Author Archives: Ruth Barron

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About five or six years ago, I began praying daily for unity in the church.  I longed for unity.  Disunity is incredibly painful.  I also saw that divisions in the church made the work of the church range between tremendously inefficient and completely ineffective.

As I prayed, I searched the Scriptures to discern what God promised regarding unity and whether unity was something we should expect now, or only in Heaven.   There were so many Scriptures which made my heart ache with longing.  Psalm 86:11 and Ezekiel 11:19 expressed my longing for a united heart.  How I wanted to stop fighting myself to make myself do what was right!  How I wished to have one heart with the people of God!  Jeremiah 3:22 expressed my longing to be cured from backsliding.  How often had I thought I had conquered sin only to find it back again!  Jeremiah 31:31-34 filled me with longing for the new covenant we won't break.  I longed for Isaiah 59:21 with God promising that His word and His Spirit would not depart even from my children and my children's children.

In the New Testament, I searched Jesus' last prayer, from John 17.  Jesus prays twice that we would be one so that the world may know.  As I read this, I wondered, does this mean that unity is something Christ expects to happen here on earth while we are still in the world?  If unity is not going to happen until after the world can no longer repent, what would be God's purpose in having unity be a demonstration of truth to the world?  Would He do it only to prove the world wrong before its condemnation, or does God intended this to be a final witness calling the world to truth before judgment?

As I read Ephesians 4, I saw that Paul says that the church was given apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers until.  I had never before noticed the word until in that verse.  That means that something different will come afterward.  After the until comes the whole body attaining the unity of the faith and maturing into adulthood.  As I meditated on this verse, I realized that every prayer for the church focused on good leadership.  I wondered what would change if we focused our prayers upon the maturation of the whole body.

However, as I searched the Scriptures, I also found many passages that talked about people falling away from the faith, about people not maturing as they should, about fighting in the Church.  I wanted to believe the Scriptures of hope, but what was I to do with the other Scriptures?  I know our tendency is to consider the verses of hope as only figurative or for after our death, but is that right?  We can't throw out any passages.  If the Bible is literal, both must be literal.  If the Bible is figurative, why are only the messages of hope figurative?  How would physical death change our character?

As I meditated these questions, I saw that repeatedly through Scripture, God had placed a mountain of blessing and a mountain of curses before His people.  The Old Testament reminds me of a "choose your own adventure" book.  If you go this way, this will happen.  If you go that way, that will happen.  I wondered whether there was a circumstance where a prophecy could still be true even if it didn't happen.  Certainly Jonah and Nineveh showed that.  Could prophecies that seemed contradictory be equally true, but only one be fulfilled?  I wanted to hope so, but I wasn't sure I did.

As I was reading Scripture, I was struck by Moses' prayer for the Israelites in Exodus 33-34.  God tells Moses that He will not go with the Israelites anymore because He might kill them on the way.  Moses begins to pray, Who will go with us? remember that we are your people.  God answers, My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.  Moses then says, If your presence doesn't go with us, don't let us go.   (I thought, Didn't God just say yes?)  God promises again to go with them.  Moses asks, show me your glory.  God passes His glory before Moses declaring His name.  Afterward, Moses asks God one more time to go with them, though God has already said yes twice.  This time, having heard God declare His name, His character, Moses believes God's promise to go with Israel.  The promise is consistent with who God is.

As I meditated on this passage, I felt God was asking me, 'You keep praying for unity.  You have searched the Scriptures and seen my promises of unity, yet you still keep asking.  Why don't you believe me?'  This wasn't a time when I heard words, but rather a nagging idea.  Jesus often told the Israelites, If you don't believe Moses and the prophets, you won't believe me, even though I do great signs and wonders.

I felt as though God were saying to me, "Stop praying for unity in the church, and tell me why you think it is impossible.  What is the tree?  Why don't you think I am a Father who will lead you to obey me through love, rather than drive you to obey me through fear?  Who do you say I am?"  We can't believe God's promises unless we know they fit His character, so both questions, "Why don't you believe these Scripture promises?" and "Who do you say I am?" were really a single question.

