Having grown up in a Christian family, I can't remember a time when I didn't know about God. So I found it confusing when I was seeking salvation. How did I know when I was 'saved'? After all, I had always believed that God was real--admitted I was a sinner--that Jesus had to save me so I could be reconciled to God. I knew the Gospel well.
What was it that I had to do to be saved?
Because I knew, very clearly, that though I went to church every Sunday, helped to serve, sang hymns, did my devotions, and prayed sincerely, that I wasn't actually a Christian, that something vitally important about my heart was missing. I looked at the Christians around me and knew that though perhaps, judging from outward actions, I might appear quite similar, God was somehow 'realer' to them.
God, Jesus, faith, all these were deeply and fiercely personal realities to them rather than the concepts they were to me--much the same way you study chemistry. Of course, you believe diatomic molecules are real, and that they affect things. But they aren't really real to you the way your sibling, a friend, your pet, or even your water bottle--something you see and interact with everyday. You could live perfectly happy and undisturbed without having ever heard of, or understanding, diatomic molecules. You know about them, but they don't actually affect you and your life (unless there's a chemistry exam; I suppose, to continue the analogy, that means death--?)
Of course, as you would know if you read my testimony, it was coming to see my own sin, not just acknowledge it, and truly feel the weight of what it meant to be a sinner, which was the turning point for me. My pursuit of God became more than an uneasy attempt to stop my worries about Hell, and became a deadly earnest pursuit of Life.
' No man can grasp salvation until he is horrified by the works of his hands...
Every man faces a day when guilt transforms from an abstract concept to a soul-crippling infection.'
I thought I knew my Bible pretty well even then, but looking back, I wish I'd read Isaiah 29:13 earlier, and grasped what it meant.
'Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths,
And honor Me with their lips,
But have removed their hearts far from Me,
and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men...'
Yes, I had feared God, and I had honored Him--but not so much because I really knew Him, as because I knew I should. I worshiped Him merely because I admitted He was my Creator and Master--not because He was worth worshiping, the only thing worth worshiping, because it was a joy and glory to worship Him.
Jonathan Edwards called this the 'true sense of God', something he himself experienced in his own conversion:
'There is not only a rational belief that God is holy, and that holiness is a good thing, but there is a sense of the loveliness of God's holiness. There is not only a speculatively judging [a rational assessment] that God is gracious, but a sense how amiable [lovable/worth loving] God is upon that account, or a sense of the beauty of this divine attribute.'
(Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney, Jonathan Edwards: Lover of God)
Having discussed all that, the truth remains that God alone can work this in your heart. After reading this you may realize that's your problem; but the realization isn't the cure. All it can do is help you to pray specifically.
Perhaps you are struggling with this--just as I did once. My heart goes out to you, whoever you are. I know how confused and anguished I felt, feeling as if I knew both everything and nothing, feeling like I was groping in the dark even though I saw the light all around me--but not touching me.
Perhaps you're complacently drifting, content with the external honoring of God, and secure in your sincerity (sincerity isn't enough; you may truly believe a tsunami is coming but what saves you is acting upon that belief. Isn't it?)
Well, I was like that once too.
May your heart be aroused and wakened as mine was, to become discontented with anything superficial, everything less than this 'true sense of God.'
It is transforming. It is empowering. It is freedom, and it is good.
This year, Mother's Day set me thinking--not just about how much, or what about, I appreciate my own mother (and that's a lot, to both!)--but also on what it means to be a godly woman.
What defines a 'woman after God's heart'--because that's what I need to examine my life for, and work towards.
The classic Bible passage on a godly woman is Proverbs 31 (yes, there's Titus 2 in the New Testament, too; but there's already so much material in Proverbs 31; so maybe next Mother's Day...)--for good reason.
Years ago (so many years ago that I can't find that post now, or I'd include the link!) I read a little sharing by Jamie Delainie on this passage, which taught me to read making applications to our modern lifestyle and world.
(Which is how we should be reading our Bibles--especially the Old Testament, which may seem hopelessly distant and un-relatable otherwise. Read with a mind to examine what is our modern equivalent, how this root-sin manifests itself today in our world, culture, and lives.)
