Dictionary.com – *Shame – 1. The painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another. 4. A fact or circumstance bringing disgrace or regret.
*Shame launches us into a sort of sacred suffering that gives us tools, otherwise illusive, that can actually save us. It can originate in our own conscience, or it can be “assigned” to us by others who are more then willing to serve it up and offer seconds. Constructively, it can provoke remorse and change, or when felt on behalf of others, comfort, grace and prayer. Yet it also can circle over our heads with landing gear down, powerless to make its mark, if we aren’t willing to humbly inspect our hearts.
Jesus was no stranger to shame. He didn’t turn from it, but conquered the sting of it for the joy that came from making a way to save us. Hebrews 12:2, “Who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame…” Shame can be a stalker and a haunter, especially if we’re prideful, but when we follow Jesus example and despise it, we shrink it to its rightful place and role and amazing things can happen.
When I worked at a local daycare, we often sang action songs including a favorite “We’re going on a Bear Hunt”. Within the lyrics, there is a great message, “we’re coming to a wide river, and there’s no bridge going over it, no tunnel going under it, it’s just plain old water, and we’re gonna have to swim…I’m not afraid. Are you?”
We’re often put in circumstances just like that. There’s no way around, under, or over. We just gotta go through and get thicker skin while the elements pelt us. The ultimate example is Christ on the cross. John Piper wrote an excellent post on what it means to despise the shame. He concluded Jesus “despising the shame” was like saying, ‘Listen to me, Shame, do you see that joy in front of me? Compared to that, you are less then nothing…You think you have power. Compared to the joy before me, you have none…. You think you can distract me. I won’t even look at you….You are a fool. Your filthy hands fulfill holy prophecy.’ There was once a man who over the course of his lifetime had experienced devastating parenting failures with dire consequences, committed adultery, and set up a murder to cover his own mistake. Yet because he loved God and repented of his sins, he was able to say, “Those who look to Him are radiant with joy. Their faces will never be ashamed.” (Ps. 34:10) If you guessed David, you’re right. I love reading the Psalms, and am thankful he despised the shame and told his story.
So yeah, I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength, and so can you. That includes the boldness to be honest and humble for Christ’s sake, no pun intended. Some would rather avoid the power tools that can be earned in trials and shame, then admit anything shameful touched them or their families. Ann Voskamp said in a recent post “the worst grief is a grief that cannot speak…..Grief is the guaranteed price we pay for love.” The Bible is rife with examples of the type of guarantee that things are going to get tough, and that there’s no way around but through. There are no guarantees of turbulent free friendships, marriages, parenting, businesses, health, reputations, etc; only of a Savior who will walk beside us triumphantly through the turbulence and “keep” that which we’ve committed to Him, ultimately souls. He may allow some deep plunges, shame, grief, or heartache in order to refine and use what is of high value to Him.
For us, the hope and promise is that we have a Savior who showed us how to despise the shame and find joy. Have the filthy hands of shame and despair propelled you toward a destiny? Are you willing to share what might be useful to encourage someone?
The pendulum has swung wide for me recently on life events, and there have been moments in the stormy times, I’ve lost sight of the other side. Because stresses and griefs tug at the heart even through the elation of miracles, I’ve had a time of it. Yet the recent warmth of personal kindnesses and encounters threatens to thaw the icy numbness that settles and resettles in my arms.
I will highlight a few, but not all, of the weekend warmths God sent my way. On Saturday, a friend and marathon runner committed one of her many miles she runs to praying for our family. She says she likes to pick a friend and devote a mile to them in prayer. I’m humbled, honored. and grateful.
Sunday I received a “random” message from an out of state friend who I have not been in touch with for months. Among many other encouraging words, she said, ‘I am praying that the Lord carry you through the storms and calm the waves. May you always remember that the Lord is in the boat with you and that because He is, you will make it to the other side. When the Lord went into the boat with the disciples, he said to them “let us go to the other side“. There was no doubt that they would make it to the other side.even in the storm…even though they were afraid when the storm came…because Jesus was with them and He knew they would make it, it was not yet His time. It is hard to Trust in the storms that shake us, but Jesus says “Do not be afraid, Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the earth….” ‘
Again on Sunday (after church and a deeply satisfying nap) I did some catching up in the “Breathe” Bible study (by Priscilla Shirer) that I am in, on making room for the Sabbath, boundaries, etc. After discussing boundaries and margin, Shirer quotes Brad Lomenick, respected innovator and leader of the Catalyst Movement in America as saying several things about the powerful concept of ‘margin’ in several areas of life, including this quote, “Margin in our friendships creates significance and impact.”
