All Things New – Part III

This last weekend I was able to attend the ONE Conference at Cornerstone Berean Church in Ames, Iowa. I hadn’t been to a women’s conference in quite a while, so I was excited for some time to get away, learn, and worship.

Now, after all is said and done, I feel challenged to share with you everything that I took away from this conference. The entirety of this weekend was exceptionally transformational to my walk with God, and I am excited to share that with you.

session three, October 6

James 1:5 says that ‘if any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.’

This is an amazing verse, but one that is quite often misinterpreted. We read James 1:5 and convince ourselves that all we must do is ask, and God will deliver. Rarely does it actually happen this way though, and not due to a lack on God’s part, but because we’re asking the wrong question.

As human beings, we are notorious for asking the wrong question. We want to know exactly what to do; how to do it, and when. Because of this, we start to believe that this is how we must discern God’s will for our lives and follow it. However, asking God to tell us what to do, how to do it, and when is not wisdom as James 1:5 describes it.

Wisdom is an internal mechanism to make decisions. Knowledge is just facts.

So often when we kneel to pray and ask God for wisdom about any decision we may be facing, rather than asking for the humble discernment we need to make a wise decision with the information we have, we ask God to tell us what only God knows – facts, details, and outcomes of the future.

With this kind of approach, we mistreat, misuse, and abuse the Word of God by viewing it as more of a ‘how to’ manual for our lives rather than the glorious, shameless, infallible declaration of the glory and majesty of God Almighty. We miss the real purpose and process of sanctification and start believing that the decisions in life – where to live, who to marry, where to work, etc. – are the main focus.

We convince ourselves that ‘if only we could make better decisions, then we’ll be better people’ right?

I’ll admit it, I’ve spent years believing this and striving for this. If I could just train myself to make better decisions, then I would become that gentle and quiet, godly, wise woman described in Proverbs 31.

What does this actually do though? Eventually, with this kind of approach to discovering God’s will, my success, my obedience, my faithfulness, my righteousness, my everything —it is all left up to me. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that’s good news…at all!

Because failure is in our nature, we become a nervous wreck when trying to discern God’s will because if it is in fact left up to our own decision making whether we stay within God’s will or not, we know that we’ll eventually fall to the wayside.

So rather than asking God and trying to discern what to do, where to go, and when, perhaps there’s a better question that we could be asking.

Rather than inquiring of God to show us what to do, let’s be men and women who daily seek to discover who He wants us to be, because…

God is always more concerned with the decision-maker than He is with the decision itself.   -Jen Wilkin

And when you start asking this question, I promise that you will be pleasantly surprised to find that it is quite clear what the will of God is.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable…for God did not call us to be impure but to live a holy life (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7).

God’s will for our lives is to be holy, because He is holy’ (Leviticus 11:44-45, 19:1-2, 20:26, 1 Peter 1:15-16).

Haven’t we already been made holy though? Doesn’t it say in Hebrews 10:10 that ‘we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’?

This is true, as we have been given positional holiness in and through Jesus – we have been delivered from the penalty of sin and granted righteousness before God by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

However, we are directed to pursue practical holiness in a life of faith, trust, and righteousness before God; working out our salvation with fear and trembling, trusting that it is God who works in us to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Philippians 2:12).

When Jesus instructed us to ‘ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,’ he was not talking about the daily decisions that we face throughout our lifetime.

Rather, God was saying that the answer will be given; the secret will be found; and the door will be opened to the one asking, seeking, and pursuing holiness. What good is the ‘right decision’ if I’m still the ‘wrong person?’

As believers, we have the power to choose rightly; the wisdom to credit God with those right decisions; and wonderful grace for when we get it wrong.

The will of God for our lives is to be holy, because He is holy, and we have been given the power, wisdom, and grace to do just that through Jesus Christ. Through the amazing grace of Jesus Christ, we have been justified through faith and reconciled to God. We have been granted new names and a new purpose for which we are to live. And finally, we have been set on a new path; on the path of God’s will which is to be holy, because He is holy.

All Things New – Part II

This last weekend I was able to attend the ONE Conference at Cornerstone Berean Church in Ames, Iowa. I hadn’t been to a women’s conference in quite a while, so I was excited for some time to get away, learn, and worship.

