This Grace In Which We Stand

Martha’s brother is dead.

Jesus did not come, even though she sent word. He loved Lazarus. She only asked Him to do for His friend what she had seen Him do for total strangers.

But He did not come.

He waited.

For two full days after she sent word, Jesus did not take a single step in her direction. Because He loved her.

“Now Jesus loved Martha… SO … He stayed two more days in the place where He was.” (John 11:5-6)

How on earth could such a delay be motivated by love?

So many things in my life are dying. I have begged Jesus time and again to come and heal. Nothing happens. Nothing good anyway. Bad to worse? Sure. But not so much with the miraculous healings. I don’t understand. Other people get the miracles. Why not me?

When Jesus finally arrived, Martha’s brother had been dead and in a tomb for four days. Martha is all about doing the right things and so she greeted Jesus with all the faith she could muster.

“If You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now,” she says, and I imagine her choking back a sob, gritting her teeth to say the words that a good follower should say, “… even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”

Jesus says what she would never think to ask and cannot bring herself to imagine.

“Your brother will rise again.”

Oh don’t go there, Jesus. Don’t turn my pain into a spiritual metaphor.

But ever dutiful Martha plays along. “I know…” she says again. She puts on her “good faithful follower” face and says the right words to show she’s read her Bible.

Jesus knows Martha’s heart. She understands the scriptures better than the most learned Pharisee, but she is still on the outside looking in. He reaches His hand through the veil.

“I am the resurrection and the life… Do you believe?”

“Yes Lord.”

Yes, I believe You are who You say You are. I believe You will do what You say You will do. Someday. In the distant future that I can only imagine in the way that I imagine winning the lottery. Sounds amazing. But not likely to happen anytime soon.

And then Jesus really pushes it.

“Take away the stone.”

Martha tried. She really did. In the midst of deep grief and unbearable loss, she went to Jesus. She honored Him as Lord. Submitted to God’s higher plans even though it hurt her so deeply. But to open the tomb – to rip the scab off her wound in front of everyone – so that her loss was so unbearably real that it would turn the strongest stomach? This is too much.

“Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”

Please don’t make me go through this. Leave well enough alone.

But that is the one thing Jesus will not do. He loves Martha too much to leave her with even the most theologically robust two-dimensional faith. He wants more for her. For us. It was because He loved her that He came exactly when He did.

“Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

Martha has no more Sunday School answers to give. Everything happens now quickly, in bold dramatic fashion.

(I imagine Martha and Mary standing to the side, holding hands, tears streaking their faces. Did they flinch as the stone was rolled away? Did they sob harder as Jesus prayed aloud thanking the Father for hearing His prayer? When He called for their brother to “come forth” did they want to double over in agony? Or was the air so electric with His power and authority that their tears stopped and their eyes widened in breathless expectation?)

And then, right in front of her eyes, the impossible happens. Martha’s dead four days and decaying in the grave brother walks out of the tomb.

(Honestly how did she and Mary not just faint dead on the spot?)

I do not know what to make of this. Like Martha, I know what the Bible says. I think I understand God’s plans and promises in a general sense. I know there is hope in light of eternity. But here? Now? Today? I’m speechless. In the world I live in, dead people stay dead. Not just people. Dreams. Relationships. They die and there’s no resuscitating them. There’s only grieving and finding a way to move on with a hole in your heart.

I look again at what Jesus said to Martha, just before He raised Lazarus. “If you believed… you would see the glory of God.”

Jesus did not come when Martha called. He did not perform the miracle she asked for. He went far above all she could ask or imagine. He brought the dead to life again.

I have no idea what Jesus has planned for me and all that is dead and decaying around me. It seems that God rarely performs the same exact miracle twice. Because, I am learning, it is not about the miracle. It’s about His glory.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
Romans 5:1-2

Stand Firm and See

There’s a prayer in the Old Testament that I find myself praying on the regular these days:

We don’t know what to do. Our eyes are on You.” (2 Chronicles 20:12)

“I don’t know what to do, God.”
This situation seems to go from bad to worse. This relationship that I have invested my life in is disintegrating before my very eyes. Everything I say, everything I do, only seems to make things worse. I have been brought to the very end of myself. I surrender. I lay it all down. I admit I am powerless.

My eyes are on You.”
All the fight has gone out of me. I am so very tired. The storm keeps blowing and I don’t feel safe in my little boat. You, Jesus, are my only Hope.

