This is an amazing story. The way this woman let real pain tenderize her heart over the decades instead of allowing it to turn into bitterness is stunning.
Oh for a heart that turns toward the Lord in every situation!
Phrases in scripture like “…Your loving-kindness is better than life” strike hard—striking that ache deep within the heart that is screaming for satisfaction. It’s words like these that make me want to scream from the rooftops EITHER THIS IS TRUE OR IT’S NOT!
There is no middle ground—no room for grey here. Because God’s entirely-satisfying-love cannot be partial. It. Is. Impossible. Either these words are completely true—and His love is better than life—or they are completely false—and it is simply good poetry.
How do we know? Really know?
We can know intellectually because these words are God-breathed. We can meditate on the greatness of His love and receive revelation of His Holy Heart from this inspired text. By reading and through meditation we really can know His love. But there has to be more than intellectual knowing. I believe His love has to be experienced to be fully known.
So how do we know? Really know?
This is the question I am wrestling with because I feel the great distance between what I believe is true and what I actually know.
And yet, the Word says it is not too mysterious or far off. God has made Himself accessible to anyone who desires Him. The way to know love is to simply position our weak hearts before Love Himself. Crying out to Him with our great need, “Lord, I want to know Love—to experientially know this all-satisfying-better-than-life Love.”
The Psalmist prays in chapter 42, “Tears have been my food day and night saying, “Where is your God?” These words resound within me. I share the same cry as this ancient hymnist. Yes, these words haunt me. I am no longer satisfied with the casual reading of the text or the courtesy nod of the head in agreement.
I often find myself with a tear stained face saying, “O God, if not me, then who? If I cannot attain this knowing, who is it reserved for? Did You not say, You would give to those who ask? Did You not say the one who seeks finds YOU?”
I live seeking. And I know that I do not seek in vain because I believe these words are true.
I believe and I wait.
And while I wait I will not allow my emotions to accuse God. I will not let barrenness steal joy. I refuse to stare at these circumstances and blame Him. I refuse to agree with the voice of yet another disappointment that whispers, “draw back; protect yourself”.
Instead, I reach.
With violent force I position myself again today and tomorrow and again the next day to reach. Here in the night, messy with all these tears, I am still reaching because I believe truth, “His loving-kindness is better than life!”
Friday night I was at service listening to the sermon the words were familiar—truths I’ve heard before. (Isn’t that the way it can sometimes feel for those of us who’ve been in the church for a while? Words become so familiar, that it’s almost hard to hear them. Familiarity can become our enemy if we aren’t careful.) I was feeling the familiar, until something the Preacher said struck me—not at all like a lighting bolt, more like a tiny spark that was almost unnoticeable. Nevertheless I heard it. The Preacher said…
“We need to receive more understanding of God’s love and our value to Him. Jesus’ value for His people is seen in His going to the cross—all to have relationship with them. The most worshipful saints think much on the cross.”
How many times have we heard these truths? How many times has the phrase “Jesus loves me” come across our ears? If you grew up in the church, I venture to say countless times. It’s so familiar it becomes nearly imperceptible. We have to fight to hear.
I pray often, “God I want to know You!” I feel like I have this ever-growing-longing inside of me to know His heart. But somehow through the familiarity I’ve failed to realize that part of knowing Him is knowing what He values—and what He values is His people. “Jesus loves me” is more than a child’s song; it is a profound truth exposing the heart of our God.
The next morning I woke up early to go to the Prayer Room. Taking the invitation from the night before—that ever-so-small-almost-unnoticeable-spark—and I turned it into conversation. I said one simple phrase to the Lord:
“I am so valuable to You.”
I spoke the phrase. Then paused. And then I simply said it again to Him.
“I am so valuable to You.”
Unbelief. Dullness. Familiarity. All wanting to stop the conversation but I continued believing that there was something more in knowing this part of His heart, so I labored to believed how He felt about me. I kept saying it again and again and again, over and over, “I am so valuable to You.”