I found my old notes on her post (my notes on her notes, actually) and did another rereading of Proverbs 31 myself; and slowly it came together...
A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
She is trustworthy AND capable. Not one without the other.
She is someone to rely on.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
She is free from commitment issues. Her love is self-sacrificial, not self-centered--she strives to bless others through her relationships, instead of treating them as means to meet her own needs.
13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
She is a diligent worker (this is repeated to become a main theme in the passage)
as well as a cheerful and willing one.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
She is an early riser (a lifestyle trait which is valuable not in itself--aka it's not the time we get up so much as the fact that it reflects our hearts and how we spend our lives; and it enables us to do more.)
She provides for everyone and everything under her care/responsibility, all those who are dependent on her, even if they're lowly. (think a bit about YOUR equivalent of the OT 'maidservants'; your pets? Or even your plants?)
16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She has learned to think logically and make wise decisions, not just about regarding herself and her own resources/abilities, but even about others.
This could be how you manage your company's finances and needs, your education and the developing of your mind and talents; or your family's budget.What's yours?
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
I really liked Jamie's interpretation for this verse--she maintains a standard of health. Knowing that it is important because her body is a gift from God, and because it enables her to work and live well.
And we can see it in another light too; she purposefully equips and trains herself for the work that is hers. Her enthusiasm for her work shows even in her preparation for it.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
She knows her own value in a good way--no false humility, which is really a twisted form of pride.
Neither, however, does it cause her to grow complacent and slack.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
Again, she works hard. But she works with initiative and vision--not merely meeting needs. She seeks out useful and worthwhile work, with a sense for both the essential as well as the nice-to-have's.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
She is generous. She seeks to do good, to share and to bless others from the resources, abilities, or surplus that God has given to her.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
With beauty and love, which transcend duty, she takes care of her home as well as the people she shares it with--and, though it may surprise some of you, herself.
She dresses with dignity (think modesty) and beauty. She doesn't lose sight of the gift of femininity, or appreciation of beauty as expressed in different ways--her individuality
isn't stifled or sacrificed by all her serving and labour, but instead is complemented.
Of course, above that she first focuses on inner beauty... (v 25)
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
She enables and complements her husband's work, by doing her own well and supporting him in his (which are separate yet also intrinsically linked!)
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
Again, she labors--but she does this with an eye for beauty and she labors on good, worthwhile things which benefit others and do them good.
(Remember, just because we're giving our blood sweat and tears doesn't mean the thing we give them for is automatically good. Stop and think; is what you're laboring for worthwhile?)
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
She is distinguished first by her outstanding inner beauty,not by how pretty she looks or how well she dresses. This is a much-needed balance for v22; many of us tend to stray to one extreme or the other, and harm ourselves as a result.
And this is reflected in her attitude towards the future--one of joy and confidence and hope. If she has invested her life and efforts in the right things, she looks forward joyfully to their fruits without fear (of aging; of losing popularity; and the list goes on.)
26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
Perhaps one of the most badly-needed reminders--because one of the easiest to forget.
She watches over her words--they are kind, wise, and useful.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
She does not tolerate idleness in her own life, and she does not encourage it in others-- whether simply by the example and influence of her own life, or/and by purposeful instruction (such as mothers to their children, mentors to their proteges)
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
She is honored by the people closest to her. Her worth, and the blessing she is to others, is acknowledged by--and this is the greatest test--the people closest to her, who actually live with her. It is easier to be a blessing to say, orphans in a faraway country you seldom or never see, than to be a blessing to the people you live with, whose imperfections you know as well as they know yours.
This also reflects the indisputable goodness of her character and works, by their fruit.
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Once again, in a world and a culture that--here, at least, the Old Testament is not that un- relatable--emphasizes appearance and popularity as what women should chase after, the reminder of what ultimately matters in man and woman alike.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
Stop and think a bit--for once not about yourself, but about the women you know who have faithfully lived out their love for God, in whose lives you can see these traits of a godly woman. Appreciate their labors. Honor them.
So thank you, all the wonderful women I know in whose lives I see these traits; and most of all, my very own Motherest for being such a true, real-life example of a godly woman.
Diligence and self-sacrificial love have both been significant characteristics of your life, as well as a lively delight in beauty and goodness. My prayer is that I will learn from your life and be like you--an instrument of God and an example to others. .
