Summer Prayer Challenge

Today, here in Manitoba, Canada, is the first day of summer!!! Finally!!

And I didn’t even realize it until 2 minutes ago.

But either way, in my devos this morning I felt a stirring in my heart to start a Summer Challenge. It came on the heels of reading a bio on David Wilkerson’s life, a book I’d definitely recommend to anyone. The message I got was different than any other biography I’ve read.

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Let me explain: In the past, I have read countless bios, all incredibly inspiring and all uplifting. They strengthened my faith in God, the workings of the Holy Spirit and in the church. However, I always felt kind of inferior…as if I would LOVE to do big things for God…”but God, I’m kinda ‘stuck’ in the throws of family life over here!” And eventually I tamed down my desire for “great things” because I sincerely felt the “great things” had to look the same as the people’s lives I was reading about.

And then suddenly, while reading about David Wilkerson’s life, an “aha” moment hit me.

David Wilkerson was an average, skinny, not very spectacular human being. But he knew God and submitted to him above all else. And GREAT things happened.

Something finally “clicked” and the thought came to me: What if I began to pray? Like REALLY pray. If my prayer list wasn’t just a rushed through checklist, but the desire of my heart. What if I had the hunger and desperation to actually persist in these prayers until I saw the fruit of them? What could God all do in my life, and through my life?

I mean… I do pray. I thank Jesus for his blessings every morning. I weekly go through my prayer lists. I pray when I’m in anguish. I pray before meals and before I sleep. I pray over my children most mornings before they go to school. And I’m not minimizing the importance of those prayers AT ALL.

But David Wilkerson’s prayers, they BIRTHED something! Hardened gang members were changed by his prayers. His preaching was literally read off a page, but it changed peoples hearts because the Holy Spirit was present when he spoke. He spoke with conviction, he saw people with the eyes of Jesus.

All because he PRAYED.

Now it will look different in my life. I will never start a Teen Challenge ministry, or pastor a large church in Times Square. But just think, God created each of us different, with unique influence and abilities. What can he do with MY life, if it is utterly surrendered to him?

I realize this post and the rest of my posts this summer will probably not get me more “likes” or followers. Most likely, I will lose a lot of followers, but there is a burning desire within me to begin a life of prayer and to invite as many with me to join as possible!

If you have no interest in joining with me you’re very welcome to unfollow me, I won’t be hurt…OR EVEN better, push past those feelings, keep following me and PRAY! We’ll learn how to do this together!

So here’s my Summer Challenge:

-Starting on Monday, I will post weekly prayer lists/other encouragements on my blog to pray through together daily. We’ll pray for our families, our churches, our communities and our nations TOGETHER. I know personally that during summer getting out of routine messes up my devotional times. But truly, what is a Christian life if it’s not built upon spending time with God?

-I’m back on Instagram and Facebook for the time being and welcome any of you to follow me as I will try to post daily prayer points/verses/motivation to seek God together in prayer. Follow me as everysmallvoice on IG and as Heather Bergen on Facebook and you’ll get new topics and thoughts that we can pray through together! Let’s pray together DAILY and see God work in our own hearts, families and communities.

-The outline will be as follows: EVERYDAY we will pray for our immediate families…specific requests for each individual.

-Each seperate day of the week we’ll pray for different things, which we’ll repeat throughout the summer but from slightly different aspects each time.

On Mondays we’ll pray for our own churches and leaders. Our leaders NEED our prayers. Their families need our prayers! Being in leadership is HARD and our pastors need renewal. They need to also know that we will not turn against them if they make mistakes. We’ll pray for the summer camps going on. We want to see people having REAL ENCOUNTERS with the living God!

Tuesdays we’ll pray for other churches in our communities and around the world. This could include prayers for unity, those being persecuted, holiness, etc…

Wednesdays we’ll pray for those suffering with Mental Health. According to the CMHA, 1 in 5 people live with depression or mental health issues in Canada at any given time! This number rapidly continues to grow. This issue is huge and it affects us greatly! Think of the hopelessness, the pain, the suicides that result from this! Mental Health has largely been ignored by the church but if we’ve ever needed God to come in and help us, it is now!

