“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.” ~Psalm 30:11-12
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” ~ 1 John 4:18
Well, God has done it again. I’ve posted earlier this week about needing to regain my focus. And about shame – how the farther you slide, the more tempting it is to hide your face from Christ who is so perfect and righteous.
And God has been doing a work in my heart today, telling me yet again how much He just desires us. He doesn’t desire the ideal of us, the ‘us’ that we’re supposed to be – flawless and righteous all the time. He desires us as we are; no matter how tainted, soiled, dirty we are, we are beautiful in the eyes of God. He knows our hearts and our struggles and our shortcomings even better than we do; He desires us anyway.
The Bible is very clear about being called to be holy and to live a righteous life and to not sin. And those directives are not to be discounted. We are indeed given the tools to be perfect, and we’re told to be. And we try to be. And that is great. That’s how it should be, in fact.
But for those times when that’s not how it is, when we are very much less than perfect and righteous and when we have in fact sinned, do we then hide our faces, knowing that we were told to behave a certain way and failed to do so? No we don’t. Because the punishment will never outweigh the love. And I’m pretty sure that our idea of ‘punishment’ is a worldly definition anyway, not necessarily a spiritual one. God isn’t about judgement and punishment. He is about growing us, and He’s patient with us until we get there. 2 Peter 3:9 even tells us, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentence.” Because when you think about it, it’s not about following the rules. It’s about desiring Him so deeply and being so attuned and led by the Holy Spirit within that our desires are the same as His. It’s about getting our hearts to the place where we love what He loves and detest what He detests and desire what He desires. Getting to the place where things we’d call ‘sin’ aren’t even appealing to us anymore. It takes a lot of growing and a lot of shedding of oneself to get there.
So my prayer partner and I today laid our fear and burdens down, and sought Him together. We knew we might be in a little bit of trouble for losing perspective, but we needed Him. Hiding isn’t particularly helpful, by the way; if we muck up enough to lose focus in the first place, and that is with God’s guidance, we are most certainly going to muck up everything we try to do without Him. And so it was. And truth be told, we missed Him. So we chatted for a bit, bolstered each other, broke down a wall or two of self-denial and self-justification, and then we prayed. We sought God. We waited on Him. We worshiped Him. We loved Him, and we let Him love us again.
And what I found was not judgement or wrath, but rather a “I’ve missed you and I’ve had so much to tell you and I’m so glad you’re here”. As we were praying, both of us well aware of certain mistakes we’ve been making in our lives and simultaneously praying for others who we think needed it, something cool happened. I was praying over one of her friends, and instead of hearing her own friend’s name, she heard my friend Scott’s name. Scott has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and recently came home after a scary period of time in the hospital. Anyway, she corrected me. And I said, “what? I didn’t say Scott.” “You definitely did because I definitely heard his name.” “Nope definitely not, Scott’s doing fine and I haven’t really been thinking of him during this prayer time.” SO, rather than figure out whether I misspoke or she misheard, we decided that Scott had been thoroughly inserted into our conversation and so it was best to pray for him too. So we did. And it got a little bit intercessory. It was a little odd, but this certainly isn’t the first time this has happened to us, so we went with it and prayed for Scott. Hard. Then, about an hour later, my roommate (Scott’s best friend of 30 years) came home from work and said, “I have an update on Scott. He’s not doing well.”
So, we were called to pray without even knowing why. And this, my friends, is the God we serve. Not a God who seeks to punish for punishment’s sake, but a God who seeks to spiritually grow us. Sometimes that involves consequences; sometimes it involves mercy. Either way, we are never tarnished enough to dull His desire for us. His love is pure and His plan perfect. This time around, God sent us a very clear message: We don’t always have to be cleansed to come before Him; we don’t have to be perfect vessels to show up in His presence and be used. We just have to show up.