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November 2019

Door of Destitution

FBEDB30B-8BD6-48D5-A021-70E8BD90B31BThis morning I opened the window in my office just an inch or so to better hear the rain, tapping on the shingles, dribbling down the tree, its steady percussion a soothing music seeping in my room, reminding me that I am no more than an inch from the elements.

In my personal worship time, I become a scribe. I write facts, lessons, and applications in a nonstandard size journal that my daughter bought for me in Johannesburg, South Africa—round, full letters spilling across the page. “See what large letters I write to you as I use my own hand,” said the Apostle (Gal. 6:11), and like a Braille maker I bear down to impress, to leave my mark. “This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write” (2 Thess. 3:17‬b), he says, and so, apostle, disciple, I make my mark, blue the page with tilting print that marches, soldiering across the blue line.

The rain has stopped, left a sheen on the tree bark of the maple out my window. Beads of water cling to branches. The wind lifts what leaves hang on; periodically one lets go, sashays on air currents to the mottled ground below. Gathered with others there, destitute, they await what’s next.

“We have to enter into His Kingdom through the door of destitution,” says Oswald Chambers, once again his words stretching across time and space. I imagine the disciple writing those words in a wood shack in a dusty desert camp near Cairo, Egypt during World War I, where he served as a YMCA Chaplain, men milling about in the lull before war. “The greatest blessing spiritually is the knowledge that we are destitute,” he writes. “We have to enter into His Kingdom through the door of destitution.” A dry wind rubs against the building, and fine sand has seeped through window cracks and door jambs. He brushes it away from his paper.

It’s raining again, God’s cleansing. Living things rise up out of the earth. Trees lean over, gather, conspiring for their winter work. “Give praise with psalms that tell the trees to sing,” writes poet Anne Porter, and I put my finger on the window pane, the glass cold, and wish them songs. But only a dog barks a psalm of complaint. I draw back, lay down my pen, turn the pages of the journal back—October, September, August—and feel the heat of summer sizzle from its leaves. August 22: “I need to pray God into all that I do.” August 7: “Pray about everything—never fear, but love.” And in the heat of July, the fire of resolve: “In my writing, push back against the antichrist, against the spirit of the world, saying ‘Christ has overcome, Christ rules, Jesus is coming soon.’”

Destitute. These applications written in earnest mock me. I have nothing in my hands. Even my pen will run dry, the journal pages crumble, dust to dust.

I entered the door behind him, closed the desert behind. The latch clicks, and the disciple-soldier turns in his chair and looks at me. Our eyes meet. “We have to realize that we cannot earn or win anything from God; we have to receive it as a gift or do without it,” he offers softly. I hang my head.

A song is rising from the forest floor. Destitute leaves, decaying ever so slowly, quietly obey, do their work, with promise of the day they will rise again, be made new. I look down at the last two words in my journal, just written, the ink barely dry: “Christ alone.” There’s a very faint period after the words, tentative, as if that phrase is pushing forward, awaiting more. I put down my pen, turn to go, look back.

And he smiles.