Just Keep Swimming

Just-Keep-Swimming
You know those weird people that laugh at funerals? Yeah- that’s me. I have inappropriate reactions to stress. It gets worse than laughing at a funerals though. For example, several years ago, I was selected to serve as a juror in a murder trial. After two days of testimony, arguments, and deliberation, we, the jurors, entered the courtroom to deliver a verdict. As I walked towards my seat in the jury box, I could feel the stares from the friends and families of both the victim and the accused on both sides of the aisle. The tension was palpable. Suddenly, my eyes locked with those of the lead defense attorney. I could tell he was trying to “feel” me out- trying to gauge what decision the jury had reached based on my observable body language. Quickly I turned my gaze away and bit the inside of my cheeks to quell the nervous laughter trying to bubble out. I could actually hear Perry Mason music inside my head, and the whole thing seemed too utterly ridiculous to be real. But it was real.

Although my thoughts were jumbled that day, if I could have verbalized them, they would have gone something like this: “How can this be real? I live in world where lovers actually kill each other?! Someone wake me up from this nightmare, please!”

Often I’ve wondered why I am like this- why I laugh when I should be somber. I guess it’s easier to smile than it is to cry.

When I was four and living in a foster home, I used to stand at the top of the stairs each morning shivering in fear at the prospect of facing another day. Some days my teeth would chatter in terror as I gazed down at the stairway. I used to stand at the top of the stairs for many minutes most days silently willing my right foot to take the first step down. I don’t know how this happened in my four-year-old creative mind, but somehow the stairs became representative of the real enemy that was my loveless, hopeless life. I knew that if I descended the stairs to join the world below, I had to face another day. Thus, going down the stairs became a battle- a daily valley to be traversed. Sometimes, I would take two or three steps downward toward the reality awaiting me, but then I would chicken out and run back to my bunk bed to hide away under the covers for a few more minutes. One time I hid so long upstairs that it was after lunch before I was finally brave enough to come down. Nobody checked on me to see if I was okay in all that time. Such was the nature of my life.

To cope, I built invisible walls inside. Mostly, I detached entirely.

Later on after I was adopted, most who observed me would have called me a happy child. They would have been mostly right. I smiled easily and did well in school. However, the hurts inside were always there lying dormant, just waiting for the right set circumstances to make their appearance.

And appear they did. During my senior year in high school, I finally let someone in- a boy. I loved him so. He made me feel wild and beautiful. But also scared and vulnerable. I clung to him with all I had. When he suddenly moved mid-way through my senior year, my worst fears were realized. I lost him and then most of my mind for a few months. The pain and grief I experienced is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. I still carry the scars.

My mother took me to a therapist around this time. A middle aged professional doggedly asked me questions for an entire hour in a feeble attempt to get me to open up. I smiled mutely, brushed him off, or redirected the conversation throughout the appointment because I refused to let him see who I really was. I walked out of his office towards the elevators feeling smug. Julie 1, Counselor 0. Mom never took me back to that poor guy again.

Why am I writing all this depressed stuff? I hate doing it. I prefer the happy stuff, right? Walls are my MO.

Recently, I got an email from a friend. She is an extremely private person, so I’ll just call her Ann. Ann wrote to let me know that she has cancer and does not have long to live. When I read the news, every cell inside my body ceased moving. I stopped breathing. Then the walls that I work so hard to hold up crumbled. I laid down, hugged my pillow, and cried. Ann is one of the very few people I’ve managed to let in. She is a beautiful Christian lady, so I know I’ll see her in eternity. I also rejoice for her because she is going to meet our King Jesus soon. But… she’s my friend. She’s a guide and mentor. Ann is my lovely, beautiful, wise, quirky, insightful friend. Oh I’m going to miss her.

Grief. How could anyone put good in front of that word? It scrapes at your outsides. It rots your stomach. Brokenhearted isn’t the right word for grief, is it? How can the heart be broken when it is the organ that keeps you alive. Instead, acute grief feels like a vice grip around your heart. When grief is at its maximum intensity, a broken heart would be a mercy over the pain of a very real and pumping restricted heart. Grief is manic panic and sluggish sadness wrapped up into one ball of hell. I have worked my whole life to avoid it.

