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

What are you hungering after?

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CS Lewis writes something to the effect that if you have a desire that nothing on this earth can satisfy, then that unfulfilled longing points to a future fulfillment in another dimension, that is later when we have new bodies on a new earth.

He bases that argument on the simple truth of:

  • hunger pointing to food for satisfaction and
  • fatigue being remedied by sleep and
  • work as the antidote to the desire to make a meaningful difference in life.

I recently was re-comforted with Lewis’ explanation when I gazed out at the beauty of our Smokey Mountains here in Western North Carolina.  Sometimes my heart is stunned and unable to drink in God’s splendor.  I want to absorb it, holding on to it forever,but can’t. And then I feel sorrow and regret at having fallen short.

138 - Misty view of Smokeys toward TN

Per Lewis’ logic, however, one day you and I will have the capacity to take in beauty, to digest it.  But in these limited bodies, we can only gaze and marvel and leave what God has created outside of us, underused.

Moving from external beauty to the beauty of God’s word, I recently came across a glimpse into how pastor John Piper views Scripture.  His words gripped my heart because they were echoes pointing to my longings, too!

Early one Sunday morning my discipline was taking me through Luke 18. It was one of those times when God came near with unusual force. Christ stood out from the pages as irresistibly compelling. Every paragraph made my soul yearn to be radically obedient to Jesus. I felt that no one ever spoke like this man. No one ever lived free like this man. No one ever demanded what he demanded and gave what he gave. So I wanted to take this chapter with me all day and feed on it and fight unbelief with it. I didn’t have time to memorize it. What could I do? I decided to tag each paragraph and remember a key statement from each paragraph under that tag. I noticed that I could think of tags that began with the same letter…..

This man wanted to ingest God’s words just like we do when our hearts are pierced by nature.  When we know we can’t quite take it all in.  We lack the dimensions, the faculties, the capacities to do justice to God’s creation to His Word.  But if we apply CS Lewis thinking, we can reassure ourselves with THE FACT that:

  • If we have a longing that can’t be satisfied on earth in these bodies, then we can be confident that somewhere and at a point in the future, God WILL satisfy, fulfill and meet those good desires with what He created them for.

Our hungers are ultimately longings for God.

Can you wait?

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.”  1 Cor 2:9

 

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.

Coming out of the Productivity Closet

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Bench  Luke 2:19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

Must we always be doing, producing?  Why are thinking and meditation given short shrift in America? 

Convicted!  when my friend questioned out loud a commentator’s mild rant about time ‘wasted’ waiting for a cashier or doctor.  What have I missed from God by NOT sitting still, pondering and KNOWING Him?

 

Sarah, Sex and the Hall of Fame

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Sarah and Abraham have a baby

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. Hebrews 11:11

The above verse resolves the perennial debate between those who pit James against Paul in this tricky question of doctrine:

  •  Which is sufficient for justification –  faith or deeds?

How is that?  Consider…..

Sarah was long past the age of childbearing and her husband was no longer virile when she overheard the angels assuring Abraham that in a year’s time she would give birth to a baby.

Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ “Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”…Genesis 18:12-14

So what happened?  Did Abraham and Sarah trust God’s message to them?  His word certainly affirms that they did.

Abraham believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:3b repeating Genesis 15:6)

**

Impossible situations

What struck me the other day is that both Paul and James are correct.  Abraham and Sarah DID trust as fact the unbelievable news that they would be able carry out the physical sex act together AND conceive AND give birth to a baby. And based on their counting as true God’s promise, they physically came together in a sexual union and the aging body parts worked and…voilà…9 months later, Isaac was born.

Do you see how considering God’s word as good as reality the foundation for the actions that follow? It’s not an either faith/or action but a both/and way to live!

Let’s bring the Sarah and Abraham illustration into our lives. Where are you facing something too unimaginable for you to believe God could or would actually do the ‘impossible’?  Have you sensed God directing you to take a step of faith and trust Him to work through you, accomplishing something that common sense, or intuition or worldly wisdom say COULDN’T POSSIBLY BE DONE?

