Welcome GraceBreak Cycles. Embrace Grace.
Have you ever read a mystery and thought you had things figured out until you read the end of the story and discovered you were totally and completely wrong? I have. Which is why read the end of the story first, the suspense just about kills me! There are times when I shake my head and scratch my chin as I ponder the seeming mysteries in the Bible. I can see why it’s tempting to take a Gillette razor to certain verses or sections. The ones that have some of the greatest mystery are the verses that tell me to rejoice and to suffer.
I certainly don’t say, “Oh, rejoice!” when I splash boiling water all over myself. And I certainly don’t say, “Oh, Joy!” when I hear of a friend who’s suffering through a sickness or a death of a loved one. But I can’t deny the perplexing feeling I get when I read 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” and James 1:2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”
Count it joy when I meet trials? Give thanks in all circumstances? Even the yucky ones? Even the ones that I wouldn’t wish on anybody? Surely, not the times when I screw up and cause my own bad circumstances? Surely, I don’t have to be thankful then, right?
“All” doesn’t mean sometimes, it pretty much means what it means: all. No exceptions. No excuses. No exemptions.
The mystery lies in somehow bridging our desire to give thanks with the ugly realness of our lives. Because sometimes it doesn’t feel as though my thanksgiving is real. Sometimes it feels like I’m lying because I’m saying thanks while my feelings are anything but thankful.
The answer to this mystery is found in Lament. Lament is the language of expressing anguish, confusion, disorientation, sorrow, grief, protest, and disappointment within the context of your faith in Christ. Lament bridges the gap between suffering and rejoicing always.
David is called a man after God’s own heart. David shared all of his heart with God. He shared his dismay, mental anguish, and fear uncensored before his faithful God. He knew the power of lament for bridging the distance between his sufferings and his praise.
A good book or story has five essential elements and without one of these elements, we have a flat story. A lament has five important parts: the cry, the confession of trust, the expression of our heart, the petition, and the praise. It’s the lament that gives the story of our lives color and spark. It allows us to ask the hard questions and becomes the place where we can scream our disappointment in how things are turning out.
In the lament, we are able to turn our sorrows into praise because we remember God’s character and his capabilities; we cry out to him because we know he’s our rock, refuge, and safe place. We declare our trust because we remember what he’s done for us in the past. Our pain and anguish get dumped at his feet because he’s the only one who can wade through the muck to reach our heart. We bring our petition for help and assistance because we know that the wind and waves listen to him. And lastly, we bring our praise. We praise him for what he’s done, what he’s doing, and what he’s about to do.
The lament is God’s gift to us so that we have a healthy way to communicate our doubts to him while ensuring our hearts stay close to him. Our lament is an act of faith, a proclamation of hope, and an act of love.
Run hard and fast to him with everything that is within you–the good, the bad, the sorrows, and the pain. It keeps our hearts soft before him and with a soft heart we can know God’s heart. Hide in the shadow of his wings and let your heart pour out your cry, your trust, your doubt, your petition, and your praise.
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.
“Dream small or not at all.”
This statement arrested and accused me. I do dream small. I dream small because I’m afraid of disappointment, danger and daring to fail.
But in the dreaming small I lose pieces of my heart until all that’s left is a shriveled core struggling for it’s next breath, and it’s next beat. I become the walking dead, curiously satisfied with mediocrity, apathetic towards the status quo. Every once in a while a what if, a why not, or a what could be stirs to life and my heart beats a little louder, a little faster until I have to listen. I have to pay attention to it.
The dream longs to be heard, to be brought back to life and to have a say.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:19-20 NIV
Today, I will…
dream the dreams that frighten me.
dream the dreams that seem impossible.
And I will know that my dreams that seem so big are nothing compared to what God is capable of doing in my life. I will dream my frightening, out of this world kind of dream because God’s dreams are bigger than I can imagine. I will dream and then I will trust.
I will trust God to take my dreams that seem big to me, but are so small in his hands, and let him sift the ones that are for my glory and keep the ones that are for his.
What is my glory compared to my Father’s? What is my ability compared to his? I will let him have those dreams and discard those dreams that are all about me wrapped in the guise of all about him. I will let go of my legacy and embrace his. I will take hold of him and never let him go.
My heart takes courage and I dream big because I know I’m safe in my Father’s hands. I know that he is for me. I know that he means not to harm me. I believe that he is with me, guiding me, leading me, and shepherding me. And that includes those dreams I’m afraid to whisper in the dark.
Small dreams keep us tied to our own strength, our own glory. Dreaming small reduces our faith to something we can hold and understand whereas faith is mystery that we shouldn’t understand because if we really understood it, do we have any at all?
Your dreams. They’re gifts from a loving God. Your dreams aren’t meant to frighten you, freeze you, or fill you. Your dreams are meant to point you to God and his capabilities, and to open your heart to just how great his thoughts are towards you.
He thinks good things of you. He dreams big for you. He woos you to himself so that he might lift you up and hold you high and declare: “This is my girl and I’m proud of her. See what I do for her? I shower her with my goodness in the land of the living and I cherish her.”
Dream big. Dream of God. And let his light fill you and lift you as he does immeasurably more than you could ask for or imagine. He is good and he is for you.