Friday, June 23, 2017

Tending our Hearts

I walked out into the sunshine and there, staring me in the face, was a patch of twisting and sporadic green popping out from my garden beds. Weeds. Lovely. Irritation surged in me, I had spent days pulling those nasty buggers from the ground. Two weeks of taking my shovel and digging and grasping at roots and leafs with my bare hands. Two weeks of dirt beneath my fingernails, hunched over in the hot sun making room for the plants I really want to see grow and thrive.

And then in the space of a few days and a bit of rain, they all came back.

What's the point? Why bother pulling them up if they'll just come back?  Discouragement flooded in as I realized that I would be pulling these weeds again and again. If I wanted my garden plants to thrive, I needed to pull them up.  A weed will leach the nutrients from the soil that my tomatoes and peppers need to survive. A weed will suck all the goodness out and leave my precious plants struggling to produce fruit.  And while there are some tips and tricks to help prevent weeds and suppress them, weeds will keep at your garden as long as there is soil, sun, and water - things I dare not deprive my lovely garden plants of.

Years ago, with dear friends gathered in a living room studying the Word, we read this passage in Matthew 13 that talks about a farmer who planted seed; some of the seed fell on soil that was full of weeds and thorns and in the end was choked out and didn't grow to produce fruit. As we shared about this parable, and read about how the seed was the Truth planted in our life and how weeds were the concerns of this world and the love of money, we laughed about how we need to keep weeding our lives and keep our soil ready for planting and growing a harvest. We joked as each of us faced "weeds" that needed pulling in our life and laughingly called out "weed" whenever each of us was struggling with a small sin that needed pulling. 

And as I stared at this garden, full of weeds popping up again, I realized that this weeding process doesn't end. Sometimes it becomes less taxing, as we learn ways to help suppress the weeds, but ultimately, we must keep weeding because the weeds will choke out the fruitfulness of our gardens.

This week has been full of God pointing out areas in my heart that need weeding. Areas of parenting I need to grow in, places where sin has cropped up in my thoughts and attitudes, places where I need to set aside time to just spend with Jesus, choosing Him above the distractions of this world and the demands of life, and places where I need to repent of choosing myself and comfort over His Kingdom and His ways.

And sometimes, it just feels so discouraging to keep facing down the same struggles, or even those new little ones that pop up. Sometimes it just feels easier to let those weeds grow alongside the good plants. I've felt so discouraged looking at my garden and looking at my life, realizing there is still so much work to do. Sure, maybe there are no "big" sins or blackberry bushes that are taking over everything, but there sure are a lot of little sins and weeds that need attending to. In some ways, dealing with the big areas of rebellion in our life can be more satisfying - we pull them up and kill the roots thoroughly and then we move on. But the daily weeding can be so mundane and so easily overlooked for a time, that once they start overgrowing the garden of your life, it takes effort and commitment to bend over and slowly, one by one, deal with each little weed. It's not spectacular, but it is so necessary.

As I was praying over my "weeds," I asked God to point out each one, and gently as I named each sin against Him, I felt peace replace the discouragement that comes from those little buggers staying untended.

"Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,

    and lead me in the way everlasting." Psalm 139:23-24

I prayed that scripture over my heart, asking Him to reveal to me each anxious thought or offensive way, asking Him to lead me in the way of life.

And He is so faithful, and yet so gentle; He just bends down and right there beside you, He begins to pull the weeds too. Except He works so much more efficiently and He pulls up the root so they don't grow back. He doesn't just scrape the heads off the tops of the weeds (much like my children do when they help me in the garden and much like I do when I am dealing with those heart weeds), but he digs down deep and gets the whole ugly thing. He faithfully stoops beside us and lovingly works in our heart-gardens. He tends to our soul like a gardener over His crop and He loves when we yield to Him and let Him work health and life into our soil and remove all the junk that is crowding out the fruit that He wants to produce in us.

When we deal with our weeds apart from Him, we're just scraping the tops off, but when we give those weeds over to His loving care, He roots them out and makes the soil healthy again.

As I dug my hands deep into the soil again, pulling up the roots of weed after weed, the ground slowly began to clear, and hope and joy sprang up in my heart where discouragement had been. The work may be repetitive and it may be daily, but life springs up in the hearts of those who keep tending to the weeds because we can know that His grace is sufficient for us and that He is faithful to keep planting and tending and caring for our souls and our lives, and so we can bend down with Him and dig out the ugly weeds that dare to grow there, not angry or discouraged that we're dealing again with our sin, but grateful that even though He knows the weeds will come back, He keeps laboring alongside our soil, tending to it and making it ready for the seeds that will grow to produce fruit.

