Open heart surgery

Was it the word lung bypass machine?

Or the family zoom call to the doctor?

Maybe it was the day itself, the message to say he had gone into surgery.

Two weeks ago my brother had open heart surgery to replace a leaking aortic valve and until the day of the surgery it felt so surreal. Up until that point, if allowing myself to think about it, I viewed the surgery as the obstacle, as the problem to be overcome. But the truth is, however significant, however potentially life changing, the surgery itself wasn’t the problem. It was the start of the solution to the heart of the problem, to the problem of the heart. 

Restoring, grafting, strengthening, res establishing the heart to function as it ought. That was the role of the surgery. It required self rendering to another, a giving and trusting of my brother to the skillful hands and expert knowledge of his surgeon. It required humility and a willingness to receive the healing needed. It now requires a renewed awareness of living in recovery, of being aware of the healing work done, the renewed state of the heart and the need for extra vigilant and watchful, humble, care. Open heart surgery necessitates a patient and careful submission to the healing process. 

“Only two people have seen the inside of your heart now!” Ever one to lighten the mood, my husband’s words to my brother, nevertheless brought home the reality that God truly sees. 

Our heavenly Father, who purposed our very existence, who created us in love, who designed and fashioned our every feature, knows us better than we know ourselves. He sees the hopes, despairs, he sees the sins we ‘secretly’ cover, the shame we would rather not think about, the desires and plans we have, the idols we worship, those things our hearts truly beat for, the joys and expectations we bring to situations and our relationships, the forgotten words that have taken root, the pride, blame, and guilt. All that we have suppressed or fear to bring to others for fear of rejection, the Lord sees, and His response is far from fearful retreat. The state of our hearts is never beyond His powerful, healing, restoring hands. 

For He is our creator. He knows our hearts, he knows what they are and how he intended them, how he would intend them to be and he is constantly working in us to renew us. His work in our hearts may seems like painful, wrenching, open heart surgery. It may feel like we cannot even take a breathe for our helplessness and weakened state. Yet his healing work, of coming towards us, of asking us to come to Him, to give Him his heart in surrendering trust is the only way that will mend our broken hearts. To confess to Him what He already knows and sees there, that we might be the willing patient in the hands of our loving, most expert, skilled Creator, willing to undergo some serious self examination, by His Spirit attend to and confess what is hidden in the dark places of our hearts, to recognise where they beat for self or other, to admit where they need renewing and strengthening because of our weakness to certain sins, is the beginning of the healing heartwork of our God by the power of His Spirit in communion with our Lord and Saviour.

He will bring our hearts to rest in him, content and strengthened in Him alone, to beat for him and filled with love for Him and not for self or other, or worthless thing. He made our hearts for His. He moves towards the pian mess brokenness leaks we’ve made and he works by His grace, His skilled creator craftsmanship and for His glory and our good. 

His work in our hearts can feel like painful, wrenching, open heart surgery. He breathes life in us when we feel choked and weak. He renews us, re establishes confirms and strengthens us by His grace. 

As we examine our hearts and respond to Jesus’ invitation to Come to Him, as we surrender to the healing work our hearts so desperately need, we do so by grace. The work is painful but it is not the problem. It is the diagnosing and healing of the heart of the problem, the problem of our hearts.

God doesn’t flee from our sin. He comes towards us. He sent His own Son who Himself gave His life willingly, who sight his eyes towards Jerusalem and the cross on which He gave His life for us. God created our hearts and He longs for them to beat with love for Him, to be strengthened by His grace and to give life to us. So whether we’re in the midst of that healing process, or need to come to God and ask Him to begin that work within us, or whether we are in the fragile recovery, let us keep our hearts with all vigilance, know them, examine them, invite God to strengthen and mend them, that from them might flow springs of life. 

Worthy Grasping

What is the one thing in life you couldn’t possibly do without?

I don’t know about you, but I found Covid lockdown brought with it a stripping away of much of my ‘dependants’, much of my ‘necessities’.  

It exposed that a lot of what we assume we need, from eggs and sugar to time to ourselves or with others, were more luxuries and gifts than essential necessities. Much of what we filled our lives with pre-lockdwon, from time at the gym, regular summer holidays, after school activities, family weekend trips, proved themselves to be very changeable and transient, a far cry from fixed, dependable routines. 

