Monday, August 31, 2009

The Ache of Love

I spent the better part of my life living as a religious woman. I did what I was told a good Christian should do. Performance and striving were a way of life for me. Guilt, condemnation and shame were frequent visitors. The more they visited, the busier I became.

In all honesty, I believed that my religious acts would somehow bring me the closeness I desired with God. If I followed all the rules maybe it would be enough to draw near to me. I could believe God would fellowship with me when I was doing religious stuff. But would He be with me in the mundane? I wasn’t so sure. I was afraid to slow down long enough to find out.

That’s when the invitation arrived.

“Jewel, come to the wilderness with Me.” “I want to teach you how to see me as husband, instead of Master.”

His isolation is the opposite of our isolation. He pulls us away in order to reveal. We, on the other hand, isolate in order to hide.

There’s something magical about the land of isolation with God. Pretense and performance are removed. It’s just you and Him. It’s in that place that you begin to discover what you are made of, what’s really inside of you.

One of my favorite movies is “Hildalgo”. It’s the story about a man named Frank Hopkins. He’s half Indian, half white man. Tormented by a painful childhood memory he loses sight of his heritage. He’s forgotten who he is.

He’s known for his endurance horse racing. A representative of an Arabian nation sees him in a wild west show. He invites him to come to his country and compete in a race against a royally bred Stallion. The race will be held smack dab in the middle of the desert. He will face elements he’s never experienced before while all alone in a foreign country. He accepts.

The ride in the desert was laden with obstacles and challenges. It was a long, hard, arduous ride. Frank’s determination and will kept him from giving up, though at times he wanted to. As he fought against each obstacle, the man inside began to break out. Little by little he reengaged with who he was. By the end of the race he knew what was in him.

One of the reasons I love that movie is because it speaks to me of my own story. God had allured me to His isolation. Alone with my kids, my husband and God, unable to serve in any capacity, I began to see the many masks I had worn. What I had relied on for value was what I could do. I had allowed my ability to fulfill religious requirements to define who I was.

In the wilderness, His words began to pierce into a deep place in my soul. He told me He had no requirements. There was nothing I “should” do. He ached for me to need to be loved by Him. That was all. He began to reveal to me who He was and who I was to Him. Life turned a corner for me. I will never be the same.

Aches within me began to rise up to the surface. I was made aware of longings that almost took my breath away. It was then I realized. That’s His heart beating in me, inviting me to join Him where He is.

In the yearnings of my heart I realize that those things I long for, are the things He longs for too. Made in His image, His fingerprints are all over my life. Coming to terms with who I am has unleashed Him in me.

Sometimes the desires unfulfilled bring a pain all their own. It’s in those times that I identify with Him the most. He longs for intimacy with mankind in a way that most will likely never fully understand.

His heart has been misrepresented and misunderstood. It’s not our fulfilled requirements He’s after. It us. God aches for us. It’s that simple.

"Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. Hosea 2:14

©copyrighted: 2009 Julie L. Todd

Friday, August 28, 2009

It's All Him

The tears rolled down my face as my husband prayed. He knew it was imperative that he take me to the Father. All it took was one look at my troubled face to know.

We had just gone over the budget for our current and impending expenses. The weight of how it would all work out was bearing down on me. It’s not uncommon for me to feel it. As he prayed I knew it wasn’t about the money. It was about something much deeper.

I’ve always hated money. There never seems to be enough of it. We live frugally. I’m good with making it stretch. But this, how would I manage all this? As David prayed, specific words penetrated into some deep place. I couldn’t shake them. “These bank accounts and expenses are yours, Father.” Why did I feel so detached from those words? I knew the truth. All I have is His. Why then did it all feel like mine?

I realized that an invitation to look a little deeper had arrived. I knew I needed to draw away with Jesus and talk.

Jesus, why does the money get me so?

“It represents security.” “You don’t like the unknown.” “But I want to tell you something, Jewel.” “The unknown is where you find Me.” “Do you see that?”

There is no peace here, Jesus. Something is amiss. The money is beyond my ability to figure out. I’ve been here before, many times... Why haven’t I learned this?

“You haven’t been ready to fully let go until now.” “You’ve held onto the belief that it’s up to you.” “How many times have you said, “I’m in charge of the money?”

Too many to count.

“It’s what you believe, isn’t it?” Yes. “Is it really yours?” "Are you really in charge?"

“Jewel, I never knew how the provision for my needs would come.” “But I knew that I and all that I had, was His” “I knew He took care of that which was His.” “You’re forgetting that.” “Don’t forget that, Jewel.” “It’s imperative.”

“It’s all His, Jewel.” “How could you possibly figure out what is His?” “It’s His to figure out.” “No wonder you are weary. This isn’t yours to carry.” “You listen, you follow, it’s that simple. He’ll do the rest.” “You’ll be amazed at how He works.” “He does like to show off, after all.”