I made a list and prayed over it. I repented and apologized where it was needed. I committed to seek Him in areas I had excluded Him from. I committed to relying on Him to help me do what was best for my kids instead of choosing my own preferences. As these little weeds were pulled, my garden started to look healthier and feel healthier. I can feel the soil of my heart getting healthier - ready to feed that which is good and right and holy. I can feel His Spirit start taking over areas where I had left neglected.

After letting Him do His work in my heart, I sat and marveled at who He is and how faithful He is to me. At this point in my walk with Jesus, I shouldn't be surprised that He is so patient with me, slow to anger and rich in love. And yet, so often, when I bring my weedy garden to Him, I expect Him to feel the same discouragement with me that I feel with myself. And yet, He never does. He reminds me again and again that He knew all along these weeds were there and He isn't overwhelmed by them. He actually enjoys tending to my soul as much as I enjoy tending to my garden. He knows the fruit is coming and He's eager to make it as fruitful as it possibly can be. He's eager to see me thrive and these weeds aren't beyond His gardening abilities.

You guys, isn't He amazing? Let's not hesitate to bring our garden to Him. Let's not hesitate to own up to our weeds. Let's not hesitate to let Him root them out. He just wants us to thrive. He just wants us to produce fruit. He just wants to care for us and tend to our souls. Isn't that the most miraculous thing? He loves us and wants what's best for us. Will we yield to His tender care when it means digging down in the dirt with Him and pulling up each little weed that has been left untended?

Will you take time today and ask Him to show you your weeds? Ask him if there is any offensive way in you. Grab and pen and paper and write what comes to mind. Then commit those areas to the Lord's weeding and let him produce life in those areas and lead you in the way everlasting.

He is so faithful and so good and so kind. Let's let Him tend to our hearts.  

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Friday, June 16, 2017

When your life is crumbling and you don't know where God is...

My phone rang. I knew I was in no shape to be encouraging and as I watched her name flash on my phone, I almost didn't answer. I had nothing to give. But I knew she wouldn't care. I knew she would love me even if I was wreck.

She heard it in my voice when I answered and asked with a voice of true concern, "How are you doing?"

And then I broke down in tears, sharing how everything felt like it was falling apart. That morning I had woken up and looked in my fridge and realized we were about out of food altogether. And then Andy called and said we had about $20 in our account to last us the week and between that moment and then, we had two birthdays to celebrate and no presents bought and very little food in the cupboards.

We had a made a commitment when we moved out here that we would live debt free, no matter the cost. And then Isabel had a cavity that continued to get worse until it could no longer be put off. We scheduled her a dental appointment and prayed that God would provide the funds or heal her tooth before that time. The day of her appointment came around, her tooth was not healed and our finances were the same. I sobbed. We were trying so hard to honor God and take care of our family and follow where He was leading us. It felt like He had abandoned us and just didn't care.

We had gone to the appointment and she had the work done and we put it on our credit card and that's when I started to fall apart. A voice kept accusing me that we had failed. Should we have waited longer for God to heal her tooth even though it was infected and it truly couldn't wait? Why didn't he heal her? Why didn't He provide food for our family? We came to Indiana for Him, at His leading, and everywhere I looked, it felt like He brought us out here to abandon us.

Not coincidentally, I had just finished reading through Exodus and the words the Israelites cried out to Moses rang in my ears, "Why did you bring us out here to die?"

I felt my heart feeling those same doubts, "Why did you bring us out here to just abandon us?"

Does God even care about us? Images flashed through my mind of children starving in Africa, Christians being persecuted around the world, and I wondered whether He would show up for us or whether we were just on our own out here. I so badly wanted to take control right back out of His hands. Something rose up in me, angry, Fine, if You won't provide for us, we'll find our own way to take care of ourselves.

"We, our children, and our livestock will all die!" (Exodus 17:3b)

That's what the Israelites had said to Moses. God let them get there, to a place where they were facing a real possibility of losing everything, even theirs and their children's lives, to follow God into a desert with no idea of where they were going or what He would do. They weren't asking these things because they weren't comfortable, they were angry because it seemed like God had abandoned them and left them for dead. Is that what He wanted to do with us?

I knew the thoughts were ugly, and as I wrestled with them. Even with the knowledge that God did provide for the Israelites and the promises He has given us in His word through Jesus, which was far more assurance than the Israelites had at that time, I felt those feelings of doubt spring up out of me: did God care? Was He going to show up for us?

