I am fickle. The longer I live with myself the more I realize it. Adolescent mood swings gave way to mommy tantrums (I never thought I had anger issues and then came a husband and kids, even once a flying saucepan). Then once the kids were gone and you'd think peace might reign over the middle-aged empty nest, there have come menopausal moments and the uncertainty of who I am to be in this new stage of life. Life is forever dishing out change... And I am forever reacting. This is part of the biological definition of life I suppose--this capacity to grow, reproduce, and continually to react/adapt to change until this body dies.
Some days it is laughable, this fickle me. And I wonder aloud to Jim what it must be like for a Mr. Steady to be married to someone so subject to change without notice--looking like she's headed to her doom on the drive out to the ski trails and bubbling over with endorphins and happy exhaustion at day's end...
Other days it's not so laughable. I am prone to carry things in my head, to ponder in my heart, and to carry the weight of me too long alone...weighing and wondering how best to balance all the shoulds and coulds and mights(?) that rattle around in my head.
I've been thinking lately, for instance, about what 'taking up my cross' and following Christ is meant to look like in this strange middle-age. At the same time I'm trying to figure out exactly who I am and what I do have to offer... What does it look like to lay down my life in the day-to-day? to die to self? to be crucified with Christ and yet to be fully alive, a living sacrifice fulfilling all the 'good works' He has prepared from before the foundation of the world for me to walk in?! I scrawled in my journal this morning on the way to the gym: "Lord, deliver me from myself. Free me to live wholly pleasing, wholly yours according to YOUR design. Let me be content with that."
And while I carry all these thoughts around I'm prone to lapse into an introspection that is my undoing. In wanting to lose myself doing His bidding I end up fixating on myself. (Am I doing what I'm meant to be doing?...) Chris Rice's lyrics resonate in the background:
Curse-reversing day of Jesus
When You finally seize my soul
Freedom from myself will be
The sweetest rest I've ever known...
Amen to that!!
Paul said it this way: "Who shall deliver me from this body of death?!"
He then continued: "But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord...the law of the Spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death." (Rom.7:24,25)
And that’s where I’m at, the law of the Spirit of life at work in me, despite me, working out the realities of Romans 8 in me…this life as God intends it to be seeps through my fluctuating feelings. This Spirit I have inherited as a child of God woos me to another mindset, one of life and peace, again and again! Here's what it looked like this week.
It came in the suggestion of my good man this afternoon to just take a break and go out and sit in the sun for a few minutes. Too cold, too much trouble, I have things I should be doing, no place to sit, sun's almost gone... all these objections murmured in my head but I knew he was right. I took my Bible and went, out to the sunny slope where the deer and elk sometimes loiter in fall and winter, the slope I first discovered last year at this time. The snow has finally melted away... I sat, and opened the Word and felt the sun on my face for the first time in too long and cried "Abba, Father"...
"I need you, Father", is more and more the best expression of my heart. I murmur it often; “…I always need you…." And when I don't know what to ask, as is so often the case, I am reassured that the Spirit knows; He helps us in our weakness; He intercedes with groans that transcend words' ability. And into this sweet quiet space, this rest on a sunny slope, came the Word. God's perspective. Words He spoke through his prophet, Isaiah, many, many years ago. Words that never grow old, or dim, or meaningless. Eternal words directed at His people Israel in a dark age. I paraphrase:
Comfort, comfort my people...Tell her that her warfare is over; her sins have been forgiven. Make way for your God--He's coming. Get ready. (John the Baptist would repeat this call to repentance; it is apropos still...)
And then this, who I am, who He is, what matters most:
"All flesh is grass..." it withers and fades when the Lord blows on it "BUT the Word of our God will stand forever."
Perspective. I'm listening...
Good News is here! Get a herald to shout it: "BEHOLD YOUR GOD!”
And the verses that follow are all about HIM...
He tends His flock like a shepherd.. he holds the oceans in His hand and measures the skies and weighs the mountains! Who can fathom His Spirit? He consults no one. [But think of it, this Spirit is alive in me, now-- wooing, instructing, reminding, renewing my mind to line up with God's Word, at this very moment!] The nations are no more than a drop in the bucket to Him. Who is like our God? What idol compares to Him? "Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning?..."
"It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers..."