As I said at the beginning, I am not writing this blog chronologically.  All these questions which were one question came Spring/Summer 2011.  I spent the next two years dialoging with God about my reasons for unbelief.  My hope is that the God who is faithful and just has received this dialog as confession and will forgive and cleanse.

Psalms 86:11 (ESV)
Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.

Ezekiel 11:19  (ESV)
And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,

Jeremiah 3:22  (NIV)
“Return, faithless people;
I will cure you of backsliding.”
“Yes, we will come to you,
for you are the Lord our God.”

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord, ’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

Isaiah 59:21  (ESV)
“And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord:  “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children's offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.”

John 17:20-23  (ESV)
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

Ephesians 4:1-16 (ESV)
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Exodus 34:5-9 (ESV)
The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff- necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

The flood gates of God's speech opened up that day I prayed that God would show me His justice.  His response, "I am faithful and just to forgive your sins and to cleanse you of all unrighteousness," was beautiful and freeing, but how could I receive that promise?  That same day, as I went downstairs to work on supper, I began to contemplate the whole verse.  "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

If we confess.  That seemed to be the way to receive the promise, but it filled my heart with ache and longing.  You see, I confessed my sins all the time.  Father, I yelled at the children.  Father, I yelled at my husband.  Father, I shouldn't have bought that.  Father, I should have been fixing dinner instead of checking email.  It sure didn't seem very effective for cleansing.  I did the same thing again another day.  So as I opened the refrigerator, I asked God plaintively, "Is that all we do, confess our sins?  That doesn't seem like enough.  Don't we have to do more?"  God's response was simply to repeat the whole verse, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all righteousness."  In other words, He said, "What did I say?"

God said it, so it must be true, but my heart still ached to see it.  As I continued to contemplate the verse over the next few months, God gave me two comforts.  One was another word in response to another query from me.  The other was another parable building on the parable about roots.

First, as I was sitting one day teaching one of my daughters to write an A, I told God, "You must be so angry with me, because I know I shouldn't get angry and yell, but I still do it."  I don't know the context.  Had I just yelled at someone?  All I know was the beautiful answer, "Do you get angry with your daughter for not getting her A perfect?  She knows what it should look like."  No, I don't.  I know that knowing what an A should look like is different from being able to form one.  I knew also that God was saying He wasn't angry with me, but that He has grace to teach me how to form righteousness.  As I thought on that message, I watched myself teaching my daughter.  I had my hand over hers, helping her form the letter.  I began to pray that God would take my heart and help me to form right responses until my heart learned the form.

Second, I continued to contemplate what it means to confess our sins.  As I said, I confessed all the time.  It seemed I was always having to confess something.  It left me feeling like a horrible person.  All I could see was the things I was doing wrong.  I began to think about what God had said about me trying to mow while He was trying to remove the roots.  I began to picture a tree.  I saw that I was trying to pluck off leaf buds (temptations) before they could unfold.  When leaves (sinful action) did open before I could get to them, I would confess and apologize.  I began to feel God asking me, "Why confess the leaves?  Let's deal with the tree."  I saw that as long as the tree was there, there were going to be times when I couldn't keep up with leaf production. Spring always comes with a burst of buds.  I could get people to help me, to hold me accountable, and I might get further than I would have on my own, but inexorably, spring arrives with a burst of leaves.

I began to wonder, "What is the tree?"  I looked at specific leaves I've dealt with repeatedly.  Yelling at the children.  I saw that when I yell at the kids, it's usually from fear of what injury might happen or what people will think of their behavior.  Yelling at my husband.  That's often a preemptive strike because I think I'm wrong for having a difference of opinion from him.  Worrying.  Did I mention that I worry?  Here is where it got interesting.  I saw that I worry about money because I am afraid I won't have enough.  That was shocking, because I thought I believed God would provide; after all, Jesus said God would.

As I pondered this, I remembered God showing me both carrots and weeds in my garden.  Believing that God will provide does not necessarily preclude believing that God won't provide.  But weeds steal nourishment from the good plants.  My faith that God will provide cannot grow strong and healthy as long as my thought that God doesn't provide grows alongside it.  So I was back to the question, "What is the tree?"

