Until I Enter the Sanctuary of God

 

There are times, as Asaph describes in Psalm 73, that I am a beast before God. Times when my heart is embittered with the world; when I am senseless and ignorant. Lost in my circumstance, I allow my emotions and thoughts to rule. Deeper and deeper I dig into the mud. Sometimes, my humanity is comfortable in the muck and despair. But it is not my home and I do not belong there. Sometimes it seems like a long journey home, but then I remember that home is not far. On the contrary, it is nearer than I can describe. Below is an image of my journey home from the storm.

I am in the storm. Overwhelmed by what is around me. In the chaos, my eye focuses on what I can see. On the temporary as opposed to the eternal. All strength leaves me as my heart becomes entrenched in despair. Shouting voices entice me toward the darkness. Accusing and pulling me in every direction. Pulling me downward. I am drowning in the wind and the rain, barely able to see the path before me. Does anyone see me?

Tired, weak, on my knees, crawling, covered in the grime of a kingdom that is not my own, I keep going knowing there is more. There is something or someone I have forgotten. There must be a way out. A way to shelter. Fighting the storm, I find myself at a door of decision. I know this door. I know to Whom it belongs.

Will He let me in? Do I knock? Will He recognize me as His own? Has He forgotten me? My King?

And then, I remember. I remember His promises. I remember His caress.  I long to be His and rest in His arms again. The choice is mine. Already on my knees, I bow my broken heart. I lift my arm to push open the door, but before I can, it swings open wide. The wind of Life blows over me pushing back the storm. I am in calm. His gentle eyes look upon me as He stoops to where I am. In His warm embrace, He carries me across the threshold into the sanctuary of God.

And then…Peace. I am lifted and strengthened. My vision restored. My heart softened. Faith fills me. The Divine consumes me. Cleans me. I am in safety. My perspective of all things changes. Hope and peace return; though truthfully, they never left me.

When I enter the sanctuary, I come home to the Presence of God and remember who I am. Beloved, eternally. I remember that “I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. With Your counsel You will guide me, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:23-26).

Until I enter the sanctuary of God, I am lost. Afraid. Confused. Blind. The cruelty and wickedness of the world frustrate me. The suffering of the innocent confounds me. The rejection unbearable. The isolation too much. But the sanctuary is not far; nor does it ever leave me. In truth, the sanctuary is always with me. It is within me. I need only close my eyes and say His name for He is never more than a whisper away. “The nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works” (Psalms 73:28).

As He Receives

We are accustom to associating “Christ-likeness” with sacrifice. Christ is the Great Giver. The One who put the needs of many above His own. The One who laid down His life, so that we all might live.

We have a tendency to elevate people who demonstrate such sacrificial lives and so we bestow upon them the title “Christ-like”. I wonder, are we so generous in our elevation of  the self-sacrificing because we regard asking for a service as a lack of humility? Or receiving a gift as selfish? I confess, I find it quite difficult to relate to or even maintain authentic relationship with one who gives and refuses to receive.

As we strive to follow Christ, we must look at all of Christ. Consider this: God asks. God receives.

God, who offered the greatest sacrifice, or Jesus, who was the greatest sacrifice — however you want to look at it — does more than give and bless. He also asks. He asks for and wonderfully receives our love, our gifts, and our service. Our gifts are not a means of earning, but being. Love, gifts, and service are the sweet fruit generated from being in His presence. It is relationship! He desires for us to engage in a beautiful relationship of giving and receiving. This is relationship’s heart, after all. It is reciprocity; albeit, not equality. Our love, gifts, and service will never match that which God so generously pours upon us. However, He still requires the gift of our hearts. Christ-likeness is giving and receiving.

Christ surely welcomes our meager sacrifices/gifts as if they were great works of art. He does not turn them away. He received from humanity when He walked the earth (money, food, service, assistance to carry the cross, etc) and He receives from us in heaven. In fact, I would suggest that He is eager to receive from us! I’m hesitant to say that God demands our love as that sounds too autocratic. Yet, we were made to love Him. Perhaps it is better to say that He patiently waits for us to love Him/serve Him as freely as He loves us. Can you imagine how He must rejoice when we give to Him from a heart of love?? How He must look upon us and say, “My child, thank you.”

Embrace this perspective! When you worship, whether it be through the Word or in music or in any other discipline, God looks upon you and says, “Thank you for loving me. It is your greatest gift to Me. I receive it – no strings attached.” Sometimes, He may even ask, “will you receive My Love for you?

