A Righteous Response to Rape

Desolate: empty, alone, grim.

The Bible chose this word to describe what became of a godly woman when she was sexually abused. Not “overcomer,” not “unshaken,” not even “rejoicing in affliction.” Just desolate. Broken. Used up. Tossed aside. Devoid of feeling, of beauty, of future, of life. The walking dead.

Extreme external reactions are mere reflections of ongoing internal realities.

Tamar hadn’t always been that way. Once upon a time she had been beautiful and regal, strong, well-spoken, and wise. She had walked the palace halls with dignity and grace, confident of her position and secure in her place. She had worn the elegant clothes that fit her station as a pure young woman, an honored daughter of the king. And she had spoken up with self-assured boldness when someone tried to treat her in a manner less dignified than she deserved.

David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it. Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat.

“Send everyone out of here,” Amnon said. So everyone left him. Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom. But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.”

“Don’t, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me. Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.
2 Samuel 13:7-14

How could she have seen it coming? Amnon was her brother. She had trusted him. Their father had trusted him, too. After all, he was the one who had sent her to take care of Amnon when he claimed to be so ill. She had been there out of compassion for her brother, out of submission to her father.

What could she have done differently? She had behaved as modestly and appropriately as she knew how. She had only gone into his bedroom when he asked because he seemed too weak to get up and eat. Even when he grabbed her and she realized what he intended to do, she had kept her wits about her and tried to reason with him not to do it. She had resisted such demeaning treatment of herself, fighting with all her bodily strength when her mental strength had proved inadequate. But at the end of the day, none of that had been enough. She had failed to stop him, and now she was ruined.

Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!”
“No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.”
But he refused to listen to her. He called his personal servant and said, “Get this woman out of here and bolt the door after her.” So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her.
2 Samuel 13:15-18

Spoiled. Tarnished. Fundamentally altered. Despite her best efforts, completely against her will, her status had been changed. Her body was defiled. Her self was degraded. As a righteous woman, her soul recoiled from the idea of impurity and evil. And yet it had entered her, even if by force. It remained with her, long after the deed was done.

She was wearing a richly ornamented robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornamented robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.
Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.”
2 Samuel 13:18-19

Torn robes. Ash-smeared face. Loud weeping. Public ranting. Tamar’s external reactions were merely reflections of her internal reality. Her body had been treated as if it were shameful and worthless, and her soul had gotten the message. Marred and broken on the inside, she could hardly go back to the life she had known before and pretend like everything was fine. She couldn’t be silent and spare others the horrific details of what had happened to her. She couldn’t dress her body up or treat it as if it were deserving of honor. And she couldn’t smile and socialize with her family and the others who still belonged to the club of the spotless and good.

What would become of her? Who could love her anymore? How could she live with herself? Where could she ever get rid of her disgrace?

And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.
2 Samuel 13:20

These are the heart-rending questions that any sexually exploited person, Christian or not, is left to grapple with. Simple answers and quick fixes won’t make them go away. Surface remedies only drive the issues deeper underground, stranding abuse survivors alone in their struggle. Tamar needed to be allowed to express her anguish, to lament what she had lost, to enact her body’s debasement, to hide in self-imposed exile, and to wrestle towards true resolution. She and those of us like her need to be listened to, not silenced; protected, not pushed; accepted, not conformed; and loved, not turned away.

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What to Expect When We’re Suffering

I sat in church this past Sunday morning, reveling in the beauty and joy of our communal celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Soft organ music filled the empty space with life. A crown of flowers bloomed from the thorns on the cross. The procession began down the aisle, with a shining cross held triumphantly high. My heart soared with hope. Death swallowed up in victory!

But as the back of the procession came into sight, my heart caught in my throat. The man carrying the second cross was still in his wheelchair, still suffering under the effects of the curse. Ordinarily I find great beauty and significance in seeing the juxtaposition of his suffering with the symbol of Christ’s suffering. But on a morning like this, it jolted my spirit with a harsh reality slap. Where is the victory for him?

What is the hope for my mother facing cancer, my brother- and sister-in-law awaiting the birth of a baby with significant internal deformities, or my friend whose mother is fading away in hospital? What does living on this side of Christ’s resurrection mean for them?

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
1 Corinthians 15:20-22

Christ’s resurrection marks the turning point for all of history, the hinge pin between the reign of the curse and the kingdom of God. In rising from the grave, Jesus defeated death, He broke the curse, and He inaugurated a new creation.

