Sunday, July 11, 2010

Torn Apart By My Own Perverseness

Looking back, it's curious to view that phone call with my piano teacher. In one sense, it marked a turning point for the better. That victory began a gradual process that resulted in subsequent witnessing opportunities becoming easier. I had less and less fear until I was able to open up my mouth and speak without a struggle, without a flutter, mentioning the truths of the gospel message just as naturally as I would bring up any other conversation topic.

But that achievement came at a great price.

You see, every time I would be prompted to witness, I still refused to obey. It was a persistent, steadfast rebellion that trumped all my best pep talks and all my good intentions. I was in a cycle: I prayed for souls and desired them to be saved, I was faced with a witnessing opportunity and turned it down, and then I was filled with remorse and vowed to actually witness the next time.

God was very patient with me through all this.

In the midst of it all, however, I was still largely living by the flesh and not walking by faith, and therefore I was not finding the strength to obey, because I was looking to myself for it rather than accessing grace, which is the only thing that can actually empower obedience. Therefore, I experienced a lot of conflicting emotions, and all the sweet richness of love that I had experienced with my Savior seemed like it was threatening to evaporate as a consequence of my disobedience.

A pang of dread shot through my heart as the warmth and passion and delight of the love in my heart started to fade. The thought of losing the sweetest love in the world suddenly made me realize how much it meant to me. Oh, take out my eyes, destroy all my possessions, and leave me hungry every day--but don't take that! I prayed internally. But even this was not motivation enough to make the flesh do what the flesh did not want to do, because the flesh cannot and will not please God.

The next few witnessing opportunities came along, and I failed them. Flunked them. Kept quiet. Didn't obey God. And in the same measure, I began to lose that delightful, romantic, adventurous LOVE that I had experienced for the past few months. "Noooooooooo," I thought. "Why am I doing this?" And yet there the facts stood. I was not loving God, but He continued to love me. 

A few days later, I flunked yet another opportunity. I was afraid that I wouldn't get another opportunity. I figured that if I didn't ever obey, I would just be left to my own devices and live a miserable, mediocre life. I believe that a lot of the condemnation I was experiencing at this time was coming from the enemy, who kicks a person when they're down. "You're not worthy of God's love. Why should He continue to work with you?" The worst part about it was that he attributed these types of statements to God, and I took the bait and believed I was hearing from God.

But God, who is faithful, merciful, and patient, ultimately triumphed.

He gave me another opportunity, and gave me the strength to witness.

Then he gave me another, and I witnessed again.

And again.

And along the way, a few more failures crept back in, but FINALLY, the pattern was changing.

Finally, I have some obedience in my life in this area. Thus the Lord saw me safely through the crisis until He saw His will formed in me. But the Master Professor was far from finished with His pupil.

Keep Reading: One Milestone Reached
Previous Post: Jump Off A Cliff

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Jump Off A Cliff

Real life always jolts me out of the dream worlds I create for myself. In my dream world, I am the perfect witness, always going about the Lord's business and always saying just the right thing at the right time.

So I was driving along the highway, heading home from a road trip, and it was just me and the Lord. I was disappointed in myself, because that weekend, I had met with my former piano teacher with the express purpose of giving her the gospel, and I had kept my mouth shut. I KNEW that God had opened the doors for the encounter to take place, and I KNEW that I was supposed to witness to her. In an hour-long conversation, I never once brought up the real issue. I skirted it and evaded it, waiting for "the right moment," telling myself it just "wasn't right yet," and saying, "Just a little more small talk." And then it was time to go, and it was too late.

I was kicking myself. All my pep talks to myself had done no good. I could have had this glorious testimony of how I opened up my mouth to speak, and now I didn't even know when I would see her again. We lived 13 hours apart. Why had I blown it? I was so discouraged I wanted to cry. I felt like God would never be able to use me. With this track record, I thought I would probably never speak up. Going into the meeting with her, I had prayed so hard and wanted it so hard. The fact that I didn't speak made me doubt whether I ever would, since I couldn’t imagine praying harder or desiring more strongly that souls would be saved. Afterwards, the Lord prompted me to call her up and say it on the phone, but I repressed that feeling, too.

