Brrrr… Winter has officially arrived in Pennsylvania. Below freezing temperatures and wind chills are upon us, so get out those warm coats, hats, and gloves – or better yet, just stay inside!
Last Friday morning, I fought the urge to sit in my cozy house and went for a run. The temperature was under 30° and the wind was whipping. After a mile-and-a-half I was still chilled, but it was good motivation to just keep moving!
At one point, though, I looked off the trail and decided it was worth the pause to get a picture of this:
No matter how much I don’t like the cold, I love ice. The idea of fluid, formless water taking shape and becoming solid is fascinating! The smooth, soft surface of a frozen pond – or even a puddle – reflecting the light of the sun on a crisp winter day = perfection.
Unfortunately, no matter how pretty it looks – ice can also be dangerous! When we were little, my sisters and I knew we weren’t allowed to begin skating on the pond in our neighbor’s backyard until the ice was deep. The air temperature had to be cold enough for long enough to penetrate and affect the water below the surface. We knew (and probably found out the hard way) that some ice may look solid, but if you step on it before it’s fully frozen, you’re gonna get wet!
As Christians, I feel like we should all come with a “Danger: Thin Ice!” warning label. When we first come to know Jesus, we feel a revolution of change as we see our lives being impacted by His love, His grace, and His power. A solid, initial layer of God’s transformative work has occurred.
But, due to the nature of our society and our humanity, it can be really easy to stay there. It can be really easy to make some surface changes and begin to ‘look’ like a follower of Jesus. We learn new behaviors, add some new activities, and season our language with a little Christian ‘salt’ so that we look smooth, sparkly, and solid from afar.
Eventually, though, the pressure’s gonna hit. Maybe it’s just a pebble or a stick someone threw out there and we can handle it. But at some point, someone’s foot is going to come down and we’re going to crack.
This is especially true when it comes to our pain. I’ve seen so many students meet Jesus or experience a revival of their childhood faith in their high school years. They become excited about God, eager to know more about Him, and expect Him to work in their lives!
At the same time, through a combination of their developmental stage and the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, they are becoming more aware of their sin struggles and patterns – as well as the hurt that others’ sin struggles and patterns have caused them. Unfortunately, instead of dealing with their pain – instead of confessing and finding accountability, instead of processing their issues with a mentor or counselor, instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to penetrate to the deep – they put on a surface layer of “God’s got this!” and pretend “It’s all good!”.
You know what happens next – the pressures of college and ‘real life’ start to crack and disintegrate that thin layer of “faith” they thought they had. Some will realize what’s happening and seek out the help they need, some will simply hope to repair the cracks by getting their God-fix when they come home and attend church, but many will walk away from their faith altogether.
When God commanded His people to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength,” (Deuteronomy 6:5) He was telling them that this ‘religion’ was way more than ‘religion’. He wanted to be sure they understood that having Him as their God would go way beyond duty, attendance, and outward morality. As their God, His work in their lives was intended to penetrate to the innermost parts of their entire being.
And it wasn’t just about their love for Him. In the Psalms we’re reminded that His “benefits” apply not just to “sin”, but to our whole lives – our well-being, our emotions, our pain, and our desires (Psalm 103:2-5). Psalm 130:7 says that “with him is full redemption”. His love for us has the power to fully permeate, transform, and restore even the most broken parts of our hearts and minds!
If you’ve ever looked for a place to skate in the great outdoors, you know that your best bet is to find a pond or lake. The moving water of a river is much less likely to be deeply (and therefore safely) frozen. It’s in the stillness that the water becomes solid.
It’s so easy, especially at this time of year, to just keep moving. There’s so much to do and even when there isn’t anything pressing, we have devices full of entertainment and mind-occupying social media in our hands. We know the pain is there, but it’s so much easier to just say “God’s got this!” and pretend “It’s all good!”
But to stop and be still and allow that wind to chill us to the bone seems uncomfortable and something we’d much rather avoid. We know that if we let God in, it might hurt. We might find there are parts of us we haven’t let Him touch – parts of us that we don’t even realize exist yet. And even worse – He might ask us to take those solidifying steps of accountability, counseling, or making this ‘stillness in His presence’ thing a regular habit.
Yes, God does have this and yes, it is all for your good and His glory. He’s got “this”, but does He have you? Does He have all of you?
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)