Where we last left off, I shared going through a period of struggling to discern and surrender to God’s next steps and timing in my life. He has been teaching me so much in these past few months, and again, it blows me away how patiently and gently He teaches those important lessons. God knows how to touch hearts in the sweetest ways when we choose to rely on Him.
I just returned from Japan a couple days ago, and whether it’s jet lag or mild culture shock, it’s hard to go back to a normal routine after being somewhere so different. As I’ve wrestled with dreams that are on my heart and what to do with those, God has once again started to show how the lessons learned overseas can be used where He has asked me to be right now. It’s so amazing how He ties all of those things together in our lives.
It had been on my heart a few months prior to booking the trip to go and see some of the sacred religious sites in Japan to gather a better understanding of what the people believe. I had a few ideas, but one night I pulled up the map of Japan and prayed, “Where would You want us to go?”
My attention was drawn to the Mie prefecture of Japan, west of Tokyo but south of Kyoto:
“Mie?” I thought to myself, “What’s there?”
I had read a lot of travel blogs for ideas of places to visit, but none of them mentioned anything in the Mie prefecture. Turns out, there’s a Shinto shrine near the city of Ise that is considered the most sacred shrine in Japan. It is dedicated to their sun goddess, Amaterasu, who is believed to be a guardian of the country (which is interestingly also known as “the land of the rising sun”).
My friend and I ended up taking the train down to Ise on our way back from Kyoto. As we walked the grounds, I found myself praying, “Why are we here? What did You want us to see?”
The grounds themselves were beautiful. The trees were huge and full, the area well taken care of, and the atmosphere one of quiet reverence from those who passed through.
We watched as visitors performed the cleansing ritual at the entrance, parents came with their children and taught them to bow at the Torii (in the above picture), and people both young and old stood at the shrines clapping and ringing the bells in the hope of catching the attention of the gods and spirits.
There is a veil separating visitors from the outer gate, and beyond the veil there is both an outer gate and an inner gate between where people are allowed to walk and where the deities are believed to be. We watched as visitors approached the main sanctuaries as far as they could, prayed, clapped, bowed, and walked to the side of the veil to catch a glimpse of the building behind the walls.
As we walked, I thought about how people around the world live on a daily basis not knowing there is a God who loves them, a God who wants to provide for and flourish them, a God who tore the veil and broke down the walls separating us from Him – Because He wants to be close to us. Because He loves us more than we can wrap our minds around. Because He so intentionally formed us in His image and has placed value in each and every one of us. How can you focus on anything else after being reminded this takes place on a daily basis around the world?
The days following visits like this are the hardest because you see so much more clearly how distracting life gets. It’s so easy to focus on things that don’t matter. It’s easy to compare and get frustrated or discouraged. It’s easy to turn our attention to things that seem important but are nothing more than empty facades of misdirected ambition. It’s easy to get lost in trends, fads, and cultural values that don’t actually translate to anything with substance to stand on.
Perhaps what struck me most was that God sees all of this. Every day, He sees people around the world in need of someone to share the truth with them. He sees people who are bound by the belief that they are limited to the whims of angry spirits and distant gods. He sees people who wake up every morning believing in gods who can’t hear or save them.
At the same time, every day He also sees Christians. He sees the burdens on their hearts and dreams growing within them. He sees when they get distracted and choose to use their time to fight amongst themselves instead of teaming up to bring hope and freedom to the communities around them. He sees all of this.
Nothing is hidden to God. And still, He’s patient with us. Still, He loves us and guides us according to His wisdom and timing. That amazes me. He sees every joy and pain in the world every day, He calls Christians out to help people, and He patiently guides as we learn to listen and follow. Every one of our choices and the way we choose to steward the opportunities we have been given are plain before Him.
It’s in these moments, I really fear losing sight of what is so clear when you have a moment to step away. I fear getting distracted and falling back into old habits and thought patterns. I don’t want to leave these moments of seeing there is so much more to be done, and that it can only be done if we stay focused and reliant upon God.
But, it’s also in these moments where God shows new ways of approaching the situations right in front of us. It’s in these moments He shows the need where we are and leads toward new ways to steward those opportunities until it’s time for the next ones. It’s in these moments He reminds us He is sovereign, He does have a plan, and we’re not asked to solve everything in a day; we’re asked to be faithful with what we’ve been given right now.
Isaiah 61:1 (NASB) reads:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners.”
I don’t know about you, but every time I read that my heart cries: “Yes! Please let me do that.”
We as Christians have been given truth that binds up the brokenhearted, proclaims liberty to those who have been made captive, and brings freedom to prisoners both in circumstances of their minds and lives. We have been given hope that heals, love that surrounds and comforts, peace that fights through the cycles of learned anxiety and uncertainty to break through to a clearer day. All these things we can offer if we could stay focused and hold fast to that truth long enough to see the fruit show in our lives.
So, here’s to the God who sees. The One who knows us and still loves us. The One who loves us so much, He breaks through those lies that bound us and brings us to the freedom of a life that rests in Him. Here’s to the God who sees people around the world, their needs, the burdens on their hearts, and He cares for them. Here’s to the God who is patient with us as our eyes begin to open; here’s to the God who is at work to provide pathways of freedom to people all around the world who have been bound.
– – –
Father, I pray You open the eyes of those who love You to see how we can be using the situations You have placed in our lives as a means of sharing Your love, Your truth, with other people. I pray we don’t look at the circumstances we find ourselves in as burdens, but instead that You would open our eyes to see why we’re here and what we’re supposed to be doing. I pray You give us eyes to see how we can help the people who are hurting where we are until You call us to move to the next places. Please break through the distractions that so easily and often drown out what really matters, and help us stay focused on who You are and what You have called us to do. Thank you so much for being so patient and kind to us, and thank you for showing more and more how amazing and complete Your love for us is. We thank you and praise You for who You are.
In Jesus’ Name I pray,
Here’s to our journey!