A Pure Heart

"I don't like obeying."

My eldest daughter's puffy, tear-stained eyes pierce me with the anguish that only a three-year-old can have.

"I know, darling. Obeying is very hard sometimes, even for Mommy. I have a hard time obeying God sometimes too."

Just like my eldest, I get very frustrated with how difficult it is to obey. I want to just fix everything that is ugly and wrong in my heart. I want my heart to be pure and whole and I want this right now.

Our conversation reminds me of what I read in Brother Lawrence's "The Practice of the Presence of God" where Brother Lawrence says that perhaps God doesn't want us to try to fix everything in our hearts all at once. Perhaps God just wants us to focus on one or two things at a time while we allow Him to change our hearts:

When an occasion of practicing some virtue was offered, he addressed himself to God saying, "Lord, I cannot do this unless Thou enable me". Then he received strength more than sufficient. When he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault saying to God, "I shall never do otherwise, if you leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my failing and mend what is amiss." Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.
Why do I feel as though I must agonize over my disobedience? Why do I think that I must be pure before I am worthy of God's love, worthy to ask Him for anything? Isn't that the whole point of the cross...that I cannot be worthy on my own?

In Mark 9, a father brings his demon-possessed son to Jesus' disciples who are unable to cast out the demon. The disciples try to cast out the demon without prayer, without asking for God's help. This is what I do all the time. I try so hard to cast out my own failures, my sin, the ugliness of my heart without asking for help. Just as the disciples did, I underestimate the power of evil in the world and in myself. I don't see how weak and proud I am.

Then Jesus has an exchange with the father that gives me such hope!
This man asks Jesus, "Would you heal my son?" And Jesus says, "Everything is possible for him who believes." That is, "I can do it if you can believe." The father responds, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" That is, "I'm trying but I'm full of doubts." Then Jesus heals the man's son. This is very good news. Through Jesus we don't need perfect righteousness, just repentant helplessness, to access the presence of God.

Jesus could have told the man, "I am the glory of God in human form. Purify your heart, confess all your sins, get rid of all your doubts and your double-mindedness. Once you...can come before me with a pure heart, then you can ask for the healing you need." But Jesus doesn't say that--not at all. The boy's father says, "I'm not faithful, I am riddled with doubts, and I cannot muster the strength necessary to meet my moral and spiritual challenges. But help me." That's saving faith--faith in Jesus instead of in oneself. ~ King's Cross by Timothy Keller

Putting my faith in Jesus rather than in myself. Telling God that He must mend and clean my broken and ugly heart if He wants my heart to change...and then not worrying about it anymore!

To be able to confess to God when I fail and then leave it with Him ~ this is grace.

To allow Him to change me while I simply rest in His love ~ this is grace.

To leave to God the work of making my heart beautiful while I focus on and enjoy the sweet relationship I have with Him ~ this is grace.

Praise be to God for the good news of His grace!

May I remember this grace instead of being frustrated with my inability to obey.

May I trust that God's seeming delay in making my heart beautiful is what is best, that the journey is somehow essential to the goal, rather than being impatient for a perfect heart right now.

art credits: "Brother Lawrence in the Kitchen" from a book published by Fleming Revell Co. in 1900; "Christ with Martha and Maria" by Henryk Semiradsky in 1886


Pursuing Happiness

Why do I have such a deep longing for happiness?

I desire happiness for myself.

I desire happiness for those I love.

I want my children to be happy, to enjoy life.

Today I saw my brother who is devastated by the loss of his beautiful wife and
terrified by the prospect of being a single parent of a one-year old.

I want him to be happy again.

Is this desire wrong? Is it simply that my time and my culture have taught me that happiness is what I should expect and pursue, or is it a deeper longing than that?

I have been taught by many fellow believers that the desire for happiness is either a sinful, selfish desire or that it is really just a longing for heaven, something for the distant future.

Is that truth or is there a deeper reason behind this deep longing and expectation of obtaining happiness on earth?

I begin to search God's Words, wanting to hear what He has promised.

I remember Jesus' words:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. ~ John 10.10
That certainly sounds like He means a full life here on earth.

Jesus also said this:

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. ~ John 15.9-12
If we obey, we remain in His love. If we remain in His love, we have Jesus' joy in us!

This is a startling idea.

Perhaps part of the trouble is that the word "happy" has come to me
an "fun" or "excitement".

Perhaps this is why so many in the Church have decided that we should delay happiness until we are with God. "Fun" is not what we have when our world is crumbling around us.

Paul, however, in Philippians 4.4 says:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Always. Not only when I'm having fun, not sometime in the future. Now and always!

That is a much deeper sort of happiness than what most people mean by that word.

Paul also says this in Romans 15:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps this is the key.

Trusting God.

Trusting that He is always good and always love. Trusting that He will do what He promised, that He is here and working even when we can't see in the dark.

In II Corinthians, Paul talks about the grace that God gave the Macedonians:
Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
This, then, is truth.

Joy, happiness, can be present even in the most severe trial, even in the darkness, every moment of every day.

It is a grace, a gift, given to us from God.

All we need to do is ask...and then trust.

