not all at once

My arms are burnt toasty and my sunnies were still atop my adventure-tossled head at 9:30 last night. This weekend came straight out of the pages of grace, right up until the tea sipping, Sunday evening and right through the movie night. I’ve battled for and against a somber Lenten posture, but this weekend I tasted celebration in the 75 degree sunshine and in the picnics and in the ocean water and in the bike rides and in the conversation. This weekend I remembered that Lent is not forever.

I read this gem in my Saturday devotional from Journey to the Cross:

We are decluttering our lives, inside and out, testing the values and habits and desires that have become our acceptable norm. We are making room in our heart and mind to consider what Jesus gave up for us, and it is changing us. It’s not all at once, because that would rob us of the joy we experience in knowing the one who changes us.

I would rather it “at once,” I think. I’d rather be rid of everything entangling in one swift, sanctifying motion and not have to think about the wayward rhythm of human existence.

But God would rather not rob me of the joy I experience in knowing the One who changes me.

God would rather I have more joy than less, and the way to joy is knowing Christ. And the way to knowing Christ is slow and suffering. There is nothing more basic than the source of joy and there are few things we do a better job at complicating. All those fears I listed out on the backside of this weekend, crying to a group of strangers on the B44 SBS bus? If I dig down to the gnarled roots, those fears reveal a desire for temporary things.

But God is patient as He leads in the decluttering process, making room in my heart to consider His sacrifice and making room in my heart to consider His joy. And this is not an all at once transformation. For our benefit, He invites us to watch Him work slowly.

This weekend was a grace-filled spoonful of sugar in that process, a taste of the celebration of the Easter feast and of the coming return of the Bridegroom.

This is the secret beach where Patrick planned an adventure.
This is the secret beach where Patrick planned an adventure.

when the Spirit says

I was in the church choir a couple weeks ago and we sang a beautiful song. It had few words, but the melody moved like little children’s feet. I could see bodies swaying in my peripheral vision and then I realized my hips were moving, too. It is that kind of song.

Our choir director sent us this version to encourage a few minutes of preparation before we came together as a group for the hour rehearsal on Sunday morning.

I love the simplicity.

It sounds like a child vowing to do a very noble and impossible thing without knowing how impossible it is (but believing the nobility warrants dramatic commitment). Simple, noble, honest, and impossible.

And that little chorus has been playing across my soul for the weeks since. And I started to wonder “when the Spirit says” pray in my life, because those are the times when my dramatic commitment is tested.

Do I become dishonest when I do not pray when the Spirit says pray? Am I less honest when I bury my worries or when I share joys with friends or when I sing grief in sad songs?

Redemption is wrapped up in the “I’m gonna,” or at least that’s how I read it. Like a child who forgot (again) to clean up his toys or help her brother or stay inside the fence, we look up with round, noble eyes and present our honest “I’m gonna” to the Father who knows how many times we have strayed.

He is the one who makes us honest. Because of redemption, because of His mercies new every morning, we can claim freedom to pray and sing and serve and love and dance in the ways Christ has called us to do those things.

In Christ, our sanctification is a hard and honest refining, a grace covered progress where all our “I’m gonna’s” depend on all His “I did’s.”

 

free & unqualified

“In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear His glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there’s no danger that we will confuse God’s work with our own, or God’s glory with our own.” – Madeleine L’Engle

Yep. At the very moments when I feel the least qualified to do the work in front of me (waking up, working joyfully, serving, smiling, living), God reminds me that I am the kind of unqualified person who bears His glory.

But, I always end up talking about being “unqualified” when I am feeling especially humble or discouraged or low. Preaching “God is glorified in my weakness” kind of comes out like a statement Eeyore would make on a rainy day. It seems strange to praise God with hunched shoulders when I realize He is shining instead of me, almost like I’m giving up on getting my own glory.

Yesterday, in a conversation with a co-worker about circumstances we cannot control, I found myself saying, “…but there is really freedom when I start to trust that God has better plans.”

Really, self? Do I really believe that there is freedom in everything that makes me “unqualified” to do good work?

I suppose I do. But if that is true, then my being “unqualified” should sound less like defeat and more like victory. There is freedom in my own limitations because there is freedom in God’s power over limitations. I shouldn’t just talk about being “unqualified” when things aren’t working out/aren’t going well/aren’t progressing right.

I really do believe that anything good in me is Christ – any good I’ve done, words I’ve said, plans I’ve made – all of it is the abundance of Christ. Daily, I fight the urge to take back the glory, to appear qualified and equal to tasks before me. But that fight is unnecessary and it takes energy away from free, unqualified efforts. When I truly rest in what Christ accomplished on my behalf at the cross, I am free inside my unqualified life.

I am free to not chase glory or fame or fortune. I am free to not be successful. I am free to not rely on the praise of others.