A Heart of Gold

1 Peter 1: 23 – 25 (ESV)

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

“All people are like grass,
    and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

And this is the word that was preached to you.

When the suffering we walk through just doesn’t make sense we can be tempted to respond religiously, rather than wholeheartedly. We can begin to suppress the deep longing inside our heart to truly experientially know the hope we profess. We can begin to believe we are meant to grin and bear life. 

But right there, as our flesh presses us to turn away from God, our merciful God answers our deepest heart’s cry to know Him. Christ in us – our hope of glory- causes us, through new trials sent our way, to cast the Promises of His Word at His feet. He compels us, like David, Jeremiah and Elijah before us, to cry out to Him to give us faith, to reveal Himself to us and our loved ones through His sure and steadfast Word.

Psalm 12:6 (NIV)

And the words of the Lord are flawless,
    like silver purified in a crucible,
    like gold refined seven times.

The gold the Israelites once brought forward for Solomon’s Temple was used to overlay the clasps, fillets and capitals.

Exodus 35: 5 ESV

Take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’s contribution: gold, silver, and bronze;

These items strengthened the weakest parts of the Temple’s frame and joined the many curtains into one whole curtain. Today, Christ now literally strengthens and makes us whole, perfect and complete in Himself. He literally overlays and joins us to Himself.

In my walk through the mental illness of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I am beginning to experience the truth of this gold coating and joining. As the memories, doubts, hurt and anger I have repressed for so long are now crashing like waves within me, my God is breaking open my heart to come before Him as I am.

It is in these moments of overwhelm I, through His living Word at work in me, cry out for Jesus to reveal Himself in my weakness. He is answering my heart’s cry. He is removing the scales from my eyes. He is breaking the bread before me. He is revealing the truth of His powerful Presence in all I and my loved ones have walked through and are walking through.

No, the horrific storms we walk through that overwhelm us, freeze our hearts in fear and shock and shake us to the core do not define us as unfaithful. Rather, they are sent to unveil the faithfulness of our mighty God. For, as we stumble and fall, His great mercy catches and awakens us to new life. 

Our Savior reminds us: it’s not our righteousness, but His alone that saves us. Through each and every storm Christ is only calling us all ever deeper into communion with Him because He so longs for us- for each and every part of us. Through our honest and raw desperation Jesus draws us unto the Father. Into His merciful arms, to see Him right there WITH US in the pain. Holding us tight. Soothing us as we shake, kick and scream. Stroking our face and reassuring us: “You can’t see this now, but I am making all things new. All things. Even this. All of it has purpose. Every single piece.”

It’s when He speaks the Living Word over us, that He opens our eyes to see by faith. To see His gold coating and joining of our weakness to His perfecting power. It’s then we see Him covering us, strengthening us and holding us and our loved ones together as One complete and perfected whole. It’s then we behold heaven come through His gift of faith.

Psalm 138:8 (NKJV)
The Lord will perfect that which concerns me;
Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever;
Do not forsake the works of Your hands.

He helps us, like doubtful Thomas, to bring Him our true broken heart, so that He may reveal the presence of His whole heart there. He invites us to touch the holes in His hands and feet, to remind us this pain is not ours to bear. For, we were written on the palms of His hand for a reason: for these very moments we just can’t go on. For when we just can’t bear one second anymore.  So, lifted by His Spirit, we would find ourselves borne up on eagle’s wings, in our waiting on the only One we can go to. The only One who truly understands. The only One who carried not just our every sin, but our every ounce of pain to that Cross, so we would never ever have to carry it alone. So, that our heavy yoke would be broken to become a light yoke of healing and wholeness in His heart for us and for others.

It’s when He lays our weakness and imperfection bare, His power can be perfected right there for all to see. It is then, Christ, our door of salvation, begins to raise up a worship in us in Spirit and truth. It’s then we begin not just to profess, but intimately know our Heavenly Father’s presence with us, through His Son, Jesus Christ, our LORD and Savior.

Father God, forgive us for the moments we have believed the enemy’s taunts. Forgive us for believing that we have to be strong for You. That we have to be perfect for You. That we have to hide our doubts, our fears, our hurt and our longings. Forgive us for forgetting that You wept for us as You walked to Your cross, crying out: “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”

Thank You that You call us to come just as we are. Draw us into Your presence and lay bare our wounded and deceitful hearts. Break open and unravel our hearts, LORD. Pour out our hearts before You. Cast out all fear of punishment by the power ofYour perfect love. Search and know us and if there be any wickedness in us, cleanse us by the power of Your blood and the living water of Your Word.

Thank You that we and our loved ones are overlaid and joined to the gold of Your powerful Promises. For though our flesh and our hearts may fail, we thank You that You are the strength and gold of our hearts.

