When’s the last time you just laid all the cards out on the table and got real with God? Can you remember the last time you were just as honest as you could possibly be with Jesus and with yourself? Maybe you were at rock bottom, literally laying on the floor, and you found yourself suddenly aware of selfishness or pride or the overwhelming goodness of Jesus in the midst of your shortcomings? Perhaps you were disappointed that things didn’t go how you hoped, or you just wished you had more love for the people around you and it brought you to your knees and you poured out your heart about it?
Has it been a while? Has it been ever?
Sometimes I think there’s a layer of pride we hide behind, where we find ourselves in moments in which, in our hearts, we’re on our knees aching for something, or about something, or because of something, but on the outside we keep standing. We don’t let go. We don’t put the cards on the table, get honest, and look for the God who’s able to see us through. We pray the prayers we think we’re supposed to pray and say the things we think we’re supposed to say. But it isn’t real.
There are some lyrics in a U2 song (Love and Peace or Else) which illustrate this concept for me. The verse preceding the one I want to highlight says:
As you enter this life
I pray you depart
with a wrinkled face
and a brand new heart.
And the chorus goes on to say:
I don’t know if I can take it,
I’m not easy on my knees.
Here’s my heart, I’ll let you break it,
I need some release, release, release, release…
we need love and peace.
Love and peace.
And while at first and second and thirty-third listen, I’ve skipped over the thoughts of seeking love and peace because they sound like the desires of a MakeLoveNotWar Hippie with long hair who makes peace signs in pictures and wears neatly folded bandanas as a fashion statement, I have suddenly of late become intensely aware of the lack of love, and often peace, in my own heart.
I need love. And I don’t mean I need someone else to love me more. I don’t mean I feel like I deserve to be showered with gifts and Hero Hubs is falling short. I’m not saying I’m disappointed that I’m not still in touch with all my college roommates.
I’m saying I do not have the love and the peace I need in my heart to navigate the days of my life the way Jesus would.
I’m overwhelmingly sinking in a sea of grace because I do not have what it takes to show love out of my own selfish heart.
And sometimes it takes taking a moment to get real, to be uneasy on my knees, before this truth hits my heart and helps me realise the gift that is Jesus. The love of Jesus. The love from Jesus. The help of the Holy Spirit that turns my un-loving ways into ways that point right back to the God where love comes from. The one whose promise of perfect peace is one I cling to on my knees:
You will keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on You
because he trusts in You.
This amazing God has shown up with a brand new heart for me. And He is breaking my heart for the things that break His. And on my knees, ear pressed to His chest, I’m finding out about His love for me. His love for this world. Our only hope.
But sometimes I think it takes getting real, getting uneasy on our knees (not necessarily in the literal but at least in a figurative sense) to find the God who has the love and peace we need to navigate the life ahead of each of us. Heck, just to navigate the day ahead of each of us.
Just this afternoon, I received an encouraging message from a dear friend, and it included this verse:
“The mountains may move, and the hills may shake, but my kindness will never depart from you. My promise of peace will never change,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:10)
The Good News of Jesus is that we are among the beloved — when we accept the finished work of Jesus on the cross, we receive the promises of God by faith: His goodness in every season in this life, whether we’re in trial or triumph. Salvation and eternal joy and peace in the life to come.
His new heart in us, our minds stayed on Him, the love and peace we need are available to us. And I’m thankful that we have the opportunity to get real, and receive it. Day by day, by day.
I think I shared before a while back that I’m a big fan of U2. Many of their songs point me in the direction of Jesus. It reminds me of the Elizabeth Barrett Browning quote I spoke about the other day: but only he who sees takes off his shoes… One of the songs on U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb album has a couple of simple lyrics in it that have been ringing in my ears since I first heard it years ago. They sing:
Where you live should not decide
whether you live or whether you die…
I suppose the reason it is ringing in my ears afresh today is that I’m seeing day after day the truth that right now, in our world, where you live does decide whether you live or whether you die. It’s estimated that some “15,000 Africans are dying each day of preventable, treatable diseases — AIDS, malaria, TB — for lack of drugs that we [in the West] take for granted.”*
Here’s where I want to get honest, friends. I don’t feel like I really know how to respond to this reality. I’ve been thinking lately about the fact that I haven’t bought a new article of clothing in like seven months. And the last thing I bought was just a pair of hiking shorts that were on sale. There’s a part of me that feels really good about this. There\s a part of me that feels like I’m breaking away from the materialism that has held me captive for a long time.