Thursdays is my favourite so far: We’ll pray for a renewed hunger and desperation for ONLY God. It is so easy to settle into “life as usual” and routine, but that is the very heart of a sleeping church. Our many idols get in the way of us truly desiring God’s will. What idols you say? Idols of money, fitness, appearances, wealth, sports, social media and smart phones. Basically anything that takes the majority of our focus. Remember our first love: Jesus Christ.

Friday we will pray for our countries. For me that is Canada. We LOVE our countries, but they are FAR from perfect. We will pray for our governments and leaders and the laws that are made which affect us and generations to come. This is SO important!

Saturdays we’ll pray for outreach ministry. We DESPERATELY need the church to move outside it’s four brick walls and become the church God meant it to be. A busy church is often a church who forgets the call of Christ: To reach out to the poor, the outcasts, the needy, the socially awkward, the elderly, the sick, hurting and lonely. This one will come with an action challenge so stay tuned 🙂

Sundays we’ll simply pray for the meeting and gatherings of other believers: For the truth of the gospel to be preached in its entirety and not be watered down. For gossip, bitterness and walls to come down. For authenticity and healing in our meeting places.

THANK YOU for joining with me in prayer. I’m excited to see God work!

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sins and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

 

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Don’t Weep for Me

I think one of the things that has hit me the deepest this Easter season, is the absolute humility of Jesus Christ.  The strength of his character is unimaginable. The compassion for others, to the core of his being, wasn’t something that could’ve been faked. It was his very nature to think of others above himself.

Before I lose some of you here who are thinking, “Yeah, yeah, I heard this story a hundred times already…I’ve seen the film. I get it.”

Just stop.

Picture Jesus. Close your eyes if you have to and picture him.

Not the Scandinavian man with long flowing hair from the Bible story picture books.

Not the man with the clean white robe and blue sash.

Not the white skinned, serious faced character from the paintings, surrounded by people.

But a man…A Jewish man.

Betrayed by his friends.

Beaten beyond recognition.

Innocent, but falsely accused.

Sentenced to a horrendous death.

Carrying a cross upon his torn up back, until all strength was gone.

And a crowd of women, crying and grief-stricken, trailing behind him.

And rightly so! Jesus was the victim here! Certainly, he deserved their sympathy. Certainly, he deserved their tears.

But Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t you weep for me but weep for yourselves and your children…” Luke 23:28

When I read this yesterday, my eyes filled with tears. For Jesus was the most unjustly treated man that has ever lived on the face of the earth.  Yet he never once, NEVER ONCE, victimized himself. Even when he was falsely accused, even in his suffering, even in his betrayal and abandonment by close friends – he did not weep for himself.

He was continually more concerned with the spiritual state of others, then of his own darkest moments.

And as he was nailed to the cross? I have partially stepped on a nail (as in it went through my shoe and partly into my foot and it hurt for days!) I can not even imagine the pain of what he went through at the hands of human beings. Surely now he would curse them!

 “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

While hanging there, suffering beyond comprehension, he spots his mother.

“Mother help me! They’ve misjudged me! I only helped them and they’ve done this to me! Mom, I’m in so much pain!” That’s what my voice would’ve yelled.

 “Dear woman, here is your son…and John, here is your mother.” John 19:26-27

Not ONE selfish thought.

Not ONE bit of self pity.

Even on the cross he was honouring and caring for his mother. Even in his suffering he was forgiving his tormentors.

The amazing strength and integrity of Jesus is unfathomable. How I love this man! How absolutely perfect and noble. How incomparable to even our greatest hero’s today!

And when it was all said and done he cries out:

“Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46 

And he breathes his last.

Jesus simply trusted God‘s will. He trusted him even in his suffering, until his last painful breath. He trusted that God would keep his spirit, even while being under God’s judgement and condemnation himself.