Concerts, like movies or good books or theater, are times when you temporarily forget about yourself, and instead are immersed in something greater and nobler, more wonderful and beautiful than yourself.
And that's precisely why we enjoy them. If they didn't temporarily lift us up to greater concerns and passions than that of our everyday, often self-centered and shallow little obsessions, they haven't really touched us--haven't really done what they were supposed to do.
As with all good and beautiful things--or experiences--this can be a foretaste of what it means to be immersed in God.
Listening to one instrument play, you can hear and feel the scope of its range and abilities, and it seems so rich and complete you can't imagine it being any more so.
One instrument alone sounds so full, so complete--as indeed it is. Ask any musician.
But once the full strains of an orchestra come together you realize it's a whole new dimension of fullness. Something which takes the individual 'fullness' of individual instruments and combines them into one vast, breathtakingly glorious sea of fullness.
Our individual walk with God is a rich and complete experience in itself. It is the foundation and beginning of all real fulfillment and joy we will ever experience in this life--and the one beyond.
Yet we haven't truly plunged the depths of what it means to know and experience God, without the fellowship of God's people.
With our brothers and sisters in Christ, together as the church of God, we'll be able to transcend that individual fullness--which is complete, but yet only the foundation for a greater and more glorious fullness...together.
We don't experience as much delight in Christ as we know we should and know we could.
We are so wrapped up in our struggles, our failures, our sins, that we've lost sight of delighting in God; we go to Him for forgiveness, for strength, for guidance--but joy?
If we're absolutely honest with ourselves, we know that the delight we experience in our lives is almost exclusively found elsewhere.
Happiness. When was the last time you felt happy, and why? What delights you and gives you joy?
If you're like me, you probably feel a small twinge of guilt as the answers pop up in your head.
Why is God so low down on the list?
Of course, this doesn't mean that we can't enjoy things that aren't explicitly about God. They are gifts from His hand and reflections of His goodness, and He means us to find delight in them.
The question is rather whether we see them as such. If they are truly gifts/reflections which are good in themselves--shouldn't the One Who created and gave them be even better?
Maurice Roberts wrote excellently on this:
“Ecstasy and delight are essential to the believer’s soul and they promote sanctification."
Whoa. I don't know about you, but reading that for the first time was a revelation. I had never seen ecstasy as 'essential' or 'promoting sanctification'--more as a kind of bonus (if you could get it.)
And as result I had never purposefully pursued it--just ambled along expecting it to drop down on me if convenient. Let me tell you that this is not a good method of achieving things, spiritual or otherwise. Glorifying God is an intentional pursuit.
Here's the most striking part of the whole passage: (in my opinion--but then I found all of it pretty amazingly jaw-dropping)
"We were not meant to live without spiritual exhilaration, and the Christian who goes for a long time without the experience of heart-warming will soon find himself tempted to have his emotions satisfied from earthly things and not as he ought, from the Spirit of God."
We need to seek our 'ecstasy' from the Source. I think we all agree on that. But the reason why we find it so hard is because we've settled for the easier, but second-rate (comparatively, shallow) ecstasy from earthly things.
"The soul is so constituted that it craves fulfillment from things outside itself and will embrace earthly joys for satisfaction when it cannot reach spiritual ones…"
God made us to desire and enjoy ecstasy. Ecstasy in itself is one of His gifts. We were made to desire and pursue it--ultimately to find it in God. But too often our sin-tainted eyes get smeared over and we go groping after other things, things which seem sparkly and colorful and so much closer to our grasping hand than the golden glory of God.
"...The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go for any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savouring the felt comforts of a Saviour’s presence.
When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction, our souls will go in silent search of other lovers...
...By the enjoyment of the love of Christ in the heart of a believer we mean an experience of the “love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us” (Romans 5:5)…Because the Lord has made Himself accessible to us in the means of grace, it is our duty and privilege to seek this experience from Him in these means till we are made the joyful partakers of it.”
The Thought of God
We need to pursue ecstasy as Christians. Because God intended us to. Because it is hugely important in our spiritual growth or decline. Because it transforms us.
And simplest of all, because it is an aspect of our God.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are