Not my Will

Encouragement today from the precious reminder of our Savior’s wrestling in prayer with the emotions and limitations of His humanity as He approached the cross, and the gentle exhortation that all the Father requires is a willing heart. If we can pray through the pain, and continue to desire God’s will above our own, that is enough. We should not be too hard on ourselves for having either questions or weakness, as long as we are carrying them rightly to His feet. And He will pour out His own strength to carry us through whatever we are facing– even comfort us with His love, so that we do not lose hope.

The nineteenth-century British theologian E.B Pusey advised believers to have a one-prayer-fits-all approach to life. “Choose but the will of God, and thou willest with His wisdom, thou choosest with His all-perfect choice; thou enterest into His counsels; thou lovest with His love. Be this our watch-word, brethren, for the Church, for those we love, for our own souls….This shall hallow our hopes; this shall hush our fears; this shall ward off disquiet; this shall preserve our peace; this shall calm anxieties; this (if it must be) shall soothe our heart-aches; this shall give repose to our weariness…. ‘Lord, not what I will, but what Thou’; not what I, in my misery, and ignorance, and blindness, and sin, but what Thou, in Thy mercy, and holiness, and wisdom, and love.” It is the prayer that never fails.


And [Jesus] withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to Him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:41-44)


“Oh how I need Your grace,
More than my words can say;
Jesus I come, Jesus I come
In all my weaknesses,
You are my confidence;
Jesus I come, Jesus I come.”
(Jesus I Come, Elevation Worship)


Hunting for the Right Things

Talking about the discipline of thankfulness and teaching our hearts to sing God’s praise, this morning in the car, and was reminded of past Easter seasons, when our small group intentionally focused on God’s good gifts.  Offering up this post from two years ago, with humble thanks to the Giver of all good things….

Here in this season of Lent, instead of fasting and acts of self-denial, we are counting our thanks out on paper, feasting on Grace. We are looking ahead to Easter and the resurrection, and rejoicing in the Giver of life.

And I find this to be true, that when eyes are wide open to see “Every good and perfect gift…from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17), there is joy welling up that has little to do with visible circumstances. The Musician-King’s song echoes here: “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) Maybe not that we get some unspecified list of treats, as if we were spending the weekend with grandparents, but that the more we live in His presence, the more we experience the depths of grace and the more we can see glory all around. No wonder the saints of long ago wrote down that the primary purpose of man was to glorify God and enjoy Him forever…relating to an Eternal Almighty Being is liable to take forever, and the psalm writer says it is all joy.

And you can tell, when you spend time with people, the ones who get this mystery of thankfulness, because the daily choice to recognize Grace– when you name it in every little manifestation and offer your praise back up to the Giver– has a way of changing you on the inside. Thankfulness is courage and hope and faith held high, a shield against the Darkness all around. The daily discipline of humble thanks-giving stocks my Thought Closet with more of Him and less of me. Thankfulness chases away resentment and discontent, calms the spirit, focuses my thoughts on the things that are true and honorable and lovely, just like the Apostle Paul advised. He made that same connection between rejoicing and thanksgiving– said it should shape our lives and our prayers, promised good results: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) 

So as we prepare for Easter and look forward to new life springing out of the ground into green, we go on hunting for His blessings, day by day, tuning our hearts to see Grace, to sing God’s praises– and it’s like we are setting the cross of Christ in the middle of all our days. Because these many little blessings are only glimmers of that one rugged signpost to Grace, where God’s Passion made all things new.


“He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)


“This is amazing grace,
This is unfailing love,
That You would take my place,
That You would bear my cross.
You would lay down Your life,
That I would be set free.
Jesus, I sing for all that You’ve done for me.”
(This Is Amazing Grace, Phil Wickham)

Of Eggs and Lambs and Waiting for Easter

I almost missed what the preacher said, right there in the middle of the music and the Lord’s Supper and my fingers already moving to play the next notes. “We don’t know how broken we are. And we don’t know how loved we are.”  It wasn’t until the next day that it sank in deep enough to feel…right through into the Humpty-Dumpty heart of me.

Here in the middle of Lent, with the cross set before us, we are taking time to face our own sin. Our self-indulgence, our lack of love, our pride, our vain ambition for things that are passing away. And maybe the worst part of our sorrow, in the most honest quiet moments, is the dim realization that no matter how much we can look at our brokenness, God sees more. Not just a matter of what we can know, but a matter of moral capacity…how much we are able to fathom, to feel, to bear in our spirits. He is the only One who understands just how diseased we are– the bone-deep fragility of men and women afflicted with sin. We are without excuse, without remedy, without hope even on our best days, although most of us have learned to cover up nicely, or at least distract ourselves from what we cannot put together again.

The Prophet Isaiah puts it out there in livestock terms: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way…” (Isaiah 53:6) We may not have much personal experience with sheep, but anyone who has ever tried to shepherd a group of more than five children on an outing can grasp the general idea. I think it’s safe to assume that sheep are never fully aware of their path, or where it is leading them, or just how dangerous it is for them to be out there alone. I heard someone say once that “It’s not that sheep are stupid…it’s just that they are completely defenseless.” Indeed.