I cried hard ugly tears as I brought all these dark thoughts into the light of day with my dear friend on the phone that day. She listened and we talked and as the lies were exposed to the light, they lost their power over me. As I shared every doubt and fear, and I confessed out loud the truth I knew in my heart, it felt like chains began to fall off my heart and peace slowly trickled into the place where fear and doubt had held me hostage.

There is an amazing thing that happens when you pull out a lie from the enemy and you expose it to the light. As we know, when a light shines into the darkness, the darkness vanishes and it cannot overcome it. So it is, as we shine light onto the lies we believe, confessing what is true and right and good, those lies lose power over us and can no longer keep our hearts in darkness. As each lie I believed was said out loud, and the truth of who I knew God to be and what He has promised He will do was said over those doubts, they couldn't stand up to the Truth and they couldn't keep me bound.

I walked away from that phone conversation, faith renewed and hope restored. Peace trickled back into its home in my heart and while I had no assurances of what God would do, I had complete assurance in who He was and that He loved me, and that was enough for my heart.

We spent our last $20 on groceries and the next day when Isabel came home from VBS, she shared how they were raising money for missionaries in Russia. She wanted to give money to them. She had saved $5 and I asked her whether she wanted to use that money. She looked at me for a moment, thoughtful and contemplative, and said, "Okay, it's more important that the missionaries share about Jesus with the kids than for me to buy stuff." She grabbed her money and we ran through the house together looking for spare coins under couch cushions and in jars, laughing and talking about how exciting it was to be able to give to the work the missionaries were doing. We collected about $7 dollars and then Melody ran in with her piggy bank, "I want to give all my money to the missionaries too!" We gathered it all together and the next morning at VBS, we gave away all the money we had in the world, every last penny.

It was odd, the strange joy we all felt. From the youngest of us to the oldest. As the girls dropped the change in, happy giggles escaped their lips and the words, "It is more blessed to give than to receive," flew through my mind. Truly, they were more joyful giving their money away than they had ever been spending it.

We walked away that morning feeling oddly free. And that's when God started showing off.

That same day, my phone rang - our house had an offer for $5,000 above asking price! The mail opened - a check for a $1,000 from someone who had heard through the grapevine that things had been tight. Andy called - his boss had just informed him he would be receiving a raise! All in the same day that we had given away our last penny.

I went to bed that night, a smile etched on my face, reeling a bit at how God had just parted our "red sea." We had stood, looking at the impossible situation in front of us, overwhelmed and intimidated, and He had just been waiting to show off.  Somewhere, in between leaving Oregon and Him showing up, He built in us a stronger faith and trust in Him. He came through, but after He had won the victory in our hearts first.

Because, I don't think His provision was the victory at all. I think the victory was the moment when we choose to trust Him even when our eyes couldn't see what He had planned. I think the victory was when our hearts chose to say, "Your will be done on earth, in our lives."

Perhaps, God waits to show up, so that a work can be done in our hearts first. Perhaps, He is waiting so He can show us the parts of our hearts that aren't fully trusting Him. Perhaps, He waits because it is truly what is best for us.

And while we often know those things in our heads, I think sometimes we have to take out what we believe in our hearts and let the light of His truth shine so brightly over the dark places so that even when we are facing the possibility of God not showing up, our hearts are strengthened in faith believing that He is faithful even though we are faithless, because He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim 2:11-13). His nature is faithfulness.

If we believe that who He is is Faithful, that faithful is as much His identity as Love, we can combat the lies of the enemy that says He will abandon us. He will not show up.

"God is not a man that He should lie," (Numbers 23:19). Do we believe that? Or do we treat God and His promises as if He is like us? As if what He has said is a lie? Are we living in a way that says we believe God will not do what He says He will do? Are we remaking God into our own image -  imagining Him as faithless to us and trying to arrest control of our lives back from His hands?

He cannot deny himself - He is faithful. He will show up. Sometimes I think He waits to test the quality of our faith  - like a tempering of steel. He waits to make us stronger. He waits to make us faithful. He waits for our sake, simply because He is faithful, and our faith is more precious to Him than solid gold. It only makes sense that He would temper it and purify it so that we might trust Him more and more.

Perhaps today we ought to take out the places in our hearts that are doubting His faithfulness, and expose them to the light of His truth and let Him shine so brightly that His faithfulness replaces our faithlessness, and we become more like Him rather than trying to bring Him down to look more like us.

His Word is true, yesterday, today, and forever. Let's believe Him to be faithful. Always.

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