in fact uncovered the true desires of my heart to know Him.
To know that Jesus is patient, that Jesus is kind. That Jesus does not envy, That Jesus does not boast, that Jesus is not proud. That Jesus does not dishonor others, that Jesus is not self-seeking, that Jesus is not easily angered, that Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. That Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. That Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. To know that I can always trust His judgment that is sent to heal and restore me unto Himself.
Yes, Jesus has patiently yielded me to His will, feeding me His pure and unadulterated Word to root me in the truth of His love for me, and to lead me to repentance. And He has showered me in His pride, every time I have humbled myself in obedience beneath His mighty hand.
I remember after God compelled me to leave one employer after only a month, how He woke me up to go downstairs in the middle of the night to pray for my former boss, who had deeply wounded my pride in things he had said to me upon my departure.
As I bowed low on the floor to pray, in response to God’s prompting, God’s love, compassion and mercy just began to pour out of me for this man, and I literally felt oil pour out on my head and the hand of Jesus rest upon my head. It was such an incredible experience.
And yet even then, as I shared about this all with a church-going friend that I wanted to like me, I boasted in my own strength and goodness. I put myself on a pedestal for praying for my enemy: when it was in fact GOD who had brought that surrender in me.
I wanted her to approve of me, and I wanted to belong to her church community, I had started sporadically attending. But God later showed me, to belong to that place, I would have had to deny His very Presence in me and to hide His beautiful light. I would have had to stop speaking the truth in love, to stop boasting in my weakness and to stop confessing my sins freely. I would have had to wear a mask of self-righteousness to be acceptable.
A few days later I sat bemoaning that employer yet again before unbelieving friends of ours. I was seeking to save face after once again being jobless, when God had only just showered me in such honor to show me that I am no victim, but a vessel of His love and grace, not sent to glorify myself in the world, but Him, in my humility.
I hadn’t learnt the lesson God had wanted to teach me through all of this: Psalm 16:2 “I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” Yet, beautifully, one of those present said something that so deeply convicted my heart in response that God led me to repentance through it.
No, there is NOT one ounce of goodness in me apart from God. But that is the beautiful and freeing thing to realize, isn’t it? I can never, in fact, be holy apart from Christ. Oh I still have moments I forget this beautiful, beautiful truth, as I choose pride above humility. But praise God He always rises to defend me – to compel me to clothe myself in His holiness that is mine in Christ Jesus, as I bow low in repentance.
Yes, it has always been Jesus yielding me in surrender and yet oh how I have put myself on a pedestal for it and shamed others in doing so. May God forgive me. Now, I know my Heavenly Papa was not ashamed of me, but oh so proud of my open confessions of weakness and sin, even as it turned those I idolized and wanted to like me, against me.
For, that is in fact what shines the face of Jesus upon others in their own weakness. Upon those whose hearts have been tilled to receive the truth and grace of God. No, those who long to know Jesus won’t ever find Him in my self-righteousness, in my pedestal living, nor in me puffing myself up in my positions in ministry or the workforce, and my “good works”. They and I will see Jesus most in our repentance: in Christ’s holiness transforming each one of us from glory to glory.
All along, I have always been in the hand of God. And yet sadly, I was constantly seeking church leaders, church friends, various self-help programmes (Christian and non-Christian) and worldly or church standing to “rescue me” and lift away the shame I felt at my weakness and sin being “put on display”. All along Christ was inviting me to become less that He might become my all.
I didn’t deep down know in my heart that God has always had me safely in His hand – even all those years I walked as a Prodigal, believing Jesus had abandoned me. Now, I know that all of this humbling was sent to teach me – and others through me – to lean into the righteousness of Christ. This is a righteousness that became mine, the moment I gave my heart to Him as a little four-year old girl. A righteousness that the enemy can never take from me. For, “In him [I] also, when [I] heard the word of truth, the gospel of [my] salvation, and believed in him, [was] sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14, ESV).
Praise God, that each place He sent me, He lifted me up to winnow the beautiful golden seeds of His Word in me. Lifting off the chaff of my prideful old self, the heavier seeds of glory dropped to the ground to die and be buried that each one might break open unto new life in God’s beautiful timing.
I now see the beautiful fruits of repentance He has been growing in me: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I can now see and praise God for the blossoming staff of His leading in my life and heart.
To the world my life (and my ailing health) looks like a failure, but I now know to God, my “failures” are proof of His workmanship – His love and grace at work in and through me. For, each surrender was wrought by His holiness to yield His harvest of peace in and through me.