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FAITH: Isaiah 59 - Sin & Separation

Faith, LifeHaley Hansen2 Comments

I've been slowly reading through the book of Isaiah for the past two months and each chapter makes me want to write a whole blog post, buuuuut 66 blog posts? Maybe someday. For now, I want to focus on the chapter I dove into this morning - Isaiah 59, "Warning against Sin". 

Before I began this particular book, my discipleship leader introduced me to a Bible commentary app - "BLB" (it's the blue one in the app store & totally free, too) - and I've been using it to help analyze each chapter of Isaiah so far. It provides tons of answers to pretty much any question regarding the Bible (in every version) and other helpful tools I don't even know about yet, but I mainly use it for the in-depth commentary by other pastors on each verse. 

Anyway, I had barely finished the second verse of chapter 59 this morning when I just had to open up the app (click here), in search of some clarification. 

Listen! The Lord’s arm is not too weak to save you, nor is His ear too deaf to hear you call. It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, He has turned away and will not listen anymore.
— Isaiah 59:1-2, NLT

Whoa... I thought, rather speechless. Oh, and this isn't the first time Isaiah has left me with nothing to say but "whoa", but I'm elaborating here because it's what I read this morning and answers a question I've always wrestled with in regards to God's role in our lives as Christians. 

Summarizing the verse in my head, I came up with this: Okay, so if God does not lose power or concern for us, despite our sins, then why do bad things happen? And if it's my sins that separate me from God, then where does that famous chunk in the book of Romans, assuring us that "nothing can ever separate us from God's love" (chapter 8, verses 31-39), come into play? This is where the BLB app had my back. I tapped any verse in Isaiah 59 and then "Commentaries", and chose David Guzik's study guide, The Reality Check. Let's get started, shall we? 

So, put yourself in the shoes of one of God's people in this verse. Better yet, just think back to a time when you've suffered, or seen/heard terrible news, or wondered where in the world God's hand is in this trial - that's where God's people are in this verse. Side note: isn't it cool that we can relate to people from this long ago? Blows my mind every time. Anyway, back on track. Isaiah the prophet assures the people that God has not lost any power or concern for them. Verse 2 explains that sin is the culprit, as it almost always is. Sin is what separates us from God. Now, don't let your mind wrestle too hard with this verse and the ones in Romans 8:31-39, yet, because I'll tie them all together for you. 

David Guzik organizes his explanation into 4 parts, which I'll re-explain in my own words. Sin separates me from God in terms of: 

