Part 2: Chapter 2 – Day 7: Sovereign

Welcome to Day 7 of Part 2‘s Chapter 2 from Arise and Shine. Today, Anna is sharing a story + poem as a final free will offering of bronze, showing us how the LORD invited her to let Him exchange her judgment with His own, in and through her weakness.

Several years ago, I found my heart turned to bitterness, much like Naomi did, after her husband and sons died and she decided to return to her homeland. But as I layed my bitterness before the LORD in a poem, as I sat with the name Naomi had given herself, God exchanged my bitterness for joy, just as He did for Naomi.

Sovereign

Gather, You tell me
Gather, my broken dreams?
Gather, my heart broke in two?
Gather, all I've poured and emptied out?
Gather, here my broken self?

What do I gather?
When all I have is broken
Shattered?
Mara, she said to call her
Mara is the word I'd choose
A bitter hand dealt.

Gather, You tell me
Gather, Your tears here for me wept?
Gather, Your heart here broke for me?
Gather, all You've poured and emptied?
Gather, Word made flesh?



But not till much later, did I see that this place of desolation I found myself in, came about because of God’s jealous love for me and my family. For, He refused to allow my heart to remain divided in its affections, just as He refused to allow Naomi’s heart to remain divided also.

Perhaps, like me, you didn’t realize that Naomi had moved to Moab with her family during a drought. Rather than trust God to provide for them, they had chosen to seek refuge outside of the safe boundaries God had given them to dwell inside of. When things got tough, rather than wait upon the LORD, they took matters into their own hands. And yet, even there, God remained faithful to His covenant of love.

All those years later, as tragedy struck and Naomi was left bereaved, she decided to return to the land of her faith, and Ruth decided to accompany her. What Naomi saw as God dealing her a bitter hand, was in fact God’s plan of redemption at work.

He was leading her to return to her first Love, where this time, in her place of great need, she would listen for the LORD’s Voice and not the enemy’s. There, God directed her to send her daughter-in-law into the hands of Boaz: her kinsman redeemer. A man of God who would provide bountifully for Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi.

Boaz foreshadows our own kinsman Redeemer, Jesus Christ. For, Jesus Christ has redeemed our family line, through His own blood. He has purchased us back from the enemy, freeing us from our bondage to sin and death.

In my place of desolation, I came face to face with my Kinsman Redeemer, Jesus, who showed me that my loss was in fact my gain. In that place of great loss my true sinful heart was exposed for all to see, so that my God could reveal His true heart of love and mercy toward us all.

I deserved judgment, not mercy. My idolatrous affections and numbing my pain in sin deserved God’s wrath. But just as in the case of Naomi, God honored the deeper desires of my heart, He had planted there. Desires to love Him from my whole heart.

And so, He took away my idols, one by one, leaving me bereft. But in that place, as I bemoaned His bitter hand, He arose to declare me His and to redeem my Prodigal journey.

Just like Naomi, I had once fled my God’s safe boundaries, choosing to fend for myself, after deciding in a time of drought – when God appeared not to be answering my cries – that my God had abandoned me and those I loved. I descended upon my Prodigal journey that would take me to the other side of the world.

After opening my eyes to a newborn faith (incidentally exactly when my childhood cries to God in prayer were answered, more than twenty years later), God took me back into similar situations of rejection that I had found myself in as a child, as I obeyed my God’s calling to speak up and to confess my weakness and sins openly.

Just as when I was little, I wanted to bow before man to be loved and accepted. Or I wanted to try to “persuade” those before me to “see the truth”, turning to fleshly means of fighting. I see-sawed between the two. But each time, after a period of asking me to stay and persevere in His truth and grace, as He continually cleansed me of all unrighteousness, God commanded me to depart under a new authority: His.

What I didn’t see until after several of these breakings and losses, is that my losses were in fact my gains. For, through each loss I went through, God was restoring more of my heart to Him. He was restoring my first Love for Him and redeeming the years the locusts had eaten.