If there’s anything new I’ve concluded about friendships over the past year or so, it’s that in my own strength, I might be able to encourage and pass along the love of Christ to someone on occasion, but any consistency is lost on me without some margin in my life for such efforts. To have margin requires that I set boundaries. To set wise boundaries necessitates time in prayer to be sensitive to what parameters I need in order to keep the proper things in their place, and to be guided to friendship as the Lord would lead.
Hebrews 4 says “for the person who has entered his rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His. Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience.” Entering into a “rest”, or a cessation of normal activity, and especially to focus on God, counters the physical world and is the beginning of true freedom and blessing.
Oswald Chambers says, “are these things crushing us? Are they badgering us out of the presence of God and leaving us no time for worship? Then let us call a halt, and get into such living relationship with God that our relationship to others may be maintained on the line of intercession whereby God works His marvels.”
Today, I was blessed with a friend who I haven’t seen for weeks coming by my place of work just for a quick hug. And then blessed again with a good ole chat with my mom, who I will never stop needing. I’m touched in those moments and more recently by many around me who get off the merry go round of their normal activities and in effect, say, ‘Let’s go to the other side. I’m with you. And, oh, yes, there IS another side and we’re headed there together!’ I’m so thankful to God because He sends those who would speak His Words, and actively care the way He does. That is what points to Him and reminds me what I momentarily forgot about the other side.
Recently I was given encouraging words from several different people abounding more and more in love on the very weekend I struggled with fresh grief. Most of the encounters were not “planned”, but I have no doubt they were prearranged by my loving Heavenly Father.
The first encouragement came from a friend and mentor who shot a random friendly text to me. She knows the mutual blessing in choosing a few uplifting words.
The second “abounder” was an acquaintance I happened to see who went straight from a casual greeting to an unexpected and genuine compliment on something I had done and how it had blessed her. The words were as a surprise shower of light beams diffusing healing balm onto my bruised heart. Then there were a couple elderly sisters in Christ from my church who just did what most elderly “sisters” in the church have learned more and more to do so well; i.e., one chatted with much humble empathy, specific encouragement, and a hug, and one lavished praise about me to my husband, just as she often does to me about him. The final dose of medicine God administered to me was from laughter and good times with family during a planned birthday celebration for Tony. Every one of our children connected with us one way or another (and that alone is a blessing) but being able to spend time together eating, talking, supporting and laughing certainly adds to the blessing.
Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord,
children, a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the sons born in one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has filled his quiver with them. (Ps. 127:3-5)
I want to abound in love more and more so that I am bothered less and less by those who are unable and/or unwilling to love as the Lord does, and be able to abound in forgiveness, grace and love toward the unloving. After all, we’ve all been there in that horribly blind spot in which our own vision sees ourselves less needy then we really are and God less magnificent then He really is. Paul and his co-writers said this in 1 Thess. 4:9, “About brotherly love: you are taught by God to love one another.” God will always raise up some who will seek to abound in love more and more because they are as one taught to love by God, Himself. That kind of love is portrayed on the cross and it doesn’t play favorites because it is God’s love in us, not something we contrive! Of the three gifts that remain, love is the greatest.
So what is my response to being overwhelmed with encouragement, even as I occasionally struggle with grievous things? Though I try to show kindness and encouragement, anyway, it is to do so even more! 1 Thes. 4:10b, “But we encourage you, brothers, to do so even more.”
In this season of your life and in this very moment you are abounding in something…even more. Is it what you’d like to abound in? If so, how can you practice it “more and more“?
Fresh morning starts for me involve breakfast and coffee with Tony, cool morning air (preferably sitting on the “chicken yard bench”, a scripture promise to focus on throughout the day, some worship time with music and a grateful heart.
