How God is changing my will

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Philippians 2:13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

Lots of unholy churn and inward griping have colored my past 3 3/4 years teaching French to middle-schoolers.  I have prayed for God to open the door to other jobs that pay as much but

  • don’t include a commute of at least 1 hour 40 minutes on a traffic-free day
  • don’t place me in a sometimes hostile anti-Christian environment (secular school)
  • don’t require me to face the burdensome daily challenge of teaching French well and creatively to middle-schoolers

And in His good and wise providence, God has kept me in that job!  So I have prayed, very reluctantly, for Him to change my will, my desires.  Do you ever pray like this, a kind of ‘please God, but I’m not sure if I want you to‘ type request?  This is how I’ve been praying:

  • Father, if I have to continue to work THERE, then at least change my heart so that I more light-heartedly teach/work/serve at that school.  But, Father, I’m actually hesitant to ASK You to change my heart.  I don’t think I WANT to want that, to work contentedly there.  I just want OUT!

But God HAS changed my heart through a shift in my thinking that could ONLY have come about this way.

It was a combination of a Charles Spurgeon selection from his book Morning and Evening, a John Piper devotional one night, some scripture in a prayer I was praying through that my app Prayermate had fed me and a John Piper archived sermon the next morning.  All within about 11 hours.

One of my whiny refrains I kept replaying in my mind leading up to those 12 hours was, “My heart is just not in teaching French to middle-schoolers any more!  I’m tired of the burden. And besides, I’ll be 60 in a few months, maybe I don’t have what it takes to relate to them!”  I can get REAL good at excuse making.

By means of 3 verses, He had shifted my thoughts toward the end of the 11 hours (an evening, night and early morning), which gently but abruptly changed my desire:

  • Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.
  • Ephesians 6:7 Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.
  • Colossians 3:23 Whatever you are doing, let your hearts be in your work, as a thing done for the Lord and not for men.

And just like that, with the gentle Holy Spirit memory prompting, He brought those living facts and commands into my heart and mind and something occurred instantly.

In a flash, I saw how sinful AND LAME my whininess had been.  I pictured those sins as adding to the crushing weight of sin that Jesus willingly took on for me.

The next thought was:

  •  If I can’t teach whole-heartedly for THEM, those kids, I CAN do so for God.  By His power.
  •  In fact Maria, your Father created those works at this school right now for you to do as a new creation.  He has equipped and fitted you to do just that.  And that is why He has kept you there in that job.  It has been His intention all along.  He has purposes for you to serve Him in that environment.

That was a Wednesday.  I lived with new freedom and awareness throughout the day, actually enjoying myself.

Cautiously I embraced Thursday.  Same thought-altering feelings prevailed. And Friday as well.

It’s Spring Break this week.  The days are flying and soon Monday will come.  But I’m not dreading it.  With His help, I CAN do what He has willed for me, what He commands me to do.

Here’s the truth:  what God commands, He equips us to do and we have no reasonable defense to resist.  Thanks be to God!

Conversation with a fellow slave

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I was reading Marvin Olasky’s column in the latest issue of World Magazine (23 March 2013).  He writes on the very last page, before the cover, and I always start magazines at the back.  In his essay, ‘Remember their chains’, Marvin explored past and current ways to start the God-conversation with someone you encounter.  His final thought energized me and made me excited to talk to my next seat partner on a flight.  Boiling it down in my own words and through my filter, my future conversation goes like this (after some initial get-to-know-you chit-chat) :

Maria:  So what drives you?

Joe Blow:  What do you mean?

Me: Well, everyone is working at something, trying to impress someone, motivated to achieve, earn, make peace with something or someone important in their life.  What is that for you?

(And then I might unabashedly share my past bulimic body-image issues and how I’ve been a slave to controlling my food intake/exercise output since those days.  And how horrid a slave-master THAT has been!!   And that the ONLY way out is to know the TRUTH.)

Joe Blow:  What do you mean by truth?  What truth?  Which truth?  Whose truth?

Me:  Good question.  The God I serve promises that if we find the truth and trust the truth and obey the truth, then we will be free indeed.  (John 8:32 -…  and you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free)

Joe Blow: (a bit triumphantly)  Hmmph…the truth is, I’m not a slave to anything or anyone!

Me:  That’s what we all think, because we’re modern.  But the fact is, whether we like it or not, all humans are wired to be slaves, or at least to serve and worship something or someone.   Do you consider yourself an honest person?

Joe Blow:  What do you mean by honest?

Me:  I mean, that, if you recognize something as real and true, however you define it, can you courageously admit that you’ve encountered truth?  Or are you the kind of person who has too much pride and just pretends that it isn’t so, in order to maintain the upper hand in a conversation?

Joe Blow: (a bit haughtily and acting like I might be insulting him)   I’d like to think that I have that kind of integrity you’re describing.

