The other night, a Christian sister and I were discussing a popular worship song. Suddenly, her face got serious and her tone changed. She said, “You know, what I heard about that song….”
I spoke up, “don’t tell me if it’s going to ruin the song for me.” automatically, I assumed it was negative news, like the writer or singer just got indicted for a crime, or worse she was going to tell me about the crime. I’m super sensitive to those things.
“No, it will encourage you. During the woman’s conference, they were playing that song a lot, and I heard a speaker comment about the content, how people are using it, and the message. He said, because it’s so prayerful and people sing it over and over, they better really know and mean what they are singing and saying.”
This was worse than the crime, I thought, especially for a woman like me trying to be free of legalism. I stared at her, speechless, fumbling around for something clever and honest to say while trying to shake the invisible cords of condemnation.
she continued, “You know, if you’re saying those words and then God calls you to do something which would answer that prayer, like if He calls you to do something or go somewhere, you better be willing to go.” She may as well just hung me from the rafters, or sunk me in the river.
Anxiety begun to creep up my leg like the black sticky venom on Spiderman, this was supposed to encourage me?
I could here the lyrics playing softly in the background, which had sprung the mini conversation.
“Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my savior.”
suddenly those words were more like an invitation for God to send me into all sorts of dark alley ways and demon possessed far away countries, talking to people, who want to kill me, about going to heaven” and I heard myself silent, not humming or and definitely not singing. i didn’t feel ready for a snakes in Africa or a hospital visit, or something beyond the “boundaries of trust”. Is that what she was saying? Only sing the words if we are ready for God to do something that drags us out of our comfort zone, into his “better life” of trusting him and pain. I cringed. The truth is, I’m thankful for these conversations, because it does bring me into deeper realizations of where God has me right now.
Later on I pondered her unintended threat. “Or what?” I better go or what? What will happen? I guess I’ll have to delete that song from my playlist, I thought. My childhood dilemma began to return…my prison…the ice in my life….fear. Fear of displeasing a very big and powerful God, who I saw, as holding my destiny in his hand gingerly, moodily, sometimes dangling my heart from his fingertips over the trash can, as if he couldn’t decide if I was worth keeping, depending on my behavior that day. I routinely feared what would happen if i behaved badly, would i be cursed, abandoned, or asked to do something I couldn’t. The list is extensive. So I stayed in line, but that was a lot of pressure, I have gotten used to living in a state tension and anxiety. But, that is what kept me in line, which was the purpose of the reminders of what could happen if i didn’t obey….right? “you better listen or God will get fed up, you better obey, you must be strong. and then, that if I’m not strong enough, or fast enough, or good enough? What if God strikes me with the plagues, or sends me out of his presence, or lets a storm kill my children, or makes me suffer? These are real fears I have lived with a long time. They are crippling and loud.
Fear has been as thick and real for me as honey. I can see it, taste it, and smell it coming from a great distance. I can hear the buzzing of the bees when i get to close. Fear kept me awake at night as a child; listening intently for foreign sounds. I would get up and go to the top of the stairs make to sure a fire wasn’t burning the house down, or someone wasn’t breaking in with a bat. It’s the reason I don’t go on roller coasters or planes, or listen to certain types of music. I watch my words, I walk a straight line. at an early age it was instilled into me that I better not mess up, or I would get a beating like my mother, or get sick like my grandmother or something else bad would happen; you can read about the curses on Mount Ebal. I mostly feared them all. Then, I joined a congregation, that confirmed it all. We had to keep the laws … or else.
It was exhausting for me emotionally and spiritually; But, this is the school of belief I was raised in. This awful haunting ghost followed me like a shadow, infecting every area of my life, it got bigger and more luminous the older i got. I knew what the scripture said: if you break one command you are guilty of them all. So I tried really hard to keep them all, even the ones about,’ not going to church when I had my period’, and circumcise your baby on the eighth day . but it was exhausting and I failed. I kept seeing myself as a commandment breaker instead of a God follower. I walked around frequently carrying a suitcase of fear and guilt. I knew about Jesus I even “trusted” him. I knew he died to take away sin and guilt, and I believed it, and confessed it. But perhaps was still working on the incorporating part. i knew sanctification is a process, but I guess I thought, every generation needs a Simon to help Jesus out.
It wasn’t reverence I had for God, it was a fully mature fear, that he would hurt or reject me; that he would move on without me, or leave me behind.
