a willing heart, still incomplete

I want a lot of things. No surprise there, I suppose. The intensity might change and the objects of my wanting, but there’s no question: I want things.

And sometimes I get what I want. I will myself to do what needs doing in order to grasp what was once outside my reach. Like the limes I picked up today on the way home from church – I wanted fresh limeade, so I willed myself to drive out of the way to stop at the grocery store. In awhile, after I type out this bit of inspiration, I will sip the limeade that was only a thought a couple hours ago.

But steadfastness does not work that way.

This morning, as we were singing one of my favorite hymns, I stayed on these lines when everyone else sang the next stanza,

Gracious God, my heart renew
Make my spirit right and true
Thy salvation’s joy impart
Steadfast make my willing heart
Steadfast make my willing heart

Apart from God, my willing heart is incomplete – left wanting a faithfulness that is beyond my reach. Often (ahem, daily) my willingness wearies and wavers and no matter how sincere my resolve, I fail and fall. I will never be faithful on my own. No matter how much I want to be faithful, it will always be just outside my reach.

No matter how sincere, willingness does not a steadfast heart make.

There must be something outside of my will and outside of my sincerity that makes me steadfast, because my attempts at faithfulness will always fail.

What grace that God takes our willingness and adds His faithfulness to make us steadfast! Though we fall and fail, our steadfastness depends on His faithfulness and in this He never wavers or wearies.

We come willing and God makes us steadfast.

The exchange makes no sense because it is no exchange at all. We come with only a faltering “want” for faithfulness, but in Christ God adds His faithfulness and our hearts can be made steadfast.

Miraculous.

pensive doubting fearful heart

Have you ever met a dead man who knows you?

Well, John Newton and I haven’t exactly met. I guess I should be clear: we haven’t met at all. But he couldn’t have started out a hymn with a more appropriate assessment of my heart. Sometimes, I excuse my pensive, doubting, fearful heart condition by calling it humility or wisdom or an attempt at being “gentle as a dove.”

Maybe sometimes it is true that I am those things, but I know for certain I make more excuses than my heart deserves. As I am being transformed from one little degree of glory to the next, my heart sometimes stumbles over thought and doubt and fear. I get anxious and make human calculations, which nearly always add up to paralyzing human fear.

The combination of vulnerable words (pensive, doubting, fearful) is tricky because each serves a purpose in making us more like Christ. Our best thoughts and greatest questions and deepest fears are all satisfied in Him, but the result is the opposite of paralysis. The result is freedom.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

(2 Corinthians 3:17-18 ESV)

Today, my pensive, doubting, fearful heart is dancing from one degree of glory to the next, swaying to this song.

I asked the Lord

Oh, friends.

What happens when you reach the end of your rope? What’s after the end – another rope?

Today, I’m asking the Lord.
Actually, I just kind of sat for a few minutes and let space pass between me and the Lord. I let this song do all the asking, because it seems to write the kind of lyric my heart is singing. Hymns pack a pretty hearty punch when it comes to expressing what feels hidden too deep for language. John Newton first penned these words in 1879, so their strength does not surprise me. What does surprise me is how accurate his description is (after 133 years) of the woeful condition of my heart. Even as I seek the Lord in earnest prayer, I often ask for what most benefits me – what most quickly satisfies or appeases or quiets or calms. I am earnest, but I am disappointed when what He gives is abundant in every opposite way.

I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest

Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part

My conversation in quiet moments with the Lord that started with an honest desire to grow in grace and faith ends with frustrated confusion. God must not have understood – I wanted to grow in grace and faith. 

And here I feel, again, the guilt and weight of my sin – the hidden evils of my heart that lead even my prayer life away from the Lord. O, how gracious to set me free from self and pride – again and again so that I might seek my all in Him.

Lord why is this, I trembling cried
Wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?
“Tis in this way” The Lord replied
“I answer prayer for grace and faith”

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou mayest seek thy all in me,
That thou mayest seek thy all in me.”

Jesus, I Come

A weepy weariness hides inside my chest while my heart sings parallel a convincing and clear song. It is not a sadness that weeps, but a longing.

Jesus, I come.

I’m walking out of everything that lacks in this day and into all the abundance Christ provides. This morning feels like a desperate sprint out of distress and to jubilant song. Jesus, I come to Thee.

This week I’m speaking at a camp full of 10, 11, and 12-year-olds and my heart is almost sick with desire that they know the surpassing joy of Jesus – to reverence His power, imitate His love, and join with Him in suffering. Oh, how I love my Jesus. There is absolutely nothing sweeter. Last night, I left the counselors with the students to make meaning of my talk on suffering while I prayed with my mentor in a quiet room.

My talk last night was supposed to be on love. Because God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Tim. 1:7). As I was preparing and praying and enjoying the presence of the Lord (don’t let anyone ever kid you – preparing to speak is the gift of more time with Jesus), I thought about Paul writing the letter to Timothy from prison. I remembered that when God first invited Paul to be his child, he invited Paul to suffering (Acts 9). I remembered the orders Jesus received from the Father – to suffer because God so loved. And when Christ set his face toward Jerusalem and toward the ultimate suffering of the cross, it was for the joy set before Him.

I know I fumbled and mumbled with my wild gestures and crazy illustrations, but my whole heart hopes that this morning the campers have a notion that love and suffering cannot be separated… and that somehow God has woven a mystery of joy into the pair. As we become more like Christ, we can expect to suffer… and delight that we might know our great Redeemer more intimately.

And so today, I set my gaze opposite all other things because it is to Jesus I come. He is my supreme hope, delight, strength, and overwhelming joy.

Out of my bondage, sorrow and night,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into Thy freedom, gladness, and light,
Jesus, I come to Thee;
Out of my sickness, into Thy health,
Out of my want and into Thy wealth,
Out of my sin and into Thyself,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of my shameful failure and loss,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into the glorious gain of Thy cross,
Jesus, I come to Thee;
Out of earth’s sorrows, into Thy balm,
Out of life’s storms and into Thy calm,
Out of distress to jubilant psalm,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of unrest and arrogant pride,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into Thy blessed will to abide,
Jesus, I come to Thee;
Out of myself to dwell in Thy love,
Out of despair, into raptures above,
Upward for aye on wings like a dove,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of the fear and dread of the tomb,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into the joy and light of Thy home,
Jesus, I come to Thee;
Out of the depths of ruin untold,
Into the peace of Thy sheltering fold,
Ever Thy glorious face to behold,
Jesus, I come to Thee.