All this was going through my mind as my rental car skimmed along the highway. The Lord brought into my mind a picture, a memory, of a day when I was about 12 and we went to a place we called "The Pools." It was a beautiful mountain stream that spilled from one deep, round pool to another. You could slide down little waterfalls into the pools or jump off a high rock into the biggest pool. My 12-year-old self was a little afraid to jump off the rock, but my cousin did it so many times and obviously enjoyed herself so much that I finally worked up the courage to do it. I walked up to the edge and was ready to jump, but I lost my nerve. I backed up and tried again, but stopped myself again at the last moment. I returned to the "safe ground" and felt better, regained my courage, and tried again. When I finally jumped, the feeling was so exhilarating that I burst up out of the water with a shout of pure delight, and then I did it over and over again.

Jumping off the rock is like picking up the phone and calling your piano teacher, the Lord whispered to me.

"Ohhhh!" I thought. The wheels of my mind started turning and things started clicking. "What I really wanted to do was speak to her," I thought. "Soulwinning is the thing above all others that I really want to begin to do. But just like I wanted to jump off the rock and didn't at first, something is keeping me back from soulwinning. What is it, Lord? What gives? I don't think it's fear. I don't think I'm afraid to witness. I know how to share the gospel. I'm not afraid I won't know what to say. So what is keeping me from it?"

And in his most excellent teaching style, perfectly suited and tailored to individual little me, he proposed an exercise which would reveal the answer.

"Ask yourself this question," he proposed. "Ask yourself, 'Would I pick up the phone and call her right now?'"

I asked myself the question, phone in hand. Immediately, an excuse came into my mind. "I don't have free cell phone minutes right now, so it's not a good time."

"Now," the Lord guided me, "weigh that excuse in the balance. Weigh the pennies it will cost you to make the phone call against the value of her eternal soul."

"Oh." I thought. "Right. What will the phone call cost? Not even close to five dollars. So that excuse goes out the window."

"Ask yourself again," the Lord said.

"Okay. The question remains before me. Would I pick up the phone and call my teacher?" Immediately, an excuse came to my mind. "You're driving, and it's not a good idea to talk on the phone while you're driving. Besides, you don't even know if it's legal to drive and talk on the phone in this state."

I weighed that excuse in the balance. I had already talked to Mom twice on the phone. I simply put it on speakerphone on my lap and had no inconvenience at all. I also knew that if the phone rang again, I would not hesitate to answer it and talk to whoever called. So that excuse had to go out the window, too.

Now, Rebekah," I said to myself, "The question still stands. Would you pick up the phone and call your teacher right now?" Immediately, an excuse came to my mind. "She might not pick up."

"Rebekah!" I scolded myself. "It’s shameful how instantly you come up with excuses. I think this one must be the stupidest of all. If she doesn't pick up, then it lets you off the hook from having to talk to her, so what's the point of making an excuse that would accomplish the same objective?" And I tossed that excuse out the window.

"The question, therefore, still stands before you, weightier than ever. Will you call your teacher right now?" Immediately, an excuse came to mind. "She might not listen."

"Notice," I exclaimed to myself, "How readily you come up with excuses! Immediately they spring to your mind. Now this one doesn't even merit much consideration. Long ago I had it settled that there is no such thing as speaking the gospel in vain. Whether she listens is not the point. The point is, WILL YOU call her?"

This process went on for probably 6 or 7 excuses, all of which turned out to be stupid, false fronts, smoke screens, or bluffs. Finally, the excuses stopped coming. I even hunted around for another excuse and couldn't find one. (The scary thing is, up until that day, a single one of those excuses would have sufficed to defeat me. I would have simply accepted it as a good reason without any evaluation at all.)

When the flow of excuses stopped, I faced a sobering reality. "Rebekah, will you call your teacher? Because if the answer is no, you’ll have to face up to the fact that it stems exclusively from fear. You are afraid to do it."