As we strive to emulate Christ, let us not deny others from loving us, especially the Living God. Let us, instead, follow in His example of giving and receiving. Your greatest gift to someone may not be what you do, but what you receive. When you look upon those gifts from the heart, rather than turn them away at pride’s request, simply say, “thank you. I receive it.” Give as He gives; receive as He receives.

Experiment in Meditation

A few years ago, while serving with a missionary family in a Buddhist community, I received an in depth, crash course in the local Buddhist traditions and customs at a well-regarded monastery. It was there that I first encountered the discipline of meditation. Prior to this, I was loosely aware of meditation as a Christ-centered, spiritual discipline, but hadn’t yet fully embraced the depths of stillness. Though I learned to meditate from Buddhists, I assure you my heart and focus is fully committed to Christ. I can’t help but laugh! What lengths and distances God takes us to reveal Himself! Some of my greatest encounters with the Living God, indeed my first, were on the other side of the world, far from home and what is familiar.

In fact, from my first experience with Christ (a story for another day) I learned that God was in pursuit of me long before I began my journey in pursuit of Him. Over the years this truth has solidified within me and Philippians 3:12 has become my close friend.

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12 NASB)

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. (Philippians 3:12-14 MSG)

What does this verse have to do with meditation? Mediation is a form of pursuit. I have recently re-engaged in an exhilarating experiment in meditation that I began several months ago. Exhilarating because any endeavor to pursue greater intimacy with God is exciting!!! Can meditation, quiet, and stillness be exciting? Isn’t meditation the antithesis of such energetic emotion? Perhaps I am abnormal. I hold such anticipation when I prepare to enter meditation, which is simply an exercise of stillness with God-ward focus, because I expect the Presence of God. It is a holy exercise whereby I not only set aside time and space for God’s majesty, but I set aside myself. I quiet the world so that I can hear the voice of God. This is my purpose. This is my pursuit. It is a sacrifice that I believe is well honored and my experience confirms it. After all, what is meditation except entrance into what Jesus calls the inner room?

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6 NASB)

Call it whatever you like, but give it a shot. Find a place of stillness both physically and mentally. I sit in the 7-point meditation posture that I learned from the Buddhists. It keeps me alert and allows me to focus my breath. Start with a 5-minute exercise where you quiet your mind and body and focus all of your being on God. When I first started, I would recite scripture to help me focus upward. Don’t be dismayed if you find it difficult to focus on God the entire 5 minutes. It takes practice! Our minds are excellent wanderers! Do what you can and wait for God’s response!

Practicing Stillness

Have you ever practiced stillness? Those moments when you calm your body from movement and activity. You release your mind from all thoughts except for the most worthy, which is The Living God. Here you dwell focussing all energy and effort. Time fades away and the beauty of rest begins. The door to intimacy with God opens. Dare we step into the supernatural!

There is power in the Word of God. Some verses hold more than others depending on where we are in the journey. For me, as I continue a practice of stillness, Isaiah 30:15 has captured me most magnificently. “In repentance and rest you will be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength.” Straight from the mouth of God. Beautiful! I write these words on my heart.

As I learn to practice stillness, quietness, silence, my purpose is one-fold. Intimacy. This is my pursuit. As David sings,

One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord
And to meditate in His temple.

This is also my song.

On a more practical note, when I am a mature “still-lite” for Christ (I say that mostly in jest!), I do not think posture and such will be as important. By then, it will be part of my lifestyle, my being, if you will. For now, however, in the beginning, posture and location are important for me. They are boundaries that allow me to soar high. I find stillness hard to attain when sitting on my couch, for example. I prefer a floor cushion. I find even less success when reclining! It is far better when my posture is upright and my hands rest gently on my knees or in my lap. With this posture, I am less distracted in my endeavor. Does this sound like a Buddhist monk or Hindu yogi? Perhaps. I smile at the thought. Thankfully, God sees beyond the physical and into the depths of the heart. Here we dance and romance.

This is my journey, my pursuit: to “lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” I pursue the One who first pursued me. Whatever it takes. Wherever He leads. I am in pursuit.

The Way

In dreaming of the future and seeking God for the next steps, I was recently reminded of a powerful past experience. Funny how that happens! Dreaming of the future sometimes reminds us of the past. Yet, when I consider how many times the word “remember” is used in Scripture, it doesn’t seem funny at all. Rather, it becomes another demonstration of God’s Love and touch upon my life.