Now, after all is said and done, I feel challenged to share with you everything that I took away from this conference. The entirety of this weekend was exceptionally transformational to my walk with God, and I am excited to share that with you.

Session two, October 6

Day two of the ONE Conference began with another session by Jen Wilkin where she discussed the different implications of Revelation 21:5 – “And He who was seated on the throne said “Behold I am making all things new.”

A part of being made new in Christ is that we, like the saints who have gone before us, are given new names.

Having a ‘name’ implies a number of things. Names allow us to establish or demonstrate ownership, authority, affection towards others, association with another person, relationship to someone or something, personality, and most of all, purpose.

I was given a plaque when I was younger with my name printed on it in nice, flowing cursive letters. Below that was a description of the meaning my name had. The English meaning of my name is Follower of Christ; or in its original Greek, The Anointed.

Not only is this really significant for me personally, but it also gives me a deep sense of purpose; of direction and single-mindedness. I want to live up to my name.

There are many Bible heroes who experienced similar affection and deep association with their names, primarily their God-given names which elicited great purpose in their lives. For example…

Simon was given the name Peter, which means the Rock. He would later become the rock on which the church was built.

Abram was given the name Abraham, which means the father of many nations. Through him God would bring forth all the nations of Israel and ultimately, the line of Jesus Christ.

We see another name change in Genesis 32 when God appears before Jacob, the son of Isaac. The name Jacob means he grasps the heel. This makes sense, since a few chapters earlier we read about how Jacob came out of his mother’s womb grasping the heel of his twin brother.

When we look at the entirety of Jacob’s life leading up to this point though, we can see that he was, in fact, a ‘grasper.’ He deceived, he lied, and he manipulated his way through life; having very little faith in the sovereignty of God and constantly trying to make things happen on his own and for his own good.

We eventually find Jacob broken and waiting; wrestling with himself and God as he struggles with his guilt and shame (Genesis 32:24). Jacob recalls all of his mistakes, all of his sinful ways, and every single time that he had ever messed up. He barters with God; wrestling with conviction and trying to negotiate his way through the consequences.

There comes a moment in this passage however when God reaches out and touches Jacob, crippling him and causing him to cease his fighting and struggling. It took but one touch from God for Jacob to stop wrestling and listen to the voice of God.

When asked what his name was, he responds with ‘Jacob’ as if to confess who he really was…a grasper; one who deceives and lies and manipulates.

As Jacob confesses his sins though, God changes him. He takes that which was broken and sinful and refines him into an overcomer. God took Jacob in all of his sin and deceit and changes his name to Israel, which means he struggles with God and that God contends with him; an overcomer.

In this simple act of authority, God establishes ownership, affection, association, and relationship with Jacob. But more significantly, God gives him a new name; a new identity and a new purpose.

Like Jacob, we have been made new. We have been given new names as children of God. This is who we are. We will forever and always be found holy and righteous before God because He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV).

Now, you may be thinking as I was in that moment- “this is all fine and dandy, but I know myself and I know I’m going to slip back into old habits and patterns before too long, despite this ‘new name’ that I’ve been given.”

Perhaps that’s why the next portion of this passage was so powerful for me, because Jacob did exactly that…he backslid. In an attempt to manipulate the situation and exercise some degree of control over God, Jacob asks God to tell him what His name was (Genesis 32:29, NIV).  Remember, names allow us to establish or demonstrate ownership, authority, affection, association, relationship, personality, and purpose.

Jacob returned to his old habit of manipulating a situation and reaching for power and control over another. How often do we do exactly that? We know we are redeemed; renewed and made new and what do we do? We return to our old ways.

We become afraid.

We entertain anxious thoughts.

We gossip.

We judge others.

We blindly follow our perfectionistic tendencies.

But God remains faithful and even though Jacob backslid, He extends a gentle rebuke. “Why do you ask me my name?” He asks. And in that moment God blesses Jacob and leaves (Genesis 32:30, NIV).

God gently reminds us that we are no longer who we once were. We have been given a new name, a new purpose, and a new identity. This doesn’t mean that we will never sin again or that we will never fall into old patterns and habits, but that when we do, God will remain the One who contends with us, prevails, and makes all things new.

