Laying it all at the altar.
There comes a moment when you have to let go.
To lay it on the altar.
All of it.
Whatever is troubling you.
Whatever hurts or letdowns you might have from the past.
Whatever ideas you may have had about how life was supposed to go.
Rejections. Disappointments. Bitterness. Brokenness. Failures. Unforgiveness. Unanswered questions.
And with that comes the freedom to embrace the future.
This is truly a difficult thing to do. We think we must protect ourselves; to make sure we never get hurt again. If we stay angry, on guard, we will surely hurt less in the future.
But the opposite is true. By holding on to the pains of the past, we imprison ourselves from the possibilities of the future. Our paths are not yet chosen; there is much to be explored. Hopes. Dreams. Opportunities. Surprises. Unexpected answers. Growth. Healing. Freedom. By letting go, and laying it all at the altar, we are proving to God that we trust Him with our future. Looking back over the many stories in scripture, everyone was required to let go of something when God called.
Peter had to let go of the boat in order to walk on the water.
Jonah had to let go of his plans in order to be rescued from the belly of the fish.
Moses had to let go of his fears in order to become the leader God called him to be.
Paul, who once was Saul, had to let go of his eyesight, briefly, in order to truly see.
The woman at the well had to let go of her search for love and acceptance in all the wrong places, in order to truly find it.
Noah had to let go of his reputation.
Matthew had to let go of his career.
Mary had to let go of her childhood.
Joseph had to let go of his doubts about Mary.
Thomas had to let go of his own explanations.
Even Jesus had to let go of his own will.
He pleaded for God to find another way, but accepted his answer willingly.
Laying it all at the altar is a sign of trust. It's a way of saying, "I am ready to try your way."
It's a way of letting go of garbage or ashes from the past.
And God is thrilled when he can finally show us the plans he has for us, without the restrictions from our past.
Isaiah 43:18 - 19 Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
Keeping life in perspective
I recently found myself in an odd place.
Abandoned, if you will.
I was at church, returning a few items that I had borrowed for an event. That in itself it not so odd.
What was rare is that I found myself in the building completely alone.
It was a holiday, so the staff members that normally would have been there were at home, with their families.
Drawn into the sanctuary, I started singing the words to one of my favorite songs.
"It's just You and me here now. Only You and me here now..."
I wandered in and took a seat on the front pew. Then, I remembered a time when I had been there before.
Abandoned, if you will.
It was almost 28 years ago, when this auditorium was still being built. I probably wasn't supposed to be in there at the time, but had sneaked past the "Caution" tape to spend a few minutes alone with God.
I could still smell the drywall paste on the walls that surrounded me. There were no lights inside; the only source of light leaked through the openings that would soon hold the entrance doors, casting larger than life shadows across the stage. The beams above me creaked and groaned, as if warning that I should not have been there. It should have been enough to cause me to flee from the almost finished building.
But fear was the last thing I was feeling.
On that day, I laid on the newly installed pews, some still covered in plastic where they were finishing the final touches. I buried my face in my hands, and cried uncontrollably.
That was the reason I had gone in there.
God and I both knew it.
I splayed before Him my situation; my unanswered questions; my greatest fears.
I confessed my mistakes, asked for forgiveness, and then wondered if there was some way He might still bless my future.
There, in that auditorium, when I had burst past the 'Caution' tape of life, God met me.
And He said "yes."
He promised to walk with me through some of the most trying times of my life.
And those times soon became the most triumphant times of my life.
Because of Him.
Because I sought Him.
Because I met Him there.
Alone. On the front pew.
Abandoned, if you will.
Looking back, I realized that my questions from 28 years ago were answered in ways I didn't even have the strength or faith to dream of back then. My 'ending' much happier than I deserved.
I left there, keenly aware of the gift of perspective. it changed everything, once I focused on all that God has done, rather than on what He is yet to do.
In both instances, almost 28 years apart from each other, I found what I was looking for. I left singing the same song that brought me there.
"It's just You and me here now. Only You and me here now...."
Can you share a time when God intervened and provided a much happier ending than you thought possible?
I am on a path that leads somewhere.
At least, I hope it does.
Every day, I face numerous decision points.
Should I do this, or that?
Go this way or that way?
Spend or save?
Eat out or stay in?
Sometimes, the choices are huge. Life-changing. Family-altering.
Accept the transfer, or find a new job?
Buy or rent?
Move, or stay?
Go on a mission trip?
Audition for that role?
Apply for that promotion?
Go away for college?
