The cost of trusting God

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Charles Spurgeon: “(do) You want to see….how (affliction) can bring good to the soul; you must believe it.  Honor God by trusting him.” (as tweeted by Randy Alcorn, 20 Mar 2017)

So many friends waiting, waiting, waiting.

There’s D, whose husband got let go from his job at age 61.  It’s been 3 months and he’s gone through two REALLY promising and lengthy job interviews.  Only to hear back in emails, ‘Thank you for your interest, but we’ve decided to go with someone else.”

In addition to my friend D, several other friends pray for, search and await jobs.

And then there is J who holds on for a solution to a leak in her roof.  It’s not like she and her husband have oodles of money in savings, available to try first one remedy or another. That’s part of the problem.  The house has turned into a money pit, drawing from their retirement funds. They believe they should sell it to protect their savings.  But they can’t list the house until the leak is repaired.  Biding their time, they communicate, encourage and remind contractors, hopeful that each successive remedy will be THE one.

My other friend has endured countless medical procedures and tests and been the subject of panels of medical boards convening to seek the best way forward for an aggressive cancer.  Chosen routes have revealed dead ends.  Patience, while suffering, is her familiar journey partner.

Trying, painful situations hit believers and non-believers alike. We could despair, were it not for knowing the Truth.  For as Jesus teaches, “…you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:32  

What is that truth that blocks our natural response to fall into a gloomy permanent pit? That God loves us and that the suffering has a good purpose!  That He has planned each trial to conform us to our older brother, Jesus.  To avail ourselves of that truth, God has given us FAITH to believe the manifold and rich promises that are the rightful property or resource of all who ‘love God and are called by Him, according to His purposeful plan.’ (Romans 8:28)

Just as we have been given physical muscles to exercise in daily life, so too have Christians been given the spiritual muscle of faith.  But the gift of believing God comes with a concomitant responsibility.  We have to use faith, to move out, do what is good in the moment, depending on the invisible but real promises that God will come through just as His word says. We have to exercise or actively depend on God’s written pledge to provide, protect, guide, comfort us.

How do we do that?  By deciding to ‘believe (sight unseen) every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ (Matt 4:4).  And that FEELS costly and painful at times.

Who doesn’t suffer the pains of temptation to despair over circumstances that seem to be perpetual?  Yet God commands us to not look at the way things appear, but to see through the circumstances to the God who promises good to those who believe Him and cling to the truth of His promises.

The other night as we were discussing the day’s Bible readings, Mike and I pondered the the connection between trusting…..believing…..expecting…..waiting ….hoping…exercising patience……  All these actions sparkle as many sides of the one diamond called FAITH in God.  But what do those actions LOOK like?  How do you DO expecting, waiting, hoping….?

An insight has recently enriched my mind, an answer to a dilemma. I’ve often struggled to grasp how to live out Jesus’ command, in a self-deflecting, God-glorifying way: “…. let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  Matt 5:16    I’ve gotten hung up on the concept, ‘your light’.  How can I have any light in myself?  The answer: this ‘light’ is the gift God has given me to BELIEVE Him.  My responsibility is to show the world in a visible way (light) how much I treasure this invisible but precious reality of relying on and belonging to Jesus. God calls that way ‘patience’ or ‘trust in God’.

Given that He commands me to make visible this divine, inner light, I pray daily to WANT to do just that (and follow through) a – to live in such a way that the world (my colleagues, family and friends) sees my Godward trust, hope-filled expectations, and patient waiting and be STUNNED and chalk it up to God!  (that Maria is so patient during suffering.  She must REALLY love her God and be satisfied by Him!!!)

Patience is a virtue recognized in the western world.  Yet most joke about it and cavalierly let themselves off the hook by admitting they have little.

When I feel strong, I affirm this fact:  God is kind to give me multiple occasions to practice and improve this muscle of contented waiting on Him.  Yet, I seem often to succumb to despair, sometimes multiple times in a week.