Why do I believe God won't provide?  I saw two thoughts with it.  One, I am afraid that God has provided, but if I don't get everything exactly right, the enough won't be enough.  Every spending purchase becomes agony, because I feel God has an exact formula that is just short of impossible to discern and follow, and if I were good enough, I could figure it out.  Two, I am afraid that God has planned it out for me to have enough, but other people aren't cooperating.  There are lots of people connected with my money who might get in the way of what God tried to provide – bosses, co-workers and those I serve, store owners, politicians and IRS agents, doctors and insurance agents, thieves.

As I considered these things, I saw that I still hadn't identified the tree.  I had identified branches.  So what is the tree?  I felt as though God were asking me, "Is that really me?  Will I really say, 'I provided and protected, but you messed it up?' or 'I provided and protected, but others prevented me?'"  To be honest, I wasn't sure, but here God was asking me again, "Who do you say I am?"  When I told Him I longed for a Father who would lead me to obey Him by loving Him, not drive me to obey Him by fearing Him, He had asked, "What makes you think I'm not like that?"  Now He was asking, "Is that really me?"  As long as I think that's who God is, my thoughts are going to produce lots of leaves, but how can I stop thinking of God that way?  Isn't it true?

I have always been afraid of God's justice.  Justice, as I understood it, a close relative of vengeance and punishment.  Justice meant sinners in the hands of an angry God.  It was a God so angry with us that He had to punish.  Fortunately, Jesus offered to take our punishment.  Now, God could offer us the mercy He couldn't give us before.  In my understanding, we either receive justice or mercy, not both.

Because I was afraid of justice for myself, and because I knew we were to bless those who curse us, I would ask God to be merciful to those who hurt me.  I would pray for Him to deal with them in His mercy, not His justice.  Jesus told us to pray, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."  I wanted my sins forgiven, so I endeavored to forgive the sins of others.  But that 70 times 7 times gets hard!

Three years ago, I was in the midst of the stormy sea.  We kept being pulled over by police for speeding when we knew we weren't speeding.  They wanted a bribe, of course.  We didn't want to pay a bribe, so Joshua wasted time at a farcical court only to be fined anyway.  We had a houseworker who would come to our house and tell me everything others were doing wrong.  She would also tell me everything she thought I was doing wrong.  I had a pretty good idea what she would be telling others when she left my house.  Our water kept disappearing because the city council liked to eat the money they were supposed to administrate.  This list could go on.  I could include my own sins, like my girls saying that Mommy was yelling at them more.  Oh, I wanted to stop yelling.  I was begging God to help me be victorious.  Oh, I wanted unfairness to stop.  But in both cases,  I kept praying diligently that God would deal with me and with others in His mercy, not His justice.

Things only grew worse, and then God became silent.  I had heard Him say that He wanted to remove the roots, and I had the parable of the gardener growing in my mind, but for three or four months, I stopped hearing God's voice.  Oh, I longed for His voice!

I remember sitting on my bed one day, thinking and examining my heart.  I was tired of praying for mercy.  I was tired of people wronging us.  But even more, I was tired of wronging my family.  I remembered my youngest sister telling me I was afraid of justice.   Now my youngest sister and I, the oldest daughter in our family, had opposite problems.  She was afraid of mercy because she had been "favored" as a child.  She felt it had kept her from growing as she should have.  I had been the one who was held responsible if I or any of the younger children erred, so I was afraid of justice, which I identified with punishment, harshness, and, well, injustice.

Well, as I sat there on my bed, looking at my heart, I saw that my heart wanted justice!  My heart didn't care whether it was religiously correct to pray for God to be just to those offending me.  My heart wanted justice for myself and those hurting me as well as for my family, whom I was hurting.  So I prayed, "Father, I have been praying for mercy because I am afraid of justice, but really, I just want justice.  Please show me your justice."

Immediately, I heard God speak, "I am faithful and just to forgive your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness."  Now I know that is not the whole verse, but it is what God spoke into my heart that moment, and it set my heart free to dance.  God's justice isn't vengeance and punishment.  It is forgiveness and cleansing.  I thought God's justice toward us was fulfilled on the cross, with Christ bearing our punishment, but that was only movement towards fulfillment.  The fulfillment of justice is forgiveness and cleansing.

