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.

Part 2: Chapter 2 – Day 3: A New Heart

Welcome to Chapter 2‘s Day 3 of Arise and Shine. Today, Anna is bringing forward a free will offering forged in the fires of affliction, as Jesus arose to defend His dwelling place with His judgment in mercy.

My Prodigal wandering began, when I began to believe that my God could indeed not have chosen someone like me: someone too young, too sinful, too needy and too broken. I agreed with the enemy’s twisting of Scripture and began to read God’s precious Word, no longer as an invitation to know my Jesus and His mercy more and more, but as evidence that I was doomed for hell.

So one day, when I had committed a sin I abhorred and was deeply ashamed of, I was certain that this was it. That now all I could do was bide my time till God did away with me completely.

Outwardly not much changed. I still attended church. I still played the good girl. But inside my spirit was crushed and my heart aching to be known by God.

Years later, on the day we buried my Mum, I learnt that she had noticed the change in me all those years earlier. My Mum was heartbroken by how her once exuberant and confident girl had retreated into herself. All those years ago when I felt so abandoned in my sin, my Mum began praying with her best friend for God to give me my confidence back.

Now all these years later, her prayers are being answered. For, my Savior is stripping away my confidence in myself and man that stole, killed and destroyed so much in my life. He is now rebuilding my confidence in Him alone.

What I didn’t know, as I sung this beautiful song as a teenager, with tears streaming:

and with such a deep longing for Jesus to rescue me, is that He was in fact already kneeling down to take me into His arms and carry me home, so close to His heart. He had heard my cry.

And now, I can hear and feel that new heart of His beating inside of me.

All these years later, as I sat singing that same song again, now with tears streaming in deep thankfulness to my God, I noticed something about the lyrics I hadn’t before:

I sing for joy at the work of Your hands … Nothing compares to the Promise I have in you.

I realized that I am the work of my God’s hands and that the very Promise of salvation was beating inside of me even then, all those years ago. For, though my sins of reading pornographic literature and masturbation were grave, my God’s mercy was so much more. While Satan convinced me that my God had now turned away from me for good, I now know my God’s heart was not hardened toward me, as mine was toward Him. No! His heart broke in compassion for His hurting child.

Jesus saw deep into my heart. Just as He did for King David in his sin, He caught my every tear in His bottle – even though those very tears were caused by my sin – and He turned what the enemy meant for evil into good. For, through my Prodigal journey, Jesus answered the deepest longings of my heart that I never realized He had heard me whisper as a little eleven year old.

And what were those longings? Those longings of His heart in me were to truly know His grace, the very meaning of my name Anna, the name my mother was led to give me from the womb:

The final birthday card my Mum penned with her shaking hands, less than two months before she went to be with Jesus, overcoming the evil of brain cancer with the blood of Jesus and her word of testimony.

Yes! In our prodigal wandering our God bottles our every tear. I now know that long before I began to run, He began praying for me. Just as He did for Peter, He interceded for me before His Father that my faith would not fail, and so that when I returned to Him after denying His Name, I could strengthen my brethren with my testimony to His glory and grace.

Just look at the life of Saul turned Paul and you will be reminded of what our God’s mercy is capable of. Oh may that mercy flow richly through us to anoint others to be saved, just as it did through Stephen as he was stoned to death at the direction of the very one whom he poured out God’s mercy upon.

May the persecution and affliction we walk through at the hands of our enemy only testify to the judgment our Savior bore for us that we might now declare not a judgment of condemnation against ourselves or others but a judgment of mercy.

For, God’s judgment toward us is not one of wrath because His wrath has already been satisfied at the Cross:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Colossians 2:13-15 (ESV)

Our God’s judgment toward us is one of mercy because He is a God who keeps His covenant to a thousand generations for those who love Him. Because when we are faithless, He remains faithful because He cannot disown Himself in us. Because our God always finishes what He has begun. And because our God has set eternity in the heart of man to make all things beautiful in His time.

Many years later, I again walked through vicious attacks from the enemy, just as I had as a little girl. But this time, as I stepped out in faith and obedience to my Savior’s call and my own heart failed me, I cried out to Jesus for His heart. And He answered me:

A New Heart

Who you are
Is not all that
You couldn't ever be
It never was
And never ever once
Will be.

Who you are is written
On the palm of My own
True hand
The hand that shaped
And formed you.

Fearfully and wonderfully
Have I made your frame
To hold the very Heart
That bled and died and rose again
To beat within your very own.

I ask not that you hold so tight
I ask not that you strive
I ask not that you try so very hard
To be what beats within you even now.

All I ask is that you
Come
Sit at My feet
Pour all out
That hides behind
That wall of shame.

Cast it out, that it may die
Death to all that holds you
Captive, even now
Not to who you are
But to who those lying tongues
Would have you be.

Rise and shine instead
In all My Light of Grace
That beckons from behind
That wall
No more.

Into My loving arms that wait
To each beat of flowing truth
That girds you now in who
You truly are in Me
Forgiven, held and pure
That’s who You are in Me
And evermore will be.

As I laid each accusation of condemnation before Him, He declared His judgment against me as annulled at the Cross. He asked me to hear and heed the new heart beating inside of me. And that heart declared me:

Forgiven, held and pure
That’s who You are in Me
And evermore will be.

And so, I clasped His hand to depart the old I once believed to be true to enter the new with Him. Now, my faith is no longer in myself or others. It’s in Christ and Christ alone. I now come boldly before the throne of grace in my time of need. I confess my sins freely before God and man. I now lift up my soul to Jesus because I trust Him to save me, moment by moment.

Now, I know that it is precisely my broken heart and crushed spirit that compells my precious Jesus to draw near to me to save me. And so, I cry out to Him, who hears my every cry and bottles my every tear:

Can the prey be taken from the mighty,
    or the captives of a tyrant be rescued?
For thus says the Lord:
“Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken,
    and the prey of the tyrant be rescued,
for I will contend with those who contend with you,
    and I will save your children. Isaiah 49:24-25 (ESV)

He heard my mother’s pleas. He saved her child and He’s still doing so daily, as this child of His heart is now learning to lean all her weight upon Him. Praise Him for HIS gracious Words to us. For, they are indeed like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and healing to the body.

Worthy is HE alone of all honor, glory and praise: