Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will declare what He has done for my soul. (Psalm 66:16)
I recently learned a great lesson – it’s possible to talk yourself into believing that you are doing God’s will when in reality, you’re not. I was able to do this because my work had the appearance of righteousness and ministry, and yet – who was I kidding? I had deliberately sinned. My sin (in my eyes) was so small that no one would notice (least of all God, right?), and somehow I thought that because the “work” that I was doing was effective, I could continue indefinitely without any repercussion.
God gave me the greatest gift possible to give – my salvation – five years ago. Then He gave me another gift, an apostolic calling to ministry. “Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” (Romans 1:5) At first, I embraced my calling, but due to troubles of this world – chronic pain so bad that I’ve had days where death seemed preferable to continuing, troubles within my family (raising a teenager with high-functioning autism puts a real strain on a marriage), the breakdown and sin of a close friend – there was just so much that served to drive a wedge between me and God.
There was nothing so bad that I’d ever considered walking away from Him. In fact, a few months ago I’d probably have denied that anything was wrong with our relationship. I really felt like I was just laboring on.
He knew. He knew.
He knew that I’d stepped out of leading and into abdicating. He knew that I wasn’t doing much leading of people to Him, much leading of people for Him, much leading of myself to Him for daily renewal. Over those months He tried and tried to show me what was happening but I just kept pointing to the work that was going on in His name and continued in what I was doing.
In effect, I had pasted a picture of myself on the wall and said “there’s your leader”. Then I climbed into a whale – just like Jonah did. God directed the whale to spit me back out, but me – stubborn hillsheep that I am – I simply found a nice sturdy rib to cling to, and I hung on. The picture out in the real world gave mute testimony to all the “work” that was going on “in God’s name” and things went on – for a while.
“For You, Oh God, have tested us, you have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. You have caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; But You brought us out to rich fulfillment.” Psalm 66:10-12
God did the most natural, logical thing that He could do – if I wanted to be in the whale, well, He left me there to stew in the digestive juices there in that belly. In other words, if I didn’t want His blessing, then I wasn’t going to have it. He withdrew it from my life.
The Word says that He will chasten us when we need it. (John 15, Hebrews 12) Good parents will rebuke their children when they are in danger. One of the best methods parents can use to teach children a lesson is through “logical consequences”. Him leaving me in the belly of the whale – letting me marinate in digestive juices, as it were – was probably the best thing He could have done for me.
My health – which is tenacious at best – began to seriously go downhill. If I had been paying attention, I might have realized that He was desperately calling out to me – “Wake up, sleeper, wake up!”. But I was busy hiding from responsibility, pretending that all was well. I began suffering from frightening symptoms that got worse daily. I would get dizzy and fall down. Sometimes I was SO dizzy that I would just grab whatever was available and hang on for dear life. The muscle spasms (properly called “ataxia”) were so severe it felt like I was being thrown on the ground. I severe bladder and bowel complaints, to the point that I had to be evaluated for long-term catheterization and possible surgery. But worst of it all was the “forgetting words” and memory loss. It was so severe that we called it the “jellyfish syndrome” – it was like I was operating without a brain. Towards the end of this time, I didn’t trust myself to pay bills or drive unaccompanied. The doctor’s best guess at first was that I had MS – it was the only explanation that fit. Yet when the symptoms began to pile up all together they became baffled. Most people who have MS experience only one or two symptoms at a time, not everything at once. Toward the end, I began to realize that *something* was up spiritually – but I began to attack the symptoms of it, not the disease, which was my sin that was leading to a fractured relationship with Him.
Sin always separates us from God…even those things that we think are “little sins” – the things that wouldn’t make the six o’clock news if they were to be found out – those, perhaps, are the most damaging sins. They’re dangerous and deceptive sins because they let us lie to ourselves. Sin leads to broken places. It causes us to be like Adam, trying to hide from God in the garden. We think we can hide from responsibility, we can hide from God. We can’t hide – there’s nowhere we can go that He’s not there (Psalm 139) Even in the belly of the whale, God was lovingly drawing me back to Him the only way He could.
One particularly bad evening, I tried to get up to go to the bathroom. When my left foot hit the floor, the ataxia took over my leg. Everything went askew and I pitched right over, hitting my head hard on the nightstand. The next morning, when I tried to communicate on ExWitch, it was very obvious to everyone that I’d scrambled my brains. This was far worse than anything we’d seen before. It was like the jellyfish had babies… after a short time of trying to express myself and failing, I began to feel very nauseous and went back to bed. My team took a vote and called my husband: “please take her to the hospital!” I began to throw up, and in the process pitched myself out of bed again – this time hitting the other side of my head and my right hip hard enough to fear broken bones. Ken threw in the towel and called an ambulance.
I was in the hospital for four days on very strong medications. Fortunately I had not broken anything and I’d only given myself a mild concussion. I was tested for MS, adrenal gland shutdown, thyroid disease, and I think they threw in yellow fever and rabies just to be sure. I was sent home when my insurance ran out. “We’re not sure what’s wrong with you, Ms. Sharpe” – don’t you love it? The doctors really had no idea what was going on.
With the exception of the day I gave my life to Christ, those may have been the four most pivotal days of my life. I’m so grateful to God for them.