God really is greater then all my concerns and as a friend texted me this week…”Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us—”(Eph. 3:20). There is so much in that one verse! Yes, He is able. He can do so much above and beyond what I even ask or think! Last is the catch, if there is one. It works according to the power that works in us, which hinges on our belief and trust in Him. This morning I am again thankful for fresh starts to to humble myself before Him and let His power be at work in me.
As our pastor said in another great message Sunday, we have to make a choice who we will be like, the prideful Pharisee who was consumed with a judgmental, critical spirit, or the humble woman known as a sinner, who could not stop her tears of gratefulness for her Savior. (Luke 7:36-50) “Though the Lord is exalted, He takes note of the humble; but He knows the haughty from a distance.” Ps. 138:6 HCSB
“Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning great is Your faithfulness! I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him.” Lamentations 3:22-24
Tonight I am torn between two worlds. The one my feet are in is full of burdens and heartaches. There are sweet moments with family and friends but oh how I long for the world I really live in in my heart and soul. The one my soul is in is full of celebration and good cheer. My God doesn’t waste difficult circumstances. He makes hearts soften, turns them radically toward Him, proves His Word and glorifies His Name. When I focus on this, how can I not rejoice no matter what circumstances I find myself in?
Recently I was thinking about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel chapter 3). I had always remembered their story as one of God dramatically rescuing them from their trauma although they had boldly alleged their trust in God no matter what He chose to do for them! But God didn’t rescue them immediately. They first fell headlong into an intense fire that consumed the guards standing at the top. And we don’t really know if they had immediate assurance that they would be brought out of this fiery furnace quickly and restored to their “normal” life. We DO know that there was divine protection while they were IN the fire, and that they were aware of the presence of the very Son of God with them!
And that’s the promise we have. We will always have God’s divine presence in fiery trials when we have made Him our Lord. Whether or not we have deliverance before we end up in the midst of a trial is not the important thing for those of us who love God and devote ourselves to Him. His presence is precious and personal and gives us strength and that is the important thing. The joy of knowing His deeply intimate love in fiery trials is truly worth the suffering and heartache.
As Oswald Chamber says, “God does not give us overcoming life: He gives us life as we overcome. The strain is the strength. If there is not strain, there is no strength. Are you asking God to give you life and liberty and joy? He cannot, unless you will accept the strain. Immediately you face the strain, you will get the strength…If you spend yourself out physically, you become exhausted, but spend yourself spiritually, and you get more strength.”
I recently “liked” a blog post on facebook that talked about the grace God gives us when we need to step back momentarily from a church body and heal.. It sometimes appears God does give more grace in those situations then we give each other, even if we are partially or completely at fault. Like the blogger, I have felt God’s comfort and healing in short “time out” seasons, have experienced God deeply in private worship and devotions, have felt His presence in the “mundane”, have felt His love and healing in the sweetness of my family members, family events, and a few friends who are willing to fellowship on an intimate level, found deep fulfillment in seeking my husband’s approval in our home and family as his helpmate, and felt God’s guidance as I move back into corporate fellowship refilled with grace received and grace to extend.
So my “like” was definitely one of acknowledgment and understanding that sometimes God leads us to a change. But the deepest spiritual blessings in my own life have so far come about by trusting Him within the hard places, knowing we’re all just a bunch of messed up folks in equal need of grace. As a dear friend and mentor said, ‘Why add the problems of others into the mix we each already have going on inside us?’ Because I serve Christ, I am not free to do anything but follow Him. I am His bondslave trying to follow where He is leading me. It is sometimes through fiery trials which He uses to refine. It is often in places where I have absolutely no choice but to trust in Him and His promises. It might be in places of loneliness, humility or misunderstanding, especially if my focus is on myself. It is often in places where He would have me be bold for Him without knowing the response. It definitely includes places that are tender and broken. Where He leads me is never just about me!