Now, you have to understand my background regarding fear. I prided myself on being fearless. I considered it as repulsive and despicable to be afraid, and "fear" was practically a dirty word in my vocabulary, (except for fear of God, which I allowed). As a kid, I would rack my brain to try to think of anything I was afraid of, and come up empty, and that made me glad. So here, to admit to fear in myself was unthinkable. I could not be afraid—I must prove I was unafraid. Therefore, I had to answer yes, that I would call her. God had cleverly trapped me. He did it so deftly, so elegantly. He had me exactly where he wanted me by playing on his intimate knowledge of me.

Okay, get a grip, Rebekah. You’re going to call her, I thought. It was like walking right up to the edge of that rock at the pools and planning to jump. Suddenly, I was breathing hard, my heart was beating faster, my legs were trembling, my mind was racing. (Wow, I really am afraid, I realized.) I cried out to God for His help. I called on Him for His aid, His strength, words to say to her, calmness in my voice. As I prayed, I started to cry, tears of anguish and love for the state of my piano teacher's soul. And then, when I had finished praying, I took a deep breath, calmly opened my phone, and dialed her number. It rang one, two, three, four, five times. Then the answering machine picked up. I hung up without leaving a message.

I went through all that agony, just to do that. It really wasn’t that hard. And after I was off the phone, even though I hadn't even talked to her, I was filled with overwhelming, amazing joy. I was laughing, crying with joy at the fact that I had been victorious through the power of God. I was thanking God for his good work, for helping me, for guiding me. I was so elated. It was just like the jubilation I experienced after I faced the rock and jumped off into the water.

That experience marked a turning point in my journey—for better—and for worse.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Open Up Your Mouth and Speak

God couldn't have been more clear about my life purpose. "Open up your mouth and speak the message of the gospel to lost souls you meet."

THAT was the point it all hinged on. I thought I was a missionary when I was in Spain--I claimed to be one--I lived like a Christian--I was active in church--I passed out tracts--I visited the hospital--I did Bible studies--I led the choir--I looked for ways to do ministry. But when it came to that one thing, my lips were sealed. Down in the core of my being, I was profoundly unwilling to do one thing: activate my vocal chords for the advancement of God's kingdom.


Why would I balk at that? It should have been so simple. I talked freely and easily about anything else. Small talk, sports, politics, TV, movies, music, ideas, relationships, all came to my lips unhindered and poured out in a fluent stream as I tried to be friendly to people I met and strike up conversations "that could lead to spiritual things." I would even consciously try to coax the conversation around to making the perfect setup for linking into the gospel--where just one phrase would transition us as naturally as can be into talking about the Lord. Let's say you're talking about gardening. You say something like "Have you ever thought of the world as a garden, with people growing in it?" so that they can make a comment along those lines, which you will respond with, "It reminds me of Jesus's parable of the sower. Have you ever heard that parable?" Then you can take it from there (depending on their responses) and use that parable to explain the gospel message or ask them what kind of ground they think they are.

I got lots of these opportunities. I failed to take up any of them. The Lord would drop a perfect situation into my lap, as perfect a setup as I could wish, where all I had to do was insert that one key phrase and go from there. And every time, I would toss that phrase away and select something else, something safe, something trite or flippant or lighthearted, that would steer me away from the "danger zone" I had approached so closely.

Why, though? That was so stupid. I knew it was stupid. I would berate myself for it afterwards. Opportunities to rescue people's precious souls, just thrown out.

God called me to open up my mouth and speak, but something was stopping me. I didn't really even know what it was.

One day, he very cleverly trapped me in a real-life situation to show me exactly what the problem was.

Keep Reading: Jump Off A Cliff
Previous Post: ...The Reason We Live

Sunday, May 16, 2010

...The Reason We Live

The other breakthrough was equally a gift, a revelation. All at once God revealed my life purpose to me. I had an unmistakable and growing sense of a calling of God on my life. All at once verses seemed to be leaping out of the Scriptures to teach me that God was calling me to do something.

