The Crucified Life is the theme of today’s Lent devotional. As I turn to the familiar passages in Mark 8 I remember my story…OUR story, the Rock and I.
Mar 8:34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
I was done with pretending. The Gardener and I had duked it out verbally over the current condition of our existence for the last time and I was done. I was cleaning toilets at the local hotel and he was gardening over an acre of our high desert, wind swept, hillside ranch land for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) we had started as a last ditch effort at “making it”. It was 2008-09 and everything in the world that I could call mine had either been auctioned, sold, or re-possessed. Our reputation, credit and place in community leadership was gone. I was driving to work by the charity of my friends in a loaner two tone Geo Metro he had salvaged from the dump for a hundred dollars. We jokingly called it the Crack car, thanks to being profiled by local law enforcement as one of the many drug runners to live between our village and the large resort town where I worked. Working the midnight shift I must have been pulled over by every local, county and state officer around until they realized I was just a hotel maid working the late shift and they would wave at me as I passed their canyon pull out hiding spots.
Mar 8:35 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.
I was desperately trying to save my life. We were less than broke. Our thriving construction company within a matter of months of the stock market crash went from prosperous to bankrupt seemingly overnight, and somehow it became a muddy mess in my soul about the way abundant life was supposed to work out to those who were serving God with a pure heart. Evidently I wasn’t or else this wouldn’t be happening. Obviously, there is sin in my life, and if my husband was any man at all (so they told me) he wouldn’t be gardening he would be flipping burgers or doing what was necessary to -“by GOD provide for his family!”
“God has me here right now honey, I don’t understand it, I don’t know why, but he has me in the dirt. He has my face down in the manure and the muck, fighting off the rattlesnakes and figuring out who I am and who HE is. He is breaking this strangle hold I have had on my life, our life…it belongs to Him, we belong to HIM….We are going to be ok. It is going to be ok.”
Mar 8:36 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?
I stared at The Gardener standing next to the sink in his ripped up blue jeans, his gloved hands holding his newest batch of seedlings he had poured hours into coaxing to the surface. Hours of tending and patience that I wanted, I needed, I felt I didn’t get….I wanted to crush them…I was jealous of plants. The 800 sq feet of living space seemed to suck the air out of my lungs. I needed space, my old life had space. Four thousand square feet of Victorian home space, office space, money space, friends space…faith space. I was done pretending I was ok with this. I screamed to know why my prayers had not been answered, why we had not been protected, didn’t God take care of HIS own? We had done it all right by the standards: Tithe, works, offering, volunteering, missions, hospitality, generosity, good employers,teaching-why were the heavens brass? It was so silent. We no longer had a church family to turn to, my closest friendships were shattered, and I had lost my faith. I felt completely and utterly alone, inside and outside.
” I don’t know if I believe anymore that there is a God. I don’t know if I believe there is anything else in this life but suffering, and sorrow, and pain and then….then you just die, and you are dirt and worms eat you and there is nothing more…I don’t even know if I can believe you, and really I don’t want to hear about a God who treats his people this way. ”
Mar 8:37 Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
The Gardener put his seedlings on the table and turned to me with a fire in his eyes and a set in his jaw that I had come to know meant business. He pointed to the door and said in a voice that was thick with resolution, and will and faith.
“Get out. Get out of this house! March your butt down to that garden, and you sit on that bank and you watch that sprinkler go around until you get an answer to this. I don’t care if it takes you all night. DON’T move, until you know what you believe.”
I was shocked. How dare he talk to me like that and ORDER me to get out of my house! He didn’t move. I laughed sarcastically. “Go watch sprinklers?!” Yeah, that is the answer. The room closed in tighter and I needed air. “Fine. I’ll go. Hope I don’t get bit by a rattlesnake, it will be your fault if I die!” and I stormed out the door, letting the hinges ring with the slam. I defiantly marched to the side hill threw myself down on the bank and dared God to move me. “Here I am. The Gardener seems to think you talk out here in the middle of snakes, and grass, and manure..so…TALK!”