God won’t let me get away with that anymore. Grief is a part of the human experience. My Savior can attest to that.

I edit sermons for radio at home. Predictably, I began editing a sermon series in the book of Job after hearing Ann’s news. Job is not exactly joyous reading. Poor Job. When I read and heard the pastor describe just how much Job went through, I really had no idea how he was able to continue and remain faithful. He did though. I suppose that’s why we keep telling his story. 🙂

I am a good student of the Bible because of my memory. I can retain information fairly well. However, the Lord usually speaks directly to me with quick, simple bursts of truth. It only takes one or two sentences from an entire message to stick to my insides and change my life. I’ve been directed to travel great distances to hear one sentence in an entire message. One sentence is all it takes though. That is the power of the Word.

Do you what sentence changed me in this latest sermon series based in Job? (It is a little embarrassing because it is so cliche´.) It is this: Just keep going.

I’ve learned through Job’s story that grief is something that is universally experienced. Even when we feel alone in our pain, we are not. We live in a fallen world, and as such, we must grieve. We must cope.

What do we do when a wave of unrelenting grief comes crashing down on us? In those moments, we can only cry out to the Lord. This is a recent conversation I had with Jesus just two days ago when one such wave of grief threatened to drown me:

Me: “Lord, I just want to be where You are. I am tired of this pain. I want to be with You!”
Jesus: “I am with you.”
Me: “I know, but You are not right here WITH me. I miss You. How can I miss Someone I’ve never met in Person? But I do!”
Jesus: “I missed my Father too (when I was on earth).”
Me: Silent sobs.

Jesus was gently reminding me that there is no pain that I could ever experience that He has not already walked through. In fact, Christ willingly drank my grief just so He could hold my hand today.

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)

“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

“The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:8)

Jesus is with me.

What I haven’t told you about Ann that I want to tell you now is that God gave me a gentle heads up about her health last summer. One day as I was writing her, the Lord gently whispered that the time with my friend was coming to an end soon. Immediately understanding what the Spirit was saying, I swallowed past the lump in my throat and continued to write. I never mentioned a word of what I heard to anyone, but tucked it away.

When I got Ann’s news, I was immediately comforted. The Lord had told me this was coming. He was with me. He would walk me through it. And somehow, because God is God, I knew I would look more like His Son when I made it past the wave. That’s the only way grief can be good.

I have no choice but to keep going. To descend the stairs and join the real world. To silence the Perry Mason music and face harsh reality. If brother Job could do it, I can do it. I can do it because Christ is with me.

Just keep swimming. Seems like Dory was on to something.

Advertisements

Love is a Battlefield

loved-graphic

On Black Friday, my children, husband and I sat underneath a string of colored lights in a Mexican restaurant enjoying an unhurried lunch. Happy conversation drifted effortlessly from one topic to another until it landed on family lineage. I remarked that our son, Noah, was the sole person to have any hope of carrying the Hamner name into the next generation.

At this point, my comprehending daughter piped up, “Noah, if your wife doesn’t give birth to a son, you should adopt a boy!”

My husband, Jason, responded, “Yes, but that’s not the same.”

My fork stopped midair, and I gaped at him in shock. Didn’t he remember that I was adopted? How could he be so uncomprehending? Trying to stop him from saying something even more hurtful, I asked, “Are you really saying these words?”

Ignoring the warning in my question and facial expression, Jason blazed onward with an explanation. “The child wouldn’t be a blood relative, so it’s not the same.”

Time slowed down. I turned my face away from the table and stopped breathing. So many ominous gray thoughts began to prickle and congeal, but before I could form a coherent word or react any further, I heard the Spirit whisper, “Adopted into the beloved…”

Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (Ephesians 1:5-6).

