For a long time I really struggled with how and why an all powerful, all knowing and completely loving God would have allowed me to so badly screw up and destroy my life when I had so very much going for me. To be completely honest with you, I had a real deeply embedded resentment against God. I never actually outright blamed Him for the things that happened to me, but I always wondered why He did not stop me from doing things that eventually ended up with me hurting myself and those around me. Why didn’t He just step in and do something? Surely He was able, wasn’t He?
What I have come to learn and realize is that in His love and mercy He had to completely let me go in order to come to the utter end of myself in order to face the reality of my own inner poverty and desperation. As long as I still believed that I had it in myself to make my life work on my own terms and by own resources I was doomed to keep trying. Self sufficiency was my god and I was bound and determined to prove to myself and anyone else that mattered that given enough time and effort surely I could pull myself up by my own bootstraps and make my life work. As long as I was still so determined, He was willing to stand back and let me try.
As I have shared in here before, I am personally very drawn to the story of the lost son and the merciful father, commonly known as the “Prodigal Son” story in Luke 15. One of the most amazing things in that story is that the father actually let the son go. He did not try to argue with him or convince him to stay. He loved him enough to take his hands off and let him pursue his own will and desires for as long as it took for that son to be driven back to the Father’s house in destitute desperation. That father loved that son enough to let him come to the complete end of himself, which in this case meant utter self devastation. It was then and only then, when he had literally exhausted all of his resources, totally bankrupt and destitute of all hope, that he was able to truly receive that which the Father had been offering him from the very beginning. But in order to receive the Father’s love, grace and mercy he had to come completely broken. I’m thinking right now of the beatitudes in which Jesus revealed the necessary conditions for living the truly spiritual life. He began by declaring, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 5:3). Or as Mary put it in her “Magnificat” in Luke 1:52, 53, “He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.” Or, once again, as Jesus told the Pharisees, “Healthy people do not need a physician, but those who are sick. . . For I have not come to call the righteous but those who know they are sinners.” (Matt. 9:12, 13)
The paradox of the kingdom is just this. In order to live, we must die. In order to be strong, we must become weak. In order to be exalted we must become humble like little children. In order to become great we must become the servant of all. This is what I believe Jesus meant by denying ourselves, picking up our cross and following Him into death. We must die to the power of ego, that self sufficient, self serving, self protective lie that we, in and of ourselves, are all that we need to survive and thrive. We must be willing to let the cross do to our ego that which it did to Jesus – death and eradication. If we are not willing to die to self, we will never know what it is to live unto God and for others. This is the way of the cross, the life of a true follower of Jesus.
You may ask, as I have so many times before, how does this happen? What must I do in order to experience the reality of this other worldly life – this life of Another actually living His life in me and through me? Oh, how we love easy solutions and programs and “7 Easy Steps to the Victorious Spritual Life”, etc. etc. ad infinitum, ad nauseam. The truth of the matter is that it takes whatever it takes. The question is, am I willing to allow the Spirit of God to do with me, in me and through me whatever is necessary to bring me to an utter end of myself in order that I might truly find myself in dependence upon God and the work of His grace and power in my life?
Only with hindsight do I have some understanding of what that required for this extremely stubborn and hard headed Misfit. I had to be brought down very low in order to truly look up and see what was available to me all along. It was in His mercy and love that He allowed me to be brought so low. Did He do that to me? I don’t think so. Did He allow that to happen to me for some greater purpose? Yes, I am convinced of that today. Was there any other way I could have been brought to my spiritual senses without being completely beat down? Honestly, I don’t think so. If there was an easier and smoother way, I believe that God, in His kindness and compassion, would have prevented certain things which happened to happen. But as I said above, sometimes it takes what it takes.
So back to this morning. After I was done speaking and I saw the hope come alive in the eyes of the men and women I spoke to, as I saw the tears in the eyes of hardened addicts and career criminals, I had a profound sense of humility and gratefulness. I knew that my Abba had brought me full circle, allowing me to take that which had utterly destroyed my life and used it to bring an authentic message of hope to the hopeless. I was able to declare with power and authority that the love of God is truly able to heal the broken lives of sin’s captives and powerful enough to even raise the spiritually dead.
Had I not gone through the things that I have I would never have been able to be His messenger of hope, grace and supernatural love as I was able to experience this morning. As I walked out of that treatment facility this morning I could not help but reflect upon Joseph’s words to his brothers in Gen. 50:20, “What you intended for evil to harm me, God intended it all for good.”