It’s easy to read the story and not feel it.

Please, take time to read about this incredible man, Jesus, the image of God himself in human form. Read the story slowly. Think about it deeply. Really picture the details. Perhaps other things will stick out to you from the story, perhaps other details will bring tears to your eyes.

But whatever you do, DON’T harden yourself to the message of the cross, where Jesus didn’t weep for himself, he wept for YOU.

The Road to the Cross

Heart full of pain, pack heavy as lead,

Not really alive, neither fully dead.

Wandering on to meaningless trails,

Endless darkness, walking the rails.

What am I here for?

Stumbling pain unto pain,

Life is a joke! Nothing to gain.

Flashes of visions: A man on a cross.

Why was he there? Never quite knew,

With all of my struggles, didn’t care to.

Why must everything bad happen to me?

How to avoid it, when one couldn’t see.

Darkness so thick you could choke on the black,

The load just increases upon my sore back.

Strength slowly dying, along with my soul,

Dreams become curses, crushing my goals.

Oh God, what’s the point? Are you even there?

Or am I just cursing into thin air?

If really existing, you’d make yourself known!

Why live anymore if I’m walking alone?

Night cold and hard, yet easier to breathe,

Darkness still felt, but thinner it seems.

I was told to follow my heart all along,

So why did this happen? Where did I go wrong?

Walking along the path that was shown,

Never thought I’d be stuck here, cast out and alone.

“Help!” The cry feels stuck in the air,

“Help me! Please! Much more I can’t bear!”

No sooner the words escape from my lips,

When the heavy pack drops from my grip.

In terror I struggle, I can’t let it go,

Turn back to grab hold, but notice a glow.

A dim light, so faint, didn’t see it before,

Grabbing my pack, I turn to see more.

Dawn peaks her head up from under the night,

I draw ever closer, so mysterious the light.

A loud sound hits the Earth, I hear it so near!

A gruesome sound that turns my stomach in fear,

A man groaning in pain, I rush to the sound,

Crying out loudly, for this man must be found!

The day steadily grows clearer and so does the cry,

Hurry to make it or this man will but die!

Then…there he is, hanging – Oh Lord! It can’t be!

A man cut up and bruised on a dark, blood-stained tree!

“Who did this?!?” I scream!

“How dare they?!?” I shout!

The evil that put this man here, it’s no lie,

The person who did this deserves to die!

Then the eyes of the man turn and look straight at me,

I can barely describe what it looks like to see,

Such innocent eyes, filled with love and pain,

Powerful eyes, but gentle the same.

How could there be such humility there,

Joined with authority in the same stare?

I look all around, searching who is to blame,

Justice would treat them exactly the same.

The man starts to speak, the Earth shakes with his words,

And I know that this Man is the Lord of all Lords!

“My Child, Understand, I was put here for you.”

Falling down on my knees, “Oh God, what did I do?”

Surely, I had nothing to do with this Man,

I had nothing to do with the iron piercing His hands.

Then my pack that I’m holding splits right into two,

And as the nails spill out, I see that it’s true.

The pack that I held, held the proof I was wrong,

The nails that I carried told the truth all along.

It was my very nails that held up the Son,

I could now only scream, “Oh, God! Look what I’ve done!!!”

But it was no use, for the Man’s life was gone.

Weeping and wailing, I fall to the ground,

My sobs carry for miles, a hopeless, lost sound.

Lowly before the cross I now lie,

Not to get up, for down here I will die.

Time standing still, the world holds its breath,

Then who comes forth – but the Man! Defeating his death!

Jaw open, limbs shaking…how can this be?

And my heart trembles greatly as He strides towards me.

Out in the open, nowhere to hide,

Exposed in my filth, dead to my pride.

I brace myself greatly and wait for the blow,

But to my surprise, the Man stoops down low.

He lifts my tear covered face in His hand;

The same voice that formed the sea and the land,

Speaks over me these three precious words, “I love you.”

