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)

A Bigger Narrative

Have you ever picked up a book and started reading in the middle of any random chapter?

After falling behind in high school English class, I was forced to pick up in the middle of a book so that I could understand just enough for the upcoming quiz.

In hindsight, I can now see why I didn’t end up doing very well on that quiz.

I tried to understand a very large narrative within the span of just a few chapters.

In my attempt to do well on this quiz, I tried to grasp the essence of a story that the author intended to be understood over the course of several chapters read in order from beginning to end.

One chapter does not capture the essence of an entire narrative.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

In the same way, one chapter of our lives does not capture the essence of God’s bigger narrative, not only for our lives, but in all of creation.

God’s narrative goes so far above and beyond anything that we can comprehend, yet we so often try to squeeze it into just a few short chapters of our lives; attempting to understand everything through a very narrow perspective.

Just like an author, God has a storyline intended to be read entirely – in order from beginning to end. However, in our efforts to control our own existence, we tend to select a chapter of our lives and build it up to be our entire narrative.

This can be both good chapters and bad chapters.

Some people chalk up the essence of their being to what good they have done. The value of life is often summed up by professional success, relationships, reputation, social position, accumulation of things and experiences, etc.

In the eyes of the world, a lot of these things are good! We often look to those Instagram-worthy lifestyles and determine that their lives as a whole – their entire narrative – is one of success and achievement.

On the other hand, we also find that some lives succumb to the negative chapters.

Tragedy brings a progressive life to a screeching halt.

A mistake snuffs out any ambition for success.

A run of bad luck eliminates all hope.

This happens all the time as we take a small chapter of our lives and because it is all we can see or grasp with our finite minds, we believe that it is the essence of our story – failure, mistakes, and disappointment.

I’ve dealt with this many times as I often fault to the latter.

The whole concept of relationships and friendship is one saturated with disappointment and heartache for me. Many previous chapters of my life have had a lot of disappointment in this area and if I’m not careful, my heart will start to believe that this is the essence of my story – disappointment.

This is a dangerous cycle to get into, yet one that we are so easily susceptible to.

Yet, we have this hope.

We have this hope that there is a bigger narrative out there.

Not only is there more to the story, but the Author is inherently good.

I think all too often we lose the essence of that word – good.

Think about it – God is good. He is always good. He was good, He is good, and He will forever be good.

How comforting is it to know that the God who has already written our narrative is a good God? Our fear of losing control causes us to forget that He is good though, and therefore our trust in Him is crippled.

To the degree that fears have a place in our lives, we neither believe that God is good nor know deep in our hearts that He loves us.  –William P. Young

When the fears take over, we latch onto the only things that we can see and feel, and often that’s the life chapter we are currently in.

For some it’s a good chapter and pride builds up in the heart.

For others it’s a bad chapter and future chapters suddenly turn bleak and hopeless.

However, in the midst of fear and uncertainty, if we could remember that there is a bigger narrative – a greater purpose – rather than holding onto the only things our limited minds can grasp, we will instead hold onto the unchanging promises of our good Author.

We will remember that in all things, He is good.

And with that hope, we will trek through the chapters knowing them for what they truly are – single chapters in a very large scheme.

Whatever chapter you are in right now – good or bad – remember that it is only a chapter. There is a lot of book left my friend.

There is a bigger narrative and the God of all goodness holds the pen.

Stop Drinking the Salt Water

Science has shown that the effects of drinking excessive amounts of salt water can be very serious. In order for the body to rid itself of all the excess salt taken in by drinking salt water, one would have to dispose of more water than consumed, eventually causing dehydration as the body becomes thirstier with every swallow.

When Peter stepped out of his boat and walked on water in Matthew 14:29, he sank only when he was distracted by the wind and waves around him.

Every day brings with it a whole new set of distractions; some old that continually bombard us and some new that take us by surprise, and sometimes they even take on the appearance of life-giving water.

These are what I like to call the ‘satisfiers’ of this world.

Satisfiers have many different characteristics, but they all have one thing in common:

They promise fulfillment but only dehydrate our bodies as we thirst for more.

