7 Things I’ve Learned on the Road to Restoration

A home destroyed nearly five months ago during the landfall of Superstorm Sandy is pictured in Mantoloking, New JerseyOne week before my world changed forever, my pastor said these words in a sermon: “At any given time, people are usually going into a storm, in a storm, or coming out of a storm.” I remembered thinking, “Wow, we’ve been on a pretty good run here. It had been about four years since we had encountered a major storm.”

And then the hurricane that would be called autism rolled in without warning for our curly-headed little boy, not yet two. But the waves kept coming and crashing relentlessly it seemed over our family–dreams knocked down, childhood joys knocked down, finances knocked down, work life knocked down, relationships strewn about, rest rooted up, marital bliss torn down, the sight of God’s goodness in the land of the living mangled. Nothing seemed simple any more. How do you recover?

I’ve often thought that as bad as a fire is to go through, it has a different energy to recovery than what’s left to be faced on the other side of a flood. Fire means it all has to start over. Clean it up, get creative, and rebuild with new things. A flood means you have to deal with soggy memories, and figure out what has to get trashed and what is worth the effort of restoring. Many measures have to be taken to gut, to find all the mold and dry up the water, to take things back to the studs. Mostly, it feels like moving water-logged chaos from one pile to another for quite some time. Some would contend the wind and waves don’t recede for long enough to even recoup.

This month it’s been seven years since the hurricane hit our lives. Everybody understands what it’s like to encounter storms. It’s all relative. There is no use in comparing one person’s storm to another in efforts to either feel better or feel worse about your own storm. Can we just validate that our proverbial storms, fires, floods affect us deeply and collide with our very real humanness?

But if there is one thing I’ve learned in these past seven years, it is this: God’s intention for us is always to be moving toward restoration. Always. Storms will stun us, that’s a given. But, I contend that if we’re not then being restored, we are being consumed.

Our lives cannot be lived wishing that what happened wouldn’t have happened. Because it did. Our lives cannot be lived saying that we have no choice but to be a victim to our circumstances. God set up humans to always get to choose regardless of their circumstances or surroundings. A traveling female pastor told me something I’ll never forget. She said, “Remember, you can pass through the Land of Why, but just don’t stay there.”

The language of restoration is no longer “why” but “what now?” To play the “what now” game with God can become the most amazing adventure you’ve ever been on. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:15, “This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, “What’s next, Papa?”

Here are few things I’ve learned about “what’s next” restoration:

