I’m up early this morning. Extra early. The kind of early that hurts.
My eyes are full of sandpaper, but my mind is running all-out sprints, like it’s on an episode of Supermarket Sweep and trying to get to the diapers and “grind your own coffee” aisle faster than anyone else.
It’s like those moments in college when you wake up and on the way to the bathroom bump into a friend who never went to bed the night before. It feels like my mind’s been up drinking Mountain Dew and eating Whatchamacallits and writing Analysis of Lit papers all night, just waiting for morning to crack open the sky so the rest of the world would wake up and join it.
But it can’t be reasoned with. So I go ahead, get on up and make a cup of tea.
When I’m not exhausted, I love the early hours. Jesus is there. His Word is loud in the mornings when the house is quiet and my soul is quiet.
But it’s still hard to hear if my brain is causing a ruckus all its own.
I switch on the lamp and sink into the chair. I need this. I do every day, but especially today. I’m in a season of crazy. Work’s been so busy this month that carving out time to sit with Jesus has taken incredible effort and discipline. Some days, even with effort, it doesn’t happen. Some days it costs sleep when sleep is small and precious. Some weeks it means I’m sleeping next to an unfolded pile of clean laundry for nights on end.
But that laundry not getting folded doesn’t cause my soul to fray at the edges.
Not getting enough Jesus does.
So in that regard, I’m grateful I’m up early.
But even wide awake in the 4 a.m. silence, getting my soul to quiet down today is like wrestling a toddler to sit still in church. It doesn’t need to be running up and down the pews, drawing on things, making noise. It doesn’t need to be running over grocery lists and scheduled meetings and stories that need writing and espresso beverages that need making in the next 18 hours.
What it needs is to be still.
But in that moment, it won’t listen when I tell it that that’s for later — right now it’s time to be quiet. Because you won’t make it through the day without it.
I rub my gritty eyes and sit in the silence, staring at the words I want to soak past the cloud of thoughts and into my heart. I read the words of 1 Peter aloud, over and over to my wildly running mind.
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Action is definitely a concept my brain gets. It’s had its running shoes on all night. All month. Like a boss, if it can say so. Commute to work, commute to second job, buy groceries, get gas, make lunch, lay out clothes, pack bags, sleep, repeat insanity.
But I’m not sure that’s what Peter’s talking about. The Word is loud on that point.
Prepared for action. Sober-minded, not just cranking out thoughts. My mind is to be disciplined just like my schedule — a weapon locked and loaded to make every moment count, but not running wildly in the moments where preparation is more important than action.
Like I make my schedule sit still, I have to make my mind sit still, too.
I have to trade the chaos of a toddler for the discipline of a soldier, a mind hopped up on Mountain Dew for a mind locked on the hope of Christ.
That’s not easy.
But Jesus never said it would be easy.
He just told us He would give us all of Himself if we give Him all of ourselves — our mind, our soul, our strength.
So practically that means I have to call upon His strength to sit my heart still. I have to do what it takes to settle my spirit on God. I read verses over and over aloud, soaking them in, emphasizing their words to my heart. I journal out what those words are asking me to do when I get up in a few minutes, put on my shoes and let my mind start running.
And as I sit in the car in the parking lot of my job preparing myself for the next thing, I pray for God to instill those words in my heart, in my day. That, as Peter said, I would honor others more than myself. That I would show love to everyone. That I would be prepared to give an answer for the hope that I have. That with my conduct, I could win those I live among even without a word.
And that more than anything, I would live with a mind set on the One who gave everything so that I could live as those who are free.
I think sometimes we have a tendency to live like having a mind set on God makes everything weighty and serious. And in a way, that’s true. It’s eternal hope we’re dealing with.
But in reality, fixing our minds soberly on God in every detail of our day releases our anxieties into His hands and gives us freedom.
Freedom from being ruled by the tasks of the day.
Freedom from living like I’m in survival mode.
Freedom from the world.
Freedom, because what can man do to me when I have everything in God?
So this morning, I breathe.
Be sober, Grace.
Know where your hope is fully found.
Think like it. Live like it.
And carry that still certainty in your heart all day long.
(@gracefortheroadblog on Instagram.)
Worry doesn’t work. Because just like we can’t anticipate what we really need, we also can’t anticipate the lavish grace that will meet us there.
Where’s it going to come from?
The question hung in the humid air of the screened-in porch as I sat there, knees pulled tightly to my chest. Steam poured from my cup of tea, all sluggish and slow. Letting it out of that mug into the heavy air felt like pouring a Dixie cup of water into the ocean.
It didn’t really seem to go anywhere.
And neither did my questions.
Will I have the strength for that?
What will I say to them if that thing they’re dreading happens?
A bird sang.
I sat. Quiet.
The questions lingered like the steam.
And then suddenly, without warning, it was pouring. Deluge-style pouring. Split seconds ago, the air was heavy with moisture unseen, but now the clouds were ripped open at the seams and spilling their contents onto the back porch with ferocity. Rain made oceans on the concrete and gushed at full strength through the gutters.
And in rushed His Word.
“Look at the birds of the air: They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26)
I watched the rain splash against the screen, slapping against it and rolling in sheets over the porch out into the yard.
“God, I know you give us all things in the moment we need them.”
This past Sunday, our pastor Matt preached from Matthew 15, the story of Jesus feeding the 4,000. From just a few loaves of bread, everyone ate and had more than they could finish … and that was after three days of hanging out in the wilderness, wondering when they might eat again. Jesus tore that bread until there were seven extra baskets full of uneaten bread.
