Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Amazing Grace, Amazing Love

We all probably know the story behind the hymn, "Amazing Grace." How John Newton was raised by a godly mother who prayed long and hard for him, though he wandered far from his upbringing. How God patiently called and wooed him back to Himself. How instead of a life of slave trading, John became a preacher of God's Word and a hymn writer.

Last Sunday, we sang this old, familiar hymn, and as I concentrated on the words, I was struck anew with the amazing love and grace God shows to all people, even though we don't deserve it. One stanza in particular stood out to me:

The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.

Jeremiah 29:11 says God has plans for us that a good, not harmful. Sometimes when the circumstances of life seem put there to crush me, it's hard to remember that "the Lord has promised good to me."

I remember many times when it seemed God wasn't listening. He definitely wasn't on the same page as me. Everything I did created more problems. I hated my life, even though I had all I dreamed of—a loving husband, two great kids, a comfortable home, a good church, loving friends and family. However, in the space of a few years, several of my close family members died (all with the Lord), I'd had two miscarriages, and my dreams of becoming a writer was farther and farther out of reach.

Instead of focusing on God and the blessings He'd given me, I focused on what I didn't have. I became more and more self-centered, and I saw everything (mostly little things—delays, disappointments, plans going awry) as God determined to make me miserable. The more I struggled for control over my life, the less I had. I allowed my daydreams free reign—a trait I developed as a child, carried though into my teen years (where my rebellion found its expression), and on into my adult life. When things were less than ideal, I escaped into my fantasy world, where my "prince" would come to rescue me and take me away from all the crappy stuff and never allow me to suffer again.

Finally my attitude landed me exactly where I said I'd never be—in a major depression. My mother and husband both tried to get me to see it. Friends at church questioned my frantic need to be involved in (and in control of) every area of ministry. I'd assure everyone that once I got through whatever busy time I was going through (mostly of my own making), once I'd guided my children through the next "stage" in their lives, once I had a few moments of "spare" time, then everything would be fine. Only it never happened. I'd hear messages at church, teach Bible lessons myself, of building a relationship with the Lord, of walking in faith, of the rewards of godly living. And I'd long to actually experience that . . . But I came to the conclusion that God wasn't pleased with my efforts. He certainly never spoke to me. If He wasn't going to step in and take all of the crud away, then I would work even harder to control the circumstances and the people who were bent on making life miserable.

I told my mother, Roger, and friends who tried to intervene to mind their own business, pray for me if they wanted, but don't try to "handle" me. I was fine! Thank you very much. Until one morning I reached out to help my son with the zipper on his coat, and his sister stepped in between us, thinking I was getting ready to slap him. In that moment, I really heard for the first time what I was saying to them both—horrible things that I'd grown up hearing from my dad . . . and had vowed I would never, ever say to my children or husband.

It was then I realized that God had been standing a distance away (where I'd put Him), patiently calling me in His still, small voice. Patiently beckoning me to come to Him and rest. Allowing me to run until I was too tired to run any longer.

A portion of the book I reviewed last Friday (Word Gets Around by Lisa Wingate) gives a wonderful picture of God: “There’s a lot of us think God is like my father was. They think He just throws on the rope and keeps the pressure up until we choke down, and when we go the wrong way, He lays on the blacksnake and the spur. . . . But you see, that’s now how a good horseman works. A good horseman is patient. He’s quiet. He knows that the horse’s natural state is to live in partnership. Deep down way down in its instincts, that animal realizes that isolation puts it in danger, makes it vulnerable. The horseman sees that truth all the while the animal is circlin’ the corral, squealing and kicking and trying to keep as far away as he can, and so the horseman just waits. He waits because he knows the nature of the horse. He waits when the animal does wrong. He waits when it fights and runs away. He just moves real quiet around the corral. He lets that horse run all its wants, wear itself out as much as it needs to. Eventually, the horse figures out things aren’t good out there by the fence. It stops and turn to the horseman, and comes into the center, and sees that’s wehre peace is. That’s where safely is. That’s where rest and comfort lie. . . .

“God is a good horseman. He waits while we circle the fences of our lives—whatever they are, whether it be a bad childhood or a destructive habit, family problems, an addiction, a personal tragedy, an inability to forgive someone else or to allow ourselves to ask forgiveness, or believe we deserve it. The Good Horseman waits, and each time we turn and look at Him, He stretches out His hand, slow and quiet, until finally, sooner or later, we reach for it, and we come to the center with Him, and find that peace was waiting there all along.”

I was that horse, going through the many danger, toils, and snares, and trying to control them to fit into my picture of a perfect life. That February day seventeen years ago, I finally reached for God's hand, I finally gave up. And found the peace I'd been looking for.

Since then, life hasn't really gotten any easier. In many ways, it's been harder. But I now rest in the strength of God's amazing grace and love. He has promised good to me. He helped me break the pattern of daydreaming, helped me "look to Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith," helped me see that true peace and joy comes when I stop running, when I stop pushing against the boundaries He protects me with, stop trying to control things I never had control of in the first place.

I'm not perfect at it, but I'm learning. And I praise God for continuing to "grow" me and draw me closer to Him.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.

1 comment:

Jan Parrish said...

So very timely for me. God is moving in ways I don't understand. All I can do is just trust that He knows the direction He wants me to go in.

Amazingly anointed song that moves me every time. He is my portion.