After two and a half years of walking the halls of the hospital, I decided to replace my work shoes. While the brand-new pair was a bit expensive, I knew that it was well worth the investment. Curious to see just how worn my old soles were, I laid both pair, side by side, on the bed. The difference was striking. "No wonder my feet were starting to whine," I thought.
Running my fingers across the now smooth sole of the old shoe, I thought about how truly astonishing it must have been to the Israelites to wander in the desert for 40 years and realize that their sandals never wore out. [See Deuteronomy 29:5]. It was all the more amazing to me when I considered that the significant wear on my shoes was solely (pardon the pun) from trekking the endless terrain of high-gloss, multi-colored tiles that blanketed our smooth concrete floors.
Looking up that Scripture passage, I was fascinated by the sustaining grace that God offered Israel as they journeyed through the wilderness. Reading those verses, it was clear that His care extended far beyond their footwear. “I’ve fed you each day with the manna so you’d know that I, the Eternal, am your God who protects you and provides for you” [verse 6 VOICE].
That promise resonated deeply with me as I began to reflect on my faith journey. At the close of 26 years of full-time ministry, my soul was much like the sole of my old shoes. Worn. In fact, I remember writing in my journal at that time, "My soul is dead."
Over the last four years, however, something is happening. Eugene Peterson describes it as learning to live in “unforced rhythms of grace.” And his language describing the result articulates the fruit I am experiencing: "You'll recover your life."
What does that look like? While it is hard to express, simply put, I am learning to live with God instead of living for God. Unlearning habits formed by the ruthless tyranny of straining to live up to Him, I am discovering the joy of learning to live into God. I am being freed from self-inflicted measures of spiritual performance and am learning to posture my heart in surrender, finding rest in the reality that God's decision to love me unconditionally came long before I was born.
I am also discovering richness in the intimacy of sharing with God, rather than talking at God. Instead of the soul-wearing behavior of begging and pleading as a self-perceived spiritual orphan, I am beginning to speak a love-language of gratitude and thanksgiving as a beloved child and heir.
Along this journey of grace, I am experiencing a God who is relentless in kindness, unceasing in faithfulness, tender in compassion, gentle in guidance, intentional in generosity, extravagant in provision, and demonstratively lavish in love toward us. My performance-driven, "have to in order to" has become a love-compelled, "get to because of."
And much like Israel was saturated in God's life-sustaining grace through the wilderness, I am coming to know a restorative and sustaining wholeness, peace, joy, and spiritual rest that I have never experienced before. And, I am encountering something completely new to me: learning to laugh with God as I joyfully embrace His invitation, "Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” [Matthew 11:28-30 MSG].
If you've made it this far into this blog and a snarky, "Well, that's just ducky for you," has risen out of your heart, would you continue reading? I share all this to say to you: if your soul is worn thin from journeying through the wilderness of a self-imposed yoke of "try a little harder - do a little better," there is hope. There is freedom. There is joy. And, there is rest.
Right now... just stop. Push "pause." Be still. Exhale. Allow the Goodness and Mercy that has been following you all of your days catch up to you. And like the soul-worn prodigal son held by the father, would you allow God to embrace you? Collapse into Love and hear Love speak.
"Oh, precious child. You never had to earn My love. You entered this world loved. In fact, you were in My heart before you were born. I say the same thing to you as I said to Jeremiah. “Before I even formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew all about you. Before you drew your first breath, I had already chosen you to be My prophet to speak My word to the nations” [1:5 VOICE]. Beloved, your existence in My heart preceded your conception. Your purpose preceded your birth. You were, and you are, chosen... treasured... and adored. You hold a place of deep affection in My heart. You are one in whom I take great delight. THAT is who you are. You are not an accident. You are not an “oops.” You are not an afterthought. And, My child, you are definitely not a mistake. Your identity is not based on who you came through, but on Who you came from. I knit you together in your mother's womb and My eyes saw your unformed body... and I grinned with joy and with expectation, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” [Jeremiah 29:11 NIV]. You have a purpose and you have a destiny that I am eager to see fulfilled. Abide in Me. I will supply, strengthen, nourish, and feed you. I do not dole Myself out in increments and in measured portions based upon your performance. I will not give you more if you "perform" better. No! You have access to all of Me, right now. Beloved, when you strive for My approval and affection, you actually choke the vine and hinder My life-giving flow. That is why I want you to abide in Me. Let Me show you who you really are. As you rest and remain in Me, you will begin to see yourself as I see You. My focus is not on what you think is wrong with you. My focus is on what is missing in your life, and I am relentlessly committed to supplying that... to being the very grace that you need. You see, grace is My empowering presence that enables you to become everything I see when I look at you. As you are saturated in My grace, your 'doing' will begin to flow out of your 'being.' Oh, child, I never get tired or weary of you. I love loving you. So, "Come to me. I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis. Simply join your life with mine. Learn my ways and you’ll discover that I’m gentle, humble, easy to please. You will find refreshment and rest in me. For all that I require of you will be pleasant and easy to bear” [Matthew 11:28-30 TPT]. [Additional thoughts and concepts from Developing Your Destiny and Fullness Now, by Graham Cooke].
In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers writes that sometimes God is not trying to teach us a lesson, but rather wanting us "to unlearn something." I believe this journey over the last four years, fueled by Paul's prayer for a spirit of wisdom and revelation to grow in our knowledge of God [Ephesians 1:17 NLT], has been one of "unlearning" as much as it has been "learning." In the kind intention of His will, God is taking me through a process of "unlearning" soul-wearying misinterpretations of the Father's heart that have undermined the absolute sufficiency of the Cross. And in it, I am discovering the Truth of His words, "I am gentle and humble of heart. When you are yoked to Me, your weary souls will find rest" [Matthew 11:29 VOICE].
Today, may you abide in the very blessing that Moses spoke over Benjamin. "The Eternal's beloved rests safely next to Him, protected all through the day, resting between His shoulders" [Deuteronomy 33:12 VOICE] and may your heart proclaim with the Psalmist, "I will sing my song to you, the Most High, for in all of this you have strengthened my soul" [Psalm 13:6 TPT]. Amen.
Looking for more? Take a moment and enjoy this musical affirmation of God's heart and desire for you along your faith journey: Be Still My Soul.