Now I know that the droughts we walk through, when it appears our prayers are falling on deaf ears, are God’s gift to us. God’s gift sent to uncover our own sinful and divided hearts to cleanse and restore them unto Him. He was never ashamed of me in that place of the enemy’s attack. For, He allowed these attacks to expose my idolatrous and divided heart, so He could invite me to enter into His wholeness: to exchange my faith in my idols of self and man for a faith in Him alone.

Now, I know why He gave me a very specific Scripture-based prayer to pray repeatedly over myself, right after I came home to Him: a prayer I still pray today: “Father, teach me to walk in the light of Your truth. Give me an undivided heart that I might fear Your Name above all else.”

Like Paul, I too have now discovered, and am still discovering daily, that all else is rubbish compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ as my LORD and being found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. Now, I too can sing: “It is God for me.”:

Each time Jesus purposely led me into a death and resurrection. He led me to face the sinful nature of my own heart and my inability to save myself and others. And then, in each death, as He asked me to leave and He closed the doors behind me, He gave me His heart of love and mercy. He wrote His Word deeper and deeper upon my heart.

I have become as dead to the people and communities He commanded me to leave, but alive to Him and His Word of love and mercy toward me and toward them. God is turning my bitter into sweet in and through my weakness.

He is answering His tearful intercession for me through my mother, all those years ago. Those answers are coming through my weakness and God’s grace to me: not through anything I have done to deserve it. They are coming through Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as the trauma triggers shaking my body in each place of idolatry have alerted me to the division occurring in my heart. These triggers have led me into stilling to hear and obey the Voice of God, to take steps to heal and guard my heart.

What the enemy sent to steal, kill and destroy me and my family, God is turning into good, to bring deliverance, healing and abundant life in Him. Praise Him!

It's then I see You
There beside me strong
Hand in mine
Walking to the Cross

Your Body broken
Shame and mocking
On You laid
Pierced and bled in pain
In the tomb You lay.

Till Your heavens
Darkness rent
Curtain raised,
Now in two
I hear You rip.

Christ, You raise
My broken life
In the breaking
Of Your Body
From the tomb
New life unwrap.

Your songs releasing
Now my human soul
Awakening
Your Living Word
Declaring me
Whole.

Embraced in love
Steeled in truth
Sent in Grace's
Own true Breath
Into Your world
That's yearning
For You:

I AM mercy's hands
And mercy's feet.


Broken,
You make whole again
Dark,
You shine my night to Light
Tears,
You cup and pour to Joy aflame
Fear,
You still in Perfect Peace
My feet,
On righteous path
You tread
Sure and steadfast
Held.

Gather, You tell me.
YES I shall gather
The tears You wept for me
The heart You broke for me
All You've poured
And emptied into me
I shall now receive:

The Word
Made flesh.

Garden of My Lord
Enclosed and sealed
For a time such as this
Your spring has broken
Your fountains I hear
Crashing, pouring.

For, Your love and mercy
You've gathered
Now to rush and pour
Sovereign
For Your own delight
In me.

For, wondrous
Are Your works
My soul knows it
Very well.

Praise You, Jesus!


“You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain” (Song of Songs 4:12).


May we all rest in the love and mercy of our Creator today. May we come to know and taste, more and more, that our smallness and weakness is not our shame to carry, but ordained of God to draw us ever deeper into knowing Him and being known by Him, that we might declare the wonders of His works:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV)

Part 2: Chapter 2 – Day 6: Heaven is Singing

Welcome to Day 6 of Part 2‘s Chapter 2 from Arise and Shine. Today, Bettie is sharing a story + prayer + poem as a free will offering of bronze, showing us how the LORD invited her to let Him exchange her judgment of herself with His own. She also invites us into a time of prayer and reflection.

They made the bronze basin and its bronze stand from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Exodus 38:8 NIV

The Lord had asked His people to bring many items and offer them to be used for the building of His holy dwelling place among them. When He asked for items of bronze to be given, there were women serving who gave some of their most precious items. For you see, they had used their bronze mirrors during those days of wandering in the wilderness, showing them daily glimpses of how their faces were portrayed. 