In our house, there were many tears shed over closed playgrounds, and frustrations felt when empty supermarket shelves required a change to staple breakfasts. In the beginning, we waxed lyrical about appreciating basic things and thought we had smugly grasped the difference things made to our lives. We thought we had grasped the worth of things: the value of family time together, of health and safety of loved ones. Lockdown gave perspective, it helped us grasp the worth of what truly matters.

Didn’t it?

In reality, much of my initial frustration at pretty low grade daily inconvenience, led not so much to a grasping of the worth of the simple things but a grasping onto the comfort they brought. So when they were taken away, other things just came in to replace.  
Playgrounds were substituted for fun adventures in the woods and nature reserves, explorations into new trails; Lack of certain ingredients in the supermarkets meant adapting old recipes, and often gave better and more satisfying results. What once had worth and value and meaning is exchanged, upgraded, substituted. 

Do we grasp the worth of what we say we value in life? Or are substitutes just brought in to replace? We essentially spend our lives viewing experiences and our possessions as commodities, as optional extras, very changeable and adaptable to suit our new needs. Grasping the worth of something often necessitates and reveals our disregard of an old, out of date, or unattainable old routine, product or even relationship.

We are shamefully unpracticed in grasping the worth of other. 

That actually isn’t the worst habit when it comes to things that are truly transient, that do have limited and temporary worth. The problem comes however that we allow this habit of substitution, replacement, grasping at the next thing, to spill into our lives with Christ.

I wonder whether, like me, you find yourself often shamefully ill practiced at grasping the worth of Christ?

We struggle to allow ourselves to search our hearts and deeply consider the difference he makes to our lives. We are a people who substitute, who forget value, who despise and subjectively distort the worth of things and people to suit our own needs and situations. We desperately need help to consider the surpassing worth of Christ and cling on to that without allowing substitution and new comforts to replace or come in as optional extras. 

 To grasp the worth of Christ, we need to acknowledge our need for His grasp on us.

The One whose worth we need to grasp is mercifully the One who came down to take hold of us, to join us to Himself, to grasp onto our hearts and join us to Him. He will not let His hold on us go and his grip on us will lead us safely to our eternal home with Him. 

Calvin says this:

“Christ was given us by God’s generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith”

Christ was given. So receive the gift of Christ himself. Ask him for faith in Him! We can ask Him to change our wondering, distracted, substituting and fickle hearts to grasp his worth and significance. 

And He will. 

Jesus doesn’t offer Himself to us an optional extra, a replaceable or adaptable new value in life, or even a better perspective until a new one comes along. No, Jesus is not the means to get to the goal. He is the end of our searching, the worth that surpasses all others, the only One who gives value and meaning to all else He graciously gives us to enjoy. Once we’ve grasped Him, we have grasped the One who is the most excellent, the most beautiful, the most worthy, the most satisfying and comforting.  

We need Christ to grasp Christ. This takes humility, an admission of our inability to grasp him. This requires us to cast ourselves down before him. But we cast ourselves down before the One who will never cast us out, who promises to hold on to us until the day we meet him face to face. 

Grasp Jesus. Grasp the One whose surpassing worth will satisfy your heart, guard you and keep you, who grasps you in His saving arms, sustaining you until the day you begin eternity with him, worshipping Him as the One who alone is worthy of all praise and honour and glory. 

Sticking to the path

Exploring the beautiful woodlands on a recent run, skirting tree stumps and snatching glimpses of deer, I soon realised I was not only lost in the beauty of the Autumnal colours of the forest, but simply lost. What I thought was a shortcut proved to be an extra few miles, and turned an Autumnal blissful running exploration into a somewhat disconcerting and very sporadic search to find myself back on the right forest track. 

You know those old song lyrics…… All roads lead to the same place, and that’s where all road lead to! 

