Imagine you are standing on a beach that overlooks the ocean. In your hands you have a thimble. With it you bend down and scoop in water from an incoming wave. Gleefully you hold it up, point towards it and exclaim “I have the ocean”!
If we were to think about the ocean as representing God (who He is in all of His splendor, all there is of Him to know and love), and the thimble as our capacity to contain it, we begin to get a tiny glimpse of how deep, how wide, and how great His love is for us. And just when we think we have our fill of Christ, He invites us to turn our eyes upon the ocean of all that He is, and says “child, there’s plenty more where that came from. Let me expand your thimble”!
Looking back over the events of my life I can see where the decades tied in closely to the three dimensions of grace mentioned by Mike Bickle in his book titled “Passion for Jesus”: Trembling, Rejoicing, and Kissing.
I am grateful to have learned that God never freezes us in time (neither in a low moments of weakness or high moments of adoration). He does not lack patience when it comes to His work within us or our unity with Him and with others. Being outside of time, He has the unique ability to see us at our weakest and lavish love on us regardless, because He sees our desire towards Him and knows our outcome in the end. I can be confident He will complete what He started.
As a child I attended church now and then, but it wasn’t until my dad began attending church with us that it all became more consistent. I can remember asking to be baptized as a little girl. I did not set out to be deceitful by claiming that I had Jesus in my heart, I just knew that was the right answer needed to be able to step into that neat looking pool of water behind the glass at the front of the sanctuary, and enjoyed it so much that after the pastor pulled me up I loudly said, “let’s do it again”!
Looking back, I can see where the Lord has overshadowed me throughout my entire life, but “church” back then was more of a weekly activity, part of what we did rather than because of who it was we worshiped. The only real difference between me and other kids at school was how I spent my Sundays and summers.
Trembling… (the 1980’s)
It was not surprising that I began dating at the age of 15, and by the age of 16 I was involved in a fairly serious relationship that resulted in marriage only a few weeks shy of my 17th birthday – and it wasn’t because I was pregnant (though I could have been). The year was 1982.
I quickly realized the mistake I had made and to be honest I truly believe John, my young husband, did too. For years we tried to stay together the only way we knew how. For him this meant control, which often resulted in abuse. For me in the beginning it meant sheer will because I wanted to prove to my parents I had what it took to make it work. For both of us together and for most of the 1980’s, it included attendance at a church that had a form of Christianity mixed with legalism (see Galatians 1:6-7), with emphasis on outward behavior rather than inward transformation. Even still, it was during this time I learned how to stand in awe (fear) of the Lord and His judgement and show reverence to Him.
Because of the outward focus, inwardly it was easy to rebel in thought. I was not willfully submitting to either my husband or the church (let alone to God) but believed outwardly it was important to appear as if I was. As a result, the biggest thing I realized about myself at this time was that I was one of the very unhappy hypocrites a lot of people accuse churches of being full of. In Matthew 23:27, Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites also, stating they were “whited walls full of dead men’s bones” (meaning they looked pretty on the outside but were unclean or corrupt on the inside). I felt this described me well.
To top it off there was now a wedge between me and my parents. While I headed down a crippling path away from Christ, their path turned in pursuit of freedom in Christ. To add to my misery, I discovered I was unable to have children, which left me feeling doubly insecure. Although for me I will say it was never a question of pursuing other religions over Christianity (I was sure of who Jesus Christ was, and so felt there was no need), I failed to realize then that He was more than what I already knew Him to be. I believed that my thimble was full, and that’s what mattered.
Losing myself in fantasy books, I began looking for fault in my marriage, my circumstances, and my life around every corner and spent most of my days being bored, dreaming I was living another life where another handsome young “savior” (better suited to my liking and imaginative creation) would come rescue me from all of it, and we’d live happily ever after.
Rejoicing… (the 1990’s)
The time came when my husband, who was in the Air Force, had received orders for a one-year remote tour of duty to Osan Air Base, South Korea. The moment he left, I sought solace in someone else. I have one word for that time of my life: DEVASTATING – and not just concerning me but everyone I knew and cared for during that time. Although I am who I am today in part because of my struggles & experiences, if I had a chance to go back in time and not follow that path, undo the heartbreak involved, the lives disrupted, friendships lost and the trust shattered, I would. When the church I had been attending found out, I was struck with the fear of God and pictured nothing but judgement and punishment for the sin I knew I had committed.
