The Red Sea parted and the Israelites walked away from bondage to freedom on dry ground with walls of water towering above them. Their freedom had come in shifts. First the freedom from experiencing the plagues that attacked Egypt, then the freedom from their physical bondage when they walked away, and then miraculously as they crossed the sea on dry ground.
They were truly free! Egypt was destroyed, the army drowned, no one could enslave them again. The elation! The jubilee! Their eyes were eager as they set out. They watched in awe as the cloud covered them by day and the fire warmed them by night. “Let’s get to the mountain to worship God! Step lively! Don’t dawdle! We’re free!” The chorus of voices rang out.
The Privilege of Freedom
I’m free twice. I was born free in the land of the brave and then I was born free again when Jesus became my Lord and Savior. One was a right by birth and the other was a gift. With both comes responsibility to serve.
My freedom right means I have the beautiful privilege of serving my fellow man, woman, and child. It means I get to serve democracy and not my own interests. It means that I have a duty to the country of my birth–a duty to uphold the values that men, women, and children have given their lives for.
My freedom gift means I carry the weight of Jesus in my life and it means that my life is no longer my own to serve myself, but to serve him. This gift is an exchange for my life for the very presence of a holy, almighty God in my heart.
I wish I could say it were easy being free, but sometimes I look at the selfishness in my life and truly wonder if I understand freedom. I want to use freedom to do what I want to do. I want freedom so I can have a life of ease and comfort. I don’t really think of freedom and fear in the same sentence, but I’m beginning to.
When We Reject Freedom
Our Israelite friends? The ones who experienced a miraculous freeing? They gave up a personal relationship with God because they didn’t understand what their freedom was really for. Their freedom was a vehicle for them to know the heart of God towards them and they rejected it for a man to be the mediator between them and God. (Exodus 20:18-21)
The weight of freedom is the fear of the Lord. It’s a healthy fear than enables us to not sin, which explains why the Israelites had a problem with sinning. I can see why they rejected God’s extension of a personal relationship with him. I mean, the mountain was shaking and smoking and it was thundering and lightening and somewhere, somehow there was the sound of trumpets. It was a cacophony of sound. Overwhelmed and as frightened as they’d been while slaves in Egypt, this had to have brought their fear to a whole new level.
We like to pigeon-hole people. Someone behaves a certain way and all of a sudden they’re the “organized” one or a “perfectionist” or a “cleany” or a “messy.” Humans love categories and classification. But God doesn’t fit into a category or classification. He is both kind and just. He is both gentle and destructive. And the God who they thought they knew as their freedom maker just became someone they were all together unsure of.
When Freedom Surprises Us
I know I’ve been surprised by God. I think I’ve got him all figured out and then out of the blue he pulls a fast one on me and before I know it I’m tossed on the waves of questioning and wondering who is this God I serve.
When this happens we don’t have to be like the Israelites and back away from him. We can be like Moses who drew nearer to the shaking, smoking, clanging, and lit up mountain. Do you know his character? Do you trust his heart for you? He is good. He is also just. He is light and life. He is breath. He is trustworthy. He knows best. He wants to make us into a beautiful reflection of him. And sometimes that involves stepping closer to a mountain that seems like it’s going to explode.
Imagine if it did. Imagine confetti exploding and covering us with all the goodness his heart has inside. Even if we feel our world is about to collapse, he is still good and he wants us to know him.
Don’t be like the Israelites and shirk away from your duty that being free in Christ brings to you. The duty to be enveloped in his presence and to know his very heart. It might seem frightening, but let him show you his heart and who he really is.
Your freedom gift is a privilege. Embrace it. Esteem it and never let it go.
There is a song by Elevation Worship that repeats in my mind and meets me in the life-overwhelms and reminds me where my strength and hope is placed. One of my children had a dental procedure and the weight of the unknown overwhelmed her and I felt overwhelmed knowing how to help her. Have you been there? You’re overwhelmed by the weight of the unknown and you desperately cry out for help and your friend or husband or kids can’t help you. It’s the kind of overwhelming feeling that can only be carried by Jesus.