  1. My fellowship with Him - "fellowship" is another word for "companionship". It's basically a relationship. For example, (PS I've never cheated on anyone or had thoughts about another guy while in a relationship, but I feel this is a closely related example) if I have a boyfriend, but I see another guy who I maybe grow interested in, the attention I devote towards my boyfriend now flows over to this new guy. In other words, my fellowship with my boyfriend loses its richness because of my sinful desires. Guzik says, "...at the point of our sin, we no longer think alike with God." Does He divide His heart amongst His children? Somehow, He doesn't. The book of Isaiah boasts several verses that tell of God's love for each of His children, but this one stands out to me: "See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands..." (Isaiah 49:16). When I sin, I separate myself from Him because I allow desires of my own flesh to consume attention I could otherwise be devoting to the Lord.  
  2. Receiving His blessings - When I am distracted by other things - usually stress - I inhibit myself from seeing the blessings of God. Under stress, I instinctually turn inward for strength and place heavy pressure on myself to accomplish whatever it is that needs to be done, despite the fact that I may not be able to every single time. My mind is clouded and overwhelmed and forgets that it doesn't need to, and can't, figure things out on its own. Matthew 13:13 describes it perfectly: "...For they look, but they don't really see. They hear, but they don't really listen or understand." I know in my heart that I should and can totally depend on God, but I'm buried beneath stress (or sin or whatever it may be) and struggle to surface myself. 
  3. The benefits of His love - Don't get ahead of yourself and think that God ever stops loving you because that's just frighteningly false. Remember, Romans 8:31-39 promise that nothing is powerful enough to wedge between me/you and God. However, sin can still tease me with the alluring temptations of its own proposed benefits. For example, I've fallen into the trap social media sneakily sets up - I've searched for confidence and attention in likes, comments, and followers. I've chased after companies in hopes of partnerships and collaborations. Aside from social media, I've longed for relationships selfishly to feel more loved and beautiful. I've turned to food and exercise to shrink myself into the size society told me was "perfect". These desires told me they could satisfy my every need and answer all my questions, and I believed them, until one day I realized I'd been emptied more than ever before. 
  4. His protection - here's the big one. When God sees how misled I am, He does reach down to help lift me out of the state I'm in, but it's not always a smooth ride. God speaks to the stubborn Israelites in Isaiah 48 and says, "I have refined you, but not as silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering." The furnace of suffering, huh? Ouch. I thought, when I read that verse. But the more I let it run through my mind, I couldn't deny it's truth and God's right in doing so. Guzik agrees in his commentary: "We should remember that we are not at the center of the universe, but God is. Everything He does and allows furthers His eternal purpose." The Lord allows trials to mold us into the individual He originally designed us to be and to serve for Him here on this earth, making those trials the prime opportunity for us to draw closer to Him, to understand Him more and more. Isaiah 49 says, "Sing for joy, O heavens! Rejoice, O earth! Burst into song, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted His people and will have compassion on them in their suffering." 

My summer thus far has been all over the place - moving out, traveling to England, moving in (temporarily) and moving out again, moving in aaaagain and all the while searching for a job. After a few exhausting weeks of applying to everywhere and anywhere, I couldn't push out feelings of discouragement any longer. I stayed faithful that God would provide something somehow, but I wasn't rejoicing in the sole blessing of the Holy Spirit. Instead, point number three took over and I lost sight of how bountiful God's love is. Workouts, treats, nights out with friends, movies, and beach days are exciting and fun and definitely helpful in distracting me from the stress of having to "adult", but they never satisfy my heart's deepest need, the one for which only God's love has the fulfillment. 

If any of this seems heavy and unconvincing of God's love, verses 16-21 come to the rescue...

He was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed. So He himself stepped in to save them with his strong arm... ‘The Redeemer will come to Jerusalem to buy back those in Israel who have turned from their sins... And this is my covenant with them... My spirit will not leave them, and neither will these words I have given you. They will be on your lips and on the lips of your children and your children’s children forever. I, the Lord, have spoken!’
— Isaiah 59:16-21, NLT

I hope this has helped in some way - reading through Isaiah and elaborating on it like I have here has definitely provided explanation for me in terms of God's provision in my life. If you liked this post and were able to take something away from it, and maybe if you have suggestions for another post, leave a comment down below or send me an email. 

Thank you for reading, and my prayer is that God will continue to use me as a lamp, Him serving as the lightbulb, to help you :)

FAITH: Biblical Womanhood {+ thoughts about "Girl Defined"}

Faith, LifeHaley Hansen2 Comments

About three weeks ago, I dove into the book Girl Defined by Kristen Clark and Bethany Baird. After reading (and l o v i n g) Idols of the Heart by Elyse Fitzpatrick, my hopes for similar spiritual realizations and impacts while reading this book were high, but not much of the material has "hit" me as hard as anything Fitzpatrick said did. That is, until I finished Chapter 6 - "Modern Chic, Meet Biblical Womanhood". Here, Clark and Baird present their interpretations (after much prayer, discussion, and studying) of God's intention in his design of the female:

  1. Help
  2. Produce Life 
  3. Nurture Relationships 

As I flipped page after page of this chapter, I kept asking myself, How am I living out each of these aspects? If you haven't read the book, I recommend doing so, mainly for this chapter and the one following it. I just want to share my thoughts on Clark and Baird's "Three Pillars of Biblical Womanhood", ways I do apply them already and new ways I can begin to do so. My hope is that this will provide you, as a reader, some inspiration and motivation to a) invite God into your life, if you haven't done so already, and b) grow closer to Him by asking Him to show you ways in which you can apply these pillars to your own life. 

