Ephesians 3: 14-20 (the message)
My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask Him to strengthen you by his Spirit–not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength–that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all the followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. God can do anything, you know–far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
Last night I as was lying in bed, trying to read, I just had to stop and thank God for this past year of my life. I told Him how I knew that if you are looking in from the outside, it doesn’t look like much has changed. I’m still living in the same house. I’m still married to the same man with the same two little girls. I still attend the same church. A few things have changed, but mostly things look the same—from the outside.
How can I begin to express what God has done on the inside of me over the past almost year? I have been a Christian since I was little. I have been a church-attender most of my life. But never, in my almost 34 years, have I experienced the kind of inner stability and peace that I have now. Lying in bed, with a very real sense of who I am in Christ, I was brought to tears of gratitude once again. I have shared many times of how I lived most of my life insecure and needing approval from others. There was a discontent…I wasn’t really at peace with who I was. I was living unfulfilled. I don’t think I could have told you that or recognized it until I started to experience true fulfillment. Fulfillment hasn’t come with any changes in my circumstances or station. It has come, 100%, from Jesus. How come I didn’t have it before? If I was saved and going to church and really did love God what has been different this past year?
Yielding. Desperate yielding. My goodness how amazed I am at how I thought God worked! I thought by professing and attempting I could actually become someone I wasn’t. Someone I wasn’t even meant to be. Going to church and worshipping, volunteering, taking notes in church and listening to praise music in my car are good things but I was lacking “flow” in my life. Let me tell you what I mean! An old friend of mine and I discussed this idea a long time ago and the analogy stuck with me all these years. It’s like a pipe…I’m like a pipe! Can the Holy Spirit, God’s love and presence, flow freely through me or am I clogged up with junk? If He is flowing through me then I am changing and healing and well, it’s like that verse about rivers of living water flowing from our bellies. But if I am “clogged up” with sin or just overcome and obsessed with my own welfare then I am making it harder for Jesus to fill me and flow through me. What I am learning is that really there is no person or circumstance that could ever quiet my soul, fill me with joy and peace, grow stability and wisdom in my life like Jesus.
So, being real…I came to a place where I decided to “get real!” Have you ever just been worn out by the whole Christian thing? I mean has religion ever worn you out? All the rules and trying and failing…having to keep your “game face” on with other people, pretending you are so in love with Jesus but really God feels a million miles away? Have you ever just wanted to throw in the towel because you weren’t sure if you would ever pray the right way or memorize the books of the Bible? Have you ever reached a place where running from God felt better than being around other Christians? You know, deep down, you aren’t experiencing all that you are “supposed” to…
For me, being real with God meant I kind of tossed out some of what filled my head. I had this standard in my mind that I needed to live up to. I don’t mean sin–sin will block the flow! I mean I had this idea, this image, of what a daily walk with God looked like. And you know who it looked like? Not Jesus, really. It looked like my pastor or my mother. It looked like people I held in high esteem spiritually. And since I wasn’t them (and wasn’t meant to be!) I never got it “right.” How disappointing. How deflated I felt. Last Fall, I chucked it. I sat down wherever I needed to and honestly imagined Jesus sitting with me and I began to talk to Him just like I would a trusted friend. Then, I would read my Bible. I didn’t try to come up with an exhaustive Bible study I could do. I had a short little Joyce Meyer devotional and I would read a page from that (which ever page I wanted…not always the one for that day!) and then I would read from a part of the Bible that interested me…for me that started out with the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). What has changed my heart and habits in this Bible reading thing is that I just read enough to have something to absorb…to think about. I wasn’t trying to read 3 chapters a day so I could feel good about myself. I was reading because I wanted to get to know God. I needed to really know Him. Sometimes I sit on the couch. Sometimes I sit at the kitchen table. Sometimes I sit in a rocking chair on my porch. Sometimes I stand by a window and stare up into the sky and can sense my amazing Creator as I talk to Him. Sometimes I just listen to my favorite worship songs and sing to Him. Sometimes I get down on my knees and cry because He is my Father but He is so Holy and I am awed that I can know Him. What I am trying to convey is that this past year has been amazing for me because I am letting go…I am learning to be myself with God and others. As I have opened up my true heart to God, cut the performance, He has shown me more of Himself and His heart toward me. Now I’m writing for the person who might read this and wish they could know God’s heart for them. Or the person who is afraid of what God’s heart may be toward them. Let me tell you…God’ heart toward you is full of love. And I don’t mean the love you get from your parents or spouse or boy/girl friend. I don’t mean the love you get from your best friend or your dog. There is nothing like God’s love. His love can wash over you like the sweetest rain…it can heal your broken heart. It can break up the hardness in your heart. It can snap and sever the strongholds in your life that keep you a mess. God’s love is addictive if you ever really receive it. And He wants you to receive it! It’s the entire reason He has me up writing before my girls wake up…for you, yes you, to hear Him. I am just a girl…but He is God. So, don’t hear this from me…hear it from your Creator. He loves you. And He isn’t asking or expecting you to follow in anyone’s footsteps except Jesus. Here is the amazing part of living in the love of Jesus: Once you begin to let go…to surrender…to taste the freedom in being yourself with God and other people you will not ever have to “try” so hard again. You will want and need Him so much there won’t be another way you could dream up that would top knowing Him. Yielding isn’t always “easy” because your selfish nature has to die, but growing and knowing God, experiencing Him in your every day life, becomes worth the “cost.” And eventually you find that really there is no cost. That stuff you are holding onto is not comparable to the riches found in knowing Him.
As for me..I still live on the same street. Still married to Shannon and still raising Rivers and Leah. Still go to the same church. Still drive the same car and still don’t have any window treatments up in my house! But day by day I am healed and changed…and I look forward now to what is next. God is so very real and He is so very good. You can trust Him. And you can be yourself. So much more of your God-Designed self than you could have imagined. Far more…