Tomorrow is December 1st, 2013 – wedding day. More importantly, it will be day one of the journey Jerry and I will travel together in marriage. In the last nine months, we’ve been preparing both for the wedding, and for our marriage in Christ. All the preparation, the struggling and the decisions were not in vain because, painful as it sometimes was, these have birthed fruit – fruit of understanding ourselves and each other, fruit of understanding God, fruit of humility, patience and perseverance. Some shared in our joy and in my victories, others witnessed our grumblings in struggle, and some saw us through both.
At the moment, I guess I’m making wedding preparation sound rather epic and daunting. However, it wasn’t the wedding preparation itself that affected my being so much – no, that was just the means. What so severely tested my heart and my character was my being placed outside my comfort zone, outside my experience of really knowing how God would act. I mean, He has surprised me plenty of times before, and I have been glad and recognised His wisdom. Many times, I’ve had to act on faith and I’ve found it exciting, exhilarating and worth it all, knowing with full confidence that God would never fail. I’ve been in rough places and I’ve held on to God, knowing without doubt that He would pull me up from the miry clay. Yet, these nine months were different. I can’t place an exact finger on it – it wasn’t that the situations I faced were harder, it wasn’t that God wasn’t there, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to turn to Him. Somehow, all my experiences from before dulled in comparison while, at the same time, I retained the same knowledge that God would come through and I believed this. Still, I felt faced with a massive challenge that I could not overcome alone.
What was it? In Matthew 16:24, Jesus says to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” Through the years, there have been some particular seasons when I’ve grown to have a deeper understanding of what this means. In the first few years of university, God took me deeper in understanding what it meant to be holy just as He is holy, and to stand apart from the world in Him – to fast as I had not fasted before, and to understand the purpose of this. Through this season of wedding planning, I’ve been taken deeper into understanding what it means to empty myself out before the Lord. Someone spoke over me from Song of Songs 4 once:
“(v.12) A garden enclosed
Is my sister, my spouse.
A spring shut up,
A fountain sealed…
(v.15)…A fountain of gardens,
A well of living waters,
And streams from Lebanon.”
Back then, I understood from this the importance of cultivating my secret garden with the Lord, my personal intimacy in knowing Him, spending time with Him in the secret place. Now, however, my understanding of these verses has deepened even further. It is not just that I am filled with God and this overflows in my life, but it begins with me emptying myself out before God continuously, allowing Him to deliver His strong, freely flowing waters of life into the well of my heart. It is from this trust and submission that a garden, rich with fruit of the spirit, and rich in intimacy, is cultivated. Not “new” knowledge exactly, but I’ve had new revelation, and deeper understanding of this.
[Matthew 5:3] – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” To be poor in spirit is the beginning of riches in the Spirit!
These are just two of the many things I have learnt during the last nine months of wedding planning.
Lesson 1: Learning to Love
[Romans 5:8] – “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
I remember one particular Sunday, sitting in church when I had a new revelation of this verse. I had been going through a block of stressful discussion and decisions in wedding planning, and I found myself complaining and grumbling before God about all sorts of things, even about people. My attitude had gone from serving others with joy, to self-pity, thinking things were unfair, and wanting to be pampered. I was aware of this and yet, at the same time, I just felt like that and I couldn’t think how to change this attitude in my heart. I also knew that whatever I was feeling, God knew.
As I was complaining, God reminded me of this verse. It stopped me in my tracks and I was literally stunned silent before God as I contemplated the significance of this statement – “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Did I earn that? Was I worthy of that? By no means could my own holiness or my own righteousness have earned me that privilege! No, I know I am a sinner, and I know that the reason I live as I do is because of the working of God’s spirit in me. I know that my flesh leans towards the polar opposite of the pure and holy love that God has, but I know that His grace has freed me into the fullness of His love (https://lostnowfoundk.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/cut-to-the-heart/).
All of a sudden, I understood what Paul must have understood when he declared, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chef.” [1 Timothy 1:15] I must have understood because I found myself instinctively declaring the same! I recognised still more the harrowing consequences of sin, and its hold even in my life, but at the same time, I saw the love of my Saviour who so desires me, so desires us to be with Him, that He willingly lays down His life to lift us up. If Christ does that for me, in my sin and rejection of Him, how much more should I also do this for all my brothers and sisters in this world? In fact, how can I do any differently? Christ humbled Himself as a servant, and joyfully delights to love us day after day unceasingly. Because of His love in me, I am compelled to lay down my life for others, to humble myself, and to serve others joyfully regardless of what they think, how they act, or how they respond.
Lesson 2: The Art of Humility
[Philippians 2:3-4] – “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
To esteem others as better than myself, and to look out for the interests of others before my own – it’s a hard task! Our society teaches that we should look out for ourselves because, perhaps, who else will? Putting out families first, putting true friends before ourselves is honourable and commendable, but to really do this, then to do this even for our “enemies” – that is difficult. I don’t think this passage means that we should necessarily aid others in whatever their personal interests are, but rather that we should always look out for the Christ-directed interests of others. Last week, I wrote about being equipped for every good work, and I believe that when we look out for the interests of others like this, we are looking to increase the good work of Christ in another’s life (https://lostnowfoundk.wordpress.com/2013/11/24/equipped-for-every-good-work/). This does not mean that we only encourage activities that are directly linked to church, or pursuit of Jesus, but that we encourage each other and rejoice with each other for the good works and potential God sees in a person’s life. In other words, to see others as God sees them – and this also requires love.
I remember how Jesus demonstrated servanthood in washing His disciples’ feet [John 13:1-17], how he said “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you and example, that you should do as I have done to you.” [John 13:12-15] I remember how He was like a lamb led to the slaughter – oppressed and afflicted, and yet He did not open His mouth [Isiah 53:7]. Jesus humbled Himself. He spoke boldly against injustice, yet He so patiently, lovingly and humbly endured injustice toward Himself. Isaiah 53:11 shows the consequence of Jesus’ humility:
“He shall see the labour of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge, My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.”
Humility comes at a cost. We have to give up our own interests in order to lift up another person. However, humility brings a reward – we feel blessed to see another person receive blessing (it is the opposite of jealousy!) There have been many times when I have experienced this – great joy at watching another person receive blessing and honour. Yet, I have also experienced jealousy. I realise that in order to be humble, I need to recognise the humility Jesus showed me. When I think about how He was glad to suffer and die on the cross so I could be lifted up to have relationship with God the Father, I am overwhelmed, and I think:
If this (whatever I feel I may have lost in terms of my own interests) is the cost I have to pay in humbling myself, and demonstrating love toward God and toward others, it is all worth it. Jesus suffered more and Jesus gave up more for people who did not even know their best interests. He was a servant, and in this, I am growing to understand and be transformed more in His character. I want to be tested in humility. I want to deny myself, to take up my cross daily and follow Him. I want the joy He has in seeing others lifted up.
When I see Christ, He so satisfies my every interest and desire, that nothing else matters. When I am satisfied like this in Christ, I am empty, yet filled, so that I have capacity to fully serve others with joy!
[Romans 12:10] – “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honour giving preference to one another…”