“Here’s the thing, Jewel.” “If this is about you figuring things out, it won’t be about Abba.” “Do you see that?” “You’re trying to make sense of something that is His.” “Let Him figure it out and then guide you.” “There is a difference, you know.” “He makes everything work.” “Let it go.” “You’re off the hook.” "I've got great news for you." "You are no longer in charge of making everything work.” “He is.” “You know what’s really ironic?” “You weren’t making it work anyways.” “It was all Him.”

The words ring out and pierce a place in my soul. I know I have just had an encounter with truth. Truth embraced always sets free. All this time I’ve been trying to make something work that wasn’t mine in the first place.

I’ve been carrying something that was never mine to carry. I’m not good with the money. He in me, is. It’s not up to me. It’s never been up to me. It never will be. All along He has carried me. All that I am and have belongs to Him. It’s all His. He will carry what belongs to Him. I’m off the hook. I see it now.

My Father is wealthy. He is the Creator of the Universe. Everything belongs to Him. He carries my portion for me. At just the right moment in time He will release what is needful. He has my todays. He has my tomorrows. After all He is the Creator of them all. Once again the treasures of the kingdom are revealed to my heart. Once again I am undone.

©copyrighted: 2009 Julie L. Todd

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Fruit of His Labors

When the words came out of the pastor’s mouth I knew they had value. What stunned me was how exact they were. In fact they were almost identical to what I had written in my journal just days before. No one but God knew.

On November 20, 2004 I wrote, “I know that I am a horse in the gate itching for the signal to go off. Yet I know that can take me to a false start.”

On November 29, 2004, the pastor spoke “Don’t give up hope, fight for hope. I see a horse in the gate stomping to get out.” “You’re a sprinter, get in do the job, get it done.” “But God wants you to know that you are built for endurance. You are an endurance runner.” “Anchor hope with endurance.”

When something like that happens I know that God is not only in my midst but something is on my horizon. Prophetic words are often released as encouragement before God extends an invitation to walk with Him on a new path. As I walk with Him through the hills and valleys of life’s circumstances, He works behind the scenes establishing the fruit of His labor.

I’ve recently started walking my neighborhood several days a week. Being in the mountains the steep roads challenge my out of shape body. It would be really easy to give up and find something more pleasurable to do with my time. But I want to lose weight, I want to feel better, so I press on.

There’s one specific patch of road that is my greatest challenge. It’s the incline that gets me to my driveway. As I come upon it and look at how far I’ve yet to go, it’s then the body does it’s talking to the mind and the mind tries to convince the will. “You’ll never make it.” “Look how steep it is.” “You’re really hurting.” “Quit here.”

At that point I have no choice but to set my face like a flint. If I focus on my feet and that next step, I keep moving, endurance kicks in. If I look around me at what’s before me, I know I’ll never make it. I’ll give up.

The years since that prophetic word, have felt much like that incline. So many times I’ve wanted to give up. Pain, heartache, weariness have spoken to my heart. But Jesus inside kept calling me back to one step at a time. “Set your face like a flint on me.”

Today I was challenged to ask Jesus the following question: “What one aspect of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is really active and growing in you?”

I asked, He answered. “Long-suffering”. What? Are you kidding me? Really? I was shocked!

I would have never picked that one. It’s never been true of me. It’s not one of my natural characteristics. I’ve never liked waiting, ask my family. Just like that horse at the gait, I’ve always been ready to move. Patience was not a characteristic anyone would have used to describe me.

But Jesus did.

I was taken back when I looked up the Greek meaning of long-suffering: patience, endurance, constancy, steadfastness, perseverance.

I see it now. These last few years, God’s been making me into an endurance runner. Out of desperate need, I’ve had to keep my eyes focused like a flint on His face to move me through that one step in front of me. In the process, little did I know, He’s been renewing my mind, by exchanging my broken flesh with the character of His indwelling Spirit. He says I’m long-suffering. Amazing. He really does work miracles. He’s transforming my mind.

Life takes on a deeper meaning as I see through His eyes what He’s doing inside me. Today He revealed the fruit of His labors. It matters. It really does. Endurance is having it’s perfect work. As I look into His eyes I see joy at the harvest He has borne in my heart. It makes it all worthwhile. For my light and momentary troubles are achieving for me an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

What’s Jesus harvesting in your heart? Why not ask Him to reveal to you that one characteristic of the Holy Spirit He's now developing in you?

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4

©copyrighted 2009, Julie L. Todd

Monday, August 10, 2009

Free To Be

I sat in Starbucks with the beautiful teenage girl listening to her heart. She was telling me of how Jesus found her. I asked her what her greatest challenge in life was. I thought she might speak of her relationship with her mother, or a subject at school, or even knowing what to do with her life once high school ended. But it wasn’t so. Her greatest challenge was to pray for everyone she needed to pray for.

I felt the weight of her burden. I’ve carried the burden myself in years past. But Jesus has shown me a different way. It has breathed the breath of life into my soul. Maybe it would hers too.

Jesus is at the right hand of the father always interceding. At the same time He indwells me. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, Christ now lives in me. He’s not just someone who came to take away our sins, He now indwells each and every one of us. I don’t think we get that sometimes. But if we accepted His invitation for an exchanged life, it is our reality.

