Yesterday I did one of those tasks that is a sure sign of summer’s end. I clipped the dead heads off of daisies in our front garden. As much as I love fall and feel rather giddy at the thought of turning leaves, bonfires, golden fields, and fuzzy sweaters, I was sorry to see them go.
I love that God created flowers. Not only do they add color and beauty to our world, but in their intricate design and fragile life, they offer insight into the relationship between the created thing and the wise Creator.
As I clipped and watched bald seed heads fall to the ground, I thought of how beautiful the white petaled daisies had been a few weeks ago. I reassured the stick-like remnants of past glory that this pruning was for their good — that their dead buds needed to be discarded so when springtime came, they could be more beautiful than ever.
While my words might have been addressed to the flowers in my hands, I knew they were meant for myself…
Oh why, redeemed one, do you stubbornly hold on to your old dead nature? Why are you so reluctant to abandon sinful attitudes that you are now free from?
These postures of the heart no longer have a part with you. They no longer define you or have dominion over you. “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses” (Colossians 2:13) You are a new creature in Christ — shed the old bud so the new one can grow. Loose your hold on desires and attitudes of the flesh because God promises to fill you with the abundant life.
Leave the old sinful habits at the foot of the cross so God can blossom the nature of the risen Christ within you. “So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus…now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification, and its end, eternal life” (Romans 6:11,22).
Love replaces anger.
Peace replaces fear.
Faith replaces doubt.
Humility replaces pride.
Contentment replaces jealousy.
The new flower is far more beautiful.
Yes, Lord, Your way is better. Thank you for planting seeds of sanctification in my heart. Teach me to discard the old me and patiently, trustingly, joyfully seek the new me — Christ in me — to take root, bud, and blossom.
>A storm was brewing up there in the sky. It’s approach came threateningly closer as omnious dark clouds joined together across the sky. The wind sent gusty warnings and the trees trembled in anticipation. Any minute now, the heavens would burst open.
And there I was standing in the middle of the lawn with a dissembled outdoor canopy. Various pegs and poles of all shapes and sizes lay scattered around my feet and a tangled mess of rope rested in my hands. My eyes, like the clouds above me, were full to the brim and just waiting for the storm inside me to boil over.
For a few weeks I had been planning to have a stand at the local farmers market. But in order to sell baked goods outdoors in the middle of August, I would need a tent. And the one lying in pieces about me was all wrong. With characteristic unorganized impulsiveness, I never assumed the canopy which occupied a conspicuous corner of the garage would be anything but perfect and didn’t bother to test it out till the evening before the big day.
Plan fail. There was no way this tent was going to work for this market. And this would be the weekend to rain. Oh, that I would think through plans before acting on them!
After giving myself an animated scolding, I racked my brain for any solutions. The only thing I could think of was to strap an umbrella to my chair. Much help that would be in the event of a downpour. I would sooner give up the whole idea and let the refrigerator packed full of cookies, muffins, and cakes go to rot than be so ashamed.
Truthfully, I was acting pretty silly. All week, I had patted myself on the back for working out many details by my clever self. Now I was painfully embarrassed by my incompetence in providing what I so obviously needed. My hurt pride refused any help from well-intentioned family members, but to my surprise, my parents didn’t leave me to sort out my own sordid problems. Instead, while I blubbered and spewed over tent poles and despaired over dark clouds, they worked out a solution. What would I do without them? The next day, though rain pelted at times and the wind blew fiercely, my cookies, muffins, and I were kept safely dry under a brand new tent. Perfectly suited to its task.
The more I reflect (with chagrin) on my failure to provide for my need, and my stubbornness to ask for help, the more I realized that my problem was an old one. Like Adam and Eve kind of old. After their fall into sin, the first couple needed a covering for their new found shame. And just like me, their attempts to solving their problem on their own utterly failed.
“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:7).
Fig leaves? Obviously insufficient protection. Adam and Eve needed a better covering. Even with their self-made clothes, they were still too ashamed to face God. But sometimes when we are so internally focused on being self-sufficient, our far-sighted vision is seriously impaired.
You and I need a covering for our sin and guilt. We need protection from temptation, security, and refuge. But the covering we need, called righteousness, we are incapable of providing. Yet, we try anyway by doing good works and calling them righteous, by trusting in our own abilities to sustain and save us. All it amount to is filthy rags, puny fig leaf coverings that leave us just as unprotected as before. We can’t provide the covering we need because what we really need is protection from ourselves and our own unrighteousness.
