When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2 (ESV)
At my baptism, after a long Prodigal journey home, I promised God I would follow Him anywhere, whatever the cost. Little did I realize where He would lead me, mere weeks later.
Strapped to the altar again
In this obedience
I'm tethered and taut.
Of sin and fears
Of horrid pain
In seeping wounds.
Burying myself deep
In shame I cringe
At who I believe I am
A mess, laid bare.
As I began to step out in faith, the enemy hurled accusations at me. As I reached out, confessing my weakness and sins openly before Christian leaders, the enemy worked through them to affirm my old identity.
What I didn’t yet see was that God was allowing every attack, every rejection and every back turning toward me, for my good. For, every stripping was permitted to humble me in my pride. Tenderly and patiently, Jesus has been laboring in me to uproot my faith in myself and in man, to replant my longings and affections in the good and soft soil of His heart.
But in my pouring out
You lift my eyes to truth
My striving dies
Your Face to see.
Eyes of love
My face in light cascade
My weak and feeble frame
In warmth You bathe.
The tears now flow
Released in streams
My heart unburdened,
Not broken mess
But Christ in me
The Eagle freed.
Upon this altar cries
"Sin and shame
Are not your name.
"For not you
But I have chosen
And appointed you
To go and bear much fruit.
"Now go: depart under
A new authority
Be cleansed to see
The pure as pure."
Even as I have repeatedly stumbled in my pride, returning to bow before my idols and muddying my vision (Proverbs 25:26), God has not left my side. Christ has continually moved in to avenge His elect, lovingly training me in righteousness. He has been like He commanded Hosea to be unto Gomer. He has refused to let me go.
He has separated me from my idols, hemmed me in on all sides and showered me in kindness to lead me to repentance. He has been taking the truth of my redemption, my “buying back”, from my head to my heart (Hebrews 10:16). Piece by piece.
On altar strapped
To die, I see.
You lift my gaze
In the fear of losing my precious Savior, I followed Him where I, at first, didn’t want to go. For, what He has asked me to do has so often directly contradicted what I think is “right” and “good”.
But it’s then, in dying to my own thinking and plans to obey His will that I have discovered that He has in fact been taking me where my heart has truly longed to go: deeper and deeper into His searching and knowing. I now know the jealous flames of His love, and the stripping of His Word, have been sent, not to destroy me, but to circumcise my heart and open my eyes to His never-forsaking Presence with me.
All along, He has been leading me into receiving His reputation (Shem) in my humbling, His Name of power and majesty (Yah) in my weakness and His light (nihe’ra) of truth, love and grace in the darkness of my sin and hiding.
Shem yah nihe'ra
Your renown, Your Name
Your gold glowing
You're shining bright in me.
No longer I
But Christ in me I see
Your burning coals
My heart and lips have freed.
My heart explodes
A waterfall of grace
Splashing on my face
Lifting the weight of my sin, pain and sorrow, through all the stripping and burning, He has been inviting me to celebrate His life and breath at work in me. To believe Him when He says that it is no longer I but He – Christ- who lives in me. To believe Him when He sees that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and that I may come boldly before the throne of grace in my time of need.
My broken walls
You have rebuilt
Salvation and deliverance
Are in You.
Your nail-pierced hands
Upon my head.
No, I shall not lie
In a bed of shame
But rise to follow You
Into the light.
It is not me, but CHRIST who is yielding up my fleshly desires for His life giving breath. Just like Paul, I can now say (2 Corinthians 1: 9-10 ESV): “Indeed, [I] felt that [I] had received the sentence of death. But that was to make [me] rely not on [myself] but on God who raises the dead. He delivered [me] from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver [me]. On him [I] have set [my] hope that he will deliver [me] again.”
Those first few sheddings of the old came through horrific trauma triggers. But precisely the gravity of each attack showed me the deep desire of my God to wake me up from my slumber and to set me free. As I cried out to Him, He upheld me and revealed His desire for me to live and move and have my being in Him alone.
At every turn, as I have stumbled and fallen, as I have turned back toward the old, believing in the enemy’s accusations of condemnation against me, above God’s holy Word to me, Christ has defended me.
He has lifted me up out of the muck and mire of pride, bitterness and self, to set me upon the Rock of His precious Word to me. He has flamed alive His Word in my heart, cauterizing the wounds of each stripping and then pouring out a balm of comfort by His Holy Spirit to restore my body, heart and soul to my First Love – to bring unity in the Sword’s dividing.
For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Mark 9:49-50 (ESV)
Recently, He even gave me such a beautiful picture of this process on my finger. I had cut my fingernail too close to the skin and it had become infected and in that infection extra “wild flesh” began to grow because my body began to see the new nail growing as an intruder, triggering an overactive immune system.
