Walking a Mile in God’s Shoes

Jeremiah_14Last spring I spent four days in agony. My food suddenly seemed dry and tasteless. My knees trembled with weakness. And my heart felt like lead in my chest. Day and night, waking or sleeping, all I could think about was what 200 girls in Nigeria were currently experiencing. I could feel their terror as brutal men surrounded them. I could feel their pleas for help, their forced captivity, their dominated bodies, their broken spirits, and their forever altered reality.

As the weekend progressed, I became more and more trapped in their experience, unable to shake myself free from the overwhelming pain of what they were going through. I couldn’t explain why it was so personal for me. I didn’t know any of those girls, nor had Nigeria been on my radar before that. But of all the news events and world crises that daily flit across my computer screen, this was one with which I was involuntarily but inextricably bound.

I wept on their behalf. I pleaded with God as though what was happening to their bodies was being done to mine. I read the Scriptures searching for answers to their dilemma. I sat in church feeling torn between two worlds, my body in a peaceful sanctuary while my soul was tossed about in the backwoods of Nigeria, denied access to the altar of God and forced into subservience to a cruel tyrant.

Why was I feeling this way? As I tried to make sense of it with my husband, it became increasingly clear to both of us that, for whatever reason, this was a prophetic burden God was giving me to carry.

God’s children stand in the gap between
human experience and divine perspective.

When I look back on God’s people through the ages, I see that I am not alone in this odd experience. Earthy farmers and holy priests, young boys and elderly widows, seasoned apostles and inexperienced girls have walked this path ahead of me, bearing the yoke of standing in the gap between human experience and divine perspective.

“Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief.
Cry out and wail, son of man, for it is against my people; it is against all the princes of Israel. They are thrown to the sword along with my people. Therefore beat your breast.
Ezekiel 21:6, 12

But what I still struggle to understand is the prophetic role of feelings, whether privately endured or publicly enacted. Why did Ezekiel have to experience the discomfort and defilement of lying on his side for days on end, eating bread baked over poop? Worse yet, why did he have to go through the agony of losing his wife without even being allowed to mourn her death? This wasn’t a little demonstration that would be over in a day or two. It was real and permanently life altering. So was Hosea’s assignment to marry and raise kids with a woman who would repeatedly cheat on him.

But if you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears, because the LORD’s flock will be taken captive.
Jeremiah 13:17

What is accomplished by simply feeling prophetic pain? I see the point in Ezekiel’s experiences portraying messages for others to receive or in Jeremiah’s tears moving him to intercede on behalf of other people. But how do I explain the times when God overwhelms a prophet with feelings that have no apparent product?

God gives us the chance to
walk a mile in His shoes.

I am beginning to suspect that God wants company. He wants some of His people to get Him, to understand how He feels about the events He constantly witnesses on earth. Even the relatively few crises that flit across my computer screen overwhelm me, and yet I can switch them off and go process my feelings with a friend. With whom does the Triune God who unceasingly watches over the earth share His heart?

All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” … I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
Psalm 22:7-17

He invites us to share bits of it with Him. He grants us the privilege of getting to peek through His eyes, to walk a mile in His shoes, to share in His story. This is what I think was happening with David when he wrote the prophetic psalms depicting what Jesus would later experience on the cross. And yet David wrote them in the first person. Somehow he himself was sampling the bitter agony of the cup that Jesus would come and drink down to its dregs.

Somehow I think this is the privileged yoke that God has been giving me to bear on behalf of His persecuted people in Nigeria. For a short period of time last spring I got to feel His grief over them from afar. And now, for reasons beyond my current understanding, the Lord has opened the door for me to go and be His mouthpiece in their midst. Next week I will be in Abuja teaching Spiritual Formation to a class of mature Christian leaders from all over Nigeria. And the following week I have been asked by the Bishop of Kontagora (for whom I once had the privilege of opening a different sort of door) to travel through his diocese encouraging the Christians there, particularly those displaced by Boko Haram’s violent regime.

For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. … “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:11-16

I have no certainty in what will be accomplished through my presence in Nigeria and no confidence in my ability to make God’s plans succeed. But I do see God’s hand at work. And so in the heritage of God’s servants past and present, I offer myself to Him, body, heart, and mind, to use as He pleases.

Only time will reveal what God has in mind.

18 thoughts on “Walking a Mile in God’s Shoes”

  1. Wow…that was something else. I’ve never thought about anything like that but it makes perfect sense when we remember that God is always at work to conform us to the image of His Son..Thanks Tiff. I will be praying for you on this trip. You will accomplish great and mighty things by the power of His name and His Spirit alive in you. What an incredible opportunity…may God be honored in all you do and may He richly bless you through it all.

    1. What loving prayers, Maria. Thank you for going with me in spirit.

      You’ve added a significant perspective to this. Our experience of the emotions that God feels for people is a part of the process of our being conformed to the image of His Son. Why am I so slow to recognize the value He places on our inner transformation? Thanks for pointing me back to the heart, which is our most obvious feature in God’s eyes.

      1. Tiff as I am gathering verses for the worship song I plan on sending out tomorrow, I came across a verse that made me immediately think again of your post. I am going to share Hillsong’s “At the Cross”. One of the lines is: You tore the veil…You made a way…
        I came to 2Corinthians 3 and was reading through the chapter. Verse 18 is what brought me to what you shared so beautifully: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of The Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of The Lord. ”
        How GREAT is our God!! 🙂 xoxo

  2. I know how extremely painful it must have been for you to enter into the fellowship of His sufferings, Tiffany, yet I think we all need God’s heart toward mankind so that we can love just as He loves, esp. the ones who are in need. He will accomplish through you whatever He wills, whether it can be seen immediately or much later. I believe it.