I couldn’t do anything for my daughter except hold her hand and comfort her the best I knew how and the best I know how is to point her to Jesus and remind her that he is calling her to himself. He calls us to come to the altar when we’re hurting. He calls us to come to him when we don’t know if we can handle one more second of the unknown. The fear weighs us down and we suffocate from it.
And so I remind you and me and anyone who wonders if they can take another step of this:
Jesus is calling. He calls you when you’re broken. He calls you when your sin threatens to overwhelm you, and he calls you to come drink from his well that never runs dry. He says to you, “Turn your back on your regrets and mistakes. Those are in the past and I have redeemed you, look to me—the starter and finisher of your faith. Don’t be afraid. Come to me. I have refreshment for you in the midst of your trials and pain.”
Ah friends, whatever you’re facing, there’s an altar waiting for you. An altar that points your eyes to Jesus. An altar where you can receive forgiveness. It’s an altar where you leave your mistakes and regrets as a testimony to God’s faithfulness because rather than your regrets pointing it’s accusing finger at you, you can use it as a reminder to yourself of God’s redeeming power in your life.
Sorrows and suffering. They go together like peanut butter and jelly—only they don’t taste as good–and I would never choose them. In fact, they sometimes leave a bitter taste, but when we recognize our feelings towards our sufferings, we have an opportunity to head straight to the altar and surrender our expectations to Jesus.
And then he does this amazing thing: he bears them for us while walking with us through them. But if we leave the altar, we stumble and fall because we begin relying on our own strength. We begin to rationalize away our feelings about our reality and once the rationalization happens we lose touch with the reality that God is with us in the midst of the unknown.
Jesus is calling us to come to the altar. He’s calling us to come when the weight of the world threatens to crush us. He’s calling us to come when our sin weighs on our hearts. Jesus is calling you to come to the altar. Run to him and find rest.
Senseless deaths. Wounds fester. Terrorists attack. Fingers point blame. The news channels sensationalize the bad and minimize the good and I wonder, where is hope? When life falls apart and I have no good words, what do I do? In order to know hope, I must walk through the suffering.
We can’t bypass it. We can’t go around it. Sometimes the only way through the suffering is to immerse ourselves in the suffering. And then call out all the fear and pain and lay it at God’s feet.
If we can read in the daytime that God promises to be with us, we must believe it when the darkness is so pervasive we cannot see our hand before us.
If he promises to be with us in the fire then we have to believe when the flames lick our skin and burn our hearts.
If he promises that nothing can separate us from his love then we have to believe him when the darkness closes in and God seems separate from us.
We must sit with him in our suffering. He’s there. He’s there when the world is trying to tell us that he’s not. I’ve chased peace and healing outside of my suffering because I didn’t believe God was right there in the middle of it. And when I leave my suffering, by refusing to acknowledge the pain I’m feeling, I leave God behind.
He’s always with us in our suffering and he wants to hear our hurts and disbelief. He wants us to rage at him because he wants our hearts and sometimes all that’s in our hearts is anger. This is lament.
The Psalms teach us to lament. The Psalms are full of how could you-s, and where are you-s, and why don’t you do something-s. But they’re also full of praises to God while still in the dark. They teach us to empty our hearts of the pain and then to fill our hearts up with reminders of God’s love and faithfulness. And this isn’t a one time experience, but it sometimes needs to be done minute by minute, hour by hour, or day by day.
Do you want hope in your suffering? Then enter into your suffering and feel the feelings that threaten to overwhelm you and then turn your lament into praise. Give words to your pain and then turn your heart to truth because what it true in the daytime is true in the nighttime.
