My siblings and I are nearing the end of our three-month bible read through, and are currently in the letters of Paul. I love to spend time in the Psalms, and to re-read the gospel of John over and over... but I am also always drawn into the letters of Paul. They are truth-filled. They are full of passion. And they are filled with a beautiful love and care.
Paul loved others. He couldn't help it. The love he knew God had poured out on him just overflowed out of his heart, and he saw everybody he met as another person who needed the same love. And so he always, unashamedly, unwaveringly, and unselfishly gave them the Word of the Lord. Told them of His love. Gave them the good news, and told them that grace, salvation by the blood of the Lamb, was for all. Without ceasing. It was his life mission, given -and obeyed- from God.
But another thing that I love about the writings of Paul is that even in the midst of teaching, correcting, rebuking, and showing these people God's love, he couldn't contain his own love for these people. Reading through Paul's letters, passages such as these make me pause for a moment...
"...Without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gifts to strengthen you - that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both your's and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented) in order that I might reap some harvest among you as among the rest of the gentiles..." -Romans 1
"...I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. ...Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved..." -Romans 9 & 10
"For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you." -1 Corinthians 2:4
"...But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoice still more. For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret -though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved in repentance.... therefore we are comforted...." -1 Corinthians 7
"...Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you... for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. ...I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. ....If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account..." -Philemon
"So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us." -1 Thessalonians 2:8
This love, this encouragement, is beautiful. The fact that he took the time to write with such care letters to these churches is something I love so much. When I read these books of the bible, I realize that they hold truth for me today, and I love to study them any chance I get, but I always remember that these were written with specific people in Paul's mind... and I can never forget that they were written by a real person, as well.
Because I have been in a place before where I wanted to be with someone, to encourage them in the faith in person, and the Lord hasn't brought that about. I have been in that place where I have had to write words of truth to a friend who was erring, like Paul did to the Corinthian church... real people that he loved. And I know the affliction and anguish of heart that is accompanied with this action of love. I know that feeling of regret at the thought of their pain when they receive it. But I also know the feeling of comfort when the Lord uses my feeble, broken words, written in fear so great that I could never speak them over the phone, to bring them truth and hope. And I know the sheer helplessness that I have to save others. I am more selfish than Paul... but even I am able to feel a small likeness to the love that would give up something deeply loved, desired, and sought after, just to see those I love know Christ.
It's a beautiful, messy, painful, humbling and dependent place to be.
It's a path I'm walking again.
That path were something terribly painful is happening to someone I love, whether by the natural causes of their own sin, or by a blow that comes out of nowhere and leaves them clinging to the Lord, asking for His strength just to hold on to some small bit of hope. And I can't do anything for them. Not really. But I feel led to speak words of comfort, encouragement, or rebuke. And I pray that the Lord holds them, and uses my imperfect words to bring some ray of His truth to rest in their hearts.
It's something that makes me feel like my heart is being torn out and brings tears to my eyes late at night, as I can't find the words to pray, and just ask the Lord to use this for His glory, and bring beauty from the pain through showing them more of His grace in this valley.
No matter what the cause, I wish I could protect them, shield them from the pain. I ache to comfort, to encourage, to bring hope to their crying heart. I yearn -I have plead- to be able to be used to bring them some sort of peace through the storm.
But right now... walking this road again, reading the letters of Paul, and reaching the end of myself in a situation that feels bigger than those that I have been put in at times in the past, I am reminded of one thing.
I can't do this.
I've never been able to do this. I've known it, of course. But when you are given proof that not even sharing your heart through written words can do any good whatsoever if the Lord doesn't step in and change something... it brings it home a little more. Or a lot more.
Paul wrote in love. But the only thing that made that writing of any use was the repentance of the people's hearts when they read those words. That repentance was only possible by the grace of God. He is the only one who can bring peace, comfort, joy, hope, healing.
God gave Paul the love for these people. God gave the truths that would set those people's hearts burning for His righteousness. God gave Paul the words to say to remind them of that truth. God gave the people a heart of repentance. God worked it all out so that those words reached their hearts at the perfect moment, and they turned from their sin.
But Isaiah was sent to give truth to Israel long before that. "How long, O Lord?" he asked. "How long until these people hear your words and repent, turn toward the righteousness of your truth?"
Not until Isaiah was gone. Not until after the captivity. Not at any time while the truths I am putting into your mouth are being prophesied. Go do it anyway.
God doesn't guarantee that those we speak truth to will turn. And if it's not His will, they won't. I am dependent on Him for the fruit of my words. It's not up to me. It's a humbling thought. And honestly, it's comforting. No matter how beautiful or painful what he brings about is, no matter how messy my emotions may get as I obediently reach out in love and offer His truth to others, His grace still remains, and He is the one who brings it to bear on the hearts that need it.
It's a beautiful, messy, painful, and humbling place to be, obeying Christ in ways such as this. And I'm so glad I'm dependent on Him in the midst of it.