So what are we to expect now?

The disciples had struggled to know what to expect of Him. But as their faith in His resurrection power grew, so did their confidence in applying it to those still suffering under the curse. A crippled beggar made whole. The sick and suffering healed. Prison doors shaken open. A dead boy raised to life.

…there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:7-8

But that wasn’t always the way it worked out. Sometimes the thorn was not removed from the flesh, the prisoner was not freed from his chains, the victim was not spared from death. How did they reconcile the victorious reign of Christ with the pulverized body of Stephen or the agonized prayers of Paul?

Somehow Paul’s expectations didn’t seem at all disappointed. He had experienced the healing power of God in his own life, and had conveyed that power to countless others. And yet his faith wasn’t rattled by the constant barrage of suffering from which God did not deliver him. If anything, he took it as par for the course.

But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
1 Corinthians 15:20-23

Paul understood the story. Death has been swallowed up in victory—for Jesus. But we are still in the earlier part of the story, the part where suffering precedes glory. Yes, He has opened the gates of glory for us, but the path from here to there still involves hardship and pain.

Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, … so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
2 Corinthians 5:2-5

Jesus walked this path ahead of us, and He has given us His Spirit to help us as we now struggle down it ourselves. At times He intervenes, breaking through our present suffering with a dose of future glory. But those healing fixes are only temporary. The pain we are spared in one situation we will face again in another. The body that is miraculously healed from deformity or cancer will eventually succumb to death.

What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” …
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:35, 54-57

As painful and gruesome as it is, death is the final door we pass through to glory. As much as it stings on this side, it will lose its venom on the other. And in the end, death will be swallowed up in victory for us, too.

He is risen. Our turn is coming!

The Way His Story Goes

Relieved. Delighted. Confused.

In so many ways, the disciples’ reactions to Jesus’ resurrection mirror my own. I’m relieved to have the long struggle of Lent and the deep sorrow of the cross finally finished. I’m delighted that Jesus is alive, that His story ends in triumph, not defeat. But I’m also confused.

Suffering precedes glory.

Does the road to glory really have to pass through such deep valleys? Why does the cost of victory have to be so high? If God is the Author of His own story, why did He choose to write it this way?

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
Luke 24:17-21

Like the disciples on the Emmaus road, I scratch my head trying to figure out how the glory of the kingdom fits with the agony of the cross. I have expectations of what is good, of how things are supposed to be. The benevolent aren’t supposed to be taken advantage of. The innocent aren’t supposed to be condemned. The gentle aren’t supposed to be abused. The young aren’t supposed to die.

So how do Christ’s sufferings fit with His glory? Why couldn’t He have picked a nicer way to deal with sin and overcome death?

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
Luke 24:25-27

But even as I ask those questions, I hear His gentle, chiding voice, much the way it must have sounded to the disciples. Of course it had to happen this way. Of course suffering precedes glory. That’s the way the story has always gone. Who am I to think I can come up with a better plot line?

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
Luke 24:44

God has been working this story since the beginning of time. This is exactly the way He intended it to be. The heel that the serpent would strike. The rock that Moses split open. The abused, rejected king of the Psalms. The suffering servant of the prophets. The deliverer always suffers first. The sufferer always rises to glory after.

Extreme glory calls for an extreme story.

I admit that I still struggle to embrace this kind of story. It is so extreme. Intense suffering. Overwhelming glory. My mediocre humanity wants a safer story, one with less risk and more “balance.” But that kind of story would not be true to God’s self-revealing plan. Nor would it fit with the integral role He has prepared for us in it.

That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
Ephesians 1:19-21

Perhaps this is one more bit of supporting evidence for why He deserves to be God and I don’t. He not only wrote the story this way, but He also wrote Himself into it as the greatest sufferer. He could have avoided the pain, claiming immunity as cast director. But as the one who was brought the lowest, He earned the right to be lifted up the highest.