But what other choice do you and I have? We can either face the sufferings in life kicking and screaming, or we can submit to the wise and loving hand of the potter who keeps us on His wheel and won’t stop until we are beautifully fashioned into the family likeness.

Potters' Hands

This last truth stunned me this morning when I heard it again: Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. Isaiah 64:4

Don’t scorn patience

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“Don’t pray for patience, or God will give you many exasperating circumstances!”

Doubtless you have heard versions of that adage.  As true as it is, the one who utters it seems to do so with a tone of frustration and resignation as though having to wait were a curse.

A quote by William Gurnall, 17th century English pastor, recently arrested my attention and transformed my view of the fruit of patience.

Here’s the context for Gurnall’s teaching on the value of patience: What are we to think when God is silent after we pray earnestly an ‘acceptable’ prayer?

(Gurnall qualifies prayers as acceptable those tied to one of God’s promises and those that are offered from a ‘clean’ heart, that is a heart that has repented of known sin among other qualities.)

This pastor labored to persuade readers (or listeners to his sermons) to appreciate God’s delay in answering our prayers.

“Be patient, and thou shalt find, the longer a mercy goes before its delivery, the more perfect it will come forth at last…(then giving an example from Abraham’s long wait for a son)….when the date of God’s bond was near expiring, and the time of the promise drew night, then God paid interest for his stay. None gain more at the throne of grace than those who trade for tie, and can forbear the payment of a mercy longest.”

180 turn

Reading that quote the other day flipped my heart 180 degrees. All of a sudden I saw this onerous, groan-worthy quality trait as a priceless treasure God desires and wills to give us. But not as in, cut open my heart and pour in high-octane patience. Were it that easy!

No, instead, He sets out to offer me many, many occasions to wait on Him.  Whether:

  • at the grocery store or
  • for someone laboriously telling a story to get to their point or
  • the arrival of a job offer after multiple interviews or
  • for rain or
  • for a diet to work or
  • for a publisher finally to say YES!

Considering the payoff for this kind of inner strength, I now see the KINDNESS of God in giving us multiple opportunities to practice the skill of waiting on Him.  For what else are delays but God’s sovereign schedule of life’s events?  And what else is Biblical faith, but a treasuring of all that God is for us and all He promises to be in the future? Doesn’t that kind of faith require PATIENCE since we don’t physically SEE what is promised?

Does this kind of waiting on something in the future seem vague and like a discipline involving self-denial?  Then maybe shifting the focus to the reward will help.  Here are just a few of the many payoffs?   Consider some staggering promises of reward:

  • face-to-face seeing God (Rev 22:4)
  • renewed strength (Is 40:31)
  • compassion from God (Is 30:18)
  • food and satisfaction for all our desires(Ps 145:15-16)
  • all the gifts from God due us (1 Cor 1:7)
  • adoption by God the Father (Rom 8:23)
  • help and protection (Ps 33:20)
  • salvation from many dangers (Gen 49:18)
  • grace that is promised when Jesus comes back (1 Peter 1:13)

And if reflecting on some of these pledges of future blessing were not enough to help one see the payoff for patience, God brought to mind James’ motto for the ‘Saints Club’. Consider it PURE JOY my brothers when you face trials of various kinds….(James 1: 2-4).  Why?  because, as this apostle explains, trials grow patient, cheerful endurance in us.  The Greek term for that character quality is hypomone. Literally it means to STAY UNDER.

I take that counsel to instruct me NOT to fight the trying circumstance but to practice patient waiting, praying for God to resolve it or for it to resolve itself or for my God-dependent efforts to have their effect.  Whatever the outward action, the inner state of a follower of Christ is calm, patient, cheerful trust in God who ordained this particular trial and circumstance.

What is ‘driving you nuts’ that God is allowing or bringing back time and time again in different forms to GIFT you with patience? 

Are you discouraged by the times?

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Many Christians grow more alarmed, daily. Violence at home and abroad, coupled with upside-down moral values in government and society, create fear and anxiety. I am not immune. But God’s Word gives me hope. We are most definitely NOT the first body of believers to have been marginalized or persecuted.  Nevertheless, I think some of us ‘moderns’ FEEL caught by surprise by the times.

