Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the Lord of hosts. (Zechariah 7:12 NKJV)
The idea for this post and some others that I’ll *hopefully* be able to write comes from the book Pauses For Pentecost by Trevor Hudson. It’s a 50 day devotional designed to be used between Easter and Pentecost. Each day invites the reader to take a few minutes and ponder a specific word on the journey of Eastertide.
I have a love/hate relationship with daily devotionals. Every once in awhile I’ll come across one that is really meaningful, but often they come across to me as so much fluff. Now, sometimes I need fluff. However, on days when I don’t need fluff, I often have a hard time connecting with devotional literature. I have daily scripture readings that I do, but I don’t know, devotionals don’t tend to meet me where I’m at.
Now it’s only been a few days, but so far this one has been different. I hope it stays that way! It’s really been speaking to me, and we all need that in our spiritual life.
What I’m about to write is intensely personal. Originally I wasn’t going to put this up on here, but I was encouraged to do it because maybe my story would help others in similar circumstances. I hope that’s the case.
The first word that Pastor Hudson invites us to consider is the word “STONE.” We know from the Gospel accounts that a large stone was rolled in front of Christ’s tomb after his body was placed inside. When Mary Magdalene and the other women came to prepare the body on Easter Sunday morning, they wondered who would roll away the stone for them. Matthew’s account (Matt. 28: 1-10) is quite dramatic, saying an angel appeared like a bolt of lightning, scaring away the tomb guards and rolling away the stone.
Trevor Hudson suggests that in much the same way that the angel had to roll away the stone from the tomb before we all could experience the totality of the joy and new life that comes with Easter, we often have stones in our lives that need to be rolled away today. Oftentimes those stones reside inside our own hearts. The Bible talks about “hearts of stone” on a few occasions, one of them being the verse in Zechariah that I listed above.
Sometimes we might purposefully make our hearts like stone and reject God’s teaching. That comes with certain consequences. Those can be hard stones to roll away for sure, but I don’t think they’re the only kind of stones our hearts can turn into. Maybe someone has made you so angry that you’ve developed a heart of stone toward them. Maybe something has hurt you so much that you have felt the only way to protect yourself is to turn your heart to stone. Maybe you’ve failed so miserably at something and been damaged so badly that you felt that you had no choice but to turn your heart to stone.
It’s almost like a defense mechanism, isn’t it?
Hudson asks us to think about what the stones are in our hearts that need to be rolled away. I didn’t have to think about it very long at all.
You see, I have a good portion of my heart that’s been turned into some really hard, first rate stone. Sometimes it seems so hard that nobody could penetrate it or roll it away.
My stone is the failure of my marriage. I told you it’s personal.
You see, for the most part I’m fairly confident. I’m good at my job and have gotten no shortage of accolades for it. As I pursue ministry again I’m very confident in my ability to teach and preach, and my regular job working the public has gone a long way toward helping me deal with people.
But one part of my life is still rather shambolic.
In 2007 I married a wonderful young lady that I had known for about three years, though a large part of that time was online interaction. That summer I left all my family and friends behind as well as everything I owned except for what I could fit in two suitcases. I moved to Florida via airplane with no job, a brand new degree in Forensic Science, and only the skeleton of a plan for the future.
You might be tempted to say, “Wow, what a step of faith!” Trust me, it was anything but that. I call it my Jonah experience. I was running away from many things. I was running away from a job that was a dead end, from a family that loved me but that I was convinced didn’t have the first clue about what was best for me (I was so wrong), from a staunch and suffocating conservative culture in Utah that didn’t line up at all with my own more liberal views, from a closed church and a false start at ministry, and most importantly from my own inadequacies.
Well running away really didn’t work for Jonah, and even though I spent zero time in the belly of a fish, it didn’t work out for me either. I couldn’t adjust at all. Everything was pretty much the polar opposite from what I had known all my life. My family has always been pretty close knit, and the loss of that daily support structure nearly destroyed me by itself.
But I was also chasing an ideal, that ideal family. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had some very specific expectations for my marriage and my wife. Now, before you go there, no, I wasn’t looking for a little mild mannered lady who would do everything her husband said. Ugh. I’ve never wanted that, and still don’t. I wanted someone who was every bit my equal in all facets of life, and I got it. My ex-wife was very much that in every regard.
The problem was that we were pretty much incompatible in every other way. That became obvious to me pretty quickly. It had been obvious to others in my circle of family and friends before that even, but I refused to listen at all. I was bound and determined to make it work. I was desperate to make it work.
There were a lot of reasons that it didn’t work, most of them not fit to post here, but they rest in the pages of my journal. In the end I was trying desperately to smash a square peg into a round hole, and I tried so hard it damaged both of us.
To make a long story short, I ended up back in Utah feeling like a total failure as my marriage circled the drain and finally ebbed totally away. I didn’t feel like I was any use to anyone, myself, my friends, my family, or certainly God. But over the last 4 years or so God has been redeeming me piece by piece. I know it, I’ve felt it, and others have seen it! It’s been nothing short of remarkable, and I haven’t really had much to do with it.
I finally hit rock bottom and came to God with my hat in my hands, and he’s been lifting me up since that day. It hasn’t always been easy and sometimes we’ve taken three steps forward and two back, but we’re moving. As Brad Paisley sings: “Me and Jesus, we got our own thing going.”
I realized that was the stone that needs to be rolled away, and I’m happy to say that God is on the job, which is a good thing because I can’t do it myself. It’s not all the way gone yet, and it might never be this side of paradise, but bit by bit the light is shining through!
I’ve been working toward the Local Pastor Program in the UMC, and last month God brought me to a mountaintop experience with that. I was invited to go to a church that is currently without a pastor to preach and deliver Communion. I was nervous because it was the first time in forever that I’d had to preach in front of people who didn’t already know me. But those wonderful people blessed me so much and it was such a privilege to share the Supper of the Lord with them.
As I stood at the pulpit, opened my hands for the communion liturgy, and shared that with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I felt that Tooele, Utah was a long way from Orlando, Florida and that I was finally distancing myself from my failures there.
Could it be that the stone is almost totally rolled away? I hope so, and no matter what your stone might be, hold fast to God and trust in him, because he is always with you!