Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Standing Firm

The loud crash of thunder shook my bed and rattled the windows of the house! It was 4:45 a.m. and I was wide awake, my heart beating fast and full of fear. I was waiting for something else – only I didn’t know what. I only had 30 minutes left to sleep anyway, so I lay there half sleeping, half awake – and then fully awake once my mind became engaged.

That early morning experience is parallel to how I live at times. I’m doing fine, living life and then something happens, whether it’s big or small, that jars me awake out of my normal routine or emotions and sends me into turmoil. I remember in college after my friend died, every time I would hear her favorite song on the radio I would burst into tears. After my husband left me it seemed like I was continually running into people we both knew who, not knowing, would ask me how he was doing, or all of a sudden there were a lot of sermons about marriage at church. I felt attacked, my emotions already raw, I was very susceptible to being wounded again.

Times when I’ve felt particularly vulnerable, I have reached for the sanctuary in Ephesians 6:10-18.

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

One of the aspects of this verse that I cling to the most during those times of pain are two small words at the end of verse 13 – “to stand”. There have been times when all I could do was just stand. There was no gain, no moving forward, I was simply holding my ground; I was standing. Looking back, I see that when I’ve been in particularly difficult circumstances and I remained standing and didn’t buckle or fall, I grew. Standing firm can be growth when it takes strength and determination.

I wrote this poem a year ago when I was feeling particularly attacked. It fits well with this idea of attack, fear and the decision to stand.

I feel loss
From every angle
And with each
Beat of my heart
It seems that each time I progress
And a small healing occurs
Something else rips the bandage
From my soul
Reopening the wound
I stand here
Contemplating my future
Considering the strength it will take
To continue to move forward
And so I decide to
Simply stand

I look back now and see how that daily decision to put on God’s armor and remain standing has given me peace and a measure of joy that I didn’t believe was possible, even with storms that come in the middle of the night.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Walking In The Vineyard

All these years I’ve spent in the vineyard
And yet, have I ever really looked
Into the eyes of the Vinedresser?
He has looked at my fruit
Dreaming of a harvest
He hasn’t yanked me from the ground
He has lovingly – yet firmly
Rubbed His hands with tender care
To smooth my branches clean.
And all that time
Believing in the harvest to come
Dreaming for me
And my whole existence has been for what purpose?
To bear fruit for a Vinedresser
Whose eyes I’ve yet to meet?
I have only seen myself muddied
And producing
An occasional bunch of grapes
And so for me – a change
To meet the eyes of the Vinedresser
To bask in His care
To walk by His side
Through the mist
Every morning
Each day
In the Vineyard

I wrote this poem years ago when I was in the midst of a time of immense change in my relationship with God. I had become very performance oriented in my walk with the Lord and desired to become more intimate and authentic. I love this poem because as I wrote it I was visualizing a walk with God through a vineyard having an intimate conversation. It was written more out of a desire to have that intimacy than actually experiencing it at that time.

I came to a realization that the very essence of a close and intimate relationship with God could be characterized by the very same things that marked my relationships with my close friends. Walking together, sharing my heart, dreams and failures, or quietly sitting and listening. Having a relationship with God wasn’t about what I could do for him; it was about who I was and how I interacted with His will and the truth that I saw in his Word. It was a big shift in my thinking, and it’s something I am still constantly aware of. I long for relationship and not a list to check off to show my worthiness.

I love John 15 and studying that chapter, as well as reading a book called “Secrets of the Vine” by Bruce Wilkinson, it helped me to retool my thinking. Verses 1-9 discuss vine and branches and their unique correlation with one another and also the gardener who cares for them. Their cohesiveness depends upon remaining together – which relates to nearness, familiarity or what I would describe as intimacy.

In the second part of John 15 an amazing concept is revealed to the disciples – friendship with their Lord and Teacher and ultimately, God. Jesus says to them in John 15:15, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” This is a time near to Jesus’ death. He is trying to share some important concepts with these men who hold his ministry in their hands; the concept of intimate friendship. He was offering friendship with God in the flesh. They had been with Jesus for years and had seen him perform miracles, pray to God as Abba instead of Yahweh and basically silence the mouths of the Pharisees. I think it’s interesting that one of the important concepts he shares with the disciples near the end of his life is that of intimate friendship. Jesus equates knowing his “business” as companionship. I don’t think this just implies that Jesus has shared only his plans with them, but his heart along the way. That is what closeness involves, a sharing of heart and soul; and it is one of the differences between a friend and an acquaintance. An acquaintance knows you, and has possibly known you for years. But a friend knows what makes you tick, what you love, what drives you crazy or fills your heart with emotion. We can know God in the same intimate way. He wanted the disciples to transfer the intimate friendship they had experienced with him to that of God the Father as well.

My friends have helped me through several very hard times, emotionally and spiritually. I don’t know what I would have done without my closest friends at a time when it felt as if the world was falling out from underneath me. I can honestly say that I desperately needed them, and they made a seemingly unbearable situation bearable. But I didn’t call them in the middle of the night when I was awake and crying on my pillow. I prayed, and talked to my Father, who knew exactly how I felt. He was there, every single minute and situation through the entire ordeal. My Lord was ever-present and aware of my circumstances. I found that genuinely comforting, more so than I ever imagined I could.

It was during that time of uncertainty that I felt the shift occur and my bonds of intimacy with God develop in a stronger way than I ever imagined it could. I felt his presence with me then, and it has grown and deepened since. I long for the daily walks with him through the Vineyard now, and am thankful that I embarked on that journey years ago to go deeper.