Weary Grief and Desolate Healing


He [Herod] sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. ~Matthew 14:10-14

If you ever want to see the combination of Jesus’ deity and humanity, it is in this account.

His cousin, his partner in ministry, no doubt one of his dearest friends, had been beheaded. The voice that made straight the way in the wilderness had been silenced by a drunk, prideful man. It makes sense that Jesus would want to withdraw, be alone and grieve.

Yet, in the midst of his human grief, His divine compassion overruled and He healed their sick and eventually fed the 5,000.

The last couple of years I have experienced some things that made me want to withdraw and go to a desolate place, and I have looked at this passage several times to try to understand how Jesus dealt with hurt and exhaustion and grief in ministry.

But to really see that Jesus was dealing with more than just the loss of His cousin in this passage, take a moment and put this event in the context of the previous chapters in Matthew.

In Chapter 12, while Jesus was healing and teaching, he was repeatedly challenged and attacked by the Pharisees. He was helping people, and the “religious people” were working against him. I counsel people who deal with sexual brokenness, so I’ve been attacked by people who claim to speak for God. It’s painful, and it’s exhausting.

In Chapter 13, Jesus had been teaching some pretty intense things to his disciples. And they didn’t get it. Seven times he puts a parable before them in an attempt to explain the Kingdom of Heaven to them and, more times than not, He has to explain His explanation to them. And at the end of it all, they never got it. As a teacher, I know how frustrating and exhausting it can be to try to find a way to make something “click” with your students and nothing seems to work.

After all of this, He went home, to Nazareth. Surely, in His hometown, He would find rest and love and acceptance. Instead, it says his hometown folks were “astonished” and “offended” by His presence and teaching. Their unbelief literally drained him of his power and He could do no works in their presence.

This is the state of Jesus’ heart and mind when his disciples bring him the news about John. He experiences loss. In the last two years, I’ve witnessed and experienced loss. Literal, physical loss in the death of a student and, most recently, in the death of a dear friend and encourager in the ministry. I’ve watched families grieve loved ones and loss of homes after two series of devastating tornadoes. I’ve experienced the loss of relationships that have been near and dear to my heart that, from my current perspective, seem irreconcilably broken.

He is weary. And He wants to be alone. And so He withdraws to a desolate place.

I have been weary. I want to be alone, to withdraw to a desolate place.

But the needs follow Him.

And I feel like they follow me.

Don’t they always?

I think this is why those of us in ministry have such a hard time getting away and really resting in the Father. In the backs of our minds, we know there are always needs.

In my case, this is where the similarities with Jesus end. Same circumstances, different reactions.

When I am weary and I need to withdraw to be with the Father, I tell myself to get it together.

I keep my nose to the grindstone. And instead of having compassion on those who have needs, I begin to resent them. So now I am weary, frustrated, exhausted, hurt, grieving, and bitter.

What a servant.

I have read this passage so many times in the last three years and I’ve thought, “See, Jesus was tired, but He pressed through and He kept serving. Servants set aside their needs and help others.”

Oh, how the enemy deceived me with a sweet piece of Scripture, taken out of context and twisted to fit my prideful little Messiah complex.

Read the story in context with me. After Jesus feeds the 5,000, this is what comes next:

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone… ~Mt 14:22-23

Immediately.

And notice that it doesn’t say “immediately the people realized how spent Jesus was, so they departed to let Him rest.”

He made them leave. He made His disciples leave first. Those with whom He worked.

Probably because they wanted Him to keep working.

Then He dismissed the people.

Then He went alone to be with the Father.

This is the lesson that the Father has been so patiently trying to teach me the last couple of years.

1. There are always going to be needs to meet.
2. As long as we say yes, people will continue to ask you to meet them.
3. If Jesus was weary, hurt and grieved to the point of withdrawing, why should I think I would be any different?
4. Only when we withdraw and allow the Father to heal us are we able to see His miracles in our lives. He cannot use a servant incapable of working.

Where do I see that fourth lesson? Check out what happens after Jesus spends that day alone with the Father.

And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” ~Mt 14:25-33

While it was undoubtedly cool to see their buddy Peter walking on water, and I can’t imagine what it was like to see the wind obey Jesus, I have to think that it was the culmination of all they had seen the previous few days that led to their declaration of Him being the Son of God.

To see Him respond with genuine human emotion to confusion, rejection, grief, and unceasing demands.

To watch Him display divine power in multiple miracles.

To witness His sovereign wisdom in saying “no” for a time in order to go be with the Father.

And then to see Him come to them, in a time of need, and begin serving again.

That is the example of our Savior.

That is an example that I have failed to see so often, and God has very recently and very literally reminded me that rest is necessary; for our hearts, our bodies, our minds.

And just like God did in the Old Testament, when He gave the land the 70 years of sabbath the Israelites had taken from it, when we don’t take that rest as He commands, He will often give it to us in humbling ways.

Learning to rest.

Learning to withdraw to desolate places.

Learning that it’s ok to take the time to grieve and to heal, just like Jesus did.

That’s what the Father is teaching me right now.

What is He teaching you?