Father God, using His Word as a sword, zoomed in to tear down the lie that threatened to take root in my heart right there in the restaurant. This lie was the same falsehood I had worked my whole life to fight. It was the lie that told me I was not accepted, that I was not loved, that I “was not the same” as other children. I thought that I had won this war when I had settled contentedly into the truth of God’s love for me years before. I was wrong.

That was because this time I was hearing the lie come out my husband’s mouth. I was stunned. Slowly panic began to hit, and then I could feel that panic try to give birth to something more crushing: shame. I recoiled.

NO. This was not happening. I could not let this happen!

Before saying another word, I got up from the table, walked to the bathroom, locked myself in a stall, and howled. All my shell-shocked spirit could do was pray for help. In complete desperation I pled, “Jesus!” over and over. I had faith that Father God would fight the fiery arrow trying to burrow its way into my mind just as He had always done.

In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:16)

He would keep his promise that nothing could separate me from His love. If He didn’t, I would be ruined.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

After a few minutes of ugly tears, I found the strength to imagine grasping the fiery lie and the crippling shame with both hands, gathering it together to create a tight ball, and throwing the ugly mass to the eternal throne where my King continually sits interceding on my behalf.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Slowly…slowly with each breath I took, the hurt and panic ebbed away. Calm and peace took their place. God’s Word was stronger than the lie and my riotous reactions. Satan had no power over me.

Steeling myself with another silent heavenward plea, I exited the stall and washed my hands and face. Then I left the quietness of the bathroom for the hustle and bustle of the restaurant. The Mexican décor no longer had a joyous effect, but instead the colors and blaring foreign music left me dizzy and off balance. I wanted to escape- to take cleansing shower in a dark room without any other stimulus to push on my already overwhelmed body.

But I had to rejoin my family. They were probably worried about me, and I didn’t want to ruin their lunch entirely.

Jason held out his hand to take mine as I sat down at the table. As he stumbled through a sincere apology, I looked into Jason’s agonized blue eyes and realized I wasn’t even angry with him. There was nothing to forgive. By the grace of God, I understood that the whole experience was a spiritual attack to which Jason was only a bystander. God would not waste the opportunity to point me to higher understanding.

It is January now, a couple of months removed from the rawness of that day. I know without a shadow of a doubt that this little incident will serve as a marker in time. A war was waged, and I won. And you know what? It really wasn’t a fair contest.

I will win all battles, both big and small, when I apply the truth of God’s Word.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

Guided

I am currently teaching a women’s Bible study. The focus of this week’s lesson was on the (often mysterious) Holy Spirit. I was so moved by the study and the group’s discussion on the subject, that I knew I would need to add to the story I had already planned to write in this entry. Consequently, I spent a lot of time teaching today and then end this post by telling a tale about one particular instance when I was led by the Spirit!

Here are some of the verses about the 3rd Person in the Trinity that help to explain His role in the lives of Believers:

• The Spirit teaches us what to say. (Luke 12:11-12)
• He prays for us when we don’t know what to pray. (Romans 8:26-27)
• He gives us power! (Acts 1:8)
• He guides and teaches truth. (John 15:26-27)
• He produces fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-25)
• He advocates for us and helps us. (John 14:15-26)
• After belief in Christ, the Spirit seals us to guarantee our inheritance in God’s Kingdom. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

These are just a few passages (and there are many more!) that describe the absolute vital role the Spirit plays in Believers’ lives. It is clear that in order for Christians to walk in power, we must begin to hear and heed the soft whispering voice of the Spirit.

A question I often get from others when I relay some of my experiences and conversations with Jesus is, “How do you hear the Holy Spirit?” That is a loaded question. Volumes of books have been written on this subject, and I am not on par with great theologians. What I can relay is what I have learned from experience. God has taught me as I searched to know Him more, and I will try my best to explain what I know here.