Then says, “All that I wanted was that you would see,

What I really did for you on that old cursed tree.

And now you have done all that you need,

For in repentance and rest you will find that you’re freed!

It is finished, throw that old pack away!”

The Man stood there shining, brighter than day.

In death I died with Him, in His life I live still,

Now my heart cry becomes, not mine – but His will!

No longer a slave to the sins of my past,

I am saved by His blood, safe at home, free at last!

(A poem I wrote last Easter, previously titled “The Cross”)

Brokeness

When I was a teen, I read a paper that deeply impacted me. I kept it and to this day it convicts me.

I wish I knew who wrote it, but it has no name. There was a piece on lukewarm Christians in the book “Crazy Love” written by Francis Chan that sounded similar to it, but whether this was written by someone else entirely, or whether it was adapted from Francis Chan’s writings, I’m not sure. However, I still wanted to share it today, for there is something huge we can learn from it:

Pride Vs. Brokeness

  1. Proud people focus on the failures of others and can readily point out those faults. Broken people are more conscious of their spiritual needs than of anyone else’s.
  2. Proud people have a critical fault finding spirit. They look at everyone else’s faults with a microscope but view their own with a telescope. Broken people are compassionate – they have the kind of love that over looks a multitude of sins; they can forgive because they know they have been forgiven much.
  3. Proud people are especially prone to criticize those in authority, they talk to others about the faults they see. Broken people encourage and lift up those that God has placed into authority and they talk to God, rather than gossiping about the faults they find in others.
  4. Proud people are self righteous; they think highly of themselves and look down on others. Broken people think the best of others; they esteem others as better as themselves.
  5. Proud people have to prove that they are right…They always get the last word. Broken people are willing to yield the right to be right.
  6. Proud people claim rights and have a demanding spirit. Broken people yield their rights and have a meek spirit.
  7. Proud people are self protective. Broken people are self-sacrificing and protect others.
  8. Proud people desire to be served, they want life to revolve around them. Broken people are motivated to serve others and to meet their needs before their own.
  9. Proud people desire to be known as a success. Broken people are motivated to be faithful and make others succeed.
  10. Proud people have a feeling that “This ministry is privileged to have me and my gifts.” Broken people know that all gifts come from God and on their own they can do nothing.
  11. Proud people are wounded when others are promoted and they are overlooked. Broken people rejoice when others are recognized and lifted up.
  12. Proud people feel confident in how much they know. Broken people are humbled by how much they have to learn.
  13. Proud people are driven to protect their own reputation. Broken people are concerned with being real; they care less about what others may think than about what God knows.
  14. Proud people can’t bear to fail. Broken people can recognize and live within their limitations.
  15. Proud people are quick to blame others. Broken people can acknowledge where they were wrong.
  16. Proud people wait for others to come and ask forgiveness. Broken people take the initiative to be reconciled no matter how wrong the other party may be.
  17. Proud people are unapproachable or defensive when corrected. Broken people receive correction with a humble, open spirit.
  18. Proud people try to control the people and the circumstances around them. Broken people trust in God – they rest in him and are able to wait for him to act on their behalf.
  19. Proud people carry grudges and keep a record of those who have wronged them. Broken people are quick to chose forgiveness.
  20. Proud people want no one to find out when they have sinned; they cover it up. Broken people aren’t concerned about who finds out their sin, they are willing to be exposed because they have nothing to lose.
  21. Proud people tend to deal in generalities when expressing their sin to God (“Dear Lord, please forgive me for my sins.”) Broken people acknowledge specifics when confessing their sin.
  22. Proud people are concerned about the consequences of their sin.                         Broken people are grieve over the cause, the root of their sin. They are more concerned with how their sin has grieved God than the problem it has created in their lives.
  23. Proud people compare themselves with others and feel worthy of respect. Broken people compare themselves with the holiness of God and feel a desperate need for his mercy.
  24. Proud people don’t think they need to repent of anything. Broken people realize the need to maintain a continual heart attitude of repentance.       
  25. The proud people reading this will be mostly thinking of others this may apply to and of who else should be reading this list, while broken people realize it applies to themselves.

