In the weeks leading up to Easter, I became aware that our church would soon be starting a series on forgiveness. I felt a little something stir in me upon hearing that little tidbit. I wondered, "Are you getting ready to do a work in me, Lord? I could not shake the feeling that He did, indeed, have something in mind for me.
But first Easter. Before getting to the forgiveness series, there was the matter of Easter. Now, worshiping on holidays can be an iffy proposition for me due to the crowds and my anxiety levels. I have realized little victory in this area no matter how much I tell myself that it is about the honor, glory, and praise due God and NOT my physical and/or emotional comfort. The night before Easter I had already made up my mind: I would be staying home while the family went off without me to worship our great God in what I expected to be overwhelming throngs of people. I tossed and turned my way through the night and, is often the case, decided to offer a bit of resistance to the enemy after thinking it through in the morning. As it turned out, I would be joining others who love Him to celebrate the fact that Christ rose from the grave, conquering sin and death.
What a time of worship! I was so glad I had come. Our passage of Scripture came from the book of John, the eleventh chapter: the death and resurrection of Lazarus. Yes, I was very familiar with this story. The crush of people was not nearly as bad as I had feared, and I felt myself begin to relax ever so slightly. I sat, absorbed in the sermon all the way up to the point where Jesus commanded that the stone be taken away from the tomb. Martha, as practical as ever, said, "But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." Okay, I knew this, but why did my heart do a little flip flop when I heard it this particular time? Where are you going with this, Lord?
It was unmistakable. He had something for me in those few words. I tuned out the rest of the sermon and meditated on Martha's words: "...by this time there is a bad odor." To keep it all in context, I rewound the words of the passage in my mind. Jesus was standing at the tomb of Lazarus, fully intending that he would not be dead much longer... and Martha, having no idea, could only think of how removing that stone would bring a terrible smell. I began to see what He was telling me as a vivid image of Him standing in front of my heart popped into my mind.
My heart. That place where remnants of dead things lay buried, the result of living in a fallen world. My heart, protectively healed over without the benefit of removing the shrapnel that had ripped into it. My heart... the place strewn with dreams that had died along the way. Oh!!! I could envision Him gently saying, "Take away the stone" while I stood there, horrified, thinking, "But, Lord! It's gonna stink!!! This is going to be so unpleasant. There is so much YUCK in there!" Yet I could sense Him telling me, "It is time, Daughter. It's time to for resurrection in your heart. It's time to clean house."
And that brings us to the picture at the start of this blog entry. A few days after Easter, I heard from the Metro Parks that they were closing down Springfield Bog for a prescribed burn of the prairie. The day of the burn arrived and we nearly went to that park to hike before remembering that it was closed. We hiked someplace else, but I found that thoughts about the burn kept tugging at my mind. For whatever reason I felt a need to beat a path to that park as soon as possible. Which is what I did!
I would be in the area the very next day and I was determined to see it for myself. I grabbed my daughter and we headed out. The sight that greeted us was to be expected, but still felt rather shocking. It was pretty leveled... and black. As we walked along, we noticed a comforting campfire-like smell. Every so often I stopped and let my eyes sweep across the charred nothingness that had once been an thriving prairie.
It felt so desolate. So dead. But I kept reminding myself that looks can be deceiving. I knew that the Metro Parks would not have ordered this burn unless it would be beneficial in the long run. I thought about naturally occurring fires in nature. Though devastating, I seemed to remember hearing that they were a great thing. Weren't there varieties of flowers that could not grow unless touched by fire? I thought of how the Lord sometimes lovingly puts us through the fire... how we can trust Him to always do those things that will bring about the desired result in us... and how He has plans to prosper us and not to harm us.
I got busy researching when I got home and was not disappointed. The pieces began falling into place with a surprising quickness. I suddenly understood what moving the stone that seals off my heart would bring about... what it would mean if I allowed the Lord to take His refining fire to those dead places.
Just to name a few things, I learned that fires kill back the invasive plants before they have a chance to take over. The products of the burn fall to the ground, sink back into the soil, and provide the nutrients that are needed for future growth. Amazingly, some seeds need hot temperatures to germinate. I also learned that the Metro Parks perfectly times their burns so that regrowth will occur before nesting birds return to make the prairie their home.
I can so see the Lord doing all of these things in me, the one He loves. He knows exactly when it is time to move on to the next phase of what He has in store for me. He has plans for me, but he must first ready the soil of my heart. He has shown me that it is time for a firing to take place. Might it get unpleasant for me at times? Sure! But in His loving kindness, He has provided just the words I needed to give me courage for what lies ahead.
He knows that it is time to cleanse my heart of all of the things that have stubbornly stuck around. He knows the danger of allowing them to remain too long: that I will be hindered in accomplishing those things He has for me. I've desperately tried to beat back the things that should have been taken care of long ago. I am realizing, though, that sometimes you just have to get drastic about removal.
Lord, I am excited about where You are leading me. I lift up the remainder of the forgiveness series to You. I humbly ask that You give our pastors just the right words to minister to us, your people. I pray for an outpouring of Your Holy Spirit upon our congregation, that strongholds will crumble and fall as your people cry out to You and give You access to dark places in their hearts. Shine your light, Lord, and lovingly administer healing wherever it is needed. I pray that many will let go of things that have bound them for years and experience the freedom that can be found in You. Thank You for the attentiveness that I know You will show each of us as we do the hard stuff. You will never leave us or forsake us. Remind us to come to You, allowing You to carry our burdens when they feel heavy. Lord, our time here is short and we need to be about your work. We are not capable of doing that unless You purge our hearts of every thing that is not of You. Do it, Lord! And we'll give all praises to your great name. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.