Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Way God Moves

It is amazing to me how God moves and orchestrates the details of life, just so He can speak to us. It seriously blows my mind! I've been meaning to talk about this forever, but I just haven't had time to sit and type it. Now I have time.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking about bearing the cost of living given over. That had been a really difficult day for me as God taught me how painful it can be to surrender everything to Him, and to trust Him with everything. When I typed that post on Wednesday night, it was after a day full of tears and brokenness. It was really a lot of fear and useless worrying, a day that proved I'm not as good at living a surrendered life as I sometimes think (anyone else had those days?). The evening ended well though, with God proving that He is faithful and that truly,nothing is impossible with Him. I went to bed celebrating that night, and I woke up celebrating too.

The next morning, I went to instrumental worship for chapel. I was running late, so I ended up sitting by myself, which was fine with me. I was ready for some quality time with my Beloved. It was great! I poured my praise out, and He poured His love down, and after the pain of the battle the day before, it was the sweetest respite. As I was leaving a girl stopped me. I’d never seen her before in my life, but she asked my name and then said God had given her a word for me. I know that sounds a little crazy. I believe that God speaks through people, but I'm still a little skeptical when someone says specifically, "God gave me a word for you." But she had such a sweet and humble spirit, I decided to really listen. She then began to describe this vision of a waterfall pouring down and a saw with a spinning blade at the top. “I feel like your desire is to pour out, to really pour out,” she said, “but you feel persecuted, as if someone is trying to stop you, or maybe you’ve tried to pour out before and someone cut you off and you’re afraid to try again. Does that connect with you at all?” I nodded with tears coming to my eyes. She continued, “And then I see this horn, this trumpet. Psalms says, 'His horn is my strength,' and God wants you to know that. He wants you to take hold of His strength and go pour out His love.” She began to pray that over me and then she stopped and said, “I feel like God wants you to hear Him say, ‘I’m proud of you. I see you pouring out and I am pleased. I see the little outpourings you don’t even realize, those little glances that say: you are loved.’” And she went on, “And God is declaring that He has not given you a spirit of fear or timidity but of power and His strength. He wants you to learn to walk in that and to go pour out that love and that power on others.” And we said, "Amen."

Then her friend came up to me and said, “Now I just feel like I need to say that I was watching your worship and I just saw the freedom of the Holy Spirit all over you. He wants you to pour out, but He also wants you to know that He’s pouring out His love all over you. I saw that as I watched you and it encouraged me.” And I was at a loss for words. Anyone who has read Hinds’ Feet on High Places (which I was rereading at the time and was touching me so deeply it’s as if I had never read it before) knows the significance of the waterfall as a symbol of being humbled and delighted to pour out everything. Much-Afraid even jumps off the edge of the waterfall to find the pit and the altar where she is to lay down her life. In that book, the symbol of the waterfall and living given over are synonymous. "Held back" described perfectly what I had been feeling the day before. And if that second girl only knew how intentionally I was raising my hands and dancing in worship out of a deep desire to live in the Spirit’s freedom. And the words, "God is proud of you." What a comfort for someone who had been battling the guilt of allowing unfounded fear to tear me apart, someone who felt shame at her own lack of faith! Our God is so good! But the story doesn't end there.

Later that day I had some extra time before my voice lesson, and it was such a beautiful day I decided to go out to Jacob’s Dream and write. When I got there I saw a lady drawing. We exchanged smiles, and I found a place to sit. Later she walks by and says, “I drew this little picture of you, and I wanted you to have it.”

I looked down and there’s a sketch of this girl with a contented kind of love-struck expression on her face, notebook on her knees, pencil in hand, leaning on a rock that says “The Lord.” I remembered sitting down thirty minutes earlier and thinking how symbolic it was and how I’d like to have a picture of it. And a picture I got! A picture of how I want to live: love-struck, pencil in hand, leaning back against the Rock, the Lord.

And that's how in one very intense day God taught me how He cares about the details and how He just loves so well. He confirmed in a HUGE way everything He had been speaking to my heart. It was faith-building and encouraging. I love that. I love that God refuses to be distant, even though that's what we deserve. I pray that you're encouraged today. God speaks in whispers or in shouts, in songs sung in the darkness, through complete strangers, softly and tenderly and directly to our hearts. He is so ready to speak. Are we ready to listen?

