The Greatest Rags to Riches Story Ever Told

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” -Matthew 5:3

      I have been a Christian most of my life. I have been saved by grace through faith. The natural response to this is a desire to use the rest of my life to glorify God. We talk about this a lot. Whatever we do, we are to do to the glory of God. But what does it mean to glorify God? How can we best do this with our lives? A list of things immediately comes to mind. We are to abstain from many things, seeking not to gratify the desires of the flesh, but to walk by the Spirit. We are to love God and to love others. We are to serve. We are to reach out, share our faith, give of our time, our finances, and our selves. The Bible is filled with things that we, as Christians, are to do. We would call these good works. These are, without doubt, important for we know that “faith without works is dead” -James 2:26 and when others see our good works “they will glorify our father in heaven.” -Matthew 5:16  

Yet, I have found, at least in my own life, that this desire to glorify God with my life can be twisted into something that I do not think God intended. It can makes us develop a “debtor’s mentality.” Now that God has been so gracious as to save us, we must “pay Him back” by leading these kinds of lives. If we do that, we will glorify God.

     However, I think this is a tragically mistaken way of thinking, to which I have been very susceptible in my own life. It really nullifies our need for the grace of God in every  area of our lives and for the rest of our lives. Underlying this mentality, is a notion that God has saved us because He wanted something that we had. It suggests that God is most glorified by what we have to offer Him. In my mind, this misses the mark of the heart of the Gospel, for in reality, God is most glorified, not by what we can offer Him, but what He can offer us. .

     The Gospel is a tale of rags to riches, the Prince and the paupers. Only it is a far more wonderful and beautiful a story than any fairy tale. We often think what we can give God will bring Him glory, and though this is true in some sense, it is truer that it is what we can not give God that brings Him glory. God has not saved us because we had things that He wanted or needed. Indeed, when we were yet powerless sinners, we had absolutely nothing to recommend us to a holy and righteous God. Rather, God has saved us because we needed to be saved and He was able and mighty to do so. He, who is rich in grace, holiness, and power, is most glorified in filling those who are most destitute of these. It magnifies the fullness and riches of His grace.

     But how do we receive these riches? By what avenue can poor, wretched sinners hope to gain the glorious riches of God? It is through faith in Christ alone, “for we know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, so that we through His poverty might become rich.” -2 Corinthians 8:9 We can be assured that we will receive the riches of God because “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” -Colossians 1:27 God did not leave us in the misery of our poverty and sin, but in His great love and mercy, became poor so that we might, through faith, receive His riches, an inheritance we do not deserve and which we have not earned.

     But alas, before we can be the recipients of these riches which are in Christ, we must become aware that we are poor, poor in spirit, poor in power, poor in wisdom and righteousness. If we do not, we are prideful and have not fully understood our need for a Savior.  A man who thinks himself rich and able would not abase himself to beg and receive from another.  What a tragedy it would be to, in our pride, go through our Christian lives and not truly recognize our spiritual poverty. What blessing we miss if we deny it!It is a wondrous thing to understand the reality of our poverty, for only then can we really understand and experience the reality of His riches. 

     Though I do not deny that the knowledge of the poverty of our souls in an incredibly sobering truth, I do maintain that it is necessary for the Christian and an avenue to the “abundant life” which Christ wants to give us. Indeed, it is a stark reality to understand, but how blessed are we who have come to this knowledge! How we should rejoice in our poverty, for there is One who is rich in grace and mercy. We should rejoice because the Gospel is not only a story of our poverty. Were we to be left in our helpless state, that would be a somber tale indeed. But no, the Gospel is the meeting of our poverty with God’s riches. The good news of Jesus Christ is that we are desperately empty and God is immeasurably full. Thus, it is good for us to know that we lack because then we know that God can supply. It is good for us to hunger and thirst for righteousness because then we will learn that God can sate our hunger and quench our thirst. Our need magnifies His fullness. He is glorified through the union of our poverty and His riches.

