“to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.”
Isaiah 61:3&4 (ESV)
He asks me to come to Him broken and promises beauty in replace of ashes. During this season of life, these verses mean more to me than they ever have. Everyday God is reigning; He doesn’t take days off, nor does he cast me out of His presence. In moments of suffering, sometimes it’s easy to cling to God. Knowing that it is not God inflicting this pain, but it comes because of the broken state of the world. Yet other times, it’s harder to come to Him because the suffering is not a direct result of sin. And because I felt like it was God who hurt me, instead of seeing His arms wide open for comfort, I saw them as crossed and unwelcoming. Let me explain.
Several weeks ago I received some heart breaking news. After finally crossing over the final hurdle, God closed and locked the door between me and Cambodia. For now, God has delayed this trip, His timing is different that what I originally heard. I will not go into the details, but this news hurt me more than any other news I have ever received. Why would God take away a trip I had spent months working on that was intended for His glory? Was I not following His commandment to go into all nations? I’ve felt the call before, I don’t believe I misheard Him. Did he not want everyone to come to repentance? And why, of all the people, would He want to take away a missions trip from me? Does He not know how much I love Him and how I want to do this because I know that I was designed to do this? Could God not see that I am basing my entire life on His commandment to make disciples? I wanted to go more than I wanted anything else. I’m infected with the missions bug; I cannot stay away. Why would God take this from me?
Now, I know what you’re thinking. God has a reason. Yes, He does. He has a perfect will, you’re right. He has a plan that will bring the most glory to Him, and it will advance His kingdom. But that does not change how much this hurts. And because I felt like this was Gods fault, and I knew that He was not going to apologize (Why would He? He didn’t do anything wrong), I ignored Him. I couldn’t cling to Him, and all hope was gone. My life felt like it was without a purpose. Everything I had worked so hard for had been peeled away. God took my trip to Cambodia, placed it within my grasp and then ripped it up in front of me. Instead of running into His arms, I did not speak to Him, read His Word, or worship Him in any form. Have you ever tried to be mad at someone you really wanted to talk to and hang out with? It’s really hard. It’s nearly impossible to ignore the only One who gives me life. I am literally incapable of stopping from singing His praises.
Just over a week after I had found out my plans had been dashed into the rocks, I broke. My eyes became the source of a river. I yelled, cried, and told God how mad I was at Him. I needed to know that He still had the whole world in His hand, so I demanded that He tell me. That day, my Bible study leader directed me to 1 Peter, the whole book. So I sat down and read it. I tried to take it in, and allow the truths I knew become the truths I believed. God is in the business of restoration, it’s promised. “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:16)
After being angry, upset, disappointed, and frustrated with God for a week, I ran back to Him. His arms were open wide, and I felt His comfort for the first time in a while. Sometimes it’s okay to be angry, sometimes it feels like God doesn’t love us, sometimes God allows us to suffer, and every time God has a purpose. I’ve struggled with trusting God more in the past few years than I have with anything else. I sing that God alone is enough, but do I believe that? Do I trust God that He will supply what I need? Who am I to say that God needs to me to bring people to Him? Every day He is reigning. Every day he offers me beauty for my ashes. And every day he is turning ruins into glorious life.
I am still sad. My church is like an international airport, we send out trips all of the time. It’s hard to sit and watch my friends go out into all of the corners of the world while I stay at home. Literally every close friend I have is going somewhere. It’s not easy. But my Comfort and Rest will be found in the One who is in control of my whole life. Earlier this year I talked about abandonment, giving my whole life to Jesus and how I would fight to follow. Well, total abandonment to God doesn’t solely including sacrificing a summer to go overseas, it also includes being willing to stay. John Piper says, “Waiting for the Lord is the opposite of running ahead of the Lord and it’s the opposite of bailing out on the Lord. It’s staying at your appointed place while he says stay, or it’s going at his appointed pace while he says go. It’s not impetuous and it’s not despairing.” By saying “Yes!” to Jesus, He gets to decide when I go and when I stay. Like I said, this won’t be easy. But He is with me and I will find my strength in His presence.
When the mountains fall and the tempest roars, You are with me
When creation folds, still my soul will soar on Your mercy
And I’ll walk through the fire
With my head lifted high and my spirit revived in Your story
And I’ll look to the cross as my failure is lost in the light of Your glorious grace
So let the ruins come to life
In the beauty of Your name
Rising up from the ashes
God forever You reign
And my soul will find refuge in the shadow of Your wings
I will love You forever and forever I’ll sing
When the world caves in, still my hope will cling to Your promise
When my courage ends, let my heart find strength in Your presence
(Glorious Ruins by Hillsong United)