In awe of Him,

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Enough to Keep Me Singing

I had a very different post in mind for today, but that can wait. I think instead that I'll share with you word-for-word my journal entry from just a few minutes ago. Hopefully your heart will be as encouraged as mine was.

I laugh at myself sometimes. I can only imagine what I must look like on days like today when the weather is perfect and all the world seems bright and beautiful and full of hope and potential. So here I sit, back against a tree, journal on my lap, pen in hand, mesmerized by everything around me. I suppose it might appear kind of silly, but I love it. And it's nice to just enjoy God's presence and all of His gifts and not be victim to fear or anxiety. The breeze seems to hit at just the right time so it feels like the fondest touch, and joy and affection bubble over in my heart.

Believe me, I know how cheesy it sounds! But it's true! I cherish times like these when I can literally turn my back on everything and just sit with my Beloved and soak. And it's so clear that God really does have a plan for freedom and wholeness and redemption, even though I can't always see, feel, or imagine it. Moments like these remind me that no matter what happens God is good and loving and faithful. He makes a way for us to get out of the pit and press on. And as if that were not enough, He does more than help us escape out of darkness... He grows us there. He meets us there. He speaks to us there. He teaches us profound lessons there. He takes darkness, and speaks light. He takes the shards of brokenness and creates a new masterpiece that is greater and better and more like His image. And I love that about my Beloved. He doesn't just calm the storm and leave the clouds hanging over us. He makes the sun come out and the air is crisp and the grass is greener and the sky is more vibrant and blue than we ever remember. And by doing that, God makes the storm a glorious thing. He is SO good!

And just to know that is enough. To know He has a plan to make things right. To know He brings beauty from ashes. To know that He takes what the enemy intended for evil and turns it into the fertile soil in which our roots can dig deep as we grow in His likeness, like a tree planted by streams of clear water. To know that this delight I experience is His gift directly to me, His beloved. That's enough to keep me going and to push me passed the fear that tries to hinder. That's enough to make me willing to give my all and to be stretched. It's enough to make me willing to bear the cost of living given over. At least... I want it to be. When the tears fall and I'm flooded with "what if's" and the storm overwhelms me, I want to remember moments like now, and I want that to be enough.

Not every day is this beautiful. Not every day brings this same sense of rest and peace and the presence of my Beloved. Let's be real, some days... most days are chaos which drowns out the voice of my Shepherd. And yet just knowing that moments like these exist, knowing that I've lived them... that's enough to keep me singing, "it is will with my soul." Amen! Let it be so, Lord! Let it be so!

This is the journey that I am on. Learning to live firmly established in the fact that my Father has given me a grand inheritance, and that gift is nothing less than the very presence and affection of the God of the universe! I am learning to live as the Beloved, even when the world around me contradicts that. It's a good journey! I pray He's taking you down that path as well. We are deeply loved!

Always singing,

Monday, October 18, 2010

Given Over

I wrote this song something like a month ago. It provides a little background for my last post. How wonderful it is to serve a God who lifts us up when we come face to face with our own weakness! It is purely out of love that I make my greatest desire to lay my life, my dreams, and my will down on His altar in daily sacrifice. "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing in God's sight. This is your spiritual act of worship." (Romans 12:1)

Given Over
Words and Music by Stephanie M. Frakes
To Pauline Bjorem for setting these two words resonating in my heart and teaching me, by example, how to live them.

