by Christy Hoagland

Some of the most godly people I know are incarcerated. That may seem like an odd statement but God’s Word confirms its truth. “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Luke 7:47 ESV

Johnny says that Jesus made him a wimp but I believe that Jesus forgave Johnny’s sin and overwhelmed him so much with His grace and mercy over that forgiveness that Johnny just cannot help but weep for those who weep and love others much. Look at King David, he was in fact a murderer and at the same time a man after God’s own heart. I met a man awhile back who became a regular at one of the institutions we visit and he amazed me with his knowledge of scripture, his gratefulness to God for saving his soul, his love for others and his boldness in sharing the Gospel of Jesus. He was forgiven much and loves much.

So what does this say of those of us who have not been to prison, not been identified with societies “BIG SINS”? Do we have the ability to love others much?

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 ESV

You’ll have to answer that question in your own heart. Ask yourself, do you love societies most hated? The incarcerated, drug dealers, homosexuals, rapists, Muslims, abortionists…? We forget that we can love people without condoning sin or we at least act like we can’t love them. We can stand up for God’s truth and Christian values and still love much.

Let’s dig a little deeper, if we believe God’s Word, we are all murderers.

“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer…” 1 John 3:15 ESV

If we are honest with ourselves then we know that our minds have thought the worst of others at times. We are all guilty. We are all sinners!

Maybe you agree with all of this but you are still having trouble with the first sentence of this post. It seems that a lot of people don’t really believe that God can change the heart of a man, at least a man in prison or who has done some heinous crime. Do we believe God has the power and the ability to change the sinner? Even the most guilty of sinners? We say yes with our mouths but in our hearts we doubt, our actions betray our yes when we look at others who we think are the worst of the worst. I think what our real struggle is we don’t believe God and His Word. He shows us how He changes people again and again. Take a look at Mark 5 and the demon-possessed man, he was so miraculously changed that people marveled at what Jesus had done for the man.

“And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.” Mark 5:15

“And they were afraid”…we are afraid of what we do not understand, of what we do not have control of or can make sense of but this is the kind of God we serve! His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts higher than our thoughts. Jesus says in this same chapter later on “Do not fear, only believe”! Believe that God has the power and want to to change lives, every life that will call on Him. Let us examine our hearts, believe God and love much.

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 9

“We search vainly from others for the acclaim that only God can give.” – Sara H.

Finding our value in Him instead of other people, listening for His voice, His leading instead of our own or others or the enemy! Let’s tune out the noise but while we are tuning it out let us invite Him into the stillness.

Let’s face it, we want to be noticed by other people more than by our Creator. We want to be lifted up, made much of, and thought well of by the world…our flesh sure does and when we try and listen for God’s voice it gets pushed out by everything and everyone else. But why wouldn’t it, we fill our days, hours, minutes with constant noise; social media, television, music, and our incredulous thoughts. And then we wonder why we aren’t hearing from God. I’m sure if my time spent on other invaluable things was put up against how much time I spent soaking in the Word and thinking about, praying to and listening to my Savior I would not be surprised at how the noise invades so much space, so much of my mind!

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood.” Ephesians 6:12

And the enemy wants to have our thoughts directed toward anything and anyone else than Jesus. Put on that armor and continually call out to Him to renew you, revive you, and cleanse you. I love how Sara prays the Psalms, what a truth, comfort, and renewal can come from them. That’s where many of my song lyrics have come from. “The Psalms are to be prayed, recited, and sung…to be done, not merely to be read. We are not simply to read the Psalms; we are to be immersed in them so that they profoundly shape how we relate to God… [They] are the divinely ordained way to learn devotion to our God.” – Tim Keller “The Psalms demonstrates that we can bring to God all of ourselves – with all of our emotions – and trust that He has the power to change us.” (Pg 169)

“My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” Psalm 119:25

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Psalm 51:7

Truth time – I am really trying to give this good portion to the Lord…my time, my mind, but it has been difficult. I find myself over and over thinking about that dreaded to-do list! BUT, at least now I am realizing that I’m thinking about it and trying to intentionally shift my mind to Jesus and not get caught up in what I didn’t get done and simply love the time I have spent with Him.

“Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!” Psalm 30:10

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 8

“All of us have the privilege of being called to be His servants. Jesus said that He Himself didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give [which we should hold] in the back of our hearts all the time. We haven’t been called to some big outward thing, to be written about or publicized; we’re called to serve Him. We serve Him because we love Him. Whatever we’re doing we’re doing for Jesus and doing for Him to be uplifted.” Helen Roseveare

Confession time…on my path of surrender, of anything God wants I thought I had to DO big things for Him to be fully surrendered. But I have learned that being hidden in Him, my time with Him, is what leads me to big or small or whatever kind of thing He wants to use me for. And as I was being obedient to His calling on my life I was forgetting to seek Him in the ordinary. I was putting all my efforts into big things that I failed to be on my face for every thing my heart ached for… I think this study is just for me but in leading it and doing it along with you it has allowed my eyes to be opened to these new truths. That God wants to be my friend, He wants an open, honest relationship with me, to know me on a deeper level and make Himself known to me more. And this happens when I spend time with Him, not just “time”….but devoted time with Him (not that check list time). “No longer do I call you servants,” Jesus said to his followers, “for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15 “When I let friendship with God become my first priority – talking to Him, hearing from Him, letting His Word shape my thinking – I align myself with an agenda that does, in fact, help meet the needs of others. I move from being an efficient and productive worker to a friend who can touch and see and engage with God. I grow to love the things and the people He loves – with my actions, with my time, and with my presence.” (Pg 135-136)

I want unity with the Father. Jesus took time to be with His Father, what an example He is of how important this is! Take time to be with God, pray, read the Word, and speak His Word allowed to yourself. I have scripture posted around the house, the more I read them…the more I believe them and the more alive the truths become to me.

“He rescued me, because He delighted in me” Psalm 18:19

You are not forgotten, You are seen by Him and He delights in you. Serving our King, our Savior, begins with time alone with Him.

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 7

Wasting ourselves on God…

“God’s currency is communion – a relationship that grows, nearer still. A depth of relationship that feeds the recipient in the way that productivity and accomplishment just cannot. What a waste. What a beautiful waste.” – (Pg 125)

Sara in the airport, people watching and praying for strangers, wanting to encounter God and then heeding His voice and nudge when she heard it and felt it. This is how we need to live life – in an uncomfortable, heart pounding, “this person is gonna think I’m crazy” kind of way. Always ready to share Jesus in some kind of way. In 2012 I went on mission to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, it was quite the experience and I returned several more times to love on people there. But during this first trip my eyes were opened to the lostness of the world, I met people from around the globe who didn’t know Jesus, who didn’t have a relationship with Him. And the greatest gift I came home with was seeing lostness everywhere I turned, when I walked into the grocery store, put gas in my car, etc, etc. Looking at strangers as if they were on their way to hell changes your day to day. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to give someone hope, the Gospel. Some may know Him but need loved, a word of encouragement, a hand of friendship. We need to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading, I have chastised myself when I have passed someone by and knew I should have said something because I know and have seen what God does when we obey. Sometimes it is something so simple, last year I saw a woman holding a cardboard sign and gas can by Wal-Mart in my hometown, she was overweight, a mess, and created in the image of God. I rolled down my window, gave her maybe $5 and told her Jesus loved her, she was beautiful. She said “thank you, I needed to hear that”. A few months ago I saw a family at a carwash with a minivan, the father had a sign that said something about needing gas/money to get home to California. I stopped and gave them $11, it was all I had in my wallet except for that secret place that you stash money for a special occasion 😉 I drove away and knew I needed to go back and give them that $100. I turned around and got out of my car to give them the money, I grabbed a couple CDs as well and as I handed them the goods explained why I needed to give them more. They began to cry, I asked them if they knew Jesus, they said yes. I prayed with them and hugged them and went on my way. This isn’t about giving money, I don’t always have any to give but I can share the hope I have in Christ and that is the greatest gift I can give. This is a result of Jesus’ work in my life and I gain this confidence because of hiddenness in Him. Wasting my time with Him grows me into the woman He wants me to be, a woman He can use when someone needs to hear from Him.