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
Luke 24:45-48

And so I stand down in humble amazement. How can I question Him over what He was willing to endure Himself? How can I resist embracing and perpetuating His story in my own life? I will join in that joyful crowd of witnesses, proclaiming and participating in His sufferings so that I, too, may share in the glory of His resurrection. I will make His story my story.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:10-11

Assaulted but…

If you make the Most High your dwelling– even the LORD, who is my refuge–then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
Psalm 91:9-12

“I don’t know how to make sense of this. I thought You were supposed to show up, to protect me from harm. I thought that if I loved You and served You with all my heart, You wouldn’t let anything like this happen to me. I trusted You. I put myself in harm’s way for Your sake. And now look at me…”

But you have rejected, you have spurned, you have been very angry with your anointed one. You have … defiled his crown in the dust. You have broken through all his walls and reduced his strongholds to ruins. All who pass by have plundered him; he has become the scorn of his neighbors.
You have put an end to his splendor and cast his throne to the ground. You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with a mantle of shame.
Psalm 89:38-41, 44-45

Tears ran down my face as my feet pounded the pavement. The physical intensity of running released my pent up emotions, and along with them the agonized cries of my heart. How could I reconcile God’s promises of protection and honor with my experience of being beaten and violated? I didn’t doubt His strength to stop my attackers, nor did I doubt His presence with me as they threw me about and had their way with me. But that left me with a deeper, even more painful question.

How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever?… Remember how fleeting is my life. For what futility you have created all men!
O Lord, where is your former great love… ?
Psalm 89:46-47, 49

Who was I to God? A disposable item, designed to be used up and thrown away? I had been plundered and defiled, broken and discarded. Was that all I was worth to Him? Where was that great love that He had professed for me? I felt more like a sheep handed over to be slaughtered than like a cherished child.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
Romans 8:35-36

A sacrificial lamb. That rang a bell. Jesus had been treated this way, too. Those promises of love and honor and protection had been made to Him, too. Satan had even pulled out that particular psalm to quote to Him, reminding Him that His Father would send angels to protect Him from all harm, even a stone in His path that might threaten His toes.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities… He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
Isaiah 53:5, 7

So why didn’t He? Didn’t Jesus plead with His Father in the garden, begging Him to deliver Him from the evil that was about to happen? And yet the angels didn’t show up. God didn’t intervene. They all stood back and watched as His body was pummeled, His soul was tormented, His life was snuffed out.

The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?
Isaiah 50:5-6; Psalm 22:1

If anyone ever had reason to feel unloved by God, to feel completely abandoned by the Father, Jesus did. He subjected Himself to everything that God had called Him to do. He exposed Himself to danger out of loving obedience to His Father. And where did that get Him? Broken. Desecrated. Used up. Dead.

Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me! It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me.
Isaiah 50:7-9

And yet God had repeatedly affirmed His love for Jesus in advance. A descending dove. A thundering voice. “My Son. I love Him. I delight in Him.” Jesus knew who He was to God. He knew God would stay true to their relationship, even when it was put through the ultimate test. He endangered Himself because He knew that nothing could come between them. Nothing could separate Him from His Father’s love, not trembling with fear in the garden, not being ripped to pieces by accusers in court, not crying out in abandonment on the cross, not even the silent helplessness of the grave.

“Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
Psalm 91:14-16

Jesus endured all these because He believed His story would not end there. He trusted His Father’s love, even when He felt abandoned. He clung to His Father’s promises, even when they seemed forgotten. And sure as the dawn, God came through. The angels showed up to move the stone out of His way. The Most High came down to revive His body, restore His soul, and lead Him to glory.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:37-39

Broken and trembling and messy, I basked in this unfailing love. I drank in the end of Jesus’ story like the parched soul that I was. God had not turned His back on me. And He was not finished with me. Hardship and danger, violence and contempt had certainly taken their toll on me, but they had not succeeded in separating me from His love. Sure as the dawn, God would come through for me, too. He had me by the hand, and He was leading me up the resurrection path to glory.

Romans 8:28-30

Remember.

What does Holy Week have to do with abuse? Everything. Meditating on Jesus’ experience of abuse illumines the path of healing from our own experiences of abuse. It also invites us to enter into a deeper, more significant relationship with Him.

Painful memories. Violent memories. Memories that won’t go away and leave me alone.

Voices that reverberate through my mind. Undermining questions. Devastating accusations.
“How dare you go against us! Who do you think you are? ”
“You son of a devil. You are nothing.”
“Liar! No one cares about you. Where is your daddy now?”
“Who are you? Who are you? Who are you?”

He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver. I became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long. He has filled me with bitter herbs and sated me with gall. He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust. Lamentations 3:13-16

Sensations that travel through my body. A gentle kiss on my cheek. The harsh blow that followed. Cold chains on my wrists. Hot welts on my back. Wet spit hitting my face. Dry thorns piercing my scalp. Blows and more blows. Split lip. Pierced hands. Gasping for breath. Struggling to survive.

