Choosing Substance: The Stamp of Eternity (Day 2)

clockHe has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 niv

It’s written all over my life — and yours, too — that ache we’re scared to voice but find ourselves studying in the middle of the night or early, early morning when we can’t sleep. Is this it? Is this really it?

We scorn our discontentment as we name our blessings one by one. We scold our tendency to live in regret but still wonder what life would be ours if we just had make that one, different choice. We ponder the dreams we held tightly in our youthful hands.

And maybe you’re still waiting for the dream, or worse yet, maybe your dream has come and you’re still awake in the silent, forever night. But a person of substance, he understands his discontentment and knows the depth of meaning behind his regret. She’s not surprised when the ache whispers to her yet again… even at Christmastime.

God has placed in our minds a sense of eternity; we look back on the past and ponder over the future, yet we cannot understand the doing of God. Ecclesiastes 3:11 the voice

She’s a traveler. That person of substance, she’s a traveler made for a different world. The imprint of eternity is set in his heart, seared on his mind.

We choose substance as we journey toward eternity rather than setting down roots. We were made for another world, and our stride boasts of determination because we boast in Him. He came to us. We journey toward Him. The striving to be known by humanity is swallowed up with the truth that Our Maker sees, and understands, and even rescues us from the intricacies of our hearts and minds.

Free us from the shifting shadows, Oh God. Release us from the false security of temporary stories. Help us keep going, keep traveling.

Though we journey, we’re not restless. The people of substance hold peace despite the baggage that tries to fill up our arms. The noise that echoes throughout December is no champion over us.

On the second day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me the imprint of eternity on my heart. Will you choose your Rescuer instead of the drama this Christmas? Will you journey toward Him instead of bandaging the ache of the temporary?

Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel, and ransom captives…


Defining Substance (Grab your journal or just find solitude for five minutes)

  • Read Ecclesiastes 3:11 again. What has he made beautiful over the course of time in your own life? Has He refined your attitude? Softened your heart toward an abrasive person? Given you more patience than you thought possible?
  • What temporary story have you been re-creating to find security (false security)? Achieving at your job, creating the perfect scenarios for your kids, pretending all is well when it’s clearly not, etc.
  • What specific temporary situations are currently distracting you from having an eternal perspective?
  • Keep working on your definition of a Person of Substance. What’s God revealing to you?

photo source | Niklas Rhöse

The Shield (When Fear Invades)

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Reunión de creyentes. Prayer meeting. It was an hour that would later become a favorite part of each day—a time before dinner to reflect on God’s goodness and beg for His glory to be manifested again. Our team of missionaries and Peruvian seminary students sprinkled the sanctuary in groups of two or three.

But I chose solitude. I needed a shadow. In South America only two days, I couldn’t face another person at the moment.

In recent months—even weeks—I was convinced God was leading me to mission work in Lima, Peru. I heard His call, sensed the Spirit’s confirmation, and prepared with culture and evangelism courses. A summer of ministering lay before me—street evangelism, testifying, and church renovation projects would join together as tools to share God’s Story. The message of redemption would come through our mouths and hands, but at the moment, my heart and body was what needed some restoration.

I used the prayer time that night to whisper fears into my folded arms. What was I thinking?! Did I really hear from God? Why did I leave all that was familiar to work among strangers? Many at home stepped out in faith, funding my experience and praying for a fruitful ministry. Doubts bred guilt over my ungrateful heart longing to be home, but my whispers would not cease.

An hour of self-focused prayer left me exhausted.

Gripping my shoulder, a hand interrupted my thoughts. I turned to face an older Peruvian stranger with an eager smile, a countenance not reflecting my own. Standing, I watched his eyes scan the room for a bilingual friend.

“The Holy Spirit gave me this message for you,” he said confidently through an interpreter. I had never talked to this man before.

Pointing to an English Bible, his finger moved down the page before stopping on words I memorized as a child from Joshua 1:9 ~  Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Stunned, I slowly nodded. “Gracias.” I could think of nothing else to say.

Did that really just happen? Did I really just hear from the God of the universe? And if I did, that means He heard me. It was unreal, but I soon accepted I had actually had a conversation with God.

