"Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service [of worship]." - Romans 12:1
Over the last year and a half, I have been living in this gloriously difficult season. The miscarriage of our baby girl started me on a journey that I wouldn't want to take again: therein lies the difficult part. But at the same time, in the way only The Spirit of Grace can do, I wouldn't trade the things I am learning on this dark path through the valley - and therein lies the glory. When your life is truly the Lords, you begin to know Him differently as you walk together. It's like He introduces Himself to you in ways you never saw coming, lifting the veil off of self-concocted definitions of God in order to reveal the unending expanse of His terrifyingly beautiful. And as you truly give yourself to Him, strangely you find that the dark valley is His home just as much as the blinding light of heaven. We all expect our self-made doctrines & flimsy theologies to be shattered by His glorious light, but I have found that our feeble conceptions are also shattered by His dark covering. And therein lies the mystery that we find in surrendering our all to God: He is clothed in light (Psalm 104:2; Isaiah 40:22) but He is also clothed in darkness (Deut. 4:11, Ps. 97:2). Psalm 18:11 says, "He made darkness His secret place; His canopy around Him was dark waters." On the journey of divine union, we are certain to find at some point that the secret place has become darkness. Inevitably, when this happens, we will first fight it: we will search our heart for sin and for mistakes, we will rebuke the enemy, we will fast, weep, and mourn, grasping for any touch from Heaven. But all the while, God stands still, smiling gently over us, waiting for our tizzy of religious activity to wear us out. And then in our weakness, we find He is there - right there, robed in the night He created (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
My prayer time in the secret place of darkness looks differently than when in the place of warm luminescence. It usually consists of me clumsily dropping the fragmented feelings & thoughts of my soul onto the floor. All of these emotions and musings have found me here, empty of words on most occasions. But now that I've come to realize words don't have to be spoken when THE Living Word is with you, I am learning to love the silence. I am learning on this journey through the dark that He IS my prayer and that He is absolutely unoffended by my brokenness. So I lie on the floor with pieces of my heart scattered round about me in the darkness. Quiet. Hushed. And I simply know He is God.
Recently the Father spoke to me during such a prayer time through word pictures painted on the canvas of my imagination. I saw myself coming up out of a black cauldron filled with boiling water, my skin pink from the scalding. I knew as I looked upon the image that a new layer of skin was being exposed and that the old layer was left in the boiling depths. It was a jolting picture, indeed, but at the same time, I knew that this was exactly the season I had been in. I had indeed been in a caldron of sorts as old layers of religious ideas, past hurts, and negative core beliefs were being peeled off layer by layer. Still, I wasn't receiving much as I pondered the image, so I did what every good theologian does at such a moment: I searched for the word 'cauldron' on my bible app.
The scripture that grabbed my attention was 2 Chronicles 35:13 when king Josiah reinstituted The Passover in Israel. It reads:
13 Also [the Levites] roasted the Passover offerings with fire according to the ordinance; but the other holy offerings they boiled in pots, in caldrons, and in pans, and divided them quickly among all the lay people.
I was quite familiar with the law given in Exodus 12:8-9 that states the Passover Lamb, "shall be roasted in fire...9 not boiled at all with water, but roasted in fire." Jesus as the fulfillment of the Paschal Lamb, endured the fire of God's presence and judgment against sin & death. He is The Lamb of God slain for us - our Passover Lamb. But it wasn't until I read 2 Chronicles 32:13, that I considered the, "other holy offerings" given on Passover. The other holy offerings were not to be roasted in fire but "boiled in...caldrons."
As I read the passage again, I realized what the Holy Spirit was telling me in my mind's eye: my life was the "other holy offering" being boiled in the cauldron. I was His holy offering, brought into the fellowship of Christ's suffering through the trials I was enduring. As I let this reality wash over me, I closed my eyes. I pictured the Passover offerings being given in the Temple: there beside the High Priest was the lamb roasted in the fire and right next to it was the boiling pot filled with the other gift. Side by side, both offerings were given. One greater, one lesser, to be sure, but both enduring the flame in different ways. The lamb couldn't look over at the offering in the caldron and say, "You have no idea of what it is to suffer," nor could the meat in the caldron look at the lamb and say the same. Both suffered. Both knew the fire. Both were considered an offering and both were declared holy.
It's the mystery of entering into, what Paul called, "The Fellowship of Christ's suffering" (Phil.3:10). But Paul doesn't stop there; he says that this fellowship is "being conformed to Christ's death." He goes on to say in his letter to the saints in Colosse, "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ..." (Col. 1:24). The word "lacking" is the Greek word, "husteréma" which indicates something that is left undone and deficient. We know that Christ's suffering on the cross was more than enough to conquer sin - there is no deficiency in His sacrifice. So what is Paul talking about? He's talking about the example that Christ left behind for us to follow. In order to be conformed to Jesus' death, we must understand that he "left some suffering behind for us to fulfill" - it's an invitation for us to be side by side with our Savior in his sorrow, suffering, and death. We have the great honor of being counted as "the other holy offering" that is now given because the Passover Lamb has been slain. We have the honor of being "united with Jesus" in his death (Rom. 6:5).
To emphasize this point, 2 Chronicles 35:13 says the Levites were the ones required to offer the sacrifice of both the lamb and the other offerings. They served as priests who brought man to God and God to man. They were a foreshadowing of Jesus' ministry as the Great High Priest (Heb 8:1). But I was floored to learn that the name Levi means "joined, united" with the idea of harmony being present. Picture it: the priests named "joined & united with harmony" served both offerings side by side - the greater and the lesser both offered to the Lord as a sweet gift of worship. The two were united into one glorious Passover gift. I can go through the caldron of burning knowing that the Lamb who has endured far worse than I ever could imagine is right beside me and He counts my comparatively small sacrifice as worthy and acceptable to Him (Rom 12:1-2)
I will never have to face the type of death Christ did. God never required me to do that and so I have not deeply considered what he has required for me until now. God didn't have a cross prepared for me - he had a caldron. Yes, Jesus calls us to "take up our cross (Matt 16:24)" but the point to that calling is to lay our life down no matter the cost and no matter the mystery. To be conformed to Christ's power, I must be conformed to his death and that goes way beyond denying my snarky attitude when annoyed or refusing to speed when I'm in a hurry. That's simply called Christianity. No - being conformed to his death is so very much more. It's being united with Him in his injustices, his losses, his trials; suffering without reason or without answers given; trusting the Father though that trust will cost you your life. THIS is what it means to be a living sacrifice. It's wanting to know Jesus so deeply that you are willing to endure for Him what HE endured for you. It's a deep, holy unity - a fellowship with Christ - that only a caldron can bring.