I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD.” I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Lamentations 3:17-20

Experiences that stay with me. Betrayal. He was one of my trusted friends. Denial. He was my best friend. Mockery. No one came to my defense. Violation. They took off all my clothes, molested me, and strung me out naked for everyone to see. They stripped away my glory, leaving me defiled, degraded, and desolate.

My eyes will flow unceasingly, without relief, until the LORD looks down from heaven and sees. Remember, O LORD, what has happened to us; look, and see our disgrace.
Lamentations 3:49-50; 5:1

Look on my pain, oh God! Remember all that I have been through. I won’t stop bringing it up until you acknowledge the wrong that was done to me. My body was broken. My spirit was crushed. My scars continue to bear witness.

But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you… You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry … in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more. Psalm 10:14, 17-18

But even in the midst of my unresolved pain, I have hope. I look to you, because I know you will make it right. You saw all that they did to me. You heard all that they said about me. And you will vindicate me. Into your hands I commit my spirit.

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death. Mark 14:61-64

I cling to the truth that you will you will give back all that has been taken from me. You will rectify my wounds. You will heal my memories. You will give me the spot right beside you, with even greater dignity and honor than I had before. And you will show off my glory for all to see, both to shame those who degraded it and to delight those who revel in it.

“… do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19 “…and you will be my witnesses…” Acts 1:8

But even as I wait on you, I want friends who will be part of the process. When they remember my suffering, they validate my experience. When they speak the truth about me before those who doubt or question, they restore my honor. When they praise me with their lips, they bless my heart.

In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
Revelation 5:12-13

Unemployed but Rich

“You have no idea how rich you are in Jesus.”

I stared incredulously at my friend through tear-swollen eyes, thinking to myself that she was the one who had no idea how terrifyingly poor I was. We had just lost our job, and were subsequently being forced to abruptly leave the country in which we had been living and serving for eleven years. We were in the midst of selling and giving away most of our possessions, saying goodbye to all our friends and church family, and leaving behind the only life we had dreamed of. Ahead of us lay a great void, with no certainty of a job, a home, or a community awaiting us. I had never felt so poor.

Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked … The days of the blameless are known to the LORD, and their inheritance will endure forever. In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.
I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed.
Psalm 37:16-19, 25-26

But as much as the weight of our poverty pressed in on me from all sides, my friend’s words rang true. I may be selling my cherished table and chairs in order to buy next month’s groceries, but I had to believe that all we had invested in the kingdom of God was not lost. As we launched into a season of severe financial insecurity, I wondered how true the psalmist’s words were about never seeing the children of the righteous begging for bread. I had always been the one distributing food to other people’s children. What would now become of my own?

The nation of Israel worried over the same question as they launched into the great unknown of the wilderness. Slavery hadn’t been a lucrative form of employment, but at least it had kept a roof over their heads and bread on the table. Wandering about in the desert as unemployed nomads didn’t exactly smack of financial responsibility. How would they feed and clothe their families? How could they provide a stable home and a secure future for their children?

You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance. Your people settled in it, and from your bounty, O God, you provided for the poor.
Psalm 68:9-10

Yet in the midst of their poverty, they never lacked what they needed for each day. Clothes and shoes that didn’t wear out. Meat and bread falling from the sky. Water gushing from unexpected sources, unattached to bills or taxes.

Even major life expenses were covered in the most unanticipated ways. When it came time to build a place for worship, they didn’t have to settle for crumbs, cobbling together a makeshift structure with which they could “get by.” They found they had more gold and silver, precious gems and expensive fabrics than they could use, all unexpected gifts that had been handed to them by their former masters as they had hastily exited Egypt.

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Luke 9:58

Similarly, Jesus lived out the same juxtaposition of poverty and wealth, of financial insecurity and abundant provision. He left behind the steady income of his earthly father’s business in order to invest Himself in His heavenly Father’s business. It didn’t pay much; in fact, He didn’t have a pillow to call His own or a bank account to fall back on.

…if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Isaiah 58:10-11

Jesus may have been God, but He still experienced the needs of a man, complete with all of the demands and expenses of life in the real world. Regardless, He never lacked what He needed. Scraps of bread stretched to feed thousands. Jars of water became the finest of wine. The tax collector still showed up to demand his share, but a fish caught from the sea coughed up just the right number of coins to cover it.

