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Friday, May 12, 2017

God's Mysteriously Effective Spiritual Growth Hormone

I saw a foot, utterly shriveled. Disease had stolen all of the life out of it, leaving it desiccated. It hung there, wretched and useless. The next moment, before my eyes, vitality suddenly surged into it. In an instant, it filled out to its full form. Vigorous, healthy color replaced the death pale. The glow of life burst forth, and the foot was completely restored!

I just described for you a dream that I had while in the midst of a particularly trying season. What a picture of spectacular restoration it was! I knew when I woke up that God had given me a promise. The healing of the foot was a symbol. It represented what the outcome would be, of all I was enduring. Though my trial was painful at the time, there was a purpose in all of it. My suffering was going to result in a bursting forth of life.

I share this with you because I want to encourage you with the same truth. There is meaning and purpose to be found in what you are living through right now. No matter what adversity you are facing, you can find staying power in the midst of it as Holy Spirit quickens this understanding to your heart. When we can begin to grasp what He is doing in us, it imparts courage to our hearts in the midst of the process.

He began to open up to me the meaning of my dream as I drifted into wakefulness. Very quickly, He connected it to what He had already been teaching me in the Word. He brought me to these verses: “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed” (Heb. 12:12-13, NIV). The dramatic restoration of the withered foot, then, represented spiritual strengthening and healing. A faint spark of comprehension flashed into my mind. However, I needed to dig deeper into the surrounding verses to more fully understand exactly what He meant.

What did my suffering have to do with the lame being healed? You might have a similar kind of question about your own trial. How could your pain possibly bring about any good? Let’s take a closer look at the context of this Scripture. This section of Hebrews 12 holds powerful insight into our afflictions, if we will open our hearts to His teaching.

Growth Hormone For The Spirit

Here is a key phrase from a few verses prior: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons” (v. 7). When I first read that, my emotional reaction was to protest, “Discipline?? Did I do something wrong??” Haven’t we all wondered the same thing at different moments in our lives? Is this awful thing happening because God is punishing me? He wants to reassure you right now with this definitive answer: no. Absolutely not. Jesus already took all your punishment on the cross, conclusively so. When He said, “It is finished,” it was. Neither your sins nor mine need even the tiniest speck of further retribution. It’s done. Forever.

What does He mean by discipline then? He is referring to His deeply loving development, instruction, and shaping of us. “Train up a child in the way he should go.” These words are a tender reflection of His Daddy heart towards His sons and daughters. We are His precious little ones, His very own. He is fiercely loyal to us. And in His unsearchable wisdom, He really does know what is best for us. This has set Him on a relentlessly devoted mission to bring us into the freedom of maturity.

Unfortunately, our need for growth can have difficult implications for us this side of the Fall. Sin and death made the world an uncomfortable place to grow up. More often than not here, growing happens accompanied by growing pains. However, in the midst of it all, we can be richly comforted knowing that our Lord is exquisitely close to us, and He cares deeply.

When confronted by the inevitable rough patches in your road forward, always keep this vital truth front and center: Our Abba is the Author of life, not the originator of death. He never causes evil to happen to us. (Never forget who your real enemy is). Daddy God does, however, have the ability to work a flabbergasting amount of good through even the most sinister of the enemy’s machinations. He turns each plot against us into something that actually powerfully advances our wellbeing.

Every single time the devil gnashes his teeth and hurls an attack at us, God grabs that thing out of the air and transforms it into spiritual growth hormone. In this same chapter, the author of Hebrews calls what results “a harvest of righteousness and peace” (v. 11). Picture a brand new crop tied up into bales, abundantly covering thousands upon thousands of acres of harvested farmland. Each one is poised and ready to enrich the lives of the hungry with extravagance. These are the sheaves of righteousness and peace that Holy Spirit is bountifully cultivating inside of you even now as you press on!

Hardly Discernable but Unquestionably Effectual

In my last post, we talked about how we are on a long-distance race of endurance. “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” That verse is from this same passage of Scripture that we are now discussing, about hardships (v.2). Perseverance, it says. Persistence. Determination. Grit.

Something mysterious happens inside of us as we persevere. You know how you sometimes take a good look at a treasured child who is part of your life and all of a sudden you can’t believe how big they have gotten? If you live with or near them, sometimes you don’t notice it happening right under your nose. Growth is so gradual, so subtle. Quietly and without fanfare, bones and muscles are getting longer by tiny increments. Then one day it just hits you without warning. Your little buddy or your sweet princess suddenly looks remarkably tall.

The same thing is true in spirit. Today, you might not be able to tell that you are progressing through your trial. Oftentimes, it feels like “the same ol’, same ol’.” However, as imperceptible as it may seem, your faith muscles truly are developing. That is the reason this same passage starts out by announcing to us that He is the Author and Finisher of our faith (v. 2). Jesus never, ever leaves things half done. He always brings to culmination what He starts in us. The moment is going to come when suddenly you are going to look within and realize, “How powerfully built and strong I have become inside! This is amazing!

I remember a hot and sweaty afternoon when I was about to make my tired body start an intensive workout. A Jillian Michaels DVD was rolling, my mat and weights were ready, my hair tied up -- but let me tell you, I did not feel like exercising that day. I was only forcing myself to go through with it because I didn’t want to lose the momentum I had going on. Jillian said I was going to get “Ripped in Thirty.” I sure wasn’t feeling very ripped, but I was too stubborn to quit.