If Christ indwells us and is always interceding, then could it be that at all times prayer is going out of us while we are unaware?

I am convinced that everything is by His invitation. Where He wants me to join Him, He places a call, burden or desire on my heart. It doesn’t really require any effort. Instead it elicits a response.

There have been times when my heart has been so burdened for another that I couldn't get it off my mind. I’ve come to believe it is His invitation to join Him before the Father. It doesn’t require a discipline to pray, or even a list to remind myself. My heart is drawn to the point that I cannot NOT pray.

Which leads me to another point. What is prayer any ways? Is it sentences strung together that sound spiritual? Or could it be even an ache of the soul for another? Doesn’t He read our thoughts (Psalm 139:2)? Doesn’t He look on the heart of man? (I Samuel 16:7)

I’ve come to believe He reads our groans, tears, and thoughts; puts them into legible words and offers them to the Father. For at times, there are no words to be spoken.

There was a time when all I had was tears. The deep sobs wracked my body as I felt the intensity of life bearing down on me. There were no words to offer, only exhaustion. Yet, He came for me. Without a word spoken, Jesus came and lifted me up. It changed my paradigm. For I had been taught that we had to pray with words about everything. I hadn’t uttered a word, I didn’t have any. Yet Jesus read my tears and came.

I’ve come to believe that this is His way. Sometimes there are words to speak. They simply pour out of me. Other times I have groans and aches. And then there are times I have only tears. Each one is an invitation. Each one represents a heart’s cry. Each time He responds.

The beauty is that we are free to be in the moment. As we rest in His life lived in and through us we can just be. His Spirit indwelling us will invite us. It will be a response instead of a requirement. He will burden our hearts with those things that He desires us to join Him in.

I could see it in her eyes as I spoke. She’d never heard anything like it. I know, I hadn’t either. Complex Christianity has just been made simple. Be with God in the moments of life, knowing He will invite you into where He desires you to be. No more struggle and strain to “get ‘er done” we are now free to just be.

Also posted at the Internet Cafe:

©copyright: 2009 Julie L. Todd

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Hiding in the Paths & Doorways

We started the conversation as dinner was being prepared. The young couple was giving us a glimpse into their hearts. They were on a journey that had taken them out of a church in town. Once outside the doors, they became aware of it’s trappings. Religious activity had covered their lives.

You could see the pain in their eyes as they spoke. Instead of showing them the path to the Father’s love they had become encumbered with commitments they were expected to fulfill. It happens to the best of us. It’s one of the downfalls of religious Christianity.

Many enter into places they have no business being because the need is great, the call is strong. They think it’s what God expects of them. Yet that’s the farthest thing from the truth.

I know this place all too well. I was once there. I wanted to work for God. I thought it was what was expected of me. Before you knew it I was sucked in, offering myself everywhere I could. It does feel good after all to be needed, wanted and valued. I rarely stopped to look before walking through an “open door”.

It was 9:00 AM on July 9th when I got the phone call. I knew something bad had happened. My daughter was crying so hard she could barely talk. “Mom I think I just got bit by a poisonous snake.” “It has a diamond shaped head.”

I tried to stay calm as I rushed to get my clothes on. Maybe she was wrong. Did she really know snakes that well?

A conversation with her father confirmed it. She had been bitten by a baby copperhead as she walked through the doorway into work. It had been hidden between the threshold and the door. She never thought to look to see what was in her path. If she had, she would have never stepped through that door.

I’ve walked through many doors in my church experience never stopping to look for traps. Everyone is needed, I was told. Being capable, I did things because I could. I moved from place to place in ministry and I was good at it. I was needed, wanted, appreciated.

I’ve since discovered something. The serpent lay hidden in many of the doorways I walked through. He deceived me into thinking that the Father expected that from me. He wanted me to find value in what I can do instead of who I was. It kept me from living loved.

Things became twisted in my understanding. I didn’t know the true heart of my Father. The enemy convinced me that this walk with God is about what I could do for God. When in fact it’s about what God wants to do in and through me.

I became busy in activities I had no business being in. My heart was far from my offering. I relished the recognition. I thought it pleased the Father.

It was then Jesus came for me. It was then I heard His call.

“Be still and know me, Jewel.” I accepted His invitation and discovered something. As I became still, my work ceased. The work became His. He began to live through me.

Jesus saw the religious trappings of old. He sees the ones of new. Walking the path with God is understanding what it’s really all about. Christ the hope of glory is our very life. He lives in us waiting to live out of us. It’s not our efforts. It’s His.

Stillness frees us from religious activity. For in stillness you learn not to move until He moves in you. Requirements and expectations no longer have a place. You find the Father’s heart which loves you as you are and invites you to where He is.

Today my husband was walking through a customer’s yard when he looked down and saw something out of the ordinary. A closer examination showed not only one, but two adult copperheads hiding on the path. They are now dead.

The serpent lurks about with his religious trappings. They are hidden in doorways of activity. They are hidden in paths of good intentions. Many will walk straight into them. They will miss the heart of the Father. For His heart calls out. "Be still dear one and know ME."

©copyrighted 2009 Julie L. Todd