Now, awaken us to live in this truth. To walk by Your Spirit, to hear and obey You in fear and trembling, trusting that in our weakness Your power will be put on display. Declare Your Name through us today, declare Your praises through the mouths of babes and the hearts of men. In Your Name alone. Amen.

 

Thread of Glory

This post is co-written by Anna Smit and Bettie Gilbert. My dear friend and spiritual Mom, Bettie, blogs at BettieGsRASeasons, writes Scriptural based prayer prompts and shepherds the Prayer Pond at the Chronic Joy ministry. The Prayer Pond is a safe harbor for prayer, where the chronically ill and their friends and family are encouraged to share prayer requests, updates and shouts of praise. This post is an edited version (thanks to the new eyes Christ has given us since) of a newsletter we once sent out to families and friends of prodigals that subscribed to the now closed blog Beloved Prodigal. The poem is read by our dear friend Julia Putzke whose blog can be found at Crippled at Your Table.

Do you ever feel that the waiting process is a waste of time, or a time when nothing is being accomplished?  There are times when we, Bettie and Anna, feel that way—when we can do nothing in and of ourselves to bring about any change.  But it is precisely for this waiting time – when we can do nothing in and of ourselves- that our Lord has designed a beautiful promise. A Promise that Christ unveils inside of us, right when we are forced to concede the failure of our own strength.

He has hidden this Promise within the offerings that He asked His children to bring for the building of the very first Tabernacle.  

“Take a sacred offering for the Lord. Let those with generous hearts present the following gifts to the Lord: 6 blue, purple, and scarlet thread;”  Exodus 35:5-6

Interestingly, if we look at the root meaning of the expression “wait for”, we discover God’s gift threaded into our waiting. For we find “wait for” in Isaiah 64:4 means:

Brown-Driver-Briggs

  1. [קָוָה] verb wait for (probably originally twist, stretch, then of tension of enduring, waiting: Assyrian ‡ûû II, I. wait, ‡û, cord; Arabic  be strong,  strength, also strand of rope; Syriac  endure, remain, await,  threads, so ᵑ7 קַוִּיןspider’s threads, web); —

(Source: http://biblehub.com/hebrew/6960.htm)

Now, let´s read Isaiah 64:1-4 together, to see this waiting in its context, to see the strong desire God births in us for His glory and renown to be made known in the waiting:

1 “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,

    that the mountains would tremble before you!

2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze

    and causes water to boil,

come down to make your name known to your enemies

    and cause the nations to quake before you!

3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,

    you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.

4 Since ancient times no one has heard,

    no ear has perceived,

no eye has seen any God besides you,

    who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”  

 

Now, let’s recall the blue, or indigo, thread the Spirit of God compelled the people of Israel to give as a free will offering for the Temple curtain. As we “wait for” our God to act, are we not then also prompted through the Spirit of God to bring this thread – our hope of glory – Jesus Christ Himself – who lives in us, forward as our free will offering? For, this blue thread became a part of the curtain in the Temple, and who is that curtain now? Hebrews 10:20 (ESV) tells us that that curtain of access into the holy of holies is Jesus. We have been given unlimited free access to our God “by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh,” the flesh of Jesus Christ that was crucified for us.

As we wait, and our hearts ache at our own lack of control to make things happen, does this Jesus not cause our hearts to yield to Him through this suffering? Does He not compel us to bring forward that blue thread – our hope of glory in Him- so that we may be bound more tightly to His Promises through the tension of His enduring work in us?

For, it is Christ in us who causes us to pour out our hearts, who causes us to “eagerly look for” His presence in our own life and the lives of those we are praying for. It is the Spirit of the living God in us, who causes us to yield to the will of the Father for this time of waiting. No, although it may feel like it, we aren’t just idly waiting for God to act. Christ – our thread of glory – is laboring in us and through us.

Bettie has a poem that she wrote during a time of waiting. As you listen to our dear friend Julia Putzke read it, may God speak to you and encourage you through it in your own place of waiting today and in the time to come:

INDIGO

By Bettie Gilbert

 

Dear Heart aching in the storm

Lift up your eyes

The grey will soon part

And rescue will fall

As Indigo from the sky.

 

The Ancient Priests knew the sight

Their garments awash

The curtains the walls

All touched and woven

As Indigo from the sky.

 

The Hebrew children settled in

Their lands and their towns

But daily remembered

Tassles lifting their gaze

As Indigo from the sky.

 

The Shepherds on that Holy Night

With their sheep standing near

Saw the darkness fall in

Heard the Angels bright song

As Indigo from the sky.

 

The bowed down woman pressed in

To reach for HIS robe

The only One able

To reach through her pain

As Indigo from the sky.

 

And I in this season of dark

Wait for the flash

Of a bird so brilliant

It sparkles like sapphire

As Indigo from the sky.

 

But my heart is still longing

In a pain of my own

For a flash of dear Hope

From Heaven so pure

As Indigo from the sky.

