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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Does Your Pregnancy with Baby Promise Feel Unending? Here's How to Find Strength through the Long Wait

Weakened... or strengthened. Miscarriage… or birth. Which will you choose?

Those two little pink lines on a pregnancy test send some of the strongest emotions through your being that you will ever experience. I vividly remember my uncontainable joy, expressed through euphoric jumping, trembling, crying, and laughing, when I saw them. After a while, though, the initial blissful excitement does necessarily settle back down into daily living. Days become weeks… and then months. Long months. You get heavier and heavier, bulkier and bulkier. Eventually there are times that it feels like that baby is going to never come out. This is directly parallel to what we experience when we are carrying God’s “babies” (His promises) in spiritual gestation.

One September morning, I was struggling with exactly this dynamic. God had given me a personal word of promise, but the journey towards its fulfillment seemed to be dragging on interminably. As I poured out my frustration to Him, He flashed two pieces of Romans 4:19-20 into my spirit. I heard Him whisper, “Abraham was not weakened in his faith. He was strengthened in his faith.” He had piqued my curiosity. I leaned in to listen to what He was getting at. He went on to explain, and I carefully recorded His message to me. This is a portion of the journal entry that I wrote out to Him in interaction with His words:

I hear You, Daddy. You are talking to me about Your long term process. About the long-drawn-out kind of waiting that shaped Abraham. This is what shapes us too. Two things can happen with our faith on this kind of journey. Once Promise is conceived, faith can be weakened, and the baby miscarried and lost forever. Or faith can be strengthened – through the protracted experience of waiting on God. It will be either one or the other. 

Holy Spirit was teaching me about my spiritual pregnancy. He was doing so by delving into Abraham’s maturation process and all that transpired deep on the inside of him as he bore God’s Promise within. Immediately, He had my attention. I knew that I wanted to carry this spark of life full term. I didn’t want to miscarry the embryonic promise that was growing inside me. I needed my faith to be strengthened, not weakened.  The journal entry continued:

Waiting Your way, the Isaiah 40:31 way, is an active wait of expectation. In the face of impossibility, I aggressively feed on Your Word. I cling to hope with stubborn tenacity. Strengthening happens as a result, slowly but steadily. I push through exhaustion and discover that You are empowering me. I renew my strength in You. My faith receives new vitality incrementally, until I can run and not grow weary. All along the way, my heart is undivided in its abandoned pursuit of Your purposes.

By contrast, the opposite style of waiting – unspirited passivity – is inconstant and fragile. It is marked by the doublemindedness of an underdetermined, irresolute soul. This produces the opposite outcome in faith – its weakening and eventual death. This is akin to the weakly fruit produced by the second and third types of soil in the parable of the sower. Both were aborted before coming into full fruition.

How do we hang on when it feels like our Promise is never going to come to the moment of birth? Never going to show its face? We do so much in the same way an expectant mother cares relentlessly for the life growing inside of her – taking it a day at a time, and never, ever, ever giving up. The One who deposited His Word embryo into our spiritual wombs has invited us on a journey with Him. More than anything else, it is a journey of perseverance.

If you look up overhead, you will notice a banner unfurled over the trailhead as you commence this adventure with Him. The name of this path is “The Strengthening of Your Faith.” Pace yourself, pregnant runner. This is not a short sprint, but a long-term race of endurance.

“…Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… so that [we] will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:1-3, NIV).

So now you are not only pregnant, but you have also embarked on a marathon! Goodness, what have you gotten yourself into? I chuckle to myself as I ask that question. It’s a mighty good question. However, there is some incredibly important encouragement to draw from these verses I just shared, about our race. Holy Spirit wants us to see, and pay attention to, and find new strength in knowing, this: Jesus, the champion Marathoner who went before us, is the One who both conceived our faith and is causing it to grow. He is the Author of this pregnancy, and its Finisher. He is the one causing Baby Promise to develop inside you. He is the One who will bring you all the way through to the actual birth. He is faithful, and He will do it!

My journal entry continued:

So, as Abraham surrendered to Your process, You were the One who strengthened his faith. It’s not something he did for himself. If we’re talking about his own ability to believe, that’s what produced Ishmael. No, it was You, perfecting His faith as he held onto You and waited, yielding to Your strengthening process. The testing of his faith was gradually yet powerfully producing perseverance, character, hope! You gave strength to him who grew weary. His weakness of faith, shown by engendering Ishmael, was turned to unshakable strength. This process climaxed in the birth of Isaac, the embodiment of laughter and joy. On this journey, Abraham had truly “obtained what was promised.” He had become mighty in battle. He had developed extraordinary stature in spirit, emerging as the very father of faith. He had risen on eagles’ wings.