For months, I have tried to imagine the conversations among the faithful German remnant of believing Christians who must have prayed unceasingly during the Hitler years. How did they fight the darkness of monstrous and barbaric Nazi rule? What were their heart to hearts with God like?

  • “God – what is up with this on-going nightmare? How long, O Lord, must we endure this evil Führer and his henchmen? Why are you allowing Hitler to live? Why have you not permitted the assassination attempts to succeed?  Can’t you see that we’d be better off without him?  Do you realize what has happened to your church here in Germany?”

And what is God’s word throughout every generation, to peoples swept up in the plots of vile men?

  • Psalm 37:1 Fret not because of those who are evil…
  • Psalm 49: 5 – Why should I fear when evil comes, when enemies surround me? And verse 15 – But as for me, God will redeem my life. He will snatch me from the power of the grave.

Clearly, for German Christians to keep happy in God, they had to preach truth to themselves. Truth about what God promised to do and be for His children.

But theirs was not the only horrific era. Jewish believers during the rule of King Manasseh (he lived from 709 to 642 BC) had 55 years to hang on to God’s promises by faith. This descendent of David was the most evil and long-lasting King of Judah. How did those faithful, God-following men, women and children cope? What did they talk about when news from the royal court included reports of the King sacrificing his own sons to false gods? And when prophets like Isaiah emboldened by God to preach Truth were murdered, how must they have feared and cried out to God!

I am learning to think biblically and that keeps the despair away. Nowhere in the Bible does God guarantee his children physical safety or a type of heaven on earth. ‘Au contraire!’ – what he does promise is that those who put their whole trust in him will have their souls saved. Maybe our bodies will be sawn in half or burned in a fiery furnace like what was intended for Meschach, Shadrach and Abednego. But for eternity, we will be with God in physically resurrected bodies. Jesus said so. And he came back and showed his followers proof – himself.

Even Job knew this and declared as reported in Job 13:15 – Even though he kills me, I’ll continue to hope in him. At least I’ll be able to argue my case to his face!

So, physical deliverance is not something I can count on, but that does not mean I should not petition God, asking him to be a refuge, to bring me out to an open space, to rescue me. Furthermore, I together with all of you, my brothers and sisters in the Lord, need to PRAY for our church to grow more holy.

I used to think that if the Church were purified, then we as a body might have a salvific effect on society.  But I’m beginning to see otherwise.

Pastor John Piper mentioned in a sermon, posted on his website that, “we must be very careful not to assume that the degeneration of culture at the end of the age is owing to the failure of the church to be holy. There is no promise in the Bible that the holiness of the church will guarantee the transformation of culture.

That startled me!

So why be holy?  Why work to purify the church?  I think it’s so that we, the faithful, may see Christ more clearly.

That’s it?

Seeing Christ more clearly sounds so….lame!

Not so.  We are not to despise the little things.  Seeing Jesus as he is, now that is the very source of our happiness and our strength.

If we don’t keep our eyes on God, His promises, His past actions and the unchanging character of the Holy and Happy Triune God, we will look at circumstances, society, ourselves and be depressed.  And impotent.

May we follow the example and join the ranks of our believing Fathers and Mothers, hanging on to God by faith and with tenacity, good cheer and solid hope through however many dark days He has ordained is best.

Whose time is it?

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Rushing Clock

 

 

 

Tomorrow is Monday, the start of a new work/school week for young and old. The alarm will buzz, vibrate, rattle or serenade us into the awaiting day where the mantra is RUSH, RUSH, RUSH!  And for many, the Sunday dread of the pending week has already begun to dampen spirits.

Does it have to be this way?  What causes all advance weariness?

