August 21, 2014

When Your Soul Needs An Awakening

At summer camp during middle school, I learned the ins and outs of the "quiet time" from my youth minister. Being a responsible and dutiful child, I immediately began the practice of dragging a lawn chair onto the back porch of my house each summer morning, at times working through a little devotional book and at other times randomly opening my Bible for a verse to read. Though amateurish and haphazard, the Lord genuinely awakened in me a desire for Him.
It didn't last-- at least the sense of wonder didn't. What did last was the practice of reading a devotional or a verse each morning, but the awakening of a child-like faith was destroyed by an undercurrent of duty and obligation. I kept it up but the motivation to do so was to meet my own expectations and to manage my own heart.

I didn't see the subtle change, but a bucket of water had been poured out on my heart-on-fire. Embers were left, but I couldn't find a way to light the fire again. I had gone from the Lord awakening my soul to trying exhaustively to awaken it myself. When I felt far from the Lord, as my emotions so often told me I was, I strategized how I might get close to Him again. When I recognized something spiritual I lacked, I worked hard to get it. And when I sinned, I made up for it with good things, or at least I tried. I became an expert at managing myself, but I had a dull heart.

Many years later, I came to understand the subtle change that had occurred: "You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:4). I couldn't have related to this verse any more: I felt estranged from Christ, no matter how I attempted to set things right. And the verse diagnosed why: I had removed Christ from the equation, I had rejected grace, and I had set myself as the manager of my heart. I was an attempter, not a grace receiver.

So I started receiving what Christ had offered me all along, and I grew in leaps and bounds. Grace, when it's received, affects every aspect of life, from relationships to spiritual disciplines to our prayers. And it did mine.

But there has been residue and it's closely tied to my sense of duty and responsibility. Even after grace, I've found that when I've become aware of sin or something lacking, my first response has been to manage it. Do something. Develop a strategy. Make promises to myself and to God. My first response hasn't been, "Lord, do this in me." And so I've tried to be conscious of that instinctual response and immediately go to the second, where I ask God to take the responsibility for my sanctification and submit myself to the process. I've discovered this is more of a falling back into secure and capable arms rather than straining forward to reach a rope to climb. The falling back is grace; the straining forward is managing.

Last week, sitting in church, I recognized that my heart was dull. I was having trouble focusing, and what I was focusing on had scant value. My first thought: Ugh. My second thought: Awake my soul. I said this to my heart as if I was trying to shake my soul awake, but it wasn't responding. My third thought: Lord, awaken my soul. I will wait for you.

It was such a moment of grace, to see where He's brought me, to see that it didn't take me weeks of wading through to-do's before realizing the fruitlessness of managing myself.

What hope, what grace, that we can fall back into secure and capable arms, that we don't have to manage ourselves, that the Lord indwells us and takes responsibility for leading our sanctification.

He is responsible.
Awaken my soul. 
We simply respond.
Yes, Lord, we wait for you and will follow Your lead.
In faith, we fall back into His arms.