God commands us to**:

  • confess our unbelief and admit we need help to trust Him
  • believe him and roll each and every heavy, worrying situation onto Him.  Next we are to…
  • pull out one of God’s promises of future grace and relying on that,  we are to…..
  • move out and take the action, step by step as He shows us.  Finally, we are to…
  • give Him thanks and praise when He has done the ‘impossible’ through us and in our situation

(**the above formula comes from Pastor John Piper in his acronym APTAT – admit, pray, trust, act, thank)

What helps me is to rest in the assurance that if God commands this kind of obedience, then He will help me each step along what appears to be an obscured road.  Reassuring to me is the FACT that His word promises light for the next segment of the journey and at the right moment.

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12

 

What do you brag about?

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Some women my age trot out pictures of their grandkids or others of their prized pooches.  Then there are those who boast about the good deals they secured on Black Friday or their completion of a holiday decorating schema for home and yard.

But Paul exhorts us to boast in our weaknesses.

  • “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. 2 Cor 12:9

I’d like to offer a case for broadening the term ‘weakness’ to mean any limitation or need that one cannot personally overcome or fulfill. Part of maturity is a coming to terms with the fact that, EVEN THOUGH THIS IS AMERICA, one CANNOT do anything one sets his or her mind to.

Adult to skinny child:  What are you going to be when you grow up, little boy?

skinny boy

 

Child: I’m going to be an NFL linebacker!

Linebacker

Dishonest Adult:  Good for you, little boy! You can achieve anything you set your mind to.

So how does getting real with our limitations apply to us, no matter our age?  And can that little boy truly grow up to be an NFL linebacker?

My husband and I have longings and unmet desires that we admit to one another once in a while.  They tend to be activities or situations we think would meet some deep needs of personal fulfillment.   One of those longings popped up last night. Mike was playing some hauntingly beautiful, classical choral music as part of his Christmas play list.  When Emma Kirkby, the British soprano, began her ‘Who may abide the day of His coming?’ solo, tears from that deep place in Mike’s soul welled up. He has sung that exact piece (it’s also written for baritone) with some fine choral groups.  God has given him both a voice for and love of good music. But by our moving to Western North Carolina to a gorgeous spot in the Smoky Mountains in the ‘boonies’ we have cut ourselves off from that kind of music, both by geography and our choice to join a Bible-teaching church.

The conversation then turned to a time we had lived in England for 18 months.  During the one Christmas season we celebrated, we had season tickets to a series of classical concerts in one of the Oxford college chapels. The acoustics of that ancient holy space and the men and boys’ choir were ethereal and soul-satisfying.

That remembrance of time past led me to think of the few times, now so long ago, when we lived in Europe.  And my yearnings for another occasion such as those, to plug into the life and community of a different culture and (if in France or Germany) to speak the local language flooded my heart.

Both intense feelings of longing are real AND they do not mean we are unhappy living here.  The desires are part of who God made us.  Mike is gifted musically and I’m gifted with a curiosity for different people and love of languages.

Yet….in our present circumstances, I don’t see how either can or could be fulfilled.

But here’s the more significant point.  We humans see XYZ as possible remedies or solutions or ways to meet a godly desire.  But God is the Infinite, Eternal One who created ALL there is, including us.  And as Isaiah reminds us:

  • “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. Isaiah 55:8

So, let me remind both my heart and Mike’s heart: “Hearts, listen up! Don’t despair.  Yes, God has given you these gifts, desires, interests and longings.  And He WILL meet those yearnings. It probably won’t be in a way you can even picture.  But longings don’t go unfulfilled.  The satisfaction might come in this life or in the next, but it will come. Trust the one who says:

  • No good thing do I withhold from the one who walks blameless, in my path. (paraphrase of Psalm 84:11)”

So I will practice contentment like David models for us:

  • But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Psalm 131: 2

Returning to my initial question about what you boast in, I started by proposing that these ‘current limitations’ or ‘needs’ are included in Paul’s description of ‘weaknesses’.  Could it be that God actually BLOCKS our way to fulfilling some of these desires ourselves?  Might He also use these unmet needs to teach us to be dependent on Him? And what about God employing them….

….also as a means for pointing the cynically jaded, bored, and despairing world to marvel at such a God as ours who does “EXCEEDINGLY ABUNDANTLY more than we can ask or imagine.” Ephesians 3:20?

I do believe God will satisfy those yearnings or He will replace them with something better.  Our challenge as God’s children is to show the world who our God is and why He is enough.  It is by our BOASTING in our inability to meet our own needs along with our reliance on the God who CAN be enough when we are weak and insufficient, that we show the unbelieving world the one and only path to abundant life. Be assured, the Christian is no fool. He trusts in the God who promises that ‘in His presence is fullness of joy and pleasures evermore’.  

