Borders to Altars

There have been times in my life where words fail me. (I know, hard to imagine. But it’s true.) Times where I have so many questions in my head I can’t think straight enough to write them down. Or maybe it’s that I’m so overwhelmed with a feeling, thought – with GOD – that adequate words don’t exist.

Or maybe it’s both.

Today is like that. This week, this month. Words fail me. Too many questions. And too overwhelmed with awe, underwhelmed with vocabulary.

I’ve prayed 2 prayers for a while now: 1) God, break my heart for what breaks yours, so that I can see – really truly see – what matters. 2) God, oh GOD, reveal more of Yourself. More of your Truth. More of your character. More of You. Overwhelm me with YOU.

It’s funny how sometimes, our prayers are answered with a giant NO. Other times, they are answered in a way we never imagined…

And then there are the times we get exactly what we asked for. Only we didn’t truly understand what it was we were asking.

I’m going to attempt to put into words what it is I’ve learned. No, that’s not right. I’m going to attempt to put into words what it is I’m learning. Transformation is a process, right?

What I’m learning has been aided by sermon messages from our wonderful Pastor Phil (sermon series on Hebrews called “Jesus Transformational Greatness”), conversations with him or with various friends, a Bible study on Gideon by Priscilla Shirer, some song lyrics, speakers at Christian Musician Summit Northwest 2013, and Bible verses I’ve read during my own quiet time. While I will do my best to credit what they specifically said, it might be a bit difficult since it’s so jumbled right now. All I know is this: God has used a lot of different people and circumstances to teach me some things. It is, after all, the Holy Spirit who does the teaching in my heart. (John 14:26)

I have a friend who – just this weekend – heard a clear message from God. I told her to write it down. I told her that with time, our memories fade. We begin to forget the message we heard, or doubt we ever heard it in the first place. There is a real and true enemy of our souls, and he’s an expert at making us doubt or feel like we’re – or at least I’m – crazy. He’s had centuries of practice.

In Hebrews 1, many of the verses are references to other verses throughout the Bible. Pastor Phil pointed out they were all put together, allowing us to “overhear” a one-sided conversation, God the Father speaking to God the Son about him. What a gift! So I told my friend to write down what she heard and to keep doing it, so that over time, she will have a similar record of things God has said to her. A record of her one-sided (or two, if she writes what she says to Him) conversation with God.

I wanted her to write it down as an altar of stones. Like in the old testament, when people would build an altar of stones as reminders of an encounter with God, a physical way to show others and to remind themselves – of a time when God did something mighty. The writing it down – her altar – will serve as a reminder when she doubts and as a sign to others – if she chooses to share it – of the greatness of God.

I have some altars of my own. Mostly, I’ve written them here in different posts. Someday, I’ll print out my altars and keep them in a place for my children and children’s children, to point them to a history of encounters with a real and loving God. But there are other altars, too. I have some that are just reminders for me. Some altars we carry with us, like scars. Jacob’s scar on his ankle where his PICC line ran to his heart – a reminder that God is our provider and He is the God of healing and comfort.

And as I so desperately wanted my friend to build her altar in remembrance, so she would never ever forget, I began to realize that I’ve spent a month learning some things, experiencing some things, and I’ve built no altar. I’ve kept it hidden, partly so I can process it and make sense of it all. But I’ve realized there’s another reason…

Do you ever have a moment where you see something you’ve seen a hundred times, or read something you’ve read before, or hear or sing something you’ve already heard or sung, but it suddenly stands out to you as for the first time? The words cut your soul so deep, and suddenly you understand?

It happened to me with a song today. And I realized this: I haven’t built some altars because I have some walls – some borders – I need to break first. I haven’t written some things down because of my own fears of what it will mean or where it might take me.

When I’ve prayed for God to break my heart for what breaks His, and to overwhelm me with more of Himself, I got exactly what I wanted asked for. My heart has been broken for the broken-hearted. For those who have lost deeply recently. I’ve wept and shook, and made myself physically sick over loss that people I don’t even know are experiencing. My heart has been broken for the wasted food, money, resources, of those of us that are “wealthy,” while others have such great need. For the pitiful pleasures we – I – settle for in this life. And my heart has been broken for a hundred other things.

But my heart has been overwhelmed with the goodness of our Creator. I sit here in awe that the same God who made the universe with His word, the same God who who sends out armies of angels at his command – armies of warrior angels – the same God who rescued Gideon and the other 299 Israelites with no weapons by defeating the Midianite army of over 130,000 armed soldiers, the same God who came as a baby, lived a perfect and holy life, died on the cross for my sins and rose again defeating death and the grave, the same God who sits on the throne today, is the same God who walks before me, behind me, and lives within me today. He never changes. He is always the same. And He is always with little, insignificant me.

And while I knew this before, I have been overwhelmed with it to the point that in some moments, it takes my breath away.

Some of you may not really believe this, but I do: There is also an enemy. The same enemy that will want my friend to forget what God spoke to her, he will do whatever he can to make sure others don’t learn the truth about God. He will do what he can to keep up any border I have, preventing me from fully trusting a perfect and trustworthy God. He will want me to have restraints on my faith. “I will trust You God, but I won’t do that.

Today, I was singing a song I’ve sung before, and as Tim Timmons says, God just totally apprehended my heart. (I tried to come up with another word, but that described it perfectly.) I started out singing with confidence, believing I believed these words..

