We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).
To live is to have laughed and loved; and even to have enjoyed the warmth of the sun and the coolness of a summer's breeze. On these days, we can breathe deeply and take in all that life has to offer with contentment. But if you've lived at all, you know there is another side to life. There are those days, when every second feels as if it's pressing in upon you: narrowing the gates and closing off all hope of a brighter day. In these dark days, the light seems so far off that all we have is lingering dread with the stench of impending doom. We've all felt the stinging arrows that pierce our hearts, when we are to blame for this dread. That moment, when you know it was you, your words or your deeds, that caused this great suffering. You've made the crown of thorns covered with shame upon your head. To where can you go? To where can you hide?
What do you do when the dread of darkness encompasses you? When this world has failed us, and we've even failed ourselves, we have a hope, an unfathomable joy that we can look upon. Even in the darkest hour of our lives, this hope can be seen for it is invisible. It's the fountain of living water that never ceases to flow. To be young in the faith is to question and wish this hope was visible, but the seasoning of life with it's many valleys and mountain peaks teaches us the sage of knowing this hope is most precious because it is unseen, for it shines the brightest in our darkest hour.
- need not look any further than the story of my own life to find renewed hope that comes from suffering, which includes a string of poor decisions. I know the gospel to be holy and true for it says that suffering will produce endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and the hope does not put us to shame (Romans 5:3-5). I've drank of the living water and I know that it is good. I have tasted of the Lord and He has nourished and refreshed me. I, myself, have called upon His holy name from the suffocation of wave upon wave of outcomes from my disastrous decisions and conduct. I sought His face, in the midst of my own despair and public shame. Oh, but the Lord is good. And ever-present comfort in the times of my distress. A friend to sinners. A shield for the broken. A healing bomb for the wounded. A flight for those entrapped.
As I stand in the resurrection of Jesus, from the ashes of my life of folly, I have a newness of spirit. I can savior the choir of angels who forever sing, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty. Who was, is, and is yet to come" (Revelation 4:8). I can breathe in deeply and know this is true for it is life to me. I need not see them; I can feel them. I feel their peace. I feel their joy. I feel their completeness. I know they are whole and complete: lacking in nothing. I know the constrains of my flesh which still bind me, so I long desperately to be back home and know this completeness fully myself. But I know that I must go on, for the Lord's work is not complete in me. He has to refine me further. If I should live 1000 years, the work would not be completed here for my depravity seems to ever be present and gurgle up out of the depths of my bowls and spew forth death all over me, once again. Oh, how I long for the day, when I shall be separated from this evilness, even within me. The confession of Isaiah before a Holy God, “I am a man of unclean lips.” I know it too well.
I can't achieve holiness on my own; I know that I need a savior. He alone is holy and righteous. Nothing within me sets me apart; I like man have gone my own way and fallen short of the glory of God. But the dread has passed, and now there is hope. For although I have sinned and made many costly mistakes, I have sought forgiveness of the Lord and His mercies. I have cried out to the Lord to take this evilness from me. I have begged God to make me like unto Him. I've asked that He do whatever He must to make me like Him. I've pleaded with Him to take me through any valleys to ensure that I end on His most Holy Hill. That I should rest with the fathers of the faith; that I should be counted among the tribes; this has been my heart’s desire. I can’t fathom the notion of not belonging to Him.
You need not be near me for very long before you realize I exist in my sin stained flesh. To look upon me from the outer appearance, however, is to misjudge for the Lord looks upon the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Deep within me is the pureness, a longing to be good and this is where my Master looks to know me. Oh, how glorious this is. He looks at what is invisible to man. Who can know the ways of the Lord? He can go where no man has ever gone. He can see my heart and the intentions of my heart, long before I defile them. He can see before I make a mess of things: before I can think an impure thought, before I defile my actions, or distort someone’s intentions. He can see that I did want to do good and be like Him, but I am ever so weak in the flesh. He knows my heart is for Him, because He gave me this newness of Heart. He removed my heart of stone that was always against Him and gave me this new heart that loves Him deeply. He has filled it with His Holy Spirit to refine me and put an end to my submission to the evil desires of my flesh. Oh, how precious is this God, that He would only look upon the glorious gift of righteousness that He Himself gave me by the very sacrifice of His own Son with the shame of death upon a cross. To know this Lord is to love Him. Apart from Him, there is only death and dread.
Before my heart was refreshed and made anew, I was the valley of dry bones that Ezekiel looked upon. I gained flesh and blood by eating of the gospel and drinking of the blood of redemption and forgiveness. I looked to the ancient fathers of the faith. I leaned on their experiences and wisdom. I held Isaiah's vision of the Lord on His holy throne encompassed with honor and glory deep inside my heart. When the torrents of life came at me, I'd bring His most holy abode to my remembrance. He is seated far above my troubles: far and lifted up. I'd look at His face, to see if He’d winced. I'd quickly look to His hands; had He lifted a finger? I'd wait and watch to see His reaction. He knew my guilt. He knew my pain. He knew it all of it. He can see all things. What was He going to do? This is where I met Him. The glorious One. I had come to Him in the midst of my pain and suffering and He gave me rest. He gave me His peace. He gave me His mercy. He comforted and steeled my shaken soul with His steadfast unshakable honor, glory and power. He led me out of the wilderness of my own soul to His pastures to give me a resting place. He brought me into His garden, where I could freely eat of it, even from the tree of life. I ate and drank. I found life.
All that I am, is Him. I am nothing apart from Him.
Dear Heavenly Father, I pray right now that You would refresh and renew the hearts and minds of all the people who come to Your Most Holy Throne. I pray Father that they remain in You as You remain in them. I pray Father they can drink and be filled. I pray they can be made whole and lacking in nothing. I pray they come to know You as the angels know You, "Holy, Holy, Holy is that Lord God Almighty. Who was, is, and is yet to come." Amen
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