My dear ones, all Daddy God is asking us to do is to keep holding on. If you cling to Him with steely determination, He will do absolutely everything else required to see this baby born. He will be the One strengthening your faith. He will be the One lifting your spirit. He will be the One buoying you up time after time when you become fatigued. He will provide just the right encouragement at just the right moment, again and again. These boosts will become the vitamins, nutrients, and calories needed for your pregnancy. He will cause Baby Promise to mature and take shape inside of you. He will watch over you from beginning to end. He will keep the life within you safe.

Yes, you will grow tired and weary. Even youths do. But as you hold fast to Him day after day, seeking Him with all that you are, I promise you this. Strengthening is going to happen. And eventually, you are going to learn how to soar.

My oldest daughter, Ester, decided just last week that she needed to begin a new exercise regimen. You have to understand that this idea has never even been on her radar before. In fact, she has vocally despised physical activity with a vehemence. She was equally expressive about how grueling the first moments were, when she came home after Day 1 of the new routine. She could barely run a few steps without feeling downright bone-tired. However, I know her. She is one determined kid. It won’t surprise me at all if she presses through the discomfort and comes into both strength and stamina that she has never known before.

I love the Message version’s description of our race as we each push through the pain:

“All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You're after one that's gold eternally. I don't know about you, but I'm running hard for the finish line. I'm giving it everything I've got… Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win!” (1 Cor. 9:25-26; 24 MSG).

Training hard. You’ve been there. You are panting, exhausted. As Isaiah 40:30 puts it, “tired and weary.” But you make yourself do it. You keep going. You put one aching, worn out foot in front of the other, yet one more time. You plod on. You push through. Something mind-blowing is happening in that moment. Even as you are feeling your weakest, you are actually becoming mighty. Even as you feel like you are about to break in half, your faith muscles are quietly, steadily filling out into solid, unbreakable strength.

Just a few verses above those we just saw about our race of endurance, we find these words: “…who through faith conquered… and gained what was promised… whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle…” (Heb. 11:33-34, NIV, emphasis mine)

This faith journey, this spiritual pregnancy, this marathon, is all about becoming. I love an old Margaret Becker lyric that so beautifully describes what God is doing with each of us submitted to His process: “Slowly I’m becoming who I am.” Maybe today it feels like your feet are blistered and bleeding.  Maybe all you long to do is collapse in the shade and be finished with this interminable race once and for all. But you don't. Daddy is watching with overwhelmed tenderness as once again, in spite of your exhaustion, you refuse to give up. As you doggedly take one more step forward through the pain, as you cling to His words to you for yet another day, slowly you are becoming who you are. That is, the breathtakingly strong person you were born to be.

For this reason, pregnant runner, never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up! Your weakness is – ever so slowly and arduously, but ever so surely – turning to strength. Even when it feels like you are floundering, the truth is that you are decisively vanquishing your enemies. You, beloved one, are becoming MIGHTY in battle. You really, really are going to gain what was promised.

And once Baby Promise has been born, you are going to observe something new and awe-inspiring in yourself. First, you are going to find with amazement that have you have become a seasoned athlete who is no longer easily tired. “They will run and not grow weary” will have come to be your own personal reality. Not only that! You will also look back and discover with amazement that you have grown an exquisite pair of eagles’ wings. In wonder, you will quickly turn your gaze downward and catch sight of the earth far, far beneath you. Ecstatic joy will suddenly explode through your being as you realize that you are soaring. You will close your eyes, lean rapturously into the wind, and feel heaven’s currents lift you higher than you have ever been before!

Daddy God, I hear Your life-giving words to my heart today. Thank You that you see me in the midst of my exhaustion. I am so grateful that You empower me at exactly the right moment again and again – just when I feel like I can’t take another step. You are my glory and the lifter of my head! You are my marvelous encourager, my Wonderful Counselor, the Perfecter of my faith. I am clinging to You as Your power works inside of me to shape me into the one I was born to become. Slowly I’m becoming who I am. I choose with all my heart not to quit on You. Right now, You are strengthening me. Right now, I am getting stronger. As You continue to form and grow Baby Promise inside of me, I surrender completely to You. I yield to Your ardently intense commitment to turn my weakness into strength, and to make me mighty in battle. I am running this race to win. I am Yours, and I will never, ever, ever, ever give up! 

Have you determined in your heart not to quit on God's personal promise to you? What are some of the ways that you find strength when exhaustion threatens to take you out of the race?

Friday, April 7, 2017

Is the Birth of Your Promise Taking Longer than an Embryonic Elephant? Here's Why...

Here is a startling thought: Abraham carried Isaac in his spirit for over twenty-four years before Sarah ever carried him in her uterus. He got pregnant long before she did.

His journey from conceiving Promise in his spiritual womb, to the moment of birth so many years later, is what made him into Abraham.

