For a long while, quite a few years of my life in fact, I was all engrossed in the idea of 'living a fruitful life for God.'
I didn't know exactly what that meant for me, but I was sure it wasn't the life I was already living. (There were plenty of awesome examples to inspire me: people I had met or heard about, who had done big things--to me--like make movies, start businesses, found movements, be witnesses, change lives...)
Sure, God wants us to serve in small ways too; but I was tired of serving in the small ways He had given me; I wanted to serve Him the way I wanted to.
'Fruitful life' went all the way to the top of my prayer list. I had all the ways I wanted to serve God--my ways--listed down, and I was frustrated because I couldn't see any chance of them happening.
God, isn't this a good desire You have given me? I argued. I really want to make an impact for You, do something Big for You! Why won't You answer me? Why won't You give me these opportunities?
It became the all-consuming issue in my spiritual life. Life itself became the scary one chance I had to fulfill all the dreams and hopes I had. Needless to say, I didn't enjoy my life very much, even if I did learn to value it as I ought. Neither was I on very good terms with God, since I felt He wasn't 'cooperating.'
Thank God, since then I've learnt many lessons about this topic, one of which is:
(one!) What really is our top priority in life?
It's really very simple.
Not my dreams and hopes.
Not my relationships with people.
Not for 'things to go well'--even good, truly desirable things, like spiritual maturity, conversions, etc.
Not even what I do for God.
These are all good things and they are parts of our lives which deserve our attention and involvement.
But ultimately, the most important thing is my relationship with You.
(not just before I come to believe in You, but even more much so after.
After all, the real crux of a life-long friendship is not the introduction
--even enemies require introductions--
but the carrying-on, the years which see your friendship grow and deepen, become stronger and better as it perseveres with time.)
That is the simplest and biggest priority in my life.
You made us not just so we could be useful to You and do things for You--that's not the kind of God You are.
You made us, primarily to love You and enjoy Your goodness, and be close to You as You originally intended us to be.
such a simple and good goal in essence.
Every day, I make mistakes.
I give in to sin.
I make dumb decisions.
I don't realize what I've done until I'm looking at the consequences, when it's too late to do anything.
I make resolutions with the best intentions in the world--
--and break them--
--sometimes don't even realize I've broken them till much later--
writhe in disappointment with myself
-despair at my helplessness
-disgust at the ugliness and weakness and just sheer unlovable-ness
(is that even a word? there's a squiggly red line under it as I type)
that I see in myself.
Hey, I used to be my No. 1 fan! What happened to the nice me I thought existed? Why didn't I realize for so long that that was just the gift wrapped version?
Happily, Jesus didn't base His love for me on how lovable I was. He knew what was inside, even before, and better, than I did. When no one--myself included--could have loved it, He did. His love is rightly the most amazing love ever; because it's the only love which does not depend on how lovable its object is.
O Lord, I know so well that I'm imperfect. Help me not to harp on these imperfections, to let them blind me to Your perfection.
Help me not just to learn humility from them, but also to appreciate Your love for me more.
...to have greater hope in Your ability to change me, in Your power to do so.
Help me not to be so wrapped up in Myself--whether in my successes or failures.
...to have empowering humility and joy.
Humility in myself, but joy in You.
Sometimes, especially in our largely first world society today, it's hard to be truly thankful.
I have lived years of mumbling dutiful, well-meant and completely insincere thank-you prayers (lasting an average of under five seconds) to God for meals and other 'basic' blessings.
It took me a while to realize that if my lack of true sincerity embarrassed even me, how much more God, Who knew my heart better than I did.
In my mind and with my mouth, I acknowledged them as blessings,
but in my heart--
Similarly, I thought I'd always been grateful for a stay-at-home mom who took care of our meals, reminded us to eat fruits, listened to our worries, made oatmeal for breakfast when we had to hurry out to a long day, and kept the house running as the hub that those of us working, studying, and going out relied on. But I didn't realize what it meant till she had to be away almost all day everyday, taking care of my grandpa after a major operation--and everything she had taken care of effortlessly fell to ME! Forget the oatmeal and fruits and aunt agony-ing. Managing to cook three decently healthy meals without buying out meant a victorious day.
I needed to lose my blessings before I could truly be thankful for them.
Actually, I didn't really see them as blessings; more like basic entitlements I deserved, even as I mumbled a hasty "I-know-I-don't-deserve-this-and-that-many-other-people-don't-have-what-I-do". In fact, my mind was usually preoccupied with what was really important to me: my prayer requests! God, give me this. God, please....I want this real bad.
DearGodthankYouforthisfood--I hate asparagus!--and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE LET ME SCORE WELL on this exam PLEASE..........
Similarly, another parent-child analogy...
Thank you Mom Dad for giving me a house to stay in, food to eat, clothes to wear and money to spend, but that's basic; and all parents have to love their kids like this by default, right? What I really want is an iPad, and if you get it for me then I'd really know you loved me. That's the type of love I want and need, what I define as real love.
And then off we go to college, or maybe something else happens which throws us on our own. And we realize that the cooking, cleaning, and earning has become more important than anything else, because suddenly no one's doing it for us anymore.
And only as we listlessly dump hot water into the hundredth cup noodles, drag ourselves out of bed groaning because that paycheck is our lifeline, stuff our dirty laundry into the washing machine higgledy-piggledy so the new red towel bleeds into our best white shirt and ruins it irrevocably--only then we realize that this sort of love, this patient, grueling, unglamorous, long-term and long-suffering sort of love is actually...important.