It’s there, in that place of total surrender, that God speaks. His answer to that Old Testament king had three parts. Three steps for every battle I face in this life.

“… Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you…Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged…. the Lord will be with you.’” (2 Chronicles 20:17)

  1. Take up your positions.
    Put on that full armor of God. Figure out who you are and what matters most. Boundaries have to go around something – what is worth protecting at all costs?
  2. Stand Firm.
    “…after you have done everything, stand” – with that belt of Truth buckled tight. There are days when standing looks more like kneeling. More like laying prostrate before my Lord, my face wet with tears. But in my spirit, I am standing on the Rock, the firm foundation that will never ever let me down. The earth may shake, but the ground beneath my feet is solid.
  3. See the deliverance the LORD will give you.
    Keep those eyes on Him. Don’t falter, don’t look away. And don’t confuse my ideas of how things should play out with God’s perfect plans. Sometimes deliverance looks like going into a fiery furnace. Like spending the night in the lion’s den. Those three men who took up a position to honor God at all costs came out of the furnace – without even the smell of smoke on them. And Daniel walked out of that den in the morning “and no injury whatever was found on him, because he believed God.”
    “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” See the deliverance the LORD will give you.

    Hold on my friends.

    The night is nearly over.

    The day is almost here.

pselaphao

We don’t grope for things in the light. 

Grope is a word we use for struggle. 

For when we are lost and cannot find our way. 

When the darkness is so thick it’s palpable and our usual way of seeing fails us. 

In the black of the darkest night or the deepest cave, you can open your eyes as wide as you want, you still won’t see a thing.  

When he preached to the Greeks in Athens, Paul used this word – pselaphao – which the New King James Bible translated to “Grope”. Other versions say “reach out” or even “feel their way” and these are good, but I don’t think they go far enough. The Amplified translated it “grasp” and that comes closer I think. Grasping implies holding on for dear life. Like if you let go you will fall. Sink into the depths. 

I know the feeling. The world has shaken, hard, and the ground around me has fallen away. A storm blows through and there is wreckage everywhere. At times like that, it doesn’t feel like enough just to “seek” God. I need to grasp Him. With both hands.

And if we can’t see God – maybe we don’t even know where to look, or our eyes are utterly useless because all around us is deep, overwhelming darkness? We turn to one of our other senses, the one that usually takes a backseat when it comes to belief. “Seeing is believing” we say.  But when our sight fails, we need to feel our way.

The day that Jesus rose and walked out of the grave and appeared to the twelve in the upper room where they sheltered, disillusioned and asking themselves what comes next… they looked at Him and did not believe their own eyes. They saw Him die. Saw His beaten and disfigured body taken down from the cross and buried in a tomb. It was impossible for Him to be there, in their midst. They must be having a shared delusion. Perhaps He was a ghost. It was not joy they felt in that moment, but abject fear. 

And so He gave them a gentle invitation: “Handle me and see…” 

Pselaphao

In your darkness, reach out. 

Feel your way. 

Grope for Him. 

Grasp His hand.

Paul told the Athenians that God made us so that we would seek Him, “in the hope” that we would grope for Him and find Him. He will not leave us alone in the dark, blindly waving our hands around, grasping nothing but air. “He is not far from each one of us,” Paul assures those who will look, “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” 

He is not a figment of our imagination. He is real and He is near. 

As close as your next breath. 

As close as your very heartbeat. 

In Him we live. 

In Him we move. 

In Him we have our very being.  

“And Lo {see!},” Jesus whispers, “I am with you – ALWAYS.”  

Rest

“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11:28

“Come,” He says. It is an invitation. One that requires no special outfit or preparation. “Yes, my soul, find rest in God” the psalmist says and the word he uses for Rest is also translated to be silent and still. To be astonished. Stopped in our tracks.

I think back to a day when my Beloved invited me to follow him down a narrow trail into a wood hushed soft with thick moss and years of gentle decay. A delicate fog enveloped us and I was certain we must have stepped into a dream. The only rushing came from the river that accompanied us. The noise in my mind settled and I breathed in air so fresh and filling I felt doubly alive. Every few steps I would stop and look up at a huge fir with branches that filled the sky. Astonished. I could not help but smile and even laugh aloud, so full was my joy. To be there, in that magical place with one who loved me walking just a few steps ahead; joy indescribable.

That is His invitation. To walk with Him. Let go of all that weighs us down and follow Him down the path.

Look up.

Be astonished.

And in that place, I discover where my Hope comes from.

And I find Rest.