Even though the wedge between me and my parents had destroyed a lot of the closeness I used to enjoy with them, the first thing I thought to do was to call my mom. Surely, she would understand. But God had other plans. Mom was out of town (and this was before cell phones). It was my dad that answered the phone!
Fully expecting dad to tell me that I had “made my bed” and now I ought to “lay in it”, I was sobbing uncontrollably and had a hard time speaking. With great love and tenderness, he coaxed me into telling him what was wrong. I managed to get the basics out as best I could. His words to me were simple: “Come home, baby. You have a home here”. I could not run home fast enough! This was in the early summer of 1990, and through the way dad loved me even in my ugliest moments, he gave me a glimpse of the heart Father God that has never left me, as well as a deeper understanding of the prodigal son.
A couple of months passed. Because I wanted a strong marriage like the one my parents had, it did not take me long to be convinced by John that I should try and reconcile by joining him in South Korea. He promised once we were together again, everything would be alright. So, I went “non-command sponsored”, meaning the Air Force (or US government) did not sanction my visit. In turn this meant that John was my sponsor instead, and it was up to him to provide things for me. I did not have a job or any kind of income. I did not speak the language or know anyone, and because of the black market being so prevalent at the time, I was not directly allowed to purchase things from the PX (post exchange) without John obtaining permission. I was 5000 miles from home. It was now early September and I had just turned 25.
For the first couple of weeks during the transition, all was well. John had been attending an off-base mission church in the town of Songtan, which was right outside the air station. Just weeks before, the regular missionaries that John had come to know had left for a one-year furlough. This happened while he was on leave, having come back to the states to escort me over. God’s first gift to me in South Korea was the Pastor who took their place, Bud, and his wife Donna. It was hard to attend church that first Sunday with many in the small congregation there knowing what I had done, but Donna welcomed me with arms open wide, and soon so did everyone else.
My husband and I settled into a tiny apartment just off base, on the fifth floor of a building overlooking the tail end of the Osan runway. Directly above us was an accessible roof top, where I remember spending countless moments watching jets like the U2 and “Wart Hog” (A10). Inside the apartment there were three small rooms and a bathroom. No furniture. No stove or refrigerator. No hot water or heating of any kind unless you purchased oil for the unit that heated it. Many of these things I could have had through Family Services on base (including access to the PX), but John had turned his full hurt and anger towards me shortly after I arrived, and in his desire to punish and to once again feel in control, he refused to sponsor me in those areas.
Donna, on the other hand, was holding counseling sessions with me a couple of days a week and was trying to introduce me to a personal prayer life. I was frightened of that and in honesty, I would have to admit I was a little mad at God, too. Even though I could not imagine Jesus waiting to do anything other than judge my sin and punish me for what I had done, at the same time I was frustrated by the thought that this was all there was to Christianity. How grateful I am for Donna, who saw the potential beyond all this and was persistent in her encouragement of me to both pray and read my bible daily.
So it was that I found myself one day sitting on the floor in our tiny apartment, reading Matthew chapter six. Verses 25-33 state:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (NIV)
Since I had little of “these things” this should have been comforting to me but I chose to display my anger instead, and the first prayer I had prayed in a long time was far from one of thanksgiving and praise let alone worship! It went something like this:
“Lord, for the first time in my life that I really remember, I am seeking you with all of my heart and yet, though you tell me these things will be given to me, I have none of them! I don’t have a chair to sit on or a table to sit at. I don’t have food to eat unless John decides to bring it! I don’t even have a way to keep or cook food. Outside of this pallet on this cement floor I don’t even have a bed. It is getting cold outside and yet I don’t have hot water to bathe in or heat to warm this place or sufficient clothes for the winter. What’s worse, John is telling me I will never again get away from him, and that because he provided for me once before and I chose to throw it all away, he will never provide for me again. What then? What is the need I have that you will supply if I seek You”?
“I AM. I am your biggest need, and I have given you ME.”
His reply resounded so audibly in my spirit that if I had not already been sitting I believe it would have knocked me onto the floor. I began to bawl, and His love began to flood over me again and again in waves. I couldn’t move for a long time, but just sat and cried. I got it. HE was my biggest need, and more than merely giving me blessings that come from His hand, He had given me HIMSELF. The thought could not have sunk into my soul any deeper because no material thing mattered to me after that.
