It’s early! I woke up this morning at 4:30 and couldn’t sleep. It’s a Friday, my day off, come on! It’s been a loooooong time since God stirred me awake in the middle of the night. Maybe it’s just been a long time since I’ve been paying attention ... So what is this all about? Believe me, there are a million things rolling around in my head right now; this morning I was challenged by one simple, four word question that God was whispering into my heart ...
DO YOU LOVE ME?
I know it isn’t original, but it has been challenging. I sat up in bed for a while and asked if I could go back to sleep I must have seemed to God like a child begging for his pacifier and crib! I slowly got up, went to the bathroom (which is happening more often at 44!), and then sat on the edge of the bed asking ... arguing ... about what was going on in my heart/head. Then I heard the question.
“Of course I do, can I go back to sleep now?”
“No Michael, do you LOVE me?”
“Yeah, I heard the question ... I love you ... sleep now?”
“Michael ... if you love me ... then ...”
“Yeah, yeah, I know this one, I’ve heard it before. I’m a pastor, blah, blah, blah, feed my sheep. Can I please go back to sleep now?”
“Michael ... if you love me ... STOP IT.”
Now I’m going to be honest, that’s when I started to realized I probably wasn’t going back to bed. “If you love me, stop it.” Stop what? Questioning? Whining? Doubting? Trying to figure it out on my own? What? Stop what?
Yeah, I’m not going back to bed ... but I certainly didn’t want to get up either.
“What? Yeah, I know Isaiah 53 ... you want me to read it? I’ll just quote it to you, then can I go back to bed? Seriously God, I’ll wake Karrie up ... I have to be up at 7:00 anyway ... I’ll get hungry ... I’ll get distracted ...” (At this point it wasn’t about getting up, it was about not wanting to deal with this.)
“Do. You. Love. Me?”
So a few minutes later I was dressed and upstairs, Bible, highlighter and pen, and iPhone in hand. (Quiet time needs a soundtrack, right?!) When I got to the top of the stairs I started to turn right into our “big room” to sit on the couch, but God directed me to the left, our guest bedroom. We have a desk in that room with a hard wooden chair. 8 years I’ve lived in this house and I’ve only thought of that desk and chair as an accessory for guests ... today God transformed it into my prayer closet.
I sat down and hit Spotify on the phone, pulling up a worship list and started in on Isaiah 53. Then I realized the worship music was distracting me! Was it the lyrics? The pounding beats? The airy voicing? I was a worship leader and/or pastor for the better part of 17 years, I LOVE worship music. But today it seemed to add to the cacophony of distractions. I changed the list to an instrumental/piano only list of hymns. That’s better.
At first I was struck by a phrase I hadn’t really thought much about, “like a root in dry ground.” What does it require for something to take root in dry ground? Water ... nourishment ... attention ... the right kind of tree or plant. Then back to the front of the passage, “My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence ...”
“Yes Lord, it has been a long time ..."
"Do you love me?"
“Nothing beautiful or majestic about him ... nothing attractive ... he was despised and rejected ... sorrows ... deepest grief ... despised ... rejected ... we turned our back on him ... have strayed away ..."
"If you love me, stop it."
I kept reading wherever He decided to take me in the book of Isaiah. 52. 43. 40-42. 54. 55
So many wonderful, powerful verses. Seriously, if you just start in Isaiah 40 and read the above chapters you’ll hear a dozen or so verses that you know. Eventually a theme emerged to me. It looked like this:
- There is no one like Me.
- You’ve disobeyed Me.
- I’m setting you free.
- It’s time.
I don’t want to get too “high and mighty” here, but sometimes pastors struggle differently from non-pastors when it comes to sin. At least I do. It goes something like this:
God, I know I’m a sinner, but I’m very busy helping other sinners with their sins, so will you just go ahead and hear my generic, very practically based, almost a real confession? And while you’re at it, since I’m investing all my energy in helping build your church, confession will have to cover repentance too ... I’ll get to that when I have time, you know, later.
If you’re reading this as a member Live Oak you’re probably considering a church transfer right now ...
This isn’t just a pastor’s struggle, it’s likely everyone’s struggle, they just substitute a different excuse for not wanting to address the sin in their life. But this morning, there was no escaping it.
”Michael, if you love me, stop it."
The old hymn, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” just came on Spotify. Perfect ... as if I didn’t feel convicted enough. Then I remember the theme in the scriptures I listed, and what is really important about it. What’s most important about it:
“He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless ... those who trust in the Lord will find new strength ... Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged for I am your God. I will strengthen you and hep you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand ... I have ransomed you. I have called you by name, you are mine. When you go through deep waters I will be with you ... For I am the Lord your God, your Savior ... I - yes, I alone - will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again ... Get out and leave your captivity, where everything you touch is unclean ... for the Lord will go ahead of you; yes the God of Israel will protect you from behind ... He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed ... Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the wicked change their ways ... let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them ... for he will forgive generously.”
There is a lot of great stuff in there for me to process today, but here’s what I’m taking to heart. My Father woke me up this morning with a question, “Do you love me,” and a challenge, “Stop it,” but that’s not what he wanted to say to me. I believe the question and the challenge where to humble me enough to remind me one truth I definitely needed this morning:
Michael. You. Are. Mine
This morning be encouraged. No matter how deep the waters of your struggles go, no matter how crushing the weight of your sin feels, no matter who hopeless your situation seems,
You, my friend, are not alone.
So there it is. Just a not so gentle reminder to love God with your best and to always remember that you are not alone.
“Father ... can I go back to bed now?”