Stitching a Garment of Praise

Hand embroidered pillow made for a craft show
Hand embroidered pillow made for a craft show

Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will;  the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel;  the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes I will rejoice.” Philippians 1:15-18

 It doesn’t matter why we come to Jesus, why we cry out to God, or what the circumstances are when we come to Him. What matters is that when we do come to Him we are forever transformed. Even if it is the smallest micro-change or thought or feeling inside us that others do not see evidence from; the fact remains that it is there. It is simply impossible to receive a touch from God and not have it impress upon us in a way that leaves a residual anointing. That anointing of the Holy Spirit will continue to work in a special way so that long after our encounter with God we will have the fingerprint of heaven in that area of our life.

When we write our testimony or reflectively think about the woven strands in our lives leading to Christ we more than likely will realize that it was not one simple encounter with God that changed our heart and transformed our lives into followers. Most believers can point to many encounters and “fingerprints” God left in their lives and on their hearts over a period of time. These fingerprints of God may have been in the form of answered desperate prayers, healing, people sent to walk by our side, experiences in nature, unexpected and undeserved love from others, or forgiveness we didn’t deserve. God’s fingerprints in our lives can’t be limited to a paragraph. God has infinite ways to touch us and gently pull our hearts towards Him.

I’m sure that everyone has heard of the “holiday holies”, the people that only attend church on Easter/Christmas/Weddings. There is a sort of stigma around such attendance and many of us if we look deeply can be honest to admit we attach a sort of judgment around that. We are truly proud of our walk with God in weekly church attendance and judge those that may not be in the same place. One of the first questions we ask fellow Christians upon meeting is, “Where do you go to church?”, and more often than not we subconsciously (hopefully!) tally up what we perceive to be the spiritual inventory of our new friend and again attach a grade report to their spiritual well-being based on their answers. We base this on denomination, age, gender, etc. How about the newly widowed person that began attending church in her time of need and never came previously to that? Do you believe her heart is genuine or do you judge her as simply having no where else to turn? How about those that are now attending but you still “see sin” in their life outside of church? Do we believe they are under the same GRACE that we are under or do we have a distorted view of God’s grace? What about family members that we have been praying for and witnessing to for many years that show up with a God-encounter and immediately we think, “yeah but there is still X and Y and Z in their life…this can’t be for real.”

There have been times when I have heard people say, “Yes, they claim to be saved but we will see how that works out.” Or, “The nerve of them to show up at church after acting like THAT!” I’m ashamed to say that once when inviting a pre-christian to church and seeing how touched they were with the presence of God thought to myself afterwards, “why do I bother if I know it won’t even last?” If you look inside of your heart and are honest with yourself you will also recognize some of these faulty thought patterns either in your past or present.

Reflecting on our own attitudes and judgements allows God to work in our heart
Reflecting on our own attitudes and judgements allows God to work in our heart

I want to challenge that mindset here. I believe that every small encounter with the Lord, no matter how small or seemingly minor, will ultimately allow God to transform a life. One stitch in a garment cannot piece it together but when you total up the number of stitches from one end to the other you see the strength of the individual stitches working together to form a whole. Our encounters with Christ are like that. Each time we hear about Him, each time we attend church, each time we cry out in desperation, or came to Him for the wrong reason (maybe to get something), is a stitch that will one day be worn as a garment of praise.

 “God’s commands are designed to guide you to life’s very best. You will not obey Him, however, if you do not believe Him and trust Him. You cannot believe Him if you do not love Him. You cannot love Him unless you know Him. If, however, you really come to know Him as He reveals Himself to you, you will love Him. If you love Him you will believe and trust Him.”  Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby and Claude King p. 22

 All of the individual moments/fingerprints/stitches of God encounters in our lives are for the purpose stated above. He does this to reveal Himself so that we get to know Him. Once we know Him we will love Him. He first loved us enough to desire our love and the very best for us.

When my husband and I were watching The Passion for Easter there was one scene that stood out to me this year. It was when Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane and he was being arrested. Peter fought for Him and in doing so Peter pulled out his sword and cut off the ear of a servant of the High Priest.