Relationships, success, that ‘dream job,’ wealth, even experiences – these are all satisfiers that vie for our attention, sucking the life out of us as we immerse ourselves in the gratification of their empty promises.

Anything that draws our attention away from Christ will cause us to sink; it will bring death.

It was only when Peter took his eyes off Christ that he started sinking and it was only when he cried out to the Lord again that he was rescued.

The thing about these satisfiers though is that they look good, don’t they? All we see are the benefits we might reap if we only submit ourselves to their pleasure.

The salt in salt water is absent to the naked eye.

We don’t see it.

All we see is something that resembles the fulfilling, life-giving water of Christ that will refresh us and nourish our souls.

The salt is an invisible killer just as satisfiers are invisible, silent killers.

They promise fulfillment and even take on an outer resemblance to the One who can truly satisfy, offering us the hollow promises of love, fulfillment, purpose, peace, and happiness.

Diluted into the satisfaction we might gain from these worldly pursuits is the salt; the drawbacks and the consequences of our narrowly, presently preoccupied focus.

Satisfiers can be good things though. These ‘holy pursuits’ such as healthy relationships, success, achievements, positive experiences, etc. – these are good things; they are good priorities, but are easily mismanaged.

One ‘holy pursuit’ in particular that I have found to be severely dehydrating to the soul is loving others and putting others before oneself.

Now, don’t freak out and please don’t unsubscribe!

Allow me to explain.

Putting others before yourself and loving others more than yourself is good! It is, after all the second greatest commandment.

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matt. 22:39).

However, in order for there to be a second, there must first be a first.

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment’ (Matt. 22:37).

Anything, and I mean anything that replaces the first and greatest commandment, even the second greatest commandment, will dehydrate you.

So yes, I stand by my original statement. Loving others more than ourselves is a ‘satisfier’ because done without first loving Christ is done solely for our glory instead of His.

There’s a reason loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind is the first and greatest commandment –

In order to do all else we must first find life in Him.

John 10:10 explains that Jesus came that we might have life and have it in full. Through Him who fills everything in every way (Eph. 1:23), we have life.

It is when we go about this backwards that we find ourselves dehydrated, gasping for a sip of life-giving water but only sucking in more salt water in hopes of quenching our thirst.

It’s funny how drinking the wrong thing only makes you thirstier.  -Jennie Allen

These things in and of themselves might not be bad, but when mismanaged and placed at higher value than knowing and loving Jesus Christ is when we start to sink.

When we drink the salt water this world entices us with, we will without a doubt always remain thirsty. But this does not mean we have to live a life forever in thirst. We have this hope in John 4:13-14 –

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I [Jesus] give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Not only is the water that Jesus offers to us life-giving, but it wells up to eternal life!

Our God is such a BIG God.

He promises to sustain us, provide for us, and give us abundant life.

Drink in; better yet, inhale the life-giving water God is offering you. He is so much more than anything we can obtain here on earth.

Don’t let the water around you fool you; don’t pursue in vain these satisfiers that vie for your attention.

Remain fixated on Christ and walk on water.

When Jesus Gets Up to Greet You

Imagine yourself walking into a room filled with all those you hold dear.

Your friends, family, your brothers and sisters in Christ, and Jesus Himself are all there.

Now imagine you walk into that room and are immediately surrounded by all your loved ones. Everyone is so excited to see you. They want to be near you, talk to you, laugh with you, and simply enjoy your presence.

Pretty great, right?

But then you notice something.

Jesus didn’t get up to greet you like everyone else did.

Suddenly the euphoria of attention fades as you begin to wonder why He didn’t greet you. Nothing else seems to matter except for your growing desire to be greeted by Jesus; to simply feel His embrace.

No amount of attention could possibly hold any meaning because He didn’t get up to greet you.

I have often found it to be my strivings for social acceptance, approval, and praise that draws my attention away from Christ. This is not to say that these things are bad. I truly believe that God places the blessings of friendship and opportunity in our lives to help us grow and prosper. However, they must be approached and valued in moderation; never to be valued greater than the One who gave them.

Unfortunately, that is easier said than done.

All through college and even into the first several months of living on my own, I can see how much of what I did and set out to accomplish was for the sole purpose of social approval.

