Empty to Full :: Lessons from Romans 8

Friday, February 14, 2020  ::   Be the first to leave a comment!

People often declare "I'm so glad such and such year is over" or "Such and such year was the worst year yet." I'm not one to proclaim such extremes because every given year has victories, defeats, joys, and heartaches. This is my disclaimer as I head into sharing how God used January 2020 to fill me up after the emptying that was 2019.

I would never give details as to why I ended 2019 depleted, but I can say God stretched me through ministering to others in both brutal and beautiful ways. As many of you have heard, I studied Isaiah last year. (Hopefully soon I can muster the courage to write about some of what I learned through the study.) I'm confident God equipped me to do what he asked me to do by meeting me in the depths of Isaiah. He truly strengthened me with his power in my inner being through his Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:16). Nevertheless, December arrived and my heart was heavy and sad. There were no reasons/words to explain the sadness. It just blanketed my heart. So I read Scripture about Christ coming once and Scripture about Christ coming again. His promised return was the hope I clung to through the jingle jangle holiday noise. I looked to the change of the decade with trepidation and leaky eyes. 2020 would prove 15 years of leading Second Mile, 25 years of marriage, and would usher in an empty nest.

Separately, Chad and I both felt prompted to set aside the month of January for some intensive spiritual emptying and replenishing. I floundered a bit after studying Isaiah, my head spinning, some of the dust settling, and not exactly sure what next step to take. I tried to work through a Bible study by a famous author and it only annoyed me (because of me, not because of the study). I looked into some other in depth book studies but felt frustrated and overwhelmed. In desperately needing something for my soul, I gave up all the "I shoulds" and simply read a few Psalms and Romans 8 every single day. (If you aren't familiar with Romans 8, stop right now, go open your Bible or click on the link and read it.) I knew it was a meaty, beautiful, redemptive chapter, but I couldn't have known how God would use it to completely revive my weak, depleted self.
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May what God showed me through these January lessons from Romans 8 encourage you. Do not compare your own journey to mine. It pushes me to pursue God when others around me tell me how and what they are learning. My motives are to humbly strengthen your faith as I show you how God strengthened mine.

As January began, I didn't know what or how to pray for myself. He showed me that it didn't matter, that not only was the Holy Spirit interceding for me (vs 26), but Christ himself is at the right hand of God interceding for me (vs 34). Immediately he put me at ease that he knew exactly what I needed and was praying on my behalf.

One reason I couldn't escape the exhaustion of the last year is because I replayed conversations, events, and situations over and over in my mind, sometimes through prayer, but often simply because my brain was stuck. Through verses 1-8 he showed me how I had set my mind on things of this world and on things of the flesh. He very clearly says to do so is death. There is no life in dwelling on what I cannot understand or change. In the kindness of God he rebuked me, led me to confession and repentance, and reminded me that to set my mind on the Spirit is life and peace (vs 6). Prayerfully with God's help, this verse will forever be written on my heart. When I start to despair about the past or the future, he brings this verse to mind and leads me to life in Christ which is peace. Thank you, Jesus.

He reminded me of how secure I am in Christ. He reminded me that to be led by the Holy Spirit is to prove that my adoption by him is secure (vs 14). When the Bible speaks of a follower of Jesus being secured in his eternal family because of adoption, it resonates with me because adoption is momentous in my earthly family. But the passage goes on to say because we are adopted we can cry out to our Father (vs 15). Through a little more study, I learned the word 'cry' (krazo) means to scream, to cry aloud. This isn't a soft little whimper. This is a guttural "I NEED HELP, DAD!" He knew I cried out in this way many times last year and then he met me in the moment of reading this passage to hear my deep cry for restoration. I've continued to find healing from shame concerning emotion. The Holy Spirit removed yet another layer of shame as he invited me to cry aloud to him because I'm his daughter.

And then, the whole next section bolstered my understanding of deep guttural groaning for God! Our sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us (vs 18). What a promise! Then he says creation groans for Christ's return (vs 22), we groan for his return so that our bodies can be redeemed which means no more suffering (vs 24), and that the Holy Spirt himself groans as he intercedes for us (vs 26). I can't even express how these words describe how I felt over the last year, how I groaned for an end to suffering and for his return over and over. I can hardly make it through a song about Christ's return without tears streaming down my face. But then he reminded me through verses 24 and 25, that as his adopted kids, we hope for his return, but we hope for it with patience. Groaning through grumbling and complaining is entirely and completely different than groaning with longing and expectation. The line is easily seen and crossed when my disgust and discontentment is woefully disguised as hope. My God-focused hope is displayed through groaning that longs for God's glory in the whole world, for God to make all things new, for God to wipe away every single tear, for God to end suffering forever SO THAT every knee will bow in worship and WE WILL enjoy our one, true, holy, righteous, loving Lord God forever and ever. Come quickly, Jesus, and we wait for you with patience.

There is more I could share, but the final lesson I want to explain is the most personal. As I stated above, this is a big year for Chad and me: 15 years at Second Mile, 25 years of marriage, and launching our last two kids resulting in an empty nest. One of my main strengths is that I'm a very present person which enhances my relational abilities. I don't dwell on the past and I don't look to the future; I'm mostly fully present. Sounds lovely, doesn't it? What this means in real life is it is difficult to see myself in future circumstances. The short story is for more than 20 years, I've been very present with my kids. I would say being their mom is some of the best of who I am. Yes, I know I won't stop being their mom when they leave home, but it does change. I can easily see with Kyle and Esther that our relationship has only gotten better, and I'm believing the same will be true for Morgan and Carah. I'm not afraid of it. My fears come out in the very practical thoughts of what will I do? As I stated earlier, I am present. I can't see myself in the future without the daily grind of caring for my kids. My heart feels squished when I try to envision it. It's vulnerable to tell you I've asked God to speak to me through his Word about this for many months now. On one of the last days of this emptying and filling Romans 8 process, he answered my prayers in the simplest, most beautiful ways in a passage I've read probably a thousand times (literally). "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" At this point in the month, my heart was FULL of God's love. He met me, healed me, replenished me, rejuvenated me, and refilled my emptiness. He then whispered to my heart that nothing will separate me... things present OR things to come. The same love that I'm experiencing in the present moment is the same love that will carry me in all things future. It truly is such a simple idea, one church kids hear in Sunday school. But, he so lovingly answered my prayer to speak to me through Scripture and not my own knowledge about launching my kids. He will uphold me because I am secure in the steadfast, unfailing love of God. The sure-footing of his love will ground me as Chad and I launch our last two kids. Simple and still profound. He is good and his Word is living and active.

Through the emptying process of January, emptying of fatigue, of expectation, of myself, God faithfully filled me back up, with his love, his presence, and his Word. I'm ready for what's next, but not because I'm confident to achieve anything for or through myself, but because my confidence is in Christ. May he continue to establish and strengthen our faith and cause us to overflow with gratitude. I will never ever stop telling you that God faithfully uses his Word in our lives. Do not give up. Keep reading. You will reap a harvest if you do not give up.