About a month ago, I stood with my feet sinking deep into the sand of the ocean. As far as my eyes could see there was water, which eventually met the sky. I remember feeling so small in comparison to the vastness of the ocean. I even talked to one of my friends about God’s size and how He is so infinite that I will never be able to understand His power.
I sat along the shore just watching the waves come in. I remembered Jesus calming the storm and the disciples taking a mental note that even the winds and waves obey Him. I remember confessing to the Lord that I am not as obedient as a wave. If God tells me to do something, I reluctantly do it after being told to do it. But watching the waves come in, I was reminded of my disobedience.
The ocean (and I would even say the mountains) has this ability to draw me out of my self-absorbed pit because when I’m there, I’m reminded of God and all that He’s capable of doing. But I don’t live next to an ocean. I can’t go see it everyday. I have a beautiful backyard, but there aren’t mountains or an ocean–just a barn and some trees.
When I got back from the ocean, the power of God seemed to disappear as we drove away from Florida. The closer we got to home, the pressure of getting everything done increased. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for me to go back to my self-absorbed pit.
I was greeted with the enormous pressure of grad school. My friends who read this know exactly what I’m going to say–it’s kicking my butt. From the very beginning of the class, I have felt like an elementary student taking a graduate level class in poetry, British poetry at that. Poetry is it’s own language, with its own terms, and I’m completely clueless. I’m convinced that it takes me double time what it takes everyone else because other than Dr. Suess or Shel Silverstein, I’m completely inexperienced. But it is hard and taking up pretty much all of my free time.
Then it’s summer time and I do multiple things with our church during the summer! I absolutely love it! The relationships we get to build with our students is probably one of my favorite things about the whole year! The depth of community that’s built in the summer and watching God work in the lives of our students is literally one of the greatest joys.
Oh and I bought a house in April, so I’ve been slowly updating and changing some things here and there. Nothing super major, but just things like putting cabinets back on, organizing things, or hanging some sweet patio lights.
But all of these things take time. And the lack of time with an increase of pressure, created a greater self-absorbed me and a powerful God being squished to fit into a small time-frame. In essence, I started seeing my circumstances and present situation as something that held more power than God.
DISCLAIMER: I know that sounds ridiculous. And if anything you should just stop reading this blog, because I’m telling you I have absolutely nothing to offer you. I literally just confessed to you that I saw the pressures of life greater than God.
And that’s true about what I felt, but completely not true about God. I was believing (and still struggle with this) a LIE. I literally saw my present stressors greater than God and I believed this lie.
The fact that I believed God was smaller than my present situation started eating at my soul. Things that are foundational to my faith, I started to question:
- God, how can you be good?
- God, how are you loving me? I can’t feel it. Show me your love for me. I literally cannot see it.
- God, I don’t think you’re faithful. I don’t think you’re true to your word.
And let me be super honest with you, I came home from the beach, June 1 and as I’m writing this it’s June 25. So we are talking less than a month I went from being absolutely certain that God is good, God is loving, and God is faithful to God isn’t good, God isn’t loving, and God isn’t faithful.
I can promise you it wasn’t God. Scripture promises us that God does not change. Numbers 23:19 says, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.” Even Malachi echoes this with “For I the Lord do not change.” It’s impossible for God to change.
What changed? ME!
Sitting at the ocean, I had all the time in the world to rejuvenate and rest in the power of God’s presence. Then when I came home, God’s presence was (and is) here, but the pressure of life caved in. I was still in the Word, but I was going to God with a very anxious heart and not leaving the pressures at His feet. I wasn’t allowing myself to find rest in God mainly because I thought I had the power over life.
I distinctly remember three occasions over the last month where I created space and clearly heard God’s voice. One occurred on my back patio, and the other two happened in the midst of my nightly quiet time. It never ceases to amaze me just how patient God is with me because even in my questioning of God, He still speaks.
How gracious is God for Him to speak to me?
I literally had just finished praying asking the Lord to reveal to me His goodness, His love, and His faithfulness to me. He quickly responded with His power, but that was exactly what I needed to hear! My daily quiet time was in Acts 12.
Again, remember I literally have nothing to offer you, but God’s Word is so amazing and full of Truth that this is what y’all need to listen to–not my words.
Just a little background on the passage: the church is brand spanking new, and it’s spreading like wild fire. But as the church is growing, persecution is also taking place. King Herod started going after believers. In fact, right before this passage he murders James and arrests Peter. But God’s work is not done–it’s simply beginning. Check this out from Acts 12:6-11:
Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.”And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him.When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
Wow!! Not that the pressure of a busy schedule quite compares to Peter being bound in chains to two guards behind an iron gate, but being completely real and vulnerable…. I totally feel like this in life. It feels like the chains of life are just so much stronger. But there’s good news–God is our rescuer.