Growing up, if I saw something in the store that I wanted, my Mom would ask “Do you need it?” And I knew if she asked that, and if I said, “Well…I guess, yeah, 90% of the time she would buy it for me. I would scramble in my mind to justify why I needed that new pair of shoes, that fashionable new top…the jeans that were the right wash for that season. I’d go home pleased with the new stuff, until after a while, long before it was worn out, or even worn in, I’d need something new again.
Here I am a few years later. Perhaps the Lord had to draw me out of that situation for a while, and put us on a tight budget, in order for me to finally learn a lesson appropriate for a ten-year-old: The Difference Between Wants and Needs.
None of these words are meant to have even a shadow of complaining. Before I last left the States, both my Mom and Dad took me shopping and I had some great new clothes to sport for my arrival in South Africa. Indeed, I am learning that it would be egregious for me to have a single complaint about my life right now. (PLEASE don’t think this is some way of secretly hinting that I want everyone to send me a parcel of new stuff! Tickets to a U2 Concert however… ;))
The Hubs and I have a healthy son, live in a beautiful place, and have never once missed a meal because we could not afford to eat. Why is that? I believe part of it is that the Lord has blessed us. We are committed to serving and following Him. We submit our finances to His leading and are constantly working to live with greater submission to Him in every area of our lives, including all that we spend His money on.
But this is where it gets challenging. If I simply conclude that I have all that I have because I am blessed and do not acknowledge the fact that it also has something to do with where HH and I were born, the families we were born into, the education and opportunities we received, and the people we know, I feel it would be false. Our son survived the excessive bleeding that followed his circumcision because we lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, and had access to health care. I have a university education because my parents were able to pay for it. I spent some time repenting recently for not recognising the opportunities I’ve been blessed with in this life as gifts from the Lord, and having wrong attitudes toward people who have not had the same opportunities. Eish, that’s a subject for another post.
If we are only doing well because God loves us and we are blessed, then what shall we say of those who do not appear to be blessed? What shall we say of the 100,000 people who live in a township just a few miles away from us, crowded into a few square miles, with shacks and shared electricity and indecent sanitation? For God so loved some of the world? For God so loved people in some parts of the world? For God so loved the Western world?
While one part of me wants a pat on the back for my spending restraint over the past couple of years, another part of me finds a congratulations for practicing financial restraint almost revolting.
I suppose this has sort of become a Stream of Consciousness post — an attempt to explain to you what I am trying to piece together in my own mind. To this mess, I would like to add that I have been reading an amazing book (thanks, Annie Beth!) called The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Stearns. I would like to go so far as to say if you’re a Christian in the West, this should be required reading. If I had the money to buy extra copies, I would probably do lots of giveaways in hopes of getting it into your hands and then your hearts. I hope to get together a mini-book review for you soon.
The greater story of what’s happening in my understanding of the Gospel and the changes taking place in my heart doesn’t end here, and neither does this little, very specific story about the clothing restraint. Please come back tomorrow for me to keep sharing! But let me leave you with one more quote in the meantime, please:
“Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it.”
“Well, why don’t you ask Him?”
“Because I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.”
P.S. Don’t feel like you just have to sit back while I walk this out. I would love your feedback.
*Bono, in Sachs, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for our Times, foreword.
I really, really enjoy the band U2. Are you a fan? One of their songs came on the radio once, and I said to my sweet friend Shelley, â€œI love U2.â€ And she said, â€œAw, I love you, too.â€ Seriously. That was funny. One really cool song on their How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb album is called Crumbs from Your Table. And one of the most powerful lyrics comes from the chorus: â€œYou speakâ€¦in signs and wonders. But I need something other. I would believe, if I was able, but Iâ€™m waiting on the crumbs, from your table.â€
If I could hazard a guess, since the musicians in U2 are fairly faith-filled guys, they are speaking about a very cool story that is recorded in Matthew 15, and in Mark 7. I promised yesterday I’d talk about the woman whose faith was proved and improved, and this is her story. She was a Syro-Phonecian, in case you were wondering, and her daughter was demon-possessed. Okay before I lose you, tune in the story gets better.