Several years ago on a remote trek in Nepal, I discovered “the Way”. Before I go any further, let me first say that Nepal is a magnificent discovery in and of itself. This small but incredible country is packed with the most beautiful scenes on the planet, not to mention 8 of the world’s 10 highest mountains!! I have visited several times and even lived for a short period. As I reminisce even now, I long for its hospitality, rich culture, and beautiful people. All that lacks is the name of Jesus. But He is coming! Soon, He will be declared on every mountaintop and in every valley!

Way to Larke PassSecond, let me set the stage of this trek for you. We were a day away from ascending over Larke Pass, roughly 17,000 feet. The land at this altitude was barren, to say the least. There were no settlements, no people, and little wildlife. The only sounds were the whipping of the wind and the occasional kick of a rock. It was like a vast, empty desert with no end or destination in sight. In fact, when I looked out, I could not detect a trail or path. I was quite vulnerable traveling alone. I had no idea where I was. No cell phone. No food. I didn’t speak the language. I was completely dependent upon my guide and the Living God. I had been praying for God’s strength to endure and seeking some sign that I was OK and headed in the right direction. My only choice was to follow. I didn’t know the way.

Spiritually, this may sound familiar. Many of us can relate to those seasons where there is little or no fruit. We may feel alone and stripped and the only sounds we hear are our own pleas as we fumble upon a path that seems hidden and obscure. We question our direction and next step. Similarly, our best choice is to follow our Guide.

Despite the landscape’s lack of life, its beauty was overwhelming. Still, I spent most of the journey with my head down, reciting memorized scripture like cadence to keep my feet in time. Each step was intentional, but I took plenty of rest breaks to look around and praise God for the glory of Creation. Every couple of hundred meters or so, I would pass a tall metal stake. At first, I thought they were random. Finally, I asked my guide what they were. I was surprised by the profound response his answer elicited from my spirit. He simply replied, “the way.” My spirit quickened. Under my breath, I finished his statement with “the Truth, and the Life.” It amazes me still that a simple word from the Lord has the power to sustain and even revive us! Seemingly all alone and lost in this foreign land, God faithfully remained with me as He does even now. My Provider. My Protector. My Way.

For the remainder of that amazing trek, each metal stake I passed was a marker of victory! I was following. God was leading. When we crossed Larke Pass and descended to our campsite, I collapsed in joy. . .maybe just fatigue. I made it! It was a night of celebration. But the trek wasn’t over. We woke the next morning and kept walking following the way.

Today, as I dream and look out at the path ahead of me, I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness. I take a breath. I am in foreign territory; the path seems difficult and obscure. I cling to the Word to keep in time with God’s rhythm. Each step is intentional. I don’t know the way, but I’m on the trek and I’m looking for the next metal stake. I continue to walk and follow knowing God is my Way, my Truth and my Life. When I make it out of this valley and over the pass, much celebration will ensue!! But in the morning when I wake, I know I will continue walking.

“How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7)

Inch Forward

This season, I have traveled through the valley under the shadow of death. But as I’ve walked and sometimes crawled, God has led me forward. He has not been concerned with my pace. Only my progress. An inch is an inch forward. An inch is worthy of great celebration! Who can count the times God has toasted to an inch! Do you know the joy of an inch?

Now, I am pushing through the briars and the thickets of this dark wilderness. Light, my ever present guide, is ahead. I feel the breath of freedom on my face. I am coming through! I have broken through! Like a child walking for the first time, I strive for the arms of my Father. There He is. Arms outstretched with a smile that draws me toward Him. I am coming!

Hand in hand we walk as He reveals where I’ve come, where I am, and where we are going. We are going together. We have always been together. My God, my God who has never forsaken me! You are all that matters. You are the promise, the hope to which I anchor my soul.

Morning Serenade

Awake, My child, My love.
I have sustained you through the night.
Look! The dawn is breaking and full of new mercies.
Sing and rejoice with Me for your life.
What joy I have in you!

Awake and bathe in My unfailing love.
Soak in it!
Let me shower you in My grace, O little one, and wrap you in My righteousness.
I have exchanged your rags for fine linens.
You are beautiful to Me!

Awake, apple of My eye, and behold what I have for you.
There is much I desire to give.
I offer you My strength and peace for the day.
My hand is open to you as the satisfier of all your needs; the answer to the desires of Your heart.
Seek Me. Ask Me. Depend on Me.

Awake to the fragrance of My love.
Draw near to Me.
Dwell in My safety.
Walk in the Light of My presence.
Dance in My freedom.

Awake! Rise!
Come to life!
I breathe My Spirit, the most intimate part of Me, into you.
I am with you, now and forever.
With long life I will satisfy you and show you My salvation!
Awake, My child, My love.