This morning I was reading the book of Jeremiah, and I experienced one of those moments when you feel the presence of God so close, His hand upon your life so near that the hairs in your arm stand up and your mind just fills with the wonder of God’s unmistakable omnipresence and omniscience.
A couple of days ago I wrote to two friends who have kindly and lovingly been enquiring after me because they have not seen me in church lately, because I have not been taking part in all the different things organised by our church, and been mingling in the circles that church-goers are expected to mingle in.
To one friend I said:
I know it can be the case that when Christians we know miss Sunday church for a while or they start to keep a low profile, it can be a sign of their faith wavering or of a time when they are specially vulnerable, but I wanted to reassure you that there is no need to be overly concerned because you have not seen me in church for the last few weeks. I am in fact in communion with God everyday and my faith is not weaker but deeper. To me loving God does not equate to faithfully worshipping in “church” on a Sunday, and so there are times when I will miss church because God is working some things in me quietly at home. I feel “church” and the “church community” can be quite overpowering at times and have a habit of taking over one’s life, overriding family priorities and responsibilities. I want to submit my life to the voice of God and not that of the church I attend, and the only way I feel I can clearly hear from God is shutting all the other voices out which tell me what is right or wrong or how I should live my life and live out my faith.
Though I may seem isolated, I am not. I have a family that loves me, both here and back at home, and friends like yourself who regularly keep an eye on me and pray for me. But the most important thing is that God is in my life daily and that He is guiding me daily. I love my church and the people in it but I do not want that to replace the voice of God in my life.
Lately, it has become harder and harder to bring the kids to church, and I am adamant that I will not force them to do so, because I am believing that in order for them to grow up into adults who will love God, they must not be caught up into the legalistic mind that dictates that you are a better Christian or you love God more if you go to church. I would hope that they grow up to love God in their own unique and special way and not as dictated by man. We all know that forcing them to do something they do not want to do only leads to rebellion later on, and I want them to freely come to God, just as I have later in life.
I hope this gives you some peace with regards to where I am at right now. There are so many out there, thousands of people, who have wondered off from institutional church for similar reasons to those stated above, and it is my experience from people I know in the village and people all over the world I have got to know through the blog, that their faith runs all the deeper for it, because they are not relying on someone else to hear from God, but they are desperately seeking Him themselves.
To the other friend, I said:
As I have mentioned to you before, since my husband lost his job, my life has been turned upside down and I am being stretched in ways I did not know I could go, which means I am busier than I ever was and I also need to spend time alone with God more than ever to get through some of these struggles. That added pressure has made me evaluate what is most important, and for me that is time alone with God. When I don’t have that, is when I really start to sink into mud and once I get stuck there, it is extremely hard to get out. It may seem strange to some people, that I am not gregarious and need regular contact with others to get on with life, but God has made me like this and I enjoy solitude most of the time. We are all different, aren’t we? Of course I would love to meet up with you, but life is not that simple for me any more that I can go meet up with friends as and when I feel like it. I am not avoiding you or anyone else, hardly, I am simply making the most of the little time that is left after helping my husband out in the office, house, kids, time with God.
I am convinced that this season will not go on forever and that another one will begin where I can be a bit more sociable, but right now this feels right for me, this is where I am learning new things about God and His purpose for me. The bible tells us that God has called some to be teachers, some apostles, some pastors, some prophets and some evangelists. With those callings, comes also a different lifestyle and personality and right now what I feel most drawn to is within the prophetic ministry. When you look at some of the prophets or prophetic characters in the bible, you begin to realise that most of them, needed that solitude to work some things through with God. They were characters who would hang around mainly on their own or with God. I am not saying I am prophetic, but I sure feel I can relate to some of these characters in so many levels I cannot begin to describe to you. I do not want to go against what I feel is in my make up, and so I intend to take time out from church, church community or whatever it may be, for as long as I feel called to do so.
