Wisdom Seeker: Days 17-18

Proverbs 17 and 18

There is so, so much in both of these chapters that I hope will prayerfully read through them! I don’t normally blog on Sundays but I had to take a moment to share two verses today – one from each chapter.

Though it’s hard to narrow down in such rich chapters, there is a single verse in each one I want to focus on. First, from chapter 17, let’s peek at verse 3:

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts.

Proverbs 17:3

Now I’m not sure how much you know about assaying, but it’s the process of testing a metal ore to determine its purity and quality. It’s done by application of either heat or chemical solvents which break down the metal or ore and separate any impurities.

This is the idea behind the phrase, “The Lord tests hearts.” It isn’t like some spiritual ACT test or college placement exam. He’s applying the heat or solvents needed to break us down into raw parts in order to determine what is actually in our hearts.

This process is often painful, but well worth it in the end. A person whose faith has been broken down into its fundamental parts and assayed is a person who knows what he believes and why.

And that, my friends, is where the going gets good. One reason this verse grabbed me, though, is that it reminds me of the very first passage that ever leapt off the pages of Scripture and pierced my heart:

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.

Isaiah 48:10-11

Early in my walk with God, He showed me that all the affliction I had endured to date, whether self-inflicted or circumstantial, was meant by Him to draw me to Himself. It was a refining, a revealing of the impurity of my heart, and a stone-cold reminder that glory is due Him, not me. It gave me hope, perspective, and purpose all in one.

Now that’s a rather long story, but I promised to address another verse so it will have to wait. Time is short, so let me just say the following verse was one of the early ones that followed the passage from Isaiah in stabbing me with conviction and beginning the process of sanctification in me.

It’s these powerful, convicting, purposeful, and personal words from the Scriptures that make this book a Living Word. It’s what I love, even when the process hurts my pride. Who am I kidding? It kills my pride, but the thing needs to die anyway.

Oh, how I love my God! And He continually reminds me how I need to be vocal about it. Why? Well, let’s look at today’s verse:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Proverbs 18:21

Swept Away

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
(Romans 12:15)

Thirteen years ago today, my oldest nephew was born. One year ago today, the mother of a good friend and a neighbor of mine passed away.

Thirteen years ago as K made his entrance into the world, I breathed a sigh of relief. My sister and I were both pregnant at the same time and both due in August of 2004 – along with another lady at our church. According to our due dates, my sister should have gone first… but K was in no rush to leave the security of the womb.

When the other mom, who was due in the middle, had her baby first, my sister was not amused and I said a little prayer that my own baby would not be born first. She wasn’t, and so on the day K arrived, I rejoiced not only for the healthy new addition to our family but also because I had been spared the wrath of a pregnant woman long past her due date.

Thirteen years ago, I was also making final preparations for my own little one who eventually attempted to enter the world on August 30 feet-first, putting an end to my aspirations of having a natural, drug-free birth. She continues to forge ahead in her own, quirky way to this very day. C’est la vie…

One year ago, my heart broke for my friend and for her dad. I had been blessed with the opportunity of visiting Mrs. T twice since her cancer relapse, but when the end approached, things spiraled down rather quickly. How I hate to watch cancer suck the life out of a person; how I loved Mrs. T’s joy despite it all. When we talked, she was always cheerful. On her livingroom couches, we chatted and laughed, defying death to rob the joy from life.

A year ago, I was also preparing to deliver Mrs. T’s eulogy – an experience that left this short little introvert feeling simultaneously honored and immensely terrified. However, she had asked me on one of our last chats and there was no chance I would let my fear cause me to decline a dying woman’s wish – particularly one that had always shown my kids and I such kindness and acceptance. I prayed that the Lord would give me words to comfort and encourage, and I trust that He did.

So it is that today, my thoughts are consumed with the crazy dichotomy of joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure that makes up human life.  I rejoice at my nephew’s thirteen years, at watching him grow from the plumpness of infancy to the stringy musculature of budding manhood.

Yet I weep for my friend; for the pain of grief and the hateful reality of disease and death. Even for those whose hope extends beyond the grave, Death is still a merciless and irreconcilable thief. My fervent prayer today is that, if she has not already, my friend will come to know the peace of my Lord in the midst of her loss, and that His presence will bring the light of joy to banish the gloom of loss.

And I am thankful. Thankful to be a part of every bit of it – the joy and the pain. Thankful that Mrs. T had made her peace with God and was unafraid to walk into the unknown of death, knowing that she was known on the other side. Grateful to watch all my own children, nieces, nephews, and innumerable young friends grow and change, experience both failure and victory, hurt and be comforted, mourn and laugh and live and love and be.

I rejoice at their smiles and laughter. I weep for their anguish and suffering. I love them all.  And suddenly, I am struck that our Lord prayed His very last prayer on earth for unity – unity with Him, with the Father, and with each other. He knows our great need, the tragedy and frailty of humanity warped by sin, the awful beauty of both mirth and tears.

To endure the overwhelming tide of emotion, the dizzy heights and the horrible depths, we need each other to help bear the weight of it all. And most of all, we need Him, the Rock of Ages, the great Foundation to provide meaning and purpose so that we are not swept away by the wild and unpredictable tides of life.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
(John 17:20-21)

Speaking of Pain…

Jesus wept.
John 11:35

Although I have read the story of the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11 countless times, after my most recent reading, two words have stayed with me: Jesus wept.