First of all, there is no magic formula or four step program to guide you in discerning the Voice of God. Also know that we will make mistakes and misunderstand sometimes! Paul says that “we see through a glass dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12), and for this reason, we will hear wrong or misinterpret what is the Lord is trying to say. However, when we hear incorrectly, God still sees our heart and our desire to please Him. He is the Good Shepherd that will gently and firmly redirect us with His shepherd’s staff whenever we get off course. So, don’t let a fear of hearing wrong keep you from stepping out in faith to try to listen!

Secondly, the Spirit speaks differently to each of God’s children. Just like every parent approaches their kids uniquely based on their individual personalities and gifts, the Spirit will speak differently to each one of us. I have a couple of friends that can sit down and study the Bible for hours and hours because the Lord has chosen to gift them with research ability. God speaks to them mightily as they read His Word and logically consider the facts. These friends get joy from looking up the original Hebrew and Greek meanings of individual words, and they cross reference passages for long stretches of time. These friends own Strong’s Concordance and use this resource often, and almost all of the pages in their beloved Bibles are highlighted, notated, and tattered from use. The amount of understanding and wisdom God gives them through their study is amazing, and it is their delight to spend long afternoons mining for nuggets of truth in the Word.

Unlike my friends, I cannot sit for hours studying. It is my prayer that the Lord will help me be more of a student of His Word like my friends, but I know that I will never be a detailed researcher. It is not the way the Lord made me! I approach the Word conversationally. I can almost hear Jesus speaking directly to me when I read scripture. Always as I read, I reply back to my King in both silent and audible words of repentance, wonder, joy and praise. The Lord has also given me the ability to retain information that I hear. When I first gave my life to Christ, God generously afforded me many hours a day to bathe in His truth. I needed to be washed from the wrong thinking and disobedience that had gotten me into great messes! I spent almost all of my free time listening to sermons from great teachers like Ravi Zacharias, James McDonald, Alistair Begg, John MacArther, Charles Stanley, and David Jeremiah. Whenever I traveled in my car, I tuned into Christian radio to hear God’s Word or listen to His music. I soaked up every morsel like a sponge. Many times a sermon would come to speak to me exactly where I was, meeting my needs in God’s perfect timing. The Lord used great Bible orators as His vessels to speak to me and guide me into greater truths. The knowledge I gained from these precious years in His Word is still guiding me today as the Spirit prompts me to remember this learned wisdom on a daily basis. Finally, I often perceive the Spirit’s voice in prayer and in dreams and visions because Jesus, in His perfect will, has chosen to speak to me in this way. Again, God approaches His sons and daughters differently, and the Lord responds to all His children uniquely and always in the perfect love of a Father.

A couple of words of warning: When trying to discern God’s Voice, we must never approach Jesus as if He were a genie in a bottle or a vending machine. God is altogether valuable and worthy, and He deserves our total respect and overwhelming gratitude. He responds to humble hearts that are desperately seeking Him first, instead of the works of His hands. The Lord’s mission statement from the beginning was to restore our broken relationship so that He would be our God, and we would be His people (Jeremiah 31:33). We see over and over in His Word that Father desires a relationship with us, and we would be foolish not to want a relationship with Him above all things! I hope you can clearly see from what I’ve written here that just as we must cultivate our earthly friendships, we must spend time with our Heavenly Father by talking to Him in prayer, learning about Him in His Word, and meditating on His wonderful attributes and creation. As we hang out with Jesus, we begin to recognize His voice (John 10:27). There are no shortcuts to intimacy.

Unfortunately, my last word of caution is to point out that we also have to compete with the enemy’s voice trying to clamor for our attention. The Lord will never… and I mean NEVER… say anything contrary to His Word. It is our duty as Christians, therefore, to know what the Word says and to examine all messages in the light of scripture (Acts 17:11)! If you hear a message, sermon, voice or book saying something different than what the Bible says, run fast and pray harder! Satan is constantly throwing fiery lying arrows at us in his desperate attempt to get us to doubt God and live in fear (Ephesians 6:16). We must be diligent to use the sword of the Word of God and the knowledge of the truth to combat these falsehoods and assaults on our faith (2 Corinthians 10:15).