I heard a great sermon last weekend and the speaker talked about private prayer leaving no room for pride…we can’t show it off. Seeking the Lord is the most important thing we can “do”. Let’s love Him first and most!

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:5

Let’s embrace this time with Him.

“Lord, I have loved the habitation of Your house, and the place where Your glory dwells.” Psalm 26:8

“The waste of extravagant love we pour at Jesus’ feet is never squandered. That love expands us, it doesn’t diminish us. We weren’t made to ration our love. We were made for extravagance.” (Pg 131)

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 6

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness'” Genesis 1:26

We are image bearers of God, pretty cool, huh? Yet time and time again I have to be reminded of that very thing. In my pursuit to be seen I try to look like everyone else, to fit in or make myself seem more important than I am. But the greatest truth is that what makes me important is being an image bearer of my Creator.

“If you want true beauty, look into the face of Jesus”, writes preacher Charles Spurgeon. Beauty is in the lines of His face, the humanity He wore for you and for me. But we tend to be a people of quick glances – even with God. Life at warp speed allows for little beholding. (Pg 106)

One of my favorite parts of chapter 6 is Sara’s “wonder hour”, I want to implement this into my days and of course that means not worrying about the productiveness of my to-do list and letting everything go. Why do we tell ourselves we can’t do this? Why do I tell myself I can’t do this? That it is not acceptable? If I turn my heart toward eternity, then most of my days should be looking in awe and wonder at the Savior, spending time with Him. “Internal stillness takes practice. It is the fruit of hiddenness – a life that’s lived looking at God, a life of wonder in Him – and it needs to be cultivated.” (Pg 111)

He wants my affections and attention not my doings, achievements, checked boxes. Lord, help me to have my eyes only on you while the world goes on without me.

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 5

“I was falling in love with God through pain, caring less and less what others thought of me” – Sara H. (pg 83)

I have battled through what other people thought of me, that people pleasing battle and self-image, that pride kept me from surrendering to Jesus for a long time. Boy am I selfish, my selfishness has tried to manipulate situations and people, my selfishness has put myself before my Savior. Lord, forgive me. I am thankful for His grace.

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. John 1:16

This chapter is all about being or becoming uncovered, embracing vulnerability. Talking of Mary (pg 85) “Hers was extravagant devotion. Adoration with God alone in mind. She chose to be vulnerable before the one who already knew her deepest longings. And Jesus called her vulnerability beautiful.”  This is tough, we don’t want to admit that we are hurting, that we are in need, that we sin. But it is in vulnerability that we grow closer to Jesus. I don’t want to be invulnerable, I want God to work in my life and I realize that when I don’t get real with Him that I get stuck. Our admission of sin and need for Him changes us, it opens our hearts up to His healing and mending, His strengthening and power.

Vulnerability requires both carefulness and prayer. Most of us have spent our lives avoiding the very thing that activates greater intimacy with God – this vulnerability before Him. Matthew 18:3 is a wise starting place for prayer. In it, Jesus says: “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Pray it out like this: Lord, help. Help me to be like a little child before You … and all over again. Bring me back to the beginning, with You. Where I am open and openly hungry to receive You. Invite God into your most inward places.

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Psalm 51:6

“Stop hiding from God. Come out, vulnerable and raw before Him with new strength. His strength. Sit at His feet and allow the warmth of His tender eyes to bore through you, to see what’s most vulnerable in you, and to respond to it.” (pg 98)

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 4

Our call to greatness, not all the BIG things we do (Mary’s good thing…that will be remembered…) loving Jesus, being with Him, paying attention to Him, putting Him first!