Mercy and justice have kissed.  I don't have to override my heart anymore, forcing myself to pray for mercy, not justice.  I can pray for God to be just with those who have wronged me, and it isn't a prayer against them, for vengeance.  Instead, it is a prayer on their behalf, for forgiveness and cleansing.  Even more than that, I can pray it for myself!  I had been begging for cleansing, but I had been asking God not to do it in His justice.  Yet justice, together with faithfulness, is the very part of His character which gives forgiveness and cleansing.  My confused prayer was rather like asking my husband to kiss me without using his lips!  Praise God for His faithfulness and justice!  Praise God for forgiving our sins and for cleansing us from all unrighteousness!

There are times when we are out in the middle of the sea in the midst of a storm.  There are times when we despair of life itself.  There are times when the storm is so strong that all the faith and trust we think we have grown seems to disappear entirely.  There are times when our hearts and our lives resonate the chaos of the storm rather than the peace of Christ.  During those times, we despair of righteousness itself as we watch all the worst comes out of us, just when we thought we were doing better.  During those times, we despair of love itself, "Don't you love us?"  During those times, we remember that it was Christ, himself, who put us on this boat without him, and our hearts cry out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"  During those times, as we look at our lives, resonating to the chaos rather than the peace, despair would tell us that He has forsaken us because we aren't good enough.  How thin our single strand of faith seems in the midst of that furious storm!

It was during one of these times that I asked the Father a question.  Paul tells us to continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  Well, I was filled with fear and trembling as I asked God the question I couldn't restrain any longer.  "Oh, God, if I hated sin, ... I know you hate sin.  Please don't be angry with me.  I'm not arguing with you.  I just want to understand. ...  If I hated sin (and I know you do), and I knew certain situations brought out the worst in my children, I wouldn't put them in those situations!  But you do.  You are wise.  You must have a reason.  Why, Father?"

Immediately, I heard a thought, "You are trying to mow.  I want to remove the roots."  But over the next month or so, a parable grew in my mind.  In this story, a gardener had a visitor.  Of course, he did what anyone who loves gardening wants to do – he took his visitor to see the garden.  The visitor looked at the garden, and then he asked the gardener, "Why are there so many weeds?"  The gardener explained, "It's been raining for two weeks, so I haven't been able to get out and weed.  Now the sun has come out, but the ground is still too wet to weed.  The rain and sun have caused the weeds to grow."  At that point, I felt as though God leaned over and asked me a thought,  "Didn't the carrots need the rain and the sun?  The weeds did not grow because of the rain and sun.  They grew because they are planted in the ground."

I do not believe God was saying the gardener planted the weeds.  The Bible tells us that an enemy planted them.  Still, if there weren't weed seeds and weed roots in the ground, weeds would not grow.  The rain only showed us what was already in the ground.  We couldn't see it before because it was hidden underground, but it was there nonetheless, and God wants to remove those hidden roots of sin.  This still isn't a full answer.  This still leaves us asking, "What does it mean?  How do we get rid of the weeds?"  However, as I think about this story, three comforts come from it.

First, the God who sees our hearts saw our sin before it grew out of our hearts into our actions and thus became visible to us and everyone around us.  God saw it, because it was already there.  He saw it, and He loved us.  He loved us when we had this sin hiding in our hearts, and He does not forget that love when the sin grows into action.  He isn't even surprised.

Second, there were carrots in the garden, not only weeds.  Two things are at work in us.  Sin is at work, yes, but the Spirit is at work, as well.  The sin that is at work in us is not us.  It is working against us.  It is only distortion.  It is not creation.  The Spirit who is at work in us is us.  The Spirit is working on our behalf.  We are born of the Spirit.  We are a new creation.  We are being made one with God.  We are of God's kind!  Our us-ness is with God.

Third, God said, "I am trying to remove the roots."  He is at work.  He will accomplish His work.  Someday, we will stand before Him spotless, without any hidden blemish.  He has already credited righteousness to us.  That righteousness will be ours, inside and outside!  The sin which is at work will be completely removed, and what will remain is the righteousness born of the Spirit within us.

One day probably five years ago, my daughter came to me with a request.  I don't even remember what the request was, but it was a life changing incident in my relationship with God.  You see, I spoke to my daughter.  She asked me for something, and I answered with words.  I don't remember what I answered.  Did I say yes or no?  Did I give a vague maybe?  Did I say "in a minute"?  I don't know, but my daughter knew and understood what I said.