 

This list forever changed me. In fact, it completely reshaped the way I viewed Christianity.

Because the truth is, every time I read this list, my thoughts can’t help but turning to others that should be reading it. And those thoughts testify against me: I am proud.

This way of thinking goes completely against popular culture, even popular church culture which says: “Look out for yourself!”

“Take care of your own needs first!”

“Make sure you get your rights!”

“Don’t waste your time on people who aren’t going to lift you up!”

And I wonder, what if Jesus would’ve used these attractive one liners? Where would we be then?

Where would I be then?

The God of “Look out for Yourself” is not in the Bible. The God of “Look what I can do!” isn’t there either. The God of “success and promotion” isn’t isn’t found in the ancient living word of God. The God that speaks, the God that lives, the God that we read about is humble, self sacrificing and absolutely broken for you and me. There is no limit to his love, there is no selfishness in him. He is gentle, he is meek, he is pure.

Don’t fall for the biggest idol out there: The man-made, self-serving Jesus, who benefits me NOW… who is like a church accepted ‘genie in a bottle’. God isn’t a doormat for you to use for your wishes when you please. He’s not a fairy godmother, waiting to make all your dreams come true.

He is a humble, serving, gracious and holy God who is ever searching for lives that will say yes to walking a very different road.

One that gives up my rights.

One that unconditionally loves those who mistreat them.

One that pours out their life as a living sacrifice.

One that puts others above themselves.

One that is humble and broken.

 

Oh, God, may I say yes to this strange, unpopular road you travelled. Help me to walk in your humble, self-sacrificing way.

 

 

A Messy Christmas

I did it!

I got my first piece published in a newspaper!

And I almost didn’t even notice, because they got my name wrong on the front cover….but hidden away in the paper, there it was!

My first published story.

Now, I’m well aware that my small city paper is no New York Times, but it still feels like a first step. Like a milestone for writing. Almost exactly one year ago, I started this blog, not knowing where it would take me, not even planning to share it at first with anyone (thanks to my sister-in-law, Andrea’s encouragement I did) and now I’ve taken one more baby step. And it feels good.

This is my story, which I submitted into the local newspaper, The Carillon, for the Christmas writing contest. It placed third out of who knows how many entires (hopefully more than three, LOL).

A Messy Christmas by: Heather Bergen

This year it will be perfect! I thought, as I put the last few packages under the tree. Finally, this year I was going to be able to make Christmas look just a little bit like the Christmas’ we read about in all those heart-warming Christmas tales! Decorations hung around the house, most of them new. Mountains of presents are stacked underneath the sparkling tree, each carefully wrapped in brightly coloured paper, ribbons shining on top of them. The usually empty box that sits in the corner of our kitchen (my husband tells me it’s a refrigerator and that people put food in it) was packed so full of meats, cheeses, egg nog and other mouth-watering dishes that there’s no possible way my small army of children will ever finish it all.

Perfect.

I think back to our humble beginnings, just ten years earlier. It was our first Christmas together. I was with child at the tender age of seventeen, a child myself really. Not yet showing, but feeling so small – so lost in a world where everyone around me seemed to have their futures figured out. I couldn’t afford the paper to wrap a gift, never mind something worth giving…but that year the story of a young, unwed teenager, in a stable, pregnant with the Messiah reached my heart in a brand new way. My eyes twinkled with the youth that I possessed. The hope within me was so bright, so fresh…sweetly naive.

Fast forward one year. My eyes still young, but red from crying, stared out of the hospital window at the large, dancing snowflakes falling to the ground like big pieces of confetti. A tear slips down my cheek. How can this possibly be my sons first Christmas? We should have been starting our own traditions, setting up our first tree, maybe with one of those cute “baby’s first Christmas” ornaments hanging in the center. I should have been buying him new stuffed bears, musical mobiles or maybe rattles with flashing lights.

