Friday, June 27, 2014

Thank You, God, For the Rain

He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. Psalm 147:8

I glanced out the window at the dark clouds and pouring down rain trying to remember why I had picked a spot so far from the door. The big red umbrella that would have covered me and the two kids was tucked safely inside the car… all the way at the back of the parking lot. After a little while the rain let up just a bit, so we decided to make a quick run. (Now when I say we, I really mean me.  Neither one of the little people I was dragging along was too happy about said decision.) With two extra sets of tiny legs pumping as fast as they could, both kids pointed out the obvious all the way to the car: it was still raining.

Sloshing through puddles that had appeared in a matter of minutes, Jake lost his flip-flop.  In true boy fashion, without skipping a beat, he quickly reached down and plucked it out of the water, placed it under his arm like a football, and continued all the way to the car with one bare foot splashing through the warm rain water. As I buckled seat belts they fired off question after question.  The only one I heard since they were both talking over each other was this one. 

Why is it raining?

Like I know the scientific answer to everything. One day they’ll figure out how little I know and the questions will stop. I’m not sure if I dread that day or gladly welcome the end to a thousand and two questions every day. 

Tossing my purse in the passenger seat, I sighed and said the first thing that came to mind: “God sends the rain, guys.”

Lilly responded, “But, Mom, we got all wet!”

“God is watering the flowers and trees and the grass, Baby,” I explained, hoping we could leave it at that. In the rear view mirror I saw Jake’s furrowed brow and I knew this conversation was far from over.

“I. Don’t. Like. Getting. Wet,” he said in staccato style with an angry look pasted all over his face and arms folded tightly across his chest. And I understood my little man.  I got it. I knew exactly where he was coming from because I had been the one with angry words and crossed arms. It was a valid point.

Choosing my words carefully, I said, “Buddy, we always thank God for the rain, OK?”

He seemed semi-satisfied with my answer and soon the subject shifted to what they wanted for lunch.  I didn’t think another thing about that conversation until this morning.  We left the house to run a couple of errands and as we crossed over the bridge to get on the highway, rain drops started falling on the windshield.  Forgetting the conversation we’d just had the day before, I announced, “Here comes the rain!”

Within seconds two sing-song voices chimed simultaneously from the back seat, “Thank you, God, for the rain!”

They remembered.  

I couldn’t figure out why tears were streaming out of my eyes, but after fumbling with the windshield wiper and sweeping my own tears away, my vision cleared and I understood. It has taken me so much longer to say those words to God.  It has taken years, and even when I somehow got out my thank you, it took much longer to really believe that the storm that interrupted my life was so much more than an inconvenience, that it truly was a gift.

Many storms we face in life last much longer than we would care for and the pelting rain can rearrange our plans and the dark clouds often bring in fear and doubt, threatening to keep us shut up and locked in, but the truth is we need them.

We need the rain and we need the dark clouds and we need the storms. 

The rain reminds us that we are not in control of this life.
The dark days magnify our great need for the light.
The storms keep us humble and seeking and anchored in His word.
The thunder and lightning remind us that God is our hiding place, our shelter and refuge.

And the promise of a rainbow is all we need to be able to say, “Thank you, God, for the rain.”

I pray that whatever storm you’re facing, you will be reminded today that God always keeps His promises. I pray that He will give you the courage to stare at the rain that’s clouding your vision and say, “Thank you, God, for the rain.”

Rejoice always,  pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Heart That Trembles

It comes without invitation as I’m surrounded on either side by eager ears and tiny fingers that want to turn the pages long before I’m done reading the words. On page 43 of the Jesus Storybook Bible, it slams up against my stubborn heart.

“But Noah didn’t mind so much what other people thought, he minded what God thought. So he just did what God told him to do.”


My girl elbows me and asks, “Mom, why’d you stop?” I keep reading, forgetting for a split second that they are listening to the story as well.  I finish on the page with the rainbow and they touch and name each color. Afterwards, they run off to play, but since I can’t shake it, I grab my own bible and read the story out of Genesis all over again.

I remember that Noah is included in the Faith Hall of Fame over in Hebrews 11, so I flip there, too.  There’s not a whole lot about this man who walked with God, but this phrase makes me stop and reach for my pen so I can underline words I need to sink into the marrow of my tired bones.

“Noah… in holy fear built an ark…” (Hebrews 11:7)

I fear rejection; I fear judgment and misunderstanding, but holy fear is something I am just beginning to grasp.

See, if I were Noah, I can promise you I'd spend lots and lots of time weighing out the cost of my obedience, wondering how it would affect my reputation, dragging my feet in saying yes.  I might be out there swinging away my hammer in obedience, but I'd also be trying to explain myself over my shoulder simultaneously. I’d certainly make sure everyone who thought I was crazy got a long, detailed explanation of what had gone down- that this ridiculous plan was God’s idea not mine. I’d make sure they were crystal clear with the fact that, though I was honored to be picked, I would have been fine if He picked someone else to construct a contraption I had no business building.  Oh, and I’d be sure to tell them to get out their umbrellas because God said it was going to rain buckets. I’d laugh right along with them and agree that it made absolutely no sense at all.  See, I’d be way too concerned with what they thought of me, what they said about me, and I’d be driven by how they treated me.

