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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Eyes That Gaze on Eternity: Between Starting Gun and Finish Line, Conclusion

A flash in my spirit. The face of an innocent baby, maybe six months old. One eye bright blue, one gray. Another flash. My own adult face, staring penetratingly back at me. I’m seeing a picture of myself. But it’s like those sepia images, where just one part has bright color added. Again, it’s the eyes. They are a fierce, fiery green.

This was a vision I had in between sleep and wakefulness some time ago. I’m sharing it with you now because there is hope in it for you. The Lord gave it to me while in the midst of the personal perseverance marathon I have recently been telling you about.

Fittingly for the series we are concluding today, the two pictures He flashed before me stood for two stages of my life: the starting gun and the finish line of the race marked out for me. They epitomized the “before” and “after” of my development along this journey. The first one symbolized me at the beginning – when His word, the divine sperm, first brought about conception inside my spiritual womb. The second represented me on Baby Promise’s due date.

Baby face. Infancy. The beginning. One keen, blue eye. Blue means prophetic revelation; even at the beginning, even in spiritual infancy, we can see into the heavenly realm. (Jesus told Nicodemus that once he was born again, he would be able to see the Kingdom of God [John 3:3].) However, the other eye was gray. Shadowy. Not yet full of light. “Seeing darkly, as through a mirror” (1 Cor. 13:12). When I embarked on my journey, when Baby Promise’s gestation began in me, I could only see in part. On many days, I struggled to see at all.

The second flash of the vision was the flash of hope. Green (my actual eye color) represents flourishing growth. Both eyes were a brilliant, piercing green. These are the kind of illuminated orbs the Master has taken note of when He affirms: “Blessed are your eyes, for they see” (Matt. 13:16). These are eyes that “by constant use have learned to distinguish between good and evil” (Heb. 5:14). Eyes that have attained to maturity. Eyes blessed with clear, unhindered vision. Ephesians 1:18 eyes. Eyes flooded with light, flooded with the intimate knowledge of the hope of my calling.

This, my dear friend, is precisely why we are on this perseverance marathon. He wants to develop in each of us, inner eyes that can fully, freely, see. Enlightened eyes that probe powerfully beyond the veil of earthly circumstances into the realm of hope. Eyes that behold Him as He is. Eyes that are fixed unshakably on Him. Eyes that gaze into eternity.

Yes, you have a promise growing inside of you. Yes, you will experience for yourself the glorious birthing of that very promise He made to you. But even as you are giving birth to Baby Promise, God is giving birth to you… that second, renewed version of you. That flash picture of you with brilliant green spiritual eyes that fearlessly penetrate the blackest darkness. The you that sees beyond the gloom and fixates on the hope that lights up the night.

This, friend, this is why we keep on running. This is why we never give up. The longer we persevere, the clearer our vision becomes. As we push on, we receive greater and greater power to look upon Him who is invisible.

In the posts leading up to this one, I have been putting together a “how to” list for the protracted perseverance racetrack we are on. We have now come to the culmination of this series. Here are all five points together as a comprehensive list (you can click on any of them for its full development). Each one will help you nurture the Promise growing inside of you:
  1. Set the joy.
  2. Show up for battle.
  3. Command the mountain.
  4. Sink down luxuriously into His faithfulness.
  5. Make the journey about more and more and more of Jesus.
We set the immense joy that is to come before our hearts’ eyes. We show up again and again to march and to war alongside the God of the Angel Armies – in His strength alone. As we go, we tenaciously order all mountainous obstacles to get out of our way. Daily, hourly, unceasingly, we abandon ourselves in trust to the One who loves us more than His life. We make every step of the journey all about intimacy with Him.

In this way, we continue to move forward as we wait actively on God. As we wait, let’s keep this forefront: With every labored breath, with every sweaty, hard-earned step forward, something beautiful is happening deep, deep in our core.

“We… glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4, NKJV).

This verse used to greatly puzzle me. It seems counterintuitive. Tribulations produce hope? Don’t they instead produce pain, frustration, and misery? One aspect of tribulation is often “hope deferred” (Prov. 13:12) – the apparently never-ending wait for relief. So hope deferred produces… hope? How could this be?

This takes me back to something I heard Jenn Johnson say a few years ago. It struck me profoundly then and has often returned to my mind. I believe it ties directly into solving this mystery encapsulated in Romans 5:4. She made the statement, “Nothing can replace your own personal journey with Jesus.”