So many decisions. So many unknowns. So much room for doubt.
I've come to recognize that I make better choices when I focus on the long-term, rather than the short-term. If I save now, I will have more to spend later. If I exercise now, I will feel better later. If I invest in a relationship now, it will be stronger later.
The bigger picture matters more than the one that I can currently see. As a matter of fact, when I am in the midst of the confusion of day-to-day life, from my point of view, it rarely makes sense. I feel like I am spinning my wheels, going nowhere at times. I feel as if I am accomplishing nothing in the short-term, which gives me reason to doubt the long-term. I need signs of progress along the way, and some days, there simply are none.
Some days, I feel as if I am stuck.
I long to be at the end of this journey, crossing the finish line in triumph, and proving to the world that this was the right path. If this is a marathon, my marathon, I feel ill-prepared, as if I trained for the wrong race.
But God is still here. He lifts my eyes to His. He guides my steps, even if they are going much slower than I had hoped.This is my journey, and He led me here. And that is enough for me. Because I may not know where this path, here on earth, is leading. But I do know that in the end, it leads me to Heaven, and straight into His arms. So, for today, I am focusing on the unseen. The eternal.The end.
II Corinthians 4:18 - So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, and what is unseen is eternal.
Can you share a time that you doubted your own journey, but later found proof of ways that God was working all along?
I love my morning walks. Alone, with the wind blowing through my hair. I marvel at the sky, the way the trees form an arc over my path, kissing me with leaves as I walk underneath. The sun warms my shoulders, keeping my focus upward, rather than on my feet.
When I look down, I see no further than the next step. When I look straight ahead, I see no further than the next bend, unsure of where the path leads. But by looking upward, I know enough to keep walking, trusting that I cannot see the big picture from my perspective. So, I keep walking.
Sometimes, I question whether or not I am on the right path. Should I turn around, and go back? Did I make a wrong turn? How did I get here, and what if this particular path makes a fool out of me?
With writing, I seek acceptance, approval, publication. With speaking, I seek opportunity, and covet the immediate feedback of the expressions on the faces of my audience. With the job search, I seek interviews, acceptance, approval, and a paycheck.
It is difficult to wait, and I cannot simply choose to do nothing. Instead, I keep walking. Maybe this path leads through a valley. Still, I keep walking. This path is lonely, but God is with me. I know this. I grow from this. I recognize all that falls beyond my control. I respect it. I appreciate it. I hurt from it. But, I choose to keep walking.
On the most futile of days, I am reminded of the story of the apostles after the death of Jesus, found in John 21. Jesus had been crucified before them, and at that moment, they all felt like fools. They thought he was powerful enough to stop it; to perform some sort of miracle. So when he died, so did they, in a sense. They quickly returned to the only thing they knew before he came into their lives. Fishing. They were experts. With fishing, it was much easier to measure success than trying to introduce God to His own world. They felt like failures, and after spending a night fishing, and catching nothing, they confirmed their worst fears. Exhausted, discouraged, filled with doubt, they were too weary to even contemplate their next move.
Jesus called out to them through the morning fog. They didn't recognize his voice, and his advice made little sense.
"Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some fish."
As if fish only swam on the right side of the boat? Still, maybe to prove him wrong, they did as he said.
They were the experts, calling the shots, and were trying to do it alone. But Jesus was waiting to be acknowledged, to be invited to join them, to be a part of all that they did, even if it was simply fishing.
As a result, the net became so full of fish that they had to tow it behind them to shore. One of the disciples dove into the water, anxious to see Jesus face to face.
Jesus built a fire on the shore, asking them to bring some of the fish they had caught. He then prepared breakfast for them, recognizing their most immediate need of hunger, and they ate together.
This is how I view my morning walks. It is our time to eat together, where I splay out my concerns to Jesus, and He reassures me. He feeds me. He holds me, and then, out of love, gently directs my next steps.
So, I walk, even when I am not sure where I am going. I have learned enough to keep walking.
Proverbs 3:6 - In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.
Can you share a time when God changed the direction of your path?
It is never my first response to a problem.
I usually try to work it out on my own; to come up with my own solution. But often, I end up spinning my wheels, accomplishing nothing more than sheer exhaustion.
Surrender feels like a sign of weakness; a last resort, something I consider only after all else has failed.
"I cannot take it anymore, Lord. Please help me."
It is only when I finally utter those words that I open myself up to God's answer to my troubles. Once I trust Him to walk me through it, I must also trust His answer to my prayer.
