Frayed: grace to help us when we split under pressure

“You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake…We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

2 Corinthians 4:5, 7

We’re in the second stage of language learning here in Papua New Guinea. Instead of going to either the classroom or a teaching session out in the village, we’ve been cut loose to learn as much as we can by being with people in their daily lives. Sometimes this means helping in their gardens, washing clothes in the river with them, visiting their homes, or going on a walk and talking with whoever we meet on the way.

One difficulty I ran into last week was this: men and women usually spend their days apart.

Where Cody can pretty freely come and go, it takes a little more legwork and planning to set up a safe way for me get those same experiences. I was brainstorming and doing my very best to meet all the expectations I felt, but one day, my plan fell through and my heart sunk with it.

Cody had a long hike with the men planned that day and with my Plan A out of commission, several people would have had to change their whole day in order for me to get the language time I’d been hoping for. I got disillusioned with how unfair and complicated this process felt. I cried, hard. I miss the structure. I miss our teacher laying out our lessons and making sure everyone was right where they should be. I miss the freedom to just hop in my car and go where I need to go. I miss my mom!

The next morning, one of the sweet ladies here offered to watch Abi for a few hours, and I took the opportunity to reset. I could accomplish all kinds of language study, but if I’m driven by a fearful, panicky, proud heart…what would it be worth?

I asked the Lord to help me accept that part of learning this culture is taking it in stride when a plan doesn’t work out. Part of learning to be faithful is looking for how I can be faithful with what I can do, rather than stressing over what I can’t.

I’m adjusting to a lot of new limitations. And I realize that leaving campus for these language-learning experiences has become, to my heart, a need. An idol, that when threatened, pushes me to distress. I saw that there were pressures I was allowing to influence my choices and forfeit my peace.

I was fearful of falling behind in language. I hate how it feels when I struggle to understand. We do have a really important message and I want to communicate it clearly. But deep down, I think it’s more about my fear than my good intentions. It’s important to me to feel at home, and I’m just plain afraid that I’ll struggle to settle in and I’ll burn out if I don’t get this language down. So there I was, grasping for control and fighting like crazy to set us up here, when the Lord pointed out to me one startling fact:

I had place my hope for successful ministry and life here on adequate language learning instead of throwing myself upon His grace and strength. Somewhere along the line I decided again that this is up to me. And so, I was blowing a fuse instead of begging for help.

In that moment, I saw all over again that I am a fragile clay jar. And this is by design. It helps to make it crystal clear that any power, gifting, or ability that shows up in my life comes from Christ alone. I am not the savior or the solution to anyone’s need; I am just the stained and battered envelope bearing a message of inexpressible joy:

Help is on the way. You’re going to be okay. Not because I’m here, but because HE is. And look at what He was able to do in me, in spite of all the places I split under the pressure.

Oh Lord,

Please help me to shift my hope to you and you alone. Help my stressed-out heart yield to the rule of your peace. Teach me to surrender the things I am so desperate to control. You have not just set me aside to make sure Cody learns all that he needs. You have different things to teach us, and I am positioned perfectly to learn what you have decided is most important. Make me a humble learner who is willing to learn what you are teaching, rather than rejecting it because I had something different in mind.

As I was looking over our instructions for independent language study, I noticed this breakdown for how to spend our time:

5% – Plan

50% – Participate

20% – Process

25% – Practice

Man, if only 5% of learning depends on planning, I can still learn a ton when the plan goes out the window. Maybe more than if the plan had worked. And I think great learning versus great stress depends on whether I trust the teacher.

You’re changing me. You’re teaching me that YOU are the point, not me. You are freely giving your light and your strength – sending them into my desperate need. I am frayed, but you are unphased, intact, perfect as ever, able to withstand every pressure.

You are the only source of a steady heart. The only thing on earth that can hold us secure through shifting, through trouble, and through our own inadequacy. Lord, I praise your name for who you are and for what you are doing here and now in my life. Lead me as I form my plans for this day, and lead me still when I must take brave steps into unplanned territory.

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet He did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”

Hebrews 4:15-16

But One Man Hid: on coming to a halt to deal with the heart

“Then Joshua cried out, ‘O Sovereign Lord, why did you bring us across the Jordan River if you are going to let the Amorites kill us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side! Lord what can I say now that Israel has fled before its enemies?…

…this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘Hidden among you, O Israel, are things set apart for the Lord. You will never defeat your enemies until you remove these things from among you.”

Joshua 7:7-8, 13

God had stopped the Jordan River in its tracks so that Israel could cross on dry land. He had brought down the walls of Jericho before their very eyes. Boldly, they sent a detachment to take out the small town of Ai, and then they were brutally defeated. Joshua was thrown. I would have been, too.

Why had God delivered mighty Jericho to them, and then brought the campaign to a screeching halt at Ai?

The rest of this chapter tells the story of Achan, a man who disobeyed God’s instructions. Israel had been given clear directions to destroy everything except the precious metals, and to bring those to the Tabernacle treasury. They were set apart as holy to the Lord. But Achan made off with just a little something for himself and stashed it under his tent.

I love how this chapter illustrates that when all of Israel obeyed the Lord, but one man kept back and hid what belonged to Him, God was not content to just carry on with the external task of delivering the Promised Land to Israel.

Joshua, in his discouragement, questioned whether they had been over-reaching by stepping across the Jordan at all. But the issue wasn’t having the confidence to go after all that God had promised. The issue was looking only for God’s claim on the territory before them and missing that the battle for his claim on their hearts was just as important.

Later, God did give Israel victory over Ai, and when he did, he told them they were free to take all that they wanted. He was not withholding from them in the long term; he was asking them to trust him and wait. But Achan’s actions in Jericho showed that his heart didn’t trust the Lord. He felt he needed to look out for himself. So God stopped the whole nation in its tracks and revealed to them what was hidden. Then, and only then, he took them forward into victory.

Just as everyone in Israel but Achan obeyed and it wasn’t enough; Jehovah looks for nothing short of a totally yielded heart in me.

Deuteronomy 6:4-6, Psalm 139:23-24 and James 1:21 explore a similar principle – that our loving God is not content with all in my heart that is honorable and well-intentioned when there are hidden areas that disobey, conceal, and hold back from Him.

But when I humble my heart and listen carefully to His word, He faithfully brings those things to the surface. He is in the patient business of drawing out the internal issues that enslave me, cultivate fear, and darken my understanding of Him. And He may even allow exciting external progress to come to a grinding halt in order to address my heart, so that when I walk forward, I do so truly free, wholly His, and unafraid.

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.

Daniel 2:20-22