11 August 2012

Submission, Part I


“I don’t even know what that is,” I confessed to God. Not really, truly, and deeply. 

I had just spent four months in a city with no curfew, free to come and go and immerse myself in Andalusian culture at all hours of the day and night, anywhere my feet or bicycle could take me. With my nostrils still full of the aroma of orange blossoms, my eyes still wet from tearful farewells, and my tongue still finding my way around the English language all over again, I prayed,

“God, teach me submission.”

I unpacked my bags just long enough to empty the souvenirs, and pack them again for 10 weeks of inner city ministry in Indianapolis.

That first weekend in Indiana we spent at a beautiful campsite with all the interns and staff. Everything started with a prayer walk—and one of the “stops” was to pick up and read a letter written to us by our mentors. The “mentor” I had chosen was a woman from my church I loved dearly, yet barely knew.

“God is going to prune you,” she wrote. It was a long letter. He does this because He loves me, so I can bear more fruit. And when the pain seems too much to bear, wrap your face in His robes and cry, there at His feet. He will heal you in those moments, she said. Everyone had finished the prayer walk, but I was re-reading the pages of my letter, my eyes brimming with tears. My spirit bore witness with her spirit that this prophecy would come true. It moved me to think of God’s love for me as His precious daughter.

Soon, the summer had taken off and we were sweating hours in the sun, leading eager 12 year-olds in demolishing old houses down to the frames, to rebuild them as dwelling places for the poor. I was also teaching English to immigrants and interpreting at a women’s center. I was always busy, but as a friend warned—being busy is not what really matters. What matters is that we sit at the feet of Jesus, and learn from Him. We learn wait for Him, to rejoice in His presence, to drink from the cup in His hand.

I wanted that. God wanted that for me, He INVITED me. But I was so busy. Busy looking back: back to Spain, back to the college I would leave for a year, back to Dayton where my family was. Facebook "helped" me do all this looking, instead of looking to God, and delighting myself in His abundance (Isaiah 55:2).

The ache in my heart for Seville, mi querida ciudad, grew with each day. Suddenly, my upcoming trip to Panama seemed a horrible idea. How could I keep going like this, leaving behind my family and my church people I love to make new friends in a new culture and a new host family, and then leave them behind, too?

“God, I’m not made for this. I’m not strong enough. It hurts too much, God!” I cried.

God just listened, and waited. “Therefore YHWH will wait, that He may be gracious to you” (Isaiah 30:18a). 

One day after interpreting at the women’s center for an abortion-minded client from Guatemala, my heart ached with a mix of compassion, inadequacy, and discouragement. I had never felt what this women felt, who had her first child at age 14. Now she was 21, but hadn’t seem her son since age 17. Now she was in a new land, alone and pregnant. ImagĂ­nate. Just imagine.

“No, I can’t imagine,” I said. In my heart I knew God had called me to minister to women rescued from sex trafficking, and this was just a step in that direction, but in my fear I heard and accepted the lie that I was unworthy and uncapable of doing what God had called me to.

“I can’t do this. I don’t know how that feels. I can repeat what the interpreter says but I can never do this myself--training or no training. I don’t have the words to say, not for that. If I do business as mission, I can teach the business. Someone else can sort through all the heartache--someone with a counseling degree."

That weekend, I went to Richmond, Indiana for a youth worship service. My brother David came from Dayton, and Richmond was the halfway point. It was also the location of the boarding school where God transformed David, and took him from a life of addiction and desperate, unfulfilled pursuit—to a vibrant, free life in the Holy Spirit.

As I worshiped, I was surrounded by strange and beautiful expressions of praise, but these were intermingled with manifestations of other spirits. Girls whipped around wildly or yelled haphazardly.  There was a battle between truth and lies, light and darkness, right in that moment.  I knew we were worshiping God, but I could smell the battle. It was a familiar scent, of a battle I did not want to—and even said I could not—fight.

Inadequacy swept over me again.

“God, show me a sign for good. If You’re here in this place, if You care—really care—about me! Little old me! Then I will be selfish enough to ask You to show up here. Because I need You. I need to know we are somehow reaching a feeling, caring, live, listening, seeing, breathing God with our praises, and that You overcome evil. I need to see it.”