The doctor prescribed a nitrate pen to burn away the “wild flesh” in daily applications, scraping away the loosening “wild flesh” after a week, and then cauterizing the open wound in a fresh burning to avoid new infections. Then, she prescribed a cortisone cream designed to reduce inflammation and the skin’s natural cell division to gently remove the final layers of skin that didn’t belong there.
Now, I see the Great Physician’s loving care in His repeated burning, stripping, burning and balming of my heart in His Word to me. That I am still alive today, when all I wanted was to die through the painful stripping and burning, is a testament to His tender mercies poured out on me and the intercession of His Son rising in and for me. Now, I know the flame of His love isn’t sent to burn and consume us, but to flame alive His Word in our heart and to consume the dross of our idolatry and pride.
As a child, I counted up the cost of following Christ and turned my back on Him, believing He had turned His back on me. Now, hidden in the righteousness of Christ, I have counted up the cost anew, and declare Him worthy of all praise. For I can now say, along with Paul, that all else is rubbish, compared to the surpassing wealth of knowing Christ in His death and resurrection. For His Presence is heaven to me.
No! I will not die
But live to tell
What You: the LORD
You've set apart
From a new heart
Blessings to bestow.
My lamp is shining brightly
On salvation's hill
For I live by faith not in myself
But in the Son of God.
In the One who loved me
And gave Himself for me
Who called me out of darkness
Into His glorious light.
Praise now so often pours forth from my lips and tears stream down my face, as I recognize and acknowledge how God has been showering me in a mercy I do not deserve.
Oh how my heart now longs for Him to burn ever more brightly in me. I long for Jesus to burn away all dross in me, to make me holy as He is holy.
And I know He is honoring this yearning that He has sown deep within me. He just keeps exposing and uncovering more and more sin. Burning away more and more dross, so that His sweet incense may be released ever more in and through me.
Do you recognize that longing for holiness in your own heart also, and how it has waned at times also? Do you recognize the struggle to embrace the stripping and flame, as God’s love for you? Will you join me in a prayer of thanksgiving and repentance? Come, let’s praise our Father for His Promise to fulfill the longings He has planted in us. For, He is the strength of our hearts, when our own hearts fail us.
Father, thank You that You are for us and not against us. Thank You for the jealous flames of Your love burning away the dross in us, to draw us ever closer to You. Thank You for the cleansing waters of Your love washing over us, for carrying away our sin and our shame.
Thank You for sending precious Jesus to be our salvation, our Rock and Redeemer and the Lifter of our head. Thank You that You have promised never to leave or forsake us. Forgive us for all the times we have agreed with the enemy’s accusation that You have abandoned us. We come out of agreement with that now.
Forgive us also for every time we have clung to the accusations of the enemy against us, rather than coming boldly before the throne of grace in our time of need. We come before You now, just as we are, without one plea, asking You to cleanse us of all unrighteousness by the blood of the pure and spotless Lamb: Your Son, Jesus.
Thank You for searching and knowing our hearts, for continually leading us to a godly sorrow in repentance – in the changing of our minds – without regret. Thank You for exposing every accusation, every sin, every idol in the stripping for Your fire to consume it. Thank You for restoring unto us the joy of our salvation and for choosing not to take away Your Holy Spirit from us.
Thank You for the stripping back You have ordained, not to harm us, but to heal us: to exchange our heart of stone for Your tender heart of flesh. Thank You for Your sweet mercy, Your longsuffering and compassion toward us. Thank You for the blessing of Your sweet Presence in the flames.
Thank You that though our flesh is so very weak, YOUR Spirit in us is so very strong. Thank You for, again and again, leading us to deny our flesh and sow into the Spirit. Thank You for giving us a hunger and thirst for Your Word that nothing else will ever be able to satisfy our hunger and thirst, but You. Thank You for filling us with Your Son: with an all-consuming fire to love, honor and obey You at all costs.
Thank You for leading us to pour out our hearts to You, to give You our pain and our deepest longings, to bring our whole heart to You. Thank You for teaching us to lay all down before You, for opening our eyes and ears to Your pure Word rising in us. Thank You that strong in You, we shall resist the devil, causing him to flee from us.
Father, thank You, that hidden in the righteousness of Christ, we can count it all joy, when we meet trials of various kinds, for we know that the testing of our faith is producing steadfastness in us. Thank You that steadfastness shall have its full effect in us, that in You we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Thank You for the gift of Your Presence in every humbling, for leading us to release everything and everyone into Your hands to receive You.
Thank You that we are born again into a living hope, with an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us. Thank You for teaching us to rejoice in this truth, though now for a little while, we have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of our faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Thank You for causing us to humble ourselves before You, that others are now beginning to see, no longer us, but the light of Jesus and His face shining upon them. Thank You that You have drawn us – Your royal priesthood – out of darkness into Your glorious light. In Jesus’ mighty Name, Amen.