Now, it's not like I had never heard of being called before. I had often said, "I'm called to missions." But down at the root of it, it was nothing more than a regurgitation of the proper-sounding phrasing. Deep below all the layers of Christianese, I had to admit that I had practically called myself to missions. It was what I wanted to do, and while I don't doubt the Lord's role in giving me a heart for missions, I took the bit in my teeth and ran off without consulting God, assuming that he MUST accept that as my life calling. Wasn't that rare? Wasn't that admirable? Didn't he have few enough people signing up for the foreign field?

It was verses like Galatians 1:15-16 that pulled me up short.
But when it pleased God,
who separated me from my mother's womb,
and called me by his grace,
to reveal his Son in me,
that I might preach him among the heathen;
immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.

I thought, "Wow, God will do this WHEN IT PLEASES HIM." It was a paradigm-shifting thought, one that also revealed how wrong my view of God had been. I had been treating him like my tool--I was using His blessing to get where I hoped to go--when all along I was really supposed to be His tool, one that He could pick up and use or lay aside, at His pleasure.

When Ananias came to Paul, he said to him, "The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard" (Acts 22:14-15). Paul later said that Christ "counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry" (1 Tim 1:12). He further stated, "But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the Gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts" (1 Th 2:4).

God said to Jeremiah, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." (Jer. 1:5)

The Holy Ghost said to the early church, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." (Acts 13:2)

But it was Isaiah's words that hit me the hardest and the most personally. "Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name. And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me; and said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified. [...] And now, saith the LORD that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, and my God shall be my strength. And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth." (Is. 49:1-3, 5-6)

God called me. He showed me that He had a purpose for me. And He even showed me what that purpose was. It was something so simple, so plain-sounding when you put it into words, so elementary. But at the same time, it was so profound, and struck so sharply at the root of who I was, and where I was, that it took it a year to sink in and become a part of my life.

Previous Post: To Love Our God...

Friday, April 23, 2010

To Love Our God...

The two breakthroughs both developed simultaneously and were somewhat linked to each other, so I can't say which happened first or if one caused the other. Instead, both were causes and stimulants for what followed after.

One of these breakthroughs was a gift of love. Jesus revealed Himself to me in such a mighty, intimate, tender, breathtaking way that I fell in love with Him. Of course, I had always loved Jesus in a childish, "Jesus loves me" way. But now, I fell IN LOVE with Him, complete with stomach jiggles and a sparkle in my eye and heavy, pulsing breathing and an intense desire to be with Him, contemplate Him, and know Him more. (If you scroll through my xanga archives, you can see a post expressing this, though it was written months after this first happened. I kept half-expecting the emotions would fade and the strong feelings would go away, but they did nothing but increase.)

This pure, fervent, strong love stole upon my heart and captured me. I cannot describe it as anything other than a gift, because it was all initiated by Him. He courted me and won my heart as no earthly lover has ever done with a mortal maiden, and I was pleased to discover myself vanquished by such an inimitable Treasure.

It was especially precious because I had just walked away from a human love that God asked me to give up for His sake. How it hurt to give up that person no one can know who has not walked through the same thing. How long it hurt, too, and how often the wound opened freshly upon some remembrance, some contact, some association--I was not prepared for, though I endeavored to keep all this well concealed.

Thus it was that, loving Jesus, I began to feel that it had indeed been worthwhile and needful for me to follow God in surrender to not go right back to the mission field. If I had missed this--oh, that would be unthinkable.

And the Master Professor smiled as He saw His pupil beginning to learn and understand His ways.

Keep Reading: ...The Reason We Live
Previous Post: Pursuit of God
First Post: Tutored Under the Master Professor

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Pursuit of God

“As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.” Psalm 42:1-2

“O God, thou art my God: early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is.” Psalm 63:1

“My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” Psalm 84:2

At the beginning of my return from Spain, one thing was very clear. I was not to "push" my way forward or manipulate circumstances so that I could go back as soon as possible. Indeed, I felt quite forbidden to even go on mission trips. God closed the door to one fun-sounding mission opportunity after another, from accompanying my sister to Mexico to visiting the Philippines with our church to going to Nepal with a Nepalese friend of mine who invited me to go with her for a month. It was SO hard to turn down all these things and say, "I'm not going," not only because I really wanted to go, but also because no one would understand it. They would think I was losing my heart for missions or something. How could they see that I was flying in the face of my own desire?

