"Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly."
We are all waiting. Each day we all find ourselves waiting in one way or another. We wait in line at the grocery story. We wait for our flight to arrive. We wait for the stoplight to turn green and we wait for our much anticipated Christmas package to finally be delivered to us. Sometimes we are more patient than others, but through it all we’ve come to understand that these delays are not only to be expected, they’re inevitable. Waiting is just part of life. But when it comes to our relationship with our Heavenly Father, it’s one of the most important parts.
To illustrate this, I want to tell you about a tree called the lodgepole pine. It’s a tree that primarily grows in the Northwest US and like so many other examples in creation it tells a story of the Father’s heart toward us. This particular pine is so interesting because of the way it reproduces itself. Each cone on these trees is covered with a very thick resin, which protects and seals the seeds inside the cone until the proper time. As they fall to the ground they often remain under the tree for years at a time, seemingly unfruitful because there is only one thing that can release them. Heat. HIGH heat. In fact studies have shown that forest fires are one of the only naturally occurring events that are hot enough to melt this resin and release the seeds into the soil. A warm summer day or a heat wave simply won’t cut it it. As are result, there are often incredibly dense forests of lodgepole pines simply because of all the seed-filled cones which were grouped together on the ground; each one waiting for their environment to be just right for them to do what they were created to do. And you know what? After the fire has come and gone these trees absolutely thrive in the midst of what seems like complete devastation. Their seeds love the carbon rich soil left over from a fire and their seedlings pop up almost immediately after the blaze has subsided, revealing a brand new creation. To the lodgepole pine, fires are not only anticipated, they’re essential.
As we enter this Christmas season each of us is likely waiting on something far more important than a much anticipated gift or the thinning of a grocery line. We are waiting on God. Some of us are waiting for a better health report. Some may be praying for restoration of a family member and many still may be waiting for direction on what feels like an impossible decision. No matter what we are looking to Jesus for, he knows our struggle. He went through the fire too. And just like the lodgepole pine, he is carefully crafting us to be used by him and for him at exactly the right time. The heat that we experience in our trials and struggles is certainly uncomfortable, but it is beautifully essential to our growth in Christ. You see it is in the heat of the waiting where we discover what we were made for. It’s a refining process where we move beyond just knowing about our Father and we’re lead into a place of deep intimacy and trust in him. We learn to depend on him in our trial because after all the things we thought defined us are burned away, he’s all we have left. As we intently seek the Lord in our waiting and in our fires, we will always find our purpose and discover his heart. Nothing is wasted.
So if today you find yourself in the fire, be encouraged. What often appears to us as complete devastation, certain death or total loss is at this very moment being carefully re-made by the hands of our loving Father. So whatever it is you find yourself waiting on, it’s not the end. It’s the beginning of a brand new miracle.
"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."
The other morning I woke up, sat down, prayed that God would show me something in His word and then asked that He would tell me what to do with it... here it is.
I’m currently reading the book of John chapter 4, where John recalls Jesus declaring His Messiahship to the woman at the well. He begins describing this metaphor for living water and never thirsting again, but in this passage she just wasn't following Him. Jesus was trying to speak to her spiritual needs and when that didn’t work, He kind of called her out.
Now, I don’t want to make Jesus sound rude or insensitive, but He knows us, right? Sometimes (often times) we need to be told straight up, how things are in our lives. I am a real person and I need to be talked to in the same way. Too much fluff and flowers and you can lose my very direct, straight forward mind.
This woman at the well had been with several men and Jesus brought it up to her. She was at the well at a time when no one else was, due to what I imagine was great shame and shunning by her community. But Jesus met her there AND acknowledged her.
After talking with Jesus, the woman was so moved by her encounter with Him, the one who knew all of her sins and still offered her an eternal “well of life." He showed up and her shame left. Scripture says that she left her waterpot at the well and went straight to the townspeople in the city to tell them of her experience with this man called Jesus!
