For reasons that seem too many to list, I've spent basically the last 24+ hours crying, feeling bad, being tired, or feeling overwhelmed (mostly a combination of these things all at once). My sweet, sweet husband has been a great encouragement to me, praying with and for me, and encouraging me with Bible verses about how near God is, and how good he is. But when you feel far from God sometimes that kind of thing can seem like head knowledge that has no bearing on your heart or mentality. I am grateful for how Jeff loves me like this, even if at the time it didn't help bring me out of my slump. At breakfast this morning I prayed that Jesus would remember his words in Matthew 28, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Jeff later suggested I stay home from church this morning and enjoy the peace and quiet while he took the kids to church, and as tempting as that was I felt my spirit encouraging me to go to church and partake in communion because that was what I needed more than eating Pop Tarts and watching corny Hallmark movies on Netflix.
Our call to worship was a passage from Isaiah, part of which read "You shall no more be called Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her...as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you." (Is. 62:4, 5). I thought, "Wow, what a nice thought! That God would actually think those things about me. I certainly feel desolate right now, so I'm looking forward to not feeling that way." Yes, I needed to hear that. I felt God moving towards me.
Then, our assurance of pardon was a passage from Romans which included Romans 5:3-4, "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope," In crept my cynicism and I couldn't help but smirk. I thought "Oh yea, I'm really rejoicing over here in my suffering. Looking forward to the part about hope, Lord!" And then God rushed in.
We sang "How He Loves" and I couldn't get through the words.
He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.
And oh, how He loves us, oh,
Oh, how He loves us,
How He loves us
In that moment, he was near and his love for me was real. My heart felt it and I cried tears of relief. That morning I had prayed for the rest the Jesus promises, and I had been wanting to feel that divine rest but in the midst of parenting a 2 and 4 year old, and being pregnant, and settling into a new house, it had eluded me. But here, in worship, God finally came! His Spirit awakened my heart and I was freed from the fog of discouragement and unhappiness that was weighing me down. I thought about how happy I was to be in church, to be with the people of God, praising God together, and listening to his words being taught alongside my brothers and sisters. I strongly believe if I would have listened to a sermon at home, or sang all those same songs at home in my living room I would not have experienced what I did during this sweet time of corporate worship.
As our pastor taught from the book of Hosea, he expounded upon how Hosea is a picture of what God's love towards us is like, in Christ. He loves me not because he needs me, but because he JUST DOES; he pursues me when I turn to other things to fulfill me; his love is a one-way love that never gets tired of loving and always gives more than it gets back; it's unconditional; it's not dependent upon my ability to perform but upon his promise to love me (and he ALWAYS keeps his promises); his love endures, there is no exit strategy. As the Jesus Storybook Bible describes it, it's a never-stopping, never-giving-up, always-and-forever love.
We took communion after the sermon, and we were reminded that when we feel unlovable, unworthy, and messed up, we might feel like running from God but really that's when we need God the most. And that's when he shows up and he shines, he LOVES us like that, just like when our kids come to us with scraped up and bloody knees, snotty noses crying and need to be consoled. Jesus said he came to save sinners, not those who think they are already good enough. The more aware I am of how short I come of being "good" the more God has to work with! In those moments when I have nothing to give, God rushes in and says, "I have been waiting for you to get to this place." The root of my sadness and discouragement, and most of my sin, is forgetting how much God loves me. When we forget this, the Gospel becomes irrelevant; situations seem impossible; being hurt seems unbearable. But when God's Spirit works within us we are reminded and we believe that we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).
I am thankful God is near. I am thankful for a church that consistently and faithfully preaches God's word and allows room for him to work in the hearts of his people. I hope that this post encourages you if you are in a rough patch and you are in Christ: God is coming. He loves you because he promises to love you always, it is not according to anything you have or haven't done and he will never stop loving you. Because he loves you, you can endure and he will bring your heart joy. "Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5). If you aren't a follower of Jesus I would encourage you to come to him. He is inviting you to come to him and find true rest, true joy and true life. I lived the first 20 years of my life without him, and the last 9 years with him, and I can tell you there is no life apart from him. Anything you think you know about Jesus, forget it all and ask him to meet you. He is faithful, he is willing and he will meet you with a love that will not let you go.