Each time I said it I could feel truth going deeper. I was starting to believe—to hear. That small spark was turning into a flame on the inside of me. More than language, more than rhetoric, the words were becoming real. “Jesus loves ME”—it wasn’t the first time I heard this, but rather another time.
We need the “another time” to happen repeatedly. We need to continually remind ourselves of His deep love for us. Asking the question: Do I really know how valuable I am to Him? Oh this question is a place we need linger. It’s a meditation that we need to ponder deeply—and often. We can see a picture of this in the Gospel of John when John said of himself, “I am the one that Jesus loves.” John believed it and made it personal by speaking it over and over again. And this is our invitation too.
There is a famous story about the theologian Karl Barth. It goes like this: near the end of Barth’s life, having written the most monumental theological work of the 20th Century, having read virtually every other theological work ever penned, a journalist asks him, “What is the greatest truth you’ve ever heard?” To which Barth replies, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible the Bible tells me so.”
I think John the disciple and Karl Barth were on to something—something that I want to be a part of.
“God doesn’t see, He doesn’t care.” —this age-old-accusation is continually trying to work its way into our hearts. This lie that is ever present to speak when our circumstances are not what we desire and our hearts are weary with the cares of this life.
Just like in the garden the lie comes subtly to accuse God of being silent. Distant.
But God has spoken. He has come.
With undesirable circumstances and cares weighing heavy, I’m being undone once again by the Incarnation—the Word who is speaking God’s deep desire for nearness.
Through the Son, God’s heart is made known. The incarnation—this fragrance poured out for us to experience— causes us to know Him, to hear His heart. Before He came, before taking on our frame and walking with us, all we could do is wonder at the Mystery.
It’s like a sealed bottle of perfume with the fragrance hidden. Staring at the bottle speculations could be made about the fragrance contained within but it’s not known until the pouring forth. By breaking the bottle open and pouring out the perfume the fragrance can then be experienced. The room fills with the aroma—it is known. So too is the incarnation. Through the pouring forth of the Son, the fragrance of God was made known. This cracking open of His heart, this pouring out of Himself, has caused the fragrance of His name to fill all the ages. The Mystery has been revealed—now we can know what God is like.
He gave us revelation of Himself. Why? Because He wanted His heart to be known. He wanted us to experience Him. The fragrance of who He is can never be taken away, the truth has been spoken—God is near.
Just as it is impossible to take perfume and put it back in a bottle, it is impossible for the fragrance of the incarnation to stop speaking of the deep desire in the heart of God. He has opened His heart to us, now we know Him. His desire for nearness was proclaimed clearly through the Word-made-flesh. The incarnation is forever declaring the truth of His heart—“I am near. With you.”
Listen. Hear Him. Experience the fragrance of His name. Everything Jesus said and all that He did is declaring, “This is what God is like!”
Even consider how He came as a baby. What does this say about Him?
There is fragrance here.
God in a manger—this a beautiful fragrance given for us to draw nearer. Just as you would draw near and hold a newborn baby, the fragrance of His humble coming is drawing us close and speaking to us, “I am close. Here, with you. Embrace me.” The Word is speaking.
No matter the circumstance, no matter the accusations that pull at the heart. We have been given truth. The Word has spoken and the Word is speaking, making known the desires in the heart of God. Through the pages of the Gospels we can hear Him, saying, “I am here. Near. Present.”
“There is just a small widow of time
where love can be chosen through the fire”
January hit the 9-year mark for me here at IHOPKC. As I was reflecting back on the years, the generosity and kindness of the Father snuck up on me. I felt His pursuit of my heart over the years. I felt His consistent, steady reaching for my heart— that most days was so subtle it came nearly unnoticed. But that Tuesday morning in the 6am prayer meeting, I felt it.