Oswald Chambers said in ‘My Utmost for His Highest’, July 12 devotional, “Am I building up the Body of Christ or am I looking for my own personal development only?…To fulfill God’s design means entire abandonment to Him….My goal is God Himself, not joy nor peace, Not even blessing, but Himself, my God” and in the July 15 devotional, “I am a debtor to everyone on the face of the earth because of the Gospel of Jesus; I am free to be an absolute slave only….Quit praying about yourself and be spent for others as the bondslave of Jesus. That is the meaning of being made broken bread and poured-out wine in reality.”
What a revival we would have if we really lived like this. A portion of Matt Redman’s, “We Could Change the World” lyrics say it well, ‘Could we live like Your grace is stronger Than all our faults and failures?… Could we live like Your ways Are wiser than our understanding? Could we live like this? Could we live like this?…..We’re saying, “yes, Lord, yes, Lord!”…What else could we say, what else could we say?’
We are all debtors to something. What are you a debtor to? I want to hold onto God’s Word and the promises He has confirmed in my heart. My feelings and others’ opinions may or may not align with those Truths, but I am a debtor to God and His truths!
As we do Vacation Bible School this week at our church, we are wearing bracelets that say “Watch for God” as reminders to keep tracking God in our personal life. Since God’s mercies are new every morning, it takes “watching” to see them each day. If I’m not watching for God and His mercies then I often not only miss the sweetly personal supernatural, but default to complaining, fear, worry, etc. The more I train my eye to watch for God, the more I see Him at work and my eye becomes trained to see the blessing in something that at first glance may just seem like something negative.
To watch for God at work in trials is like seeing drops of water in arid places. The first definition for “arid” in Dictionary.com is: “being without moisture; extremely dry; parched: arid land; an arid climate”. In our lives arid places can symbolize those times of trials and stretching, often lengthy and difficult. But unlike geographically arid regions, which result in fruitlessness, “arid” life seasons can actually stimulate “fruit” production. Our difficult seasons cause us to either watch for God and see His mercies, or become bitter and miss the God sightings.
When we choose to watch for God at work in our arid places, we see mercy drops and sometimes showers even in our deserts. Oswald Chambers said, “…God has to take us into the valley, and put us through fires and floods to batter us into shape, until we get to the place where He can trust us with the veritable reality.”
“And the parched ground shall become a pool” (Isa. 35:7), “I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.” (Isa. 41:18). “I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing.” (Ezek. 34:26) God promises showers of mercy and blessing upon our arid places. Are you watching for Him in faith?
There are days…no seasons…when I have to seek a higher Rock. Those times can feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place. But when I recognize Who truly is my Rock and Redeemer, I’m no longer in that hard place, I’m both set upon the Rock and sheltered by Him; i.e. The Rock of Ages. My circumstances may not feel better, but my focus changes and they no longer are the big issue I thought they were. Not that God has forgotten about them, nor asks me to. He just grows my faith in His sweet and personal love that He will shine through it for those who have eyes to see and cause joy even in pain. He gives beauty for ashes. Everything is transformed in the light of His grace into something with His beauty stamped all over it even in our weakness.
Just as flowers are more prolific on the plant that has been through a season of winter. drought or stress then on a plant that has been over indulged with rich nitrogen, so we are more fruitful for Christ when our roots have been forced to reach deeper, then when we aren’t stretched by our circumstances.
Oswald Chambers puts it well in the May 14 devotional, “My Utmost for His Highest”, ‘The only thing that will enable me to enjoy the disagreeable is the keen enthusiasm of letting the life of the Son of God manifest itself in me….If God puts you there, He is amply sufficient.”
When I think I’m being pressed beyond what I can do, I remember 2 Cor. 12:9, “’My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.”
As a believer in Christ for many years, I have covered a wide range of life’s “terrains”, including lush pastures, gentle streams, raging waters, wilderness and desert. During some seasons I walked a fairly easy trail, other than typical ups and downs. God lets the young see His splendor, even more than the seasoned ones. As newlyweds, my husband and I saw it often, especially in the young marrieds class we were heavily involved in at church. So many stories of “God in Action” with exciting outcomes for both our friends and for us as a couple, as we birthed six beautiful, healthy babies over the years and added an adopted child, too. A house full of kids and a little farm with extended family nearby had to be somewhat like heaven on earth. There were also a few times I may have subconsciously stolen a little of God’s glory, too. It’s so easy to do that when everything is fairly simple, going well and seemingly in my control. As Oswald says in the May 7 devotional, “Is God going to detect in His searching fire that we have built on the foundation of Jesus some enterprise of our own?”
