By the Word of Their Testimony

Hello. My name is Mary, but I am not the one who sits at Jesus’ feet. I am Martha. I am the one working to provide you with a place to sleep and a meal to eat, and trying to figure out how we can afford to host thirteen people. I am the self-sufficient one who would rather be working than sitting. I am the one who kills my own soul every day by choosing service and busyness over being in His presence.

It has never been a question of if I believe or not. It has always been: how am I proving it?

Throughout middle and high school I was always serving in some capacity at my church. Always. I played on worship teams for the main service and for youth group. I taught lessons at Bible studies, provided childcare for Women’s Ministry events, helped with VBS and occasionally children’s church— I was always doing something in the church, or acting out my faith in some way.

This is not inherently a bad thing. In fact, I think this is what Christians are called to do. We are called to be witnesses, we are called to go, we are called to be His Church in this dark world.

I think when where I went wrong was not my acts of service, but the reasoning behind them.

If you asked me, of course it was all for God. I don’t think at the time I would’ve recognized the difference between doing things for God’s glory and my own, because when what you want and what God wants are similar, it’s a difficult difference to find.

I know now that I never really trusted Him with my life. I trusted that I would go to heaven when I died, but I did not trust Him with my present life.

I had my own plans. I was going to save the world by showing them Jesus. Wasn’t that what He wanted anyway?

Nobody ever questioned me. I never questioned myself. I never bothered to stop and let God question me, either. I powered through high school, serving and working and doing everything I could to keep myself busy and away from His presence, because I knew. I knew that if I asked Him that He would tell me to do something I didn’t want to; I knew that He would take away my dreams, and I couldn’t give them up.

I choose many things over God, but it didn’t look like it, not even to me. Because I was still serving Him, wasn’t I? I was still being faithful, wasn’t I? So why did it matter that I was helping advance the Kingdom of God in my own way? It was all the same, wasn’t it? At least I was doing something.

I gave in and went to Bible College, since it allowed me to get an early start on my career plan that I had crafted for myself. Bible College wasn’t exactly what I had been hoping for, but it didn’t mess with the future I was envisioning for myself. In fact, it was easier to control things going there, since I had more scholarship opportunities. And plus, that’s where all the really good Christian people went to college, right? And that’s what I was. So I went.

In reality, my mindset was that it was something I could control and that it would serve me and my future well.

I wasn’t able to recognize that at the time, however, because I did not give myself the time to think about it. I kept busy. I served on this team and that team, and I traveled and I took a lot of classes and I made new friends and— I didn’t take sabbaths. I never stopped to breathe, let alone think about my life, or my faith, or my choices, or that fact that I could feel something was missing.

Because I was doing this for God, right? It couldn’t be wrong.

But I never let myself rest or even talk to God in a deep or meaningful way. I was blind in both eyes, claiming I could see. What I was doing wasn’t wrong, but my heart wasn’t in the place to do it, because I was choosing busyness over His Presence, and it was killing me.

And God loved me too much to let me commit such horridly slow suicide.

So, in January, He exploded my appendix and basically ruined my life.

Did God Himself cause it, or did He simply allowed it to happen? I don’t know, but I do know that it was Him saving me from the life I was living— though I didn’t realize it at the time. At the time, all I could think was that my life was ruined. I had the next semester planned out. Everything was going exactly the way I wanted— but then I got stuck in the hospital for three weeks. I missed two weeks of classes and two months of trips and opportunities. After my initial stay at the hospital, I was allowed to go back to school while the antibiotics worked on killing the infection around my burst appendix. I went back home a month later to have it removed, and overall the doctors claimed this was the more efficient and safe way for the surgery to be done. I should have been grateful that the infection hadn’t killed me and that I had such gracious doctors who knew exactly what to do— but I couldn’t be grateful, I could only be furious that I was missing out on months of my life because a stupid little whatever decided to explode in me.

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The view out of my hospital window (photo credit goes to my mom!)

I was angry. I was frustrated and confused. I was spiritually and emotionally wrecked.

Why did that have to happen to me? I was following God’s will for my life, wasn’t I? I was the one actually trying to do something for Him, so why was this stumbling block put in my way? I was being faithful in my work and plans, wasn’t I? They were all for Him! So why was He letting this happen?

During this time, my life was wrenched free from my grip, and I faceplanted into the realization that I was not in control, as hard as I tried to be.

And, as I tried to get back on my feet, I realized that my faith was very, very small. Because if I had been at peace with God, if I had been secure in my faith, if I really trusted that God loved me and had a plan, then I would not have stayed up for nights on end sobbing because life wasn’t fair; I wouldn’t have screamed and blamed God for everything; I wouldn’t have been so easily deceived by the devil; I wouldn’t have felt like the foolish man on the sand. I would have felt safe on the rock, if I had only been seeking Him, and not my own success.

2016 has been the worst year of my life. My spiritual and emotional struggle lasted all throughout the summer. I was a spiritual zombie, and I couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong and why I couldn’t fix it.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized that the reason I can’t fix it is because it isn’t up to me to fix it, just like it isn’t up to me to create my own future.