I guess when Jesus showed up on the scene miraculously healing people and speaking with all this power and authority, word kinda got around and people started taking notice. This woman from Canaan was one of those folks who took notice, and when she heard Jesus was going to be around, she was on the first camel headed in his direction. When her camel finally got there, she came to Jesus with a fairly simple request. My daughter is sick, and from what Iâ€™ve been hearing, you are able to make her better. Would you please?Â It reminds me of this little mouse in Asherâ€™s Jungle Babies book. Tangent! The little mouse is the last little creature in the Jungle Babies book, and he says, â€œIâ€™m a Jungle Mouse. I like to eat cheese. If you have some, could I have it please.â€ I think itâ€™s kind of forward for the mouse to just ask for my cheese if I have any, but I guess he likes it, and heâ€™s saying please so, yeah, if I had some, Iâ€™d probably give it to him. Heâ€™s a cute mouse after all.
But back to Jesus. This sweet little S-P lady shows up all gentle, humbly honouring Jesus and, perhaps like the Jungle Baby Mouse, says, â€œIf you do that, could you for me please?â€ Iâ€™m sure youâ€™re expecting the next line to be, and so Jesus did, the end and they all lived happily ever after till the end of their days. But Iâ€™m afraid itâ€™s not so!
Jesus didnâ€™t even say, â€œUghâ€¦no.â€ At first He didnâ€™t even answer her! But she kept bothering him and His disciples got really bovvered and said, â€œWell heck, if youâ€™re not gonna help her at least tell her to ske-daddle!â€ And Jesus said, â€œI was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.â€
But she persisted and kept worshiping and saying, â€œYou have cheese and I love cheese, please please please!â€ Well not exactly but you get the idea. And then Jesus said, (and Iâ€™m not making this up, this is actually in the text) â€œIt is not good to take the childrenâ€™s bread and throw it to the little dogs.â€Â To which she replied (seriously) â€œYes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their mastersâ€™ table.â€ And Jesus answered and said to her, (back to me paraphrasing) â€œWow! You have really, really great faith! Let this thing youâ€™re hoping for happen for you just like you hope it will.â€ And her daughter was healed right then.
It seems like Jesus was being harsh with this woman. He was sent first to the lost sheep of Israel, but did he have to be so abrupt about it? In actual fact, Jesus actually proved and improved her faith over the course of this conversation. She believed Jesus was good. She believed He was able to do what she hoped He could. And even when it appeared on the surface that He might not be so good to her, she pressed on, and continued believing He was good. The text says she worshiped Him even more after He said no. I wonder how often some of us might receive the things we are believing God for if we would press in — if we would not give up and lose heart because on the surface things are not looking so good. Her perseverance paved the way for an incredible miracle, and for her story to be spoken of for centuries to come. Her faith has been spoken of ever since this incident occurred.Â And she received what she believed she would — she went home to a daughter, well and whole.
If you don’t believe that Jesus was who He said He was, you might be asking for a sign — for God to show up with some sign, like some magic trick that would confirm your faith. If you want someone to just prove to you that He’s real, or explain how bad things happen if God’s good, you are probably waiting on crumbs from God’s table. You could be enjoying the meal that’s on the table — the full feast of the goodness of God, but you are asking for crumbs before you’ll believe. If you’ve made it far enough into this blog to still be reading at this point, and you aren’t already following Jesus, I’d like to issue you a challenge.
The Good News is God has more than crumbs for you — He has a life of faith for you, greater than any magic trick, or sign or wonder. And if you diligently seek Him, He will reward you for it. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to levitate heavy objects or bend a spoon with your mind. But it does mean you can find peace, joy, and wholeness in the presence of God. The Bad News is, whether you want to admit it or not, you are a sinner. You have done things wrong, and you’ve offended a Holy God. Although your personal belief may be that God doesn’t exist, take a second to consider the possibility that you’re wrong, and the possibility that your incorrect presupposition could have eternal ramifications. We are all sinners in need of a Saviour, and there’s only One who paid the price for our forgiveness. If you diligently seek Him, you will find Him. And He’ll have more than crumbs at the table for you when you show up.