All I knew was that the door to go back was closed for now. I realized God had other things in mind that were more important to work on. It was not pursuit of a life-calling to missions, it was something else. God had the answer, and in pursuing Him, all would eventually become clear. Clinging to all the light I had, I started a Word document called "Pursuit of God."

I wrote the first entry in the car on the 6-hour drive home from the airport. It said,

I have several goals for this new period of my life. First, I hope to become supremely obedient to God. I want obedience to be a priority, where I don’t delay, I don’t question, and I don’t try to get out of doing what I know God wants me to do. I have been failing in this area too much lately, and I see my heart as very hard and unpliable and unyielded to God’s will.

Second, in looking at my life right now, I see that there really isn’t anything worthwhile that I’m really good at. Sure I have skills…sure I’m good at things, but in terms of an overarching skill that defines me, that I can say, “I do this, and I’ve studied it, and I know how to do it, and I’m really good at it,” I can’t point to anything. Look at my degree—I majored in communications, yet I don’t know that I could get a job at a newspaper and be a reporter (or get into any field in communications, for that matter). If there was one thing I wish I could say I was really good at, it would be leading people to Christ. I want to excel in it. I want to become experienced, an expert, a fisher of men. I want to study it, pursue it, and become very, very good at it, so that after I die, people will look back at my life and say, “You know, there was one main thing about Rebekah: she was always leading people to Christ, and she was good at it, too.”

To do that, it brings me to the third goal: I want to pray. I want to pray, not just wimpy prayers, but mighty, faith-filled prayers that connect with God. I want to pray, not just short prayers, but be able to spend hours on my knees with God. I want to pray, not once in a while when I think about it, but every day, as a matter of habit and discipline. I want to pray, not just to see my needs met and my requests answered, but to draw closer to God and communicate with him and learn His heart. I want to pray, not starting off well for a month and then slacking off, but continuing faithful in prayer as something that will characterize the rest of my life.

God is saying, “Get more of me! Want more of me! Fight for more of me! There is SO much more to me! Pursue me! Desire me! Push through obstacles to get to me!”

I didn't know it at the time, but two key breakthroughs were to appear in the coming months.

Keep Reading: To Love Our God...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tutored Under the Master Professor

Where I was, where He led me, and perhaps an inkling of where I'm going.

Part 1. Following the Lamb wherever He leads
It all started back when God did the unthinkable. I had just returned from Spain, excited to go back and throw my life into God's service there, and He shut the door.

"I want you to die to your desire to go to the mission field," He said.

"What?" I responded, taken aback. "You can't mean that."

"Yes. In fact, I want you to move back home, be there for your brothers and sisters, and work so that you can contribute to providing for the needs of the family."

"I can't believe you would do this to me, God," I protested. "When your word says the laborers are few, and I'm over here waving my hand in the air, saying, 'Pick me! Pick me!'---what's up with that, Lord?"

"Nevertheless, I'm asking you to give that up. Will you place it in my hands, trust me with it, and die even to this?"

I gulped. Being a missionary was the only thing I had ever wanted to do. And working, being Miss Career Woman, was the last thing I ever wanted to do. How could God take my most precious, most treasured desire and say, "Thanks, but no thanks"? It made no sense.

God reminded me that I claimed I would die for the cause of Christ. "If you are you willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for my sake, then shouldn't you be willing to make a much smaller one?" And with this and many other persuasions, He gently led me to the place where I was willing to sacrifice even this. With tears, I laid it on the altar where it could be consumed by God's holy flame. I released it.

Thus it was that I found myself, in the summer of 2008, a college graduate in my 20s, still living in my parents' house, teaching three piano students, and feeling like the whole world would look on my life as a sad waste of potential.

Far from it... God had many things in mind, which I had yet to discover.

This is the first post in this series.
Next Post: Pursuit of God