But instead, there is nothing.

We’ve been here, at the Children’s Hospital for over two months. No one is certain how much longer until he is better. None of the doctors even know what exactly is wrong. We’re waiting. Waiting for answers. Waiting to continue our lives together. Turning to face my baby boy, I hold out my hand to grasp the chubby little fingers on his. His large, blue eyes look back at me and once again he pulls away, expecting that I’m just looking for a finger to poke. My heart sinks. He no longer lets me hold his hand. Every couple hours, more blood is drawn from those tiny fingers to make sure that his levels are okay. The tips of them are covered with little cuts. I close my eyes and wonder: Will he make it? Will we ever walk out of these hospital doors and be a family again?

Another year passes! We’re finally together!! All four of us. My husband and our two children. My little boy, now a healthy eighteen-month old and his brand new baby sister! Each of them receives just a small toy. After all we’ve been through, there’s no money for much else. But we’re together this year and it’s all that matters. I’m filled with warmth and gratitude.

Year after year goes through my mind. Most of the time, we were just holding on week by week. Decor? There was no money for that. Fancy meals? Nor those. Just a small gift or two each. Nothing more. But finally! This was the year! We were in a new house, Ryan had a new job. I could pay for all the things on our lists and more! Surely this would be the most special week, the best Christmas ever!

My five children are tucked into their beds when I hear it…there’s no mistaking THAT sound. Someone is throwing up.

I groan.

Are you kidding me?!? Not tonight! Not THIS year! Not just one…but three little children are up all night. I spend Christmas Eve scrubbing rugs and doing laundry – load after load after LOAD! And then I get sick too. Throughout the whole week we all take our turns – a full six-day span before this family of seven is healthy again. The food in the fridge goes uneaten. the sweet oranges on the counter turn green. The new toys lie untouched in the corner, bringing little comfort to this sickly family. And once again bitter tears fall.

Why?!? It’s just not fair! Why did this have to ruin our first real Christmas?

Slowly a strange feeling comes over me and it dawned on me: What was the first real Christmas? It surely wasn’t neat and tidy, was it? And it dawned on me: This was the reason for Christmas. We are so weak and helpless, consumed by our own desires, and if our plans don’t work out, we cry and complain.

Yet Jesus.

He saw our pain, our helplessness, our sicknesses and our junk and he came. Not just to be a baby, but to show us that there’s so much more. He came to heal our hearts, and give us new desires that will never disappoint. He came to give us joy through the hard times. He came to die and forgive. Christmas wasn’t meant to be a neat, pretty picture. It was a messy painful story, full of people with ruined plans. But it is also glorious. It is all our hope.

With tears full of joy running down my face and a heart so full it could explode, I whispered, “Thank you Jesus, you never let me settle for all that Christmas fluff. You made sure that I got to experience the real Christmas once again…messiness and all!”

 

I Just Can’t

One of the biggest mysteries to me when I first got saved was how God could actually change who I was.

I always thought: but isn’t it actually me who is changing myself? Aren’t I the one making the decisions to change?

 I think part of the reason we become so confused about the concept of God changing us, is that we confuse obedience with a legalistic form of trying to attain our own righteousness apart from Christ. Obedience is really quite simple, while attaining our own righteousness is impossible.

On one hand, sometimes God will command us to do something that we can do, it’s just that we don’t really want to. Any example of this is when God prompted me the other week to shut down my Facebook account. Sure, I had about twenty good reasons to listen, from privacy issues, to wasted time…but on the other hand, there were just as many why I didn’t want to do this.

What will become of my blog? I wondered. Most of those who read it are reading it because of Facebook.

His answer? You were never supposed to be writing for them anyways…

Ok, God. I hear you. Loud and clear.

I deactivated the account. Not because Facebook is wrong, but because God saw something that needed to be accomplished in my life away from the spotlight of Facebook.

This is the one aspect: God commands, we obey.