I couldn’t agree more. The problem is what can start off on a very focused path can soon turn into veerings off here and there, twists and turns, shortcuts and extra muddy miles. We do this all the time in our lives and it speaks to our contentment, or rather discontentment.
We’re intent on a work or study project, content with our plan until a sideways glance at our friend’s career direction tempts us away from our pursuit, makes us question our choices or feel small in comparison. We’re content with our ‘track’ of a simple family Summer, until the advertisement of a new AirBnb lures us elsewhere. Insecurity, and lack of conviction about the path we’re on leads us off the track, or if we’re honest, the tempting paths to the right and the left of other people’s lives and directions they’re taking, just appeal more to us. 
Soon, our discontentment with the place of life we’re in, the people we’re with or person we are, and if we’re painfully honest, our discontentment with God for setting us on our path and not someone else’s, can’t help spilling out into mutterings, gossip, belittling others, boasting to bolster ourselves, complaining and bitterness.  

All roads lead to the place they’re going and the road to discontentment can feel like those lost unknown runs in the wood, extra burdensome miles without sufficient supply of energy, beauty of the present and the joys of the situation spoiled and turned sour. The beauty of our setting is glanced at, the tread of our steps on the path we were taking which once led to satisfying delight like the crunch of Autumnal leaves beneath our feet, has become painful and blistered as we trample begrudgingly on in pursuit of the next step. 

Our world generally settles for the quick fixes to sort out discontentment. Usually, the answer is change- change your relationship, change your look, change your identity, change your name, your sexual preference, your gender. Choose who you want to be. Speak positivity. Change the language. Be the best you. You’re worth it. 

But the quick fixes soon spiral into a world of pain and chaos don’t they? The pursuit of happiness as the world would have it has never actually looked more desperate, frenzied, anxious, more lonely, more hopeless, more lost in the woods.

It is exhausting, it’s expensive, and it’s often such a waste of time! And yet we buy into it way too often! We clearly know there’s a problem. We cannot escape our own or others discontentment. We have bought into the lie that the problem is outside, is in the externals, the place, people, even God. The age old lie that distracts and deceives hearts into believing their contentment is a competitive up for grabs, frenzied pursuit to be found in the gaining of the world. 

Satan certainly deceives by distraction. He did it in the garden with Adam and Eve, distracting their gaze and stirring up discontentment with their place, with people as they blamed and shamed one another, and with God as they passed responsibility for their fall onto Him. Satan deceived by distraction and he does it now, tempting us into believing our problem with discontentment lies outside ourselves:The problem must be I’ve not been placed on the right path, God has set me on the wrong one. The people over there are the issue. Our discontented hearts busy us to distraction blaming external factors,. And if left to ourselves, our discontented hearts will resist repentance because we deceive ourselves of our own need for mercy. 

But Satan only uses what was already there. For Adam and Eve, for us, the problem was not with the garden, with the other person, with God. The problem was the sin in their heart. Discontentment doesn’t lie outside. It lies within. Within our hearts.

And God’s grace calls us to look within. To reorient our focus, our gaze, away from the distractions that Satan would trick us into believing are the problem- the place, people, God, and to see instead, that the reason discontentment follows us wherever we go, is because our hearts are with us at all times.

All roads lead to the place they’re going. So we must follow the road of discontentment that leads to the place it’s going and only by following the route to our hearts and seeing the problem there, can we find hope in the battle against discontentment. 

We need to look to the cross, to see the cost of discontentment and to see the hope of deliverance from it. 

Have you ever considered that Jesus was sent to the cross by an angry mob, a fed up and weak leader, all discontented with Him. He was sent to the cross by crowds whose mutterings and complaints turned to mob mentality and death seeking ragings?
The cross looked at first like a victory for chaos and disorder, a victory for the ragings of discontented hearts. And yet at the cross, Jesus was restoring, reordering, reorienting, bringing reconciliation and peace, and renewal through his death and resurrection. He was putting to death sin. 

At the cross we see the cost of our discontentment. At the cross we see the victory over our discontentment. 

All roads lead to the place they are going. Following the road of our discontentment leads to Genesis, to our own sinful hearts and following the road of hope for victory against it must lead to the cross.

There is no bypassing, no shortcut on the way. If we miss and bypass, try and shortcut the route and skip out the way that leads to the sin of our hearts, then cross makes no sense. It’s just a man dying at the hands of an angry mob. We add extra burdensome miles of pain and toil and worry onto ourselves and others if we try and find victory over, forgiveness for, and power to battle against our discontentment anywhere other than at the cross. 