I’m not sure why this tiny sentence has remained in my thoughts. Perhaps it is the paradox that such a simple subject and verb construction would express so profound a concept as the sorrow of the Almighty. Or maybe at a time when certain family situations have touched a great well of sorrow and heartache within me, I find it comforting to know that He, too experienced emotional pain.

Why did He weep? Many have conjectured that possibly He wept because of the suffering of His friends, or maybe He wept that such a thing as death had entered into His creation at all, or because He knew that, in calling Lazarus back from death, He was calling his friend away from paradise and back into the drudgery and pain of life in a sin-scarred world.

I imagine that if our own reasons for weeping are complex, the tears of the Creator are shed for reasons that would confound our finite intellect. Still, it is safe to say that one reason Jesus wept is certain: He wept because He was in pain.

So it was that this smallest of Bible verses still lingered in my mind when I happened onto Facebook and saw a post by an old friend. He had posted a question that struck me as both ironic in light of this Scripture and terribly sad: “Why does God hate me?”

Ah, the incongruity! This God, the Creator of all who endowed His creation with the ability to either choose or reject Him; the King of kings and Lord of lords who willingly shelved His glory and donned the feebleness of mankind, Who chose to endure physical and emotional torment on our behalf; Who chose, even, to endure spiritual torment that one day on the cross… these actions do not describe hatred or even indifference.

If anything God can sympathize with us because He knows what it is like to feel distress and suffering. He knows what it is like to weep. He has embraced pain.

Can you imagine the depth and breadth of anguish experienced by the Infinite God? The cost of those tears is measured in currency far too precious to express. Allow me to share with you (and dare I hope that my old friend will read these words?) the poignant passage by G. K. Chesterton:

But in the terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt… He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.”

Because He wept, we can know that He understood emotional pain. We can only imagine how his anguish is amplified beyond reckoning by His own infinite capacity to suffer. Because He chose to endure not only physical torture but the pain of rejection, of loss, of betrayal – in short, the pain of humanity – we know that in Him we can boldly approach the Throne of Grace to find mercy and grace to help in time of need.

And it is there, when we finally fall at the feet of the Most High in a posture of abject humility, confessing our need of Him in ultimate surrender and in trembling reverence, lifting our own tear-filled eyes to behold the King of glory, we will find something shocking. Rather than a countenance filled with the fury we know we deserve, we see instead His grief: a Father weeping both for the hurt that His child has endured and for the pain of rejection, but also a Father weeping for joy at the prodigal child returned.

Oh, how I hope and pray that so many hurting souls will come to the God who wept and find forgiveness, compassion, and a joy that never ends!

Morning Meanderings

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”
Job 2:10a

Today as I walked with my Father in the cool of the morning, my heart was filled with adoration for Him and gratitude for all He has done and continues to do all around me. Tennessee is so beautiful in spring, and I was acutely aware that living in such a gorgeous place is a blessing – one for which I am very thankful.

Walking through the neighborhood, exulting in God and in the beauty of His creation, my thoughts roamed to the various stages and seasons of life. No wonder, for even as I type these words, a friend and neighbor is in the hospital in labor with twins. Though her labor will truly be just that – hard work and travail – and though the future remains unclear, still we all look forward to the joy of two new lives.

On the same street, another friend battles physical and emotional pain from a diagnosis of cancer and from complications from surgery. For this family, the road ahead is not so sunny, for his battle will be a battle against death and despair. Yet even here, there is the possibility of new life, for it is sometimes in anguish and suffering that we find a keener, sweeter appreciation for what our Lord suffered on our behalf.

Nearby, another precious friend recovers from a recent heart attack and stroke and still greets each new day with a smile. Though her nine and a half decades have left her body frail, her spirit has grown strong under the loving care of her heavenly Father, and she shares the joy He brings with all who are around her. For her, the road is nearing its end and she rejoices in her brief stay on earth and in the promise of eternity with her mighty King.

Another house in the neighborhood stands quieter than in previous years. In it, yet another friend has already finished her race, leaving behind both sorrow for her loss and a lifetime of delightful memories for her husband, children, and grandchildren.

As I walked and prayed, traces of what (I hope) is a waning migraine flared and receded. Spikes of pain shot through the ball of my foot, reminding me that with arthritis, every walk has its price.

The cool air wafted around my bare arms, and the birds lilted and trilled their various songs from the trees above as they darted about preparing nests or feeding their young. The fragrance of honeysuckle was swallowed by the pungent odor of a dead skunk. There, too, one death serves as a continuance of life for a pair of black vultures.

Over by the laNestingGoose008ke, a family of geese honked a warning and a great blue heron winged his way toward some other destination.

All around me is life and death; all around are reminders of the beginning of the race and the finish plus all the long miles in between. Life mingling both the bitter and the sweet, the poignant and the mundane; and death bringing a finality to all.

And yet…

For those who are in Christ, even death is a victory. Even suffering can be sweet. There is nothing wasted; nothing broken that cannot be restored; no error or tragedy that cannot be redeemed. Through the work of the Messiah, even the most heinous sin can be forgiven, and in Him, there is a gleam of light even in the darkest and most terrible regions of the path.

Today, I am thankful for my life in its entirety; for migraines and for seasons of respite from them, for suffering and blessing, for triumph and tragedy, for times of repose and seasons of toil, for all that is bright and beautiful and for the times of darkness that bring a greater hunger for and appreciation of the Light.

Today, I am thankful for the entire journey.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”  … But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:55, 57-58