Very recently, I asked the Lord a direct question about the location of misplaced car keys. I prayed this prayer in anger and in a state of unforgiveness as I believed (wrongly as it turned out) that my spouse had lost them. After I prayed, “Where are my keys, Lord?” in heated frustration, I heard a “voice” answer, “They were thrown away.” I believed this lie, and of course the result of this false belief was that my anger at Jason grew even more intense. Days later when the keys were finally found in my yard, it was obvious that the voice I heard was not Jesus’s but Satan’s. Again, I believe the reason our enemy’s voice came through so clearly to confuse and destroy was because I was sinning in my anger. In white hot fury, my tongue cut my beloved husband to the quick, and I said things no Christian should say. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” I obviously gave the enemy an opportunity because of my unbridled temper, and the slimy opportunist took it! Today as I prayed before work, I heard the Lord say that He would not answer my prayers until I sought my husband’s full forgiveness for the unholy way I treated him in my unrighteous selfish anger by verbalizing an apology face-to-face. God said He would not hear me until I did (Matthew 5:21-26). The unresolved conflict felt like an unseen wall between me and my King during our conversation, and I resolved then and there to apologize as the Spirit commanded.

I can rejoice in the above lesson. While the enemy hoped to create lasting division in my relationship with my spouse, the Lord turned this experience around for good. Jason, being more mature in this area than I am, was gentle and kind even after the keys were found and he was vindicated. Because of his self control, we were reunited in love within hours after the blow out. As for me, I learned an absolutely vital lesson about how the enemy plots and schemes, and I will be more wary next time when anger temps me to sin. My faith in my ability to hear God was shaken until I examined scripture in Ephesians 4:26-27. Once I learned more of God’s truth on this particular subject, that faith was restored. In addition, I will be harder to trick next time! Hallelujah and praise Jesus because He “causes all things to work together for the good for those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose!” (Romans 8:28)

Finally, I must be absolutely clear when I say that the Spirit speaks to those who will listen- as in heed His instructions. Many times, Father’s will is obvious without a huge billboard or booming voice because we are mercifully and graciously given instructions for all circumstances in His Word (as the above situation clearly demonstrates). Those that don’t read the Word, therefore, are extremely vulnerable to grave error, for God declares “My people are destroyed by lack of knowledge!” (Hosea 4:6) Don’t be destroyed! Seek God’s will in your life by reading His Word! For instance, God asks us to “not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14). Papa God does not want His child to marry a non-Christian because, as I can personally testify, it causes great heartache and division in the home. Although God is gracious, slow to anger, and merciful, if His child disobeys these explicit instructions in outright rebellion by marrying an unbeliever, then he/she will have a harder time discerning the Voice of God until true repentance takes place. Furthermore, what’s sobering and very scary is that those that continue in this kind of outright rebellion will eventually be given over to a “reprobate” mind (Romans 1:28). Basically, God says that after continual disobedience He will eventually cease speaking to these folks at all! Our Just Judge will leave defiant people to wonder through life without truth because they chose to abandon it. Eventually, these people will spend their lives chasing their own lusts and desires without any conviction by the Spirit because their hearts have turned hard and arrogant. The final result is that they believe improper behavior acceptable and even champion it. This is what has happened to many today in America. People have refused to listen to God’s truth, but instead have created their own value systems based on culture, political correctness, and feelings. The end result of these choices has been and will continue to be great pain, suffering, and finally utter destruction. Isaiah says to the reprobate, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” May this very stern warning cause us to tremble before the Mighty Judge in continual repentance and to seek His will above our own at all costs.

When I first starting seeking God’s will, I timidly began to try to hear His whispers. If I heard the Spirit, I would, like Gideon, almost always ask for a “sign” of confirmation. Jesus would often answer my request for a sign in ways that made it impossible to doubt that I heard Him correctly. Even now the Lord still gives me signs in special circumstances (read my post entitled Beloved written on November 17th, 2013). However, as I continue to mature and obey the Spirit, God’s voice gets louder. As this happens, Abba Father is less willing to give a sign of confirmation when He speaks. Instead he says, “No. No sign this time, Julie. You know My Voice. I’m stretching Your faith.”