If we stop our journey at our hearts, and don’t carry on the road onto the cross, our discontentment is left in despair and without hope. 

At the cross, Jesus died for the sin of our discontentment. And at the cross, Jesus won the victory over our battle with discontentment.

The cross brought peace… Not just absence of disorder, but true peace. We’re not looking for zen peace and neutral happiness, or serene joy as people of God. We’re seeking the breaking of sin, the reordering and restoration of our hearts from chaos to contentment in God. 

There is only one place in life where is achieved for us and that is not in the therapist’s room, or the yoga class, or a mindfulness course. To fight the battle of our discontentment we must follow the road where it is going. We must painfully follow the route to our own hearts, and search, seek and confess what God shows us there by the gracious work of his Spirit. He then calls us to carry on, giving us power to endure, faith to continue on the path to the Cross, where He offers full forgiveness and hope. This is a road of continual repentance and faith, following the path to the sin of our hearts and the beauty and hope of the cross over and over until the day Jesus walks us to the end of the path of this life into eternal, perfect, full satisfaction of soul and heart, a lifetime of perfect contentment and enjoyment in Him and with Him forever. 

Strong claims of a Father’s strength…

Gliding through the River Thames with his daughter on his back.

Scooping up and carrying his girls downstairs, piggyback and piggyfront.

Rescuing an overconfident toddler from the top of a tree.

Sheltering children from battering winds, huddling them inside his coat.

Running with his determined three year old in her first race, carrying her when she falls. 

A Father’s strength is indeed mighty in the eyes of his children. My Daddy is so strong he can even lift that whole car. My Daddy is stronger than yours. My Daddy can definitely carry you home if you’re tired. Strong claims from confident hearts awed by their Father’s power.

Memories of being carried on shoulders, of swimming on backs powerfully recall the seeming effortless strength of our Fathers. They are indeed powerful, mighty and strong. Our fiercest defenders in battles, our advocates in life, our Fathers’ strength is the reassurance to worried hearts on a first day at school. It is the grounds of a child’s confidence as they climb the biggest tree, the peace even as they venture into that first relationship and the grip and squeeze of loyal protection as they walk down the aisle to another. 

A Father’s love is powerful. A Father’s strength is mighty. And yet a Father’s power is bound to a given time, place, and season, and the days of swimming on backs and being rescued from trees soon feels like a distant memory. The challenges and battles become more than stormy walks home from school, or the falls and trips in a playground. 

The challenge you face at the moment is beyond your strength and beyond your father’s. Long gone are the days you rode on your father’s shoulders, but you do have a Father’s strength, and it is everlastingly almighty, all powerful. 

Our Heavenly Father gives to his children his omnipotent strength and power to contend against every battle, not as a superdad, ‘stronger, better, but as the Almighty to whom every Father should look, and every child find strength in. The Almighty who carries you home on his shoulders, rejoicing in you as He goes. The Omnipotent whose everlasting arms of strength are eagle’s wings that bear you up, that cause you to soar when you thought were sinking.

Our God is an Almighty Father whose omnipotent power is more than enough for the worry, fear, pain, challenge in front of you. Your doubting may feel incapacitating, you may feel gagged, helpless, empty and weak. Rest on the everlasting arms, take refuge and comfort and strengthen your soul in God’s omnipotent power.The power that defeated death itself, sin, the world and the devil, the power that did not leave with Christ’s ascension but remained in the fullness of his Spirit at work in your heart, fanning into flame your weak heart and small faith that feels like a smoldering wick. God knows our weakness and he tenderly and powerfully carries us, strengthens us and calls our hearts to hope on his strength for us in the battle we face.

The days of being carried by your earthly Father may be long gone, but your Heavenly Father is the Almighty, strengthening and sustaining his beloved child with all power from on High, defending his sons and daughters against all that threatens them in this fallen world. 

Resist help and God’s strength and we remain stuck in the treetops of our pride, walking backwards against the stormy walks home, and our doubts may turn to despair. But rest in his strength and we will run and not grow faint, we will battle and be upheld in the challenge that can only be faced with Almighty power from an all loving Father.

Finally my brothers, be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might

Ephesians 6.10