In searching for an image for this post on how personal God is, I found Emily’s Night Before Christmas. Hold it, I thought. Emily’s Night Before Christmas? Who is this Emily? I thought it was Caroline’s Night Before Christmas…
We humans just love personalized stuff. Some people love personalized mugs, t-shirts, calendars, notes, cards, and even Bibles. Yes, you can order a Bible that puts your name all over the place. You can open the pages and see the words: “God loves you, Caroline.”
And still, we have trouble believing God really loves us, each of us, all of us, all the time. We have trouble believing God cares enough to see our individual problems, our tiny woes, our huge concerns. Why? One of the reasons, I think, is that we get stuck in our pain. There is something so lonely about pain. When we cry, we feel like we cry alone. It’s so isolating. Pain makes us want to cut ourselves off from others. Pain does cut us off from others. We feel like no one understands; no one sees; no one cares; no one can care. Pain makes us feel like no one loves us. How can we hurt so much and yet still be loved? Pain makes us feel somehow impersonal.
Yet the shortest verse in the Bible are these words: “Jesus wept.” The Bible also tells us that when we run away from God, we “grieve” the Holy Spirit. In other words, we humans make God cry.
God cries. God, our personal God, shares our pain. God cries not just because of us, God cries for us. He sees. He cares. We never cry alone. In fact, I think we make God cry more just by thinking that.
God cries for our pain. Jesus wept here on earth because his good friend Lazarus had just died. He wept when Mary said to him: “if you’d been here, Master, my brother Lazarus wouldn’t have died.” This Mary, Lazarus’ sister, is the person who knew to sit at Jesus’ feet while her sister ran around trying to prove herself through “works”. I imagine that when Mary said those words to Jesus, He wept because He saw her faith. He wept because He couldn’t stop Lazarus from dying, but He knew He could bring Him back to life. I think He wept because He knew how much it would cost Him. I think He cried because He knew how little we humans understand His power. I think He cried because it hurt Him to see us hurting. I think He cried because He knew how hard we try, and how much we don’t want to fail Him, and yet how often we do. So we must never think God doesn’t cry with us. He cries. He cries at how hard our hearts are, and how little we trust and believe Him, and how much He loves us despite it all.
When we start to know God, those very same things make us cry, too. We cry at our pride. We wish we could believe God more. We wish we could be more true. We wish we could love Him with our hearts, souls, mind and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. But we can’t, no matter how hard we try.
So instead, before we become Christians we lie to ourselves and deny our imperfections. After we become Christians, we still do that a lot, but we also cry. And from those streams of living water, God makes us into His home. The more we weep, the better. God lives in the soft, vulnerable places of our woundedness. He is so tender-hearted and kind, He can’t bear to see us sad. He comes swooping in to help us. But like any good parent, sometimes He has to let us go through things. He can’t always “rescue” us in the way and in the timing we think we need.
Part of our journey is to receive. He wants us to let Him in, to open our hearts, our minds, our souls and our so very empty hands to Him. Sometimes He delays removing the griefs from us. After all, He couldn’t remove the biggest grief from Himself in the garden of Gethsemene. He had to submit. But He will always bring good out of our bad. He will always bring joy out of our sadness. He will redeem it all and work it for His glory. We must keep believing that, and holding on to that, and holding out our hands to receive what He longs to give us.
Here’s some of what He will pour into our outstretched hands, and it’s all taken from just this one chapter in the Bible:
1. He has blessed each of us “in Christ with every spiritual … blessing in the heavenly realm.” Eph. 1:3 (Amp. Bible). That means that the moment we choose to receive Christ, all that is Christ becomes ours. In Him, we are complete. In Him, we have everything. It may take the rest of our life to work it out. But in a very real sense, when you become a Christian, all that God is comes to live inside of you. The seed of God enters you. The Holy Spirit inhabits you. You can feel His presence. It’s a living, tangible thing. When other people experience it, they turn to Christians almost reproachfully and say, “why didn’t you tell me how amazing this is?” We tried, we say, but faith is a gift of God and beyond our comprehension. It’s just something each of us can experience for ourselves. And the more we surrender to God, the more we experience our spiritual blessings. We can say along with John the Baptist: “I must decrease, so He can increase.” We can soak ourselves in the promise of already having “every spiritual blessing”, trust Him, and ask Him to reveal those blessings to us. He will. And it will be personalized to each of us.
2. He in His love personally “chose us”. He “actually picked us out for Himself as His own” in “Christ before the foundation of the world.” Eph. 1:4. We are here for a purpose. God calls us to Himself, and when we answer that call with our tears of repentance, and our gratitude, and our desire to obey Him, He dries our tears and tells us He has wonderful plans for us. We have a destiny, a calling and a plan. Don’t let the enemy tell you your suffering, your dreams, your hopes and your life are without purpose. Jesus will redeem all the bad things, all of them, and spin our straw into gold.