It is for this reason that I think God loves to hear those words. "I cannot take it anymore. I surrender. I give up. Take this cup from me."
Because it is in that exact moment that I finally understand how much I need a Savior. He never meant for me to do this alone, so once I am brought to my knees, at the foot of the cross, on the brink of surrender, what God wants for me and what I want for me are one and the same. When my heart is ready to submit, my will completely broken, God is free to put me back together as He sees fit.
I can't help but wonder how different the paths of my life might be if I learn to first surrender my will, without wasting time and energy on temporary answers.
What about you? Is there a time in your life that you chose to surrender your will, and God was finally able to reveal His plan for you?
Psalm 51:17 - My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
A Postcard of Words from the Women of Faith Conference
Indianapolis. Alone. Arena full of chatty women. Some dressed alike. How did I get here?
Stopped by the prayer room. Why not start by laying all my cares at the altar?
13,000 women. So many stories. Fed in just an hour. Not bad. Logistics. Converted men's rooms to women's. No disguising those urinals.
6th row. VIP. What? Each session brings laughter. Tears.
Henry Cloud. Sheila Walsh. Necessary Endings. You Raise Me Up. Where have you been all my life? Jesus? Jesus.
Construction. Traffic. Stuck. How about a Colt's Game? Wandering the parking garage. Peyton Manning vs. 13,000 women trying to get into Conseco Fieldhouse.
Lisa Harper. Angie Smith. Nicole Johnson. Luci Swindoll. Tiny blue shorts. Microphone toilet stories. Hats. Laryngitis. More laughter. Mary. Mary.
Saturday morning. Checkout time. Thank goodness. I should have never survived that motel experience.
Back for more. Sheila Walsh. How Great Thou Art. Natalie Grant. Jesus is My Beauty Mark. Wow! It istruly well with my soul.
Sheila Walsh. Lisa Harper. Nicole Johnson. Angie Smith. Real women. Real tears. Worst Fears. Broken hearts. Redeeming love.
Imagine. Worship. Forgive. Believe. Trash. Broken. Reformed. Re-formed. God. Working. Always. Perspective. Thankful. Triumph. Lives. Changed. Forever. My Spot. Reserved. Dreaming. Woman. Of. Faith.
Pick up my burdens on the way out. But somehow, it's different now. We are all united in them. All 13,000 of us, seeking to make a difference for eternity. We need each other.
Sometimes, I don't know what to think about the idea that someone could love me this much. I cannot wrap my brain around such a painful sacrifice.
Jesus had trouble with it as well. He knew what was coming. He prayed, alone in the garden, and asked that God find another way to do this, to reunite him with the children he so loved and adored. Before the beatings even started, Jesus was terrified, shaking and crying to the point of sweating drops of blood. He knew.
But he recognized God's answer; he understood that the One who is holy cannot co-exist with those of us who are not. And he rose from the ground, where he had fallen on his face numerous times to pray. He accepted what was to come; knowing it was the very reason he had been sent here in the first place. He gathered his diciples, who had fallen asleep and were clueless, even though he warned them numerous times.
:"Let us go." He says, and leads them straight into the mob that sought to destroy him and all that he stood for.
Worse than the undeserved pain that was inflicted on Jesus, enough to make him unrecognizable; enough to rip the skin until it hung in shreds from his body; enough to sever his bones and muscles with the nails that pressed through them, was the pain of knowing that God had to turn his back on him. For the first time, the two were separated, and for Jesus, he had to face a life without God.
This is the very definition of Hell; a place where God does not exist, where there is no goodness, no mercy, no love.
But, he chose to carry the cross, to stay on the cross, to embrace the cross.
How do I receive such a gift?
The answer is much more simple than I try to make it sometimes.
I receive it by accepting it as enough to get me through each day.
I accept it by not questioning whether or not I am worthy enough. I am not. That has already been decided; that battle won.
I accept it by not trying to return it, by allowing it to change me from the inside out.
I accept it by recognizing that I am not here to serve myself; that I am only a small part of a huge picture that is being drawn in Heaven.
I accept it by realizing that the only way Jesus has of reaching people today is by using other people.
I accept it by begging him to use me. Send me. Choose me.
Whatever life I had before Jesus no longer matters. It pales in comparison to the small taste of holiness that I have been allowed to experience here on earth.
"I have been given all authority on earth and in Heaven," he tells me, "But none of that compares to the love I have for you."
Oh. Now I get it.
And then I fall to my knees, knowing that my tomorrow cannot possibly be the same as my today.