My doubts were certainly quieted, and hope swallowed fear.

For the rest of the summer, that night served as a shield whenever Satan tried to discourage me. Sensing God’s constant presence, I approached my days with purpose, never to question again why I was in South America.

But time has a way of allowing you to forget.

And almost thirty years later, I need a shield for a whole lot more than loneliness. I feel misplaced way more than I did in Peru. And I question my adequacy more often than that teen missionary girl.

What do you do when you can’t answer your son’s, “Why?”

What do you do when your daughter’s hurting and you clumsily navigate her pain all wrong?

What do you do when middle-age leaves you doubting more than you ever have before?

What about when the ache is so great you can’t describe it to even your most intimate friends?

What then? Because honestly, I feel anything but strong and courageous on most days. The mandate to not be afraid almost seems like a dare.

But that promise, that wind of strength coming after the charge is what I cling to –- For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

And I believe Him.

What do you do when you can’t answer your son’s, “Why?”
I’ve seen His wisdom sweep in and form words in my mouth that resonate to my 13 year-old son’s heart.

What do you do when your daughter’s hurting and you clumsily navigate her pain all wrong?
I’ve felt His grace pry the idol of control out of my arms as His mercy softens her anger. I’ve tasted the sweet reconciliation that I couldn’t have created myself.

What do you do when middle-age leaves you doubting more than you ever have before?
I’ve heard Him invite me countless times to wrestle before landing on truth. He’s not threatened by my questions, and that fact alone brings comfort in my tendency to over-think. My wondering doesn’t mean I’m wandering.

What about when the ache is so great you can’t describe it to even your most intimate friends?
I’ve sat in the quiet as His Spirit really did help me in my weakness. I’ve sensed the relief of being known and have silently heard the Spirit interceding for me through wordless groans.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26

Yeah, He’s that Shield that won’t go away because, frankly, the arrows don’t go away either.

Be strong and courageous? Some days. Do not be afraid? Sometimes. The Lord your God is with you wherever you go? I’ll take that.

I’ll hide in the shadow of that Shield.

Pain. Even on Vacation.

sunriseI ran, and I felt the sun wake the earth. I saw my husband discover his childlike joy again. I watched dolphins from a rustic dock.

Community with family I rarely see. Restoration from life’s weariness. The reminder the world is much, much bigger than our everyday. All gifts. All grace.

But pain is often part of the Puzzle we’re trying to piece together here on earth.  Even on vacation.

jellyfishAnd with experiences only the beach can etch on our hearts comes the sting of the jellyfish.  The oldest grandchild, the youngest grandchild, and the husband discovering his childlike joy again after life’s deeper sting – all victims of its randomness.

“Why did God make jellyfish in the first place, Aunt Christan?”

“When exactly did jellyfish start stinging people, Mom?  Was it before or after the Fall?  Before or after sin entered the world?”

Together we pondered marine biology and ancient history and theology.  And I winced.  I still cringe today, for my daughter’s sting was so tiny compared to the pain she’ll face as her life unfolds. Sometimes its easier to look back on the mysteries of history instead of looking ahead.

And the Puzzle, it can be so frustrating, but we keep coming back for more. We try and fail and try again. We work with the hope of wholeness. Work toward restoration.

We were made for complexity. Made to wrestle the deep. And the unsatiated longing keeps us going, keeps us piecing together the mystery until every piece is in it’s place.

We’ll be piecing until the dawn of eternity, connecting pain with beauty, suffering with wholeness, heartache with understanding. Yes, we’ll be piecing until each fragmented piece becomes peace forevermore.

We have no reason to despair. Despite the fact that our outer humanity is falling apart and decaying, our inner humanity is breathing in new life every day. You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here.  2 Corinthians 4:16-17

Help me see You, God, amidst all these pieces. Help me want to see You. Guard me from bitterness as you grant the hope of a mystery fulfilled.

Calm me when the Puzzle isn’t beautiful yet…when I’m too scared to pick up another piece.

photos | Tybee Island, Georgia, usa


This post can also be viewed as a guest post at the Greentree Community Church blog (St. Louis, Missouri).