Because my fear of them tends to trump any holy fear that resides in my heart.

In the evenings when everyone is tucked in and the house is quiet, I’ve been hashing out this struggle of mine on every page of Love Idol. Let me pause right here, right now and say this: if you are a perfectionist, a people-pleaser, or an approval addict like me, you must, must, really, really, must read this insightful and endearing book about how common it is to crave love outside of God.  I’m about two-thirds in and I already know that it’s one I’ll read over and over again.

Today I open to the dog-eared pages where truth has placed a magnifying glass over my heart. It’s there on page 112 and again on page 153: the reason holy fear was present in Noah’s heart.

“Getting over myself is the only way of getting more into God.”
“When we make much of God, we no longer yearn for someone to make much of us.”

Holy fear, reverent fear, or godly fear… it’s summed up with one Greek word, eulabeomai, and it means to stand in awe. I keep reading the story line by line in Genesis and I park three quarters of the way through this story my kids love to hear.  I think I’m seeing this story I know by heart in a whole new light. And I realize this.

There’s a difference between knowing something by heart and allowing that something to sink in and change your heart.

When the ark that had been tossed back and forth in the flood of God’s fury finally came to rest, Noah built an altar.  He built a boat... and then he built an altar. He worshiped there at the altar and he thanked God for what He had done.  Noah acknowledged God’s faithfulness in this small act of love.

He could have begun work right away on a house for him and his family, and really, who would blame him? After all, he had built a boat over 400 feet long. He could have done a lot of things, but Noah worshiped God… at the altar he built. And it was the labor involved in building the altar not the labor that went into building an ark that made God smile.

I let that thought drop heavy. Isn’t Noah known for his construction of that giant ark? Isn’t that what makes this story such a page turner for the youngest soul? Isn’t the ridiculous thought of a ship in the center of a parched desert what captures even the most educated mind? Isn’t the mocking that became Noah’s reality the very driving force of this story?

Isn’t that what makes him a hero in the eyes of my children- the fact that he obeyed God and built a boat?

Though we aren’t told a bunch about Noah, we know he walked in God’s love. He understood He was loved by God, so he didn’t crave the love of his family, friends, neighbors or strangers. He knew he was favored and accepted by God, so the ridicule he suffered was of little concern to him.  Noah knew that the most important thing he could do in all his 950 years on this earth was to love God and be loved by God. On the altar he worshiped God and on the altar he thanked God and on the altar he loved God above everything else.

Building a boat without previous experience or expertise was not the most important thing Noah did.  Being the leader God used to rescue a handful of creation was not what brought a smile to God’s face.

Noah’s love for God trumped his love for validation from the neighbors and affirmation from his friends and family. And that is what was so pleasing to God. Noah knew that God could cover all his needs to be validated and affirmed. God was the only One who could love Noah completely, perfectly.

And Noah recognized that God’s love trumps all other love.

I want holy fear like Noah. The kind that places God’s Love above all other love in my life. The kind that leads me again and again to the altar, the ultimate altar: the cross. Accomplishments, accolades, affirmations all fall short when I bow before the cross. And I notice that every last one is an idol that will never satisfy and will always prevent me from living out of who God says I am.

The next day, I copy this verse out of Proverbs because it is in synch with what God’s been trying to etch out in front of me:  “Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble.” Proverbs 28:14

Could it be that holy fear towards God must originate from a heart that’s soft, not hard? A soft heart bends; a hard heart breaks. My heart has known hardness, that tenseness and rigidness that tries to hold itself together while it’s fully impossible. That kind of heart finds it difficult to trust, a tough struggle to believe. It uses all of its effort to protect- or at least it’s deceived into thinking that’s what it’s doing.

Softness is surrender.  It’s pliable, willing. A soft heart dares to dream and dares to believe.  A heart that’s soft doesn’t miss the miracle, but stands- no kneels- in awe of the One who’s responsible for it.  A soft heart doesn’t take itself so seriously.  It recognizes that life is messy, people are flawed, and grace is never-ending.  A soft heart is a happy heart, because it has full knowledge of the deep, deep love of God. 

A heart that trembles in holy fear understands that every other love could never hold a candle to the wild, untamable, consuming Love of God. 

Jesus, soften my heart when it gets jagged, hard and rough.  I want to bend to your will and fully receive the Love you’ve given.  Give me holy fear and let me put to rest my fear of what everyone else will think about me or say about me.  Let Your Love be the only Love that steals my heart and captures my soul.  Bring me back again and again to the altar where You demonstrated Your Love for me. And let my life be a pleasing sacrifice to You always. Amen.