IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER
A HUNGER GROWS
FOR THE LIVING GOD
There’s a paragraph from Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” that Steve and I came to love, especially living in Nebraska:
…the painted glass windows shone out at us as we came along the frozen street. In the winter bleakness a hunger for colour came over the people, like the Laplanders craving for fat and sugar… we used to linger on the sidewalk outside the church windows when the lamps were lighted early for choir practice or prayer meeting, shivering or talking until our feets were lumps of ice. The crude reds and greens and blues of that coloured glass held us there.
I can hardly wait to begin Lent — a time on this blog where God has met us in the bleak midwinter. I am as eager as a runner at the starting line to begin, for I have a hunger for Him like the hunger for spring on these cold, cold days. I want you to prepare your heart this week, asking Him, if you do not have it, for that hunger — and for the wisdom to know if you should join us. I am so excited about what we are going to do, for I do believe the Lord has come to me and quickened me. Let me tell you and then you can pray about joining us. I’ll warn you now — there will be a cost. In order to have the time to do the study, you may need to give something else up. Some weeks (as I am this week) I ask you to listen to a sermon mp-3 that costs 2.50. To afford it, you may need to give something else up. So it is good to count the cost before you decide to commit.
I have been meeting with a small group of women in Kansas City, and we have been talking about how the gospel is the solution to every problem. Tim Keller says, “If you think you understand the gospel, you probably don’t. If you think you are just starting to get it, you might be.”As one of the women in my small group said, “This is like a second birth.” It is. Understanding this is akin to understanding idolatry — and will lead to enormous spiritual growth. Understanding how the gospel applies to everyday life will change the way you mother, the way you respond to hurt, the way you confront, and the way you face every problem. I will repeat some of this next week, but without apology, for as Luther said, “We need to drum this into our heads until we get it.” And then we need to keep doing it, for ice tends to reform on our hearts.
One element of the gospel is that it should humble us, for Christ’s necessary death shows us how bad we are. Another element of the gospel shows us how loved we are, for He did die for us. Let me give you an everyday example of how this can give us the power to have better relationships with others.
As I have shared in Idol Lies and with you, one of my heart idols is control, and the bad fruit that comes from that is side-ways comments — guilt trips — manipulation. I am so much better but this idol regenerates. This Christmas was going to be “my” Christmas in that it was the year all the children came to me instead of their in-laws. And honestly, it was so sweet to have them. The day after Christmas we had a photography morning as we had the four little girls who were born all in the summer of 2010 together.
My daughter Sally’s in-laws live right in Kansas City, so of course she was going to spend some time with them as well, for Sally and Phil flew all the way from Washington D.C. with their two little girls. But when it seemed that Phil’s family was getting a lot of time for it being “my” Christmas, I began to get irritable. (I know — this is embarrassing.) When Sally told me she’d be spending the last two nights with them — I did it — the look — the guilt trip. It took me a half hour, but God did bring me to my senses, for I am seeing so much better this sin in my heart — and I told Sally I was sorry.
She thanked me but was also angry and reminded me of my past. As she was doing that, I had to cling to the truth that I was loved by God, that He was changing me, and that He would bring good out of this pain. Then she felt badly and apologized for not making it clearer that she and Phil had decided they should divide their time, for they probably wouldn’t be coming back often anymore.
This may seem very petty — but it is everyday life — irritations with the people we love the most. How does the gospel help us face these daily irritations that come, even with those we love the most, because of our sin natures?
The gospel produces humility. It helps us be more aware of our own sinful hearts and to be quicker to own them.
The gospel gives us strength. When we are unjustly accused or treated unkindly, we can cling to God and His love.
The gospel gives us courage. We can speak the truth in love, knowing God wants us to confront wrong, but do so as He did.
The gospel gives us hope. We know, no matter how the other reacts, that God has the power to bring good out of it.
All this is played out in a very short passage at the end of Genesis when ice is reforming over Joseph’s brothers’ hearts, and he must forgive again, speak the truth again, and cling to God again.
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. Have you begun to understand that the Gospel is the A to Z of Christianity? If so, share a way that has been true for you. (Looking for some great examples here!)
Monday-Wednesday Bible Study: Ice Returning to the hearts of Joseph’s Brothers
3. Read Genesis 50:15-21
A. What fear did Joseph’s brothers have when Jacob died?
B. So what did they decide to do? Do you think this was the truth? Why or why not?
Derek Kidner writes: The manner of telling the story strongly suggests it was fictitious. It was this, surely, along with the arm’s length approach (vs 16 — they sent a message) telling its own tale of fear and mistrust that moved Joseph to tears.
C. How would you feel if you were in Joseph’s place?
D. How do you see humility in Joseph’s response to them in verse 19?
E. How do you see Joseph clinging to the goodness of God in pain in verse 20?
F. How do you see the mercy of the Lord in Joseph in verse 21?
4. Ask the Lord to show you a relationship in your life that could be improved if you applied what you have learned about the gospel to it. Share here what you could do or will do.
Thursday/Friday: Listen to Keller’s A Prime Minister’s Forgiveness (Link)
5. What comments do you have on the above message?
6. Will you pray for our Lenten study — for me as I write, for your own heart and commitment, and for God to bring those He chooses to commit with us?
7. What is your take-a-way and why?