First, let me say "thank you" to these authors for sharing stories about their own lives throughout this book. You've both opened my eyes to different and new aspects of Christianity to which I hadn't given much thought before! I'm so grateful that God has blessed you with this passion to reach out to women like me (and maybe even some unlike me?) - I know I definitely need to hear much of what this book has to say :) 

  1. HELP - After God created Adam, He decided that he shouldn't be alone, that he should have a companion ("a helper fit for him", as Genesis 2:18 writes). That's when Eve arrives at the scene, designed by God, complementary to Adam - "complementary" meaning that Eve would supply the needs and qualities Adam could not. 

    How am I a "helper"? My first (almost instinctual) answer to this question was work. Though I don't have a job at this moment, I'm in the application process and will hopefully soon enter the actual hiring process after some interviews this week. Nonetheless, God designed us all, whether male or female, to work. I've questioned how qualified a job at, say, a pizza place is when it comes to satisfying that idea of work, but it all boils down to how I represent Christ in the workplace, in any place, for that matter. I can be a helper in this time of my life (single, without kids, still supported by my parents) by working. While earning money for that work is definitely one of my priorities, I pray that God will shift my focus from the paycheck to simply serving others and bringing about a positive light wherever I work. 

    Proverbs 31:10-31 paints a picture of what God sees as a noble, working woman (it uses the word "wife", but can apply to single women, as well). Specifically, verses 13-24 speak clearly to what a hard working woman, desiring to help others looks like. Open up your bible or find the scripture here.

    How can I better help others? A paycheck is important to me because it will allow me to start to repay my parents for all their support - paying my rent, buying me a car, providing some spending money here and there, etc. However, I recognize that not all work I do needs to be or even should be motivated by money. For example, each week, I volunteer at the Downtown SLO Farmers' Market. Though a position with the SLO Downtown Association after college would be amazing, I volunteer because the night of The Market is my favorite night of the week - I can't contain my passion and excitement towards serving this community that welcomed me in two years ago, when I began college at Cal Poly. San Luis Obispo boasts several other opportunities to involve myself in this community, a few of which include serving food at the homeless shelter, participating in beach clean-up days, and helping maintain the church I attend every Sunday. 
  2. PRODUCE LIFE - Ahhhh this could be a tough one, considering I'm a) not dating anyone, b) not having sex before marriage even if I were to date, and c) still waiting for my body to reset my period to a hopefully regular, monthly schedule. In other words, I'm not in any position to even think about having kids right now. So how do I live out this aspect of Godly womanhood? Thankfully, Clark and Baird took into account girls in positions similar to mine by discussing how we can produce life in two ways - physically and spiritually. Physically? Obvious, but not in the cards at the moment. Spiritually? Sounds like a fit, but I had to research a little more in order to grasp it fully. 

    How can I spiritually produce life? Well, if you don't know me very well, I have this thing called a "blog" and it's what you're reading right now. It's that URL you typed in order to end up here. I also have an Instagram account, and it's following has increased beyond what I ever imagined. At first, a large audience seemed attractive simply because I felt popular and skilled doing what I love, but praise the Lord that the Holy Spirit quickly changed my heart, showing me the amount of influence and space for God's glory this following allowed. Matthew 5 reminded me that I am a light for this world, for those around me, so I should be constantly making sure that my actions represent His love and glorify Him, not myself. 

