Last week I stood on the edge of my life, wincing as painful events commandeered my days.
Trying desperately to grasp tight to trust, I wavered.
I was disappointed in God, and it ran deep. According to my timetable, the moment had arrived for God to work huge, to bring to fruition His long-delayed promises and BREAK THROUGH. Instead, I was wrestling with confusion, jealousy, hurt, and a throbbing sensation of being forgotten.
Surely only God’s willful forgetfulness would allow such pain to interrupt my hopes and expectations.
Secretly, I toyed with a fierce wish to stand as a spectator in my life. Watching my years displayed like a B-grade movie, I could surreptitiously abandon it in the darkened cinema while credits rolled. Please, Lord?
At week’s end I was sniffling at the slightest provocation, raw and vulnerable, weary from the battle to believe. Having planned to attend a monthly gathering devoted to worship, I doggedly dragged myself to church, skeptical of comfort. Not surprisingly, under the safety of dimmed lights and corporate praise the truth manifested: I was HARD. Feet determinedly planted, arms crossed, I willed myself not to surrender. I could feel the tug deep within me, the wrestling match between perceived reality and absolute certainty. To become pliable, joyful again, I would have to surrender… everything. It was a white flag I was entirely unwilling to wave.
“Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the day of rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years (Hebrews 3:7-9a).”
Don’t harden your hearts. Why do I, as spiritual kin to those early Israelites, allow my heart to become crusted over?
The writer of Hebrews provides the key:
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12).
They hardened their hearts through unbelief. YHWH took them into the wilderness to test them, to determine the true measure of their faith-core. He also led them into the wilderness to allure them to Himself (Hosea 2:14,15): to call them to delight themselves in Him, to be delighted by Him. Over and over He tested them, giving them the chance to choose HIM over their fears; to choose HIM over their baser desires; to choose HIM over their selfish ambition and empty conceit (James 3:13-18). And time and again they chose… HARD. Their fear, selfishness, and conceit paved the way for unbelief to take up residence.
The proof? When the twelve spies returned from scoping out Canaan, the masses chose to wail in fright over their perceived abandonment rather than to align themselves with the two men who, in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds, believed the word of The Lord. The fruit of the garden of their souls was ripe, and its rottenness stank.
How often is that my stance! I cry out in the certainty of defeat before the story has been all told. I harden my heart through fear, allowing unbelief to whisper its insidious lies. I grasp onto the false notion that I, too, would be safer in Egypt-land, content in the deceitful embrace of slavery.
But Unbelief whispers loud: The dreams of my heart—those Spirit-implanted hopes and visions—they’re foolish enough to kill my joy, steal my hope and peace, and wreck every chance of happiness! Look at where belief has brought me—the wilderness, for pity’s sake! Water is scarce, food is carefully rationed and daily dull, the scenery is always the same… dirt, covered with scrub. What could possibly be less appealing and farther from the promises of fruitful abundance and liquid honey? To hope is surely the most foolish of all choices.
Fervently agreeing, my heart slams the portcullis of unbelief with impenetrable finality. I become imprisioned by my own determined fear.
And the panacea for this rigor mortis of the soul? Abandonment. Pure, complete, enveloping. Abandonment to the goodness, the faithfulness of God. Abandonment to the trustworthiness of His plans. Abandonment of the stifling rebellion and distrust which binds me captive.
That night, staring down unbelief, I stood confronted by my choice: repent and believe or continue to wander with a hardened heart.
I laid down across the empty chairs and allowed the pent-up tears to flow.
I don’t want to continue to trust when everything feels impossible! It costs too much. You ask too much! I’m deep-core angry. Angry at the pain of shattered dreams. Angry that you would let me be stripped in such an all-consuming process. The hurt throbs; the pain, overwhelming.
My rage continued to pour in an unchecked stream of tears.
And yet, almost imperceptibly a lightness stole its way into my spirit. The crust around my heart gently crumbled, tenderly chiseled by the Potter. I could feel it shattering in chunks, all defenses rendered useless. My heart lay naked before Him, pulsing with the raw emotion of the week. Tremblingly, I began to embrace abandonment to the wild work of God. To His unending, incomprehensible love.
I lay for what seemed like hours, my stony heart melting. At long last, I pushed myself to stand, choosing to sing. And as the words poured forth from my soul, rivers of living water were released, rushing, flooding my heart with faith, with belief. Surrender had accomplished its goal, and I sang the anthem with gusto: freedom’s song.
Special thanks to Rick Delanty who has granted permission to use his beautiful art in this post.