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand…

As the song went on, the reality of the words began to hit me.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me

Oh yes, I have borders. I have all sorts of them. God, I will go with you where you lead me, but just not out of this county. God, allow me to be used to bring You glory. Only not that way. Because don’t you dare, God, don’t you dare allow one of my kids to die. If I ever lost a child to suicide or a drunk driver, God, I will not stand in the Emergency Room in worship. I will cry out and shake my fist in anger. And I will be done, God. DONE. I won’t be able to go on. So yeah, God? I fully trust you… but partly because I’ve gone through my fair share of hard times and I’m thinking my life is and will likely be smooth sailing now. It’s easy to fully trust you now that my hard times are over. You won’t let me experience something like that again… or will you?

People often say God never gives you more than you can handle. I’ve known this was a lie for sometime, but I was reminded again this weekend. God did not promise to protect us from ailments, to prevent hurt in our life. Life is full of heartache. He does promise to walk through it with us. And if we only ever encountered situations that were totally manageable, what on earth would we ever need God for? And how would His faithfulness, glory, and steady hand be revealed in a life that is never in need of Him? When David’s baby died, do you know what he did? He went to the temple and worshiped right away. When my babies died, you know what I did? I stopped going to church for months. So, God? I get that. I get that your glory is revealed in our trials. But you know what? I had a pretty big trial once. And maybe from here on out, my trials could just be littler ones.

Except that’s not how it works. Because 5 years ago, this wonderful family lost their daughter in a tragic car accident. And now, just a couple weeks ago, they lost another daughter who was hit by a drunk driver. And just today, they lost that daughter’s twin sister who was also in that car accident. And in between time, I’m sure they were holding out some major hope that God would spare her life. Only He didn’t. And I just don’t understand, God. I don’t get it! I don’t get how one family can have such heaps and heaps of heartache. And that makes me realize, God, that I am not immune to further heartache. And you know what? I’m just not sure I’m willing to go there, God. Does that make me weak? Unfaithful? Arrogant that I question You, the Creator of the universe?

And then the song continued…

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

Ok, God. Hear me on this. I want to be used by you, to go deeper than my feet could ever wander, I want my faith to be stronger. But God? That family. There is nothing – no amount of a strengthened faith or… nothing – that could sufficiently counterbalance that kind of pain for me. It just can. not. happen. And even though you don’t promise to keep us from hurt, can you maybe just keep us from hurt that is that big? Why do you even allow hurt that is that big? I don’t understand!

These are the things I actually think. And so my heart was apprehended, because my trust has borders. Limits to where I will go with God. I might as well just say, God? I promise to follow you anywhere, as long as it fits with my plan, mmm-kay?

I have a dear friend who told me she has prayed for herself and her kids to have the hard jobs, because they reveal the glory of God. It got me thinking… I pray for God to use me, but I also pray – in a sense – that nothing goes wrong. How do I expect God to reveal his power, perform a miracle, do anything, if I just want life to remain hunky-dory?
Yes, God can use someone who isn’t hurting. But my borders, my limits, tell God this: Use me, but only in my way. I trust You, but only so far. You are sovereign and eternal and I know nothing and am but a vapor, but I still like my way best. 

And so, as my heart was apprehended, I decided these borders need to come down. I sang the song (or tried to) while weeping for this family who has lost so much. I sang the words while intentionally knocking down the walls that form these borders of trust. They now lay in a heap, a pile of stones, as an altar.

I didn’t want to write this. I didn’t want to post it. Something about saying “I fully trust – really truly fully trust” scares me. As though by saying it out loud, it’s going to bring a tragic circumstance my way. But it won’t. The truth is, by knocking down these borders on my trust, my circumstances won’t change, but the way I view them will.

And so, when I look back at my border-turned-altar, this is what I want to remember:

  • My Savior and my God, I choose to trust without borders. Take me where you will. I will follow.
  • When I feel like I am drowning I will remember that you are the one who lifts my head above the waters. (Psalm 3:3)
  • At this altar, I remember how fleeting life is. You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. (Psalm 39:4-5) Yet, You remain and never change. You have always been and always will be.
  • And in remembering this, I need to remember to purge myself of the things that are not relevant, and stay anchored to You, the One who is. (Thanks, Pastor Phil, for that one.)
  • At this altar, I will be reminded that my lack of trust – my borders – will not change the outcome of my circumstances, it will only change my response to it. If I should be led into waters where my iniquities have overtaken me and I cannot see, where they are more than the hairs of my head and my heart fails me, I will still seek you. I will rejoice in you and worship for you are my help and my deliverer. (Psalm 40: 12, 16-17)

But LORD? I can’t promise that I won’t hit another border on my trust in You. I just promise that when I do, I will try to work through it to knock it down. To turn that border into yet another altar. And I will kneel there and say, “YOU are my rock. YOU are my deliverer, oh God. The lifter of my head. In YOU I put my trust.” I will try to remember that in those hard times, with the hard jobs, You give strength in the moment, day by day. I am not prepared with enough strength today for what lies ahead into tomorrow. “As my days, so shall my strength be.” (Deuteronomy 33:25)

If you’ve read this far, take a few minutes to click on this video and listen to the song. Maybe think about what borders you have on your trust in the Lord, to tear them down, and turn them into altars of remembrance.

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2 thoughts on “Borders to Altars

  1. Hi Holly, We’ve been singing this song at CTK lately and it’s so incredibly beautiful. Your entry here is beautiful. I am so sorry for the family you wrote about… so incredibly sad for them, and completely understand your need to address it through writing. I can’t wait to get to Heaven one day and ask the Lord all the questions you asked here, which I too, often ask. Hugs….

  2. I’ve been asking God so many questions lately, especially since my diagnosis and upcoming biopsy. You have been able to put into words questions and thoughts I’ve been trying to express for several weeks. The thing that I marvel about the most is how God takes our questions, our grief, our pain, and our sorrows and turns them into something good, something that displays His splendor. I don’t know how he does it, but he always does. Thanks for sharing.

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