The second one is harder though, because it happens when we recognize that our deeply imbedded habits are not lining up with God’s will for our lives. It’s these habits, these behaviours that we turn to when we’re broken and weak, tired or full of shame. This can include things such as addictions to alcohol, media, food, etc. Or it can be attitudes such as pride, bitterness or shame. It can also be reactions like anger, lying, and gossip.

Now, we can try to stop them (in other words try attain our own righteousness) but usually we just continue to fail and indulge in them all them more. Sometimes, the harder we try to stop them, the worse they seem to get. It’s these things that we are powerless to change without remaining in God. We can not do it. We simply will fail again and again.

We can not change our sinful nature. Only the work of Jesus on the cross can. If we actually think we can change ourselves, we have no business pretending that we need the cross.

A week ago, I had a picture while spending time with Jesus. We often talk about laying our sin and burdens down at the foot of the cross, but the picture I received gave me so much more insight into God’s grace.

Here is the picture: I was sitting on a picnic blanket covered in garbage. Not just wrappers and empty soda bottles, but the real rotten, disgusting garbage – representing my sin. The stench of it stung my nose and the horror of the fact the it was all sitting out like this in the open, where everyone could see it brought me into a panic. I quickly scooped it all up so that it was hidden within the blanket and I held it over my shoulder like a sack, looking desperately for a place to get rid of it. I couldn’t carry the load much longer it was so gross and heavy too. In the distance, I saw the cross and I knew what I had to do. Wearily dragging along my garbage, my sin, I came to Jesus. But instead of setting it at his feet, I lifted the load over my head and placed in on his shoulders. The weight of it pulled on the nails in his hands and he groaned. The garbage leaked through the bags dripping down his back. It was soiling him and causing him excruciating pain.

And it was here that the cross became unbelievably personal: MY SIN CAUSED HIM PAIN. ACTUAL PAIN.

It wasn’t just a casual moment like, “Oh hey Jesus, while you’re taking out the trash for everyone else can you take mine out as well?”

It was very real. Very personal. Very humbling. 

But the picture didn’t stop there. As I look up with shame, Jesus then calls out my name. He looks at me with eyes of love and speaks the words, “I love you, Heather. This is why I came.”

This is the view we must have of the cross. Our sin matters a LOT. It caused him pain. But he wants us to come and bring it to him. That was the whole point of the cross! Not a licence to sin more. Not a reason to cower in shame…but a reason to come and repent, to find true freedom and lasting peace!

He didn’t do this all so we could go on living in darkness like the world, doing whatever we please, but so that we could live in light, for him. ALL for him.

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I’ve lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I might gain Christ.” Phillipians 3:7-8

It’s at this point where we cling to him, admitting our absolute inability to do anything good at all. In this state of weakness and clinging to him, God begins to work, which is why this confuses us so much…because God’s works cannot be explained!!! 

That’s why we call them miracles.

Salvation itself is a miracle. The greatest of them all.

We think of raising the dead, in the flesh, as being one of the “big” miracles, but in reality I think that is very easy for God to do. He just has to speak the words and life comes forth. But forgiving our sins?? That came at a great price…he had to give his very life!

It’s this ongoing work of the Spirit in our hearts that requires us to cling to him for all we are worth. If we part from the vine, we shrivel up and die. We are fruitless, lifeless, worthless – like a twig snapped off a tree. But when we remain attached to him, we grow, we flourish and we begin to bear fruit.

As much as the world tells me that I can do anything if I just try harder, the cross tells me otherwise.

It says: YOU can’t…but I can. 

 

Undeserved Grace

“I NEVER get the respect I deserve!”

“I just deserve a break once in a while!”

“I did nothing to deserve this hurtful treatment!”

These are all things we say to ourselves. And quite honestly, after the rough past few years, my mind thought about these things daily: “I don’t deserve this! I deserve better! I’ve done my best!”