Why seven extra baskets? God knew exactly how much was needed. And there was no one else around to eat the leftovers.
“Those seven extra baskets are a picture of God’s lavish grace.”
Because God is so much more. So, so much more than anything we can ask or think.
I remember a few years back when my friend Abbey’s dad passed away after a long battle with cancer. That thing had finally happened, the thing she wondered if she would know how to deal with if and when it happened.
What she said in that moment stuck with me. “I couldn’t have imagined the way it would hurt. But I also couldn’t have imagined the way God would give me grace in a way I had never experienced it before. It’s sweeter than anything I could’ve imagined.”
The sky ripped open.
Grace rushed down with ferocity.
And that’s why worry doesn’t work.
Because just like we can’t anticipate what we really need, we also can’t anticipate the lavish grace that will meet us there.
A lot of times we think of grace as “decaffeinated grace” that pats us on the hand and tells us everything’s going to be okay, Matt said, quoting Dane Ortlund’s “Defiant Grace.”
But that’s never what grace was meant to be.
What God rains down on us in our moment of need is “the high-octane grace that takes our conscience by the scruff of the neck and breathes new life into us with a pardon so scandalous that we cannot help but be changed.”
We get seven baskets extra.
We get God and all the peace, provision, joy and hope He has to offer.
And we get that by walking with Him willingly into the wilderness, following His voice, not knowing when the bread will come, but valuing His presence above what fills our stomachs.
He’s never failed us yet. We see that in His Word. We see it in our lives.
And we trust it for tomorrow.
What does it mean for us to really believe that God can pluck us from a sea of billions and give us freedom?
It wrecks us.
The round beams from the headlamps chased each other up the dim stairwells.
We followed them.
I ran my fingers along the dusty walls of the corridors. Not much traffic passes this way. Even in the dark, that much was clear. The beams kept running on ahead of us, bouncing the way they do when they’re attached to the foreheads of preschool boys.
And suddenly the darkness broke above us by way of a creaky metal door, and we were set free.
Up here on the roof, the breeze skirted the flat, circular space, ruffling the little boys’ hair around the straps of their headlamps. The concrete walls of the rooftop curved up at the sides like the lip of a plate, stopping at just about eye level so you could peer down over them at the crush of high-rise apartment complexes below.
It was like being in a fishbowl, a big concrete one, suspended dozens of stories above the ground.
Except that in this fishbowl we could see out and no one else could see in.
“We had a friend who would climb up to the roof sometimes just because it was the only place he could go where no one could see him,” my friend Sarah said with a laugh.
She comes up here for the same reason — to let the boys run around free all by themselves under a sky zigzagged with clotheslines. As the daylight fades, the sun-baked concrete roof cools and the megacity breeze hits us all like sea air on a sunburn.
It feels amazing. We breathe.
It’s different up here.
Sarah said that one time they counted the windows they could see from their living room window and estimated that maybe half a million people lived just in their line of sight.
And that was just from one window.
From up here, there’s 360 degrees of high rise after high rise stacked on top of each other. Looking down over the wall was like peering into giant boxes packed to the gills with the trappings of life – school and jobs and family and cooking dinner. Windows and windows and windows into millions of lives, all living and breathing and striving for something.
It’s a billion-ton train, one big collective worldwide breath we’re breathing, crushed up against neighbors and friends and family, eyes forward, not up.
As individualistic as we like to think we are on our side of the world, we know it’s true.
And here from the roof, it shows.
It takes a lot to wreck something like that.
It takes a lot to even realize that it can be wrecked.
I thought about that as I stood on the roof, eyes scanning the tiny windows, the dusk breeze filling my lungs.
What does it mean to live for a God we can’t see when all we know is to live like everyone we see? What does it mean to follow Him radically when it makes no sense in the framework of what we know of the world?
What does it mean for us to really believe that God can pluck us from a sea of billions and give us freedom?
I took a long, deep breath.
It wrecks us.
That’s all it can do.
There’s no alternative.
A few days later, I sat on the living room floor next to someone who lived behind one of those tiny windows. She said her life used to rise and fall on the wind of that worldwide breath.
She was doing okay. She really wasn’t interested in being set free from the tidal pull of the masses. She didn’t see a reason to want something different.
She didn’t know what freedom felt like in her lungs.
“But now I know,” she said with a big smile. “I tell my friends I don’t know how to explain it to them … I don’t know how to explain what it feels like. Jesus wrecks your whole life, everything you think you know. Everything you’ve learned about how to live. He tears it all down. And then He rebuilds it.”
The night we stood on the roof, as I watched the boys run and tumble, I thought about freedom.
I thought about how with faith we can reach up and grasp it, faith tinier than a mustard seed, faith that can move mountains. Faith that can overturn high-rise apartments full of the clutter of our lives. Faith that is willing to trade everything earthly for two lungs full of the air up here, two lungs full of the kind of freedom that can turn our lives absolutely upside down.
I thought about the corridor we use to get up there to it.
Few find it.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
And that doesn’t mean the freedom at the end of the stairs isn’t real.
It takes adult discipline. It takes childlike abandon.
We have to walk away from the clutter — all of it.
We have to get off the couch, strap on that light and make that climb to ever taste it for ourselves. We dive into who God is in His Word, begging Him to show us Himself at any cost, because the payoff is worth it. We wake up early. We keep His name on our lips and hearts. We run like kids aching to be set free. We ask for it. We strive for it.
It’s hard to explain, but when that door cracks open and we truly breathe, one thing’s for sure.
It’s worth that climb.