     What then is the mark of the citizen of heaven? What is the sign that he is living for the glory of God? It is poverty. He does not boast of all the he can do for God because he knows He has nothing of worth to offer Him. He does not speak of his own righteousness because he knows that it is a threadbare, decaying cloak that cannot conceal his wretched state. He does not boast of his wisdom because he knows that his coffers are empty of that most precious of jewels. The citizen of heaven is a poor soul on whom God has wondrously bestowed all the riches of His grace. In response to this gift, He lives by faith and as John Piper put it, “faith is the act of our soul that turns away from our own insufficiency to the free and all-sufficient resources of God. Faith focuses on the freedom of God to dispense grace to the unworthy. It banks on the bounty of God.”

     And so the citizen of heaven, by faith, stakes all upon the sacrifice and righteousness of Christ and the riches of His grace.  He acknowledges that “it is because of [God] that [he] is in Christ Jesus, who has become for [him] wisdom from God–that is [his] righteousness, holiness and redemption.” -1 Corinthians 1:30 Thus, understanding his spiritual poverty, he boasts in Christ alone.  Having seen into his own heart and stared bleakly at the utter destitution of his soul, he knows, without a doubt, that the grace of God, found in Jesus Christ, is the only hope he has. 

     Therefore, we who have found we are poor in spirit should take heart and have faith. Are you without righteousness? Rejoice, for through His sacrifice, we have the righteousness “which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” -Philippians 3:9 Have you discovered that you are in desperate, daily need of grace? Do not despair for “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” -Romans 5:1-2 Are you weak and powerless? Are you lacking in love, love for God and others?  Do not despair, for God, who Himself is love, has loved us first. Laying claim to our souls through the purchase of His blood, He has vowed to transform our hearts by His own power. Thus, “be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that you may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that you may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” -Colossians 2:2-3 

     So we do strive daily to live for the glory of God. It is a fitting response to the truth that we have been saved by grace, that “because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” -Ephesians 2:4-5  But we must also remember that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” -Ephesians 2:6 not just so we could do good works or perform for Him, but “in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” -Ephesians 2:7 First and foremost, God has raised us up and saved our souls so that He can lavish us with the riches of His grace and love!  What an incredible truth. We serve a God whose primary delight is in not in demanding things from us, but in meeting our every need. 

     So, if we are going to live for the glory of God, we must first, come to daily terms with our own poverty. Christ didn’t just die to save us, but also to give us the daily grace and faith we need for our sanctification and also to lavish the riches of His love and grace upon us.   We must resist the temptation to accept God’s grace for our salvation, but then deny our need of it in living holy lives to the glory of God.. After receiving our salvation, we must not “set aside the grace of God,” but desire to see more and more of it in our lives. God’s grace does not end with our salvation. It is an ever-flowing spring from which God desires that we drink daily.   

     Therefore, my hope for myself and for you as well, is that before I look for how I can give to God, I look for how He can give to me. Before I search within myself for what I can offer Him, I hope to search within myself for where I most need Him, for I know that He has much to offer me. I hope to be reminded daily of my own spiritual poverty, to know at all times that I am bankrupt before Him. In this, I will rejoice, for though I am poor, God is rich and able and He, in His immeasurable love and grace, has made me an heir of these riches which are in Christ. I am indeed a “debtor” to God’s grace. The way in which I hope to repay my debt is by asking for more and more of His grace, for then the cross of Christ, its all-sufficiency and boundlessness, shall be exalted in my life. Being the pauper that I am, I want to marvel at the lavish and incomparable riches which are mine in Christ, and drink deeply from the fountain of His grace which flows without end. My suspicion is that if I do this, I, despite my emptiness, will be filled to overflowing and God, in all His fullness, will be glorified.

