As long as the summer months can be, as much as the extreme heat can be exhausting, as unstable as the weather can be in autumn and as unpredictable as it can be in winter, as dull and wide as the flat terrain is in what we call “miles and miles of Texas,” as tough the black soil, I am privy to live in a state that seems to turn into the most gorgeous reflection of God’s beauty in the spring. It happens, seemingly, overnight. I am surrounded by a creation that comes alive and breathes deep with beauty.
I finally got to see the hummingbird that my brother spotted several days ago. I hope he brings all his colorful friends to my house soon. I sat on my porch step early this morning and watched him drink from the miniature feeders I hung up weeks ago. Most birds, I have found, can be identified by their color. But hummingbirds are all a little different from each other. The one I saw this morning was green with a black head and collars in both white and bright orange. They’re so unique. They’re extraordinary, so detailed, exquisite. When he spotted me sitting there, he flew to a nearby branch and watched me for a few minutes. Then, to my surprise, he buzzed very closely around my head and flew off. He did, eventually, come back to eat more. I’m fairly sure he was just checking me out.
The roadsides are splashed with the soft pink of evening primrose, the bright orange-red of Indian paintbrushes, the violet-blue of bluebonnets, and the smiling sunshine-yellow of black-eyed Susans, and the fields are blankets of yellow and white. Yards are covered in what looks like all different colors of snow from the multitudes of blossoms falling from trees. Almost every time I walk out my door, I see at least one butterfly and/or dragonfly and/or squirrel. The air is thick with the sound of birdsong. Texas is simply gorgeous in spring.
But my yard, well, it needed some work when I moved in here. I’ve got a few shade trees in the back yard and one in the front yard, set way off to the side. But my front yard was empty of color or character.
I got started a little late in the year planting seeds, but I finally managed to get daisy and bachelor button seeds in the ground. Of course, living in the great state of Texas, it took several weeks of hard work tearing up the black soil first. To make things worse, I had to work on my hands and knees in that concrete-like dirt with a hoe without a handle. The blisters will eventually heal and my hands will bear the scars, but I'll be so much stronger for it.
I see flowers everywhere, but my yard is only colored by the freshly dug soil, a couple of rows of green sprouts, and a lush, green lawn. Green lawns are nice. But weeding for actual weeds, I’ve found, is child’s play compared to weeding out grass roots. Ugh!
And this is where the fun really begins. It never fails -- Every time I garden, the Master Gardener is faithful to teach me something. I learned much last year when I planted orange seeds. Yes, orange trees WILL grow in Texas. I have proof of that lined up in black tree pots on my back porch even as I write. And I had a feeling He was going to teach me something this time too. It took a little while, but the lesson won’t be forgotten easily.
I am sure that our brother, Paul, didn’t just pray, “Father, take this thorn from my side.” He most likely cried out in anguish. A messenger of Satan to buffet him wasn’t exactly a rose thorn that could be easily pulled out and treated with a little antibiotic ointment. I believe that Paul spent some serious time begging the Lord to deliver him. God’s answer was not nearly as simple as it sounded: “My grace is sufficient for you.” I wish that every person who just read “My grace is sufficient for you” would take that sentence and break it down, one word at a time, and really grasp the revelations in it.
I'm sure it isn't the message, after all that anguish, that Paul wanted to hear. It wasn't the message I wanted to hear either. I wanted a simple but miraculous and instant deliverance. But that's the message he did hear. And it turned out to be the message he also preached. God's grace is sufficient to keep us while we pull out our own thorns.
I long ago gave the Lord the reins in my life. I made a big mess out of it and realized that I would continue to make a big mess out of it as long as I insisted on running the show. Since then, the changes have been phenomenal. But most of those changes have been changes in me and not necessarily changes in the things around me. Though, there has been much change around me as well.
I figured that since the Lord is “lording over” my life now, that I could just put everything in His hands and He’d do everything that needed to be done. That’s a great idea. But there’s a slight problem with that outlook. Faith without works is dead. We have a part to do and we have to actively do it. If we aren't actively working to pull up the "grass roots" or pull out the "thorns" in our lives, those things develop strongholds.
Let me give you just one of many examples of how these strongholds take root. Suppose that someone terribly offends you. Is okay to become angry with them? Of course it is. Anger is just one of the things that we, as humans, are equipped with. And becoming angry doesn't seem like such a bad thing. In fact, it wouldn't be a bad thing at all if we were only led to Godly anger, the kind of anger the Lord was referring to when He said "Be ye angry and sin not."
But if we don't immediately go to the Throne of Grace and seek to forgive that person, knowing full well that we don't have that ability on our own, and stay there until we are rooted in forgiveness and love, then that simple emotion, anger, takes root and creates a stronghold in our lives that, much like grass roots, is extremely difficult to rid ourselves of. Keep on digging, because things that seem most impossible are likely the things God wants to help us with the most. That way, we truly know that NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD!