He is a God of hope, of comfort, of peace and when my gaze is fixed on him, I don’t fret, worry, or grow anxious. Hope is Jesus. He is our hope in a fallen, decaying, dying world. I can believe in myself all I want, but when it comes right down to it, my effort is weak against the power in the name of Jesus. What if we wore the name of Jesus and felt the weight of the hope that is in his name rest on our shoulders?
But I don’t. I lie awake at night worrying a prayer, attempting to convince myself that I do trust God and my hope is in him. But my sleeplessness proves my struggle with hope.
Suffering. I’m afraid of it, but I’m learning to embrace it because I know that when I suffer, God gifts me with four things:
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10
God restores. He confirms. God strengthens and He establishes. And it all comes through our suffering.
God will restore what the locusts devour. He will confirm his truths in your heart. He is your strength. And he establishes you.
Enter into your suffering, not alone, but with him. He will carry you through and he will give you words to speak when your own are gone.
My feelings roll and rage like a rushing river. At times they laughingly flow over smooth rocks and other times they tumble and roar over dangerous rapids. If I were given the option to cross a mountain divide by climbing a narrow path or floating down the river, I would choose the mountain path. I have a greater fear of drowning than falling. But sometimes I feel I’m drowning in my feelings even though my feet are firmly planted on solid ground.
I ride the Feelings River and wonder if I’ll manage to hold on or if I’ll survive. But I do survive and soon I find myself languidly floating on a calm stretch of water. I forget the fear, the tossing and turning and feel the warmth of the sun and watch the clouds flit and flutter across the blue, blue sky.
I feel tranquil yet aware that another set of rapids could appear suddenly. Our emotions are like a winding river. We experience turbulent and tranquil times. When we’re in the tranquil moments we feel strong, loved, secure, but when we’re in the turbulent waters of strong emotion our security is threatened, our world turned upside down and life looks threatening. There are days I wish I didn’t feel.
Our feelings are not the problem. It’s the decisions we make when we’re in the midst of feeling the feelings and our feelings deceive us into making bad ones.
Deceit is a little bit of truth mixed with a lie.
We might feel rejected and it can be true: Parents reject their children. Children reject their parents. Friends reject each other. The bank rejects your loan request. The publisher says no. The contest says loser. These are true things that happen. But our feelings take the facts and add a dozen other non-truth’s to the situation and pretty soon we’re twisted into believing a lie that says we’re not acceptable and that we deserve to be rejected.
Emotions are indicators. They are diagnostic and can be used for our healing, but when we allow them to deceive us into making bad decisions, the enemy gains a foothold in our hearts where he can wreak havoc. God made us with emotion and called us good, but we have an enemy that uses deceit to prevent us from knowing who we are in Christ and who Christ is.
The thing with feelings? Their intensity surprises us. Their absence worries us. Our feelings can run our lives rather than the Holy Spirit. And when emotions rule our lives we experience constant chaos, but when the Holy Spirit rules our lives we have a guarantee of peace.
My feelings may say I am not enough. But God says I am enough.
My feelings may declare that I am not worthy, but God says differently.
People may reject me, but God accepts me.
Friends may forsake me, but God never will.
Feelings use the circumstances of our lives to keep us locked in bondage to the ways of our flesh. We will be rejected, forsaken, inadequate, or unworthy because life is hard. But when we’re locked into following our flesh, transformation cannot happen. We cannot be transformed until we change the narrative in our mind.
“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:8
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
What are you listening to? Are you listening to your feelings whisper deceit to you? Or are you listening to the word of God speak truth to you?
We all want to be winners. We’re hard wired to survive and scramble for top position. For some, winning comes easy and for others it never comes. Victory. I told myself it wasn’t that important. If there’s a drawing to win, I won’t. If teams are chosen, I’m last. It’s just the way it is.
But it is important.
Christ set us free for freedoms’ sake. For his sake. He didn’t set us free so we would struggle and believe the lies of defeat. Victory is important. Winning is important because God wins in the end. At the end of it all when the dust settles and the fight is over, God is triumphant. You and I need to have winning attitudes.