Me: Well, here goes: The Old Testament in the Bible recounts episode after sad account of the Hebrews serving God at times and then not.  They would drop God and switch their allegiance to the false gods of neighboring peoples. And at other times, they would move beyond religion and actually invest their hopes in stronger strategic partners to rescue them.

The histories chronicled in the Bible document NOT a single time when the Hebrews were neutral, serving no one.   They either served or obeyed God, or were slaves to different powers, whether real or demonic.

And if we move from the strategic level to the personal level, we read in the Bible all sorts of tragedies of men and women driven by their greed for power, sex or money/material things.  These untamed forces either played themselves out in brutal, blatant conquests or in the more manipulative, sinister yet secretive moves.

And lest you think times have gotten any better, the New Testament and history SINCE then don’t show any improvement in men and women. More education and ‘better’ living conditions haven’t changed our hearts. We just pretend more, even to ourselves.

So do you see why I asked you ‘What drives you?’

Joe Blow:  Yeah, I see your point, but I don’t think those behaviors describe me.  I’m pretty happy with my life.  I like my job, I’ve got some money in the bank, I’m seeing a pretty sweet gal who has her life together, too.  Life seems good. And my friends would all say I’m a fairly chill guy.

Me:  (with a playful touch of light praise) Bravo! and well done you!  You may be the one exception to nature. (By the way, did I mention that God created nature? He-he…just teasing you!)   No, in all honesty, I would probably come to the same conclusion, IF, I didn’t know myself better.  I don’t think I’m a slave to what others think of me, or to money, or to my reputation for being perfect mom or wife…but I have had struggles with meeting MY standard for how I teach French. Numerous times in the past,  I’ve allowed a ‘bad French-class day’ to  cause me to feel down.

But what God is teaching me these days is this:  I have learned (pausing slowly for effect)  that when what I treasure or value the most is taken away from me, or even threatened, I get angry.

Joe Blow:  (who is beginning to listen attentively at this point) Hmm..what is that?  …….the thing you most value?

Me:  MY time…Time for Maria, time to get my work down…so I can have time to walk and listen to podcasts…and so I can have time to relax and read ‘enough’ each day.  I am learning that ‘MY TIME’ is what I most treasure and hoard and protect.

Joe Blow:  Huh…I never looked at ‘my time’ as a possession, but I have to admit, I can identify.  So how do you get out of that mindset?

Me:  Thanks for being honest.  I think a lot of people feel that way, at least about something.  It might not be time, but it might be money or recognition.  You know that truth I mentioned? – The verse about knowing the Truth and being set free?   Well, Truth is not just a concept or a fact to know.  Truth is actually a person – Jesus Christ.  Jesus is actually God who took on the body and life of a real human being in time and space, one of us.  And He lived and died for some pretty cosmic supernatural reasons.  You know how I mentioned that we are created and wired to serve someone or something?   God did in fact fashion us to serve Him since He knew that only by making Him both our Treasure and Lord, we would be happy.   And since we have preferred OTHER things, we have piled up a whole lot of guilt.  The penalty for rebellion is death.

But the amazing news is that God the Father of Jesus, and God the Son and God the ‘power-filled’ supernatural Holy Spirit together crafted a plan even before God created the universe and us. The Bible says that by living a perfect life and being executed in our place, Jesus made a way for us both to get the credit for HIS life well lived and to be declared “Not Guilty in the capitol case, “Crimes against the Creator of the Universe”.  The ‘not guilty’ ruling is pretty amazing in that God the Father was able to maintain both the standard of justice AND show mercy to us by virtue of Jesus receiving our punishment.

So now those who receive those 2 benefits have secured a permanent spot in the family of God and an amazing inheritance, both of which far outweigh whatever earthly ‘treasure’ you or I could possibly imagine.  How I am helped is by recognizing that serving Jesus, being in whatever role you want to call it:  servant, steward, slave, ambassador, beloved child, worshipper actually liberates me.  I can’t lose that treasure.  It’s not dependent on me.

Joe Blow: (thoughtfully…) so you don’t hoard your time anymore?

Maria:  (chuckling a bit ruefully) I wish I could say yes!  But if I am T-R-U-T-H-F-U-L…I will tell you that I do forget where my true treasure is..and fall back into that hoarding frame of mind.  Fortunately, I’m getting better at spotting my anxiety and stress when they start to flair.  Then I can say, “Oh, yeah…that’s pretty stupid. It’s NOT my time”, or “Thankfully that mediocre lesson today doesn’t define me”.  I’m actually growing more relaxed to the degree that I remember and am thankful to serve such a God. I have a secure identify, purpose and destination and I belong to an amazing family.

**

That’s as far as I’ve gotten in imagining the conversation.  Where would you go from here?  It sure does seem a more natural approach.  Anxiety and stress and drivenness seem to be the norm.  After all, we have MORE people than ever on anti-depressants.  People are dying for lack of good news.  I don’t want to HOARD that!!!

 

 

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