An example of this came about a year ago when I got an invitation to attend my neighbors’ Halloween party. Now if you know me at all, you can probably guess that I would not normally attend a Halloween party. First of all, I have studied the dubious history behind this “holiday”, and it seemed hypocritical for a Christian to participate. Secondly, I don’t enjoy parties that are centered on alcohol consumption, and I knew this particular gathering would be. However, because I had been praying for my neighbors and specifically for my neighbor, Amy, I desperately wanted to develop a relationship with her. This seemed like opportunity for me to spend time with her on her turf in a non-confrontational way. So, I prayed about it asking for God’s will. “Should I go, Lord?” I asked. That night, I had a dream. In the dream, I was at my neighbors’ house at the Halloween Party. I was dressed up in a white sweatshirt with a huge red heart in the middle. My “costume” was literally LOVE. When I woke up, I knew the Lord wanted me to attend the party and love on my neighbors while I was there. I was given no additional “sign” of confirmation. I just had to obey. (In case you are curious, no, I did not dress up as “love”. I admit that this was my plan until I started looking for wire headbands with hearts sticking up like antennae. As I began shopping for heart accessories, God stopped me by explaining that I was being too literal and that coming dressed up in actual hearts would be too heavy handed! LOL!)

The day of the party came, and I was understandably nervous. Amy is in an atheist group, and I knew many of her friends from this community would be there. I felt like I would be a sheep among wolves! When I got to my neighbors’ house, however, I was excited to be there. Amy has the gift of hospitality and humor, and I felt welcomed and happy within a few minutes. I had fun catching up with old friends from high school and enjoyed laughing at the different creative costumes. Towards the end of the party, however, something strange happened. Amy came up and hugged me hard. In tears she said, “Why are you so nice to me? Why are you so loving?” In a rush of words, Amy began to refer to a time when she was sick and my kids made her cards and I brought her soup and medicine. Amy said as she hugged me and petted my hair, “My friends weren’t as nice as you were to me when I was sick!” and again she asked, “Why are you so nice to me?” After Amy finally ended the hug, I stood in the middle of the festive atmosphere dumbfounded. A few minutes later, my friend came up to me to hug me again. And then again! Amy hugged me over and over for minutes on end with tears staining her lovely face and smearing her beautifully applied makeup. “I love you,” she would say. All I knew to say in return was, “I love you too.” Every time my arms wrapped around her beautiful frame, I prayed and asked God to remember this precious soul. I asked Him to break through the pain and unbelief in her heart so that Amy would be His child and that she would call Him Daddy.

I believe with all my heart that He will answer my prayers for Amy. And, wouldn’t you know it, the Lord was right! If I had listened to my “church girl” opinion on the matter of attending a Halloween party, I never would have gone. However, I obeyed the Spirit’s leading even though it made no earthly sense. The fruits of that decision are lasting. After the party, Jesus swung open the door to a friendship that is still developing. Amy and I no longer see each other as adversaries but as friends. I love her dearly. Praise God!

Months later, the Lord brought the original dream to memory out of the blue one day. He reminded me of the white sweatshirt with a heart on it. Suddenly, a minor detail hit me like a lightening bolt. The sweatshirt I wore in the dream was the very same sweatshirt I wore when dancing on the sidelines at Indiana University the day I sacrificed my will for God’s so that the Lord would hear my prayers for Amy. (See last post) This realization was the exclamation point and cherry on top! God had seen my love in action as I danced at IU for Amy, and He used that same love to propel me to go the party. Wow. Only the Lord could arrange things so perfectly!

The mysterious, wonderful, magnificent Holy Spirit is what gives us power to impact our world. He tells us what to do, and then gives us power to do it! He teaches us truth, and then brings that truth back to remembrance in times of need. He comforts us, indwells us, and lets us live a life that is truly separate to shine for the world to see.