He was assigned a grave … with the rich.
Isaiah 53:9

And as the Israelites in the wilderness had experienced before, even Jesus’ major life expenses were provided for in the most lavish of ways. Just the right vehicle given on loan for His triumphal procession. Just the right facility offered rent-free for a farewell banquet with His disciples. The finest perfume for His anointing. The finest real-estate for His burial.

Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.
Mark 10:28-30

As I meditated on God’s promise to provide for His needy people, to exponentially supply them with all the things they had given up for His sake, I was deeply convicted. My pauper’s spirit betrayed my miserly faith. Of course He would feed my children. Of course He would meet all of our needs, not just the spiritual ones.

In the months ahead, the bills still came in and our cash still flowed out, but we saw God take care of us in the most lavish of ways. He dressed us in designer hand-me-downs. He fed us with gourmet day-old bread. He spoiled us with up-scale temporary housing. And He showered us with the priceless gift of experiencing the abundance of His love.

I look back now and see that my friend was right. I had been measuring my wealth by the wrong standard. I had no idea how rich we were in Jesus. We still are.

Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?
James 2:5

I Need a Hero!

Terrified. Trembling. Powerless. Crushed. I’m not big enough to handle this. I can’t keep fighting it. Where can I find a champion strong enough to protect me? I need a hero.

David had always been that hero, the one who showed up to protect everyone else. He had thrown himself at the lions and bears that threatened his sheep, charged at the giant who bullied his people, and chased off the armies that terrorized their land. From childhood, he had been fearless and undaunted in facing down his enemies. So why was he now a trembling wreck?

Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.
Psalm 5:1-2

Vulnerable. Bewildered. This time the enemy was not so obvious. This time the danger was hidden, intimate, within the bounds of a relationship that he had thought was safe. He had not been on his guard towards Saul. He had looked up to him as a leader, a protector, not someone from whom he needed to protect himself. He had trusted Saul like his own father, and Saul had used that trust against him. Now which hero could he trust? To which refuge could he run?

When David had fled and made his escape, he went to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him. Then he and Samuel went to Naioth and stayed there.
1 Samuel 19:18

Samuel seemed the right man for the job. He was a spiritual giant, the one who had appointed Saul to his position of power and the one who had gotten David into this mess by anointing him, too. And yet Samuel was riddled with fear for his own life when it came to Saul. He welcomed David and listened to his painful story of betrayal and abuse, but there was little he could physically do to protect him, or himself, from Saul’s jealous rage.

But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple. Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies– make straight your way before me.
Psalm 5:7-8

So Samuel took David to his place of refuge. Naioth was no fortified city; it was merely a ragtag community of prophets. What made this place safe was not a wall of stone around it, but rather the Spirit of God within it. Together they took refuge in God, receiving the comfort and assurance of His powerful presence surrounding them.

You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors.
Psalm 5:4-6

Despite David’s escape into prayer and worship, his troubles soon caught up with him. He watched with horror as a group of Saul’s men approached their sanctuary, armed and ready to forcibly return him to his abuser. He witnessed his worst nightmare unfolding in front of him, and he was powerless to stop it. But his Hero wasn’t.

Word came to Saul: “David is in Naioth at Ramah”; so he sent men to capture him. But when they saw a group of prophets prophesying, with Samuel standing there as their leader, the Spirit of God came upon Saul’s men and they also prophesied. Saul was told about it, and he sent more men, and they prophesied too. Saul sent men a third time, and they also prophesied.
1 Samuel 19:19-21

One by one David’s feared aggressors stopped in their tracks, dropped their weapons, and joined in the worship. Their ferocity was turned into futility, their hostility into halleluiahs. Two more groups of soldiers arrived, and twice more David saw God turn their strength into weakness, their crafty plans into blathering incompetence. And as he watched, David’s fear was turned into faith. He had never seen anything like it. What kind of champion could overpower people from the inside out?

At the height of our vulnerability,
our Hero proves His super-ability.

But could this Hero protect David from his abuser? When Saul showed up at David’s safe place, David was brought face to face with the man whose very name struck terror into his heart. The mighty warrior was once again reduced to a quivering mess.

So Saul went to Naioth at Ramah. But the Spirit of God came even upon him, and he walked along prophesying until he came to Naioth. He stripped off his robes and also prophesied in Samuel’s presence. He lay that way all that day and night.
1 Samuel 19:23-24

At the height of David’s vulnerability, his Hero proved His super-ability. Saul the arrogant oppressor fell flat on his face. He was not allowed to touch David, not able to speak a word to bring him harm. Overwhelmed and undone by God’s Spirit, Saul was reduced to public stripping and incoherent babbling. David’s heart slowly stilled, his fears put to rest by the sight of his terrifying abuser rendered as helpless as a child before God.