I've fought this battle
A thousand times before
And still I always wonder
Just what I'm fighting for
It's just so foolish
To think it's up to me
To scale the heights of love
Or delve the depths of peace

And then I feel the earth against my knees
And it's clear that I am flesh
And I am weak

But that's when You lift me
To rise on eagles' wings
When I've nothing left to offer
But all You offer me
My life here on Your altar
A humble offering
It's all You've given me
Given over

Words are so easy
Falling from my lips
Until I start to wonder
How then shall I live?
The moment I realize
To live what I believe
Requires so much more
Than songs and poetry

And then I feel the earth against my knees
And it's clear that I am flesh
And I am weak

But that's when You lift me
To rise on eagles' wings
When I've nothing left to offer
But all You offer me
My life here on Your altar
A humble offering
It's all You've given me
Given over
To Your power, to Your love
Given over
To Your presence, it's enough
Given over
To Your glory, to Your will
Given over

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bearing the Cost Meets Acceptance with Joy

So here's the deal. I'm really struggling today. And I'll cut to the chase. I'm tired. I'm tired of the battle and the constant conflict. I'm tired of the brokenness. I'm tired of that aching longing that I feel for eternity, for that time when things will all be new and whole and we'll be really, truly free. I'm so ready for that day when the flesh won't have so much power over me. I want to be done with this whole refinement process. Yet I know that as long as there is breath to fill my lungs, there is more. There is more to this journey. There is more adventure to be had. I just wish it didn't involve quite so much pain or frustration or work or sorrow or suffering. And I know that this brokenness creates the very stones that build a deeper intimacy with my Beloved. I know that it is sorrow and suffering that drives me to His throne of Grace. I know that I only discover the fullness of His glory when I am facing the darkness. I know Hope only holds significance when it is juxtaposed with feelings of hopelessness. I know (in fact I preached a sermon on it in my last post...) that the brokenness of this world and the pain that we face is not without purpose. That purpose is our refinement. The entire point of life is for us to be transformed into Christ's likeness. The whole reason I'm on this journey is so that I can be transformed from glory to glory. Still, I'm not going to lie. I so wish there was an easier way! And I know I'm not alone in that cry, and I don't think we're wrong either. Didn't Christ Himself beg the Father to remove the cup from before Him? He cried for an easier way, but His cry for God's will to be done was so much louder and so much deeper. And I pray that is so in my own life.

I have this vision of the way I'd like to live, and I can sum it up in two words: GIVEN OVER. I want to lay my entire life down on the altar. And not just my life, but my will and my dreams and my deepest desires and my passions... everything. With that comes this idea of joyful abandon, of release, of surrender, of letting go, of strivings ceased, and of true freedom. I want to lay down this life that I'm holding so that I can just run after my Beloved. I don't care where we're going or what we're doing when we get there. I just want to run after Him. I just want to be where He is. I want to be available for Him to use me as His vessel, His instrument. And it sounds so appealing, this idea of being given over to God's power and love and will and Presence and glory, and singing at the top of my lungs, "You can have all the world. Give me Jesus!" Yes, it sounds wonderful. It sounds like an adventure. And nothing gives a poet more to write about or a singer more to sing about than a life of adventure. Hear me on this, I really believe that's the way we're supposed to live. Given over in joyful abandon to the Lover of our souls, the One who has hemmed us in behind and before. I'll confess though... it is SO much harder than I ever thought it would be. Words are one thing. Living them is something completely different.

Sometimes I think I'm crazy. Who in her right mind would chase after a Spirit? Who would ever live life moment by moment, totally okay that she doesn't know the details of what's going to happen? Sometimes I feel alone, like there's no one who really understands the passion or the faith that's driving me. Sometimes I feel confined, whether by my own fear, or by the fear of the well-meaning people who love me. Sometimes it just plain hurts, which brings me to the idea of bearing the cost. I guess I hadn't realized this, but it costs something to live given over. It makes perfect sense. If I lay something at the altar, I lay it there because it is a sacrifice, and sacrifices are costly. I lay it there to be consumed by fire from Heaven, and fire burns. If I'm going to live life running after my Beloved, after Jesus, I'm going to have to bear the cost. He said it like this, "Take up your cross and follow me." I don't know why it's taken so long for me to understand that. Maybe it's because I thought taking up my cross meant intense persecution or seasons of pain and struggle. That's not the case though. When I made the decision to live given over, my life changed. The desires of my heart changed. God sowed a seed in my heart that pierced my flesh, and left me aching, longing for Him and for His perfect, eternal love. That too is a cross to bear. So I daily bear the cost of my choice to live given over, but it is so worth it! To see God move in my life. To watch Him orchestrate every last detail. To feel His comfort after the pain. To experience His faithfulness. These are the things, though so often surrounded by pain, make life worth living. This is abundant life. Just because it hurts doesn't mean He's not in control, and it most certainly does not mean He's forgotten us or doesn't love us. It doesn't even mean we're on the wrong path. It's just a hard journey. And yet our Shepherd is a good and faithful guide. We hear His voice, even when we can't see or feel Him. And that is where acceptance with joy comes in. We bear the cost of our sacrifice, and we accept that with joy, because we know that He who called us is faithful, and though we experience sorrow and suffering, it is never unto death. Jesus chose to bear the cost so we might have eternal life.