All Things New – Part III – Now that we have been made new in Christ and been given new names, we are set on a new path and given a new purpose and focus. How do we find that though? How do we go about discovering what God’s will is for our lives? Perhaps it’s not as hard as we often make it out to be…

Confessions of a Tortured Perfectionist

My jaw slacked slightly as I continued reading the results of this particular personality test.

“This is so me,” I thought to myself in astonishment.

Despite the many personality tests that I have taken in the past, I still get excited about seeing my results. I find these kinds of tests incredibly interesting.

However, upon completing this most recent personality test, I experienced a slightly different response.

I was discouraged; maybe a little hopeless.

After finishing the Enneagram Personality Test, I got my results and it was exactly what everyone had anticipated…

I’m a One and a Six.

What does that mean? Well, here’s a brief description…

Enneagram Type 1, The Reformer – Perfectionist, responsible, fixated on improvement.

People of this personality type are essentially looking to make things better, as they think nothing is ever quite good enough. This makes them perfectionists who desire to reform and improve, idealists who strive to make order out of the omnipresent chaos.

Ones have a fine eye for detail. They are always aware of the flaws in themselves, others and the situations in which they find themselves. This triggers their need to improve, which can be beneficial for all concerned, but which can also prove to be burdensome to both the One and those who are on the receiving end of the One’s reform efforts.

Enneagram Type 6, The Loyalist – Conflicted between trust and distrust.

People of this personality type essentially feel insecure, as though there is nothing quite steady enough to hold onto. At the core of the type Six personality is a kind of fear and anxiety. This anxiety has a very deep source and can manifest in a variety of different styles, making Sixes somewhat difficult to describe and to type.

What all Sixes have in common however is the fear rooted at the center of their personality, which manifests in worrying, the restless imaginings of everything that might go wrong.

Ask anyone who knows me well and they will tell you that these results are very accurate.

As I continued reading the description, I noticed a sinking feeling in my spirit. The perfectionist in me saw only the negative aspects of these personality traits; the responsible part of me started fixating on all the ways I could improve myself based on these results.

And as I started writing this article, a sudden war broke out between trusting God as I confessed my shortcomings and wanting to hide for fear of exposing my flaws.

Yep, I’m definitely a One and a Six.

After finishing all the different descriptions and associated articles, I realized why I had begun to feel so discouraged…

I am not what I ought to be – ah, how imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be – I abhor what is evil, and I want to cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be – soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection (John Newton, 1772).

I realized that the personality described on the screen in front of me was that of a person who was nothing like Jesus Christ.

A tortured perfectionist … ‘to all perfection there is a limit,’ (Psalm 119:96) so why are you even trying?

An impulsive ‘goody two shoes’ fixated on constant improvement … ‘apart from Christ you have no good thing within yourself after all.’ (Psalm 16:2) You will never be good enough.

A conflicted soul caught between a desire to trust and inherent suspicion … ‘you’re supposed to trust in the Lord with all your heart you know.’ (Proverbs 3:5) You must not really trust God. You’re such a hypocrite.

Ah, how painful the war between flesh and spirit is. My thoughts continued to spin on this carrousel of internal conflict and desire.

This was everything I didn’t want to be; it was nothing of what I wished to be; and it was everything I hoped I wouldn’t be tomorrow.

But then the still small voice of Love and Truth broke through the chaos:

‘I AM your perfection. Remember that you are not who you were yesterday because of my grace.’

John Newton went on to say that yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge that, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”

Because of my perfectionist tendencies, by the grace of God it doesn’t take much for me to realize that this imperfect world is not my home; that I have a perfect eternity waiting for me. It’s not difficult for me to tap into that sense of eternity that He has placed in my heart. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

By His grace, I desire to be holy because He is holy. (1 Peter 1:16)

Through my internal conflict between trusting and being inherently suspicious, God graciously reminds me to depend on Him as the only steadfast One in this life and the next.

Indeed, to all perfection I see a limit, but praise God that His perfect Word is limitless. (Psalm 19:7; 119:96)

It is true that without God I would have no good thing, but how joyful it is to know that I will never have to live a day apart from His goodness. (Psalm 16:2; Deuteronomy 31:6)

Yes, I know that I need to trust in God, but my heart is assured that when I don’t, I will not be alone. The Holy Spirit will help me in my weakness. (Proverbs 3:5; Romans 8:26)

So remember that despite what you lack; regardless of your good qualities and bad habits, all that you are is because of Him and everything that you’re not, He is.

