Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Grace That Is Sufficient, Faith That Is Persistent

Have you ever heard a story that just sticks with you—kind of lingering in the back of your mind like a hum? 

A friend of mine was singing at her new church this past weekend, so a few of us went to the Sunday morning service and shared some encouragement with her. The message was a series of vignettes that highlighted the power of God to intervene in situations, and to expand our faith as He keeps His promises. 

One of the featured stories was about a man in Oklahoma who happened to turn on the television and stop to watch a reality show about convicted criminals serving time in prison. The Oklahoma man was led to pray for one prisoner in particular—a young man who was serving a sentence miles and miles away in a California prison. For two years, the Oklahoma man obeyed the word that he was given from God, and he persisted in praying faithfully for the young inmate. 

Then, one Sunday morning, without any particular reason, the Oklahoma man happened to look down the aisle in his Oklahoma church. Just a few seats down, in the very same row, sat the young inmate from the TV show! From that time forward, God made a way for a discipling relationship between the two men. Willing obedience to a mysterious urging from the Spirit created a path to ministry. 

Wow! Obedience brought the men blessing and God received the glory.

In the two days since I heard that story, my mind has returned to it numerous times...probably because of how familiar I am with the strange exhilaration of receiving a very clear call from God. 

Nearly four years ago, God spoke very clearly to my heart and laid a powerful calling upon it to share His love and a very particular promise with a sister in Christ. 

The terrain of that calling has included lush, fertile plains of joy and peace as well as dry, depleted deserts of grief and sorrow...and every topography in between. Yet, by His grace, my young daughter and I have remained convicted to pray for our dear one daily and to demonstrate God's love joyfully and creatively. 

It's been a time of enormous spiritual growth even in the midst of many challenges and much pruning all around. However, there's also been a lot of waiting in the dark with only little sparks of light here and there.

This morning I found myself whispering to God inaudibly, "Please...please can I have a sign from you that my breakthrough—my look down the aisle—is coming...that our blessing and hope is coming soon?" 

Then I felt myself backspacing in my silent moment of prayer. I had nearly asked for just some small sign, but what I wanted with all my heart was an enormous sign, the breakthrough itself! Swift, immediate, bold blessing. That's what I was after down deep in my heart. 

Even so, I felt hesitant to ask for more. God had heard my heart; within moments a friend messaged me to say she'd seen some robins in a park where I often take nature photos. 

Robins are very special in South Florida, and extremely special in our hearts. They symbolize the life of someone very precious to us—someone now in heaven. After several years of not seeing the robin migration come through South Florida, this year God showered us in robins right after the New Year. We had to drive a few hours to find them, but they were singing and bobbing all around us that day. We held onto the joy and promise of that sighting for weeks afterward.

Two robins in a bird bath: Rockledge, FL - January 5, 2013

Robin on the roof of a garage: Rockledge, FL - January 5, 2013

Receiving the news that there were some robins around town—particularly when the joy of our January blessing was becoming somewhat difficult to fix upon—my heart washed with fresh hope. Maybe my look down the aisle was, as my daughter believes, right around the corner and coming our way soon! 

I set out for the park with camera and binoculars in hand so that I could document this blessing that would lead soon to our fully answered prayer. 

But when I arrived at the park and began looking around, the familiar doubt—in myself, in my calling, and even in God—began to stir. I walked and looked for more than two hours, but I could not find the robins.

Somewhere along the way my mind began drifting in and out of despair to Scripture, spiritual songs, and hymns of the faith. The words kept coming and swirling about me like a tornado in slow motion. I half expected to see Dorothy and Toto!

Does the hawk fly by your wisdom...Consider the birds of the air...Consider the lilies of the field...Are not two sparrows sold for a penny...How much more will your Father who is in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him...Grace that is greater than all my sin...Your grace is enough for me...

Roaming aimlessly around the park looking for robins, and trying to cling to hope and faith for my miraculous answer to prayer, I could not help interrogating my spirit. 

Did I really believe those words? Did I really believe that the God who provides for the red shouldered hawk and the flowers I was photographing would also see me through the calling He gave me? Would He really comfort and heal the heart of our dear one? Would He move the mountains, make the crooked straight, and be faithful to reconcile and restore our beautiful sisterhood? Was His grace REALLY sufficient for me?

I looked all around. 

Could I accept as sufficient the grace of simply knowing the robins were there in the park with me...somewhere...even if I could not see them?

Could I rejoice in the blessing of bees drinking nectar?
The blessing of marsh rabbits nibbling the grass? 

Insects morphing into beautiful moths and butterflies?
Wood storks fishing in the swamp?

The red shouldered hawk scanning his territory?

The crab spider waiting patiently?
If I tell others how God's grace and sufficiency is evidenced in nature, am I not responsible for taking those words to heart and trusting in their truth? 

Wasn't the grace and promise all around me with the robins I couldn't see? I knew I couldn't deny God's presence and goodness in all I was seeing, so I had to acknowledge His presence and goodness in all that I could not yet see.

I wish I could tell you that I left the park feeling fulfilled and encouraged. My heart was still aching for our dear one...and for our look down the aisle. 

I still longed to return home and find her at my doorstep ready with one of her warm hugs and a reaffirmation of our God-ordained bond. But even in my longing and impatience, I knew I had been given the grace to remain obedient to my calling and to love faithfully and whole heartedly.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7
New International Version (NIV)
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Ruth 1:16-18

New American Standard Bible (NASB)
16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. 17 Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.”18 When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

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