“My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret” Psalm 139:16

God has created each of us for greatness. Not the greatness of a stage or a title or a degree, though He may use those things in our lives. He may even let the applause of others encourage and help us grow. But the sweetest greatness starts with being rooted, being made and nurtured in secret, being seen by God alone. – Pg 67

Here are some key sentences, phrases that stood out to me in Chapter 4:

*I could also be great at two o’clock in the morning holding a sick baby or in stepping away from a leadership position at church so someone else could take the limelight

*that greatness comes in quietly serving a friend who would never thank me, leaving my task list unfinished to read to a child, that dormant seasons would not be unsuccessful seasons

*We become great when we genuinely, happily serve in unacknowledged ways and places because that is where we find the sustaining face of God, especially when no one else sees us or applauds us.

It’s in these times that our roots grow deep, partly because we are not striving for attention or recognition. “It is the work that happens beneath the surface, deep in the soil of our hearts, that in time produces a great harvest of fruit and growth.” Pg 71 It can be hard, just this week as I was reminded that God sees me, He sees my situations, and He has a plan to grow me and deepen my roots.

“As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” Matthew 13:23

When the world comes crashing down on us we need roots! Roots deeply planted in Him and in His Word because it is there that He reveals Himself more to us, it is there that He shows us who we are in Him, it is there He shows us that in this weakness that we despise His strength is made perfect. Embrace it, this weakness, it’s where we become more like Him.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 3

“God was winterizing me. His intention wasn’t to leave me fruitless – God loves fruit. He hid me so that I would find Him in the hiddenness. So I would come back to my roots, so I would see His eyes on me in the hiding.” – Unseen pg. 55

Isn’t it amazing how God uses some of the most difficult things, moments, circumstances in our lives to draw us closer to Him? I can even look back and see how He prepared me for an upcoming hardship and led me through it with such care. It’s in these moments that we grow the most, that He reminds us again of who He is and who we are in Him. “God hides me to show me His kind eyes toward me – gentler than the taskmaster I am toward myself (we are hardest on ourselves). And He hides me to tell me my story – to remind me of Himself, the author. It is the greatest story my skin will ever know – God, in me, radiating through me, making glory for Him on the earth. – Unseen, pg 56

Mary was so in love with Jesus, she understood that He loved her and saw her like no one else did or would. He sees us, friends, in all of our mess and weakness and He desires to help us know Him and His precious love for us. He wants to deepen our roots in Him so we will rely on Him when the hard things come.

As I was studying the For Your Own Pursuit scriptures I found great comfort in John 11, it’s the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Two things I want to draw attention to, even though there are many things to glean here. Verse 4, “But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Everything points to the glory of God, all things, everything we go through, for His Glory! I think if we would keep that the forefront of our minds our perspective would change. God has a greater plan than we can ever imagine or comprehend. Next, Martha, verse 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” We are all striving to be a Mary, to love Jesus so extravagantly but face it…most, some, ok…me, I am usually a Martha in the context of working and doing but this verse tells me that He loves me so much even in spite of my doings. Now Jesus loved Martha, He loved her just as much as He did Mary and Lazarus. His love for us doesn’t change because of what we do, we cannot earn His love, we cannot work hard enough to gain His attention. What grace! One more thing about this passage and Martha, Martha’s faith – verse 22 “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” She had faith that Jesus was who He said He was even if she didn’t understand what all that would mean (raising her brother from the dead!)

At the end of the day, I long to be like a Mary, loving Jesus so beautifully, wastefully. But really, I just want to love Him like Christy…a Christy that would lay her life at His feet, would have strong faith in who He is, who would waste herself and everything she is just to be known, loved and hidden in Him. He has given each of us a story, and just as Mary’s story would be told through the ages because she so deeply loved Him, I desire my life would reflect who He is and that people would know I loved Jesus more than anything. But most of all that I would love and know Him more. “He hides me to tell me my story – to remind me of Himself, the Author.” – Sara H.

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 2

“Could it be that God has made me with a desire to be seen and to be celebrated, but my desires are merely displaced?” – Sara H.