For me, the idea of hurling myself into the day with the goal of squeezing out more TIME than numerically possible has gotten old. I’ve been pondering my assumptions and questioning if they are even true.  For starters:

  • is it true that TIME is immutable, that is to say, ‘fixed and unchangeable’?  Do we really have only so many minutes and hours to do ALL that we want to/have to do?
  • is there something called MY TIME.  If this is so, where do we get this TIME? Does it come to us by virtue of being born?
  • is it up to us to decide what we have to do or want to do?
  • and just what exactly IS TIME after all?

Here are some liberating facts to guide and perhaps change our ideas and eventually our Modus Operandi:

God is the source of all that is.  He created TIME out of nothing. But of course He existed BEFORE He made the construct called TIME.  The fact that God formed TIME doesn’t minimize its usefulness for God or for His creation.  But if He created it, He can tweak it, change it, stretch it, and abolish it when His purposes for TIME have been completed.  How do I know this is so?  Consider some of these events:

  • When the disciples were rowing across the Sea of Galilee in a storm, Jesus came walking across the water toward them.  Here are a couple of lines in John’s gospel:  Chapter 6:20-21 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”  Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
  • Then there is Joshua in the Old Testament. The successor to Moses, he prayed to God for His supernatural intervention, as recorded in Joshua 10:13  So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.

If God has created everything/all things, then that ‘ALL’ includes both the material and the immaterial.  TIME certainly fits in the category of immaterial.  We can’t see it, but we measure it by material things that God has created, like the sun and the moon and Earth’s relative position to the stars.

I’m beginning to see my presumption and small-mindedness in believing that the God who creates TIME is constrained by how I, a creature, count TIME.

After all, is it too hard for God to manipulate TIME so that it is sufficient for me to accomplish HIS agenda for me this day?  Come on!  We’re talking about the God:

  • Who keeps the Hebrews’ sandals from wearing out during their 40-year journey to Canaan
  • Who multiplies rolls and dried fish to feed a mighty crowd of hungry folks
  • Who springs Peter from jail on one occasion and Paul and Silas on another (employing two different means)
  • Who brings dead people back to life
  • Who provides a coin in the mouth of a fish for the disciples to pay their taxes

If all this is so, maybe you and I can STOP rushing around.  Maybe slowing down to smell the flowers and marvel at God’s creation can become our norm.  Just maybe welcoming ‘interruptions’ as opportunities to demonstrate our trust in God’s sovereign control over TIME can become our new MODUS OPERANDI for 2015.

May God’s truth, as David penned it in Psalm 31: 14-15, have the last word:

But I trust in you, O Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”
 My times are in your hand;
    rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!

God holding clock

 

 

 

PS:  Who might be our actual ‘enemies and persecutors’?

What’s the rush? You’re not going to miss your ultimate appointment!

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“There are two days in my calendar: This day and that Day.” – Martin Luther

Martin Luther

 

 

 

 

 

I like Martin Luther’s earthiness for he was not afraid to enjoy life boldly and speak the truth with fresh vigor.

But what arrested me recently was his peculiar time-management system, at least as far as I can surmise from how he kept his calendar!

What about you and me?  For all the tech devices we employ, meant to make life easier, we seem to be burdened and tied down to what was designed to free us.

I’ve pondered schedules and the existence of RUSHING as a lifestyle this summer.  With 6 of my 9 weeks off as a teacher now a pleasant memory, I’ve been thinking a lot about TIME as I have crossed off summer chores and tackled ‘meaty’ books.  Can you believe that a couple of days I even ‘stressed’ at all I had to/wanted to do?

But is that the way a Christian who trusts God is supposed to live his life?  Does the Bible counsel rushing? By no means!  God WANTS us to develop patience, that is the qualities of endurance and steadfastness (Greek 5281 – hypomone). To prove my point, I’ve pulled out a few snippets of God’s will for us:

  • ..run with patience/endurance -Hebr 12:1  (‘feels’ like a contradiction, but not according to God)
  • …Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him – Gen 5:24 (God’s schedule, not ours) 
  • ….those who wait upon the Lord will ….run – Is 40:31 (have to keep our eyes on Him to catch His signal that NOW is the time to run using His holy petrol) 
  • …But if we hope for what we do not see, with patience/ perseverance we wait eagerly for it – Rom 8:25
  • Now may the God who gives patience/ perseverance and encouragement …. Rom 15:5 (a gift) 
  • And let patience/endurance have its perfect result so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing – James 1:4  (patience aka learning to wait is God’s goal and desire for us!) 
  • For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Eph 2:10 (If God has these divine appointments and purposes planned, let us not fret about our time which is ALSO purposed and planned)

But how are we to gain this patience? Do you know ANYONE who is naturally patient? I don’t!

