I’m going to tell you a great little anecdote about the time Jesus and I went to get matching best friend tattoos. (Okay. That’s not true. But He did tell me once that my name was graven on His hands so…..)
You might wonder how Jesus and I have gotten to the point in our friendship where we would consider getting matching tattoos. I’ll tell you. Early on, Jesus and I were more loosely acquainted. I trusted Him and took His advice on a lot of moral issues. I didn’t want to let Him in on too much of what was going on in my personal life. It’s just that He was so holy, and I was so… not- despite attempts to remedy my condition. I kind of thought he’d be mad at me. Then I began hearing about grace. One of the first pivotal breakthroughs in our relationship came after I read the book “A Praying Life” by Paul Miller. Consider the following excerpt:
“In bringing your real self to Jesus, you give him the opportunity to work on the real you, and you will slowly change. The kingdom will come. You’ll end up less selfish.
The Kingdom comes when Jesus becomes king of your life. But it has to be your life. You can’t create a kingdom that doesn’t exist, where you try to be better than you are. Jesus calls that hypocrisy- putting on a mask to cover the real you. Ironically, many attempts to teach people to pray encourage the creation of a split personality. You’re taught to ‘do it right.’ Instead of the real messy you meeting God, you try to recreate yourself by becoming spiritual.”
You see the real relationship change started when I realized that I could come and talk to Jesus, just as I was. Like the famous hymn says, “Come ye weary, heavy-laden, Lost and ruined by the fall. If you tarry till your better, you will never come at all.” But let’s not just rely on the words of learned theological book writers. I like when I see biblical hard hitters keeping it real. It comforts me to see a great cloud of witnesses immortalized in the holy scripture who ride on the struggle bus and have glaring personality flaws.
Look at Jonah. Jonah was called to preach a message of repentance to the people of Ninevah- the sworn enemies of Isreal. He didn’t want to. He fled across the sea. And God followed him. After a short stint inside the belly of a large fish Jonah repents and goes to Ninevah. But hear what he has to say after his message of repentance is received and the people of Ninevah DO repent.
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?” Jonah 3:10-4:4
It was all good when God was offering compassion to Jonah, but when He gave it to his enemies, this Jonah did not like. It made him so mad that he asked God to kill him. Jonah was so wrapped up in his rightness that death felt better than believing that God had a better angle. So God smote him right then and there right? Clearly Jonah was blaspheming away. No. The story of Jonah is a story of mercy. God wanted to share His heart with Jonah and would not relent until Jonah saw that God was compassionate. I hope that the story of Jonah draws you in and shows you that even in your sin, God is working to draw us closer to Him, to reveal His glory in us. That our God is for us, and not against us. To the ones who belong to Him, He doesn’t throw in the towel. He pursues us. We are safe to throw all of our feelings onto Him. To pray prayers of anger, to admit our sins. Phillip Yancey says in his book “Disappointment With God”:
One bold message in the Book of Job is that you can say anything to God. Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt, your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment- he can absorb them all. As often as not, spiritual giants of the bible are shown contending with God. They prefer to go away limping, like Jacob, rather than to shut God out. In this respect, the Bible prefigures a tenet of modern psychology; you can’t really deny your feelings or make them disappear, so you might as well express them. God can deal with every human response save one. he cannot abide the response I fall back on instinctively; an attempt to ignore him or treat him as though he does not exist. That response never once occurred to Job.
Job is another person who chose to engage with God rather than to shut down. He threw at God all of his questions, his doubts. God answered Job in a whirlwind and Job came away with a deepened respect, an awe for the Lord. When we choose to tango with God, He reveals to us His character and we come away closer to Him.
I don’t know if you picked up on this vibe at all through my more recent blogs, but I really didn’t want to move to California. I prayed that God would let me stay in Virginia. A snafu in Nick’s orders was a direct message that He could keep me in Norfolk, but that we were being called to California. I praised God for about a minute and a half until I moved here, got unexpectedly pregnant with my fourth baby and very shortly after, started experiencing debilitating morning sickness. One day I lost it. Crying in my bedroom I told him “I’m SO MAD that you made me come to California! I hate it here. I don’t know why you did this to me. It sucks.” That same day I was invited to attend a bible study. He heard my cry and I, well, got all kinds of veh-clempt as I listened to the words of this song:
The power that raised Him from the grave
Now works in us to powerfully save.
He frees our hearts to live His grace;
Go tell of His goodness.
God’s mercy is humbling. But it’s also humbling when it comes in the form of discipline. I would never have thought that I would be thankful that the Lord brought me into circumstances where I would lose a cherished friendship or experience loneliness or endure the physical weakness that this pregnancy has bourn. These circumstances revealed sin in my life, sin I would have never seen if I hadn’t opened all of myself to Jesus. Jerry Bridges says in his book “Respectable Sins” (by the way- read this.)
Remember also that our God is a forgiving God. Even our anger toward Him, which I consider a grievous sin, was paid for by Christ in His death on the cross. So if you have anger in your heart toward God, I invite you- no, I urge you- to come to Him in repentance and experience the cleansing power of the Christ’s blood, shed on the cross for you.
Confidently I can confide in Jesus. Why? I rest in Jesus, His perfect record imputed to me. What love that a just God would plan to include us in His kingdom, we a sinful people, can draw near to him by faith and repentance. We can’t forget that while His grace saved us from our former lives, it still works to change our hearts now. Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit, the ones who know their need of Him.
This hymn basically is saying everything I said here. Plus, apparently, Cracker Barrel produced a worship album, so that’s worth noting.
“Oh what peace we often forfeit, Oh what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not forfeit, everything to God in prayer.”
*PS You can’t even know how many times my pregnant brain typed “Johan” instead of Jonah. So I’m sorry for any typos that didn’t make it through the stern and persistent cloud of pregnancy fog over my brain.