It literally took me months to figure out that the reason why I couldn’t feel better and why nothing I did was working was because I am not the savior.

I was baptized when I was 7, but I had never truly made Jesus the Lord over my life, and that was made obvious in the fact that I had never trusted Him with it. I am holding onto my life with a clenched fist, and I don’t want to let Him have my hopes and my dreams because I am so worried about what He will do with them. I have made myself blind by thinking I need to control my life, and the devil has tricked me into thinking that my own desires are what God wants too.

I know now that what God really wants, and what He has wanted all along, is for me to stop and actually be with Him, instead of do for Him. How could I be so prideful to think that I could do something for God that He couldn’t accomplish for Himself? This realization has been helpful as I have struggled to become less of a human doer and more of a human being whose worth is found in God, and not in herself and what she can accomplish.

And what does this realization require? A conscious decision to surrender daily.

And I wish I could say that life has been so much better and so much easier since I realized this, but it hasn’t. I have still had moments where I wrench my life from His hands and think that I know best. I am still learning, however, and at least now I know that I don’t actually know best. Though it is hard to swallow and I mess up a lot, God is still writing my testimony. And today, I am letting the Prince of Peace be my Lord.

The Prayer of Psalm 13

Transcendent Peace

Since the very beginning, Christians have been known for having a surprising amount of peace in their lives. They have been able to look danger and difficulty in the eyes and continue on, holding fast to their faith and finding in it the security and courage they need. But why? Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Is this really the secret to how Christians have peace?

In the book of Acts, the Bible relays one of the first examples of this transcendent peace. It tells us in Chapters 6 and 7 that Stephen was “a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people” (6:8; NIV), and that when members of the synagogue began to debate with him, they could not win because Stephen was full of the Spirit. So, instead, they began to spread rumors, and they even went so far as to say he blasphemed Moses and God. So Stephen was brought before the Sanhedrin, but it does not say he was worried or afraid. Stephen answered their questions and connected their beliefs about Moses and the law with who Jesus was— ending with a very convicting statement:

“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.” (7:51-53)

The members of the Sanhedrin then dragged Stephen out and stoned him, but the text does not indicate that Stephen was regretful or worried— instead it reads that while they were stoning him, he prayed: “‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” (7:59-60). Stephen did not pray for relief or escape, he prayed for those who were killing him. Before his death, it says that Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit and that he saw the glory of God. If God Himself was with him and in him, it is obvious why Stephen had so much peace in his death. Stephen trusted that his life, both his physical and eternal life, was safe in His hands.

Stephen is not the only example. All through history, there have been examples of Christians who have been killed, persecuted, and gone through many other difficulties, but still found peace in Christ. Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna in 150 A.D., was burned at the stake for refusing to deny Christ. When the soldiers grabbed him to nail him to the stake, Polycarp stopped them, and the book 131 Christians Everyone Should Know records him saying, “‘Leave me as I am. For He who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails’” (page 361). And the record says that he did not move, even as he was burned alive.

Reverend John Harper is a more recent example. He was a passenger on the Titanic in 1910, going to speak at a church in America. The article John Harper’s Last Convert tells the story well, saying that after the Titanic had sunk and Harper was in the water, he floated by another man and cried out, “Are you saved?” When the man replied no, he shouted, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ you will be saved!” After giving his life jacket to someone who did not have one, Harper drowned, and the man Harper converted before he died later gave his testimony. Harper knew his soul was saved, and was selfless enough to give up his life to try and save those who were not. Like Stephen, he had full faith in God’s grace and salvation, and that knowledge enveloped him in peace, even in death.

Christians today also feel this peace. Even though Christians in America have not experienced persecution as terrible as in the days of the early church, they have still gone through very difficult and stressful times. When interviewed about peace, this is what Gabi Martin, a Christian from a small church in Oregon, said she had experienced:

Over the course of our marriage, my ex-spouse confessed many very difficult things to me. All of the times after the first two, God put such a shield of peace around me! Each time, I would feel this overwhelming compassion for my husband, as if I were looking at an injured child instead of my enemy. I would feel amazing amounts of grace and forgiveness for him in these moments that would last a few days until reality set in. Once this period of peace was over, I would feel that God had cushioned the blow for the initial time, until I had the strength to face the truth and reach out to Him. This still happens with other people in my life and I know not to question it, but to embrace the gift of peace, and then prepare for the three or four day realization. God is so kind to give me this gift of grace! I feel it is a gift for the receiver and myself.”

And she is not the only Christian who has felt the peace of God while managing relationships. A young Christian shared how she was able to feel peace when she was struggling:

“I’ve noticed before that the peace isn’t always immediate… There were times I had some intense relationship struggles. I was very stressed and upset about them. But Philippians 4:6-7 was always brought to mind. If I took time to pray about it, process through it, and give it to the Lord, that time would end with so much peace that I was able to continue through my day. Even if there was residue exhaustion from the stress, it was overcome with the realization that God’s got this and I don’t need to live in a frenzy.”

How are Christians able to feel such abiding peace even when it is hard? It seems to be by learning to surrender their lives and by fully trusting the love and goodness of the One they serve.

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