You see, the further you travel holding Jesus’ hand, the more richly you get to know Him. It happens like this. Sometimes the race He has marked out for you is indeed exhausting. It feels like you’ve been running forever. Everything aches. It takes all you’ve got, but you strain forward yet one more grueling step. Then, all at once, you look up and you realize – He is right there with you in the press, closer than the breath you are struggling for. With utmost tenderness, He is lifting you up, rubbing your shoulders, and gifting you with His energy to carry on.

As your perseverance marathon winds on and on, you experience His rescue… again and again and again, and yet again. You weather the worst that life can hurl at you, and in the midst of it you discover that He is journeying with you, holding you, crying with you, comforting you, encouraging you, cheering for you, strengthening you, healing you, and carrying you the entire way.

Then suddenly it dawns on you. On this protracted, arduous journey, you have come to know Him… experientially. You have come to know Him intimately. The fabric of your life has been woven with the breathtaking threads of His intervention. Now like Job, your heart exclaims in wonder, “My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You!” (Job 42:5). This is not something someone else told you about. Like Job, you have come to know Him for yourself. Just like Job, you have developed Ephesians 1:18 eyes. Eyes that have seen Him. Eyes that perceive the hope of your calling.

As you have endured, your long-suffering has unlocked a previous unattainable level of fellowship with Him. Like never before, you have the unspeakable privilege of looking deeply into His eyes. You get to contemplate the loveliness, the gentleness, the splendor of His face. The indescribable honor of having become personally, intimately acquainted with His heart – yours. Yours forever. You have discovered who He is. He has given you the spirit of revelation without measure. Blessed are your eyes, for they see… Him.

Hope springs to life within you as a result. This hope is born of revelation – the revelation knowledge of His nature, His ways. As He continually manifests His goodness to your heart, His hope eternal bubbles up within you and bursts forth in an uncontainable flow. With every fiber of your being, you know. He is good. He is inexpressibly, rapturously, exquisitely, beautifully good. You gaze into the future with Him, full of joyful expectation, nestled into His bosom, held by the everlasting arms. How glorious it is to belong to the One who loves you best!

“How great is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You, which You bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in You!” (Ps. 31:19, NIV).

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Intimacy at the Table: Between Starting Gun and Finish Line, Part 5

I’d like to introduce you to my seventeen-year-old self. Here is a glimpse into her world (taken from my journal entry dated April 7, 1993):

“Dear Lord,

You know how I feel right now. You can see my heart, how it aches so dully. I’ve been getting like this so much lately. Who could I share my pain with? Only You. You. Lord, You’re wonderful, but I haven’t been getting much relief when I come to You. I’m hesitant to share myself with You because You’re not physical, and I can’t sense You there; can’t sense Your comforting presence. Aren’t You my Abba? I feel so condemned for feeling this way. When, Daddy, will You hold me and heal me? When will I feel the total, unquestionable assurance that You love me always, even when I doubt and disobey? When will You touch these wounds and make me whole?”

Goodness am I glad to be way beyond that stage of development! I vividly remember my intense frustration with how much I longed for God and how far away He felt. Today, He is closer than the air that I breathe. Experientially so. For all the world, I would not trade the extreme, sometimes excruciating training He has taken me through to bring me here to where I am now. I have been on my own personal perseverance marathon. God’s most essential purpose in it has been to work intimacy with Him deep, deep into the core of my being. And this is what He has faithfully, relentlessly done. By far, I prefer His company to even the sweetest of human fellowship on this earth. How I often long to do nothing else but close my door and be alone with Him, gazing on His beauty, and drinking in His love! These are my most exquisite moments. This is what I live for.

You know what? There is no favoritism with Him. This depths of communion is for “whomsoever will.” No matter where you are today on the timeline of your own personal spiritual development, He is inviting each of us to go deeper into His heart. This brings me to the final point in our Active Waiting List:

5) Make the Journey about More and More and More of Jesus

In recent posts of this blog, we have been talking about the waiting seasons of our lives. We have been studying in depths what the interval of time looks like between when God plants a word into our spirit and when the moment actually comes for Baby Promise to be born. We want to make the very best use possible out of the prolonged wait. We don’t want to miss out on any of the richness that He has incorporated into His plan for us along the track.