I don’t speak words like that to people lightly. I will spend hours pondering on what I am going to say, but these words will often come as an immediate reaction to the Holy Spirit quickening something in my spirit. It is like behind other people’s words and behaviour, I can immediately see the intent which may be disguised as something else. Over the years I have developed an immediate”allergic reaction” to any spirit which seeks to constraint my freedom in Christ, to any spirit which seeks to control and limit, to deviate my attention and focus from where I believe God is directing me to. And so, when I come across that, though my heart aches to put these words out, because I know there is much potential for alienating people from me even further, I feel compelled to fight against the powers and principalities in the spiritual realm which are trying to put a yoke on me which is not easy, a burden that is not light because it does not line up with God’s purposes and heart.
On reading the book of Jeremiah, I am astonished at the lengths God will go to in order to draw His people to Himself. His wrath runs so deep that He sends judgement upon Judah by handing them over into the hand of their enemy: Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah is sent to Judah to warn its people of the coming judgement for having turned away from God. After the judgement comes the promise, but the blessing will not come UNLESS there is obedience and submission first.
“In the same way I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. These wicked people who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt – completely useless! For as a belt is bound round a man’s waist, so I bound the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah to me” declares the Lord “to be my people for my renown and praise and honour. But they have not listened. Jeremiah 13: 8-11
“Many shepherds will ruin my vineyard and trample down my field; they will turn my pleasant field into a desolate wasteland. It will be made a wasteland, parched and desolate before me; the whole land will be laid waste because there is no one who cares” Jeremiah 12: 10-11
“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord…”Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done” declares the Lord. “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock our of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing”, declares the Lord. Jeremiah 23:1-4
God asks Jeremiah to tell the people of Judah to flee to Babylon before Babylon invades their land and destroys their city and the people in it, but nobody believes what Jeremiah is speaking and so he is badly treated time and time again. The people of Judah remain prideful and refuse to give themselves into the hands of their enemies, even when God is dictating that they should do so to avoid the wrath of His judgement.
This is what the Lord Almighty says:
“Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They keep saying to those who despise me, “The Lord says: You will have peace.” And to all who follow the stubborness of their hearts they say, “No harm will come to you”. But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord to see or hear His word? Who has listened and heard His word?…..But if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds.” Jeremiah 23:16-22
I believe we are re-living the days of Jeremiah. We have a church structure which has become powerful and dominant in itself. The Church has become an idol itself. People put church before God in so many ways. The church community, the teaching of the pastor, the rhythms of church life, all these things must be respected and complied with or else we are regarded as the sheep who wanders off, goes astray and ultimately falls under the claws of the ravenous wolf. We trust the word of man above the word of God, and we would rather submit to man’s authority than that of God.
As the time of judgement upon Judah is ever closer and destruction looms over the city at the hands of Babylon, Jeremiah is asked by God to warn King Zedekiah once again. As Jeremiah obeys the voice of God, he encounters rejection and opposition yet again:
“Then the officials said to the King, “This man should be put to death. He is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, as well as all the people, by the things he is saying to them. This man is not seeking the good of these people but their ruin”. Jeremiah 38:4
I see a church which has replaced the God it supposedly worships and I see a church which foundation is not on the word of the Lord but the authority of man and his mandates. I see judgement coming upon of the House of the Lord. I see God revealing the hidden secrets of those he has appointed as priests and prophets. I see the sheep being scattered outside the institutional church because where the institution has become the object of worship, the spirit of the Lord cannot abide for there is no freedom there, but an evil combating another evil.
I often feel like a misfit and I find myself saying things to friends which do sound self-righteous and conceited, but the reality is I am only speaking what I see around me. I refuse to go along with things just because everybody else does. It is a terrible predicament to be in. You feel called to at least share of what you see but at the same time you know you are writing your death sentence by saying these things; you are creating animosity where there was once close friendship, and rejection where there was love before. You have a choice: You can keep quiet, cease to be true to yourself and God, and just blend in nicely with the majority vote or you can throw yourself over the edge for what presently looks like suicide, but will later reveal itself to be your only life line.