The type of love we need, that keeps us alive. The type of love which proves better than a million iPads that our parents do love us. The type of love we take for granted.
God loves us that way too.
Maybe we want iPad love from God, so to speak--want Him to love us our way, our definition of love. But maybe God's love for us is better than that, and better for us than that
--even if to us it looks like nothing more exciting than dirty laundry.
'I have loved you', says the Lord.
Yet you say, 'In what way have You loved us?'
"Ephraim is oppressed and broken in judgment, because he willingly walked by human precept."
When we run our lives by human logic, rules, or standards instead of God's--what happens?
We afflict ourselves.
Stress. Burn-out. Legalism. Double standards. Even wrong doctrine. And so on. So many issues can be traced to this root problem. When we embrace human precepts, our judgement becomes flawed. We make bad choices, value the wrong things, and end up 'oppressing, breaking' ourselves.
Oppressed--breaking. So many memories of those emotions flooded me that I couldn't stop underlining this verse.
In serving, as Christians: Why so stressed, Lord? So burnt-out, exhausted, breathless, discouraged?Sadly, we are imperfect. Our hearts may even have the right desires but our minds have our own ideas on how to carry them out. We rely on our own logic and wisdom, and afflict ourselves as result. I thought over this verse and tried to consider how I had been walking by human precepts, and so afflicting myself. I wanted to serve God, to help others see that He is real, and He is good. But maybe I was relying on my own logic and wisdom to do so. God did not intend for us to get burnt-out, disillusioned, or even superficial through serving Him. No! God is not pleased when I throw all my energy into something I think is service for Him; and get exhausted, discouraged, or self-righteous as result. I may think I've worked hard for God and pleased God just because I've drained myself dry--but have I?
I'm afflicting myself.
Maybe I've bought willingly into the values and perspective of the world. I think I can't be happy or fulfilled without other people's approval--popularity, 'coolness', achievements, and so on. Or, without having what everyone wants; freedom, relationships, possessions, etc. And I am crushed, broken, when I don't have them or can't have them.
I'm afflicting myself.
Or maybe, even in my relationships and perceptions of others and myself. Maybe I've formed my own ideas of how Christians should behave, and I make judgments on others that Christ would never have made. I forget the 'like me' part of 'they are sinners.'
Or God makes more sense to me this way, works better for me this way. I decide to worship the God I've created/tweaked accordingly, because I think my version's better than the Bible's.
I'm afflicting myself.
But as verse 15 continues, that's not the end of of it. God doesn't leave us to continue being oppressed and broken by ourselves:
"I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense.
Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me."
I am a very emotional person.
Feelings are something that keeps recurring in my thoughts and words, more than I realize, more than I like to admit.
It doesn't feel right to me. I feel depressed. You made me feel so loved. I'm on cloud nine. I just feel so discouraged.
I'm especially aware of this when I go through what I call 'bruised-reed moods'--can't pinpoint a concrete reason for feeling so discouraged and feeble; maybe it was an accumulation of little things, but whatever it was, it made me feel weak, crushed, emotionally frail and helpless.
Often my feelings are in direct conflict with God--the main thing making it so hard.
I feel like You're not there, You're not hearing me, You don't care about me.
This makes me feel so good, I can't give it up!
I feel like I've burnt out trying, doing, giving; I can't anymore, Lord.
I know I should find my peace and joy and satisfaction in You, but I don't feel like I do.
I know You love me but I'm not feeling it.
I know I should trust You but I just feel so afraid and worried about what's happened, what's going to happen.
But hey. Feelings aren't bad. Remember that relatively rare bliss you felt when something in your devotional reading speaks to you like a megaphone--when you've prayed with your heart bleeding in your tears, and looked up with peace given to you--when you can feel His love for you, as tangibly as if He was a physically present Friend giving you a hug--?
What if our feelings glorified God? What if my feelings were an additional motivation to me in loving Him better, serving Him better, witnessing for Him better, instead of being the opposite force?
Our emotions mustn't become our god. They were meant for us to worship our Creator with; to enhance our understanding of Him, relationship with Him, and love of Him.
"I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely." Hosea 14:4
When the Israelites repented of their sins, God forgave them--more than forgave them.
I wondered when I first read this verse why the word healed. After all, it's not the usual word you use with backsliding.
Why not forgive, or forget, or overlook?
How can anyone heal backsliding?
No one can.
No one can heal mistakes, failures, sins, much as we wish we could.
But God can. He is all powerful; and if He's said He will heal our backsliding, He can--and He will.
I felt humbly in awe when the full meaning of 'heal their backsliding' hit me.
Lord--can You really, will You really do this?Undo all my mistakes, failures, sins--as if they weren't there?Can I hope for something as amazing and miraculous as that? I've made so many bad choices. There are so many tragic consequences that follow when I backslide. Can You really erase all that, as it were?
Heal. No more feeling as if I ruined my life irrevocably. No more ceaseless, hopeless regret and shame and guilt.
And not only that; He will 'love us freely'.
God loves us. Most of us know that phrase. But consider that, after considering all that He has seen and known--which is everything--of our backsliding. And freely at that! Without even the least shadow of resentment, dissatisfaction, reluctance, or a grudge that we took so long to repent. As if we had never failed Him and sinned against Him--as if we were coming to Him for the first time in repentance, not the hundredth time. I couldn't do that. If I were ever in God's place, in a relationship like the one I have with Him, I would be cynical and grudging and dubious, and I couldn't continue to forgive, much less love, freely.
He will heal our backsliding, and He will love us freely. What keeps us from repenting, when it means returning to such a good God.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are