I wasn’t alone in the young Christian trap of taking notice of the scriptures that seemed to fit into the “God is about me or what I can do for Him” paradigm. In her book “Extravagant Grace”, Barbara Duguid says “the baby Christian gravitates toward those Scriptures that tell him what to do, and there are many…the baby Christian is experienced primarily in the realm of feelings…his faith is weak, but his heart is warm. He tends to mistake the nature of these gifts from God and think they are his…that he will always have them. He believes he is right and strong because he has them, and he is prone to feeling superior to believers that don’t…He thinks that there is nothing left now but to walk through life with the victorious hand of God on his side, and then to enter heaven forever. He doesn’t yet know that, like Israel, there is a huge desert to cross before entering the Promised Land. The desert he has yet to see and grapple with properly is the wilderness of his own sinful heart.” At the parting of the Red Sea, and the subsequent praise dance, the Israelites could not have seen the 40 year trek in the desert just ahead, where many of them died off before entering the Promised Land.
Maturity in Christ, for me, has meant some desert or wilderness times, in which I am stretched beyond what I ever dreamed. In order to get a drink of the Living Water in these seasons, it is critical that I deepen my roots even more into Christ, my Savior, sometimes for even the next thought and breath. “My” thinking and “good works” is something to despise more than to purport. Difficult “terrain” requires much time in the Word, in worship, in prayer, in meditation and in seeking good Christian counsel, which God is faithful to supply. It is also an important season to be consistent in a journal in order to remember His answers, see the desert or wilderness experience from His perspective and to record this and any particularly encouraging words offered by friends and acquaintances along with scripture promises to stand on in faith. God’s perspective on my experiences often doesn’t look anything like how others may see it; nor how I see theirs. That’s because, unless we are interceding and seeking God’s perspective for others, it’s not our business.
The unbeliever may or may not experience overwhelming hardships in life. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. (Matt. 5:45) As believers, however, we can count on them, but by our loving God and for glorious purposes.
If I can only hang onto the “invisible” perspective of God during stretching experiences, then I can walk above heartbreaks and disappointments while in the wilderness, and so can you. In Him I live and move and have my being. My clay feet sometimes step down into the waves of the storm, or get tired in the wilderness and my vision can get obscured there; however this is usually not an issue of backsliding, but a need for encouragement. We question Peter’s faith (as Christ, rightfully did) when he struggled, but Peter was the only one who even tried to walk on the waves!
Duguid again offers that, “the greatest heroes of Scripture are deeply flawed throughout their lives.” And speaking of her women’s Bible study ministry she says, “It is a common occurrence to have someone confess their struggle and weakness in a certain area, only to be rebuked and censured by a younger sister in Christ, who eagerly shares the three easy ways they can overcome the problem….Simplistic answers to complex problems can be discouraging to weary strugglers….We should, therefore, practice great caution in evaluating the spiritual maturity of people around us.”
I’ve been guilty of judging (at least silently) with my idea of God’s standards, rather then just watching for fruit, praying, encouraging and leaving the rest to God no matter how different the progress may be in someone else. Anyone honest would have to admit this also, at some time or another. After all, it’s too easy to default and compare to each other, but it’s a tendency to kick out, not adopt. God will carry His work to completion in each of us in His time and through whatever means He chooses, and in the end, there will be fruit in those who are His. I hope to be an encourager to those along the path near me, especially those who are going through a trial of some sort, and I am blessed more than I can say by those He uses to give me manna in my wilderness journeys.
What kind of terrain are you on right now in your life? It will likely not be the same in a few years. Have you found encouragement if your path is rough? Have you purposed to encourage someone else? If you’re in “lush pastures” right now, write down all that God has favored you with and remember it for dryer seasons. No matter the terrain, the “God actions” are there, even if the wilderness obscures your view of them.