I don't remember what I answered, because it was not my response that was life changing, but rather the fact that I used words to answer her.  I can't imagine not using my voice to answer her without the image of a stern, hard face popping up in my mind.  Parents do not simply hand or deny their children the things for which they ask.  We actually verbally answer, because we are in relationship with them.  In that moment, I saw clearly that God is a FATHER.

Always before, I had looked to the result of my prayer as my answer.  For example, if I prayed for God to heal someone, if they became better, I took that as a yes.  If they didn't get better, the answer was obviously either wait or no.  It was a discouraging way to pray.  I was never actually certain what the answer was.  Even if the person became better, I wasn't sure that was God saying yes.  Maybe the person would have gotten better anyway.  If the person stayed sick, I didn't know whether the answer was wait or no, unless they died, of course.

At the time I had my revelation that God has a voice, I had just begun reading a book by Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer.  In the book, he reminded his readers that God always answers prayer.  When I read this, I was still thinking of the result as the answer, but when I heard my daughter ask me something and myself answering verbally, I knew that a result is not an answer.  A verbal response is an answer.  God is not a vending machine.  A vending machine dispenses results.  God is a father.  He relates with us, and relationship requires words and communication.

The image I had of God was of a loan officer reviewing my application and stamping approved or denied.  I didn't expect God Himself to answer me.  I just waited to see whether I received my check.  I wanted to qualify for my loans, so I did whatever I could to make the loan officer approve my application.  On my application, I might stress my righteousness, my neediness, my sinfulness, my good motivations, whatever I thought He was looking for.  And I got everyone I could to submit letters of reference – their prayers.  Then I waited.  It was an anxious time.  When I got my check (or not), I wasn't sure what it was about my application that made Him say yes (or no), so I didn't know how to do better the next time.

Well, when my daughter had a request, I used my voice and answered her, and in that instant, I knew God, The FATHER, must have a voice and answer our requests vocally.  I started to ask Him not to answer my requests only with actions, but first to answer vocally.  I must admit, I have had some interesting vocal answers.  God is quite humorous.  From believing and experiencing that God vocally answers prayers, I was able to grow to believe that I could converse with my Father.

While we were in Nebraska four years ago, I was very concerned about one of our students.  This student had a friendship that seemed very unhealthy and which was affecting her in many areas, including her school work.  She was also struggling with panic attacks.  These were issues I felt were very pressing and needed to be resolved immediately.  As I prayed for her, these issues were in the front of my mind.

When I prayed for each student, I would think of all I knew about the student and lay it before God and then ask God to show me how to pray specifically for that student.  God would bring Scriptures to my mind, and I would pray these Scriptures over the student.  Then I would write the student a card sharing the verses I had prayed for her or him.

For this student, God gave me three Scriptures.  The first was Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3.  Paul prayed that the Ephesians would be rooted and established in love.  The second was from Hosea 2, where Israel's name is changed from "not loved" to "loved".  The third was Zephaniah 3:17, which speaks of God rejoicing over us with singing.

Because I was concerned for the student, and because she had requested prayer regarding the panic attacks, I found myself praying for this student many times.  Each time I would ask God how to pray, He gave me the same three verses, so I would pray them for her.  But, when I would try to pray that God would remove her from the unhealthy friendship and set her free from panic attacks, I would feel God telling me not to pray those things.

At first, I prayed as He told me and let go of my thoughts for her, but after a few times, I remember being very frustrated.  I felt very clearly that God didn't want me to pray regarding the things I felt were vitally urgent, but I didn't know why.  So as I was praying that day, I burst out, "Why won't You let me pray that You remove these things?  They are clearly bad for her, but You won't let me ask that You remove them."  Immediately, I heard, "The wheat and the tares."

The wheat and the tares (weeds) was a parable.  A man had sown wheat in his fields, and an enemy had sown weeds in the same field.  The servants asked their master whether they should remove the weeds, and he said no, that would uproot the wheat.  I saw that God was asking me to pray that her roots would be strengthened so that the weeds might be safely removed.  I remembered then that doctors often delay important surgery until the patient is strong enough for it.