“Father God, I pray that my readers would have ears to hear what You are trying to say through this broken vessel. Draw them near. Help them to begin to seek and hear your Voice. Fill them daily with Your Spirit so that Your children would be a beacon of hope, truth, and light in this dark world. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.”

Beloved

My life verse is:

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 emphasis added)

Abiding denotes a relationship. If you live together, you know each other. I want to know my Savior. It has been my experience that prayer, like nothing else, allows me to know Him. In prayer, I can, by the power of the Spirit (the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead), think and feel what God thinks and feels. Look at these verses to see this amazing promised confirmed in scripture:

1 Corinthians 2:9-16 says:
However, as it is written:
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—
these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,
“Who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ
.”

I can humbly yet resolutely confirm that God’s mind directs my thoughts and even my feelings. One Sunday quite a few years ago, for example, I was praying during communion when I began to think of my sister-in-law out of the blue. Suddenly, I was completely overcome with grief and sadness. I had a very great burden to pray for her, and my heart ached in my chest as I wept for her unnamed pain. As I drove home with my husband that morning, my eyes continued to ooze tears. In an impassioned plea, I looked over at a confused Jason in the driver’s seat and said, “We need to pray for your sister!” Without revealing too much about a very personal situation, the next day I was to learn why I had felt such grief. My sister-in-law’s long term relationship had ended with painful betrayal the day the Lord asked me to pray for her.

Through this experience, I knew my King because my heart was truly abiding with His for those few moments in church. I discovered with absolute resounding clarity that Jesus is compassionate in ways I had never understood until then. His compassionate heart literally leveled me, and I intuitively knew the feelings I experienced were only glimpses. My weak body could only handle small doses of His infinite oceans of empathy.

Hebrews 4:13-16 “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need
.”

Christ’s mind moved me, His vessel, to grieve and empathize with my sister-in-law’s pain even when my physical mind had no idea about her situation. Then, because of grace, the Spirit began to make intercession through me, a used vessel, as I begged God to show her how lovely, precious, and beautiful she was even in the face of rejection. The Lord refused to leave my sister-in-law alone in her grief. How deep the Father’s love for us! To know His love changes one forever.

I have a neighbor that I love dearly. For the sake of privacy I will call her Amy, because Amy means beloved. Amy married one of my brother’s best high school friends. For this reason, I began praying for Amy and her husband long before they serendipitously moved across the street. She is a proud atheist and a beautiful, gregarious, generous person. At first, conversations with her were awkward and confrontational. I worked to convince her that Jesus was real. One day, after responding to Amy in another long-winded admittedly argumentative private message on Facebook, I took a walk with my family to depressurize. As my husband and children strolled ahead on a neighborhood bike path, I fell back a bit to speak to God about our “debate”. My mind was twirling and running in the aftermath of the heated discussion. I wondered aloud to the Lord if anything I had written would get through. Suddenly, my rampant thoughts were interrupted with what I can only describe as the heart of God. For a moment, I saw my neighbor as He saw her. My Father was her Father too. She was His creation. Beautiful. Loved. Treasured. Father’s feelings for Amy, His beloved little girl, hit so hard that I could barely continue to walk. Then I heard the Spirit whisper, “I just want you to love her.” At that moment, I was convinced that arguments would not win her heart, only love would.

And so I love Amy. Not with a fake phony love. But with the supernatural love of the Father in heaven who loves His child even as she denies and mocks Him. Remember my life verse? Jesus said “apart from Me, you can do nothing.” All my defending and apologetic arguments for the Christian faith were in my own strength and flesh. God told me as I walked down that little path that all that talking and debating amounted to nothing. However, if I loved Amy with the love He gave me, she would come home.

