Imagine that you are searching through your grandmother’s attic one day, and you came across an old steamer trunk. Opening the lid, you are surprised to find a treasure trove of old and beautiful things – lace and linens, precious family jewels, fine old leather-bound diaries and books, and some beautiful and very expensive vases. One vase, in particular, catches your eye, and you decided to put it in your living room, front-and-center on the mantle. It is gorgeous - everyone who comes by your house notices and comments on its loveliness.
For many months, years even, it sits there looking perfect – until the day of the earthquake. One afternoon, everyone is busy with life and work when suddenly the ground starts trembling, and everything starts rattling and shaking. Pictures fall from the walls, books fly off their shelves, and yes, the beautiful vase succumbs to the violent shaking and tumbles off the mantle to the ground.
In the aftermath, you are walking through the house, amazed at the mess just a few minutes of shaking has left. You notice a terrible smell – something has surely died in your living room! You move towards the back of the room, and the smell intensifies – it grows almost too strong to go any further. What in the world could be causing that awful stench? Then you happen to look down – and there is the beautiful vase, the showpiece of your home. It has fallen to the floor, and its lid, the one that was so tightly shut, has popped off and the contents spilled out. Something so old and so vile has spilled out on to the floor, maybe something that was left in there decades ago, leaving a mess and a smell that you would never have known was tightly shut up in such a beautiful container.
This vase is like our hearts. As we know and walk with the Lord, oftentimes our externals get pretty well cleaned up. We stop looking and acting like we used to – no more foul-mouthed, perverted, selfish-self, just the new and improved, halo-firmly-in-place self. We get cleaned up and look quite presentable. Everyone thinks we have it all together, and even we ourselves start thinking we are pretty terrific - until the day of the shaking. Then we are surprised by the disgusting stench that falls out of our hearts and spills all over the floor. Who knew that junk was still in there?
It is so important to understand that Christianity is not some kind of moral-management plan or do-it-yourself venture. It is not a series of checklists - things to do and things not to do. Living that way sets all of us up for failure. We run the tremendous risk of becoming the most self-righteous and least-kind people on the planet. By thinking that we are in control and managing our own spirituality, and that as long as we do or don't do certain things is all there is to this, we limit the true work God can do in our hearts. The exterior may be clean, but the interior might still be full of foul things.
Truly being a Christian means trusting in and walking with the Lord of All. Real Christianity is a life of self-surrender and of being conformed by God into the image of Jesus. As we walk with God, He is with us through all of the hard circumstances and the earthquakes that life brings. The shaking could be anything. The death of a loved one, a failed class, a disagreement, a betrayal, a broken dream – life can and will throw any number of surprises our way.
Allow me to share a personal example with you. Many years ago, we experienced the miscarriage of a baby. Unfortunately, this is something many people go through. You are so excited to realize you are pregnant and then begin to dream a little, thinking of names, decorating the nursery in your mind, wondering what that little one will be like. But one day you start feeling horrible, maybe bleeding and cramping, and fear begins to grip you. You try to pray, to hope, but your body just betrays you and the baby is lost. Then you have to pay the doctor’s bill. Everything about the experience is horrible.
But what was even worse than the experience itself was what spilled out of my heart in the weeks and months to follow. I was so angry at God, and found myself actually thinking things like, “how could you let something like this happen to me when I have been so good?” or “I thought you were a good Father and wanted to give your children good gifts?” I never said them out loud to anyone, but wicked, ugly things that totally question God’s character and motives came spilling out of my heart and threatened to poison my whole life. I found myself becoming more irritable, more short-tempered, sad, and just angry.
One day during that season, Eli preached a sermon out of Luke 15 to the students - Jesus' story of the Prodigal Son. Instead of focusing on the younger brother who runs off and lives wildly, the sermon was about the creepy older brother who stayed home in the Father's house but was full of self-righteous thoughts. I sat there, punched in the gut to realize that I was that person. Deep down in my heart, I really thought God owed me good things for my service to Him.
Thankfully, the rest of the sermon was about the incredible Father in the story who loves and welcomes both of his wayward children. I came to my senses and realized what road I was traveling down – the road that leads from anger to bitterness to rebellion, straight to deception and death. That is a horrible, lonely road and I do not ever want to be on it again. The good news is that God IS a good Father, and He is patiently waiting with open arms for us to come back to His embrace.
What is the lesson in this? Just this – we live in a fallen world in which bad things often happen. Sometimes the Lord allows us to go through things that hurt, and through it He helps us to see the things that we have kept hidden in our hearts. Things we might want to hold on to and not surrender to Him - like selfishness and self-centeredness and more love for myself than for God or my neighbors. These are the very things that can ultimately lead us away from God forever.
Through these painful experiences, we learn a lot about ourselves and so much about Him. We can understand a little better the Fellowship of His suffering, and we can learn even more to lean on Him and to trust Him. Don’t be afraid of the earthquakes and storms life will bring – for they are sure to come. Know that God will help you clean up what spills out and make you more like Jesus in the process.
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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