Over the next few days, I came to understand even more.  I was reading through the books of Moses.  I saw how powerful God's holiness is.  It is so strong, people died by encountering it.  I saw that God told His people He wouldn't drive out the former inhabitants of the promised land too quickly, or wild animals would increase too much.  I remembered the passage about the demon who was cast out only to return with seven more.  I came to understand that God was saying He would not remove anything from a person's heart too quickly.  He would not remove anything until the person was strong enough for Him to replace the thing with Himself.  I came to understand that He enters our hearts slowly and gradually as we are strengthened.

I also saw that truly, this student was not ready for Him to remove the panic attacks and the friendship.  To her, they were supplying a need.  She did not know, except in theory, God's love for her, His deep valuing of her.  If God removed the friend, who seemed to value her, and the panic attacks, which seemed part of who she was, she would be left with nothing, and that would be devastating.  But as God's love for her became tangible to her, that love would drive out panic and right her friendships.

What amazes me most about this revelation is God's love.  He ignores what we would address – the lifestyle and emotional changes.  Instead, He focuses on communicating His love for us.  He wants His love to so saturate us that it reaches the deepest places of our hearts.  Where we would say, "Change.  Change.  Change."  or "God loves you. Change.  Change."  He says, "I love you.  I love you.  I love you."   And it is that love which is transforming.

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"You should have ...." Those words have been like a cancer ravaging my heart and mind and soul, and my body. I was dreadfully afraid of getting it wrong, of hearing, "You should have ...." I was afraid of angering or even disappointing God by the things I failed to do, and the list of tasks I felt God wanted me to accomplish daily was oppressive. I also believed that God expected me to meet every need I saw in everyone around me. I lived with a constant sense that my work was unsatisfactory to God. When God said to me that I only think of Him sitting, I tried to think of Him standing and acting. Is it any wonder that the only action I could imagine Him taking was hitting me?

Well, four years ago, we were in Nebraska during our furlough from Kenya. My husband was teaching for one semester at Nebraska Christian College, and I was praying for all of my husband's students. I would read their journal responses to the books they were reading and ask God to lead me in how to pray. While I was praying for one student, at the end of the semester, I found a journal response from mid-semester. In her response, the student had asked to come and talk with us since she was struggling. More than a month later, we had still not responded, because we hadn't even seen it.

I had gotten up very early that morning in order to pray. It was just about dawn, and I had already been up praying for a couple of hours. So now, I was weary, and when I should be feeling that I had accomplished something for God, I was instead dealing with with an intense attack of guilt. I had an anguishing ten minutes listening to the accusations which were pounding at me and berating myself. Then, to my surprise, I heard myself making a bold declaration aloud, "I will not accept this guilt. God could have blinded me for a purpose. I'm going to ask God to judge me. If I am guilty, He will tell me." I am still amazed that I was able to say that at that time. I believe it was the Spirit at work.

I called the student and invited her to dinner. It was the last possible day we could meet before I left. We ended up sharing our stories for about three hours and saw that God was teaching both of us many similar things. We also prayed together. As the student prepared to leave, I asked her, "Did God accomplish what He had for our meeting together tonight?" The very first thing she said was, "It was good you didn't answer when I first wrote to you. I was trying to go to people. God wanted me to go to Him." God had judged me and found me guiltless!

The student went on to explain that because we did not respond, she found herself crying out to God instead, and He answered. God's grace in that situation was amazing. Had I seen her response earlier, I don't think I could have believed that God didn't want me to act. Knowing me, God instead found a way to demonstrate clearly to me that I don't have to answer every need. He loves it when people come to Him themselves. Even Jesus said we don't need Him to talk to the Father for us. Because of my delayed response, when the student and I talked, what I shared was confirmation and encouragement for what she had already learned from God.

That one incident did not remove my struggle with guilt and my fear of hearing, "You should have ...." I would try to ask God before jumping in to answer needs I saw, but doubt kept eating at me. What if I am just making excuses not to help? What if that wasn't a principle to follow, but an exception? What if God is disappointed with my selfishness?