May He reassure your heart today, and renew your faith to continue bearing the cost and live given over, for that is where we find abundant life.

Given over,

Friday, October 8, 2010

At the Pool of Sent

The story of Jesus healing the blind man in John chapter 9 has some special significance to me. It is the story God used to confirm in my heart that He has called me to seminary. I am a firm believer that we are all called to live a lifestyle of ministry wherever we are at. Ministry is a natural overflow of the Holy Spirit living in us. That is why I cannot say with any complete certainty at this point that God has called me into vocational ministry. I can only say that His desire for my future is to go to seminary and immerse myself in the study of His word so that I might be fully equipped for whatever He leads me to. I was blind, but Christ made me see. I was bound in chains, but He set me free. I was mute, but He gave me a song to sing. And now we are on an incredible journey... a journey of sanctification and transformation from glory to glory. Falling at His feet in worship, dedicating my life to following and serving Him seems the only response.

Something that has particularly begun to strike me recently is this idea that my affliction, my moments of darkness, my days in the pit, these all become the conduit through which God's work flows into and through my life. These are all places where Christ meets me and touches me and heals me and teaches me and transforms me. And as painful as those times might be, I actually look back on them, not just with a sense of peace, but an honest joy! I can actually be thankful for the pits and the moments I fall, because they provide opportunity to build a deeper intimacy with my Savior and Redeemer. In the wilderness, I am refined so that I can reflect the full glory of God as I go about my daily life.

Here is where I stand: I believe sorrow and suffering in our lives is not accidental and that our afflictions are actually predestined. The pits and our pitfalls along the journey do not surprise God, but rather are a part of His plan to meet us and refine us. That is what the blind man washing in the pool of Saloam (which means Sent) means to me. It's not the pool of "sending" or "going to send" or "might send." It is the pool of SENT. It's predestined. Our pain, the cancer, the self injury, the divorce, the sexual abuse, the depression, the addiction, the insecurity, the intense season of doubt, the fear, the anxiety, the unplanned pregnancy... none of it is without purpose. Even before we knew Christ, we were chosen, Sent to one day go and proclaim His power and grace and goodness. We face affliction so that Christ can have the victory and set us free. Though we know not when, I believe it will happen, and we will rejoice over the pain we once faced. That, my dear friends, is HOPE.

Bound to be set free,

At the Pool of Sent

There was a time
When I was blind
And I never knew why.
Who sinned?
And what was the sin
That had denied me my vision?

And I was fine.
I learned to get by.
The darkness hid the tears I'd cry
On my knees as I wrestled
With that unvoiced question:

Then one Sabbath
I felt the warmth of the sun on my skin
And I heard them
A group of men
Asking my question.
"Who sinned
To cause this man's affliction?"
And I prepared for an answer
To reinforce the condemnation.
But instead
The Man said,
"No one."

And in response to our surprise,
He replied,
"This man lacks his sight
So that all might
See the glory of God's work in his life."
Then I felt His hands
Placing mud upon my eyes.
I'll never forget
When He said,
"Go now, and wash in the Pool of Sent."
Only later did I realize
What He really meant
To say.

That my affliction
Had been predestined.
I had been chosen
To meet the Son of God
And experience His touch
Right there in the pit.
Before I even knew Him
I was Sent
To proclaim His faithfulness,
His power, and His goodness.
This pain
Which no one could explain
A conduit
Of God's grace
And glory.
It has shaped me,
The day I could finally see
The Man who stood before me,
And I believed.
Now I live
To worship at His feet.
That all might see
God's work displayed in me.
The fight was for His victory.
I was bound so He could set me free.
My suffering,
The stage for Glory.