God is CLEARLY powerful and COMPLETELY in control.
It’s crazy to think that I had just seen God’s overwhelming power by watching the waves and the winds obey Him in Florida, but it’s hard to see God’s power back here at home. But then this passage came along, and God made His power quite possibly more known to me through this passage than at the ocean. Here’s what God showed me:
1. It doesn’t matter what you’re chained to.
Peter was chained to two men. The passage doesn’t say that they were giant, but I’m guessing they had to be pretty large. King Herod really wanted Peter gone because Peter sharing the gospel was a threat to King Herod’s kingdom, so it makes sense that he had the biggest men watching Peter. But even big men were not a problem for God. Verse 7 says, “And the chains fell off his hands.”
When I read this, I was awestruck. I’ve been feeling so weighed down with grad school and life, that I just came to accept the weight. But Christ wants us to give Him our burdens. Jesus told us in Matthew 11:28-29 to “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” When we actually allow God the time and space and we surrender any power we feel we have over our chains, God moves. He makes the chains fall, and we can finally see who holds the Power.
2. After the chains fall and you face an iron gate, God is still with you because He goes before you.
It’s so easy once our chains fall and we experience that freedom to completely freak out when we get to that closed door, but God is not at all surprised by that gate. We like to spend time analyzing how to open the gate and question how God could even open it, but we completely miss God’s power when we do that (this is me by the way!). God is at work. He knew the gate was going to be there for Peter; He knew the Red Sea was going to be there for the Israelites running out of Egypt; and He knows your personal gate before you get there. He’s God. It’s when the gate comes, we get to see God’s power when HE opens it.
Can you imagine this scene, the angel and Peter escaping 2 soldiers and now walk up to an iron gate and verse 10 says the gate “opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street.” That’s power. God is not just in control over the wind and the waves, but even the gates that are in our lives. God didn’t need Peter to sit and analyze how to open the gate, God just opened it. God is in control. Paul puts it this way, “he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” God has us. He is with us. When we can finally see that God goes before us and holding all things together, we are reminded of who holds the power–it’s not me and it’s not you; it’s God.
3. Seeing God’s power over the chains and the gates assures us of God’s goodness, God’s love, and God’s faithfulness.
I don’t know about you, but like I mentioned earlier, all I ever do is question the chains or question the gate that are currently present in my life. I don’t understand why I’m being chained and that creates doubt of God’s character. But it’s in the deliverance from the chains that I see God’s power in a completely new light that causes me to walk in a more surrendered life. Being set free from my chains allows me to see God’s power in a new way that brings me life–it strengthens what I believe about God.
When I read Peter’s experience, I can’t help but hear his reaction to this great rescue: “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod.” Peter is set free and he vocalizes that He is reassured this is a work from the Lord and not just a vision. I’m not quite sure if Peter struggled to see God’s goodness, love, or faithfulness, but I am sure that Peter recognized God’s power.
So what happens when we recognize who holds the power?
Our chains and our gates may be a way for God to demonstrate His great power over our lives, which allows us to see God’s goodness, love, and faithfulness towards us in a much deeper way.
Now here’s the thing, I’m definitely not perfect at this. I still don’t understand just how God’s power works in my life, but what I do know is that when I prayed, “Lord, this life is too crazy right now–set me free,” God revealed to me His power. The Holy Spirit was telling me: Rachel, I see where you are. I see you working on grad school, I see you doing ministry, I see this house. I’m here with you and just like I set Peter free from the weight of the chains, I’m here setting you free. I’m here providing you rest. Come to me. Rest in the power of my hand.
Just to be clear, when God set me free, my circumstances didn’t change, but what changed was my perspective. Before reading this passage, I thought I held the power. I thought I was the one having to do this all by myself. I thought I was the one searching for a key, trying to get out of the gate.
But what I was set free from was a mindset of control. I don’t have control, God does.
So yes, life is still crazy and grad school is still hard.
But the chains of thinking I have to control it all has been released because I know God holds the power.
P.S. If you made it this far, congratulations! But I wanted to show you one more example of God’s power. It’s simply the ending to the story with King Herod. See King Herod wanted people to look at him as a god, and Acts 12:23 says, “Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” If that’s not a demonstration of power, I’m not sure what is.
God is simply using His Word to tell me to breathe because He’s all-powerful and can get someone eaten by worms.