“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”
1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT
Sometimes life has reoccurring themes. Maybe I just notice because my ears are attune to common words and ideas that are floating around in culture. Quite possibly and with much more probability I’d conclude it is the the Holy Spirit guiding my attention towards lessons I need. The symphony of life gradually orchestrates a crescendo with the featured solo stuck in a loop. You know what I mean, the same topic of conversation among different friend groups, the Bible verse that keeps appearing, that one song that keeps playing on the radio, or even just a word you keep hearing like its being shouted from a megaphone. Whatever the topic, it beckons me closer. The loops that play are hooks to something deeper. When I slow down enough to take note I have the opportunity to learn and have my eyes enlightened. To be renewed with fresh perspective. To be marked by something much greater. To be transformed, one day at a time into a likeness resembling much less of me and more of my Creator.
“For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NLT
Transformation is quite a word. Metamorphosis, a word that has nestled and woven itself a cocoon inside my soul. Several years ago I looked at my life and realized my values and beliefs were not translating into consistent actions. I didn’t want to be “one of those people” who said they loved God but their lives looked no different from the world and society in general. However that’s exactly what my life was. That is who I was. If someone from the outside looked at my life they wouldn’t say the foremost thing about me was I loved Jesus and He had transformed my life. To be completely honest with myself, God was someone I believed in but wasn’t my go-to. I didn’t believe Him “enough” to run to Him daily. I didn’t place my faith in a long obedience but in short term satisfaction. Remaining under His hand in the difficult times seemed too hard. I wanted relief in the “now” and couldn’t grasp how a patient endurance could accomplish that. I could talk a good game. I went to church. I knew the right phrases, but my heart was proud. My spirit was dry and my eyes were a river.
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” Proverbs 12:15 ESV
I know I’m not alone in this. What a wreck this world is, full of the broken and wounded. We are hurt but instead of receiving healing, we turn around and hurt others. These wounds we have…gaping, bleeding, oozing sores…completely exposed though we try to cover them. If I smother enough salve on this, I’ll heal. This salve comes with variable applications of man-made options. Success. Accomplishment. Striving. Isolation. Playing the hero. Acting the victim. Working harder. Giving up. A drink or a drug. Available with a human face, a “Him” or a “Her”. All of these temporary solutions. The wound remains and festers.
“Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.” Jonah 2:8 NIV
However there is another way. We can allow our wounds to heal. Through Christ’s redemption each wound can become a scar. Though still visible they hold a deeper meaning, a story. Scars are a reminder of where we have been. A piece of our history. Some wounds are so deep inside there isn’t physical evidence to those around us, but the soul ache holds us captive and paralyzed. When we embrace courage to share our experience the stronghold of fear, guilt and shame is shattered and replaced by the beauty of redemption. Our past is bought back with purpose for the present. Redemption illuminates my greatest fears and exposes the fallacy of my self-focused perspective. With Jesus these marks become part of the story we have to share with others.
I have several tattoos. They are my marks, my scars of journeys and moments where God has shown Himself to me in ways that have changed me forever. The pain and subsequent healing has been so profound that I want a visible reminder of the life change that took place during each season. Sure, they can be conversation pieces, but more so a reminder of lessons I don’t want to forget. Unfortunately my memory can be selective. Consequently, I must do all I can to be brutally honest with myself of who I am and what I’m capable of by my own works. God’s grace abounds.
God revealed himself to me as El Roi during a season where I felt utterly alone, completely exposed to the elements. Although there were godly people who loved and supported me, they were not with me in my valley. They weren’t supposed to be. The desert of my circumstance allowed the Holy Spirit to tend to my parched soul through Scripture and guide me to an intimacy I had never know existed. It is the reality of knowing someone for many years, spending time, and having some amazing conversations before going through a shared experience that ultimately revolutionizes the relationship. I’ve known Jesus the majority of my life, but never like this. Never so real. This season brought about by external circumstances beyond my control created a refining internal pressure pushing me towards Christ with a thirst I had never experienced or submitted to previously. There was no earthly being who could answer my questions, hold my tears or heal my wounds. Only Jesus. He isn’t just a “someone”, He became my only One. I wanted a reminder of this life changing experience where God came to meet me exactly where I was.