I went into college with a major that I didn’t particularly like, but it sounded good and looked nice on paper.

I involved myself with a group of people that didn’t necessarily bring out the best in me, but gave me the sense of acceptance that I so desired.

I pushed myself to the limit because it was socially frowned upon to not be as involved as possible; to not do everything I could to have that “college experience.”

Even now, I have found myself striving so hard to be that person that I think will be better accepted and celebrated that I forget to rejoice in the woman God has made me to be.

Being presently preoccupied with our social status keeps us from being eternally focused on Jesus Christ and our heavenly status as Children of God.

In reading through the Psalms, I found a time when David struggled with this very issue of social acceptance. In Psalm 142, we find David crying out to the Lord, expressing his soul aching pain of being overlooked by the world.

Look to my right and see; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life. (Psalm 142:4)

You can practically feel the pain in his words. While this may not resonate with everyone in the here and now, I can guarantee that at some point in your life, there will be a time when it feels as if you’ve been entirely overlooked by the world.

I’ve felt this way many times in the past and fully anticipate feeling this way again in the future. However, my favorite part about this Psalm is that David doesn’t stop there.

He never ends his prayers with a complaint and he never leaves us feeling sorry for him. In every Psalm, David returns to the glory of God, reminding himself and his readers of God’s perfect and holy character.

I cry to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” (Psalm 142:5)

As David expresses the pain of being forgotten, in the same breath he also expresses the joy of being remembered and known by the one true God.

In the land of thriving and amidst the exhausting strivings and pursuits of the American Dream, Jesus Christ is our portion. He alone is our refuge.

Every day we find ourselves in this fight to gain or maintain social acceptance. I’ll admit to that – I’m one of the worst. I like to think that I am confident in myself, but when put in a position to either stay true to myself or gain further acceptance and praise, I will naturally fault to the latter.

This is simply the human condition.

Our human tendencies kick in when life tosses us to the side. Our natural reaction to being overlooked is to create for ourselves our own platform and our own source of glory, because as Pastor Austin Edwards from CityLight Church puts it –

We love our own glory more than we love His glory.

We like to create for ourselves a platform on which we can shine when we feel forgotten by the world and hidden in the shadows of others. We love our glory more than we love His glory, so we speak out, vying for attention and glorification. We scramble to do this and be that to ensure that we won’t be forgotten when we should instead be focusing on the truth that He remembers us and that He loves us.

Consider Noah’s story (Genesis 8:1), or perhaps Abraham (Genesis 19:29). Think about Rachel (Genesis 30:22) and the life of Sarah (Genesis 21:1). God is gracious and does for His people what He promises.

He remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations. (Psalm 105:8)

David shows us in Psalm 142 that even when we do feel forgotten by the world, God sees us. He knows us, He loves us, and most of all, He is sufficient for us. The God who remembered His covenant to Abraham and all those ‘Hebrews 11’ heroes-of-faith also abides by His covenant with you – that He will never leave you nor forsake you.

So when we find ourselves in these moments where we feel discounted by the world; cast to the shadows and forgotten – instead of trying to manufacture some means of being noticed, we should seek to praise and glorify His name for reminding us through the solitude that He is enough.

We have this hope that we can find sufficiency in Christ alone; in knowing that none of it really matters because any worldly pursuit, no matter how good it may be, is only secondary to knowing Christ and praising His name.

David knew this and prayed in verse seven that God would set him free from his prison, that he may praise His name.

The prison of social acceptance and approval is a condemning one; one that leaves us feeling empty and broken inside. But God’s yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matt.11:30) and the praising of His name will bring with it freedom from our bondage and relief from the chains of worldly pursuits.

When the presently preoccupying things of this world are disregarded, we are freed to look farther and deeper into God, His love, and His Kingdom’s purpose.

So let’s go back to our story and flip the imagery this time – now you walk into that same room, filled with the same people, yet this time, only one person gets up to greet you.

Jesus gets up off the couch and gives you a big hug as everyone else continues on with their own conversations. No one is showing any interest in the fact that you have just arrived, but it doesn’t really matter does it?

No amount of attention could possibly hold any meaning because Jesus got up to greet you!

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.