King Zedekiah says to his officials: “The King can do nothing to oppose you”, and so he releases himself of the responsibility placed in his hands to save His people by obeying the voice of the Lord coming through Jeremiah, and he hands Jeremiah to the “lions”. The King’s officials then lower Jeremiah by ropes into a cistern which has no water, but only mud, and Jeremiah sinks down into the mud. The man sent by God to avert disaster and death is accused of trying to discourage those perceived to be following the right course in what they are doing, just as many have been cast to the side as damaged goods within the Church today for coming against an institutionalised entity, over-powered leadership, and self-idolatry. Being stuck in the mud in this picture portrays rejection, insignificance, doomed to a life of anonymity and ineffectiveness or at least that was the intent behind the actions of those who rebelled against the one sent by God himself. God however, has a different plan. He sends to Jeremiah’s aid Ebed-Melech, another king official who recognises evil and sin for what it is, and pleads with the king to release Jeremiah from a sure death inside the cistern. As the King orders the release of Jeremiah, Jeremiah declares the word of the Lord once again to the king, a king who like so many Christians today is torn by doubt, a lack of genuine faith and double standards. He does not want to lose face in front of his people, and it is this sheer fleshly pull of placing the voice of men above that of God which becomes the mistake that so many in Church today are making.
You may recall at the beginning of this post my words to one of my friends: “That added pressure has made me evaluate what is most important, and for me that is time alone with God. When I don’t have that, is when I really start to sink into mud and once I get stuck there, it is extremely hard to get out.“
My life since becoming a new creation in Christ has been a roller coaster of mountain tops with glorious sights and revelation and deep, deep valleys of loneliness, rejection, and alienation. You cannot have one without the other. In order to have communion with God, one has to undergo “cistern” moments where you are sunk deep in the mud, but the beauty of a personal walk with God is that He is always present in those moments. In fact, sometimes it is only possible to hear His voice in those deep dark places where all other voices have been shut out. This morning was one of those beautiful moments of feeling the hand of God upon my very life. I had no idea when I was about to open up the bible where I left off yesterday, that the very words I used to describe my predicament to a close friend only yesterday, would get placed right in front of me in such a startling fashion today, with supernatural power to make my path straight and my steps firm.
And here is that very moment, when I have spoken what is in my heart to a friend, when I have confessed my deepest secret of shutting off the world outside, including my church, so that I can regain that closeness to the Lord, so that I can hear what He wants to communicate to me personally. It is always in those moments, that my faith shakes a little and I begin to wonder whether I have taken one leap of faith too far, and I am about to fall down a precipice into oblivion to never be seen or rescued ever again. And then…..only then, the quiet voice of the Lord whispers as only those who have heard it before can know:
“They will not hand you over” Jeremiah replied (to King Zedekiah). Obey the Lord by doing what I tell you. Then it will go well with you and your life will be spared. But if you refuse to surrender, this is what the Lord has revealed to me: All the women left in the palace of the king of Judah will be brought out to the officials of the king of Babylon. Those women will say to you:
“They misled you and overcame you
those trusted friends of yours
Your feet are sunk in the mud;
your friends have deserted you. Jeremiah 38: 20-22
As Jeremiah predicts to King Zedekiah that the women left in his palace will say to him when he refuses to obey the command of the Lord to surrender to the King of Babylon, they will say : You put your trust in your friends, those trusted friends of yours, who misled you, when you should have obeyed the voice of the Lord. It is at that very instant that I recall having used those very words only 24 hours previous to my good friend as I explain to her that without time with God daily I cannot breathe, I feel like I really start to sink into mud and once I get stuck there, it is extremely hard to get out. It is in that very instant that the beauty of the Lord’s heart for His beloved captures me; it is right there that the spirit of God gently touches my spirit and says: “Mercedes, you have chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from you” (Luke 10:41-42)
This moment is one that I will cherish forever. A split second of supernatural revelation which will sustain me for another multitude of valleys to come; the light within me that will illuminate my spirit when I find myself in that cistern again, the light burden and the easy yoke that will save me from the threat of becoming stuck in the mud.