Here’s the truth: Patience is a gift from God.  But He doesn’t just imbue us with this attribute; He cultivates it IN us by means of the trials, struggles and problems He walks us through.  Do you get that? Suffering has a purpose when we consecrate it to God, when we trust our good Father in the midst of our hardships.  And knowing that there are reasons, even if we can’t see them, is far better than thinking that this painful stuff is just randomly occurring to us!  Chalking problems up to bad luck or fate produces NO endurance or patience – for what’s the point of bearing up well, if there’s NO POINT at all!

*

So what about those days when we don’t get done what we had planned?  The good news is – it doesn’t matter! God IS sovereign over our time because it’s not OUR time, but His!  He can chop it short or stretch it out.  And if the only day that really counts is when we meet Him face to face, then why stress?

Here’s a fact, both for the pagan unbeliever who is hostile to God AND for the child of the King who loves God. There IS a day appointed and fixed for each of us.  That is Martin Luther’s red-letter day.  You can be sure that you won’t miss that rendez-vous when each of us will meet Jesus face to face.  You can’t rush that meeting nor delay it.

Jesus holding girl

Waiting as worship

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Last week I took up the topic of decision-making…

and claimed that there were 2 categories. The first kind I developed had to do with reliance on a subjective FEELING to guide a choice.  I shared how our son stressed over 2 ‘good’ choices: stay at the current college or transfer.  He couldn’t decide off the bat, so as a new Christian, he tossed the decision into God’s lap and asked Him to give him a sign.  This divine nod would be a sense of knowing or perhaps peace about one path over the other. The second category of decisions involved one in which I had made up my mind to LEAVE my current school.  What I was asking God for concerned timing, when I would  budge.

I’ve been reflecting about our most current set of decisions that faced my husband and me.  As I have written about before, we decisively chose to leave Virginia, after raising our boys and burying my dad. We actually had TRIED to move multiple times once my care-dependent father died in 2006.  Mike was gazing at 6 1/2 more years of civil service in a joy-less, energy-sapping environment.  And God kept shutting those doors, by NOT granting Mike a civil service job elsewhere.

(The ‘un-success’ of 3-5 job applications over a period of several years is actually encouraging. It tells me that God intervenes when our prayerful attempts to move in a direction are NOT His plan)

But when we chose to move to Western North Carolina, the doors did swing open.  We took our time, studied the situation, prayed continually, fixed up our house, did a job search for a French-teaching job for me and looked for a mountain cabin we could afford.  In addition, Mike prepared and launched a consulting business that would combine his skill set, his experience, and his contacts over the previous 38 years since he matriculated into West Point.

The decisions were made – the waiting began.

Here’s is what I’m learning:

All of life is waiting.  As obedient children, we ask God for something (He commands us to pray for what we need!)…we wait…the waiting comes to an end, one way or another.  We move on to the next need(s).

But there is a godly way to wait and a sinful wait to wait.  We can be SO focused on what we are waiting for, that IT becomes more important to us than God!  Not only does that profoundly insult God and reduce Him to a blessing machine, it robs US of fellowship with Him and much joy.

A beloved friend wrote this about waiting:

Who would’ve thought that “waiting” is part of God’s plan and is for our excitement and pleasure!

Hundreds of books have probably been written on prayer and waiting, but I’ll leave you with one thought as I close this piece, (and by the way, God DID sell our house, procure me a job and lead us to a perfect cabin up in the hills- we’re still waiting for Mike’s clients as he faithfully does all he can!).

