I spent several hours today with my good friend Bonnie. Whenever I spend time with her, I walk away feeling like I have just been in the presence of God. Her life radiates God’s beauty in everything she says and does and in all that she is. I wish everyone in the world could meet her. What a rare jewel she is, and all who know her are aware that this is true.
There is no one that I know who has a deeper relationship with God. The way He speaks to her and to others through this humble lady just blows my mind. She is full of grace: giving mercy where it must go and holy correction where it must be heard as well. It is the kind of contagious love that leaves me warm but inspired and challenged to walk deeper with God as she does. If I have a hero in this life, it is her.
There is nothing especially spectacular about her that draws me to her. Rather, it is the fascinating and genuine fulfillment of purpose that I see when I look at her. When I am with her, it is obvious to me that she has become everything that God has desired for her to be. She uses every gift she has been given to further the Kingdom and encourages others to seek God above all else. She exhibits peace amidst whatever painful or difficult circumstance she may be facing. When I am around her, I can cry, laugh, and experience deep rest…and I am not in the least bit ashamed to do any of it. What a beautiful woman of God!
Probably the thing about her that inspires me most is her dedication and life lived in prayer. Her heart is constantly open and attentive to the voice of God. She fights fierce spiritual battles in her kitchen and her bedroom as she intercedes for those God brings to her heart. She truly dedicates herself to pray for all who are in her sphere of influence, and her prayers yield powerful results. God speaks to her in real ways, and miracles happen because she knows what it means to believe that anything is possible. There is no place that she will not go in prayer for someone else. Her prayers are simple, yet they come from a heart that feels deeply the pain and struggle of those she is praying for. I see in her what it means to hunger and thirst for more of God. I have so much that I am constantly learning from her.
As I describe my friend Bonnie, I’m sure that most people probably think that such a woman could not exist. That kind of relationship with God happened a long time ago to people in the Bible and is imaginary or exaggerated at best. However, I know that walking side-by-side with God everyday in complete and whole relationship is possible because I know Bonnie and I have seen it in her life.
As I talked with her today, I was overwhelmed by the desire to love others as she does and to walk very closely with God as she does. I want to learn how to pray with passion and sincerity for those in my life. I want to fight battles fearlessly for Jesus no matter where I might be. I want to be so in tune with God that He knows that He can pull me out of an activity or wake me up in the middle of the night when someone needs my pleadings to God for help. As it stands, these moments are rare in my life. I want to live so fearlessly for God that the world around me can’t help but change because of His unmistakable presence.
So many people I know have such shallow relationships with God. They only pray when they need to ask God for something. They only turn to Him when things get difficult and they need help with something. They can go for days without really thinking about God, and though they serve on every committee in the church, know virtually nothing about what it means to walk with Him. They see their salvation story as a prayer they prayed years ago and as long as they continue with church and a passing prayer here or there, they will hopefully never have to pray the salvation prayer again. They avoid extremes in their lives, always seeking the middle and safe ground. They long to be unique, but they are simply copies of every other nominal Christian out there. They all do everything and nothing at the same time. They are content with their predictable lives and their predictable god.
The problem is that a predictable and safe god does not exist, and the real God is not predictable nor is He safe, but as C.S. Lewis has said, “He is good.” So many who claim to know Christ are still asking the question, “Isn’t there something more to life?” ABSOLUTELY! Truly following and knowing Christ is the most difficult path that we could choose, but it is ultimately the most fulfilling thing we could ever do. There is never a dull moment in Kingdom work. There is NOTHING like living life in vibrant relationship with God. In light of that, nothing else in life holds a candle in significance.
In the past, I would probably say that I wanted to be just like Bonnie. I wanted to do the things that she did and reach out to others the way she did. I am learning, however, that God did not make me just like Bonnie; He made me just like Chelsea. I used to think that was such a bad thing, consumed by my perceptions of all the things I could not do, rather than knowing and building upon all that I could do. If I believe the Bible to be true, then I would learn to accept its truth that I have been given all that I need to accomplish the tasks for which God has created me. I spent years of my life trying to be like someone else or wishing that I was someone else. However, God gave me such an incredible gift: my unique personhood and a lifetime of choices in which to become…me.
In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus says that we should be perfect just like our Heavenly Father is perfect. Growing up, I saw this standard of perfection as “without mistake” and concluded that I was flawed and broken. No matter how hard I tried, I still couldn’t get the notes to the piano song right, and when I organized an event, invariably, no one would show up. I asked God more times than I could count, “What is wrong with me? Have you really not chosen me to do something for Your Kingdom, because I could have sworn that’s what I heard…?”
