There were three girls packed into
an old a well-loved Honda packed down with all the clothes and kitchen supplies a girl from the deep south could own. The three of them set out to transplant that southern girl in the Pacific Northwest. Along the four-day, cross-country road trip there was a rhythm to the time. Time for music, time for storytelling, lots of laughing, time for prayer and those deep theological questions church girls are bound to ask on long trips.
Somewhere around Middle-of-Nowhere, Montana or South Dakota, we read Psalm 130
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
:: Psalm 130:5-6 ::
She asked, “What do you think it means to ‘wait on the Lord’”?
There was a long pause before either of us started to answer. What does it mean?
We offered that it can mean not taking matters into our own hands but trusting that He’ll do what only He can do. Waiting for Him may be to live in a state of dependence on the Lord, waiting for Him to move. Being quiet and listening…?
She who asked is a do-er and needed more.
“But what does that look like in a practical sense, on a daily basis?”
Here we are quickly approaching the close of the Lenten season, the season of self-denial. In these forty days of waiting and observing the suffering that precedes the victory, there is a sense that self-denial means accepting we are flawed and needy of something or rather Someone who can save us from ourselves.
Rewind a few thousand years, the people of God-the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, were slaves with terribly cruel taskmasters. A hundred years passed and things didn’t give, they just got worse. Two hundred years passed and they continued to grow as a people all the while their brick quota went up and up. Three hundred years and the size of the Hebrew people was terrifying to the most powerful man on earth at the time who decided to try to wipe out an entire generation of Hebrews by killing all the male babies. Another hundred years later, Exodus tells us in those first few chapters that God heard them and was preparing a deliverer.
Four hundred years of waiting and all the while from God’s view it was four hundred years of preparation. Those four hundred years of slaving away and groaning for rescue weren’t drowned out by the worship of Heaven. Mingled in those cries of slavery for four hundred years were the cries of a baby boy who survived. What sticks out to me is when the Word says, “Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning and God remembered the covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel and God knew.” :: Exodus 2:23-25
Fast forward and the last prophet spoke the last warning to repent and believe before the sounds of Heaven touching Earth hushed into a deep silence. Four hundred years of silence. All the while, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob saw and knew. He was never far and His plan to be with His people was never off course. They waited on the Lord.
Back to the slaves turned newly freed people group in Exodus….their four hundred years of slavery were over. Free at last. God wanted to commune with His people and he spent forty days and nights sharing that with Moses, the baby who lived, to bring His plans to the people. They were free and had good intentions to obey and follow the God of their fathers, except their lack of faith in the plan of God landed them with forty years of wilderness traveling – a time out of world record proportions.
Fast forward and the four hundred years of silence were punctuated by the cries of an infant boy. There was another powerful ruler who wanted to wipe out a generation of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s people by killing all the baby boys. This one survived! This Savior of the World lived decades of ordinary life. He learned to walk, to talk, and continued to grow in the knowledge of God. He was the definition of perfect love and truth. And this culminated in him waiting on the Lord. The timing of his closest friends and followers wasn’t the Lord’s timing. At one point, we see the God of Heaven spending forty days and nights in the wilderness. This wasn’t the same type of time out the people of Israel were given, it wasn’t Jesus’ sin he was wrestling with there. It was mine…and yours.
How much time have you spent with a toddler? Two year olds are my absolute favorite. That age where two is more like 2 and a half is where the rubber really starts to meet the road and it’s never more apparent that the most adorable child is a deeply depraved sinner.
That probably sounds nuts. “So you love them because their sin is obvious?” Yes and no. It’s more than that. These tiny humans are truth-tellers for sure. They sometimes tell the truths that make their moms and dads red in the face. For example, little Aden or Ava may drop a toy or bonk their heard and then let out a four letter word of which the meaning is a complete mystery to them. When asked why they chose to use a “no-no word” they look you right in the eye, unphased and say, “That’s what my daddy said when he dropped his phone” as they toddle off to find another toy. Honest. Later that same day though, Ava or Aden are found with a sprinkle mustache and are asked, “Did you eat those cookies with the sprinkles?” They look you straight in the eye, pause and say, “Nope” as they toddle off to find another toy. Depraved. And out comes the dreaded time-out chair. In my experience, these tinies come out of time-out ready for a big hug. They see it as they served their time and now it’s over and they’re ready to move on.
One of the reasons my love for this age group swells is because I learn so much from them. I see my own patterns of behavior in them. All too often, I put myself in a spiritual time out.
I have to wait on the Lord in His grace to reveal my sin. After the Spirit of God exposes sin so He can forgive it, I confess and then I put myself in a “time out”. Does anyone else identify with this? I need Him in the worst way and yet I think in my confession of sin that I can make myself the judge and jury to decide my own sentence. There is often this period of time following the confession of sin in which I convince myself that I need to deny myself access to God -the very source of forgiveness and grace because I’m punishing myself. I know His grace is sufficient and He has come to give me abundant life, but I convince myself I’m not worthy…yet. As if He needs a cooling off period before I approach Him again.
This sort of self-denial only hurts me and is full of self-righteousness. Refusing the Lord’s help and denying myself His presence is the very definition of Hell. The most terrifying thing about Hell is that it is void of the presence of God. It was never meant for me or for you, but when we make the deliberate choice to deny the rescue and presence of the Lord, He gives us over to our choice. With the ultimate sacrifice being that Christ died not only for me but also instead of me, why should I live as if, even for a second, that His presence isn’t where I belong?
I put distance in my relationship with Him and deem myself unworthy. Instead of offering worshiping in Spirit and in truth, I offer up a lie that I’m not able, I’m unacceptable. And the truth is that He doesn’t need me, but He wants me for sure. He wants the worship I bring. It’s as unique to me as the finger prints I leave behind on everything I touch. It’s important that you know He made a brand of worship for you. They’re ours to bring to the throne with open hands. He doesn’t need them to be complete and our refusing to bring them doesn’t make him one iota less holy. But since He is omniscient and knows you by name, by fingerprint and by worship fragrance…he knows when your offering is missing.
See the truth is, we’re not worthy. No amount of fasting or prayer will make us worthy. He is the only One who is worthy on behalf. And in that time where the wounds of sin are vulnerable and I am weak, I give up my only defenses of prayer and the Word when I decide that I’m not able to approach Him. It leaves me open to more attacks and without recourse.
The thing is, a time out, for that beloved kiddo was always in the room with a grown up just feet away. It’s not about separation as it is about giving time to think about the choice that was made…with the teacher, mom or dad RIGHT THERE to process it with them. They’re never alone. Just as the people of Israel were never alone those four hundred years, or those forty years or those other four hundred years…there was also our God who sees and knows. Our rescue and reward.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
:: 1 John 1:9 ::
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
:: Psalm 34:18 ::
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
:: Psalm 73:26 ::
The Anointed One suffered for sins once for all time—the righteous suffering for the unrighteous—so that He might bring us to God. Though He died in the flesh, He was made alive again through the Spirit.
:: 1 Peter 3:18 ::
We can deny ourselves rigorously for the wrong reason
and end up pleasing ourselves mightily with our self-denial.
:: Thomas Merton ::
Self denial is saying only, “He goes before us, hold fast to Him”.
:: D. Bonhoeffer ::