It’s a weird thing…I’ll share my own experiences here…I have had the desire to be made much of, celebrated, acknowledged and then when it happens I feel awkward, somewhat embarrassed, but at the same time been disappointed when I went unnoticed. Huh? How does that even make sense? There has been a significant shift in my life in not caring about being seen and I am hoping this continues in even more powerful ways. When people look at me, hear my name, anything at all…I long for them to think of Christ, for Jesus to be high and lifted up and it to be nothing of me.

Seen and celebrated, known by the King of kings, to bring Him glory! We were made for Him. “We forget the beauty of the Creator-eyes turned toward us, the ones that saw the inception of our lives and loved what He saw. We’re still hungry for the thing for which we were made: to be seen, to be known, to be celebrated, to participate in something much larger than ourselves. But too often we settle for lesser things.” – Sara H. (Page 42) We settle for lesser things….the like on facebook, followers on instagram, twitter, Snapchat…the list goes on and on. We are longing to be noticed by someone and in our longing we rely on the accolades of others when we really just need to be reminded who notices and loves us the most – Jesus.

Mary and Martha…oh boy, I am such a Martha; working, striving, trying to outdo, blah blah blah, distracted and busy when I really just need to sit at Jesus’ feet.

But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:40-42

The good portion, the good part… “Mary was so confident in God’s love for her that she sat at His feet and listened. She wasted herself on Him. So often in our scurry to serve, we forget our starting place, the one thing that is needed.” – Sara H. (Page 48-49) Makes me think of Revelation 2:4 where it talks of abandoning the love they had at first.  My first love is Jesus, the good portion, the best part of my life! Help me, Lord, to abandon my desire to be seen by the world and long to be noticed by You alone. Help me with the feelings I have when I remain unnoticed and remind me that I am noticed and loved by You.

That Beautiful Waste

God has this wonderful way of revealing to me what I need before I even know I need it. For instance, this study…this very topic of being hidden, He has been working on my heart for a while about taking a step away from some things, meaning I would be hidden by the world’s standards and spending more time with Him…always more time with Him. And this book! I knew I wanted to do another online study because it makes me grow but I hadn’t considered this one…after I read the first chapter, many months ago, I stopped and had so many things I wanted to write down for myself and then my book laid there without me picking it up until recently. And then I knew, here’s where God wanted to do a work in my heart…more of Him, less of me…hidden in Him, unseen by anyone else.

Let me bare my soul here…I am a people pleaser, it is difficult for me to overcome. Page 19 in Chapter 1, Sara says “I’d been driven by a passion to see lives change, but I also craved the validation I received when my life made a notable impact on someone else’s”. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the ministry I have been called to and know this is where God wants me but it’s the add on things to be noticed, admired, etc that are my sin and need to be removed. The motives behind why I say yes to certain things needs to be laid at the foot of the cross and not picked back up. Page 28, “To hide in Him rather than perform for Him, to shift my attention from branches to roots, from my visible work for God to my unseen life in God”. I am and have been thirsty for more of God, my roots need nourished by Him and I can’t expect that to happen if I’m constantly working to please God instead of BE with Him.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1

One of these revelations of hiddenness came to me at Nehemiah Fest last September. On stage singing, in my heart knowing that I am not a performer, I am a worshiper and I need to remove some of this (performing) out of my life. And as I tend to chastise myself over my missteps, God has given me a great gift in reminding me that His grace is for me too. Thank You, Lord! Page 33 “God doesn’t banish us to this hidden place. He invites us. And finding God in the secret can teach a heart to sing.”

I love the story of Mary of Bethany, pouring the oil on Jesus’ head. A beautiful waste. She didn’t care what people thought, the snide remarks, the rebukes…she recklessly showed her love for her Savior. As we continue this study, let’s continually ask ourselves the question on Page 35: When no one else applauds you, when life is hard and makes no sense or simply feels like drudgery in the still quiet, will you hide yourself in Me? Will you waste your love on Me, here?

*Italics – Unseen by Sara Hagerty