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Hope for the wayward heart

I would say I’m sorry for how sporadic posts have been these days. On the one hand, I know it’s a not a big deal. I¬†rest in the knowledge that no one is out there refreshing my site moment by moment, eagerly awaiting new content. ūüôā I’m not that important.

But, I also know that I’m called to write, and frankly, I haven’t wanted to. Sure, I’ll repost something old, that’s safe enough, but I haven’t wanted to freshly bare my soul out here in the wide-open internet spaces. Safer just to keep my laptop–and life–shut.

I’ve had dozens of people ask, “Are you ok??” Yes. I’m ok. It has just been a unique season like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It isn’t one thing. It has been a season of battle, a season of stripping away, a season of pruning, of weakness.

Sometimes we wonder, when walking through trials, “Is this spiritual attack? Or is this my sin? Or is this God sanctifying me?” Of course, the answer is always:

Yes.

Yes, at any given time we are facing an onslaught of the enemy, we are dealing with our flesh and the lingering effects of the fall, and we are being lovingly pruned, shaped, sanctified, by a good and gracious God. While we are wise to not be ignorant of the enemy’s schemes, we can rest in the truth that: If I am in Christ, the worst Satan can do is sanctify me.¬†There is nothing God cannot and will not use for our ultimate good.¬†

See, this isn’t a good-and-evil battle where the two sides are equally matched.¬†We might¬†feel outnumbered and overwhelmed, but like Elisha encouraged his faint-hearted servant,

“Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

We are on the offensive, friends.

But even so, this doesn’t mean we do nothing. The battle is real, and it has been raging, and I have wanted to shut down, close up, withdraw. I have felt weary and wondered what it looks like to fight when the issue at hand, the thing that’s up for grabs, the thing that’s being battled for … is my¬†heart.¬†

How do I win my own heart? 

Yesterday at church, God gently revealed the answer. I saw that I had been, as AW Tozer calls it, “tinkering with my soul.” That is, going in with a little change here, a little tweak there, like a retired man spending the day tinkering with an old car, without really accomplishing much at all.

The word yesterday was, “In order to return to our first love, our¬†affections must change.” Yes.

My¬†affections. It’s heart stuff, not behavior stuff. It’s heart stuff, not a tweak here and there. Like the men in Mark 7 who were all about adding external safeguards to make sure they didn’t sin, but Jesus reminds them that that will never work because sin comes¬†from the heart.

Sin is simply misplaced affection. 

So now what, then? I woke up this morning aching with the question, “How do I change my affections? How do I change what I love?”

We change our affection by changing our attention. 

Our hearts simply follow our soul’s gaze.¬†

“The man who has struggled to purify himself and has has nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul¬†and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.” (Pursuit of God, p. 91)

Ahhh. My heart sighs relief.

There lies the whole of my duty for this day: Fix the gaze of my soul on Christ. Stop tinkering, start looking. Put His truth and unchanging Word before my eyes and heart and trust Him to woo back my wayward heart.

That’s hope.

From one wayward soul to another… let’s fix our gaze and trust Him to do the rest. Happy Monday, and thanks for reading.}

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The rest is thrown in (What promise!)

Their little eyes widened as the words sunk in: One HUNDRED times as much!

We giggled to ourselves thinking of receiving back one hundred toys, or one hundred cookies, or one hundred houses or sisters or brothers. Of course the essence of this promise isn’t about calculating or counting, it’s written to convey an important promise:

What you give up for God, He’ll give back in a better way, beyond what you can imagine.¬†

We were studying the Rich Young Ruler, and how sad he was as he shuffled away from Jesus, as he gave up the greatest opportunity that had ever presented itself to him. I actually found myself tearing up as I told the story, thinking how tragic it is that so many (sometimes myself included!) give up the greatest invitation ever because we can’t let go of our stuff, our rights, our way.

But it’s so fun that immediately after this story, Jesus gives a promise. And it’s a big one! He marvels at how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom, but then makes this mind-blowing statement promising that all those who give up things for God’s sake will¬†receive¬†back one-hundred times as much. Wow!

I have seen this wildly lavish love from God so many times.¬†It’s nuts!¬†I’ve been amazed at this truth that when we seek our own pleasure, our own way, our own stuff, we end up poor, we walk away sad, nothing satisfies.

BUT. When we seek the kingdom, when we give up our stuff, our way, our life, we find ourselves spoiled rotten by a generous God, lavishly loved and blessed. Sure, there’s still tribulation, trials, challenges. But the abundance so outweighs the burden.

God is GOOD. His way is good. His plans are good. Oh that we’d give up our own way to seek His and discover the goodness! When we seek our own we lose, but when we seek Him, we find the rest tossed in as well. It reminds me of the CS Lewis quote:

Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither. -CS Lewis

Or this quote captures this beautifully. So true! Not seeking our own, in a selfish sense, is the directest course you can take to secure your highest happiness. Amen!