Again and again, hurtful words said to me and actions done against me, replayed in my mind. And oh! The scenarios I made up in my thoughts about how I could change things, how I could defend myself, how I could make myself look better…even how I could make others look bad!

But you know what this type of thinking brought me? No peace at all. 

None.

I was tormented by my thoughts, by self pity, and as hard as I tried I could not, COULD NOT, see any chance of break through for the future. I felt hopeless. I felt like I needed justice and I needed to be set free by the person who had wronged me. And I knew that aside from a miracle, that would never happen.

Finally, I cried out to God one day saying: “God! You know I’ve been treated unfairly, you know I’ve been wronged…but it’s no longer that person who’s torturing me day after day…It’s my own THOUGHTS! How can I change?!? I’ve tried so hard! How can I be set free? I sat with my bible open and scanned the pages waiting, hoping for something to stand out, for something to give me peace…but the minutes ticked by and nothing happened. There I sat, alone in my room. The silence was deafening, the loneliness was painful. God seemed to be far away.

The next day again, I pleaded: “God! I’m just numbing my pain day after day! I sit on my phone and play games. I browse aimlessly on social media, waiting, hoping, YEARNING to fill the empty void that was once filled! Where did I go wrong? What did I do to deserve this?” And nothing. Just the sound of the clock on my wall counting the seconds away. Oh, once in a while I’d get a verse that spoke of God’s love for me or of his faithfulness to us, and I’d feel hope. Once in a while I’d read the book of Job or the story of Joseph and be comforted that God was working in my pain. But most of the time, I just felt like I was on a constant waiting list. Just holding on to hope that “joy would come in the morning”. When would morning come, God?

Then one night I had a dream, a sad dream. I dreamed that my sister, who loves me dearly, came over and was watching me. I’d do I bit of work, then sit back, drink wine, and play games on my phone. She looked at me, full of compassion, and said, “Heather, this isn’t you. I know that you’ve been beaten down, but this isn’t you.  Please, choose your next steps carefully because the road you’re on is a very dark path.” I woke up and felt deeply convicted. For this was the very thing I had been doing for the past while. Immediately, in the middle of the night, I deleted the games, social media and any distractions on my phone. That was the first thing.

This freed up much of my wasted time, but still, my thought’s drifted more then ever to what had happened to me. And I still felt discouraged reading God’s word. But I didn’t give up. Day after day, morning after morning I pushed through the pain and I opened the bible that had once given me so much joy.

Then one day there it was, a verse that I had read many many times, but never really seen:

“Therefore since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.” Romans 5:1-2 NLT

Undeserved privilege. Completely, utterly undeserved.

And I broke down weeping, because no, I didn’t “deserve” the pain of this last year.

What I really deserve is hell itself. That’s what I deserve. That’s what my sins deserve. But losing sight of this undeserved grace had led me to where I believed I actually deserved better.

I am completely undeserving, but able to stand confidently and joyfully before God, sharing in his glory!

My heart wasn’t able to find joy because I was focusing on all the things I deserved, but didn’t get. Now joy flooded my soul because I saw all the things God has given me that I HAVEN’T deserved. And the list is very long!

I have been saved from a meaningless life because of HIS sacrifice. I have a husband who loves me unconditionally and forgives me again and again and again, I have five beautiful HEALTHY children, I have many loving and caring friends and family who pray for me, I have an amazing church, I live in a free country that I never had to fight for, I have food on my table every single day. I have hope of one day going to heaven to meet God and you know what? I don’t deserve any of it. 

It’s SO hard to change this way of thinking. It really is. But, man, the joy is worth it. Living from a heart of thankfulness, instead of a heart full of pain is worth meditating on these things and taking every thought captive.

Friends, it’s worth seeking him through the hard times, because in the ups and downs of life there is only One that has never changed. He’s there every morning when I rise, and every night as I drift to sleep, even when I can not feel him. And I lived long enough to know from experience that while there are many things that can numb the pain, there is only one that can heal it: Jesus.

“My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” Psalm 27:8 NLT