Saturday, March 30, 2013

Lent and How God Knows Exactly What We Need

It might be strange to post about Lent after it has concluded, but for me, lent this year was an unexpected time of discovery.

It is beautiful how God works in many facets of our lives to draw together a season of growth, of change...of becoming. Since the arrival of the new year, my heart has been yearning for more of the Holy Spirit. More awareness of His presence; more understanding of His work; more listening, more obeying, more of Him and less of me.

God led me to start a Bible study on my blog, to re-establish my security in Him. He led me to attend a Bible study at church, to strengthen my faith and consistency in prayer. He spoke to me about listening to His voice and trusting His leading.

Then on the day before lent, I "happened" upon my favorite blog where she explained the emptying of oneself to know the filling of God.

And oh how I needed lent this year.

It's not something I do religiously or even every year. It is neither expected nor looked down upon by those in my faith community.

But God knows exactly what we need, when we need it.

So I knew I needed to pray about doing lent and what I would give up, or what discipline I would add. I can be easily distracted by things to do or not do and so I asked God which things I needed to address. I had a noble list of choices for God to choose: less time on Facebook; less TV time; no sugary foods; no processed foods...

Then He told me.
And it wasn't one of my choices.
It would never be one of my choices.



Surely that wasn't Your voice I heard, Lord. (But I knew it was.)

I recounted the story to my husband and explained, I only argued for a little while! Within 30 minutes I opposed to spending days in prayer (you know, just to be sure) as I have in the past. Well good, he said, but shouldn't we submit as soon as He speaks? Yes, I'm learning the sooner I submit, the less likely I am to doubt, the more likely I am to obey, and He gets greater glory.

Thankfully, God is patient, full of love and grace. I could feel His loving gaze as I waded through the questions in my mind.

Why running? It didn't make sense. Running is so good for me. I love it. Because I run, I stay healthy, I sleep better, I eat better, I'm happier.. During my run, I think through things, I pray, I worship...running is all things good.

But it is not God.

Lent. The time of emptying of oneself to know the filling of God.

photo by Valerie Lynn Jones

The fact I wanted to fight to keep it was my confirmation that I needed to give it up. And for goodness sake, how long is lent? A mere 40 days? Just a breath in the span of eternity. Whatever benefits I get from running, God can surely sustain for 40 days. Did not His own Son go without food for 40 days? Or what about the other faithful servants of the Lord: Moses and Elijah?

Is my God that small to me?

No, I refused to allow that to be true. So I decided to set my running shoes aside for this season.

One problem. That weekend I committed to a 5K obstacle race with my friends. Should I keep that commitment? God is gracious and He said yes.

What about training? I reasoned that I needed to get in at least one more run to reduce risk of injury. So after my prayer and struggle with Lent, I dressed for one more run.

On my way out the door, rain fell heavy from the sky. And tears fell lightly onto my cheeks. Lord, You will sustain me.


Some days later I shared my Lenten struggle with a friend, and God gave her a story from the Bible to encourage me that God knows exactly what we need...even when it doesn't make sense.

In the book of Genesis, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many generations, blessed beyond measure. To fulfill this promise, God gave Him a son, Isaac. But then, God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to Him.


But Abraham obeyed God, step by step, all the while believing that in the end God would provide the sacrifice. He proved His faithfulness to God; and God provided, sparing Isaac. (Genesis 22)

It is amazing, almost incomprehensible, how Abraham could be willing to sacrifice that which God promised to Him.

But even though Isaac was the fulfillment of God's promise, he wasn't God.

God knows where are hearts are, but He knows that sometimes we need to know it too. Sometimes we need that extra push, that momentous opportunity, to demonstrate (or develop?) our faith in Only God.

Because God is the only thing we really need.

Giving up running wasn't easy. I know that sounds strange to many of you, but I thoroughly enjoy everything about a good run.

Every so often I'd feel the absence of my favorite hobby: A status post from a friend that just made a new personal record. Another friend sharing that she has now learned to love running. Strangers jogging and sprinting alongside the road. My Nike sport watch that has been asking me (since day 4) "Are we running today?"
photo by Valerie Lynn Jones

And my cravings have been more intense for junk food and sugar. And my sleep has been off schedule, less fulfilling. And all I wanted to do at the end of the day was watch TV.

But I knew that when you pour yourself out, there is an empty space. One only meant for God.

So God has filled me in new ways, in precious ways...sometimes small, sometimes mighty ways:
Through an answer to a prayer.
Through confirmation on His word spoken to me.
Through greater challenges in ministry and the grace to walk through them.
Through a stronger and more secure perspective of who I am.
Through change and the promise of change and a peace I wouldn't have felt a year ago.

He has filled me with more of Him and less of me.

This last week was Holy Week and I am more engaged in and enthralled by the story of Redemption than ever before. As I observed Passover, meditated on Jesus' crucifixion, and rejoiced in His resurrection - His sacrifice for me has become more dear, more personal.

 [Jesus], being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:6-11

photo by Valerie Lynn Jones
 He made Himself nothing. Or as translated from the original Greek, He emptied Himself. And He did it so that God could be God. So that we would know LOVE and His Name would be known. So that He, above all else, would be exalted.

The greatest sacrifice of all was an example, and the only way, for us to truly know God's presence: through the emptying of oneself - first of Christ, then of us.

How precious a gift.

A gift that begins with death, and can only be given by death, but then is filled with life everlasting and to the full. 

...because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:5

Today I celebrate that by grace I can know Him, be loved by Him and do His will in a way that brings Him the most glory. Because as I pour myself out, He pours Himself in.

(Read the blog that inspired this journey: A Holy Experience)


Tracey C. said... Reply to Comment

Very inspiring. Your words are clear, your heart, open. To God be the glory. I love how He used your experience to minister to me, thanks for sharing!!