read Acts 12. A huge tree just cracked in half and fell on the townhouse beneath my apartment window. The crack was loud. No windows were broken, and it looks like no one was hurt. But this storm is loud and strong and real. It’s good to prepare for storms. It’s good to stay indoors while the winds rage and trees fall and waters rise. But sometimes the biggest storms of all rage in our hearts, and locking the doors is the worst possible thing to do – and yet we do it anyway. Why do we hide from people – and from God – when we need help most? And what hope is there for us if we have this tendency?
Another way to ask this question is something I think about every day. Why does it sometimes seem so HARD to have a close intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, when everything in the Bible tells us how EASY it is? And when I ask that question, I include both people who believe in Christ already and those who don’t.
Here’s what I mean. Over and over and over, the Bible tells us that Jesus loves us. It says He loves us even when we don’t love Him back. It tells us He cares for us. He sees us. He died for us. He will never leave us. He will never forsake us. Even if our very parents forsake us, God never will. Even if the whole world abandons us, the God who MADE the world will step in and embrace us with the warmest, kindest, most affectionate, most passionate arms of all.
So why do we have trouble believing this? Why do we wake up every day and wonder if anyone loves us – Christians and non-Christians alike? Why do we seek affirmation in the faces and voices of strangers? Why do we value the criticism of unhappy people over the compliments of people who are secure enough to look at us intently and find things to appreciate in us?
And going deeper, why do so many people draw a blank when they hear the words: “Jesus didn’t die to give us a religion, He died to give us a relationship”? Why do we have trouble taking in that God wants a RELATIONSHIP with us? Why do we resist the idea that His is the only phone number that’s never busy? Why do we push away the idea that He really truly accepts us just as we are? Why do we blank out when the Bible says we’re “forgiven”?
Why, instead, do we feel we have to EARN his love? Why do we feel we have to “be good”? Why do we think we have to do X,Y and Z in order to be acceptable to Him – and to everyone else? What’s our problem?
I could say we’re “sin-sick” but here’s an example from today from my own life that might make it clearer. The storm means we all have to stay indoors, and I’m about to move, and I could feel a lot of undefined emotions welling up in me, so I decided to using the afternoon to pray – which meant, of course, that I started cleaning up instead.
“God,” I said, looking over at the blue chair in my bedroom. “Could you please talk to me even as I wander around cleaning up, even though I know you want me to sit and pray?”
What I was really saying was: “God, I KNOW I’m avoiding you. But I’m just not capable of praying right now. I’m distracted. I don’t want to pray. I don’t see answers to some of my questions, and I don’t think I have enough faith to believe that if I sit IN THAT CHAIR and pray, You will answer me – at least, not in my timing. I have my own agenda – a big list of things I think just HAVE to be done instead. So will you please work with my doubt? Will you meet me at the intersection of my need and your love? Will you come in and magically answer all my questions even WHILE I’m avoiding you?”
To be fair to me, I had tried praying, but I just started crying over something hurtful a friend had said and got all upset and wanted to send her the Angry Email You’re Never Supposed to Send. So I started cleaning instead. I started cleaning with such joy I began to sympathize with the woman I just heard about who scrubs her kitchen floor with a toothbrush. I mean, I didn’t actually get out a toothbrush, but when you find me sorting books and old files, you have to wonder.
So here’s what happened. I stumbled onto some old study notes on the story of Jesus talking to the woman at the well. She’s that woman who had had five husbands and the man she was living with wasn’t her husband – and to whom Jesus promises to give streams of living water. Before talking to her, Jesus tells the disciples He “had” to be in Samaria. Whoever wrote that study guide asked: “why did Jesus HAVE to be in Samaria?”
Well, what do you think?
Me? I think it’s because Jesus HAD to go talk to her. He had a divine appointment with a woman who needed Him. He HAD to go.