In Deuteronomy, God places before the children of Israel two mountains, and tells them to choose blessings or curses. .
The God I thought I knew, I assumed, was more like an angry, drunken, step father, walking around bare footed and vengeful, full of threats and stench. He was, in my own mind, a God I needed to hide from like Adam, walk a tight rope with, like uzziah, and obey or else. I behaved as if he was handing out curses from Mount Ebal, striking down people and burning with anger if they fell out of line, but I loved him as much as I could, and I wanted desperately to know him more. I didn’t really know him – at least not all of him. Everything I read in the scriptures seemed to confirm my belief of his wrath and unpredictable nature. I pressed through though, there had to be more to Him. I pitched my tent on mount Ebal , forgetting all about mount Gerizim. I believed that God is good, and he wanted me to get to MT. Gerizim, but somehow i lived as if I mostly just incurred the wrath of Ebal.
After the other night, and thinking more about her words, I realize my faith and knowledge of God has been shifting the past few months, or years in wonderful ways, unexpectedly and subtly. Slowly the fear has been melting away. His true nature blossoming and his forgiveness peeping through from beneath the cold dark belief of my past. And he- is- beautiful.
I think I’m just getting to know him now. I think. And he doesn’t say to me…”you better…or else…” but he does say things like…”don’t be afraid.” And “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He says things like, “I love you with an everlasting love.” Everlasting. He’s not dangling me over the garbage – he is holding me tightly against his bosom with both arms. He is sheltering me with wings of second chances and grace and fiercely protecting me…his baby girl.
I am learning that God is not fear, but Love. He knows me, he made me; he doesn’t clump me into some Christian mold with expectations of one size fitting all. I’m not disposable or replaceable to him; He knows my name, me, personally and intimately and he accepts me. I heard a man preach once, and he said, “we think that, when we get saved, we accept Christ. No, Christ accepts us!”
I’m learning that God is intricately and enormously interested in seeing me whole and healed, well and fruitful, and I believe he is personally committed to bringing me to that place of rest, safety and promise. I’m learning that he is gentle. He speaks softly to me, and kindly. He doesn’t shout or force, but when I’m listening, he whispers. He is a love song. He reminds me, he woos me like a lover into himself, he catches me, and he gives me the most affectionate answers and brilliant ideas- when I ask. He is there for me; he doesn’t give me the silent treatment when I’m being “bad”, when I say something I don’t mean, when I am afraid, when I forget to pray, when I don’t read the bible, when I want to stab my computer screen or walk out on my life or say the F-word. He doesn’t punish me for being human, or introverted, or slow to process, he doesn’t whip me for my flaws and sins and repeated mishaps. all these broken parts of me is what ultimately prevents me from keeping his laws without flaw. The dust part. And I almost believe, that he doesn’t shake his head in disappointment when I eat a piece of pepperoni pizza. He doesn’t crucify me when I break the commandments.
He loves me ferociously, He is patient and sweet and he absorbs every crack and mistake and iniquity. The God I am learning to draw near to never threatens me or manipulates me. He is there like a warrior, a champion and a rescuer. I am like his most treasured possession. And he will move mountains to retrieve me when I am lost and wounded, carry me through the wilderness and rejoice over me with shouts and songs.
I work in a preschool. I would never grab the arm of one of my students and shake her and yell in her face when she is doing something “naughty”. I get down on my knees and I look her in the eye, and I say, “tell me what happened.” In a gentle non-threatening voice. I embrace her and listen. I help her solve the problem. I have learned sometimes those behaviors call for a hug, not a back. When she hits another child, I don’t haul off and whack her, but I carefully rest my hand on her, so she knows I am supporting her also, I ask her to look at her friends sad face, how could she make her friend feel better.” I smile, and open my arms, I make available my lap, and I get down on the floor. I model behaviors I want the children to learn. God is a well-trained teacher and father. Jesus a good shepherd. I’m glad to be a sheep in his fold.
This is the God I am getting to know. When I think about Jesus saying to Peter, “Peter do you love me, peter do you love me, Peter, do you love me?” even after being grossly abandoned by peter, in his greatest time of need. He didn’t give him the cold shoulder , he didn’t make some crude cutting remark or remind him of the last supper, he gave him a chance to redeem himself through love. That’s who I’m getting closer to, that Jesus. When I think of how he had such compassion on those who were sinning and prostituting, and gathering taxes and had demons. I think, wow I’m so glad I’m a sinner. .. sort of.
Even the vilest of men with whom he lay a scourge in the temple, those he criticized and corrected and called hypocrites and vipers, and those who mercilessly beat him and nailed him to a cross, even these, he asked the father to forgive. he didn’t say in anger and vengeance, strike them down, abba! He didn’t, and Jesus isn’t different than God, he is the exact representation of the Father, he did nothing on his own accord. Jesus was and is the channel of God’s ocean of compassion. The things we love and know about Jesus, we can attribute to God the Father. And sometimes he scourges temples.
and sometimes he spanks, and sometimes he cuddles. He is and does both, but he always can be trusted to first, do no harm. We need to know as God’s children that there are times of refreshing, times when we crawl into Daddy’s lap, times when he is a tender lover and fierce protector, and all-encompassing groom, so that when we are disciplined for a moment we don’t run off forever.
God could have showed us any part of him in his seed, but he chose to reveal his love and compassion through Jesus Christ. John 1:18, the law was given through Moses, grace and mercy were realized through Christ. Who sits in the bosom of the father and explains him to the people. Jesus Christ is the son, the seed, the offspring, the image of the invisible God.
I don’t want to live my life as if God is the kind of King and creator, who pours out his wrath on children, who try but fail, on those who “aren’t good enough, on the weak and hurting, and unable, and crippled souls of those who try to trust him. Why do I believe that he is waiting for me to screw up, so he can smack me? That vision is not honoring God for who he is, it is fearing man and attributing man’s flaws to God’s character. God is not a cruel stepfather. He is not, those in my life whom have transgressed. And sometimes, it’s not really that we need to force ourselves to BELIEVE who God is; we just need to stop believing in who the world says he is. We need to cast-off the poor examples that we have had in life. God is not a man, he is not made in man’s image.
IN conclusion, the god, who I thought held blessing and curse in his hands is disappearing. And the God who is emerging, the one true God, holds blessings and grace. Grace for the mountain of curses. Grace for our mistakes and falls and sinful habits and disgusting acts of disobedience. Grace for the naughtiness and defiance, and shortcomings, forgiveness for the rebellion and failures. Grace for the earthy part of us. He is not up in heaven holding two mountains; in one hand the blessings of mount Gerizim and in the other hand the curse of mount Ebal. then when we are good sprinkling blessing, if we are bad the other hand thrusts out brimstone and sickness. God’s reminder, I believe, is that: the way of sin is what curses man, the consequences of man’s direction is what ruins him, and rains down barrenness and death
And I do believe, according to the scriptures, God is a perfect Judge and perfectly Just. I rejoice that he will do that judging, and there will be a day of reckoning. Judgment is not spankings. He spanks his kids; he judges his enemies. I no longer want to be afraid, ‘I’m in his hands. I’m his kid. His compassion and love and mercy and grace is there for me within his instruction and discipleship. Yes, he disciplines, for my good, he doesn’t punish.
Discipline has a root word which is disciple, student; he teaches and instructs and disciples me, he does not punish and hurt me. He does not beat us when we falter, whip us when we miss the mark, slap us to get us to do what he wants, that is not God, that is not the great I AM, that was someone I knew who was a man, human and hurting, and at the time, to me, big and powerful and I was small and afraid. God rescues from people like that.
We cannot lose with God, God has blessings for obedience and grace for disobedience, his wrath is for those who have rejected the truth, his indignation is for those who have spit in his face, stomped on his word, without returning or repenting. He is so wonderful that even those who have rejected him are receiving grace as he waits and waits and waits for all to come to repentance.
Im done living my life by the phrases of , what if…you better…and make sure… I ‘m pretty sure that God wants my devotion and heart because I love him. And regarding the songs and prayers: every man is unique and what one hears and processes when they sing the words of a song is not what another hears, its not always the prayers and words of the lips, but the prayers of the heart that rise up to the throne of God. The prayers of our hearts and our father’s knowledge of every thought in our minds is as unique as the grains in a tree or the stones that line a river bed. We don’t have to fear we can trust that he is working within us to accomplish his will. We won’t miss out.
I’ve gotten to a place where I believe and understand I’m not as powerful as I would like to think I am, but I am way more powerful than the enemy wants me to believe I am. Our greatest power lies in the ability to surrender. As long as we continue to see God as a big mean tyrant we will never surrender. So we need to work on seeing God as he truly is.