    God bless,

    1. At the time it was painful, Susanne, and yet in retrospect all I remember is the privilege of it. I suppose that is true of all the different ways we get to share in His sufferings, whether prophetically or simply through the painful situations He allows in our lives. Paul wasn’t kidding when he likened it to childbirth: miserable at the time, but so rewarding afterwards that the pain isn’t the prominent feature we walk away with. May our Lord redeem all that you have suffered.

  3. Tiffany,
    First off I want to say that you are in my prayers, dear sister.

    On November 18, 1978 I had been experiencing the beginnings of some prophetic signs in my life. Among them were prophesies, dreams and interpretations of dreams, words of knowledge, etc. Well, that evening in November my wife and I were at a marriage retreat held by a Christian author and counselor who was also prophetic. As we all gathered there at this retreat center by a pristeen lake in northern Idaho (oddly called Priest Lake) for the evening session the retreat leader said, “Does anyone else feel a heaviness in their hearts this evening. I seem to be feeling this in me and I do not know why.”

    Well, I was the only one that raised his hand. So then he had us pray and see if God would let us know what it was about. As we were praying I heard the spirit say, “…lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.” (Matthew 2:18 KJ2000). This was the prophesy of a great massacre of the innocent children in Bethlehem as King Harod tried to kill the Christ child. I shared what I hear with the group after we were through praying and told them that I felt that there had been a massacre somewhere in the world.

    Well, when we got home the following day from that remote retreat center it was in the news… Jonestown! I am weeping even now as I am trying to write this on your blog and my chest is heaving for I am still feeling God’s pain as I recall it once again. That Saturday in November over 900 Christians, following the orders of their cult leader, Jim Jones, drank the poison Kool-aid in a mockery of communion together and died in the jungles of Guyana, South America.

    Jonestown became a case study of how one religious leader could have so much sway over the minds of so many people and get them to first kill their children and then themselves at the orders of a megalomaniac. In my quest to grow in Christ and follow Him I as involved in two Christian cults and Jonestown happened in between the two occasions. The first one I was in for six years and the second one I caught on to earlier and got out of it after a few month. They both had charismatic leaders that claimed to have “the teachings” that we all needed to be perfected in our Christian walks. Both were a delusion. Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men nigh.” He did not say, “If you lift up a Christian leader and his teachings you will be on the fast- track to me.”

    Tiffany, next week I will be praying and fasting for you while you are in Nigeria. The massacres continue there in the north at the hands of Boko Haram, the Muslim murder cult in that area. This is no small thing you are embarking on my sister and I know that in your brokenness you will be used of the Lord to comfort their Rachel.

    Love you in Christ,

    1. Oh Michael, as always your words move me. I don’t know where to start. To think of the spiritual betrayal of having been deceived and controlled through a cult movement, and then to see the beautiful ways in which God used that past experience to prepare you to be able to carry the emotional prayer burden for others going through the same thing, even without the same happy ending–God’s ways are mysteriously complex, and yet so perfectly redemptive.

      Thank you for entering into my journey and for carrying the burden of prayer alongside me. You clearly have a tender heart: soft towards God’s Spirit and towards those He brings across your path.

      I really have no idea what to say to congregations of survivors whose reality is forever changed by what they have just fled. I pray our Lord will move through my inadequacy. More than that, I pray that He will comfort His Rachel.

  4. Hi Tiff, I experienced a similar kind of brokenness over African child soldiers I saw on the TV several years ago, not knowing the Lord would soon be sending me to Africa to minister. I feel He has given you this great brokenness of spirit over the Nigerian girls as a prelude to your ministry there. Because He has done this, He will be able to pour you out in His great love for these people. You are a vessel prepared. Godspeed!

    1. That’s where I find my confidence in going: not that I feel equipped at all, but that I can see how God has already been moving. I feel much more like a person embarking on a roller coaster ride than a responsible driver. I may not know the twists and turns ahead, but I know the Chief Engineer, and I see His fingerprints all over this one. 🙂

      How beautiful of Him to have burdened you via media and then given you the opportunity to actually do something about what you had watched! How often we ache for situations we see on the screen but feel helpless to respond to. May our Lord continue to sustain your spirit and to feed His bride through you, Cheryl.

  5. This path with Christ will never look comfortable in the world’s view because it can’t be understood. I love where you said, “God wants my company”, and I think about that with suffering…not that He wants company like that but He is our company. He has exerienced more than my heart can fathom and He is the perfect resting place, companion, and guide.
    I have felt that travailing in prayer so often with no explanation, and it amazes me that He allows us to be a part of what He is working out for good in others because we get to keep Him company.
    Bless you!

    1. I suppose our fellowship with Him is like that of any other intimate relationship: we share the ups and downs of each other’s experiences, whether in reality or vicariously. It’s just that when we get to experience a little of what He experiences, we suddenly know Him in a way we couldn’t have before. I think this is what Paul was getting at when he said, ” I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings… (Phil. 3:10).

      May He draw you into ever-increasing intimacy with Himself, participating in your joys and sorrows just as He invites you to participate in His. And may He continue to overflow His empathetic love through you to others.

  6. In my opinion……..God has the right woman on the job! Remember to pray alone every day to remind yourself of the things that matter. x

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