And that’s why the Bible says it’s simple to meet Jesus. Because even when we can’t go talk to Him – even when every bone in our body tells us to ‘get in that chair and pray and stay there and don’t move until you meet Jesus’ and we go elsewhere – He comes to us. He HAS to.
He actually does love us.
I guess that’s what a personal relationship is. Sometimes we can’t reach out to other people, but our friends sense it’s time to reach out to us. They come looking for us. And even when they forget – or when a hurricane keeps everyone at home – or when we push them away even IF they come looking – God ALWAYS comes looking. And God alone always knows how to find us. He can go through every locked door.
That’s why the Bible says Jesus never leaves us. He’s always looking for us. Always. Even when we shut our eyes. Even when we turn off our phones. Even when we lock our doors and bars our windows. When Jesus says “seek and you will find,” I can almost hear Him smiling. It’s because it’s so simple to seek and find, when the One we’re seeking has already found us.
Look at Peter in this chapter of Acts 12. He is literally asleep in prison. Four squads of four soldiers each are guarding him, on Herod’s orders. And an angel comes to rescue him. A light shines. The angel “smote” Peter on the side to wake him – the way we sometimes have to “smite” our children to wake them for school. The chains fall off Peter’s hands, but the angel then gives him practical advice and tells him to tighten his belt, bind on his sandals, and wrap his coat around him. The entire time Peter has no clue that what’s happening is real – he thinks he’s having a vision. He and the angel pass guards undetected. An iron gate leading into the city “swings open” of “its own accord.” The angel leaves him and boom, Peter comes “to himself” and realizes that the whole thing was real.
We have a God who rescues. We have a God who sends angels. We have a God who wakes us up, who tells us to tighten our belts and put on our coats. We have a God who shines a light on us whenever we’re in a dark place. He comes to rescue us even when we’re asleep. And yes, I know the whole church was praying for Peter in this instance, but honestly? I’m not sure how real their faith was because when Peter shows up at the place where they’re praying, the people tell the servant girl who says he’s at the door that she is “crazy” – they can’t believe their prayer has actually been answered. The story continues with the poor soldiers being executed by Herod. Then Herod is called a god by the people – and when he doesn’t refute them, an angel of the Lord “smote” him for not giving God the glory. The chapter ends with the words: “the Word of the Lord continued to grow and spread.”
That’s how the Word of the Lord grows and spreads – because God comes to find us no matter how many obstacles we’ve placed in His path, and no matter how many obstacles other people have thrown in our path. It’s why we love those stories of Houdini escaping from a raging river while bound in ropes and chains and weights – those stories hint at the one true story, the story we long for so desperately we can hardly even bear to believe it’s true. It’s the story that seems too good to be true – but it is true.
I think that’s why we have trouble believing God wants to be our friend. It seems too good to be true. And so we get it backwards. In order to “protect” ourselves from disappointment, we tell ourselves that love like that isn’t real. Of course, the good news is that because this love IS real, it comes looking for us. God is love. He seeks and finds. He’s God, after all. Nothing is hidden from Him – luckily, not even our deepest desire, which is to be loved and found and cherished no matter how hard we pretend we just want to be left alone.
So if you’re reading this, and you’re thinking, “yeah, yeah, that’s fine for Caroline, but I don’t believe,” take heart. Maybe you do. Maybe God knows you do. Maybe God is sitting at the door of your heart right now, knocking, and all you have to do is let Him in.
Maybe the only person who hasn’t admitted it yet is you.
He came to find me today. Why wouldn’t He find you, too? And the miraculous thing is that once we take it in that he HAS to come find us, we find that all our anger against other people melts away; our obsessive need to clean disappears; and we discover we can settle comfortably back in a chair to chat with God, to chat with our friends, and discover that no matter how hard the storm rages outside, our hearts can be calm and still.
His love unchains us.
posted by Caroline Coleman in A Chapter a Day while Hurricane Sandy hits NYC and all is cozy and snug when we trust the Lord who seeks and saves the lost, lonely, scared and prideful – ie. all of us. carolinecolemanbooks.com