I began to weep. “God, You only know how much I need you. I am dry, weary, alone, and sad. Unequipped and inadequate. How can anyone see Jesus in me? How can I do the work You called me to do?”

I stopped. I waited. 

“You are called to minister to the nations!”

I looked up. The director of the girls’ dorm was praying for me. I recognized her, but we had never spoken.

“The same God who called you is willing and able to take you through it. Do not doubt His calling on your life! He will do what He has promised!"

Tears gathered beneath my closed lids. 

She continued: “You are NOT destined to make the same mistakes your mother has made, or other people in your family! The buck stops here! You will walk in God’s steps! You will be a woman who nurtures the heart of her husband and lovingly cares for her children!”

I wept.

If a perfect stranger can be so connected to the Holy Spirit that their words go directly to my heart without having ever spoken a word, exactly after I had desperately pleaded for God’s help—why couldn’t I do the same?

I could! I can! I do! The same Spirit lives in me!

I am not a counselor, I am not a nurse, I am not an expert. But I have the Holy Spirit. “My grace is sufficient for you. .  . My power is made perfect in weakness.”

The summer passed quickly, but not without moments of testing. I had to humble myself, ask for forgiveness, and keep going.

Soon, it was time for Panama. I bought the ticket at last because God said,

“Tarshish, the belly of the fish, or the dry tree of complaining? Which one do you want? Or will you just take My way? The way that goes straight to Panama, your Ninevah filled with blessings—because it is the way I have chosen for you.”

I couldn’t really argue with that, so I decided not to. I was Abigail, a wise a pure woman, a Father's pure joy--not Jonah. I wouldn't be Jonah, I said. But in my heart, I still doubted God’s goodness in leading me there, away from everyone I loved, all over again. 

That's why our hearts are called "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked". He knew what He was doing. It all went back to that one word, that solitary request for submission which I had nearly forgotten. . . .

10 August 2012

Theology, Grace, and Things Too Wonderful to Understand

I have considered and read a lot on the various sides of the Calvinism/Open Theism debate, but I have not arrived at any systematic theological conclusion.

Last Saturday, somewhere in the second volume of Jesus Freaks, a kind of modern-day Foxe's Book of Martyr's, I read something like this (paraphrased as I remember it): "God is Truth. The Bible is the truth about Truth. And Theology is the truth about the truth about Truth. Most Christians spend their time entirely in the last two. But it is us (speaking of persecuted Christians), who have known, in those prison cells and moments of torture and despair, without a Bible or a sermon or anything tangible to comfort us--- it us who have known such ecstasy and peace and joy through the presence of Christ--- that we would not trade it for anything."

Knowledge can puff up, whereas only the Spirit of God can awaken our hearts to Truth. This does not devalue the pursuit of the knowledge of God, which is necessary, but how much we would miss if in our pursuit of the knowledge of God, we forgot to pursue God Himself. The Bible and Theology help, but a miracle of God is absolutely necessary if we are to experience Ephesians 1:15-23.

So, in my sometimes waning pursuing of God Himself, and His relentless pursuit of me, I am seeing the character of a God who is completely loving, completely just, completely knowing of everything past and present and future, and yet still somehow, someway, allows the weak mutterings we call prayers, to reach the throne room of God. Just as the prophet declared to Hezekiah that he was going to die, but Hezekiah humbled himself and wept bitterly before God and repented, and God relented and gave him 15 more years to live---that same God actually listens and acts according to our prayers. It is one of the most amazing and mysterious things, and it is all because of Jesus' blood. Now we can come boldly before the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Someone said to me recently, all of our prayers are weak. We get discouraged to even pray, because our words seem so inadequate and empty to express what is on our hearts, or what we want to feel but don't always feel. But God chose the foolish and weak things to shame the wise and the strong. He chose something as simple as opening your mouth and asking an invisible God to act, even when we don't know what to say and we feel like He is not listening. . . . He chose that to move mountains. He chose that to heal wounds. He chose our weak expressions of dependence on Him to set the captives free.

Here is a song about the Gospel I listened to over and over again at work on Monday. It brought me to tears again to think of how Jesus chose the cross for us. His humility,majesty, love, and grace astound me: