The safety of the unsafe.

Heather and I were sitting there at the table, hands curled around cups of coffee with homemade pumpkin spice, my feet kicked up in her purple chair when he came running in from the living room, sock feet slipping on the floor, out of breath, eyes wild.

And he buried his face so deep in her shoulder that I wasn’t sure he could even hear her questions.

“What’s going on? Are you scared?”

He was stock still, arms vise-gripping her neck, but somehow she still managed to take a couple of sips of coffee with her free arm while he hung there. We waited.

And then we realized what was happening.

There was a clown on TV.

And for a 9-year-old in a world where creepy clowns are on the loose, that’s about the worst thing that could happen.

It was a clown that was juggling or something, one that had zero ill will toward this little guy in Heather’s house. It couldn’t have been safer. It was hard to imagine that in this kitchen, where the pumpkin scent was mixing with french toast casserole and the dog was lazily drumming her tail against the floor under the chair that this sweet kid could be having a moment of total, all-consuming terror, as if that clown was going to bust out of the TV and end up in the kitchen.

But he was. He was scared. And I felt for him.

I’ve been that kid.

More times than I can count, I’ve been gripped to my core with a fear of the wrong thing.

It’s not been too long ago, the last time I remember having that kind of sock-footed ragged-breath fear. It comes sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes when I wonder if I’m going to lose someone I love or if I’m going to make the wrong decision or if I’m failing at the thing God asked me to do.

I look at the ifs.

And like a storm, fear comes roaring in.

*****

Many times have our struggles in life been referred to as storms, and many times we’ve been told to keep our eyes not on the waves, but the One who controls them, from the story in the Gospel of Mark.

A storm came on, the disciples were about to die in the boat, so they woke Jesus up, He said “peace, be still” and everything stopped.

Remember He’s in control, remember His peace to calm your fear of the storm — that’s the way I’ve often looked at that.

But what if it’s really fear that we use to fight our fear?

J.D. Greear said in a really great message last month that he’d gotten in a debate with his daughter over “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” In the book, Mr. Beaver had said that Aslan, a lion and king, wasn’t safe, but he was good. And that didn’t make any sense to his daughter. How could he be good and unsafe?

“Here’s how I’d describe it,” J.D. said. “They say that at high altitudes like Mt. Everest, storms can come on suddenly. In the space of a few seconds, the temperature can drop 30 or 40 more degrees, accompanied by severe, gale force winds. Imagine that you were caught in such a storm. The wind effortlessly sweeps away your equipment. You hear the fierce howl of the winds and feel the deep, penetrating cold. You know that death is just a few moments away. But just when you are about to give up hope, you notice a small opening in the side of the mountain, leading to a regressed cave. Inside that cave, another traveler has made a fire and is preparing a meal. As you sit by the fire, sheltered from the storm, you can look back out into the storm, marveling at its awesome power. That storm may no longer be a threat to you, but you still feel a hushed sense of awe before its power.

That was the disciples after Jesus made the world stop that day on the sea.

Hushed awe.

In Mark’s storm story, Jesus was bigger than the storm on the sea — He was the storm on Everest.

The far bigger storm.

He was the storm the disciples could marvel at with trembling while held in perfect love. They were in the all-powerful hands of this infinitely unsafe and infinitely good cyclone of a Savior, watching His power from a crevice in the side of Everest.

The disciples had just thought they were going to buried at the bottom of the sea. Then Jesus stopped their world, their storm, their death on a dime. And then they were really afraid.

Who. Is. This. Did you see what He just did?!

It was when they looked straight into the eyes of the Person they feared more than the storm — the good and unsafe Friend and all-powerful God of the universe — that the storm didn’t matter anymore.

His love offered in outstretched hands became even sweeter because fear became so much greater.

What kind of love is being offered to us when the power of a terror-filled, life-threatening, hair-raising storm is held in a mere whisper of the God who invites us into a relationship with Him, one that’s even more secure than a quiet kitchen with pumpkin-spice coffee and french-toast casserole?

What happens when we can bury ourselves with abandon and total trust under the arm of a God who with a word could wipe out anything that could hurt us? What kind of life can we have when we know nothing can snatch us from His hand … and we really know who He is?

Life abundant.

We see our storms.

We look at Him instead.

And like a lion, life in all its fullness comes roaring in.

*****

i dont wait anymore

“I Don’t Wait Anymore” the book, now at Barnes & Noble and other retailers. Check it out here.

It’s the story of shaking off broken dreams and expectations to see God for who He really is and follow Him to something better — to a far better story.

You want in? I’d love it if you’d come along.

(And if you’d like to read a free chapter, feel free to hop on over here.)

Thirst.

I can see it in my own life, the days I’m content, but also the days my eyes are raw, when I can’t seem to drag myself to the water’s edge. My thirst isn’t great enough.

There’s nothing to push me to God on those days.

Wadi Mujib

The waist-deep water was clear to my toes, and I felt its cool cut clear to my soul.

And all I could think was … how do I get more of this in my life.

That week in the Middle East, the sun had baked our building like a piece of baklava. We’d been putting wet washcloths in the freezer, getting them out just before bedtime and going to sleep on top of our beds with them tucked behind our necks and under our legs.

And in the middle of the night, when I’d wake up in the melted-washcloth puddles, I’d walk to the shower, spray my arms and legs down with water and go back to bed without drying off. It was water that had been simmering in the water tank on the roof all day as the temperatures soared above 100 degrees. But it was better than nothing.

I loved that place. But it was hot, y’all.

It’s safe to say we hadn’t slept great the morning we woke up early to road trip to Wadi Mujib, an oasis with a cold, clear stream in the rocky Jordanian desert. The stream starts with a roaring, tumbling waterfall and runs through a crevice in steep canyon walls until it hits the warm, salty Dead Sea, and our friend Maurie told us it was one of her favorite places she’s ever been.

But it had nothing for me that morning.

My eyes felt salty when I met Abi in the sweltering hallway between our bedrooms.

“I feel like I haven’t slept in days.”

Me too.

Neither of us felt like dragging ourselves across the desert. We each wanted to fall back into our oven-of-a-bedroom and toss and turn in hopes it’d eventually feel better.

We debated.

We changed our minds a couple of times.

We ended up in the car with our friends.

And I couldn’t be more glad we did.

It kinda changed our lives.

When you visit Wadi Mujib, you kind of drop from a staircase above the stream into the rift in the rocks and land in the calm where the water lulls before it moves on to join the sea. Then — all strapped up in a life jacket they provide — you work your way upward to the source. Like a salmon, you wade against the stream with water sometimes waist deep, sometimes ankle deep, sometimes pouring over huge rocks that you have to use a rope to pull yourself up over.

We. Were. Ready.

We might’ve been reluctant to leave our sun-baked apartment, but once the water was in sight, we were all coming in hot. Where the stream pooled at the base of the crack in the mountain, we hit it at full tilt.

We didn’t care that we probably shouldn’t be drawing that much attention to ourselves.

We’d been craving this for what felt like a thousand dry, hot months.

And because of that, it was one of my favorite days of my life.

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*****

In the middle of the night the other night, I was lying awake, eyes salty, brain unable to rest, heart regretting a thousand things.

I wished I’d spent more time in the Word that day, that week. I wished I hadn’t failed that friend so badly. I wished I’d been a more centered version of myself than I had been.

I’d tried hard at things, to fix them, to love well, to meet needs.

I’d failed miserably.

I wished an appetite for God would’ve won the day.

But it hadn’t.

Instead, salty eyelids were scraping across dry eyes, and a dry heart was keeping my anxious brain awake.

And I was plotting how to fix the things I’d messed up, tossing and turning, and scrolling Twitter. At 3 a.m., I landed on an old, retweeted post from John Piper called “Serve God With Your Thirst,” and I opened it. And Wadi Mujib appeared out of the desert in his words:

God is a mountain spring, not a watering trough. A mountain spring is self-replenishing. It constantly overflows and supplies others. But a watering trough needs to be filled with a pump or bucket brigade.

If you want to glorify the worth of a watering trough you work hard to keep it full and useful. But if you want to glorify the worth of a spring you do it by getting down on your hands and knees and drinking to your heart’s satisfaction, until you have the refreshment and strength to go back down in the valley and tell people what you’ve found.

My hope as a desperate sinner hangs on this biblical truth: that God is the kind of God who will be pleased with the one thing I have to offer — my thirst. That is why the sovereign freedom and self-sufficiency of God are so precious to me: they are the foundation of my hope that God is delighted not by the resourcefulness of bucket brigades, but by the bending down of broken sinners to drink at the fountain of grace.

The day I hit the water at Wadi Mujib, I threw myself in with abandon, laughed harder than I’d laughed in ages, ran underneath the waterfall at the top like a kid and then floated on my back all the way back to the base like I didn’t have a care in the world.

I had nothing but thirst, and I found nothing but wonder.

And I almost didn’t go. Trying to sleep in a baking hot room sounded better in the moment.

And it almost won.

*****

John Piper also wrote that if you don’t feel strong desire for God, it’s not because you’ve drunk deeply and are satisfied. “It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

I agree.

I can see it in my own life, the days I’m content, but also the days my eyes are raw, I can’t seem to drag myself to the water’s edge. My thirst isn’t great enough.

There’s nothing to push me to God on those days.

I’ve let my desires turn to lesser things. I’ve numbed those desires with lesser objects.

As thirsty as I am, I’ve got no thirst left to give Him.

It makes passages like Psalm 42:1 ring dull in my heart. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”

It’s not a thirst that comes on its own. It might be pricked by things — like the words of Maurie saying it’s the best thing ever, trust me. But in the end, I have to choose to go to the water’s edge. I have to choose to dive in His Word. I have to choose to stop dulling the thirst and give it to Him, just like it is, all of it. I have to let the thirst ache. I have to let Him draw me in.

It’s there that my thirst comes alive.

When I plunge.

Nowhere else.

It’s where hope begins. Joy, peace too.

And where they stay.

*****

i dont wait anymore

 

“I Don’t Wait Anymore” the book, now at Barnes & Noble and other retailers. Check it out here.

It’s the story of how He drew me to thirst.

Throw yourself in. He’s waiting.

So is His story for you.

 

Sober.

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.

Not cool.

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.

Our heart.

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.

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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?

Nothing.

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.

*****

Sober-minded

 

 

 

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