“If you are selfish, and make yourself and your own private interests your idol, God will leave you to yourself, and let you promote your own interests as well as you can.

But if you do not selfishly seek your own, but do seek the things that are Jesus Christ’s, and the things of your fellow human beings, then God will make your interest and happiness his own charge, and he is infinitely more able to provide for and promote it than you are. The resources of the universe move at his bidding, and he can easily command them all to subserve your welfare.

So not to seek your own, in the selfish sense, is the best way of seeking your own in a better sense. It is the directest course you can take to secure your highest happiness.” ‚ÄĒJonathan Edwards (Charity & Its Fruits)

May we take this route. When we seek¬†His kingdom, the rest is tossed in as well. Let’s go this way! Happy Monday.¬†Thanks for reading.¬†

*Originally shared last year, still true as ever. Looking for email delivery of posts? Sign-up here: https://feedburner.google.com/fb/a/mailverify?uri=KariPatterson  (Thanks!)

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Just Show Up

Early this morning I had a conversation with some friends, and one of them just kept saying, “Really, all you have to do is just show up.”¬†Just show up was the phrase we kept coming back to. Then this is popped up from exactly a year ago …¬†perhaps it’s timely for us all.

~

I’ll admit, it began as an irritation.

Why are we the ones ALWAYS here?¬†Of course, the pastor’s family¬†has to show up at church, right? Of course the Bible study leader¬†has to show up. Of course the retreat speaker¬†has¬†to show up.

After 17 years leading Bible studies and small groups, I get what it’s like to be the one who¬†has to show up. And I’ve always counted that a blessing. The reality is, whenever we just show up we are blessed. We only benefit. I’m grateful for all these years where leadership has forced me to be consistent, because I know my tendency to be hit-and-miss.

But this year, something began aching in my heart. I always knew it was there. After years leading small groups, you know the attrition rate by heart:

Usually by the end of the study half the participants … aren’t participating.

But it becomes heightened, more clearly seen, in something small like a church plant. Although this thing certainly isn’t “ours,” there is a very real sense that our very hearts and souls are poured out into this little ragtag band of believers called Renew. Paul clearly had this same burdened heart for all those he invested in for the sake of the Kingdom.

And so the inconsistency, the attrition, the hit-and-miss … is keenly¬†felt.¬†

And yet, my optimism constantly reminds me:¬†God uses exactly who’s there for just the right purpose. He can move mightily no matter who comes and who doesn’t.¬†

And this is true. Of course God is so powerfully and gloriously sovereign, He can work gloriously with two people or two-thousand people.

And yet.

(Now my heart’s doing this crazy-thumping thing because I’m pretty sure I’m going to offend a bunch of people right now.)

I poured out my heart to God about this recently, sharing honestly with Him how hard and lonely it is to be the one always showing up. Do you know what I heard crystal clear in my heart?

“How do you think I feel?”

Tears flowed as I realized how we have hurt the heart of God. 

I believe the heart of God is deeply¬†grieved that we have made him last priority in our lives.¬†That we have made spiritual matters of least importance. That we put more thought into the state of our financial portfolio than the state of our souls. That we put soccer schedules ahead of Sunday morning worship. That we have financial needs¬†and yet blatantly ignore¬†God’s clear commands on giving to Him first. That we¬†neglect morning prayers and time in the sacred Scriptures because we really “need some sleep.”

I’m not talking about legalism, I’m talking about LOVE.

I believe the heart of God is broken because He waits and waits and waits and waits, for us to just show up. Like a husband who plans a date with His wife every Friday night, who reserves a table for 2 and sits alone in the candlelight, waiting, waiting, waiting for His beloved bride to show up.Like a husband who plans a date with his wife, reserves a candlelit table for two, and waits ...… Click To Tweet

But she never does. She needed sleep. Something came up. A friend stopped by.

He sits there, alone, waiting for us to just show up. 

I read a story recently of a family in the 60s, in Communist Russia. They loved Jesus. Every weekend, they would walk 30 miles to get to the nearest church, then walk 30 miles home, traveling all night long Sunday night, to be ready for work Monday morning.

This undoes me. Oh God, forgive us. We know nothing of carrying our cross, we know nothing of commitment.

We know nothing of true love. 

Again, this isn’t a message of condemnation, it is a PLEA that the people of God would know the heart of God, that He does not come last. Matthew says that as the end nears,

“The love of many will grow cold.” (24:12)

Please: Do not let your love grow cold. He waits for you.

Just show up.