In Christ, I am victorious. I don’t have to live defeated and it’s something I have to remind myself of everyday. You are victorious. But maybe you doubt it? Maybe you think winning is bad. We live in a world where children receive trophies for participation rather than for winning. But participation in the kingdom of God isn’t our end goal. Victory is.
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your mind; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV
Step One to Victory
The first step to victory is to put off our old selves. We’ve been given a new identity in Christ. We’ve been covered with robes of righteousness. The problem is that sometimes we still wear our ratty, smelly clothes underneath. So that stinky sock? Throw it away. That shirt that’s seen better days? Burn it. Colossians 3:8-9 has a lovely little list of stinky clothes we need to throw away: anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lying. Throw them all off if you can, and if you can’t, then tackle them one by one.
Step Two to Victory
The second step is to be made new in the attitude of our minds. It doesn’t work to merely change our outsides. That is temporary change that burns up like dried kindling when under pressure. Lasting change happens when our minds are changed: specifically the attitude of our minds. An attitude is a tendency or orientation of the mind. So if you’re trying to put off swearing, but you’re still thinking it, eventually it will slip to the surface. If you’re acting cordial to someone, but in your mind you’re thinking the worst of the person, it will be made known. Our attitudes must be renewed and the power of Christ does that for us.
Step Three to Victory
The third step is to put on the new self. The gift of righteousness is given to us through Jesus Christ and God sees us as righteous, but in order to love people as he commanded, we must put on righteousness so others can see God in us. Colossians 3:12-14 gives us a list of our new clothes: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love. Once we’ve exchanged unkindness for kindness, throwing kindness around like confetti becomes easier. Loving others becomes a reflection of selflessness.
We achieve victory in this life when we put off our old selves, have our attitudes in our minds renewed, and when we put on the new self. It won’t matter if you’re chosen for the team or you win a contest or if you’re the slowest runner in the race. It won’t matter because you know that in God’s eyes your life victory is assured and everything else is merely a training ground for you to learn to walk in that victory.
Because he is the wonder-doing God, he can turn the desert into streams, barrenness into beauty, and he can make a way of hope through our pain.
We only need to be still.
Deserts make me nervous because I can feel so lost and lonely. I search this way and that way, running here and there, but never finding what I’m looking for. I grow weaker and desperate. Panic wells up in my heart. I fear death.
Do you remember when you were a kid and what you should do if you got lost?
Stay where you are.
Let them find you.
And so it is with God. Sometimes he leads us into a desert and we wonder where he went, so we start searching for him and questioning his leading. But a desert place is a perfect place to be still.
Be still and know that he is God.
In the desert, our gimmicks and tricks for making sure all our plates stay spinning, don’t work. One by one they crumble to the ground. It’s in the desert place that we become aware of our need for God as each of our coping mechanisms dry up.
The desert place is a place to practice being still. I’ve found that in the desert place, I exert a lot more effort to do the things I normally do: prayer, church, volunteerism, parent, homeschool. Do I get frustrated when I’m in the desert? Absolutely!
But I’ve been to the desert enough times that I’m learning a new dependence on God and most importantly, how to still my soul.
When I still my soul, my eyes begin to see God working and moving. He draws me to himself when I let go of the distractions of life. He grows fruit in me. He makes my pain a door of hope.
“Therefore I am going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. ‘In that day,’ declares the Lord, ‘you will call me, “my husband,” you will no longer call me, “my master.” Hosea 2:14-16
I have never regretted a desert experience. I’ve seen the phenomenon of how God turns my desert into an oasis and makes something so beautiful out of something so barren. The desert becomes a place of worship, a place to eagerly meet with God, and a place to be still and know him.
Be still and know that he is God today and follow him through the desert places. He will bring beauty to your barrenness.
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