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Just to Be His

*I wrote this a little less than a year ago. I finally got my chance to graduate school, but as I have been continuing to figure out God’s plan for my life and making difficult decisions, I find I need to be constantly reminded of this truth.  I have also found that God often answers our questions by changing our questions.  Now, instead of looking to the standards of the world to tell me who I am, I want to ask, who does God say that I am?  And instead of asking God for a plan for my life, I want to ask how He will make my life for His plan. 

My life is somewhat of a puzzle to myself.  Two years ago, I had such a clear vision of who I was, where I was going, and what God wanted me to do.  I was a thinker, a writer, to go to graduate school to think and write to the glory of God.  Today, my life looks nothing like I thought it would.  It is a testimony to the truth that, “In his heart, a man plans His course, but the LORD determines his steps.” -Proverbs 16:9

I don’t regret my choices at all or dislike the life I have.  It is more that I am surprised and somewhat perplexed by the many turns my life has taken.  I wonder if I was simply wrong about who I was and what I was to do….and if not, how does that vision of my life fit with what and where I am now?

I think I have somehow come to believe that if I don’t ever go to graduate school, I will have missed my purpose, wasted my gifts, and failed to live up to my potential.   This surely cannot be the truth, for God is sovereign and nothing can thwart His purposes.  “The plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.” -Psalm 33:11  “The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me–your love, O LORD, endures forever–do not abandon the work of Your hands.” -Psalm 138:8  I rest in the truth that God is sovereign and there is nothing I could do to mess up His plans for me.

Moreover, I think I have deceived myself into a very narrow understanding of my purpose.  I have come to define myself in terms of education, performance, and achievement. Out of this muddled confusion, the question rises in my heart, “God, who do You want me to be?”  To which, He simply replies, “Be mine.”

I find peace in this reply and I hope you do too. When we feel confused by life, anxious for the future and what we will be, “this is what the LORD says–He who created you o Jacob, he who formed you O Israel: ‘Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” -Isaiah 43:1 God has not saved me so I could go to grad school.  God has not saved you to____.  Fill in the blank.  Christ did not die to make me a writer; He died to make me His.  That is what I am to be first and foremost.  He chose me, purchased me, saved me to make me His very own.  What follows is that the way in which I can most glorify God, and so fulfill my purpose , is to belong wholly and completely to Him, irrevocably bound to Him by the grace of His blood and boasting in none else.  I will look to Him to satisfy my desires.  I will look to Him to tell me who I am.  I am His.

Content in that, I will then be able to walk into whatever additional role God gives me–wife, nanny, student, writer–bringing glory to Him.  But the wondrous truth, the truth that brings real peace, joy, and rest, is that if I was never anything else, it would be so much more than enough–just to be His.

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Objects of Wrath to Objects of Love

   I have found that when I am in a dry spell in my walk with God, all the myriad of reasons, my spiritual laziness in prayer, my lack of hunger for the word of God, and just general products of my flesh, can usually be traced back to one root cause.  I have ceased to be awed by the Gospel.  That which is most uncommon has become common to me.  The truth that the righteous God became a man and paid the penalty for my sin, the truth which I should treasure and marvel at every day, every moment of my life, I begin to take for granted. I become too familiar with it and lose sight of the bigger picture, no longer marveling at the fact that God loves me because I forget how undeserving I am of this love and how very deserving I am of His wrath.  I casually pass over the thought that God has forgiven my sins because I no longer think on the great price which was paid for them.  I lose sight of the Cross and all its significance for every facet of my life and being.  I think we all find ourselves in this place at one time or another.

     Thankfully, God is gracious to His children and does not allow us to remain like this for long.  Just as He opened our eyes to the truth of the Gospel for the very first time, He is faithful to continue to reveal it to us again and again so that we might be renewed in our faith and hunger for Him, spurred onward in our pursuit of Christ.  God, in His patience and loving-kindness, continually reminds us of what He has done, enabling our hearts to marvel anew and love His Gospel more and more, even when we sometimes treat it as commonplace. 