  1. Restoration is a journey, and no one can tell you how long or short that road could or should be. That is between you and God. God can arrange short cuts that accelerate you from one place to another, but your own short cuts will usually land you into quicksand. Many of us will want a “fix” or a “rescue” from God, but His idea of bringing us wholeness means restoring us completely–and that could take some time. Even more than a journey, you could look at it as a “pilgrimage” of the soul (read Psalm 84). On this pilgrimage, God is with you, and you are going somewhere. You will more than likely encounter trials, set backs, resting spots, beauty, storms, hills, valleys, rain, drought—all of it. But through it, this is what Psalm 84:5 says, “What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord, who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (God’s presence).” Restoration usually happens on the way, not upon the arrival.
  2. There is a reason that Jesus was sent to “save” you because we all need to be saved from something. He is Savior, and that means our whole person—body, soul, mind, circumstances. Shame, hurt, offense, and frustration will try to get you to hide from His saving. Salvation is not just a one-time event. Salvation is available every day and in every way. The moment we try to save ourselves, we cannot be helped. The gap is too great. So, drag your butt and your sorry situation to Jesus. That’s all you have to do to get things rolling. “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Grace means getting something that you don’t deserve (earn). Mercy means not getting (the punishment) that you deserve. He is up for both. Just come confidently.
  3. Give God 365 days. Admit it. We’ve all been there. We get on a high that we’re going to have faith and trust in God, and then something bad happens or worsens, and we throw up our hands and say, “See, God can’t be trusted! It’s all emotional hype.” But I’ve seen that it’s important to stretch out your commitment to seeking God and seeing God work in you, for you, to you and through you. You will likely fall off your commitment. Just get back on through repentance and go again. Commit to God that you are going to learn how to do it His way for 365 days. Ask Him to prove to you that He can be trusted to hold up His side of the bargain while you follow His lead, not your own. I picked up the Bible one day and said, “God, this has to work. Your claims are too strong to just be a warm fuzzy to read about over my Wheaties. I will stick with You, but You have to prove what You say is true.” He loves to be challenged in this way!
  4. Keep a journal of questions to ask to God that you want answers for. Do your studying of the Bible, books, sermons and podcasts based on getting the answers to those questions. Get real, get raw, lay it all out there, and then ask God to show you what His perspective really is on each of those questions. I did this with about seven questions early on in my journey to restoration, and I was amazed that as I kept those questions before me, the answers began to jump out. I also consciously pursued them. Write those questions down and get them out of your head. Don’t assume God really thinks the way you’ve been taught to believe He thinks about your situation.
  5. Turn outward to other people to help them. This is one of the very best things to do. It slices self-pity in half when you just stop thinking about yourself and your own problems for a while and serve others. I don’t care if it’s random acts of kindness, getting involved in a religious or secular organization, or just offering to pray and encourage other friends consistently. “Pray for others that you may be healed” (James 5:16). You pray for others, and God heals you! What a recycling program. This is the beauty of flowing water, not a stagnant pond.
  6. Granting and asking forgiveness has to be part of your lifestyle. So, you’ve had some people hurt you to the core. That deserves justice—but justice doesn’t come from you—justice is the Lord’s job. You might think that if you forgive them, and if you forgive yourself, that you are giving them a free pass to say that what they did was okay, not wrong, and excusable. That is not what forgiveness is. So, basically, when you choose to take responsibility for your own actions, to ask forgiveness, to forgive yourself, and to forgive others it releases the power of that offense off of you so you can walk in freedom.  A position of forgiveness is the most powerful position you can have. Honestly, one of the most powerful things I’ve done is “forgive God” for not protecting me. Now, I’m not saying that He needed to be forgiven. I am saying that I was holding offense toward Him because I felt like He didn’t protect my family. A wall came down when I forgave.
  7. Learn to hear the voice of God. What does God really sound like? What does Satan sound like? What do you sound like? Just like a football coach reviews the tapes of the opponents before the game is being played, you have to get to know the character and strategies of those at play in your mind. God will never lie, play mind games, contradict His Word, shame, punish in anger, etc. If God corrects, it comes with peace and freedom attached. Satan likes to blame, to accuse, to cause self condemnation, to keep you in fear, total bondage, confusion, disorder, and chaos—yet, he is good at deceiving. Learn to smell a rat and take care of it immediately. Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice—the voice of a stranger they won’t hear.” Say that scripture out loud so that you learn to tune your ears (inner and outer) to God. He really is speaking all the time to you, usually we just pass it off as us or we are so pounded with fear that we can’t hear it. This takes practice. If we tune in, God is faithful to confirm that it’s Him.

I am still on a journey of restoration. Most days still hold some pain of the aftermath of the storms that have damaged. I still really would love all of the circumstances to be awesome so life could be “easy, happy, and shiny.” But, I’ve realized the greatest part of restoration is this: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (Psalm 51:12).

It is the main thing that destroys the lingering scent of mustiness while we co-labor with God on making things new.