Mar 8:38 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
I was ashamed of the way God had dealt with us. I was ashamed to say I believed in ONE who seemed to throw his children under the bus when they needed him most. I sat there and watched the sprinklers go around thinking how stupid this was, but it was better than fighting inside. Click, click, click the sprinkler shot out the cool water, the plants opened their leaves, the dirt received and the process was repeated.
I don’t know how long I sat there watching the revolution of the water but as the hard dirt was being penetrated by the drops of water, my heart was beginning to soften and I was shocked to find tears flowing from my eyes. A movement to my left revealed the Gardner had quietly entered through the lower gate and was slowly moving among the corn, fertilizing, pulling suckers, stealing glances up the hill to where I was sitting…tending me. Tending my space. Guarding me from intrusion so God could rain upon me, interceding for me. Like the Great Intercessor does.
Something was different. I looked around and noticed there was something new in the sound of the water falling on the dirt. Below me in the terrace, the once hard, dry dirt was black with moisture. I found myself smiling over how wet the plants had become…they received what they needed through no effort of their own. They were planted, tended, pruned and harvested by The Gardener, and they would do what God had designed them to do, bear fruit. Familiar words began to whisper in my soul:
Joh 15:1 -5
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
“Without ME, you can do nothing!” I suddenly knew that for the first time in months.
“Ok, I whispered, “what do you want me to do?”
“Die. Let me have your expectations of who I am, and let me show you the truth.”
I could feel him begin to pry my hands off of my life. The Gardener had moved up several terraces tending as he went. He looked at me, and smiled at my teary face. He knew. He knew what I was just discovering. Our life was in the garden of our God, and He is the vine dresser, he is the planter and he is the one who enables the yield. The secret to kingdom living is an upside down paradox of faith. Lose to gain, die to live….This time between the Rock and the Cross was a gift to me, if I would surrender my life, my will, my rights to my own way and humbly cling to the Savior who made a covenant with me in the sacrifice of His life. Letting him prune me from my flesh, and grow me in the Spirit.
I felt The Gardener sit beside me in the grass, as the sun was setting behind the hills, casting its shadow across the valley. He placed his arm around my shoulders and pulled me close. I loved the way he smelled of earth, and water and sunshine.
“I am so weak. I don’t know how to die! I don’t know how to let go and just believe.” The Gardener pointed to the trellis at our feet holding the young tomato vines upright.
“He’s got you. The Holy Spirit will lead you to the Cross. That is His job. You just need to be. Let him do the work he promised to do in your life. Trust Him, He loves you.”
I grew to love our time in the desert. I found that it is in the desert that God speaks the clearest, and the best place in the world to be is between the rock and the cross. Here, the good work of the Kingdom is established in our lives. This lesson in abiding love, in allowing my self to embrace the cross that I might truly live has become a theme and a value in my life. The wind of the spirit blew around the word abiding and reminded me of it’s picture root. One of the words for abiding in Hebrew is the word kul (pronounced ‘kool’). The letters of this word are the kaf k and the lamed, l. These letters paint this beautiful picture of the yoked life.
The kaf is the picture of the palm, open, releasing, vulnerable, giving, and the lamed is the shepherds staff, which speaks of leadership and authority. Together these letters form a picture of abiding that means “to be tame for the yoke”.
Jesus tells us in Mathew 11: 29-30 to take his yoke upon ourselves, to learn from him. Why? Because. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. He is our inheritance, and we are the joy that was set before him a Bride and a Body that the Father gave him. We are to submit our will to his as he submitted his will to the Father. Jesus was tame for the yoke, abiding in the knowledge that he was the Beloved of the Father, only begotten Son in whom He was well pleased. When we abide in His yoke, we also have this as our testimony.
Father, help me to stay under the yoke of the cross. Help me to yield to the pruning and not draw back when you shear away those branches that are sucking spiritual life from me. I long to present unto you a life of abundant fruit, pleasing and satisfying to your heart. Help me not be afraid of the north winds of life, but use them to stir up fragrant prayer as incense before you. May the comforting south winds of days of peace not be taken for granted, but may I steward my time wisely before you.
Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; Blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out.
Let my beloved come into his garden,
And eat his precious fruits. Song of Songs 4:16