In the same way, whatever word from God you are carrying in your spirit right now is making you into you. That is, into the fully developed you that God saw and called forth from eternity past before the worlds were formed. He is the Author and Finisher of your faith. The good work He began in you, He will complete. And much of His transformational process inside of you will happen as you carry His “baby” of Promise.

Did you take God’s pregnancy test and find out you are expecting? Now comes the more challenging part. There is absolutely no guarantee, whatsoever, that you are going to see this particular baby show its face nine months from now. In fact, you probably won’t. Spiritual pregnancies are peculiar. They could take any number of months, or years. In my own life, I’m convinced that I beat out the elephant (who bears her young for two years) with some of the things He’s had me carry within. Abraham and Sarah? The physical pregnancy with Isaac did take nine months. But again, the spiritual pregnancy took twenty-five years!

In the natural realm, human pregnancies last for three trimesters, or nine months. This has spiritual implications.  As we move into the heavenly realm, the number nine stands for the fruit of the Spirit. What’s astounding is just how much of His fruit is actually going to develop inside you, as you stand firm and nurture the life that is growing within, for the full period of gestation.

Oftentimes, we are so anxiously fixated on wanting to see the manifestation of whatever God has promised us, that we miss the most vital point. Yes, He too is joyfully anticipating the moment you can set eyes on His Promise burst forth from your spiritual womb into physical reality. However, He had an even greater purpose in impregnating you with His word in the first place. This conception was all about who you are coming to be in Him! His purpose in breathing Promise into your inner being was to produce fruit deep within your spirit that will endure for all of eternity – “fruit that will last” (John 15:16). Heavenly fruit. The exquisitely beautiful fruit of His own nature, worked profoundly into the very fabric of who you have become.

In God’s language, children are often a symbol of spiritual fruit. Through an eye-opening story from the gospels, Jesus helps us understand this truth. He points out in Luke 7 the contrast between the Pharisees who have rejected Him, and the spirit-hungry listeners who have eagerly received Him. In this context, He makes the statement, “But wisdom is proved right by all her children” (v. 27, NIV, emphasis mine). In the parallel passage in Matthew, His words are expressed, “But wisdom is proved right by her actions” (Matt. 11:19, emphasis mine).

We can conclude from this that “children” are equivalent to “actions.” Our actions – our choices and the way we live -- are the fruit that we are producing. They are the “children” of our spiritual wombs. The spiritually ravenous that embraced Jesus’ teaching were producing the fruit of wisdom. The cold, prideful, closed religious leaders were not. God’s sperma, His Word, found no place in their spirits to make a home. Though He scattered His seed in their hearts, it fell on hard ground. It was immediately lost forever to the birds of the air.

I rejoice that you are exploring this subject with me! My reason is this: if you are taking the time to more deeply excavate an understanding of spiritual pregnancies, then I know you must be one of His hungry listeners. And if you are yearning for Him, then you too will spend your life producing His fruit, His babies, His children. I’m celebrating both whatever Promise you are currently carrying for and with Jesus, inside your spirit – and the breathtaking wonder of how gloriously you are going to resemble Him when He has finished taking you through this full gestation experience!

For some time, He has been on this subject with me. I mentioned Abraham and Sarah. Even though Sarah was the one who physically carried Isaac in her womb, the Bible goes into much more detail about Abraham’s inner journey towards that birthing. Truly, Isaac’s appearance was much more a story about spiritual pregnancy in both a man and a woman than it was about his natural arrival. Holy Spirit has particularly arrested my attention through this Scripture:

“Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead — since he was about a hundred years old — and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God…” (Rom. 4:19-20, NIV, emphasis mine).

Isaac began to take shape in Abraham’s spirit years before God knit him together in Sarah’s body. He was conceived by God’s divine sperm far, far in advance of being conceived by Abraham’s physical seed. In Abraham, God found a man willing to tenaciously carry His promise on the inside for an indefinitely prolonged period of time – for as long as necessary for the full process of maturation to be completed. In other words, for as long as God needed to finish producing “the fruit that would last” deep, deep, deep within the core of his being.  From studying his spiritual pregnancy, we can learn an incredible amount about the development of our own faith on God’s chosen journey for us.

“What then shall we say that Abraham… discovered in this matter?” (Rom. 4:1, NIV). In my next post, we will quarry deeper into the mine that this man, the “father of the faith,” unearthed for us. The golden treasures he uncovered will provide us with wonderful encouragement as we continue to press on with our pregnancies…

Daddy God, what is it that You want to strengthen in me as I carry Your Promise within my heart? I ask that You would speak to me today about Your process with me. Show me more about what You are doing deep inside of me. I welcome Your transformational changes, welcome Your relentless development, welcome Your beautiful workmanship in me! Continue to breathe life and vitality into what You have planted in my spiritual womb. Once again, I surrender to Your magnificent purposes. You are my Rock and my portion forever!

What are your thoughts on God’s long term work in you as you hold onto His promises? I would love to hear about your journey!