Two years later, I was on a tight schedule. I had three stops to make and two children in tow. In Nairobi, getting one thing done from your list is considered a good achievement for your day. I needed to get all three things done, and before traffic hit. (We rank #4 worldwide in commuter misery.) As I left stop number two to head further into Nairobi for stop number three, I was pushing a cart with my children and my purchases. I passed a woman struggling with her cell phone. Someone was trying to help her, and I passed on by. As soon as I passed her, guilt washed over me, pounding at me. The whole walk to the car accusations assaulted me. As I opened the back door to put my purchases in the car, I heard God speak an idea. I can't remember the exact words, but this was the essence: "I will not attack you afterward for not acting. I will speak to you beforehand if I want you to do something."  Peace filled me.

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As I have struggled to know God, my sense of my own sinfulness has continually gotten in the way.  I got angry easily, and I tried desperately to change that.  I was afraid of myself.  I was afraid I might hurt someone.  I tried making a covenant with myself that I wouldn't become angry.  I tried to keep from saying or doing anything hurtful, but still the anger remained, and what is in the heart comes out.  So, I continually hurt those around me.  And I continually hurt myself.  Each time I became angry, guilt would attack me, and the guilt would feed my anger, because now I would be angry with myself.  I couldn't find a way out.

I remember one day, four years ago, while I was looking again at my temper, I prayed desperately to God in my journal.  I told Him that Paul was able to look at himself and say "I do what I don't want to do, and I don't do what I want to do," but I myself want to be angry.  When someone hurts me or does something wrong, I want to be angry.  I prayed, "Please help me, not because I want you to help me -- I still want to be angry, but instead help me because I desperately need you."

The next day, I was reading a book.  I don't remember the book.  In it was the verse, "There is no other name in Heaven or on Earth by which we must be saved."  As I read, the verse became a song.  "There is no other name in Heaven or on Earth by which we must be saved.  There is no other name in Heaven or on Earth by which we must be saved.  Halleluyah to the Lord above, Halleluyah to the God of love, Halleluyah, Halleluyah, Amen."  I sang that song all day.

It was not until much later in the day that I realized that the song was a promise from God to me.  A few years before, I had meditated upon Psalm 40:1-3.
.******. I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
.******. and he turned to me and heard my cry.
.******. He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
.******. out of the mud and the mire.
.******. He set my feet on solid ground
.******. and steadied me as I walked along.
.******. He has given me a new song to sing,
.******. a hymn of praise to our God.
.******. Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
.******. They will put their trust in the Lord.
Suddenly, I saw that in giving me a new song, God was making a promise to lift me from the mud and mire, to set my feet on solid ground, and to steady me as I walk along.  The song became a promise to me, and a war song when I was discouraged.

God also kept me meditating on Romans 7.  In both verses 17 and 20, Paul says that it is not he sinning, but sin at work in him.  I had talked about this passage with others, but we couldn't see how saying it wasn't you sinning helped the situation.  If you sin, you sin.  How would it help to say you didn't do it?  But Paul said it, so we can't just ignore it.

As I meditated, I came to sense that God was asking me to see that there are two things at work in me, but only one is me.  I cannot claim both as myself.  Either the sin is who I am, or righteousness is who I am.  But if I see the sin as myself and ask God to take it away, I am basically praying, "Take it away, take it away, it's me, it's me."  I had an image of a hero ready to take out the villain, but He couldn't because I was all tangled with the villain.  We have to untangle our sense of self from the sin within us.  As long as it is who we are, we will never be victorious.   I can choose which is me.


(continued from part 1)

God is the God who says, "Come away with me to a quiet place and rest." He is the God who told Martha that Mary had chosen the better way. He is the God who said, "Let the little children come to me." Jesus said, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father." When Jesus said these things, the Father said these things. In the prophets, God cried out that He longs to hear us call Him Father. But even reading these things, I didn't understand.

One day, one of our daughters was asking why the word LORD is often in all caps in the Bible. My husband loves that kind of question, so he began to explain to our children how the Hebrew names of God are translated. Now two days before, a Kenyan friend had told me that her husband was having some time off work and had asked her to let their houseworker off so that they could have some family time. I understood. We do the same thing. Well my husband got to the name Lord GOD, and said that it could be translated Lord LORD.