 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.” Luke 22:51

 Such a simple sentence in the Gospel, “…and healed him.” In the movie the man is completely dumbstruck and is left in the garden on his knees staring towards Jesus and holding his ear. It was such a simple and normal gesture on Jesus’ part that Luke is the only one of the gospels to mention that he was healed. Being around Jesus it is expected that He touch and heal everyone who was near Him no matter the circumstances. The man was there to arrest Jesus and it can be assumed he had the intent of seeing Jesus crucified just as the others! He did not come to Jesus in the right frame of mind and most certainly did not deserve to be standing in the presence of his savior at that moment. Yet there he was, a pawn in a war he didn’t know he was fighting for Satan, and Jesus healed him. We don’t know afterward what happened to that servant. We don’t know if he believed and was saved or if he went on to assist the mob in the kangaroo court. But we do know one thing for sure, this man was touched by Jesus and forever changed. He was an amputee and became healed, he held his ear in his hand and then it was attached again. That is one stitch towards his transforming.

fox hunting 071
One encounter with Jesus produces multitudes of seed

Paul says:

 I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.” Acts 22: 4-5

 Paul was going from town to town persecuting Christians and he himself (a Jew) did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Yet there he was on the way to imprison Christians when He was met by Jesus. He was confronted, blinded, and then given instructions of where to go for prayer to be healed. In this situation we see again that Paul did not come before Christ with the right intentions. He was fighting for what he truly believed was right and good when Jesus left a fingerprint upon his heart and very literally his eyes. He did not deserve such a blessing that was later bestowed upon him in being entrusted with taking the gospel to the ends of the earth but that is what Grace is all about!   Prior to this encounter he had heard about Jesus, been witnessed to, even stood by watching others be martyred and killed for Jesus. (Acts 22:20) I believe each of those instances were stitches along the way to Paul’s conversion. Each encounter with other believers and with the Truth was preparing Paul’s heart to encounter and be transformed radically on the road to Damascus. Today we enjoy nearly half of the New Testament because Paul encountered Jesus and put on the garment of praise!

 “This is the word of Yahweh to Zerubbabel, saying, ‘Not by strength and not by power, but only by my Spirit,’ says Yahweh of hosts. ‘Who are you O great mountain? Before[b] Zerubbabel you will become level ground, and he will bring out the top stone amid the shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”’ Zechariah 4:6-7

 The bible is full of people that encountered God again and again before fulfilling their calling. Yet every mountain was leveled because of grace! Elijah ran away after a great victory and was so depressed he wanted to die; then encountered God on the way. (1 Kings 19:1-8) Moses encountered God saving his very life in Egypt but then acted out in murder and ended fleeing only to return many years later after God spoke to him through the burning bush. (Exodus) The woman at the well had a lifetime of sin and was touched by Jesus in a way that stitched transformation and finished her garment of praise as we see her become the very first missionary even before Jesus died on the cross! (John 4) Most literally, the woman suffering hemorrhages had heard about Jesus and pushed her way through the crowds so that she could touch Jesus (knowing if she just had a touch from Him she would be healed). (Luke 8:43-48) The Holy Spirit was at work each time in the lives of these people.

Like so, the Holy Spirit is at work as we pray for those around us. Each and every encounter a person has with God, by whatever means God chooses, is an impression and fingerprint that the Holy Spirit will then continue working through long after the moment has passed. In the above example of Moses, Moses had not only left the country and married a woman of another religion, but had children with her and turned his back on everything he knew. Yet still the Holy Spirit worked through those early encounters and kept Moses’ eyes on God!

Each one of us has a story that is not yet complete. Each one of us is under the law of Grace which has replaced the law of sin and death and condemnation. (Romans 8) Each person we encounter also is living under grace. Of course he/she may not yet know it but that is the truth and we must remember it. They are living under the same grace you and I are, after all, they just haven’t activated their “get out of jail free because Jesus took your place” card yet.

So let’s check our hearts and be conscience of the “church attitudes” we may be harboring towards the “holiday holies”, the ungrateful teenager, or the family member seeking truth. Let’s link our hearts to the heart of God.

 “We, as Christians, must learn to live in the consistent nature of God. The Father will never change His heart toward you. Like the father in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), He only wants to love His children, no matter the decisions, mistakes or successes they make. When we live in that place of consistency, we get to walk with God into the unpredictable and outrageous.” Beholding and Becoming, Graham Cooke, p 8

Each stitch brings us closer to the beauty God intends in our story
Each stitch brings us and others closer to the beauty God intends

Just as God loves us, He loves everyone. All of us are His children and every single person we encounter is wearing a garment that is being stitched into one of praise for God. Will we be part of God’s fingerprint in the lives of those around us? Will we add our color and flare to the stitch God is making in those we meet? Will we allow the Holy Spirit to use us to express God’s love for mankind?

 The Caim – an ancient Celtic prayer

 CHRIST be with me

CHRIST within me

CHRIST behind me

CHRIST before me

CHRIST beside me

CHRIST to win me

CHRIST to comfort and restore me

CHRIST beneath me

CHRIST above me

CHRIST in quiet

CHRIST in danger

CHRIST in hearts of all that love me

CHRIST in mouth of friend and stranger

 This poem sums it up. The fingerprint of God is all around us all the time. It is also around those we encounter as God extends stitches of grace into their lives as well. Let’s link our hearts to God’s heart of love and recognize that every encounter with God is a good encounter. Every stitch along the way will one day be worn as a garment of praise.

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