I once heard someone tell a story about two hammers. The first hammer was new and shiny. Its owner hung it on the wall for all to see. People would walk by and marvel at the beautiful hammer and how it shined in the sunlight. Day after day the hammer hung displayed for the world to see, never leaving its post of glory. The second hammer was old and rusty, covered in nicks and scratches. It was not much to look at, because its history was long and toilsome. Its owner did not place it on the wall for display, but instead it laid on the workbench available for the owner to use as he worked in his shop. The question was asked to the audience: which one was the perfect hammer? Well, it’s obvious that it was the second. The first hammer could pass as a decoration, but it was never used for the purpose for which it was created. The second hammer, however, served its purpose every day of its existence, laying on the master’s bench, available for whatever need might arise.
As I heard this story, it revolutionized my understanding of perfection. God wasn’t asking me to be perfect at everything I do; but rather to be perfect in love. He created me to be in relationship with Him. He created me to know Him. He created me to love Him with all my heart. Anything short of that, and I am rolling on the ground asking, “Is there anything more to this life?”
Likewise, God has created each one of us uniquely to serve in His Kingdom. 1 Corinthians 12 talks about the different parts of a body and how each part is important. The ear cannot tell the eye that it is not needed, nor can one part of the body decide that it doesn’t want to be part of the body anymore. God created each of us with a set of talents and characteristics, and perfection happens as we accept and grow into our place in His Kingdom with all enthusiasm and trust. There is nothing better than an ear that hears everything well, or an eye that sees 20/20. When each part truly becomes everything it was meant to be, the body as a whole becomes everything that it was meant to be.
I struggled so much for years with the Church and all the brokenness I saw among its members. Many groups of Christians that I have known have not functioned well as the body of Christ. The ear is criticizing the eye, the foot is telling the hand what to do, and the nose simply can’t stand the bellybutton. However, truth be told, each part was created by God and given its function by God. The problem came when the different parts became so preoccupied by the imperfections of all the other parts, they had no time to function as they themselves were intended to function.
All of this could lead one to throw up their hands and say, “Why not give up on the body altogether?” If the body is not functioning right, then what is the point? As I wrestled in prayer over this very issue, God reminded me of His love and passion for the body. He created it! Not only did He create the body, but He created its parts! How could I, who claims to be in relationship with Him, turn my back on something that God loved and created? In fact, the whole purpose of God sending His Son to die was to bring restoration to His creation, to reconcile everything back to Himself, and to once again call His body to be all the He created it to be. God showed me that just as there is hope for me, there is hope for the entire body…and whether I like it or not, I’m a part of it.
When I look at Bonnie, I marvel at what a perfect part of the body she is. Sure, she still makes mistakes and she still struggles and wrestles with some very real things. However, just as the perfect hammer was fulfilling its purpose in doing what its master created the hammer to do, Bonnie fulfills her purpose by doing everything her Master created Bonnie to do. I have learned that the greatest thing that I can do for the Kingdom is to take my eyes off all the other parts of the body I either want to criticize or idolize, and simply focus on becoming everything that I was meant to be in Christ. A true tool being used by God does not glorify itself and cause all the other tools to be like itself. A true tool of God, like Bonnie, inspires all the other tools to fulfill their own God-given purpose in Christ.
All this begins and is founded in relationship, and a relationship with God is established, maintained, and grown in prayer. As I draw closer to God, His Holy Spirit molds and shapes me as He desires. He calls me to step out in faith, often involving certain gifts and talents He has given me and desires that He has placed in my heart from the beginning. He calls me to sharpen my skills and gives me strength as I journey down that road and work through the challenges it brings. He picks me up when I fall, and encourages me when I feel that I have failed. One thing I have learned is this: there is no such thing as failure in obedience to God. The act of obedience is the success, and success in God’s Kingdom does not depend on results, because its purpose is relationship. Perfection, therefore, does not depend on our performance, but rather on our love.
There is so much more that I could say, but the heart of this message is this: do not seek to be perfect in performance, but rather seek to be perfect in love. Don’t waste your time evaluating those around you; rather, “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).” Pursue God, and when you come to the point that you realize that it is really Him who is pursuing you, don’t be afraid to let Him overtake you. He will take you on a challenging and amazing ride, but when you surrender your whole self to His will and nurture a vibrant relationship with Him, the result is perfection. I can’t imagine how incredible and overwhelming it will be to someday stand in God’s presence as my life is brought up on the big screen. The words I want to hear more than any others are these: WELL DONE. I may not have mastered every task given to me, and I may still have been stumbling along the way to the throne room. However, it is not the success of the actions that God looks at, but rather the heart. Is everything in your heart His? Have you surrendered yourself to the Potter’s hands? I don’t know about you, but someday I want to be perfect: perfect in love to my Savior.