Thinking Aloud About Praying in Public


Thinking out loud can get a person in trouble. Me be the person doing the thinking can add to the trouble; I tend to start my train of thought in a very different train station than the average person where I live.

But this whole war over public prayer with the Freedom From Religion Foundation really has me thinking about prayer, especially public prayer. The issue was reignited in the Chattanooga area in August when the Foundation filed complaint against a local football coach.

Then there was an issue over prayer at UTC football games. Now UTK has issued a statement to inform the public that, per legal advice, they have no reason to discontinue prayer before ball games.

My first, fiery response to the whole thing was decidedly redneck and all things that are wrong about tradition and religious culture. “We pray at ball games down here! No one has a problem with it here. Why don’t they go back to Wisconsin and leave us alone?” There’s my moment of confession; everything redneck and Southern Confederate heritage oozing out of the overflow of my heart. Massive heart check required.

But that thought made me think a little deeper; why do we insist on praying at public events?

Is it because it’s tradition?

Is it because we have a superstition that someone will get hurt if we don’t pray?

Is it because we want to summon our god to be on our side?

Southern redneck public prayers don’t exactly have the best track record of displaying the glory and majesty of the God we serve.

Jesus had some things to say in Matthew 6 about praying in public:

5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Just some food for thought as I’m thinking through the Freedom From Religion yuck.

What’s being proven with making a stink about praying before a ball game?

Are we reducing prayer to a magic charm when we insist it take place a certain way?

What’s wrong with observing a moment of silence? That’s what UTC decided to do, and it seems to be a mutually respectful compromise.

I understand that some people see this as further encroachment upon our religious freedoms and this is the issue at which some have chosen to draw the line of saying “no more.” I’m just not sure which religion people are practicing that requires they pray at the beginning of public events. Sometimes it feels as if this whole fight is based not upon protecting our religious freedom, but about insisting our religion is right.

But what causes us to think that we have the “right” to pray in public at all? Is having a moment of silence preventing us from practicing our religion?

My questions are based more on the global perspective of knowing the friends and family of people who have died for their faith around the world. Knowing the loved ones of martyrs changes your perspective of the term religious freedom.

What would our nation be like if we spent on private prayer all the time we spend filing litigation to protect our right to pray over public events?

What will Americans do if we are ever really faced with the loss of religious freedom?

Ministry Update, Summer 2010


Hello Prayer Partners!

I hope you are all having a blessed summer and are enjoying some time with friends and family.

Here is a quick update for you so that you know how to pray for this ministry.

Tomorrow I am heading to Irvine, CA, and the 2010 Exodus Freedom Conference through Exodus International. This will be three days of much healing for hundreds of people who seek freedom from homosexuality and much equipping for friends, family and ministers who seek to walk alongside men and women in that journey. This is the 35th anniversary of the Exodus Freedom Conference, and it is returning to the site of the first conference. As you can imagine, the atmosphere in California is not particularly welcoming to a conference that is designed to help those leaving the homosexual lifestyle. Planning for protests and rallies and pro-gay gatherings has been going on almost as long as planning for the conference. Here is how you can pray over the next few days.

Safety for those traveling to the conference.
That we will have opportunities to share the Gospel with those we meet on the way.
That those who come seeking healing will find it
That worship times will be freeing, authentic and Christ-centered
That those who come to protest will have positive experiences and will see the love of Christ in conference participants
For boldness and compassion for those who are speaking and teaching
For wisdom as we counsel many hurting people
For supernatural strength and encouragement for those who are working in the Conference.

This will be a very intense but encouraging time for everyone involved. Your prayers are greatly desired and appreciated!

Back here in Chattanooga we have some good things going on as well! God is greatly blessing the group of women that began a discipleship small group together in February. They are all fighting hard to find their freedom and identity in Christ and it is a rich blessing and encouragement to watch their faith and confidence grow each week. We have expanded our group for the summer to include women who come from all walks of life. We are going through the study Believing God by Beth Moore. We began this past Saturday night and will have over 20 women participate with us! These women are single, married, divored and widowed, they are ages 16 to 67 and come from many diverse backgrounds. But they are all unified in their desire to genuinely believe God so that they are equipped to live out the faith they claim. The excitement in the room was tangible as women openly shared of their desire to move past lives of mediocrity in order to enjoy the rich blessing of abundant life in Christ! Please pray for this group over the next ten weeks. We meet on Saturday nights, 6:00-8:00, and they have all made quite a commitment to give up their summer Saturday evenings in order to have this time of discipleship and fellowship. Please pray that God will bless their faithfulness and obedience richly and that their growth will ignite the sparks of revival both in their personal lives and in their respective churches.

God is doing an amazing work in the lives of the women I get to work with each week, and it is a blessing to see that growth. As a teacher, whether in the school room or in a church or conference room, there is nothing better than watching the lights come on in the lives of your students as they have “Aha!” moments. God promises that we will find Him when we seek Him with all of our hearts (Jeremiah 29:11-13). There is an ever-increasing desire to know and to love the Savior, and transformation in the lives of women who faithfully seek after Him cannot be denied.

