This time last year, during my first fall retreat, God met me and fanned to flame a work in my heart that would lead me to commit my life to Christ. This weekend, I walked back into that place after a rollercoaster year of starting to know him, completely unsure of what he had in store. And to be honest I was too tired and distracted and caught up in myself for a while to be able to really focus on God.
But Saturday night, I came in from talking to my friend outside, and the chairs had been cleared to the side to make space for people to gather in little groups. I’ve seen few things more beautiful than that room where the dimmed lights settled so softly on my church and family - sharing, confessing, praying, worshiping with each other. I saw what it looks like for the Spirit to fill a room, for heavy, heavy shame to become visible and light, for broken people to be built into a dwelling place for the Lord. How lovely is your dwelling place, Father! Then standing to worship together, fallen sinners upright on grace, we lifted our hands for the joy of the upward call, forgetting what lies behind to press forward to his glory.
Sunday morning before we left we all prayed together, laying hands on the underclassmen, upperclassmen, and graduates in turn. I’ve seen few things more beautiful than the body praying as one, and my heart was so full in that moment with praise for the one who knit us all together. But for all we learned and experienced at retreat, life and the Enemy do a pretty great job in making us forget, slamming us when we think we’re on top of the world. It’s hard when you crash on concrete to be grateful for the height. And yet I’m praying that we can cling onto retreat not for the spiritual high, but for the reminder - that this is our God.
This is our God. This is our God who hears our prayers, who meets us where we are, whose mercies are new each day, whose grace covers all our brokenness, who delights in us, who loves us. This is our God who was there in the gentle half-light and there in our hands raised heavenward and there leading souls to take their first shaking step toward Christ and there to gather up all the hurt shame anger bitterness sin we spilled and there to turn that darkness to light. This is our God who was there in our fellowship, when we prayed together in the name of Christ Jesus who saved each one of us. This is our God who saved me last year. When the Enemy tempts us to despair and call all that happened at retreat useless, nothing more than a spiritual high, without any effect on the real world and our real lives, I’m praying that we can tell him no.
No. This is our God. And as we struggle and fail and fall on our faces, I’m praying that we can still cling onto all that our God did this weekend, remind ourselves who he is - who we are in light of that. I’m praying that, as brothers and sisters who share the name of Christ, we can remind each other in the midst of all that surrounds us to look upward at our God who does not change.
This is our God. He was there. He is here.
David Jordan Williams (behance) - "The coastline, as I was photographing it over time resembled, to me, a series of Rothko Canvases. As the days progressed I began to notice the ways in which the formal lines of the water and clouds began to shift and change position and tone the more I felt I was working color on canvas. These images were taken in Carmel, California in May 2013."
I may walk through a valley as dark as death,
But I will not fear;
No, I will not fear.
NIGHTSCAPES & SKYSCAPES BY LUIS ARGERICH
Photographer Luis Argerich (flickr)’
I see Your face in every sunrise
The colors of the morning are inside Your eyes
The world awakens in the light of the day
I look up to the sky and say
I see Your power in the moonlit night
Where planets are in motion and galaxies are bright
We are amazed in the light of the stars
It’s all proclaiming who You are
You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful
I see you there hanging on a tree
You bled and then you died and then you rose again for me
Now you are sitting on Your heavenly throne
Soon we will be coming home
You’re beautiful, you’re beautiful
When we arrive at eternity’s shore
Where death is just a memory and tears are no more
We’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring
Your bride will come together and we’ll sing
You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful
Joseba Eskubi - Untitled (2012) - Mixed media
For you formed my inward parts;
You knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there were none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.
Last night, my church held a Praise Night, and I was asked to share my testimony - it was amazing. Not my testimony in itself, because to be perfectly objective about it, it’s not that extraordinary. Upper middle class suburban girl grows up in church, doesn’t really understand what religion is, goes to college, gets saved. And in preparing it this past week, I think that was sort of where my mind was geared - toward the facts - which resulted in a lot of anxiety about what sharing would be like, what people would think, how God could use such a predictable story, etc. But what he was gradually showing me and what finally clicked as I got up there was that it’s not about me being a good storyteller. I’m not trying to sell God, either as tear-jerking tragedy or summer-blockbuster action. God doesn’t need that. Salvation doesn’t need a hook. I remember one time I told my discipler that I thought my testimony was boring, and he shot back at me with this: “Are you saying the work God did in your life to transform your heart and redeem your from your sins is boring?”
God doesn’t need me to invent some more interesting version of myself - it was never about me. Not when he looked down on my wretchedness and sent his only son to die for me, and not now when he desires to use me to reach people. It’s always him, and he is always more than enough.
Upper middle class suburban girl grows up in church, doesn’t really understand the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, goes to college, is led by grace to meet her Lord and Savior, the one by whom and for whom the universe was created. Finds a love stronger than the grave. Finds joy and peace that surpasses all understanding. Is set free from the weight of sin and death. Starts to live life not for tests and prestige and attention and fleeting happiness but for the eternal, unfading glory of God.
As I was up there on stage, I saw in front of me the church that has become my family. I’d never seen them all from that perspective before - all of them in front of me, facing me. And I couldn’t stop thinking that, this time last year, I didn’t have this. I didn’t have this. I didn’t have God. I realized what an inexpressible privilege it was to be there, sharing the truth of how my God has saved me. I saw my brothers and sisters and I knew that I didn’t have to fear that they would look down on me and my testimony, judge me for my weakness in struggling so much with so little, scorn the grace of our God in me. I realized my fears were groundless.
When I think about the Lord and how he saved me, I’m overwhelmed. I pray there won’t ever come a day when I’m not. And in sharing that, I no longer doubt that my God will speak and work through me. It’s just who he is. A God who pursues us. A God who wants us. A God who doesn’t need to use us for his glory but desires to anyway. My testimony isn’t some formula calculated to convince people of some attractive image of him. God is God, and he has always been more than enough.
My testimony is the story of how Jesus Christ with his death gave me life. And I’m praying that as I live out this life he’s given me, as I live out the faith and freedom I professed last night, this life would ever testify to him.