I have no defenses against the selfishness and death that eat away at my life, nor any defense in the face of the standards that I can’t measure up to. But Isaiah finishes his thought...”and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  My sin-disease and personal culpability laid fully on Someone Else big enough to bear both– on Jesus, the One Isaiah said was “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.” (Isaiah 53:7)

In this middle-gray land of March, halfway between death and life, there is also time to hear the Love that calls us. And isn’t that what we all need here, when we are looking death in the face?…To see beyond its wretched ugliness and finality, into the eyes of the Beloved One, who carries our death on His own shoulders, lays it into the ground, and leaves it there? “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering…” (Isaiah 53:4) Here in the middle of Lent, the only way we will even be able to face the rubble inside, is if we can also see Love’s glorious broken body standing in the middle of it.  “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

And I have no defense against Love like this.


“We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes–
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
So heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest.
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets
when I think about the way
He loves us…
Oh how He loves us.”
(How He Loves, John Mark McMillan)


“Forty days, I am reflecting on my cross, my sins….Looking hard for release from this messy body of death. And there is Jesus. Jesus with a crown of thorns. Jesus bent low, God carrying my rotting mess, Grace doing what I cannot do, and I cannot ascend to God but He will descend to me….

Jesus will have to do everything. He will have to accomplish it all. I am ashes and I am dust and I am in dire need and Lent has given me clear eyes to see my sin and I am the one broken under all this skin.” (Ann VosKamp)



Take Heart

As the sun warms and life quickens, here in early Spring…as the icy hold of death is cracked loose, slips away like a dark dream in the face of bright dawn arising…as we turn our faces toward Resurrection Day, there is this Word for all those holding onto hope:

“Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of His great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing….how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?…how can you say God ignores your rights? Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of His understanding….He will feed His flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in His arms, holding them close to His heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.” (Isaiah 40:26-28, 11)


“Courage is what is elemental to living — composed of two parts fierce hope, and one part wild believing.
It’s hope that can create a quake that cracks all despair.
It’s hope that stands in your dark with a lamp lit with prayers.
And it isn’t the likelihood of your hope that sustains you, but the object of your hope that sustains you.
We lay our hope, full and tender, into the depths of Him.”
(Ann Voskamp)


“All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust”
(Beautiful Things, Gungor)

The Most Important Holiday

Here at the brink of Easter the world teeters on the brink between death and life: fuzzy baby animals and pastel colors rioting everywhere against the matted brown remnants of Winter. And a person could feel overwhelmed at the rubble of brokenness, at all the things that don’t work right in this world. There isn’t one of us who hasn’t felt the weight of Adam’s curse in ways large and small, and maybe that’s why we plunge so eagerly into the glut of the calendar holidays,  to forget just for awhile the aches and pains, the way relationships can get so tricky, the masks we wear and the walls we hide behind, all the little distractions that tangle around the feet of those who run. But here just before Easter Sunday, if you have eyes to see, life and death hang in the balance.

And here at Easter is the crux of the matter– all the Earth’s history and future summed up, condensed into one wrenching weekend. The world that was spoken into existence by God’s Word and broken by man’s rebellion lives in feverish denial of its sickness and in dread of death to come. The eternal living Word that entered our world dies at its hands (carrying all of its brokenness on His shoulders), and then just walks out of it again. And God’s creation groans and heaves in the cataclysm. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Here at the cross, life and death lay at Jesus’ feet. Jesus is living proof that there is nothing that God’s love and forgiveness cannot accomplish for us.

Easter is the one holiday we need to remember all year. Death is not the same terrible enemy. And Life is not the same futile effort. Now all of God’s promises to us are coming true in Jesus. Now there is always Hope. “I…pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 1:19-20)


“‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” (Ezekiel 37:4-6)


“Great is Your faithfulness, oh God;
You wrestle with the sinner’s heart.
You lead us by still waters and to mercy,
And nothing can keep us apart.
So remember Your people,
Remember Your children,
Remember Your promise, oh God…
Your grace is enough for me.”
(Matt Maher)

When Winter Seems to Never End

We are still hemmed in by piles of snow, but here we are planning our weekly Lenten lunches for the community, talking about how to make Easter real for hungry souls. And we can feed them sandwiches, fill up bowls of hot soup in cupped hands, re-tell the stories of our Savior’s Passion, but Easter’s new life seems very far away to a world gripped in Winter still.

And you don’t need to look far to see the bruised and the weary, hear the prayers going up for deliverance and answers, watch the upheaval of change and the demands that stretch to breaking. You can hardly escape the relentless newscasts about hate-fueled violence, see the world reeling on its axis. A resurrection can seem like a distant improbability to the one firmly stuck in cold hard realities. And under the gray-metal skies and endless cold, a heart can begin to numb– get the life leeched right out of it even though it is still beating– forget to look up, to look ahead and hope. This is what Lent is for, to remind us of the promise that goes back to the very Beginning, and it sets up the cross in the middle of everything, with the very flesh of God suffering death and bringing life to us. The prophet Ezekiel wrote down the promise for his own people: “’Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!…I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.'” (Ezekiel 37:4-6) Jesus repeated it to His dear friends just before He called their brother back to them: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) Lent sends our cold numb hearts to the cross and the empty tomb, bids us gaze on the proof of God’s love, let the certainty of hope run in our veins again and look forward to what He is accomplishing. Every year Spring brings that reminder of what is True and Eternal: the promise that in the end, Life wins. “.…thanks be to God, who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” ( Corinthians 15:57)

The bare-boned trees stand silently cloaked in snow, but there is resurrection coming.


“Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.” (Isaiah 35:6)


 “For people who are stumbling toward ruin, the message of the Cross is nothing but a tall tale for fools by a fool. But for those of us who are already experiencing the reality of being rescued and made right, the Cross is nothing short of God’s power.”  (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

“Thank you, thank you for saying that! God sent you to me today!” she said with the intensity of a proclamation, and stopped in the middle of her work-out to give me a tearful hug. I was dumbfounded. Really? The music picked us up again and we kept pounding out the beat while my mind wondered over our conversation, looking for the words that meant so much to her, and all I could think of was what a humble blessing when God uses you unaware.

I knew her only casually, as another mom-of-young-adults, a bond that made us look for one another through the crowd at the gym, and ask about our fledglings occasionally. Today we happened to be the only two there in a lull of activity and before I knew it a question about who would be home over Easter turned into a heart-spilling of anxious concern for decisions being made, and all I did was share what I am learning: that the burden isn’t ours to carry any more, that God is faithful to work in our daughters’ lives as He has always done for us. Truth that bolsters my heart, and shouldn’t His goodness be shared? Such a small thing to offer, multiplied to abundance received by His Spirit.

It never ceases to amaze me how God puts the puzzle pieces together, and how He turns His making of us into blessing for others, so that the struggles of one heart can encourage another, all of us woven together in unexpected ways, and His Resurrection life still flowing outward from the Cross. It is the mysterious way the Body of Christ works when each part is fitted together as He chooses, each part different but necessary, and Him the Head. It is how we share the Good News with others– just living in His grace and telling what He is doing in our own hearts, because other hearts are hungry in ways we don’t even know.

We sing that old song with the children upstairs on Sunday mornings, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine” and maybe we need to bring it downstairs to the men and women too. Who knows how God might use each willing part of the Body to pour out this Resurrection Life everywhere?



“My future hangs on this: You make preciousness from dust,
Please don’t stop creating me…
Oh, Your cross, it changes everything…”
(Second Chance, Rend Collective Experiment)



‘Tis the Season

There’s something about Spring that makes us want to shake off the old and paint everything bright and new. It’s a cyclical thing, this restless itch to take down the curtains and vacuum into corners and redecorate the bedroom. Fortunately, just noticing the recurrence of that effect keeps me from spending boatloads of money on re-doing the house every year. I really do like my home and feel comfortable in it, so I can content myself with a thorough cleaning and rearranging, knowing it is just the change of seasons at work.  But that inner energy is worth harnessing, can be useful elsewhere if I am not afraid to let it root into dark closets and throw up the shades on musty rooms of the soul.

A youth pastor from the UK wrote in his devotional this week that the seasons of our life are valuable, even purposeful– orchestrated by God to do much-needed housecleaning in our minds and hearts. He pointed out that when circumstances change radically in the everyday, it forces us out of the mind-numbing routine, jolts us out of the ruts we tend to wear down into life. New seasons “awaken our spiritual values…challenge us with the realities of life and death…help us to look at our Christian commitment and connection…help us look at what God would have us do with our lives.” An energizing opportunity, if we can accept it for that.

The One who set the sun and stars in space and decreed that seasons change; the One who keeps the world turning in its place, and the miracle chain of life and death at work in sea and earth and sky– He is the One who holds my days and knows every one of them. Dare I believe that He marks this season of my life with just as much purpose and design? King David wrote it down: “How precious to me are your thoughts,God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you.” (Psalm 139:17-18) 

What if the season of life we are going through right now is God’s opportunity to speak to us, shake out the curtains and open up the closets of our hearts, set some issues of life and death before us? What is here for me to learn, in the busyness…or the solitude…or the seeking…or the pain? What do I need to grieve and let go of, so that something else can live? And what if all the painful digging up is only loosening the soil of my heart for something new to grow, shifting the boundaries of my little world to stretch it bigger? If I could open up the eyes of my spirit to see the Wind of change blowing through, could I catch a glimpse of His purposes for me, of what He wants to accomplish in me?

We rest in the faith that You are at work through every long Winter, and it will again pass into Spring; we hold on to the hope that Spring will come and new life will sprout under life-giving rain. “You, God, are my God,earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1) Stir up our souls till we long for You to make everything new, in this season of life that comes from Your hand.


“Peace be still, You are near;
There’s nowhere we can go
That You won’t shine redemption’s light,
Our guilt withdrawn.

As You rise, we come alive;
The grave has lost, the old is gone,
And You’re making all things new…” 
(All Things New,Elevation Worship)