I have read this story before and I've heard this story told in sermons several times, but when I read it the other morning, it seemed different in some way.
The shameful woman at the well was no longer the focus in my mind.
Her sin was no longer the focus of this story for me.
It was her going immediately to the townspeople and telling them about her encounter with Jesus.
Here is this woman, who wouldn't even collect water at a well when others did, leaving her waterpot, and going to the townspeople to declare boldly about her meeting with this man who "told (her) all things that (she) ever did!"
For a woman with her reputation, bringing up past sin wouldn't normally be an encouraging thing (I mean, who would enjoy that?)...but it wasn't about her sin. It was that this man, Jesus, knew her sin and STILL HE MET WITH HER. Still He acknowledged her. Still He offered her what He knew she needed most.
When we encounter the LOVE of Jesus...the grace filled, forgiving LOVE of Jesus, we are compelled! We run! We share it! WE LOSE OUR SHAME.
Shame that keeps us hidden away, disconnected from loved ones, drowning our feelings of worthlessness or self pity in anything and everything. Sometimes it's substances and sometimes it's other relationships. Sometimes it's actions, things we do, and other times it's things we buy or partake in. But guess what? Typically those things create more shame or only a temporary haze to keep our shame just out of view for a little while. None of those things take it away though.
But here, in just a moment... it was gone. And as a result, she reached out to others who were then so moved by her words, her testimony, that they left the city and went to find Jesus.
How often do we let fear of others or influence of others keep us from sharing what God has done in our lives or better yet, BROUGHT US THROUGH? We've all done things, said things, experienced things that we are not proud of. That's called sin.
My name is Ashley, and I am a sinner. I sin. Every day. Major bummer.
Ok, now that that's out of the way, guess what?....
There is forgiveness for that, BUT....and it's a big one...there is also an undeniable influence in that! When we turn our shame into a testimony of what God has done, that brings Him GLORY! And glory is evidence of Him; it's showing the world that my God is real, and here's how...
"But I don't want to share this horrible thing with others!" ...no one is making you, but if you have come out of it, whatever situation "it" is or was, there is a story to tell. Maybe your ending was better than you could've imagined, or maybe it was worse than anything you've ever experienced...either way, don't let the shame keep you at the well by yourself.
Maybe you're there, at the well, pulling up your bucket and you don't even see Jesus anywhere, so how could you possibly hear from Him?
Ask Him to meet you at the well. Sitting by yourself with nothing but your shame, looking for something, anything, that will fill the longing you have. the thirst. the hunger.
He will meet you. But you've gotta be at the well...that place of humility where you know no one else is gonna show up and sit with you. It's gonna be hard. But if we don't all go there at some point, our shame will keep us so far from the one who takes away our sin. The one who breathes life and love back into us again.
I think that's why God gave me these words. Too many people I know are walking through tough things right now, but not sharing it with anyone because of their shame. Because of their concern with other people's perception of them or their situation.
Maybe you know someone who is walking through something right now. And man, it looks bad. It's covered in filth and what looks like a long road and so you've just checked out. You've left them in the middle of their shame, all for a little less "ick" and a lot more comfort on your end. I get it. I've been there before too. But maybe try and revisit that person or situation. Maybe it's only in prayer, but maybe it's also in person. There's nothing that says "I'm here for you" like a warm, living, breathing, body knocking on your door.
So I want to challenge you. I want you to think about your life, or maybe it's someone else's life that comes to mind, and I want you to pray and ask God to help you. Maybe helping you looks like bringing you to a place of humility, so that you can make your way to the well. Or maybe helping you looks like the Holy Spirit giving you courage and grace to step back into someone's life who could really use a friend...and if you have a box of donuts and a movie, those wouldn't hurt to carry on you either.
Sometimes we need those too.
With love & laughter,
1st Photo by Qang Jaka on Unsplash
2nd Photo by Mitchell Orr on Unsplash
3rd Photo by Claudia Soraya on Unsplash
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