We do have to pull out our own thorns sometimes. And sometimes, we have to keep on pulling them and pulling them until they are no longer strongholds in our lives. And I believe this is where the Father would say, “I have given you every piece of equipment that you need in order to tear down the strongholds in your own life. (2 Corinthians chapter 10) Why should I remove the thorns when you are perfectly capable of removing them yourself?” Ouch.
Children that are picked up and carried constantly require a lot more time to learn to walk. Our faith walk isn't achieved by expecting the Father to carry us around everywhere all the time. It's achieved by getting up on our feet and putting one, in faith, in front of the other. I'll say the same thing I've said many times before... (perhaps I ought to make it my motto). "The valiant, brave warrior is not the one who never fears or falls. He's the one who gets up again after he's fallen, despite the fear." Let's don't use "Be still and know that He is God" out of context. Some of us have been still long enough.
It is so very important that we don’t lean on our own understanding. He equips us, but the tools He equips us with don’t necessarily look like we think they ought to. They are not carnal. They are spirit, a gift of the Holy Spirit and they are full of power and life. But just because you’ve got a hoe without a handle doesn’t mean you care to get down on your hands and knees and use it! Big OUCH! Again, some of us have been still long enough.
Grass roots are stubborn, stubborn, stubborn! I have discovered that, after all my hard work, the grass is so strong in my yard that it’s quickly growing over the soil I worked so hard to break up. But I want a beautiful bed of daisies enough that I’ll continue to dig and dig and dig, widening the beds, stretching out my territory until I get it all under control. But it doesn’t stop there. I will still have to go out there often and remove new blades as they surface.
There are things in my life, grass roots if you will, that have been there for so many years that I don’t even know how they got there. I don’t want to get down on my hands and knees and fight those grass roots. But there is a reward waiting for me, a reward for my diligence. I won’t give up and I won’t give in. There’s too much at stake. And in the meantime, I have news for the enemy who, being the father of lies, would dare discourage me -- My God’s grace is SUFFICIENT for me. The grace by which I am saved and rescued from death and brought to life is the same grace that will SUSTAIN me.
So, was God faithful to deliver Paul from that thorn in his flesh? Yes, in His own way, He was. He did deliver Paul. He delivered Him by handing him a tool with which to dig deep and pull that thorn out himself by its stubborn roots. By and by, that thorn turned out to be for Paul’s own good. Not only was it a testimony for us today, but it was put there in the first place to “buffet” him, to keep him from becoming so proud that he would think for one minute that his being called to greatness for God would make him beyond falling into the same enemy entrapment as the next person.
I truly believe that the greatest of testimonies come from experience. How do you tell a person how truly, truly enduring God’s mercy is, how wonderful His love is, how all-sufficient His grace is, how glorious His presence, how much He can equip you to tear down strongholds unless you personally know these things firsthand? Paul knew firsthand.
And, apparently, the Lord wanted me knowing it firsthand too. Apparently, He wanted you to at least have some idea of it too -- You’re reading my testimony. Hopefully, you’ll get on your hands and knees and start digging and find that your grass roots are not quite so thick as mine were. That is my prayer for you anyway. I wouldn’t want anyone to have to go through what I’ve been through. But whatever the grass roots or strongholds in your life, I assure you, God has equipped you to handle them and His grace is quite sufficient for you.
I looked across the street to my neighbors’ house. They’ve got this hoe standing up by their front door that they apparently used to plant the new pre-grown flowers I see lined up in such a neat row across the front of their house. Those flowers are sure pretty, very colorful. I looked down at my little green sprouts, not nearly so pretty and not set quite so neatly as theirs. I’m only about 3/4 of the way through widening the beds, so it’s still looking pretty rough, drab compared to theirs. All in good time though. There’s just something about knowing that we are rewarded for our works... eventually. And in the meantime, I’m going to dig away, knowing my work in me, like my work in my front yard, will eventually result in much better color and character.
A couple of days ago, I walked outside to find that the side of my yard, over by the only tree in my front yard, was thickly blanketed in spiderworts, pretty purple wildflowers with three petals. Some things are just gifts for us, signs of His magnificence and beauty. We can work the rest of our lives and just not come up with anything that compares to our Father in heaven’s handiwork. But we’re made in His image, little creators by heritage, so we try. My work might not compare to the Father’s, but I’m not going to quit trying.
I’m going to keep right on digging anyway and thanking Him for the gifts of beauty that cost me nothing, sort of like those birds who found my neighbors’ mulberry tree. Jehovah Jireh could’ve let them feast on anything. But he cares about the little birds and decided to put a succulent berry tree there for them instead. I’m fairly certain that the Lord loves me a lot more than He loves those birds. And He loves you more than those birds too. So, enjoy the berries and the wildflowers. But while you do that, don’t stop digging.
Treava, I do believe this was the most timely of all your wonderful testimonies I've seen. You have no idea of the magnificent way God speaks through you to impact others. You have encouraged me, strengthened me, and again reminded me of His love and faithfulness. Yes, sister I will continue to dig. It is painful and exhausting but it is worth it. Thanks for the reminder, sweet lady. Keeping my chin up...