    Aside from my blog, speaking in more personal terms, I can spiritually produce life on a more local scale by connecting with both Christians and non-Christians. I can't be effective in sharing the Gospel if I stick close to only those who have already heard it's Good News. By spending quality time with, actually hanging out and getting to know, non-Christians (just like Jesus did in Matthew 9) I can ask God for courage, strength, and wisdom to share with others the abundance of His amazing, everlasting love. 

    Singleness should not and will not prevent me from living out God's plan for my life right now or in the future. I don't know if I'll be able to have children in five or ten years, but I do know that opportunities to spiritually produce life are plentiful, especially in my current situation. Thank you, God, for that :) 
  3. NURTURE RELATIONSHIPS - Clark and Baird emphasize that God created Eve for Adam, making women "highly relational beings". We are meant for connection and relationship with others, and God wants us to ensure that each of our relationships points toward Him and glorifies Him. 

    How can I nurture relationships? Well, like I said before, I can't nurture a romantic relationship if I don't have one, but thankfully, God has blessed me with plenty of friendships (friends who know and love Him and others who don't), opportunities to put this pillar into practice. 

    I'm currently jobless, and have spent the past few days (aside from my time spent desperately job-hunting) just relaxing at home, at the beach, etc. Don't get me wrong - I've loved almost every minute of it. But I use the word "almost" specifically because I do get lonely and I do, at times, feel kind of like a big, bored lump on the couch. Last night, that feeling overwhelmed me as I tried to comfort myself in reading my bible and rereading a chapter of Idols of the Heart. At the same time, I was trying to make sure I had plans for today (the 4th of July) so I didn't end up like I was feeling then. My friend invited me on a morning-hike with her, but it conflicted with the plans I made (with myself...) to workout. I figured my choices were: a) skip the workout and just hike, b) skip the hike and try to make other plans with her later on in the day, or c) wake up early, workout, then go on the hike. Feeling ambitious, I went with Plan C. Yes - I'm exhausted and my knees hurt a little bit, but I could not be more thankful I did both. Working out in the morning is one of my favorite ways to start the day, I don't know why, but it just is and I struggle to give that up. Maybe I don't even need to give it up, but that's another discussion for another time. Anyway, I ended up finishing my workout before I thought I would and used my extra ten minutes to read a chapter from Isaiah - chapter 43, which tells of God's graciousness in saving Israel and promising to provide forgiveness and prosperity to those who believe in, follow, and love Him wholeheartedly. In other words, it was e x a c t l y what I needed to hear (or read, I guess). 

    While my friend and I were hiking, I found myself constantly out of breath - yes, I was tired from my early-morning workout, but I also realized how much I couldn't shut myself up. I haven't talked this much or with such spunk and excitement in a long time, and I think it's because I've felt lonely lately and have craved nothing more than just pure, genuine interaction. I'm an introvert - I re-energize in my alone-time - but I know now how important in my life relationships are, and I know that God is preparing me in this moment, if it's in His will, for a romantic relationship that is centered around Him.

    To better nurture current and future relationships in my life, I'm praying for courage to bring God into conversations. I'm praying for maturity to represent Godliness in the previous two ways. I'm praying for strength to resist giving into gossip and other temptations. I'm praying for wisdom to always use the right words. I'm praying for humility to let God shine His light, instead of me striving to glorify anything of myself. 

If you've gotten this far (please tell me you have actually read and not just skimmed), thank you for reading! Seriously, your presence and dedication do mean a lot to me, so I appreciate that :) I also want to encourage you to research both of the books I mentioned - Girl Defined by Kristen Clark and Bethany Baird and Idols of the Heart by Elyse Fitzpatrick. God has used these authors and their words to teach me so much about Himself and pull me in close to Him, especially during times when I've needed it more than I even knew. 

I hope that I've provided something useful here and that you'll pray with me that God continues to use me and this blog for His glory, not my own. Please please please don't hesitate to ask any questions - leave them below or send me an email. I love hearing from you and would love even more to offer help or advice or just a presence in any way possible. 

Again, thank you for reading :)