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God is a Pro-vider, not an Anti-vider

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Photo by Mayr, Flickr

When I was a little kid, we sang this chorus in church, reading from a fancy overhead transparency:

Jehovah-Jireh, my Provider, His grace is sufficient for me, for me, for me (it was fun to really punch those “for mes”)
My God shall supply all my needs according to His riches in glory
He shall set His angels charge over me
Jehovah-Jireh cares for me

I didn’t realize this, but subconsciously I think I equated Jehovah-Jireh with financial or material provision. After all, needs usually were hunting for money to fill them. I remember after my parents lost their business when I was around seven-years-old, we had very little to live on, and my mom prayed to the God who provides for us, Jehovah-Jireh. She prayed all the time. To me, money showing up somehow so we could cover basic expenses equaled provision. Certainly, provision in the form of money is needed and God cares very much about our needs being met.

As of late, though, I realize just how much God wants to be our Provider in all things. That name, Jehovah-Jireh, means “the Lord has seen.” The word “vide” in “provide” means “to see.” As I’ve had to go through some intensely difficult seasons, I have struggled to trust that the Lord is seeing what is going on. If He saw, surely He would intervene sooner rather than later. In not feeling confident of His intervention, I usually am urged to take matters into my own hands, as if I can be my own provider for anything, really. I usually would rather take the safe route than the bold route. I would rather hide than stride until I can be supplied.

It was Abraham who first identified God as “Jehovah Jireh,” and named that spot the place where God provided. When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son of promise, Isaac, on the altar, it was a very wacky request. God had previously established that He was not like other gods who were hungry for human sacrifice. What was this? Then, we often lift Abraham up as a model of true obedience to God, because obeying God is more important than anything–even your most precious love! Well, true, but at the end of it all, the whole test was actually about seeing that God will provide. Abraham believed that truth before he ever was asked to prove it. This test was more about confidence in the nurturing character of God–no matter the way He takes us–than it was in Abraham’s raw obedience.

I believe that all Christ-followers will be brought to a place that will test if they really believe God is the provider in all things. If our need gap is not finances, that is not where our test will be. A need gap might be emotional, relational, physical, societal, spiritual, situational, or financial. The place where we are tested is fairly easily recognized. It is that tension point where we will either be pulled to worry and withhold from God by trying to muster our own solutions, or where we will choose to look to God as the substitute that always is poised to fill a gap with Himself–His provision, His solution, His plan for us. I suppose the ultimate is not caring so much about our own lives and our own comfort anymore to become so in love with what God wants to do through us.

When Abraham took his son up the mountain without a sacrifice in tow, he responded to his quizzing son, “God will provide for himself a lamb for a burnt offering, son.” By the time that boy was tied to the altar and the knife was high above his chest, surely no one would have blamed Abraham for faltering. But Hebrews 11:19 tells us that by faith, when tested, Abraham considered that even if that knife went into his son’s chest that God was able even to raise him from the dead. That was the God he knew. That was the God who made promises to bless him and his family for generations. God blesses when we do not withhold. We do not withhold when we know that God provides.

A ram showed up in the nick of time to provide for Abraham. How much more amazing is it that our Lamb showed up once and for all time to continually and forever provide for our every need gap? Jesus saw our griefs and took them. He saw our sorrows and carried them. He saw our sins and died for them. He saw our worry and was stressed to death so we could have peace. He saw our depression and gave us a garment of praise. He saw our tears and validated them. He saw our lack and nurtured us with more than enough. God is our provider because He so loved. He is the One who has seen.

We will spend most of our spiritual journey coming to learn through many tests, trials and scary places that God wants to be our provider. The Israelites wandered needlessly for 40 years because they simply could not grasp–despite every sign that pointed to it–that obeying God is birthed out of believing that He is a good dad to us, and that He will provide even when it looks like all odds are against us. We start to scramble for our own solutions like either slaves or orphans instead of running to Him to get the solutions.

I feel like I’m being tested at every angle these days to believe that He is my provider. It is part of the faith journey, I’m gathering, to know Him as one who substitutes in order to fill, rather than One who baits to switch. He is a nurturer by nature. Totally good. He is love. He is provider. I can trust Him with me. The obedience plays out by showing that I believe that to be true.