Are you willing to be the arena for the tired world to see how wonder-filled our God is?

 

 

 

 

Shaky assumption for what will make me happy

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The King was a praying man, after all hadn’t Zechariah mentored him well from God’s word?  And as long as he prayed for favor in Judah’s battles against the Philistines, the Arabs and the Meunim, his armies prevailed.  His and Judah’s successes became the talk of the world that even the Ammonites paid tribute, aka protection money, rather than fight.

But then…..Uzziah grew complacent and tired of having to ask God daily for this and that.  As the writer of the book of 2 Chronicles explains,

16 But when [King Uzziah] was strong, he became proud to his destruction; and he trespassed against the Lord his God, for he went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.

Uzziah

The rest of the story is pretty dramatic.  The priest in charge, Azariah, confronted the King, reminding him with a strong rebuke, that God forbade anyone but the priests from burning incense in the temple.  As King Uzziah exploded into rage, incriminating censor in his hand, leprosy broke out on his forehead.  In hindsight, it would have been better for Uzziah to continue in his daily dependence on God’s strength, rather than crave his own strength.  His desired independence, what he thought would make him happy, led to his downfall.

I’ve been thinking a lot about some of my assumptions when I pray.  At the bottom often of my anxiety is the fear that God is going to withhold what I want, what I know/think will make me happy.

Isn’t there always something we are asking God for, something that will make us more content, happy, complete, and peaceful?   But what if we are wrong in our assumptions?

Mike and I have started watching Frank Capra’s classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. 

In this 1946 Christmas movie, George Bailey has finally earned enough money to take the trip of his dreams.It's a wonderful life

 

 

He longs to break out of the claustrophobia of his small hometown, positive that the wide world holds what he wants.  But the unfortunate timing of his dad’s death delays the trip. One set of unexpected circumstances leads to another, until he is maneuvered into staying put in Bedford Falls, the very future he worked hard to avoid.

His unrealized dream of travel, to be followed by college and then a profession of building modern structures never materializes.  He had always projected certainty that his version of the future was best for him.  Apparently his dad had repeatedly expressed hope that George, as oldest son, would accept his offer to take over the family’s Building and Loan Association.  In an offhand remark that wounds his dad, George dismisses 40 years of laborious efforts to secure loans for many of Bedford Falls’ working class families.  This is not the career or the life that George wants.

You can watch the movie again, if you have forgotten what George learns in the end.  But what I realized in thinking about King Uzziah and George Bailey was that often our assumptions about what will make us happy are not correct.

My thinking seems to go like this:

  • I want X (for example, a different job)
  • Why?  Because when I think about X, I picture a more content Maria.
  • But I’m afraid that God won’t allow X to happen.  There’s no guarantee that He will bring about X, even if I pray fervently in faith. (might I be……trying to manipulate God???)
  • If God does not grant X, then I won’t be happy

But what if the TRUE scenario is this:

  • God alone knows what will make me happy/content/’better off’ as He defines it.
  • What if what I THINK will make me happy, my X, actually is bad, dangerous, painful or somehow disastrous for me?
  • After all, isn’t God omni– good/loving/knowing/powerful/wise/holy/giving…..
  • Why should I think that I know best?  that what I think I want IS best?

So, are we not to pray for what we want?  Are we just supposed to resign ourselves to….being miserable?

That’s bifurcation, the fallacy of a false dilemma.  It’s not an either/or situation – My will = happiness versus God’s will= misery

(Could that false idea come from Satan?)

When I get scared that maybe God WON’T give me what I want, here’s the promise I fall back onto:

Psalm 84:11

“No good thing does the Lord withhold from those whose way is upright.

  • good = pleasant/excellent/valuable/appropriate,  Hebrew word Towb
  • upright = authentic (with integrity),  Hebrew word Tamiym

When I think of how to be upright, I picture myself looking UP at God, and not at what I want.  I don’t have enough information to know what is best for me.

upright

I’ll still ask God and pray for what I want, but I’m learning to hold those requests loosely.

What is your experience in wanting something really badly and then finding out it was NOT what you thought or (worse yet) it turned out to be harmful?

 

 

 

 

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