I remembered how I came to IHOP terrified yet hungry to know more of God. Committing to what I felt was so HUGE in the moment, that 6-month internship. I wanted to know Him more so I gave that weak “yes” and offered those 6 months and He gave me 9 years—and counting!
How much more does He give those who ask? How much more will He give if we keep on asking, seeking, and knocking? He is a good Father who delights to give.
God is our Father—a generous Father who finds joy in giving. It’s who He is, it’s what He does—He gives. And the best that He gives is Himself. God gives God. There are no limits. There is no end. He gives.
And He loves us deeply. He cannot stay at a distance. Our Father will go to any lengths to tell us of His deep desire for us. He will not stop pursuing our hearts.
As I was thinking about the incredible reach of the Father, I was reminded of a story that is such a great picture of His pursuit of our hearts. (And in the telling I get to brag on my own Dad too; it’s a win, win!!)
It was nearly 9pm, a normal evening. When I heard a knock on my front door. I was not expecting anyone and when I opened the door, my Dad standing there.
“Dad! What are you doing here?!” was the question that exploded from my mouth. He was not greeted with a hello or a hug—shock had consumed me—this unexpected visit from my farming-father who lived over 1000 miles away brought instant questions and even some fears into my mind.
Suddenly I was thinking something terribly wrong had happened for him to come now—to come unexpected. I anticipated the worst. He just stood there and said, “Can I come in?” His simple question brought me out of shock and back into reality.
He came in. Sat down. Not in a hurry, without concern on his face. “Dad! Why are you here? How did you get here? I asked again, waiting for the bad news to come at any moment. Sitting calmly on the couch he said, “I rented a car at the airport and drove here.” ( Gotta love that practical answer)
“But WHY?” I couldn’t understand.
Then he spoke revealing the love and endless pursuit of our Father:
He said, “I came because I had something to tell you. I was in the barn last night feeding the cows and I was praying for you. I felt the overwhelming love of the Father for you and I had to tell you. It was so strong that I knew I couldn’t email what I felt. After I thought about it I knew a letter was not enough either. Even a phone call would not explain what I was feeling. I had to come. I had to come and tell you that your Father in heaven loves you and will go to any lengths to pursue you. As your earthly father I love you but this love is just a meager representation of your Father’s love. I traveled this small distance as a representation of how He will go the great distance to tell you of His love. Nothing is too much for Him; nothing is too costly for Him. He will do whatever it takes to pursue and win your heart.”
I was in even greater shock now! I know my Dad. I know his life. He is a farmer, a pastor, a busy man. It is incredibly hard for him to leave home. I knew that traveling was a real sacrifice. He really did go to great lengths to come here and I knew it.
His words impacted me but I was still waiting for the “and”—the real reason he came. I was waiting for the words that would follow the paragraph he had just spoken that would make sense of it all. But nothing followed.
“How long are you staying?” I questioned. “My flight leaves in the morning.” Another wave of shock hit me. In the morning!? This is when it became real to me; he added nothing else to the trip to make it worthwhile. He had no other agenda or purpose for coming. There really was no. other. reason. He really did travel across the country just to tell me of the Fathers deep love and great pursuit.
And then twelve short hours after he had arrived he was gone.
But his words—they lingered.
This is what our Father is like, He pursues. And this is what I felt that Tuesday morning in the Prayer Room. I felt Him reaching for my heart through the years.
Our God is a Father who wants us to be with Him. He will come to us for no other reason, with no other agenda but to give us Himself!
This is truth: God is our Father. And He is a good Father. He simply cannot stay away. He will go to any lengths to tell us of His deep desire for us. And He will never stop pursuing our hearts.