The Fear of the Lord in the Shadow of the Cross

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you…(1 Peter 4:12, NIV)

Fiery ordeals are a regular part of life. We struggle against trials and temptations such as lust, idolatry, fear, anxiety, and depression on a daily basis while some of us may encounter the horrors of sickness, tragedy, loss, heartbreak, and injustice. Regardless of the degree or nature of our fiery ordeals, our tendency is to fear those things. We avoid them, we lose sleep over them, and more often than not, we allow them to consume our every thought.

It is from this place of fear that we often turn to the Bible. With a heart that feared man and the world, I so often reached for the Bible not as the holy and infallible Word of God, but as a remedy for my fear. One of the biggest oversights that I have seen in my own Christian walk is the omission and misinterpretation of what it means to fear the Lord and how that kind of fear forms a vital piece of our foundation as Bible-believing Christians.

who do we fear?

But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8, NIV)

Let’s consider the story in Mark 4:35-41 where Jesus calms the storm. When we read about this miracle and the many like it throughout the Bible, we tend to insert our own personal ‘storm’ into that particular scenario. The violent waves that threatened to vanquish the disciples are often interpreted to be the fiery ordeals that threaten our lives – the tragedy of cancer, the heartbreak of a lost relationship, the loss of a job, or the injustice of abuse and neglect. We are encouraged through this Biblical account to not make the same mistakes as the disciples did but to instead trust that Jesus will calm the storm; that he will cure the cancer, restore the relationship, provide an even better job, or impose His rightful justice on those who inflict harm on the innocent and helpless.

Rather than a right and reverent fear of the Lord, it is our daily circumstances that we use as an elusive reference point for our Biblical interpretation, understanding, and wisdom, which is then easily corruptible by emotion and sentiment. We therefore tailor God’s promises and miracles according to our present circumstances, inadvertently missing the grander purpose of the story. This interpretation that God will ‘calm our storms’ may be applicable, but it is not exactly foundational. Rather, this interpretation places a subtle emphasis on our fear of man and circumstances, subsequently identifying God as a simple remedy for such fear rather than the ultimate object of our fear. This then makes Him out to be only slightly larger and more powerful than the fear that we face. It places God’s power to save in relation to our fear rather than submitting our fear to the one and only powerful and holy God, thus shrinking God down to be nothing more than a modern day Hercules.

How do we break this pattern of thinking?

We must first come to realize that the entirety of the Bible and the mission, person, and office of Jesus Christ here on earth points to a greater, more eternal reality than the harsh realities that we face on a daily basis. While it is easier and certainly more manageable to associate our daily battles with the storm in Mark chapter four, it is important that we pull back and realize that the storm in this story and the many stories like it points to a greater, far worse ‘Storm’ that we all inevitably face as a fallen and broken people.

the wrath of god

If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due. (Psalm 90:11, NIV)

Throughout the Bible, the sea often serves as a representation of God’s wrath. This is evident in both the Old and New Testament. We see this representation very clearly in the story of Jonah (Jonah 1:15-17, NIV) as he plunges himself into the raging sea to calm the storm. He is swallowed and remains in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights until being spit back up onto dry land. The entirety of this story points to the greater sacrifice and coming glory of Jesus Christ. Just as Jonah plunged himself into the depths of the sea to calm the storm so too did Jesus plunge himself into the depths of sin to satisfy God’s wrath. Just as Jonah was spit back up onto dry land three days later, so too was Jesus resurrected from the grave three days after being buried.

Even in the book of Revelation, there are a number of references made to the wrath of God being like the sea (Rev. 18:21; 21:1, NIV). Babylon, which represents the seat of all idolatry and the enemy of Christianity, will be cast into God’s wrath as a boulder would be cast into the sea, never to be seen again and with the coming of a new heaven and a new earth, the wrath of God will be no more as His justice will have been satisfied in and through Jesus Christ, thus bringing to completion the original covenant made with God’s chosen people (Gen. 17:7-8; Rev. 21:3, NIV).

We can therefore delineate that Mark 4:35-41 is not necessarily a display of Jesus’ power or will to save us from our daily fiery ordeals, but rather that this story and the many stories like it is pointing to a much greater salvation that Jesus provides – salvation from the wrath of God.