Thank you all for your prayer support! I will send out an update next week concerning the Exodus Freedom Conference.

Blessings,

Bekah

Philippians 1.9-10


And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-10 (ESV)

Paul has said much in these opening paragraphs of his letter to the church in Philippi concerning prayer. He wants them to know that prayer, communication with the Father, is of vital importance to him, and it should be to them as well. In this short prayer, Paul gives us several things he prays for his readers and several reasons why he prays the way he does.

  1. Paul prays that their love may abound more and more.

We have already discussed love in this study, but I would encourage you to go back and see what Paul has to say about love. Read 1 Corinthians 13. This is a very familiar passage, one that we often gloss over and consider as something to be read at weddings. But really stop over each phrase and consider how your “love life” is concerning each of these areas.

Danny Akin preached on this passage at the 20/20 Conference this past weekend at school, and he gave us a very challenging and convicting exercise to do with the chapter. In verses 4-8, every time you see the word love, replace it with the name Jesus. It works perfectly, right? Jesus is the only person who has ever loved perfectly. Now, replace the word love with your own name. I know I stumbled over more than one of them. How about you? We know the standard of how we are to treat one another, but we also know that it is a standard we will not be able to meet perfectly. That can be frustrating and cause us to want to give up altogether. But don’t give up quite yet! Now, replace the word love with the phrase “Jesus in me.” Works much better! See, we were never meant to fulfill the mandates of Scripture on our own. In fact, it’s an impossible task. We can only love, serve, and obey with the help of Jesus through the Holy Spirit in our lives. There are people in our lives who are difficult to love, but Jesus loves them. And He will love them through us if we allow Him to do so.

But how do we allow Him to do that? Look at the end of verse 9: “with all knowledge and discernment.” In order to be able to love, we have to know how Jesus loved others. The exercise above is a good way to begin growing in the knowledge of the Lord. Continuing in Bible studies is another way. We are to be imitators of Christ. Think for a moment about entertainers who make a living impersonating famous people. How did they become good at their impersonation? By studying for hours and hours the one that they are going to impersonate! No one wakes up one day and decides to impersonate someone they’ve never seen or heard of before. If they do, they probably won’t do a very good job. In order to be like someone, you have to study them, practice their mannerisms, their vocal inflections, their clothing.

It is the same way with Christ! If we are to be like Him, we must get to know Him. Paul prays that their love may abound, but he knows this will not happen through a passive working of spiritual magic. Their love will abound when they choose to grow in knowledge and discernment. Love is an action verb– not a warm and fuzzy feeling that may come and go depending on our mood and the behavior of others– and growing in love requires action as well.

  1. Paul prays that they may approve what is excellent.

If you spend any time around small children, you know that there is no need to teach them to do wrong things. Selfishness is not learned; it just comes naturally. You don’t have to force your children to practice temper tantrums when they don’t get their way. Lying is not an acquired skill. If you ever need proof of the idea that we are all born with a fallen, sinful nature, spend a Sunday in the nursery with 18-24 month old toddlers! There you will find a room full of “me monkeys”—each out for his or her own best interest, and willing to bite, scratch, kick and scream to get it.

The sad thing is that many adults are still like this because we have failed to grow in love and learn to approve what is excellent. What are the excellent things that we should approve of? How do we begin to develop those things in our own lives?

  1. Paul prays that they may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ

This is a thought that we do not consider often, but it should be the focus of our lives. When we become saved, it is not for the express purpose of going to heaven. Were that the case, I believe God would just take us to heaven immediately upon our conversion. So there is a purpose to our being here on this planet beyond just living an arbitrary life until we die or He returns for His church. What are we supposed to be doing? Paul gives us nothing short of the meaning of life in this one phrase. We are here to prepare ourselves for the wedding supper of the Lamb!

The day of Christ is the day that He returns to this earth to rule and reign as Lord of all creation. Paul is talking about end times here. What we do each and every day determines how well prepared we are for eternity. I have had several friends get married the last few years. To date, not a single one of them has received a ring from their boyfriends and thought, “Well now that’s taken care of! I can really let myself go now!” No, usually when a woman gets engaged, it’s a mad rush countdown of getting really in shape so that they can be presented to their groom looking as good as possible on their wedding day. Think of our salvation as a promise of marriage and the time we spend on this planet as our engagement. We are referred to as the bride of Christ; how are you preparing yourself to be the bride?

Read Revelation 19:6-10. It is John’s description of the marriage supper of the Lamb. The multitude of people in heaven is singing a song at the wedding reception. Their song tells us about the appearance of the bride. “’…for his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted to her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’—for the linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

Paul prays that we will be pure and blameless on the day of Christ. John declares that he sees the bride prepared for meeting her bridegroom. And the bride in John’s vision is dressed in her righteous deeds. Now, here’s the question: when it comes time for us to be presented to our groom, how will you be dressed? Are you spending your days preparing yourself to be the beautiful bride of Christ? Or do you take it for granted that you’ve been chosen and are laying back and waiting for that day? This is a painfully hard way to look at yourself, but it is a gut check for our Christian lives.