Saturday, January 31, 2015

From Inside the Fire: Learning Grace When God Says No

The air was bitter but the sun shone so brilliant I found myself squinting across the way. I walked with an urgency beside her, the scent of brush burning holding thick across that country air.

"Momma," he yelled, "the fire is spreading onto the grass. I don't think it's supposed to burn that part of the yard?!"

Sure enough, the fire hadn't taken long to expand into a lop-sided a circle around the pile of brush that was enflamed. The flames were short but on the move. She killed them with the head of the shovel like it was just a normal days work. She's standing there, using this as a teaching moment for her boy and I just burst out laughing. Hah. My life. I'll tell ya, moments like these make me realize as far as I have grown in my "country girl" status, this is also a blunt reminder of how much I am simply a city girl.

She and I stepped back and just watched for a few minutes. At one point he interjected with some concern, "Momma, it's so black and dead now, will the grass ever grow back or will it stay like that forever?"

Her answer made me pause.

"No son." she explained, "It will actually grow back stronger and healthier and greener then it would have been if it hadn't burned." 

I see this blackened grass--dead and lifeless as it could possibly be. She said its going to come back from this?! Is she just making that up? I remember thinking. Considering she just put that whole thing out with a shovel, she must know a little more about it then I do, I conceded. [Had it been me, the helicopters would be circling as the West Fork woods burnt to ashes.] Not only is it going to grow again, but healthier then before?!

In that moment I knew His voice as if He were standing beside me. Court, he said, this is you. Right now you are burnt and scarred and when you look around, you cannot see anything but blackened ashes with you plopped somewhere in the middle of it all. I know, you can't even remember what normal feels like. Eating, sleeping, working. It all feels so impossible in this ash-covered state. But these flames are not here to destroy you. I am going to bring you back from this, more dependent upon me then you ever could have been, had the flames not been.

Most of us have, at some point, found ourselves in this place, right? Grieving what was before the fire, covered in ashes, and having eyes unable to see past the pain. Where tears have been your food, day and night. Getting dressed, eating a meal, a day at the office--all major victories. "How long, oh Lord?" becomes the cry of our hearts.

That's been this season for me--and standing in that nippy country air with the sun shining down and the ashes laying flat, scent raw--He was with me in a way I had never needed before.

Why are you downcast, oh my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? 
Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God. 
                                                                                                                [ps. 42:5-6]

The following day, a friend prayed with me and shared of a field of wheat that burnt to the ground. She said it needed to burn so that it could grow back healthier and with the capacity to bear more fruit then it ever could have prior to the flames. I remember sitting on the floor, tears streaming down my face with this resounding--but if NOT, I am still GOOD--echoing through my mind.

I asked the Lord for something I thought was good for me, but this time, his answer was no. I've always said He is good, no matter what. But He has never told me no like this. I don't understand it and I often contemplate where I missed the signs, how I ended up with the "wrong" ending--we did it all so right, didn't we? And yet here I am grieving the loss of a forever that was never to be. All I know is grace upon grace.

I see grace here, sun shining upon burnt grass that will spring forth again. Better even.

"I will wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope…" [ps. 150:5]

There is SO MUCH grace to be found in the not, the no, the death, the unrelenting pain, the test results that make everything stop, the grief, that late night phone call, the ending of a season so sudden, the death of a dream that seemed good.

The no makes me suck down grace like oxygen, it breathes for me these days. But that's the miracle of it all--it breathes. In and out, up and down. The reality is that the fire dies, the ashes blow away, the grass grows, the wheat bears more fruit and somewhere this steadfast love endures, breathing death to life.

Do you recognize His everlasting arms beneath you, even in this place of pain? Do you hope in Him?

"But if not, I am still good," He whispers in the dark of the night.

This fire image fanned straight to the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

After being told they must bow down and worship false gods or face a fire, heat ramped up seven times the norm, bound together by a cord. Basically, the worst possible scenario, a death sentence for those who stepped anywhere near it.

But their response--"O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he WILL deliver us out of your hand, O King. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship that golden image that you have set up."

So basically, they're saying we trust our God to the point where we don't even need to respond to you--our God is that big, OBVIOUSLY He is in control and His plan for our lives far exceed yours, O King. He will save us! But if not the way you think, just know He is still Lord. He is still the only one in control. He is still capable of saving us however He sees fit to do so. He is ever greater then your gods. If it doesn't happen the way you think it should, O King, just know He is still good. 

We know the ending--they come out of the fire untouched, aside from the cord that bound them having been broken in the flames. They didn't even carry the scent of the fire! Have you ever thought of how they came out freer then when they went in?

The King worshiped the true Lord God. Everyone under him was instructed to do so as well. Surely these three in the middle of that fire never imagined a nation bowing before the one true Lord God out of this suffering.

"But God! Being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He has loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved." [eph. 2:4-5]

The fire, it changes us. Those flames bring pain that refines. The heat rids us of the fluff that distracts and weighs us down. It doesn't feel good, the scars still ache here and there.  Sometimes the fire ramps up and we are forced to breathe grace. As the fire fans, the ashes dust off and abundant fruit awaits. It grows in new places now, what fragrance! And sometimes, the fire burns and a whole nation falls to worship the one true Lord God.

His word tells us He has a purpose for our lives--"that I might show my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth!" [rom. 9:17]

Whether that be through the flames or deep waters, now I know that when He says no, His understanding of what is "good" far exceeds my own. I trust He who is able to do exceedingly beyond anything my finite and flawed mind could ever ask or think, even when it doesn't feel good. If we can trust God to save us from our sins, then we can trust God to lead our lives. And if we can trust God to save us for all eternity, then surely we can trust God will satisfy all of our needs on this earth. 

Jesus is good, ya'll. Even in the fire, before the fire, after the fire--He is FOR us. He walks with us and gives more grace. He never leaves us. He has a plan, so we wait and trust and hope in Him even when feelings shift from hour to hour--He doesn't. The vision awaits it's time, but our God delivers through the heat. The flames give sight to His power in us. They are hard to miss, you know?