“I feel great pain deep down inside me. The terrors of death are crushing me. Fear and trembling have taken hold of me. Panic has overpowered me. But I call out to God. And the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I groan and cry out. And he hears my voice. Psalm 55:4-5, 16-17, NIRV
Hagar referred to God as, El Roi, the One who sees me in Gen 16:13 when she was fleeing Sarai. He asked her, “Where are you going and where have you come from?” Hagar told the truth, she was running away and God told her to return. I still don’t have the answer to many questions that arose during this particular season, and to many questions that have arisen since, but He does. The tension of the question, “Do I believe God is who He says He is?” would have destroyed me if it had not been for the comfort of His Word. Many times I found assurances not specific answers, but my Spirit was calm. That peace is an answer in itself. I began learning to trust His provision. So my visual reminder is a tattoo on my back, although I don’t have a picture posted I’ll lend to the imagery by saying, “In the rocky desert of my circumstances I will flourish like an olive tree because my God, He is the One who sees. He sees me exactly where I am and meets me, covering and shielding me with wings like an eagle and lending His strength, for He is El Roi.”
I want to remember this wound and the redemptive healing because this marks the point I finally quit running away and began running to Him. This is the season I had a desire to be marked by Jesus. I didn’t want it to be about me anymore. I started participating in the battle and tension of life instead of expecting someone to rescue me. I decided to actively pursue a way of life that would honor God. I would love to say its been smooth sailing from this point on, but no, life has been even more complicated. Nonetheless, God is faithful and I wouldn’t trade any moment of suffering because its interwoven with His grace. My greatest blessings have come from His Comfort. Some nights my prayers were as simple as, “If I trust You with my life, help me trust You enough to sleep”.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust. Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.” Psalms 91:1-2, 14-15 ESV
So I ask, what’s your story? How have you been marked by Christ? If you had to sum it up in a few paragraphs or a brief conversation could you tell another human your history? Would you be willing to share your scars and marks with others? I’m curious because it was a great challenge posed this summer at a conference I attended. We were asked to find someone we didn’t know and share our “nutshell history”. There were so many amazing women with equally incredible stories. It was a rewarding and extremely encouraging experience. How often do we compare our stories weighing them based on the severity of circumstances instead of the immeasurable grace present in all of our lives? Or equally common, do we shy away from sharing because of a fear of judgement? Is my story not real enough? Have I really changed? Can I share my story if I’m currently struggling? Do I need to wait to talk about what Jesus has done to make sure its real? So many questions centered from a self focused insecurity…these are questions that circulate within my own mind. The Lord must so often remind me to risk rejection and judgement. Vulnerability does something amazing. It removes the pretense and allows us to finally take off the mask. It has to start somewhere. Will it start with you? A spirit of community is vital if we are to live in liberty and freedom encouraging one another. Each story is a miracle.
This task of sharing our stories stemmed from Galatians 1:11-24 as Paul tells his experience of coming to know Jesus and the life change that followed. Sure, there is so much more to any relationship than a few sentences, but to succinctly discuss with another person who Christ is and what He has done is so powerful. He alone has the power to effect life change in a manner that could radically transform pain into purpose. To awaken a desire to share what once we would fight to keep hidden. It becomes less about us and much more about Him. We risk it all for the sake of another because of a man who walked this earth and sacrificed all so we might live.
Do people change irrevocably and completely overnight? I haven’t. No, it’s a process. A journey of building new habits and learning to continually surrender. May we have grace in today for one another and be thankful that God doesn’t extend the same judgement that we impose on others. Instead of policing another’s growth I would do well to plead at the throne of mercy for humility. Instead of imposing some harshness of my version of truth I ought do well by allowing the Word to prove true in my own life. Rather than demanding change from the world could we instead live in liberty & freedom by walking out the gospel of love? Let us not lose sight of the completed work of redemption provided at the cross. Not by works. He said it is finished. It is done. By Christ alone.
“But he lifted up our illnesses, he carried our pain; even though we thought he was being punished, attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done. He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed.” Isaiah 53:4-5 NET