The disciples rightly expressed a deep, unnerving fear of the sea. They were afraid of the unstoppable power that this storm possessed and were even more afraid of being consumed by its waves. In similar fashion, humanity throughout the Old Testament expressed the same kind of trembling before the presence of God Almighty. One such example of this can be found in 2 Samuel 6:1-7. After being commanded by God to not touch the holy things secured in the Ark of the Covenant, we read about a moment where the Ark of the Covenant begins to topple over the edge of an unstable cart and in what we would consider an act of valor, the Israelite named Uzzah reaches out to steady this precious relic. In response, the Lord’s anger burned against [him] because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:7, NIV)

Even our best intentions are infested with sin and insolence towards God. As Isaiah 64:6 says – all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. Jerry Bridges explains this concept beautifully as he considers how ‘even our tears of repentance need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb.’ Even on our best days, we are helpless against the vast and just wrath of God. In front of the Holy of holies, the Great I Am, and the Creator of heaven and earth, sin cannot stand. In its entirety, sin must be destroyed. David understood the necessity for this kind of fear of the Lord as he penned Psalm 90. He knew how essential a right fear of the Lord was to the foundation of his faith. He knew that the entirety of who he was – good and bad – could not bear under the holiness of who God is, and therefore he knew this fear; this appropriate and right fear of the Lord and His holiness and righteousness. It is only when we have a knowledge of the magnificence of God’s holiness and perfection that we recognize the depth of our own depravity, causing us to tremble at His Word. And it is in that moment as we stand trembling before the transcendent God that our hearts are humbled and prepared to behold the glory of Jesus Christ.

the shadow of the cross

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24, NIV)

Imagine that you are on some country road all by yourself. There are no other cars around and no indication of civilization anywhere to be seen across the acres of one corn field after the other. The only thing that disrupts your endless view of the horizon is this ominous, terrifying F-5 tornado. Your car radio blares with emergency warnings, instructing all who are in this tornado’s path to find shelter immediately. You realize that you are in the direct path of this tornado, but even more alarming is the realization that you have nowhere to go. You are in fact helpless.

That’s when, out of the corner of your eye, you notice someone waving their arms, trying to get your attention. They seemed to have shown up out of nowhere but are now motioning for you to follow them into what appears to be a bunker; an underground refuge. So you follow in faith that this bunker will protect you and suddenly find yourself out of harm’s way. From the refuge of this bunker you are now able to see this F-5 tornado for what it really is – a magnificent, overwhelming, unnerving natural phenomenon that possesses unspeakable power. Without fearing your own demise, you are able to take in the full magnitude; the awe-inspiring massiveness and greatness of this F-5 tornado. And not only do you observe with fear and trembling as the tornado passes by, but you also experience a reverence and an awe-inspired gratitude for the bunker that protected you from such inescapable annihilation.

The disciples had an experience similar to this as the storm raged around them. They experienced a fear for their own lives. They knew that they were helpless against the unstoppable power of the storm and therefore feared that they would be lost to the violence of the waves. What is interesting about this first-hand account of Jesus’ miraculous power is that Mark mentions the terror expressed by the disciples only after Jesus calms the storm. Of course, their cries – “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” – imply fear, but it is only in verse 41 after Jesus rebukes the storm and tells it to be still that Mark actually notes the terror of the disciples.

Likewise, there is a certain fear that we get to experience in the shadow of Jesus’ power to save unlike the fear expressed by Old Testament believers. Just as the disciples trembled at the power that Jesus demonstrated in calming the sea, so too do we tremble at the power displayed by Jesus on the cross as he satisfied the wrath of God against all sin. Our trembling at the cross however can never be fully known or truly expressed until we first recognize what exactly it is that the cross continuously saves us from.

the fear of the lord

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10, NIV)

Pastor J.D. Greear describes the fear of the Lord as ‘a recognition of the size of God.’ Aside from a real trembling before the Lord in right, reverent fear of him, we will never, as Proverbs 9:10 assures, attain a true wisdom and understanding of God. When our view of God grows too small, we do not fear His sovereignty. When our faith and trust in Him becomes too manageable, we begin trusting in ourselves rather than His omnipotence. When He is diminished to a mere being that is only slightly greater and wiser than ourselves, we become arrogant and lofty in our thinking; becoming wise in our own eyes rather than dependent on His omniscience. How does this happen? Consider the words of Grace Thornton in her book, I Don’t Wait Anymore: “If we don’t realize how big the Kingdom on the horizon is, we risk seeing God as really small here. And if the Light on the horizon isn’t so bright that it’s nearly tangible, the small here can become really big.”