The very most crucial thing about this interim, by far, is your intimacy with Him. This is why I saved it for last on our list. Absolutely nothing in the universe comes even close to the weight, the magnitude of value, that your relationship with Jesus holds. Yes, we are on a perseverance marathon. We are running the race marked out for us. We are pushing towards destiny, towards the fulfillment of Promise. As we do so, however, we need to penetratingly internalize this truth: way, way, WAY more important than getting to the finish line is learning to enjoy His presence along the way.

“You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.”
(Ps. 23:5, NIV)

As we run, there are so many enemies all around. So much stress raging through the atmosphere of this world. So much anguish. How do we connect with the Shelter of the Most High in the midst of it all? How do we throw off the hindrances that so easily entangle us on this race? Jesus invites us to come away with Him. Make this the most essential thing. Do it first. Before the rush of the day begins. Before the news channel bombards your senses with soundwaves of calamity. Slip away with Him. Come to His table.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne…” (Rev. 3:20-21, NIV).

Do you see the correlation there between feasting with Him, and overcoming? Between responding to His invitation to the table of communion, and learning to reign in life with Him?

Dining together was the ultimate symbol of fellowship in the cultural context of this verse penned by John the Revelator. How rich is this metaphor! When we recline with Jesus at the banquet He has prepared, we get to lean into His chest just like John did. In those moments where we personally experience His heart beating with love for us, so much more than our physical needs are met. He doesn’t just provide our daily calorie intake. He feeds the very depths of our spirits… with Himself.

So linger and breakfast with Him. Once you have ingested and assimilated today’s serving of the Bread of Life into the fabric of your being, you will be ready. Ready to face the day, whatever it may hold. Ready to hit the pavement again with your running shoes.

This morning, I was tempted to jump right into the work waiting for me. Deadlines have a way of flashing their red lights at my mind. But then I remembered. When I give Jesus the first part of my day, I am showing Him that I trust Him to administer the rest of it in the very best way. He has always, always supernaturally multiplied and blessed my daylight hours when He has the first fruits of my attention. So I made myself stop, shut out the red lights, and lean into Him. Just to be with Him. Now… what peace has taken over my inner space! It is in this peace that I will go about the remainder of what is before me today.

Yes, I see you, busy mom. I see how your young children clamor for your attention before your eyes have even opened for the new day. I see the piles of laundry staring at you, the messes waiting to be conquered, the meals that won’t cook themselves, the appointments with your name on them, the projects shouting for your time. I am not going to pretend that you can just make all of it go away to spend long, uninterrupted hours at the feet of Jesus. But... can you invite Him into all of it with you?

This is the thing. Way more important than me seeing you, sweet, precious mother, is that He sees you. Mamas caring for their little children are so close to His heart!

“He will feed His flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs with His arm,
And carry them in His bosom,
And gently lead those who are with young.”
(Isa. 40:11, NKJV)

Some of my most unforgettable memories of encounter with Him have taken place as I cared for my babies. How He has manifested His presence as I have sung softly to Him holding each one! I have felt His Spirit overflowing with tenderness towards my little ones and me in those moments. He has shared His heart of love for them and for me so keenly that I have found tears flowing down my cheeks and my voice choking up as I sing. Motherhood and intimacy with Jesus are not mutually exclusive. They go most beautifully together. How many times too has He showed up with His thick, glorious presence as I read Bible stories to my kids! Again, I have had to pause and stop reading for a moment because His love is overcoming my heart. What a breathtaking way to live out with our little ones His living presence with us! To teach them how close He is!

I smile when I think of Susanna Wesley, the mother of Charles and John Wesley. Besides the two of them, she had seventeen other children. And yet she found an ingenious way to incorporate prayer into her daily routine: she would pull her apron over her head. She trained all nineteen kids to recognize this as a signal that she was not to be interrupted for those minutes with Him. She was not superhuman or better than you. She just earnestly believed that Jesus wanted to be an intimate part of her life as a mother. Obviously her prayer life and her motherhood had some incredibly powerful results. (For more about her and six very practical tips for integrating prayer into full time mothering, check out this excellent blog post.)

Dear one, whether you work at home or away from home, life is indeed extremely demanding. Time with Jesus will not happen by accident. The question remains. Will we long for Him above and before all else? To “whomsoever will…” He extends His invitation. Will you linger at the table with Him? If you are hungry for something more than just your daily caloric intake, it’s time to feast…

“He leads me into a banquet room
and looks at me with love.”
(GWT, Song 2:4)

Do you see the longing in His eyes?