Even though all those things and more came in small yet miraculous ways over the weeks that followed, I could care less if I had any of them, because I now had HIM. Jesus became more real to me in that moment than He had in my whole lifetime. I had turned and for the first time was now beholding the ocean rather than just the thimble. Indeed, I felt as if I had been kissed, and was being invited to awaken to a holy fervency! It was pivotal, I became undone, and I was never the same. My relationship with Christ was real for the first time, and I was no longer a hypocrite. I was in this hallowed place where nothing could hurt me and found myself singing for joy (Psalms 63:7).
In my sixth month in South Korea my husband decided to send me home early. The lease on the apartment we were renting was about to expire, and he said he wanted to move back on base to save money. The mistake he made was that he chose to send me home to my parents and not back to the church in Nebraska where he had orders to return. I’ve been told and believe that a candle shines brightest in the darkest places. God could have used my testimony of Him mightily I’m sure, but I was not yet ready to face the congregation of whose hearts I had broken and trust I had shattered, and so chose to remain in Texas whenever he finally came home. Eventually John divorced me.
In the years that followed, the 1990’s became an incredible faith building experience and awakening for me. Having restored my relationship with my God and my parents I began attending the church they had helped in small part to start some years before.
This was the period of my faith journey where I learned rejoicing and blessing, and walked in freedom with Christ and the forgiveness He offered. There were so many incredible things that happened in my path towards healing and wholeness that I could write chapters on this decade alone!
Kissing… (the 2010’s and teens)
Even still, there are times I could compare my pursuit of God and journey towards maturity in Christ to driving through a lengthy construction zone. Sometimes it moved quickly, sometimes not, and sometimes included detours.
It was during this time that, whether I felt I was moving along at a good clip or crawling inch by inch, I first realized how the Holy Spirit had been overshadowing me. But unless we are grounded in His word, we often don’t know or can’t see the choice He gives us and the path He lays out in front of us. Our eyes are so focused on ourselves that we miss it. That’s why scripture tells us in Psalms 119:105 that His word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, so we can use it to avoid the detours.
Even in times I was not fully seeking Him, He was with me every step. Some people may think God only shows up in our lives the first moment we accept Him as Savior (and not before), but because He is omniscient, I believe He foreknows those who will seek Him, whose hearts belong to Him, and He goes before us to make a way where there is seemingly no other way.
It was not until 2011 when my dad was struggling with dementia that my eyes became increasingly “fixed” on the ocean rather than my own little thimble. This came about through my simple desire to let my dad know every single day how much I loved him. As a means of conversation, I began calling him each evening and reading to him stories from the little “Our Daily Bread” devotional, which put me into a place where I was finally reading scripture regularly. Purposing to do so allowed me to begin putting earthly things into an eternal perspective. Through consistently seeking Him, the Holy Spirit was able to deepen my desire for intimacy. Passion and fervency began to grow.
Before long I began reading the bible on my own apart from the Daily Bread articles. I lost my dad later that year but did not lose the “secret place” of meeting I had developed with my God and King. This was exactly what the Holy Spirit had been so patiently working within me and waiting for, as it brought consistency, stability, and added strength to my pursuit of Him.
Referencing Mary and the alabaster vile of ointment, Mike Bickle reminds us in his book that “None of us has an option when it comes to whether or not our lives will be wasted. The only option we have is how we will waste them”. I choose to waste my life being poured out in love and service to Christ, and have learned over these last decades that keeping our eyes focused on the “Ocean” of Christ is key to cultivating a heart of worship. A.W. Tozer once said, “to have found God and yet still pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love”.
I am also exploring what this means as part of the preparation of the Bride of Christ collectively, to understand how we can help others to cultivate and develop that same intimacy, unity, and passion. Together we will help each other take the next step in our faith journeys, whatever that might be for each of us, so when that passion ignites fervency, we are mature enough in our journey to run with Him in ministry and not get weary or burned out in the process.
It is my prayer that my desire for HIM always be greater than my desire for His blessings and gifts. I also join Jesus in a prayer for unity, and that the love of the Father for the Son be shed abroad in our hearts, so that we might be able to see an awakened and passionate Bride in our lifetime!
2 thoughts on “The Ocean and the Thimble”
I recall reading this some time ago, but has slipped my mind.
What came to mind as I reread your story was of a cartoon based on the Footsteps in the Sand poster. You know, where Jesus tells the pilgrim how He carried him at those most difficult times when he saw only one set of footprints.
In the cartoon, Jesus goes on to say, “And those long grooves are where I was dragging you as you were kicking and screaming at me.” 😊
love and prayers for you, Lisa.
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Hahaha, yes, so true of me and I’m so grateful for His loving response!
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