I keep hearing this recurring theme in my mind, “Come empty-handed with a hungry heart.” It takes me back to being a 10- year old girl sitting on the pew of our small Southern Baptist Church. There’s no question that even though I had no grid for complex theological understandings, I was a little girl with empty hands and a hungry heart. In my short life, I was already deeply broken and wounded. The trauma of being sexually abused had already been written on the pages of my life. My parent’s divorce at seven years old rocked my world and threw me in a whirlwind of multiple moves and being torn between two parents I loved dearly.
The day I heard the Good News of the Gospel of grace as a broken 10- year old girl not only changed my history but changed my future. It was not the first time I heard the message but it was the first time the Holy Spirit escorted me down the aisle to our Pastor with the song “Just As I Am” quietly playing in the background. God came for me just as I was. And if that is not amazing enough, He came for good. He marked my life that day. He put His Spirit in me and set His seal of love around my heart. No matter how hard I tried to convince Him He should go find someone who could better represent Him in the coming years, He tightened His loving grip on my life.
Please go with me there for a moment. I heard the Gospel as a child. I heard a message that had nothing to do with me but all about what Christ had done for me. I heard about a place called hell. A place that sounded worse than what felt like the hell I had already lived through. I was aware something was happening in me and though I would not have told you then, it was God’s Spirit wooing me to my Eternal Father. I felt nervous but excited. I knew there was a gift being presented to me for the taking but I also knew I did not have a gift to give back. My heart was telling me “Yes, this is true. Embrace it. Believe it. It’s yours for the taking.” I reached out my empty hands and hungry heart and they collided with the mercy and grace of God. In one instant, my body became the home of the Spirit of the Living God, the Creator of the Universe and Lover of my wounded soul.
If I were to list for you all my rebellion from that day forth, you would question my salvation. On the other hand, if I were to list for you all my “good” works, you might give me a break. My story would confuse you. You might be tempted to analyze and judge my experience of conversion. Seeing me at my lowest and worst you might even think I was delusional. And I would understand because as the years went on, I questioned as well.
I can tell you this. Jesus never agreed or condoned my rebellion; He just refused to leave me because of it. When my pursuit of Him waned, His faithfulness to me didn’t. Oh, I had years were I got cleaned up and did some genuine good works. Those were the days of homemade bread, homeschooling, home groups, blah, blah blah….but never sewing. I still can’t sew and even more I don’t care!
Somewhere between the ages of 10 and forty-two, I believed I needed something more than the faith God gave me to “keep” my salvation. I needed something tangible. If not to impress God, at least to impress the people around me who knew me as the girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Which makes me chuckle because I use to live in a beaten down old house right next to railroad tracks.
Once I was “baptized” into church culture, I soon learned the more you know or think you know, the more people listen. The more people listen, the more important you are or think you are. And the more important you think you are, the more unimportant you become. Because really, God’s got this, with or without us. Should we start to think He doesn’t and He needs our expertise, His judgment wrapped in mercy will kindly give us a reminder.
(Don’t confuse the above thoughts with “God doesn’t WANT to use us….because He does. He has chosen to make us His partner in His work upon the earth today. And His work looks like loving, serving, leading and speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves.)
Pride is deadly. It will snuff out the beauty of empty hands and a hungry heart. It will steal the awe of a 10- year old girl’s broken and wounded soul who knew the value of a free gift. It will take our eyes off the One who hung on a Cross to win our hearts because of love not obligation. Bottom line, it will put us at the center of the Gospel.
The good news is, God can set things straight for us once again. How He does it, only He knows. Only He is qualified to know what we need; our wake-up call, our shaking, our rug being pulled out from under our feet. I happen to believe His desire is to do this in the most gentle, quiet way. But I know from experience, He will go public if He needs to. His love demands our full attention. His jealously for what is His, is fierce. I am convinced more today than ever that no power in hell or on earth can snatch us from His hand. We are His sons and daughters, mess and all. With empty hands and a hungry heart, we come!