When we reach for the Word of God as a remedy against our fear of this world, God only becomes slightly larger than our fears or problems. He is diminished to be only wise enough, powerful enough, and sufficient enough to ease our fears, and that’s it.

Think about the massive F-5 tornado that you encountered on the desolate country road for a moment. What would the bunker have meant to you apart from the presence of that F-5 tornado? Nothing. It would have been a simple bunker with no real or necessary power to save. Without an acknowledgment of God’s wrath and an assent to our own helplessness in light of His justice, the cross of Jesus Christ would bear no real necessity or power to save.

The unstoppable and overwhelming, indisputable justice of God serves as an agent that prepares our hearts to deeply treasure the saving grace of Jesus Christ. This right understanding and fear of God’s wrath is necessary for us to recognize our deep-rooted depravity, which then elicits in our hearts a true and appropriate reverence and awe for the saving grace of Jesus Christ which stands between God’s wrath and our immorality. We tremble before the cross only when we recognize what the cross actually defends us from and then assent to the fact that we could not and cannot defend ourselves. When we recognize that the entirety of who we are as sinful human beings cannot bear under the weight of God’s holiness, we start down the path of wisdom; understanding the extent to which we need the cross. This prepares us to approach the cross of Jesus Christ with a humble and contrite spirit; trembling at the glory of His sacrifice and standing terrified at His power to save. A deficiency in understanding the magnitude and severity of the Storm that is God’s wrath and justice results in a minimized and diluted sense of Jesus’ love, grace, and power to save us from that Storm. When we lose sight of the greater problem that we inherently face as a fallen and broken people, we naturally become preoccupied with the ‘light and momentary troubles’ (2 Cor. 4:17, NIV) of this world rather than remaining eternally fixated on ‘God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:6, NIV). A fear of man is derived when we forget to look beyond the cross into the ‘consuming fire’ that is the one and only sovereign and holy God Almighty. The beauty of the cross diminishes only when the reality of God’s wrath becomes inconsequential in our hearts and minds. When we rightly understand what it is that Jesus saves us from and firmly place our faith and confidence in the love and mercy of Christ, only then are we able to witness the magnificence and fullness of God’s righteous and holy power; bearing a right, reverent fear of the Lord from the security we have in the shadow of the cross.

Teach me your way Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths, from the realm of the dead. (Psalm 86:11-13, NIV)

New Beginnings

I pulled into the parking lot and took one last breath before stepping into this new unknown that was before me.

The day was Thursday, May 19, 2016.

One year ago today.

I had graduated college five days prior to this moment and moved into my new apartment only two days ago. I had just celebrated by 22nd birthday the day before and now found myself in the parking lot of my new office building.

This was my chance at a new beginning.

The thought of having my own apartment and living entirely on my own sounded wonderful, yet only a few months later I found myself independent like I had wanted, but lonely; working a great job, but also aimless.

The life I had once kept at a very brisk pace suddenly came to a halt.

After years of striving towards something; striving toward High School graduation, toward college, toward college graduation, and ultimately toward the life I was now living…after years of this, I was finally here and it was an absolute, utter wasteland.

This was it.

That’s when I picked up what is now my favorite book by Logan Wolfram titled Curious Faith. Within the pages of this book there is an analogy that has stuck with me ever since I opened it up for the first time.

In seasons where life seems stripped down and barren, we can do more than just survive. We can receive abundance.

One gift of the wilderness is the clarity we gain when all else is stripped away. When life feels bare, it’s easier to see what is truly important. Priorities align, distractions fade away, and we find ourselves in an environment where we can dig deeper into our faith (Curious Faith by: Logan Wolfram).

My life, my goals, my sole desire for achievements and acceptance had been stripped away. Where I was once ambitious and a go-getter, I now found myself sitting alone on the couch every night watching Netflix for lack of anything better to do.

However, as I look back on it now a year later, I can see that it was in those empty spaces and isolated moments that I truly found Jesus.