     Indeed, God, through His word, has done so for me today as He has done time and time again.  He has allowed me to perceive the Gospel afresh and be once again, amazed.  I pray for myself and for you all that we never ceased to be awed and never take for granted that which has been done for us.  So, I ask that we marvel at it together.  Let us consider the Gospel, in all its beauty, sweetness, and heart-piercing truth, that it may awe us, change us, and first and foremost, make us to love and desire Christ more and more. 

     What has been done for us?  What have we, who are in Christ, received?  We know that we have received salvation and eternal life.  We know that our sins are forgiven.  But why is this so amazing?  Let us consider the beginning of the story.  It is easy to forget this side of salvation; it is easy to place a distinction between us, the righteous, and them, the lost sinners.  But let us remember that “all of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.  Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” –Ephesians 2:3  Loving the darkness and hating the light, we were dead in our sins with no hope of savings ourselves and no desire to even if we could.  We were chained, by the very nature of our souls, to God’s wrath. 

     Then come some of the sweetest words in the whole bible: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” –Ephesians 2:4  In the most amazing intervention, the sweetest and most powerful action, God reached down and brought us from death to life.  But how did He do this?  We know that we have received salvation and eternal life, but let us consider the great price that was paid so that we might treasure it more.  God did not just hand us our freedom and salvation.   He could not, for the depth of our sin demanded the fullness of His wrath.  We could not be set free without payment and we could not escape His wrath unless it was satisfied.  And so, “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” –Isaiah 53:5  We have all sinned and fallen short.  We all deserve the full wrath of God. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” –Isaiah 53:6  

     Consider that statement for a moment and be amazed: the iniquity of us all.  When I think on my own iniquity alone, I know it is very great and that I do not even really realize how great.  Now consider the iniquity of the entire world throughout all of history.  Take a step outside your door and you won’t have to go very far to discover the deep and total depravity of mankind.   For the past thousands of years, we have been endlessly adding to the list of our crimes and so, to our debt.  We have and are, in effect, heaping up for ourselves the wrath of God, a great and insurmountable burden.  

     Yet, Christ bore it all.  He paid it all.  Not only that, He defeated it all.  He reigns victorious over death and sin, setting us free from their bondage and the chains of God’s wrath.  Who is like our God?  “He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”  -Micah 7:19  No wrath remains for us because Christ has borne it.  No penalty stands against us because Christ has paid it.  All that remains for us is to receive His free love and grace for the rest of our lives and onward into eternity. 

     This is the Gospel.  It is anything but common and nothing short of amazing.  I realize I have said nothing new or revolutionary, but I pray that we never tire of saying it and that it never ceases to revolutionize our hearts and minds, that we may become well-acquainted with the love and grace of God, but never overly familiar with it.   May we always stand in awe of it, for we were once chained by our sin to be objects of His wrath, but because of the full payment and victorious action of Christ, we are now set free to be objects of His love.

For just as we were once joined to His wrath, we are no irrevocably joined to His love.  “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 8:38-39 

“Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” -Revelation 7:12

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A Prayer for Simplicity in Not So Simple Days

I wrote this prayer in college and it’s still very relevant for life today.  It’s funny how my past self so often reminds my present self of things I need to know.  I often wonder how i used to be so smart and what happened.  😉

Let not my thoughts dwell on this world or on myself. Let not their make up be of what I should do or what I should have done. Let my mind be empty but for the solitary thought of Him. Let not my words be of earthly knowledge or even of grand things that I do not understand. Let them consist only of what I know if only in part: the death and resurrection of my savior Jesus. Let not my ears lend themselves to the words of fallible men or the accusations of the enemy. Let them hearken only to voice of my God and King. Let not my eyes stray to the glory of man. Let not them even rest on myself, the good and evil that are both there. Let them gaze fixedly upon Him in all of His glorious splendor, majestic beauty, and wondrous love. 

May my existence be only of adoration and relationship with Him. May my soul there breathe the breath of contentment and peace. May I settle and rest myself in that place for which I was made. May I simply be in Christ alone.

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I’d like to be on this boat praying this prayer.