I have heard Christians say that unbelievers cannot live happy lives without God. I disagree. What my brothers and sisters in Christ fail to realize is that lost folks don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t understand supernatural joy and peace because they have never experienced it. If someone has never heard the Lord’s whispers or felt the Spirit quicken, then how can I explain it? To atheists, my stories probably sound like utter foolishness. “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

I can only continue to intercede and ask that God draws those precious lost souls I am burdened for to Himself for Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)

Sometimes the burden for the lost literally leaves me breathless. One night as I prepared to go to sleep, I approached the Lord in prayer. I closed my eyes and saw the throne of God. My King sat in light and looked down on me in love. I fell to my knees and cried, “Holy!” Then, after I told Jesus I loved and adored Him, the Spirit began to intercede for the lost though me. I starting calling out for the salvation of my friends, loved ones, and neighbors. After a couple of seconds of speaking names, I knew I would repeat myself or forget important people without some sort of organization.

So, I looked up at God’s face hidden in light and asked Him for something to write on. If I could symbolically write each person’s name down, the process would help me keep track of who I had prayed for and who I still needed to bring to the Lord’s attention. To my surprise, God did not hand me paper, but a rectangular piece of wood about 3 feet wide and six inches long. So instead of writing, I began to carve the names of those I loved into the wood Christ gave me. When I had finished carving the first a name, I sat the piece of wood to the side, and asked for another piece of wood. I continued like this for a long time. I cried and carved and stacked pieces of wood. Eventually I was completely overwhelmed at the enormity of the stack of wood I had built. “There are so many, Lord!” I cried. Finally, when the burden lifted, I fell into an exhausted sleep. I dreamed that night and woke up to the sound of my own voice singing to the Lord.

The next day, I drove to work as usual. My kiddos were quietly reading in the back seat, so it gave me time to think about last night’s prayer time. As I reflected on these events in the light of day, it all seemed so strange! So, I said, “Lord Jesus, I need a sign that it was You directing my thoughts and actions last night. I would love a confirming sign showing me You heard me.” I didn’t know how God would answer my prayer- it was so specific- but I knew He could.

I walked into work and sat down at my desk in the front office of a school office. About five minutes later, I was engrossed in a task when I heard my boss, the principal, say, “Have you seen this, Julie?” I looked up and saw him holding this:

gracepaddle

Apparently the “grace board” had showed up on campus over the weekend, and it was strangely leaning against the building during car line drop off. My boss decided to bring it inside and didn’t quite know what to do with such a strange object.

This was a goose bumps moment. I smiled and shook my head. Astounded. Yep, that was the word. I was astounded. God had obviously heard my cries. The Lord of the universe had heard my prayer, and the Spirit was there guiding me the whole time! But how could I explain this? Would anyone understand?

As I continued to reflect on what the Lord was trying to communicate, I was stunned. The above picture is obviously of a paddle- typically a tool used for punishment. However, because grace is carved into the wood, I knew God was pointing to this:

kingofthejews

The day God’s Son hung from a tree, a sign was posted above Him. Although it was an attempt at mockery, every word written was true. Carved in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, were the words: “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews”.

It should have been my name carved in the wood. I should have died on that tree. All those that I had prayed for that night- they too deserved punishment because they have denied their Creator in unbelief or aloofness. They were among those in the crowd who mocked and laughed at God’s Son that dark day.

However, Jesus, King of the Jews, is unlike any other king in history. Even while He suffered and died at the hands of hateful men, He prayed, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do!” As His blood was spilled to ransom the world, a tool of punishment became the ultimate tool of grace.

We are not on this earth to live moral lives.
We are not here to seek our own happiness.
We are not here to survive and endure.

We are here to abide with Jesus as it was in the beginning before the fall.
We are here to declare the work of the cross so that others might also experience the free gift of grace.
We are here to love as He first loved us.

Beloved, it is my prayer that you would know Him. From my soul I cry out to you and for you. He is Lord! One day soon, His Bride, His beloved, His Amy, will cry out in victory as she sees Jesus coming back for her:

“Listen! My beloved! Behold, he is coming, Climbing on the mountains, Leaping on the hills!” (Song of Solomon 2:8)