Friday, September 11, 2015

In Which God Gives Me a Song

He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. ~ Psalm 40:3

Nobody told me this would feel like grief. That sending off my firstborn son - whom I know is in God’s good hands - to his school of choice, into a future that I happily anticipate– would leave me with this sloshing, splashing bucket of sorrow in my gut. 

They say when you have a child, it’s like a piece of your heart is walking around outside of your body. Well, I’m still adjusting to my six-foot-tall chunk-of-heart living 300 miles away. I miss him with a visceral missing: his chatty dinner conversation, his young-man swagger, his broad shoulders and even broader grin, his penchant for knowing when I need a helping hand or a bear hug.

Don’t misunderstand: I’m also full to overflowing with Jesus’ peace and joy; I see God’s fingerprints all over these sorrows – and even when I don’t, I know He’s there. I know one day my “inner bucket” won’t feel so heavy. It’s just wondering how to deal with it in the now.

I mean, I have a life to live, a husband and son to love and enjoy, responsibilities calling my name, bathrooms crying out for Clorox. But grief still sucker-punches me in the most mundane moments: as I chop vegetables for dinner, in the middle of Zumba class, while driving to pick up Ben from co-op. I have to pause to catch my breath and blink back my tears.

And so I listen, once again, to Tim Keller’s “Praying Your Tears.” I retreat into a book or Words with Friends, drink coffee and stare at the mountains, waiting for this feeling to go away. It doesn’t.

So I budget a few hours with God on a Saturday afternoon, thinking that maybe I need to talk this through with Him; maybe He’s got a quick-fix Scripture for me, something to turn off this spigot (okay, firehose).“God, I know you’re there. Can you just point me to a passage, a promise, to be a strong wall against these pounding, tidal wave emotions? That’s all I need. I’ll be fine. Really.”

But God doesn’t give me a verse or a promise that afternoon. Instead, He makes this crystal clear: These emotions aren’t sinful, and they will take time to subside. Gulp.

It wasn’t until the next day, in worship, that God truly answered my plea - but not with a Bible-verse-band-aid to stop (or at least hide)my bleeding; no. He gave me a song. A song that I sang loudly, as what felt like half a bucket’s worth of tears streamed down my cheeks. Relieved to find tissues in my purse (for once), I didn’t leave the service to collect myself or check my face for mascara tiger-stripes. Those tears were worship and lament and praise and prayer, and I didn’t want to miss a moment of Him.


It was like God said: “I have given you Myself. You need Me every hour, every moment. You have no idea when your flash flood emotions are going to break loose, or when they are going to stay calm for the day. But no matter what, I am here. My BIG buckets of joy and peace and life in you remain constant, long after this sorrowful one is emptied. No matter what peaks and valleys your emotions travel today, I am fulfilling every promise I’ve made to you, in you. Even in this hour.”

I think about Jesus’ very human emotions. He was no stranger to grief and sorrow. A friend who mourned with his friends at their brother’s graveside. A Saviour who wept over people who would not receive His salvation. An intercessor who cried ashe prayed. I remember that the tender human heart of Jesus is to be my heart also.  

So maybe the goal in this season is different than what I have been thinking this past month. Maybe the goal isn’t:

…To cry less. (Or, at least, less visibly.)
…To “get myself together.”

Maybe, instead, the goal is:

…To cry every tear in God’s presence.
…To more fully receive whatever He’s offering when those sucker-punches come.
…To open up my heart to receive other hurting hearts whom God sends my way.
…To let the tender compassion of Jesus be expressed through my life.

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life. ~ Psalm 42:8

Listen to the song that God gave me here.

Friday, September 4, 2015

God's Self-Portrait (In Seven Words)

Imagine: You are called upon to introduce God. You are limited to seven adjectives, seven descriptive phrases, that capture His essence. Not words that describe his roles (Creator, King, Judge) or the things He loves (His people, Justice, Holiness). But describe Him, Who He is.

So, what would your seven words be? (Go ahead; write them down. I’ll wait.)  

God had previously revealed Himself to Moses via a burning bush, and through the Law He gave Israel through Moses hand. But a shrub on fire and those lists of rules were just not enough for Moses to really know who this God was. So Moses asked God to reveal His glory (which means, literally, His “weight,” His very essence), and God agreed.  

And he said, “Please, show me Your glory.” Then [God] said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you.” (Exodus 33:18-19)

God’s unveiled His glory, His goodness, to Moses by speaking seven words and phrases.

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining mercy for thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin . . .” (Exodus 34:6-7a*)  

Did you catch all seven?

1. compassionate
2. gracious
3. slow to anger (longsuffering)
4. abounding in love (covenantal love or hesed)
5. abounding in faithfulness
6. maintaining mercy (again, hesed)
7. forgiving

So, how does this compare to your list?  

Perhaps you wrote words like: Holy. All-Knowing. Powerful. Creative. Ever-Present. Just. Pure. Surely, we see God described with those words (and many more) throughout Scripture. Yet, when He chose to reveal His glory at Moses’ request, He didn’t choose phrases that highlight His awe-inspiring, flawless ‘other-ness.’ He chose words that communicate His inviting accessibility, His relentless love for His people, His dogged faithfulness. As Sally Lloyd-Jones (author of the “TheJesus Storybook Bible”) puts it, God’s hesed is His “never-stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”  

This is God’s self-revelation. This is how He defines His goodness, His glory.

God’s winsome self-portrait reappears throughout the Old Testament, like a chorus that never grows old. Whether in corporate prayer, individual worship, or penitent prayer, these phrases have been employed by God’s people ever since God first spoke them to Moses on a desert mountain. (See Numbers 14:18, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, Psalm 103:8, Psalm 145:8, Joel 2:13, and Jonah 4:2. And that’s just for starters.)

In the New Testament, this familiar refrain seems to fade. Oh, there are whispers of it in 2 Corinthians 3 and 4, which we’ll explore in my next post. But it resonates fully and clearly in just one passage: John 1:14, 17-18.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth . . . For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. But the only begotten Son, who is at the Father’s side, has declared Him.  

Why are God’s seven words all but absent from the New Testament? Because they are embodied – literally – in the body and life of His Son. Jesus shows up: God’s spoken self-portrait wearing human skin. Grace and truth – used together, as they are here (twice!) – are resounding echoes of the word used in our Exodus passage (twice!): hesed, the persistent covenant love and faithfulness of God. Jesus’ life, from manger to cross and beyond, sings that same precious lyric of God’s glory.

Jesus Christ is God’s goodness, His glory, personified. He is compassion, grace, longsuffering, covenant love and faithfulness, mercy, forgiveness. That awesome revelation made on Mount Sinai to Moses more than 3,000 years ago is now a Person, who calls us to trust Him, follow Him, and live out His life in us, as we behold God’s glory in His face (2 Corinthians 4:6).

So, what does this mean for your life and mine? Stay tuned: That’s the topic of my next post.

(*NOTE – For the purposes of this meditation, I’ve omitted Exodus 34:7b, which continues God’s self-description: “by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation.” This phrase is repeated in Exodus 20:5-6 with the qualifying phrase, “of those who hate (or reject) me.” God is the Judge of those individuals who are not part of His covenant family. Because I’m discussing God’s character as it pertains to believers, I have purposely left out this portion of the passage.)

If you’re hungry for more: read this