{Thank you for reading.}

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When you feel tricked by God…

‚ÄúWhy?‚ÄĚ I yelled, out into the sky. ‚ÄúWhy did you trick me, God?

It was January¬†2002, and I remember so clearly the feeling. Standing out in the rain, soaked to the skin, confused because God was breaking my heart. I wrote our whole story out here, how¬†God brought Jeff and me together in a roundabout way that included a lot of heartache. It was most certainly not the way I thought my love story would go. Now, more than 15 years later, I wouldn’t have it any other way. But at the time I felt tricked by God.

See, I worked so hard to guard my heart. No disrespect to him, but I didn’t¬†like Jeff. Not as anything more than a friend. But it was so bizarre, it was like God actually changed my heart and¬†made me love him. I know that sounds weird, especially now because I’m madly in love with him now! But 16 years ago I wasn’t. And in a most interesting way, God kept putting Jeff before me, to the extent that I actually God clearly tell me that Jeff was to be my husband.

God set me up.

And then, once I’d fallen in love. Once I’d said yes in my heart and gone head over heels, once I’d fallen in love … then He broke my heart. Then I opened Job and felt¬†the same morning I found out Jeff was dating someone else. The same day Jeff said, “We’re never going to be together.”

It seemed God had purposefully led my heart into a place where it would be crushed. 

I felt tricked. 

Thankfully, my heart and mind were steeped in the Word of God. Job’s words were my own: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Despite how I felt, I¬†knew that God’s goodness was greater than my limited perspective. I cried, yes. I questioned, ranted, railed. The sting of rejection didn’t go away overnight. But, truly. It was worth it.

~

Over the years, I’ve seen this situation several times. It’s just Abraham all over again. God is the one who speaks the promise to him. God is the one who births the dream, gives the vision‚ÄĒHe¬†makes Abraham & Sarah’s hearts long for their baby boy.¬†And then, they are disappointed by infertility for¬†25 years. Abraham could have easily said, “You tricked me, God! You are the one who started this whole child-of-promise thing! You made me want this.”

Then once the child comes, God does the unthinkable ‚ÄĒ He requires Abraham offer up the precious child as a sacrifice to God. Again, Abraham could have easily said, “You tricked me, God! You gave me this child. You let me love him. You turned my heart toward this boy with undying affection. And now, this? You tricked me into this sorrow.”

Thankfully, Abraham does’t. He, like Job, worships despite the pain, and trusts God’s goodness above what He can see. And He is rewarded.

~

Our own journey led us this way again. I’ve never been a “kid person,” I was happy with my two, born quite a long while ago I might add (!!), but then last fall God made it very clear we were to have more. Say¬†WHAT?!¬†I’ll share more later, but¬†this was not my plan.¬†But lo and behold, as the months went on,¬†He changed my heart. He made me¬†want this. He completely turned my heart around, just as he did with Jeff those many years before. Next thing I knew, I was hoping and planning and dreaming and then … we miscarried.

Now, in all honesty, I didn’t feel angry or confused. I’ve seen God’s goodness so many times.¬†But I felt that familiar feeling, of being led specifically into a place where my heart gets set on something … then it’s gone.

Why? 

I promise I won’t be the person that’s always pointing to material in my book ;), but chapter 7 of¬†Sacred Mundane addresses this question at length. Does God strategically disappoint us? Why? How do we not lose hope? How do we not get jaded? Bitter? Cynical?

As my friend Pam Hunter recently wrote,

“The great challenge of faith is holding on to hope after you’ve lost your na√Įvet√©.”

So often, what I have called “faith” is probably just naive optimism. I told my friend Christine yesterday, “I thought I had the gift of faith but maybe I’ve just had an easy life.” Ha! Right? Sometimes our “faith” comes from a lack of experience, a lack of seeing suffering, a youthful zeal or naivet√©.

But faith comes from seeing suffering, feeling disappointment, experiencing sorrow, or witnessing evil … and still believing.

Still holding onto Hope. Faith comes when you feel tricked by God but you refuse to let your feelings eclipse the truth. Faith comes when you trust His goodness more than what you see, more than what you feel.

In the grand scheme, I’ve still had an incredibly easy life. Just yesterday we heard story after story, at church, of incredible men and women in Uganda who are choosing faith despite horrific circumstances. They are the heroes of faith, and I feel so small in the presence of their stories.

But it is not necessarily the size of their faith but the¬†object of it, and the object of theirs is the same as the object of mine, so our hope is in Jesus, forever, the Author and Finisher of our faith. He wrote it, He’ll conclude it. This story may get gnarly at times, but He’ll wrap it up with a glorious conclusion at His return and no doubt we’ll look back and see His goodness in it all.

Hold onto hope, dear friends. Even if you feel tricked. He is good, and you are loved.

Thanks for reading.