Through Thorns and Waves

The painful sting of thorns is a part of this existence—even when working with the stunning beauty of roses. There is no way around it.

The heaving and crashing of waves affect the most sure of sea-going vessels and there’s not a technique for dismissing them. You can’t experience the wonder of the open ocean without being affected by them.

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I have found myself captivated with the haunting simplicity of a particular hymn. The melody was crafted by Jean Sibelius in his tribute to his homeland in a piece so appropriately identified as a tone poem called Finlandia.

The lyrics predate the music and were translated from German (written 1752) into English by Jane Borthwick in 1855.

This hymn is a discipline of self-talk. It is the urging of the mind to return to the soul-deep truth from which life so easily distracts.

I have been particularly enamored with Jadon Lavik’s reverent and hope-dripping rendition that I encourage you to pause and listen and meditate upon here:

Jadon Lavik, “Be Still, My Soul”

Did you see those powerful words?

Be still, my soul, the Lord is on your side

Bear patiently the cross of guilt and pain

Leave to your God to order and provide

In every change God faithful will remain

Be still, my soul, your best, your heavenly friend

Through thorns and waves leads to a joyful end

Be still my soul

It’s so rich—like cheesecake that demands you slow down and take small bites. The author reminds herself that God is on her side, that guilt and pain are a part of life in a broken world through which we must simply endure.

The urging to leave to God the burden of directing and providing because we know that what God requires God always provides. Because we know this, we can trust His faithfulness no matter what changes roll through our lives.

The assertion that God is, indeed, my best and heavenly friend is a realization to which many believers never acquiesce. But the testimony of Scripture bears out the assurance that, through the thorns of a fallen world and the waves of a sin-cursed journey, He will surely lead to the joyful end that He has promised.

It doesn’t make it not hurt. It doesn’t mean the journey will be smooth and easy and care-free.

It does mean that the destination is sure.

And in that we find rest. In that we can stop and just be still.

Be still, my soul.

 

Just nice.

Sometimes I find myself to be pathetically nice.

I try to drive politely. Behind the wheel I’m nice.

I will often insist someone else go first. In line I’m nice.

I attempt to hide my annoyance and smile politely at the server. In the restaurant I’m nice.

I will choose a parking spot further out and leave the close ones for those who really need them. In the parking lot I’m nice.

I know, I know, those are indications of attempting to simply be a decent human being. None of those things are bad. But they’re not necessarily good.

Song lyrics often lodge in my head like a piece of a popcorn kernel in my teeth. It’s been a while since I last watched it, but the bizarre work that is Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” contains a lyric, spoken by the witch, that has stuck in my craw for quite some time.

You’re so nice.

You’re not good.

You’re not bad.

You’re just nice.

They sting my heart as they roll onto the keyboard through my fingers.

She could be talking about me. I want to be good. I know that goodness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit within me. It is something that I want to cultivate. But I just can’t do it in my own strength.

These words haunt me because of the way I walk through life and interact politely with many people and perhaps even express legitimate concern for their well-being and may to a large degree commiserate with their problems… but I don’t even particularly look for something that I might do to make it better.

I’m not bad. I don’t look for ways to pile difficulty or troubles upon their heap of burden. I don’t kick them when they’re down. I don’t laugh or mock their pain. No, I’m not bad.

But I’m not good. I don’t step into their mess and walk with them through it. I don’t look around for some way of providing assistance, comfort, or aid. No, I’m not really good.

I’m just nice. I smile and nod and maybe break the tension with a silly comment or a surface commiseration. You know… just nice.

No, it’s not all the time. But, much of the time, I’m not bad and I’m not good. I’m just nice.

But I know the source of all comfort and assistance and aid. I talk with Him moment by moment and day by day. I spend hours studying His writings and seeking His guidance and encouraging His followers.

When I interact with someone and have the opportunity, even for a brief moment, to speak or share or point to joy and hope and I fail to do so… it’s worse than bad.

Something is lacking. Jesus told us that the world would recognize His followers by the love we demonstrate to others. He did not say they would recognize us because we’re nice. There is a difference.

But, God help me, sometimes I’m just nice.

Not bad.

Not good.

Just nice.

Blow the Dam

What if you suddenly realized that God has a desire to overflow your life with His grace?

If you are a follower of Jesus, then you probably suspect (even if you’re not really fully convinced just yet) that this is true.

I would go so far as to say that the entirety of Scripture is an expression of the unmerited favor of a holy and loving Creator for his fallen and unworthy creatures that will end in an eternal flood of His grace beyond our imagination.

That was kind of a thick, chewy sentence. Let’s try that again.

The Bible is all about God’s grace for broken people.

This morning I was reading in Brother Lawrence’s “The Practice of the Presence of God.” He suggests that God is eager to pour out His grace in every part of your life and mine. He paints a picture of a torrent or flood of God’s grace and favor that overflows the banks of our expectations and overruns our boundaries. (Fourth Letter)

I think he’s on to something.

I believe God’s holy desire is to flood every corner of your life with His grace—a grace that loves us unconditionally exactly as we are but loves too intensely to simply leave us as we are.

But we humans are dam builders.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary entry for “dam”

Do you see that? A dam is built to prevent the flow.

Is it possible that we have built dams around certain parts of our lives that prevent the free flow of God’s grace into that part of us?

Maybe it’s a relationship in which we are harboring bitterness or envy or hatred. Perhaps it’s an area of struggle or sin that we are unwilling to confess. It might even be some part of us that we are so very proud of that we hold only for our own fame.

And we have erected a dam that prevents the flow of the torrent of God’s grace into that area of life.

Can I tell you a secret?

His grace is better. I promise.

When we are willing to blow the dam, we find that we have been, like the little dutch boy, holding our finger in the hole or continually piling up sandbags to reinforce the dam… and when we just let go and let his very grace blow up the dam, we find the sweet, rejuvenating wonder of His grace pouring over us.

Come on, now. Blow the dam.

You’re not sure where it is? Ask Him to show you.

Then blow the dam.

Not sure how? Ask Him to show you.

Then blow the dam.

Let His unfettered grace infuse every part of you.

And in that unhindered flow you will find, as Peter called it, a “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”

Am I really sure about this?

James seemed to be when he wrote, “But he gives more grace.” (James 4.6) How much? More. More than what? Yes. More.

Am I sure that there is really more grace than my sin? I am a pretty big sinner. But Paul taught me that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” (Romans 5:20)

It really is true. As John testified of Jesus:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. (John 1.14, 16)

Like flood waters piling above and beyond, so His grace abounds.

So blow the dam and let grace flow.