3. Every Christian is perfect. What? you gasp. Yup. It’s true. If you’re a Christian, you’re perfect. Ha, you’re muttering to yourself right about now. I always knew those Christians were insufferable, self-righteous hypocrites. Of course we are. The truth is that every human is a sinner. But if you are willing to actually admit that, you can finally seek refuge in the shelter of the cross. Because of the cross, a believer is made perfect in God’s eyes. We are “blameless in his sight.” Eph. 1:4. Of course we’re not actually perfect. The human heart is wicked and deceitful above all else, the Hebrew Scriptures tell us. But we are blameless “in his sight” because a perfect God already took our punishment. Eph. 1:7 (“In Him we have redemption (deliverance and salvation) through His blood, the remission (forgiveness) of our offenses”). Once the fear of punishment is taken away, we get to run to God with open arms. We no longer have to parade around trying to prove ourselves like Martha. We get to be Mary’s, all of us, all the time. And obeying God out of gratitude instead of fear and self-righteousness is the thing that finally allows us to start becoming the personal person we were created to be; the one who sins just a little less, yes, but also the one who’s heart is softened down to butter.
4. We each can have a personal peace. Someone once told me that a non-believer doesn’t have a clue what you’re talking about when a believer mentions peace. I know I didn’t before God gave me faith. Peace is beyond understanding. It’s a gift from God. It is God. It’s this supernatural presence that comes to live inside of you, despite you. Peace is restful. Peace is not anxious or striving. It’s because peace is a person. As Paul says here, spiritual peace is “harmony, unity and undisturbedness.” It’s because peace, in its truest sense, is “peace with God.” Eph. 2:1. Perhaps the reason we can’t know peace until we know Christ, is that we blame the constant restlessness inside us on other things, when truly our anxiety is only our heart’s deepest longing to have peace with God. We do! We can! It’s all there, waiting for us. And if you’re reading this and have no clue what I’m talking about, just ask God for faith. He will give it to you. He is longing for you to believe in HIm. He adores you. He longs to give you the peace that passeth all understanding.
5. God is kind to each of us on a personal level. We so often overlook this. Paul reminds us here that God “planned in love for us” to be adopted as His own children through Christ, because it was “his kind intent.” He treats us as children because it “pleased him.” Eph. 1:5. He enjoys giving. He knows you. He knows you better than you know yourself. He wants to give you good gifts, the best gifts, the gifts that you alone need. So keep going, keep holding out your hand. There’s more.
6. Each of us gets to be to the praise of God’s grace. Eph. 1:6. I love how manageable this goal is. We get to glorify God not through our good deeds, but through admitting we can’t be good. Do you see the incredible difference? No matter how hard we try to be good, our motives will always be mixed. We can never escape our selves. And now we get to give up trying. Instead, we get to just say thank you. The glory is all God’s, and that is the most restful realization of all. It’s our highest calling, because it’s what we were each created for.
7. God gives every one of us hope; He has called us to hope. Eph. 1:18. Paul prays that God will “flood the eyes of our hearts” with light. God wants us to see how extravagant and lavish is the hope He’s given us. Without hope, the people perish. With hope, all things are possible. We need to keep opening our hearts to the possibilities, and then the possibilities become endless. Our hopes are personal, and our personal God will meet them all with something better than we can ask or imagine, if we keep trusting Him and looking to Him.
8. The power available to us is the same power that raised Christ from the dead. Eph. 1:19-20. I think that speaks for itself. Read it. Then read it again. Then think about it all day. Somewhere along the way you will start smiling. Now think of your grief in light of that promise. If we have available to us the power that raised Christ from the dead, what can stand in our way? What can stop us? What can slow us down? Today I read on a friend’s Facebook page a post by someone named Marc Thrasher, who wrote: “Depression, anxiety and panic attacks are NOT a sign of weakness. They are signs of having tried to remain strong for too long.” God says stop trying. He wants to help us with the most incredible power known to mankind, the power no man has, the power to raise man from the dead.
9. God completes us. I know some of us still think it’s Tom Cruise in Jerry McGuire. But it isn’t. Christ “fills all in all”. In Christ’s body “lives the full measure of Him Who makes everything complete, and Who fills everything everywhere with Himself.” Eph. 1:23. It’s all too good to truly comprehend, but just reading these words makes us aware of our emptiness. If we were already filled, we would look askance at someone who promised to “fill us.” The promise would become nothing more than the pushy waiter, who says with a quivering, hopeful voice at the end of an enormous meal, “cappuccino? espresso?” We are like, “are you kidding me? Caffeine? No way. I’m full, totally full. I couldn’t eat another bite, and all I want is to go to sleep, and all you want, my friend, is to get a bigger tip, and your greed just back-fired, because you annoyed me so much I feel like stiffing you.” God is not like that. His promise to fill us actually opens us up to joy, because we sense we can trust Him. His words remind us that we are actually starving for what only He can give.
Do you want more? I do. There’s always more with God. His well runs too deep for comprehension, too deep for depletion. So here is how you land this plane. Ready? Now look at whatever struck you the most about the above, and ask yourself this question, one that Tim Keller poses near the end of his excellent new book PRAYER:
“why might God be showing this to me now? What is going on in my life that he would be bringing this to my attention today?”
Ask. Make it personal. How is it personal? You will be shocked at the tenderness of God. Ask. What is it? What do you need? Where are your griefs? Why are you crying? Why are you sad? What’s bothering you? Who’s hurt you? Who has betrayed you? How have you let yourself down? What is going on? What is it?
It’s going to be alright. You’ll see. God cares. He loves you. He’s listening. He’s crying with you. He experienced all the pain in the world on the cross out of love, so that one day we will never have to cry again. It’s finished. It’s done. He will wipe away our tears. Today is not just the night before your Christmas, it can be Christmas day, all day, every day, if we let Him in.
Listen…. His call is to you alone.
posted by Caroline Coleman in A Chapter a Day on March 24, 2015