Waiting has to do with patience.  And the New Testament often uses the term, ENDURANCE, to mean patience. Strong’s Greek #5281 (hypomone) can be translated AS : “a patient, steadfast waiting for”.  Now with that in mind, read this verse from Luke 21:19: By your patience, you will gain your souls.

God wants us to develop that permanent part of us, our soul,  that moves into eternity.  Doesn’t that put a different spin on our decisions, our prayers, our waiting?  All of life is waiting because all of a Christian’s life is soul-development.  But waiting doesn’t have to preclude enjoying God’s presence each moment on Earth.  Why not seek Joy in God daily? Isn’t that what awaits us in heaven – closer and more multi-dimensional fellowship with God, joy IN His presence?

I believe that ALL our prayer requests, whether they have to do with trials or desires, are meant to grow our patient trust in Him.  And that quiet confidence grows our souls.  So whether I’m waiting for this or that, I pray that the Holy Spirit will remind me that I can worship God NOW, in the moment, in the midst of waiting.  I don’t want to miss a single gift.  I want my life to SHOW that HE is what I value most, NOT the thing I’m waiting for.

Stressed out and exhausted?

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What if I could offer you a guaranteed cure for stress and anxiety;

a sure-fire way to enjoy harmonious, happy relationships with family members; a formula for a satisfying marriage; a method for navigating the frustrations of modern life; a technique for stretching your time each day, would you be interested?

And how much would you be willing to pay for any of those ‘tools’?

We have just moved to the Asheville, NC area.  Often called the Seattle of the East, Asheville is a magnet not only for hippies, liberals,

artists and foodies but also for the spiritual seekers.

People pay beaucoup bucks attending Deepak Chopra seminars, buying the latest book recommended by experts Dr. Oz or Oprah or learning new meditative routines. 

Consider an alternative:

Jesus offers a counter-intuitive/ outside.the.box solution to all of our problems and it’s free.

Hey there!  All who are thirsty, come to the water!  Are you penniless?  Come anyway – buy and eat!  Come buy your drinks, buy wine and milk.  Buy without money – everything’s free!  Why do you spend your money on junk food, your hard-earned cash on cotton candy?  Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best, fill yourself with only the finest.  (Isaiah 55: 1-5)

How do you like the offer FIRST of wine and THEN of milk?  Celebration first and nourishment second – that’s the way things work in the upside.down.kingdom.

The membership offer, to be part of God’s family, entails NO cost to us.  And once we are connected in the permanent way, (well as you’ve heard it quipped by that giant credit card, ‘Membership has its privileges”,)   we are the happy recipients of many riches, as described by God in his promises.

One major privilege for Christians is the promise of transformation.  Without having to work for it, once inhabited by the supernatural Spirit at our new birth, we are gradually infused with new qualities.  These are the ones that 21st century humans are running around trying to buy or work for:

  • Inner peace that comes from being reconciled with the Creator and Judge of creation
  • Patience with ourselves and with others
  • Joy and contentment with the permanent things of life
  • Love of a different kind – feeling it and being able to act in a way that others feel it too
  • A gentle nature that understands the wounded nature of others and gives them space to ‘spaz’
  • A trusting attitude that even when things go wrong, God is still in control
  • A kindly disposed response-mechanism to angry and biting fellow humans
  • A good heart that desires to copy his or her heavenly Father
  • A mind trained to be reasonable and thoughtful in all situations

You probably recognize the list – yes, these are the 9 fruits of the spirit that are our new birth-right.

But you quip, you still lack them?  Or you live with a ‘so-called-Christian’ who doesn’t exhibit many of them?

Hmm…sounds like you or your companion need to imbibe some more of that holy wine and holy milk (aka Scripture).  Paul reminds us of the FACT that we DO become different as we reflect and rejoice in the facts of our adoption.  That is what he means by, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind!”

Now doesn’t that sound like an offer too good to pass up?  Drink up (soak in the Bible’s content)  and invite your friends to the party. (you can invest your money in something more lasting than quackery!)

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