In that moment, I heard God speak. He said, "You've always been afraid of the 'Lord, Lord' passage." Well, that was certainly true. He continued, "You have always thought that I was saying, 'You haven't worked hard enough; get away from me.' That is not true. I am saying, 'It is family time; let the slaves and servants go.' I knew that He was saying, 'If all you ever do with me is ask me for a list of things to do, then leave. This is family time, play time, I want the people who have gotten to know me.' He was also saying, "You've always tried to be my slave, but you're not a very good one. You aren't meant to be a slave. You are meant to be a child. Be my child."

It is hard to put into words exactly what God says. Sometimes, I hear words and other times, thoughts; sometimes, I see a picture or have a story come to mind. One thought that began to come to mind is that I try to earn my rest. After my work is done, I can rest. But I started to see that we have to work from rest. I had this thought, "You don't say to a car, earn your petrol (gas)." We can never earn our rest. It is a gift.

I also began to understand the Hebrew day, which begins at sundown. What happens in families at sundown? The evening meal, the family fun time, bedtime. All restful. In the Hebrew week, there are six days, each beginning with rest followed by work, which culminate in the seventh day, the weekly Sabbath, a day of complete rest and celebration.

One day, my friend Joyce told me a story. She had asked God, "Do you play?" and God told her to watch her husband. At that time, Joyce opened her front door to go out but saw something that made her shut it immediately. She said, "Don't open the door. The cat has a mouse and wants to hide it in the house." William, Joyce's husband, whispered to her, "Watch this." He opened the door and shut it quickly while tossing a small ball across the floor. He yelled, "A mouse!" Their daughters began to shriek. At that moment, God leaned over to Joyce and said, "I am a Father."

One of the hardest things I have done has been sitting on top of my children's toys to play, without saying anything about the room. The interesting thing to me has been that as I play with them, the children are much more willing to work with me. Also interesting is that I am more rested and able to work as well.

(read part 1)

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"Mommy, will you play with me?"  I hear this frequently.  "I'm busy." or "In a minute."  My children hear these statements with equal frequency.  You see, I tend to think that work is the priority; fun is for when the work is done.  There are beds to be made, dishes to wash, laundry to do, ... I have a long list.  And of course, just when I think I'm about done, I find that the children, who were left alone too long while I worked, have dumped out all their toys so you can't walk through their room.  I sigh and think, "More work."

Right about then, I hear, "You said in a minute.  Can you play with me now?"  I suggest, "How about I help you clean your room?"  While we, make that I, clean their room, complete with lots of prodding, some yelling, and some accusation, I point out that if they would help me more around the house, I would have time to play with them.   Though I didn't put it into these words at the time, I was trying to motivate them by guilt.  I thought if they just felt bad enough, they would help.  It didn't work, of course.

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus asked a lot of questions to challenge our wrong thinking about God.  One of the questions He asked was whether we parents would give our children a rock when they ask for bread, or a snake when they ask for fish.  I think I have, many, many times, but I thought I was supposed to.  I thought I was being like my Father.

I knew God has purposes He absolutely wants to accomplish -- the saving of the lost and the care of the needy.  I thought He was single-minded in His pursuit of these purposes.  I didn't think that He could be bothered about anything else until these purposes are accomplished.  I saw Him as a parent who is so busy with work that He doesn't have time for His children.

In my mind, He had been concerned about me when I was "lost."  It seemed to me that as soon as I came to Him, no longer needing to be "saved," I basically moved to His blind spot.  His single-minded focus was on the lost and the needy.  I was no longer lost, and need is relative.  I might think I have needs, but not compared to others.  I was one of the ninety-nine left in the sheep fold.  Only, I wasn't just left there while He went looking for one sheep.  He was out looking for many lost sheep, and consequently, He had no time for me, not even time to take me to the pasture.

I felt that the only way to get the Father's attention was to work hard, to help Him.  I needed to be blind to need in myself and to focus all my attention on the needs of others.  Anything else would be selfish.

I did not understand Isaiah 43:4, "For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.  I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you.  Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life."  I didn't understand that He was willing to pause on this work of seeking the lost, this most important task, just to spend time with me.  These others, the lost ones, are valuable to God, but not so valuable that He forgets me for them.  He will pause in the middle of His work just to spend time with me.


(continued in part 2)