As the Word speaks, my perspective is lifted away from myself to its rightful Object--
"Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?"
I look up to the trees towering all around and above me, the blue skies beyond them. How can I not see His greatness? It is all around me.
Then the Word becomes more personal, directed to Israel but applying to my own heart in principle--
Why do you say, O Jacob,...'my way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God?' (Is.40:27)
"Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength...
they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength..."
I was glued to the page, my heart drawn to listen to God's words echoing down all these ages to a woman on a hillside yearning to know and fulfill His purposes despite her incorrigible self-centeredness...
And here is meaning and purpose declared by my God and Creator, first to Israel, but by extension, as His redeemed one, to me also...
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine...created for my glory, whom I formed and made...
You are my witnesses, and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may KNOW and BELIEVE ME and UNDERSTAND that I am He....besides me there is no Saviour.
“I declared and saved and proclaimed, ...and you are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and I am God.... I am the LORD, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King....I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake and I will not remember your sins...Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.’"
Here is purpose, plain and simple, and yet big enough for a lifetime: Know me, Believe Me, Understand that I am God (and you are not!) and that you , as part of a corporate Body are my witnesses. God's priority for my life is first that I know Him and believe Him. His Word serves this purpose. It must be my first priority. In it He reveals who He is; feeding here faith is born. ("Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God"). Meanwhile life happens... with all its opportunities to exercise faith.
Picture the children of Israel in the desert, coming to know the walk of faith, coming to recognize the ways God worked on their behalf... Actually, they failed in this endeavor. They refused to believe and failed to see His faithful hand. They died in unbelief. "They have not know my ways...they shall not enter my rest" Ps.95:10 But their children were brought into the promised land and God brought Himself great renown through their conquests. He led. He gave the victories. He used their lives to showcase His glory. They were His witnesses by default as they came to know and believe Him.
Our lives too will showcase His glory in unique ways as we come to know God and to believe all He has said. For this I am created and molded. For this purpose He directs my days even when I cannot see His Hand at work...If there’s something to be learned from the children of Israel in the wilderness, it’s that whether I co-operate or not, God will be glorified in his dealings with me. He is faithful. He is sovereign. But if I harbor hardness of heart, I will be the one to die in the desert and miss out on the inheritance He has prepared… Hmm. Don’t want to take allegory too far. You can take or leave that last thought…just pondering ( :
At this point in the Bible narrative, with the nation of Israel in view, it's not so much a matter of their going out and intentionally BEING a witness (in the Great Commission sense). There is a sense in which our lives simply become testimonies to His greatness as we yield soft hearts to believe His Word and follow His leading. We are transformed and in the process, God gains renown as one who works wonders with clay!
"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." II Cor.3:18
I formed you for myself to declare my praise (Is.43:21)
But what does this all have to do with me and my fickle heart that is so readily turned inward and disheartened? My afternoon time on that sunny slope soaking up Son-shine through the Word put my focus back on this One who works wonders with clay and spins galaxies from air. Here is a worthy focus that won't come up short. He is a Rock like no other to steady my fickle heart.
And as I read from Isaiah Paul's advice to the converts of Phillipi resounded in my heart: Rejoice in the Lord, let me repeat it, for it is a safeguard for you, REJOICE in the Lord. If I only rejoice when I've had a 'good' day--gotten stuff done, gotten a shot of endorphins, been encouraged by what I've seen or heard...whatever it is that entails a 'good' day--I will know only erratic rejoicing. I will be disheartened when my source is myself. I was never intended to be satisfied with my own glory; it falls short. But His never does. When I anchor my thoughts in Him, taking Him at His Word, there is always cause to rejoice. He is a Rock like no other. His Words anchor Fickle to Faithful.
For who is a rock, except our God? Ps.18:31
This post is already longer than I'd intended it to be. There is all manner of treasure in Isaiah 40-44. I've only touched on a smattering of it. I commend it to you if ever you need a focus shift to something greater than yourself...
So, have I found all the answers to my ponderings about laying down my life in this strange middle age?
No, but I've been reminded of my primary purpose:
To Know Him
To Believe Him
and as I go on my way rejoicing in Him to be a living witness to His Greatness.
That should be enough for a lifetime!
"...who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” I Pet.1:5-7
“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”