In Genesis 3:21, God provided a better covering for Adam and Eve than their pitiful fig leaf garments. He made them coats of skin from an animal sacrifice to keep them warm and to cloak their shame. “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.“
Isn’t that beautiful? God Himself provides what I need to be acceptable in His sight. God’s covering is a gift, a work of His hands. In order to put it on, I need to discard my own works-of-righteousness fig leaves and trust in His work. Rather than the self-righteous attitude of the Pharisee who builds his feeble fortress with self-praise, I need to see my heart, deceitful and weak as it is, fall on my face and cry “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” And His mercy comes, in the form of Christ’s sacrifice He covers my unrighteousness with the righteousness of the pure Lamb.
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with salvation; he has covered me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with jewels” (Isaiah 61:10)
Who makes my covering? If I seek to build my own refuge, I am vulnerable, an easy target for temptation. “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). If the Lord covers my shame, my failures, and my sin, the robe of Christ’s righteousness is my shield against further attacks. “You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance” (Psalm 32:7). Clothed in the purity of the Lord Jesus Christ, under the wings of the Almighty, there is refuge from the storms without and the tempest within.
I am learning that everything in my life happens for a reason. Every frustration is an opportunity to confess my helplessness to the Lord, and to turn to Him, the Sustainer of all things, to provide what I cannot, to Every reminder of my helplessness is an occasion to thank the Passover Lamb for His sacrifice. Every temptation brings a chance to trust in Christ’s strength. So if it through frustration, helplessness and temptation, I learn to lay aside my fig leaves and know more of Christ, my Strength and Covering, than I guess I am willing.
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:8,9).
For if an evil host should dare
And tear the scattered waves,
Lie darkling ocean caves:
‘Tis but a surface storm — Thou art
My deep, still, resting sea.
>I know a woman who has true joy. Her eyes sparkle with kindness even though underneath her flowered cap, she has no hair. In the last few months, the devastating effects of cancer has turned her life completely on its head. Her body is tired of fighting the ravaging disease and weak from strong chemotherapy treatments that regularly throw her into bed for days. The days of health and strength seem far away as she prepares for surgery in a few short weeks.
And yet she smiles. When she speaks, her words betray no anger or bitterness or fear, but rather gentleness and encouragement. She doesn’t ask sympathy for her suffering but empathizes with the suffering of others. It is clear that she views her glass as half full and that her joy is based not on the strength of her body or the prospective future but on the One who holds her circumstances. When she asks for pray, I know she believes in its power.
I am ashamed at how I want joy at so cheap a price. I easily disregard it when the going gets tough, equating joy with fortunate circumstances. My perspective has been influenced by the world’s definition of happiness — a comfortable life free from pain or struggles.
This view makes it hard to take verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:16 hard to swallow. Rejoice always? No one’s life is that good.
Is it really possible to be joyful at all times? Only if one is rooted in a Biblical definition of joy.
A joy that is not always bubbly or always laughing, but is content.
A joy that is not dependent on favorable circumstances, but a faithful God.
A joy that is not forced or faked, but is a natural outflow from a full heart
Basing happiness on the state of earthly variables — money, health, relationships — can never last. When the equilibrium is upset, we are plunged into a whole slew of unhappy emotions: disillusionment, discouragement, fear, anger.
Genuine enduring joy is founded in Philippians 4:4 – “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
Rejoice. Not in my achievements, my good life, my health, my friendships. Rejoice in the Lord. In His faithfulness and goodness that never changes and never falters. As I am in the world yet independent of the world, my satisfaction should come from God and not from favorable circumstances.
Joy, then, is knowing in Whom I belong. “For I know my Redeemer lives and at the last he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19). It is seeing beyond the here and now to how God has worked in all events of my life, molding me into a vessel for His honor. True biblical abiding joy is only possible through Christ, the Source of Life, who alone fully satisfies the human heart. It does not focus on me, but is glad in God.
“Joy is not luxury or a mere accessory in the Christian life. It is the sign that we are really living in God’s wonderful love, and that love satisfies us.”* “For the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10)
“Who among us can be counted on for happiness? It is those who never take self into consideration.”**
Happiness is not the goal. The fullness of Christ — invading every part of my being, seeping into every aspect of my life, thoughts, and emotions — that is the goal to strive for and desire. And where Christ dwells, there joy is found. True, deep rooted, abiding joy that makes every moment worth living. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
* Andrew Murray, The Holiest of All
** Amy Carmichael