Stephanie M. Frakes
(October 8, 2010)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Of Pits and Power

I've been thinking a lot about standing in strength and power recently. Last Tuesday I found myself in a practice room on my knees and in tears, wrestling with God. What it comes down to is that He was calling me to stand. And I wanted nothing to do with it. But our God is relentless.

Here's the best way I can describe it. There's a story in II Samuel where a man chases a lion into a pit on a snowy day and kills it. It's really very exciting stuff. Now, another pit story. In Judges, Gideon is hiding in a pit from his enemies. It is at this of all moments that God calls Him "mighty warrior" and tells him to rise and that he will rescue Israel. Of course Gideon thinks it's all crazy. Given the choice between the two stories, I would definitely have to say I prefer Gideon's. I would much rather hide in a pit than fight a lion in one. And yet, I know that hiding will not fulfill my soul. Hence, the tears and the wrestling match with God.

Let's be honest for a second. We've all been there, haven't we? We've all faced God's calling and wanted to run the other way. We've all looked at the women God wants us to be - standing strong, clothed in dignity, heads held high - and we've all at some point or another wanted nothing more than to hide. I discovered as I cowered in my pit that I was afraid of my potential. I could hear God calling me mighty, and I couldn't wrap my mind around it. I couldn't for the life of me see what He saw. And quite frankly, I was a little resentful that God would call me to such an impossible task. I didn't ask for the chance to go fight lions! I wanted to stay hidden in the pit like Gideon! And then God stopped me and gently reminded me that Gideon did eventually rise. He stood up and God fulfilled His plan, leading Gideon to victory. God made Gideon a mighty warrior once Gideon was willing to stand in faith and stop cowering and hiding... after Gideon was willing to be vulnerable. God was calling me to do the same thing. He calls all of us to do the same thing. And the truth is, as much as we may want to fight it, in our hearts we know that our desire is not to cower, but to stand in strength and dignity. So right there in a practice room, on my knees I found myself submitting to God, handing my heart and will over to Him, and begging Him for the courage to stand in the strength He desires for me.

It's kind of ironic, isn't it? Here I am bowing before God, surrendering to His desire to fill me with His power so that I could stand strong. I was surrendering to His empowerment. Yesterday (because the sermon at church was about POWER of all things!) I learned a lot more about this idea of surrender to empowerment. We were in Ephesians 3 where Paul talks about being rooted and established in love and having power to grasp the depths of God's love for us and being filled with the fullness of God. So here's the deal. If Christ lives in me, and if His glory is going to be reflected in me, I'm going to stand strong. I'm going to stand in power, because the all-surpassing power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in me. If I refuse to do that, if I choose to cower in the pit, I'm living in rebellion. If I refuse to stand, I refuse to allow God's power to be reflected me. If I say "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" but then refuse to live in that strength, I do nothing to prove that true. I do not glorify Him, and I do not enjoy Him. Hear me on this. I firmly believe that God's desire is for us to live EMPOWERED to use and develop the gifts that He's given us TO THE FULLEST. We are NOT weak! We do NOT need to hide! We can stand strong and firm, rooted and established in His Love. We bow so that God can fill us, and than we stand strong that He might glorify Himself in us.

One last thought and I am done preaching. Life drives us into the pit. It happens. But our Beloved is faithful. He meets us right there in the pit, and He calls us mighty warrior. When we choose to stand and walk, even though our circumstances aren't changing, even though we feel weak and like all we want to do is hide, He fulfills His plans for us. He makes us mighty warriors. That is what faith is. God doesn't call us to things we can imagine. He calls us to adventures beyond our wildest dreams (check out Ephesians 3:20-21)! So let's all stand in Him. Let's spit in the face of fear and defy our human nature that causes us to desire safety over the fullness of God. Let's believe God. May we all walk clothed in strength and dignity. All God's promises are "yes" in Jesus. May our lives resonate with a bold and confident "amen!"

Surrendered to empowerment,