Thorns & Thistles

There’s a trite saying, “Whenever God closes a door, He opens a window.” Well, on some level, I feel as though God has opened a door for me in one part of my life, and I have walked through into a wonderful place. But then in another area, I feel like I have been sentenced to the dungeon. God has brought a test my way that I don’t want to deal with. I was ready to take a deep breath and enjoy a respite after the recent Whirlwind Season, but I feel like He has sent a new “thorn in my side” to “harass” me. When I first realized what was happening, I wanted to throw a tantrum. I wanted to stand on the train tracks with my hands out in front of me to see if I could stop the train. I knew that my reaction was self-centered because it assumed the situation was all about me. I didn’t want to cause a train wreck, so I restrained my response. As soon as I took time to pray about what was happening, I got this awful sense that it actually was about me. God was convicting me about the condition of my heart. His Spirit was telling me that I had lessons to learn that could only be taught in the dungeon. I understand; He’s not going to let me get too comfortable with life.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. . .I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:1-2, 5

Usually, realizing that God is working in a situation helps me to improve my attitude. But this time, I just wanted to scream, “Please, Lord, anything but this!” I reminded myself that He knows best, and I sought to pray about it more. So far, the dungeon isn’t as bad a place as I thought it would be, but it is clear that I am there to grow some fruits of the Spirit that I lack. Thus far, the only torture I’ve received has been getting ‘a taste of my own medicine.’ I have some awareness of my flaws and bad habits, but nothing puts them in the spotlight more than being exposed to the same behaviors in other people. It feels as though God is hammering away at the very core of who I am, while pushing me to grow the fruit that is most difficult for me to produce.

The same day I realized that God was doling out a new test, I was listening to Chris Tomlin (again) as I drove home from work. The song First Love came on. “You are still my first love,” he sang through the speakers. Talk of God as a “first love” has always bothered me because of the romantic inferences. It is hard for me to fit it with God, but as I grow in faith and knowledge of the Lord and His Word, I know that it does fit. And as I sat at a red light listening to the song, I felt a punch-to-the-gut realization. It hit me how I should really feel about the situation.  I thought about how I would respond if I were in love with a man and he asked me to do something similar to what God was asking of me. It is easy to picture myself doing what I don’t want to do in order to please a person that I love. I also recognize the joy of pleasing a loved one with that kind of sacrifice. So, why don’t I feel that way when God is making such a clear request of me? Is it because I don’t feel His physical presence or affection that I tend toward selfishness? I should love Him and feel such attachment that when He asks something of me, I can’t help but say, “Anything for You!”

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

As I thought through all of this, I realized that a denial of His request must break His heart. He has loved me with a love that surpasses all, and I am hesitant to obey His requests. The truth is that there is no dungeon or torture; the Savior of my life wants to transform my heart for the better. I reached the point of surrender to this, yet I fear I am still begrudging. I often feel that I have faith but not love. I’ve heard it said that, if you lead with your actions, your heart will follow. Yet, I think God wants my love for Him to be what leads me to act. It is my prayer that God will help me to love Him more and to desire Him above all else.

Life always has challenges; that is nothing new. As long as I live, God will not stop working to mold and perfect me, but He also will never place on me more than I can handle. As I work on this blog in my new home, enjoying the peace, quiet, space, and comfort of it, I can’t help but be reminded of God’s faithfulness and steadfast love toward me.  Even in times of trial, His blesses us “far more abundantly than all we ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20)

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