As I paused the video for the hundredth time to lie exhausted on the ground and pant until I could breathe again, Holy Spirit spoke to me. That’s His way – He speaks at the most unpredictable moments. Only if we are looking for His voice will we catch it. In this case, He pointed out to me that every uncomfortable move I was pushing myself through, was creating progress. Every one. Every single squat, every single pushup, every single lunge was accomplishing something. Not a single rep was happening without contributing to moving my physique towards greater resilience and stamina. There was meaning, purpose, and efficiency behind every moment of sacrifice, without exception.

In the same instant, He flashed my memory back to the experience of being in labor with my last child. I remember having an epiphany somewhere around dilation to 8 cm. As my body poured every ounce of available fortitude and energy into the effort of stretching open my uterus, He spoke to me then too. His message was the same: Each and every contraction was accomplishing forward movement. Not one second of all-consuming exertion was in vain. Each one meant that we were a finite, measurable moment closer to birth. What Holy Spirit managed to do for me, even in the midst of labor, was to breathe meaning into what I was experiencing. His words were giving me the vital perspective I needed to push through the intensity. He was imparting courage to me as I partnered closely with Him to bring forth life.

Breathtakingly Lovely and Exceedingly Worth the Wait

When the last contraction had long since faded away, I wanted to better understand what I had experienced. So I did a study on the Old Testament Hebrew word for giving birth, chuwl. I discovered something fascinating about it. The word is used straightforwardly in verses like this: “As a woman with child and about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pain, so were we in your presence, O Lord” (Isa. 26:17, NIV). It’s chuwl that’s rendered “give birth” there. Pretty basic and clear-cut.

But what grabbed my attention was that chuwl also means “to wait patiently.” One example of this usage is in Psalm 37, where David encourages us to rest in God even when things are going terribly wrong. He urges us in verse 7, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men… carry out their wicked schemes.” That phrase, “wait patiently,” is the exact same Hebrew verb, chuwl.

My word study led me to this conclusion: There is an intimate connection between enduring through hard circumstances, and giving birth to God’s promises for our lives. I don’t know about you, but for me, this is just plain difficult sometimes. I have found myself experiencing moments on this perseverance marathon where my spiritual battles have been so grueling, so exacting, so painful, that my soul was screaming, “Uncle!” Multiple times, I honestly didn’t think I could survive one more day of it.

It has been right in that weary, worn out place, that Daddy God has repeatedly come in, picked me up, carried me, and deposited strength into my spirit – until I could walk again. All He asked is that I wouldn’t give up. He would provide the strength to keep going one more day, one more week, one more month. And ultimately, once I’d stuck it through the full period of gestation, every one of His promises to me was going to burst forth into life.

A Personal Message to You

Are you in the midst of a grueling life circumstance right now? Is the intensity overwhelming you? Is it taking all you’ve got to just hold on? Holy Spirit is speaking gently to your heart in this moment. Lean in, listen. He earnestly wants you to know that each rep, each contraction, each hour of pressing forward through the severe pressure, is accomplishing something invaluable deep inside you. Each and every one. Daddy God has gathered all of your tears in His bottle, and He will not waste any of them. They are quietly and without fanfare working something lasting, something of inestimable worth in the core of you. Something astonishingly beautiful.

For this reason, these verses in Hebrews make clear to us that in God’s hands, hardship becomes a training, shaping tool. In this context, He gently instructs us, “Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.” In other words, precious child, receive the strength to be found in apprehending, deep in your spirit, the extraordinary benefits of your suffering. “Trust Me unreservedly. Drink in the revelation that I am transforming your distressing, adverse circumstance into something glorious. As you entrust yourself to Me, I am depositing steadfastness into you.”

As we take in His words, we realize that there must have been some frailty in our members (arms; knees), making this strength training indispensable. Our limbs represent our ability to function. He knew that we needed this maturation process to be able to operate in wholeness. He longs for us to thrive, to move more fully into “life more abundantly,” to soar!

The Prophet Isaiah encapsulated the outcome of our endurance with these stirring words:

“Make strong the feeble hands, give support to the shaking knees… Then will the feeble-footed be jumping like a roe… (Isa. 35:3; 6, BBE).

So we choose to surrender to His unsearchable wisdom once again. And then again the next day. And the next. One day at a time, over and over, we “submit to the Father of our souls and live” (v. 9). As we persistently do so for the length of this endurance marathon, He is going to turn this ricketiness in our extremities into magnificent fortitude. The weakness in us; that which was “lame,” rather than being perpetually disabled, is going to be healed. The shriveled foot will burst forth into life.

Let’s do this thing. Let’s run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Lame feet leaping for joy are waiting for us at the finish line.

Daddy God, once again today, I surrender. I abandon myself to Your magnificent wisdom, Your breathtaking love, and Your flawless care for me. A fiery passion for my wellbeing is the motivation at the heart of Your administration of my life. You really do know what is best for me. The mighty power at Your disposal to execute Your astounding plan is flowing in and through me right now. I climb into the palm of Your waiting, outstretched hand and curl up to rest in complete trust. I am entirely Yours. You are infusing my arms and knees with resilience, renewing my resolve to persevere. Thank You for the glorious strength You are pouring into me!

Do you trust the Father with your current circumstance? Do you know in your heart of hearts that you are utterly loved?

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