This Scripture tells us that the women who served the Lord and His people gave away their only way to view themselves. And how did the priests make use of those precious bits of their daily lives? The molten bronze was fashioned into the basin where the priests cleansed themselves before they offered the sacrifices that would bring God’s holiness to His people.

The way that those women viewed themselves and those around them was transformed as the bronze was melted, poured, and pounded into the vessel made for cleansing. Now the image seen was that of the priests bowing and washing before the holy sacrifices were made. 

Are you seeing the beautiful symbolism yet? 

The surrender of those women was not lost on me, as the Lord asked me to ponder my own way of looking at myself and those around me. I found myself weeping as the Lord brought His true mirror before me, and showed me the difference between what He sees when He looks at me, and how I have viewed myself. 

Has my mirror been melted, poured, and pounded into the Lord’s cleansed and true vessel of seeing yet?

Or have I clung to the wilderness way of seeing, judging my image by my own faulty standards?

Years ago, as a young teenager, God had spoken beautiful words into my heart and over my life as I read the story of the young teen Jeremiah:

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

 “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

 Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.  Jeremiah 1:4-9 NIV 

I longed to follow after the Lord, and to speak the words that He would give me to share. But not long after God had spoken the words of Jeremiah to me, I heard a phrase uttered, “Oh, that person is just too heavenly minded to be any earthly good!”  And something burrowed itself down into my soul. I heard myself asking God:

“Is that me, God? Is that why my words are not heard?  It MUST be me.”  

I tucked away my own stories of God’s faithfulness, preferring instead to listen to all the other great stories around me. In the very beginning of my journey, I listened to a lie about myself, and let that lie take root. And judgment quickly clouded my vision.

Years later I heard more words uttered, and I let that lie take root even deeper, until the Lord began to shake it loose, and show it for what it truly was. He let the light of His truth shine directly into the darkened corner of my heart.

Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Psalm 85:10

He cleansed my eyes with the water of His mercy, and showed me His way of seeing not only myself, but those around me who had also given in to the lie. His mercy washes us clean from our bitterness, and brings us the only way to see clearly: through HIS own righteousness.

If your own eyes have been looking in a bronze mirror, and you have found yourself questioning a lie that has been spoken over you, can you ask the Lord to kindle His flame and shine His light on your heart?  What does HE see when He looks at you?  Jesus refines and He washes with a holiness that brings us His Truth and Life. Can you let Him wash away the judgments and lies that have rooted in your own heart?

Dear Father,

We come before you now, humbled by the awesome strength and glory that You dwell in. And Father, we are awed that You would love us so much, that You would open the way for us to dwell with You through Your precious Son’s sacrifice.

Will You forgive us for the pride that we have fought so hard to hold onto? And will You continue to lift the blinders off of our eyes, to show us the true cleansing that You have for us? 

What a blessed fellowship You have granted to us: to be carried by You through every day, to be in sweet communion with You, through Your own Blessed Holy Spirit.  We praise You for the true way of seeing that You have granted to us through Your merciful love gifted to us. Thank you for the song that You are singing as You declare us beautiful in Your holiness.

In the Precious Name of Your son, Jesus, we pray, Amen.”

As we now sit with the poem Bettie penned, as the LORD cleansed and opened her eyes, may the LORD now also cleanse and open our own eyes. May we too hear heaven singing:

lie slithered along the floor where
my heart
followed along
questioning
hsss
sound of darkness
i let it stay
did not
bid it go
hardly knew when
it came to live
but always
hsss
sound of darkness
questioning who i
thought
i
was
then hidden words
found utterance
not
by
me
another had let the darkness
settle
on
his
heart too
hsss
now lies swirled over
head
joined entwined in darkness
bitter root
twisting weed grew
around my
shady corners
soul barren
deeps
YAWEH!
a flame kindled
where
slithering scattered
hissing tried to
cling
LORD of light shining
lies fled when
truth sounded song
fluttered
love won secret heart
drew in beautiful
intimacy restoring
true heart no
bitter root
HEAVEN IS SINGING