Zechariah was godly, blameless, righteous, holy and faithful, but the years of disappointment had made his spirit hard and crusty with unbelief. Even a visitation from an archangel like Gabriel could not penetrate through the hardness of his heart. God used the prison of muteness to soften Zechariah’s heart and restore him to faith and prophetic discernment. Let God’s holy saints learn a lesson, that we not allow the years to harden our hearts and dull our spirits to God’s powerful purposes. —Bob Sorge
“Disappointment had made his spirit hard and crusty with unbelief”—every time I read these words they are like an alarm resounding within my soul, like an arrow shooting straight into my heart; I question, “Have I become hardened in the waiting? Have the passing years and disappointments formed a layer of unbelief within me?”
Because waiting is not neutral.
A season of waiting will lead in one of two directions; the heart will be drawn into dependence on God or it will be pulled away distancing from Him. There is a subtle residue that wants to settle upon the soul in waiting, a slow hardening from the heat of delay. The pause is simply our opportunity to respond. When we find ourselves in a season of waiting we can either lean into God or withdrawn from Him—distance or dependence.
We get to choose.
In the trail of waiting, a dependent heart continues in perseverance—believing endurance—which produces hope within the soul. But a distant heart grows weary in the waiting and begins accusing; unbelief slowly takes root, which produces bitterness within the soul.
It is in these moments, when the familiar cycle of pain comes again, when the hour is incredibly late and the night is the darkest it has ever been that we get to choose—distance or dependence.
If you are in a season of waiting or have been disappointed once again do not loose heart. Persevere. Choose now—this very moment—to lean into the One who upholds all things.
And remember that you are not alone. Scripture is filled with the friends of God who endured long years of waiting with many disappointments along the way.
Joseph waited with a dream in his heart but was exiled from his family and ended up living in prison for countless days before it came to pass. David was anointed king but had to wait for the throne and even became a fugitive in the process. Abraham waited and carried a promise of descendants—as vast as the stars, as many as the sands of the seas—but did not carry a child in his arms for decades. And the list goes on throughout those sacred pages.
Why? I believe it is because the Lord is after something in the journey.
Waiting is a fire that burns away that which resists His leadership. It burns hot until all that remains is a weak but steadfast resolve to say, “yes” to His ways.
Trusting in the Lord is not just waiting for the answer but it is trusting IN the One who is the Answer. Perseverance is not just waiting for our circumstances to change but it is waiting ON the One who never changes.
How do we persevere? Prayers mixed with tears are the weapons with which to fight the subtle hardening that tries to form within our hearts.
In the wrestle we must let the tears fall while our prayers arise—pouring out our soul to the Lord—this is the way to dependence. In the long hours remember who He is and confess the truth again, saying it right to Him—“You are good, always good.”
Perseverance takes place here in these quiet moments, in these simple exchanges, when our prayers ascend and our tears descend.
An open, vulnerable, trusting, heart continues to look up through the waiting, to look up after a disappointment; like a child looking expectantly to his father once again. If we keep our eyes fixed on Him, over the passing of time our hearts will remain soft—believing.
We get to choose perseverance—no matter how long the season of waiting lingers we can put our hope fully in the God-of-hope because He is faithful. We get to choose dependence—no matter how impossible the situation looks—we can rest in the God-of-the-impossible because He is good.
Trust. Rest. Wait. And then wait a little longer. Persevere. Endure. Lean. And then hold fast—one more day. It is a holy season, a sacred time when you find yourself in waiting, because we only get to choose dependence on this side of eternity.
To the one waiting, in any capacity: you have been given a holy holding place. He loves you that much that He is willing to create this circumstantial nexus that would call forth what moves Him: you, cracked wide-open before Him — vulnerable, bleeding … and hungry. Let me hand you a permission slip. Hope again. Wrestle with the God of hope. Your heart, exposed, will graft a new way to His. —Sara Hagerty
“He loves you that much that He is willing to create these circumstances…”
Can you look at your delay or disappointing circumstances and see the deep love of the Father pursuing your heart? If not, look a little closer. He is working it all together for your good because He desires all of you. He is actively, presently and continually pursuing your heart—until He has it all. A fully given and dependent heart is what He is after.
And He is waiting too; He is waiting for you to look up.
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1–2