I grew up in a Christian home and always considered myself ‘well-versed’ in the art of Christianity, though it wasn’t until this particular wasteland that I realized that that was all He was to me – something to achieve and perfect.

That is not what our God is.

Several months after starting on this journey, I stood alone in church one Sunday morning as the words of Bethel’s song You Make Me Brave washed over me, wave after wave, and I finally understood.

Christ had been serving a purpose in my life. He just wasn’t thee purpose.

I realized that while I was using God to achieve this ‘Proverbs 31 woman’ ideology, I forgot the real purpose for which I should be pursuing Him.

Him.

Instead of praying that my hopes and dreams for this new beginning would align with His, I was imploring God to grant what I wanted; to align with my expectations for the way I thought my life should go. Logan Wolfram explains perfectly that often it is these expectations that become preconceived resentments (Curious Faith by: Logan Wolfram).

I resented God. I harbored bitterness towards Him because I had yet to receive what I thought was a ‘good’ dream; what I had been in ‘holy pursuit’ of for so long.

It wasn’t until my time in the wilderness; my time in isolation and solitude that I recognized my shortcoming. I had been pursuing all of these spinoffs and results of a Christ-centered, Christ-motivated lifestyle and forgot to actually pursue the heart of it all.

I forgot to pursue Christ; to know Christ not for what He could grant me, but to know Him for Him. I was living a presently preoccupied lifestyle rather than an eternally focused one. I was seeking that which would make me look and feel like a good Christian in the here and now rather than seeking Jesus Christ and His Kingdom, the only One who could actually change my heart and give me joy when all else falls apart.

Wildernesses are tough though.

This isn’t going to be a blog that sugarcoats the realities of what wildernesses truly feel like. They are hard, they make us want to give up, but most of all, they plant in our hearts a destructive lie.

Wildernesses have the potential to make us believe that our future is hopeless.

It is a sinking feeling when you realize each night that the next day would only be the same as the day you had just finished. There were plenty of nights like this for me over the last year, and nothing built up feelings of hopelessness in my heart quicker than the belief that the next day wasn’t going to be a new beginning, but only a broken record repeating yesterday and the day before.

But…

Praise God that He never leaves us there in our hopelessness.

As someone who can speak from the other side of a wilderness, I promise you that there is hope.

Life is full of new beginnings my friend, you just have to look for them.

It could be in the sunrise, a thunderstorm, meeting a new friend, or reaching out to someone who is hurting. It could even be in the simple prayer when prayer seems impossible.

Simply saying the name ‘Jesus’ amidst the most terrifying storms of our life is the best ‘new beginning’ you could ever embark on!

I’ve seen over the course of a year (one of the hardest years of my life thus far, yet also one of the most joyful) how a wilderness can change someone.

How the solitude can create abundance in one’s heart.

How the isolation can be filled with an all-knowing presence that satisfies to the fullest.

He is doing a new thing! He is making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:18-19).

My friend, He is making all things new; He is renewing you!

There is only one hope when all else feels hopeless and that is Jesus and it is found in a relentless pursuit to know Him and to know His heart for you. That is our hope; that is our lifeline when faced with the wind and the waves of this world.

When Peter stepped out of his boat in Matthew 14:29, he deliberately disregarded the hopelessness and fear that was roaring all around him. He set his eyes on the only One he knew could save him and he walked on the water.

The whole concept of walking on water is one based on 2 Peter 1:4 – …He has given us his very great and precious promises so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

When we look to God not in hopes of receiving what we want from Him for our lives here on earth (success, acceptance, relationships, etc.) but rather in expectation of meeting with the Great I Am, we are able to walk over the strivings and vain pursuits of this world and step out onto the waters and walk toward Jesus as Peter did.

We have that very ability within us through Him!

When there is nothing to see in our future, it makes seeing Him a whole lot easier. When there is no hope in this world, it makes holding onto the hope we have in Him that much more fulfilling.

When He is all we have, we lack in nothing.

When the wilderness has you feeling hopeless, remember that our God is a God of new beginnings and that pursuing Him to know Him is worth it all.

He is doing a new thing in you my friend, and He promises that what good works He has begun in you, He will see to completion. Sometimes that might entail time spent in the wilderness, but we have this hope – that Christ goes before us and promises to never leave us nor forsake us.