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
Psalm 5:11-12

Abuse turns the mightiest of us into frightened children. It strips us of the confidence to defend ourselves and leaves us in search of someone else who will. In the desperate search for a hero, we are tempted to indiscriminately latch on to anyone who will take us in and provide us a sense of safety. Sometimes we unwittingly turn to people who are abusers in disguise, who prey on our vulnerability and take advantage of our desperate trust. Sometimes we find people who are worthy of our trust, who will do all within their limited power to love and care for us. But standing head and shoulders above all the others, God awaits, ready to gather His trembling lambs into His arms, able to come to our defense. We have a hero.

Hungry but Satisfied

“Fasting isn’t helping me to want God. It’s just making me want food.”

Jesus chose the Author of life over instant vitality, the Bread of Heaven over fast food, the Source of delight over immediate gratification.

This candid statement from the youngest member of our family did not surprise me at all; if anything, it captured what we were all feeling at the moment. Hungry, weak, and irritable, we were all secretly feeling that a hot, hearty meal would do a lot more to help us love God than more prayer and fasting would. And yet even though we were struggling to believe it, Jesus’ statement about not living by bread alone inspired us to carry on with our fast.

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected.
Hebrews 12:16-17

The story of Esau selling his birthright for some hot, mouthwatering stew took on new significance as we faced a similarly hard choice. Was some nebulous future blessing really worth this very tangible current discomfort? Our gnawing stomachs competed with our hungry spirits, threatening to overpower their good intentions with practical realities.

They willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the desert? When he struck the rock, water gushed out, and streams flowed abundantly. But can he also give us food? Can he supply meat for his people?”
When the LORD heard them, he was very angry … for they did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance. Yet he gave a command to the skies above and opened the doors of the heavens; he rained down manna for the people to eat, he gave them the grain of heaven. Men ate the bread of angels; he sent them all the food they could eat.
Psalm 78:18-25

As the day wore on, we sympathized more and more with the children of Israel’s fixation with food during their forty years in the wilderness. No wonder they grumbled and complained. They were hungry! They were crying out for the most basic of human needs, one that God had designed their bodies to crave. And yet, God was clearly displeased by their desperate demand for food. What was He trying to teach them that they failed to get?

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ …
It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
Matthew 4:1-4, 7

Jesus voluntarily put Himself through a similar trial. When God’s Spirit led Him out into the wilderness for forty days, He chose to deny Himself food during that time. Some people would call that mentally imbalanced or perhaps overly zealous. But Jesus took it very seriously. Despite His severe hunger, He refused Satan’s suggestion that He turn rocks into bread. What would have been so wrong with that? Was it simply a bad idea because it originated with Satan, or did Jesus refuse to help Himself to some much-needed food for some higher reason?

So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.
Hebrews 3:7-9; 4:15

In many ways, Jesus was reliving the story of humanity: the story of Adam and Eve in the garden, the story of Esau in the wilderness, the story of the children of Israel in the desert, and the story of our family around the empty kitchen table. He chose to resist the appeal of food that was dangling just within reach. He chose not to settle for less, not to sell Himself short of the blessing that He knew He would receive if would just hold out for it. He chose not to put God to the test with demands for food, acting as if God were ultimately unsatisfying and inadequate to meet His needs.

In your distress you called and I rescued you, I answered you out of a thundercloud; I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
… I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. …
But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
Psalm 81:7-10, 16

Instead, Jesus chose the Author of life over instant vitality, the Bread of Heaven over fast food, the Source of delight over immediate gratification. He passed the test that all others had failed. He proved to us that it could be done. And as His followers, He invites us to voluntarily take up the challenge.

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, … Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. … My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
Psalm 63:1-5

Fasting provides us with the opportunity to sharpen our appetite for God, to turn to Him for the strength and satisfaction we ordinarily receive from food. Of course it is miserable and difficult and requires patient endurance: that is the point. But as our family later admitted to each other, despite our moment by moment struggle to choose God over food, He supplied what we needed to keep going through the day. And the longer we went, the sweeter the thought of Him became. We found that we, like the Psalmist, were empty but full, weak but strong, hungry but satisfied.