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. John 1:5 NLT

Part 2: Chapter 2 – Day 4: He Will Carry Us

Welcome to Day 4 of Part 2‘s Chapter 2. Today, Bettie is sharing a free will offering of bronze. Her story and poem show us how the LORD exchanged her human judgment with His freeing judgment and her prayer invites us into thanksgiving.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.  Luke 15:1-6

As I listened to the verses being read aloud, my heart started pounding more rapidly. I heard the words, but I saw myself in the story. As Jesus put that lost one on his shoulders and began to walk home, something broke loose in me. It was what I had been longing for almost every night within this chronic illness wandering: to be lifted and carried away from the thorns.

Over these past years, since my chronic illness diagnoses, I have met my Savior, my Shepherd, in more intimate ways than I ever could have imagined. He called me beautiful when I found myself so ugly. He called me chosen when I found myself separated and cut-off. He called me by His own royal name when all I could hear was minimizing and neglect. He called me His daughter, and I hid in His embrace.

But when I listened to the story of that one lost sheep, I realized that even after those many precious words He had spoken to me, I have still felt tangled in thorns and separated from where I was supposed to be. I have still rebelled at the thought that this place of weakness could be the very place that He knew I would be in. When I have looked longingly back at the place of my own strength, I have not acknowledged that this place of tangled thorns has been the place designed for precious carrying by Him. For if the thorns had never tangled me, I would never have felt the amazing intimacy of His arms when all of my own physical strength had been utterly depleted.

The Thornbush

I see the thorn-bush set in my path
And I ponder the way ahead
Can I make my way cleanly around
Or must I offer my arms to be torn in the passing?

I look for tools to cut away the brambles
And I find them waiting for my use
Can I gather the branches without snagging
Or must I give over my hands to be bloodied in the holding?

I hear a voice calling me to lay down the struggle
And I see the Gardener watching me
Can I pause long enough to allow for His help
Or will I willfully stomp my feet in the tearing of pain?

It is HIS garden after all that offers this path
And I find the journey ahead planned by Him
Can I see the beauty in the thorn-bush here
The eternal weight of glory being given in this suffering?

The eternal weight of glory being given in this suffering?

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Corinthians 4:17

And then God highlighted another set of Scripture verses, and I pondered them for weeks, leaving the windows open in my search browser so that I would see them every time I opened the internet. But when I thought about my Lord carrying that lone, bleating sheep over the rutted pathways, I suddenly saw such a beautiful picture in these verses where He had me pause:

Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them. Psalm 126:6 NIV

Jesus weeps over each of us lambs. We are the ones for whom He has planted such deep seeds. We are the harvest, we are the sheaves He is singing over as He carries us so close to His heart, right over His shoulders.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84:5-7 NIV

And when I am finally brought to those places where all my strength is found only in Him, I am part of His seed sowing AND His harvest. I am one of those who are called “they” in these passages, part of the singers flooded with His springs of water, dancing in His pools of strength.

Have you glimpsed those tangled thorns capturing your strength? I would love to pray with you today as we allow our Shepherd to come after us, to pick us up, and to place us over His own shoulders.

Dear Lord Jesus,

We come to You today, admitting that we have been Your lost lamb, so tangled in thorns that we have no strength of our own left. Forgive us for looking back longingly, trying to find our own way out of the piercing. Would You help us to look up to You and find Your arms so sufficient for us?

Thank You for the seeds You have sown in our hearts. Thank You for the harvest that You are reaping even now, as You lift us and place us close to Your heart. 

Help us to drink deeply of Your springs of life-giving water. Help us to sing with You through the valleys transformed by YOUR strength.

We praise You for Your deep love that is even now working for us an eternal weight of glory, right here in this place of suffering. We worship You, our Blessed Savior, Good Shepherd, and Loving Lord.

In Your name, we pray,

Amen.

Photo: From Anna Smit’s private collection.