 

Dear Heart aching in the storm

Lift up your eyes

The grey will soon part

And rescue will fall

As Indigo from the sky.

 

Do you see, even in this poem by Bettie, how the Spirit of God is at work in us in our places of waiting? How He causes us to release our burdens of unbelief, doubt, fear and grief. His intercession in and through us is binding us tightly to the hope of glory – to Himself. As He helps us come to Him with all these burdens we cannot carry, He takes over. For, as Paul reminds us, true prayer is done in communion, where the Spirit of God takes over to pray through us. But how can that Spirit even take over, unless our flesh is crucified, unless our own strength and ability is taken from us? Unless our weakness gives glory to God, as He perfects His power in that place?

Oh but we know this process of weaving is not without pain. Bettie has been dealing with a physical kind of pain in her joints that feels like a rubber band or a rope is being twisted tighter and tighter around her painful bones.  It reminded her of this pain that our hearts feel as they wait.  

Sometimes it truly feels like a rope is twisting the pain tighter and tighter around our hearts, and that we will fall from the pain of the waiting, doesn’t it? And this is in fact true. We are being bound so tightly it hurts and we will fall, but only into the waiting thread of our LORD – our hope of glory, as the thread of our own strength is broken.

For that pain and our falling is in fact Jesus turning the waiting around for us. For, He catches us as our own strength fails us, so that He can then bind us to a cord not of our own making, but one of eternal hope. This new thread being woven around us and our loved ones is not dependent upon our strength, but purely and wholly upon the strength of the living Word of God – Christ in us.

In that painful place of waiting, Jesus lifts the weight of our sin and suffering off of us, to  yield us to His enduring strength. And that strength releases joy, hope and faith in us: free gifts of the Spirit. God not only strengthens those we are praying for in Spirit, but also our own faith in Him and His steadfast character of love, compassion and mercy toward us in our own weakness and frailty.

He reminds us that even now, as He labors in us on earth, we are already seated in heavenly places with Him, at the right hand of the Father. He reminds us to live for the joy set before us: a healed, whole and united Body of Christ, the Bride married to her Groom. To live from a place of victory, and not defeat.

That pain we feel is in fact proof of our heavenly inheritance to come. For, our earthly tents are groaning for heaven – it is the birth pains Paul speaks of. For, we are giving birth to an eternal weight of glory that only our heavenly bodies can bear. And for that birthing to happen, there also has to be a shedding of the old thread, for the weaving of the new to occur.

As our own strength fails us here on earth, and our earthly tents fade away more and more, it’s then Christ’s strength takes over more and more. His hands wrap around us to carry us and our loved ones to the throne of grace. He intercedes for us before His Father.

It is then we are revived in Christ’s faith, discovering as Jesus proclaimed: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). It’s then we come to know, more and more, that we have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. And the life we now live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20).

Let us end by looking at Isaiah 40: 25 – 31 (ESV):

25 To whom then will you compare me,

    that I should be like him? says the Holy One.

26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:

    who created these?

He who brings out their host by number,

    calling them all by name;

by the greatness of his might

    and because he is strong in power,

    not one is missing.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,

    and speak, O Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord,

    and my right is disregarded by my God”?

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

    his understanding is unsearchable.

29 He gives power to the faint,

    and to him who has no might he increases strength.

30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,

    and young men shall fall exhausted;

31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;

    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;

they shall run and not be weary;

    they shall walk and not faint.

In the waiting with this Word, can you ask Jesus to lift your eyes up to Heaven? Can you ask Jesus to give you His eyes? Can you ask Him to help you see the thread of glory – Christ- He is weaving in your and your loved ones’ lives?  

Write out your thoughts as a prayer to the Lord. Is there anything He is asking you to let go of?  What is He wanting you to see, think, hear, say or do in His strength and direction?

Never forget: “the LORD is faithful. He will establish [you and your loved ones] and guard [you and them] against the evil one.” (2 Thessalonians 3:3).

Let’s pray.

Father God, thank You for bringing us together to honor Your Name. In the pain and suffering of watching our loved ones go through trials and being unable to support them ourselves, we ask that You would bring comfort and hope to our hearts. Soothe our aching bodies and hearts with Your Word. Give us an intimate experience of Your steadfast, merciful and holy love toward us and our loved ones.

We thank You that no matter what we walk through, You have promised to surround us, just as the mountains surround Jerusalem (Psalm 125:2). We thank You that even now Your justice, truth and mercy surround us all, binding us to Yourself.

Lean our full weight upon Jesus. Give us Your eyes, so that we may recognize how You are at work in even the tiniest details of our and our loved ones’ lives. Yield us to Your will, opening our clenched tight fingers to release the weight that is not ours to carry, so that we may receive Your peace.

Father, I ask you to bless each one of us with divine encounters this very week. Encounters that show us Your faithfulness and prove that Your hand upholds us and our loved ones, as our own strength fails us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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: