Monday, September 7, 2009
Are You Striving?
The school year and a full season of family getting together, apples bobbed and birthday songs sung, curriculum and gardens,--they've all left me with little time for recording here the words God speaks to my heart. And today is as full as all the rest so I'll only tell you briefly the outline of a melody I pray God is setting to music within me. The book of Zephaniah is a short one--short enough for me to read each day for a while now. And a beloved sister in Christ shared a verse recently in her own blog that turned me onto the book. (http://jewelsightings.blogspot.com/2009/08/ache-of-love.html) There's this third verse in the second chapter that gives me pause when I pass through. "Seek the Lord's favor, all you humble people of the land who have obeyed his commands! Strive to do what is right! Strive to be humble! Maybe you will be protected on the day of the Lord's angry judgment." And I can't help but wonder how many of us are committing our lives to seeking God's favor. I can't help but ask how many of us are waking up each day insisting it is a fresh start and that today, on this new day, we will strive to do the right thing. Today we will strive for humility and pray for God's protection. I can't help but consider how many of my greatest efforts include striving and seeking after God. And I can't help but picture Jesus, hands pierced, side scarred at the right side of God uttering prayers so intense, so full of pleadings and grief saying, "Father, Father let them cease. It was already finished so long ago. I paid for this already, Father. I ended the striving. God, open their eyes that they might see the truth. Father, was my death in vain? Father, was the suffering in vain that they would walk still as uncertain, unloved people seeking the favor that was already bought with my life? God make them see." So often when we read old testament passages we take them to mean we too should follow their advice. In context though, they are generally the reality of the Israelites and if we continue on we will discover as is the case in Zephaniah, that God knew all along humanity would never attain his favor, would never measure up. We will discover that He had a plan to restore all mankind to himself that didn't include human effort. Towards the end of Zephaniah God starts talking about the bigger picture when he tells the Israelites that "they will find safety in the Lord's presence...they will graze peacefully like sheep and lie down; no one will terrify them." What a beautiful picture of peace--a sheep who grazes to fullness and lays himself down on a bed of sweet swaying grass! Sheep don't strive, they don't stress, they don't attempt and work. They eat, and they rest. Do I? Is that my life's chief purpose when I rise? To drink in the goodness and sweetness of my Father and to rest in His capable, powerful, loving, perfect character would appear to be all that He ever intended for me. Let me just say, Satan may not know you, but apparently he knows me well. He is very clear on one point with me--I tend to like to buy the striving material and ignore the resting stuff. I tend to love to work, to do, to aim for, to seek after and that is his golden ticket with me. It goes a little something like this: Sarah, why aren't you teaching Sunday School? Sarah, shouldn't you volunteer for the nursery? Sarah, shouldn't you make a cake for the ministry staff and drop it off at the church office? Sarah, shouldn't you pray longer? Sarah, why aren't you getting up even earlier--reading more scripture? Let me just be clear on this: acts birthed from guilt or obligation have not found their origin in a loving, living relationship with our Savior. It's as though he's literally saying, Sarah, God doesn't love you because He created you, He loves you when you do the right things. And that, my friends is a lie from the very pits of hell. He LOVES us because we are his fearfully and wonderfully made creation. He loves us because He invented LOVE, because to not love us would mean He was no longer God because GOD IS LOVE. We have His eternal favor because Jesus said one evening in a garden of surrender, "If it's possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not my will but thine be done." And then only hours later while breathing his last He said, "It is finished." In those moments the curtain in a temple that signified the holiness and righteousness of God and the pathetic attempts at reaching and appeasing Him, was literally shredded in half forever removing the barrier between us and our Father. Long ago, it was finished. Why in the world would we continue then, to bring modern day sheep and lamb and doves as offerings to a God who is no longer waiting in the holy of holies, but is literally walking beside us as we carry our ridiculous cages filled with atonement offerings to present before Him. He's not waiting at the alter for our efforts. He's just not there. He's not hungry for the aroma of burnt lamb, his nostrils are full of the fragrance of His Son and that is all he smells when we stand before Him clothed in the garments of our Savior. Zephaniah goes on to say, "Shout for joy, Daughter Zion! Shout out, Israel! Be happy and boast with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has removed the judgment against you; he has turned back your enemy. Israel's king, The LORD, is in your midst! You no longer need to fear disaster." To live as a sheep involves some serious release--release of our preconceived ideas of religion, of Christianity, of God. It also involves some letting go of our own personal pride--we'll never be good enough. We need to just decide that now. Never. We'll always come up short. So, we might as well stop trying. Here's the beauty though--a life that has ceased to try is free to be the new creation it already is in Christ. Yesterday the boys and I were bouncing on the trampoline. Up and down we bounced and bounced never really getting anywhere, just bouncing. Eventually I bounced myself into complete exhaustion and I lay down on that big stretchy black circle. I looked up and the leaves were floating in the sky, their green backs saturated with the sun. I thought what would it be like to hang from the branch with my only job being to take in The Son? There's something to be said for exhaustion--it forces us to lay down and look up. Pray with me: Lord, you already earned our favor before God. I'm so sorry for trying to continue to get what you already paid for. Show me where I'm striving and teach me to cease. Teach me to graze and rest in who you are. Let the rest be an overflow of that grazing and resting. Amen. Read with me: Romans 5:18-21 II Corinthians 5:17