Even in the dark.
~ ...though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. ~ I Peter 1.6-9
~ To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy--to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. ~ Jude 1.24-25


I Know and I Declare

He buried his wife this Saturday.

I sat at the feet of this younger brother of mine as he said goodbye to his wife of four years, the mother of his one-year-old son.

I watch him struggle through despair, depression, doubt as he face
s a long road of raising his son alone.

I watch my nephew cry and cling to his daddy, looking for his mommy and feeling afraid that his daddy will leave him too.

Through this long struggle, through one piece of bad news after another, through the next days and months and years of memories, where is God?

When all pleas seem to go unanswered, when even
let the end be peaceful is ignored, what are we to think?

What do I really believe about God in all of this?

God's Words tell us clearly that there is pain, there is heartbreak in this world. We should not be surprised.

More often than not, God chooses
not to save His people, chooses not to spare them sorrow and hardship. Hebrews 11 gives a long list of those who were killed or lost ones they loved, Jesus' closest friends died martyr's deaths, even His earthly father died without His intervention.

I have pondered long and hard this question of what I believe about God in the midst
of "it wasn't supposed to be like this". Here is my conclusion.

I know my God, His character, well enough to trust Him when I don't understand, when I cannot see in the darkness. I know, from what He has said about Himself and from what I have seen, that He is always good and always love. I know that, if we only knew the reasons, we would adore Him for what He does.

God promises that we will have trouble in this world. He also promises that if we are grateful to Him He will give us peace. He doesn't promise that He will take the pain away but that we will be at peace, that we will have joy.

Isn't that a much bigger promise?

No matter what, God is still God.

Will I only praise and thank Him when He does what I like? Will I only accept from Him what I deem to be good?

When I deeply think through the idea of declaring my circumstance to be bad, it seems incredibly arrogant.

How can I think that I know better than God what is good? How am I more capable of naming something to be good than the One who is good?

Will I trust that God has a beautiful, amazing plan only when I can see the beauty of it? Either God is God, and capable of having plans and reasons that I cannot comprehend, or He isn't God, and I am silly for blaming a myth. There is not really any in-between place for the things with which I do not agree.

...if I go to Jesus, he's not under my control either. He lets things happen that I don't understand. He doesn't do things according to my plan, or in a way that makes sense to me. But if Jesus is God, then he's got to be great enough to have some reasons to let you go through things you can't understand. His power is unbounded, but so are his wisdom and love...He can love somebody and still let bad things happen to them, because he is God--because he knows better than they do. If you have a God great enough and powerful enough to be mad at because he doesn't stop your suffering, you also have a God who's great enough and powerful enough to have reasons that you can't understand.
~ King's Cross by Timothy Keller
God is God, and since he is God, he is worthy of my worship and my service. I will find rest nowhere else but in his will, and that will is necessarily infinitely, immeasurable, unspeakable beyond my largest notions of what he is up to. ~ Elisabeth Elliot

Of course he's not safe. Who said anything about being safe? But he's good. He's the king. ~ Mr. Beaver as told to C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
When faced with the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego told King Nebuchadnezzar that
If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. ~ Daniel 3
When Job lost all of his children and all that he owned and was himself in great physical pain, he declared
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him. ~ Job 13.15
No matter what, I will praise God and offer Him my gratitude, my sacrifice of praise.

God tells us over and over in His word that He has a beautiful plan for humanity and creation as a whole.

And that he has a beautiful plan for each of our lives.

Sometimes I doubt this promise, this truth.

And then I look at Jesus, at His cross.
I've been clinging to Romans 8.32 through all of this:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
If God ever had to prove Himself, prove His love for us, prove that He is taking care of us, He has more than proved it all through the cross.

I've also been thinking a lot about Hezekiah. In II Kings 20, he pleaded with God to "change his story", to give him more life when God had told him (through Isaiah) that he was going to die. God did change His mind that time, gave him fifteen more years of life. And in that fifteen extra years, Hezekiah's son Manasseh was born. This son that wouldn't have been born if Hezekiah hadn't asked God to change the ending of his story ended up as king and "lead (Israel) astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites". ~ II Kings 21.9

Our desired story ending versus God's desired story ending.

Perhaps, just perhaps, God really does know best. Perhaps He does know which story will bring about a beautiful, redeemed, transfigured people and creation.

When through the deep waters I call you to go,
The rivers of woe shall not overflow;
For I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
And sanctify to you your deepest distress.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no never, no never forsake.
~ How Firm a Foundation, att. John Keith, 1787 (modernized)

credit for images: Lion photo, painting by Simeon Solomon, Cross photo



Grateful for a life given as grace
Beauty in both heart and face
God's gift for twenty-six years
More than we deserved
Hard to see through tears

Scraps of colored paper were her gift
Our hearts now are torn, our emotions set adrift
Made divinity, read books, gave flicks, played games
This beautiful marriage was more of God's grace
Her husband's world, on the outside, is going up in flames


God is always good and God is always love
Beauty and joy in even this is given from above
I don't begin to understand but I declare what I don't yet see
God promises to transform weeping into dancing, pain into glory
She's home, she's well, her life and body as they were always meant to be