I wasn’t able to do a whole lot for myself – I couldn’t walk, couldn’t go to the bathroom, couldn’t wash myself, had to hold a fork in a fist-grip. A nurse came once a day to wash me. My hair was falling out in clumps – possibly because my thyroid was out of whack. They’d put me on the telemetry unit because they thought there might be something wrong with my heart, so I was linked to the nurse’s station by seven sticky pads measuring my bodily functions. If one of them came undone, a nurse would shout “Seven’s off tele” and an aide would dash into my room to hook me back up.
At first I had nothing to do – nothing at all. I’m not accustomed to that. At home I have a laptop computer with the whole internet at my disposal, my Bible, an extensive library of books, and 255 channels on the TV. In the hospital I had my thumbs to twiddle. When my husband finally got in after his 12-hour shift at work that first day, he rummaged through the drawers and discovered a Gideon’s bible there. The nurses were kind enough to give me pen and paper, and I lay in that bed and rediscovered Scripture. Through that, I rediscovered prayer – not going through the motions like I had been those previous months – I re-learned raw, unadulterated, connecting with Jesus, delivering prayer.
I can honestly say that my turnaround came through tears of repentance prayed in that hospital bed, and not through any medical intervention. (It turns out that all of my actual medical symptoms were side effects from a drug I was taking – proof that God can make use of anything to get your attention!) I came home on fire for the Lord again and committed to relationship first and foremost, which includes obedience to His will.
Jesus said, “If you love me, keep My commandments.” There’s not a lot of room for quibbling or crawling into a whale, is there?
One of the things I wrestle with in my life is living with a chronic debilitating illness that will get worse until God either heals me or takes me home. This is unrelated to what I was talking about above. I have a genetic disorder, ehlers-danlos syndrome, that affects my joints and skin. I have frequent subluxations, occasional dislocations, and pain of the sort that no matter what the doctors do, no matter what drugs I take, there’s no escaping it. I’m in a wheelchair now almost full-time to try and preserve my lower joints and relieve the pain. There’s nothing that doctors can do to help me, and I struggle to deal with it. I have days that I stuggle to minister to people, to get up in the morning and do something other than stare at a wall and cry – or snarl and snap. On those days, God gives me the strength. He fills me with His Holy Spirit. He gives me yet another spoon (reminder to self – link to the spoons story here). But until He put me in that hospital bed, I hadn’t been able to truly accept my illness. Oh, I said that I did… but no. It seemed wrong to do so, especially because I believe that one day – and one day soon in fact – He is going to heal me.
A guy named Tim Hansel wrote a fabulous book about coming to terms with chronic pain. You Gotta Keep Dancin’ is all about God’s amazing grace and how He can get us through – with complete acceptance – the most tragic, the most painful, the most human of circumstances. Tim wrote, “Acceptance means that I allow the process to transform me into the image of God’s Son. It means that I’m willing to let go of who I think I ought to be, and become who God wants me to be.” Wow. Yes, that’s right where I am at this moment in time. Letting go of the whale’s ribs means letting go of who I thought I wanted to be. It means moving out into the daylight and the light of Christ. It means picking off the bits of blubber and becoming who HE wants me to be.
I know that a lot of people – especially my pagan friends who read this blog – will ask me, “What kind of God would punish His child by making her sicker and sicker, then landing her in the hospital – all in the name of bringing her to her knees? That doesn’t sound like the loving image of Jesus you’re always spouting off about!”
So many people get hung up on the imagery of “Jesus, meek and mild, babe in the manger, Lamb of God” that they forget that He’s also pictured as a Lion. They forget that He overturned the tables in the Temple and chased the money-changers out with a whip. They ignore verses like the one I quoted above from Psalm 66. The church glosses over passages like Isaiah 45:7 – “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things.” God creates calamity? You bet. The book of Revelation doesn’t show us Jesus meek and mild, it shows us Jesus with a mouth as a sword, judging the nations. To put it as my friend and teacher Don Capps so succinctly says, “God isn’t your buddy.” He’s my best friend – but friends, “the fear of the Lord” is a very real thing. He’s GOD – not someone to obey when I feel like it and disobey when the whim strikes. If He was to choose to hit the “delete” button on His keyboard and strike me – or all of us – dead right this very second, He could. He is God – you know – the Guy in Charge of Everything?
It’s by His grace and mercy that He allows any of us to go on. That grace and mercy – that *love* – is so awesome that I don’t think any of us can really grasp it. It’s that love that caused Him to go to the cross to rescue us. It’s that love that causes Him to reach out to each and every one of us now. What an amazing thing that the Creator of the whole universe – of all that is – would have anything at all to do with the mess that is humanity! Yet He doesn’t want for a single person to die in sin. But He doesn’t just bring someone “into the camp” – when a person accepts Christ they are adopted into God’s family as children.
Just as a loving human parent does everything in their power to raise responsible children, God does everything in His power to raise us as responsible children – but more than just growing us up and letting us go. He wants to make us perfect again. He’s transforming us daily into the image of His Son, Jesus. When we begin to deviate – as we will – from that mark, He chastens us. In other words, He guides us back to Him by whatever means necessary. Why? Because He knows the alternative. He can see the sinful world around us, and He knows what happens when we wander away. Would a loving parent let their child drift off into drugs, or an abusive relationship, or anything else that’s dangerous? Of course not. God will continually try to get our attention in order to bring us back into right relationship with Him. Revelation 3:19 says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” God loves me – and that’s why He rebuked me. He could have let me stay where I was, decieving myself, settling for second-best. Eventually my disconnected powerlessness would have led me to an extremely unhappy life, and who knows what would have happened. God knows – and that’s why He intervened. I’m so glad that He is so good to me…even if that means chastening. It means He loves me.