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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Grace and Peace to You. And Change. And Shelter. But Mostly Grace.

Psalm 94:19: When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.

I am at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) National Conference this weekend and I just came from a session in which my heart was moved in a way it hasn't been in years.  As a matter of fact, it surprised me in such a way that it caused me to momentarily reflect on how different life feels right now than it did just one year ago.  But the reason life feels different is not because all of the the struggles and frustrations of life have gone away.  Not at all.

It is different because I am behind the Rock.

At the conference, Pastor Novenson spoke about the Psalms as "embedded journalism" (the practice of allowing journalist to travel with soldiers so they can write from the front lines).  He used this as a word picture for David's cries throughout the Psalms; David is writing from the battlefield, often asking for enough belief to get him through the next few moments. We focused specifically on Psalm 61:
Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint.  Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.
Pastor Novenson spoke of how, in the midst of a battle, a struggling or wounded soldier may cry out "Help me!" or "Lead me!" to a fellow soldier.  In Old Testament times, the warrior would often be taken behind tower walls or to the top of a high rock where they were protected and could see the status of the battle.  Here, they received the two things they needed the most: safety and perspective.

However, just because the warrior is behind the rock doesn't mean all is well.  The war is still going on.  Further, that particular battle is still going on.  But everything is different.  The soldier's heart is pounding, he is breathing heavily, and he may be leaning against the wall with weak knees, but suddenly, everything feels different because he is safe.

It is here, behind the Rock, that I find myself.  The battle rages on and some of my wounds feel raw.  My heart is pounding and my spirit feels so weak it is often hard for me to lift my face out of the mud.  But everything is different because I am behind a Strong Tower and his grace sustains me.

Oh, how deeply I wish there was a switch to throw that would change everything!  I would flip it in a heartbeat.  Yet it has not been God's good pleasure to provide such a relief.

Relief from suffering is such a grace.  I would love to never have another moment of depression in my life.  I would love for every relational interaction to be "easy" and "fun."  I would love to never again be tempted to sin, especially in areas of habitual sin.  And yet is not sustaining endurance a grace as well?  Could it be an even greater grace?  A grace that not only glorifies God (as blessing always does) but that also does me good by drawing me into him (as blessing in my life rarely has done...a mark of immaturity, no doubt, but a true experience nonetheless...)?  Was not the cross the most intense experience of both grace and suffering in the history of the world?  If I identify with Christ's suffering on a daily basis, could it be that I am blessed to experience more grace than my brothers and sisters who do not get to experience his sustaining power getting them from one moment to the next?

Yes, yes that could be.  I am beginning to think not only that it's possible but that it's true.  Grace.  All of it is grace.

Grace.

Grace and peace, Paul says.

Grace and peace to you.

And to me.

A dear friend once shared a story from which I have derived one of my favorite lines.  A girl overslept one morning in college and in her frantic frenzy to make it to work on time (or was it to a test? doesn't matter), her sleeping roommate rolled over in bed and groggily offered a sweet yet poignant comfort:

"There is grace for people like you."

Ever since I heard that story, I say that all. the. time.  Mostly to myself.  Sometimes to others.  Occasionally to others in reference to myself.  You know, to remind them that there is grace for people like me.

I still like that line, but I am changing it.  The change is minor, but significant.

Grace is for people like me.

You see, it's not just that there is a little extra grace lying around reserved for those of us who really need it.  No, grace is especially, uniquely for those who feel their desperate need for it.  Every page of Scripture is about God actively pursuing dirty, rejected, naked, ashamed, hurting, desperate people.  Dr. Ed Welch goes so far as to say that if you do not relate to the experience of shame in your life (an ambiguous feeling that he breaks down into the biblical triad of feeling unclean, rejected and/or naked) then you should question if you are one of God's people because His grace is uniquely aimed toward those people.  In Hosea 2, these are the people He calls "my people" and who He says will call Him "my God."

People like me.

Pastor Novenson said another thing that I hope sticks with me forever.  He said that sometimes he thinks life hurts like heaven which seems worse than having it hurt like hell because heaven wants us to change and hell hopes we never do.

Change.

Biblical change.

The class I am currently taking online through CCEF's School for Biblical Counseling (SBC) is titled Dynamics of Biblical Change and it is changing my life.  As one of my fellow SBC students stated, I have not necessarily learned anything new about God that I did not know before, but the class has helped me learn how to see God and apply Scripture to the details of my life in a way that nothing else ever has.  I am eight weeks into class and it has been the single most transformational influence on my Christian life so far.  I highly value the time I spent at Bethlehem Baptist Church and Camp Lebanon and the ways they helped form my theology and my understanding of Christian community/ministry, but those precious seasons now seem like mere prep work for the transformation taking place via the catalyst of CCEF.

Oh, thank you Jesus.

My, how much has changed in a year.  Throughout the past few years, I have often thought that life hurt like hell.  And there is some truth to that.  In the face of shattered dreams, difficult relationships, painful personal slights and perceived failures, I refused to change.  And it sucked.  Now, it hurts like heaven.

It is still hard.  It is a deeper kind of pain - one that cuts to the very core of who I am, and I often find it hard to catch my breath when I am laying face down in the mud with my heart pounding.  But the good news is that while I lay breathless in this mud, I am behind my Strong Tower and His consolations cheer my soul.  I am safe.  And it is glorious.

I am so glad grace is for people like me.