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!

A gentle Father

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Stop hand

 

 

 

I don’t react kindly to criticism.  In fact my mother-in-law once told me I was spoiled (I’m an only child – maybe it goes with the territory)!

So when my husband held up a hand to stop me from butting in while he was speaking, I felt shut down.  When I voiced my objection, he said he didn’t appreciate being interrupted. Not much I could say to that, for my remark definitely and abruptly had been an attempt to cut into his explanation. And it wasn’t the first time.

“I’m just raising a question!” I sputtered.  Even as I tried to justify my rudeness, I began to see for the first time how this breaking into someone’s verbal train of thought was actually habitual with me.

Scenes from visits with my adult sons flashed through my mind.  How many times in our discussions about God had I inserted MYself with MY views right in the middle of their sharing.  Much to their credit and my shame, they always patiently yielded to me when I cut in to pass on my brilliant God-moment.

Back to that incident in the kitchen with my husband.  This was not the first time he had gestured to me when I started to jump in with my 2 cents worth.  In fact, I had showcased the very same annoying habit the previous evening with friends over for dinner. Stung, I self-righteously felt wronged when he had put a halt to my butting in with discrete body language.

But this night I had seen my action for what it was – just plain rude and unloving. It was like the Holy Spirit opened my eyes.  A bit humiliated, I nonetheless discerned an emboldened desire to pray for help in retraining myself.

Since that ‘teaching moment‘ in the kitchen two weeks ago, God has provided reinforcement of not only my need to change but the truth that I CAN change. He has brought podcast remarks and scripture across my path, reminding me of supernatural power available to those who have been transferred into God’s kingdom of light (evidently, there is enough light for even me to see the need to change!)

Kingdom of LIght

Peter encourages us to make every effort to add moral goodness to the faith that we have been given (1 Pet 1:5).  But this is AFTER he has reminded believers that we have been given FAITH to become partners in the divine nature of God as we KNOW and TRUST Jesus’ promises.

What I’m learning is that all of the promises of power in the Bible are ours as God’s regenerate children.  But we have to act on them, using the faith that we’ve been given. (we don’t ‘gin up’ the faith ourselves)

John Piper created an acronym to assist himself and us in accessing God’s help during those moments when we see our need:

A – Admit you are helpless  – sounds like an AA principle!

P – Pray and tell God what you need

T – Think of one of those encouraging promises from God’s word and Trust it (like- I can do ALL things through Him who strengthens me – Phil 4:13)

A – Act on the promise, though you don’t FEEL any power. Take the action necessary, trusting that God is 100 % faithful to come through as He has said.  This is walking by faith and not by sight.

T – Thank Him after the fact for supplying the power, provision and/or whatever you asked Him for

**

Humble heart

 

 

 

I’m ashamed to admit that this is only the second time in my life that I have attempted to change my behavior in response to God’s nudge.  Oh, I’ve tried self-transformation before, but these adjustments have been me-centered, to make me happier or make others think better of me (grand-parenting skills, weight, fitness, sleep habits, intellect, hobbies).

The first time was 14 years ago when serious fissures in both my and Mike’s view of marriage threatened to torpedo our covenant.  I read books and prayed and sought out wise Christian women to guide me in adopting a Biblical view of marriage, something that was foreign to me even though I had been ‘in church’ since the age of 9.

But it has been years since that crisis. And thanks be to Him and the manner in which He got our attention, our marriage is now a source of true joy for both of us. It obviously took God hitting me with a padded 2×4 to get my attention.  At least this time, the catalyst to change my unloving interruptions was less painful.

I wonder what else is in His divine lesson plan for me!

 

Unnatural Grace – a book recommendation

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It’s just not natural!  – a theology of grace

I’ve been captivated by a book.  Six years ago Episcopal priest Paul Zahl committed to paper what he has been teaching for the 30 years as a pastor.  Grace in Practice, A Theology of Everyday Life (2007) is changing me.

Very quickly he demonstrates how humans consistently fail to give each other grace. Yet each of us longs desperately to receive grace.  What is grace? –one-way love, the kind of love we crave because it’s freely given with no strings attached.  If there is an expectation on the part of the dispenser of grace, then it’s not grace, but manipulation.  And we are born with an innate ability to sniff out this kind of hypocrisy.

Christ is the ultimate example of grace. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation.  We can’t be good enough; we can’t manipulate our way into heaven,   “For when we were still sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8

Lest you think that some people get by fine without grace due to their skill, hard work & maybe a bit of luck and that only down–and-out folk need grace, Zahl shatters that illusion right from the start.  How? –by explaining 3 givens that are true about every human that has ever lived:

a)   We are all guilty & inadequate to meet God’s standard due to original sin.  We live under an objective sentence of guilt and inside we FEEL this guilt.

b)   We are worse than we think; actually we are TOTALLY depraved which Zahl explains means that there is no part of the human condition that escapes depravity.

c)    No one has free will; free will is a myth we can’t shake. We’ve drunk the Kool-aid.

Read the book to follow his very convincing explanations and illustrations.

Because of the above givens, we crave grace.  But those we live with or work for don’t give us grace.  Instead they try to change us with exhortations (or worse, with commands or manipulative advice) to do better.  He calls that the Law.  No one ever gets better by the Law.

To be fair, Zahl makes an interesting distinction between what he calls necessary or natural law, the kind of law that protects us, but has no moral (read:  guilt-producing) baggage.

That kind of ‘first’ law maintains safety among groups of people.  It has nothing to do with self-improvement, relief from guilt or a thousand other problems we have.  When moral law (you should call your mother more often, you should do your homework consistently, you should stop drinking)  is applied, not only does it not help us, but often we dig our heels in further and do just the opposite of what the Law intends. Amazingly we do get better when grace is given.

In order to communicate what he means by grace, Zahl widens the theological term, ‘imputation’ and applies it to phenomena we have all witnessed.  This principle of passing on power through naming originated with God, “God gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” – Romans 4:17b

Remember the time when your coach might have confidently said to you as an awkward 7th grader, ‘I think you’ll make a mighty fine basketball player’?  The power of that grace-filled imputation summoned your gifts and talents and motivated you to work hard to fulfill that expectation.  You were drawn to the drills and endless work that resulted in your becoming the good basketball player, all because your coach invited you and did not compel you.  Zahl promotes grace not only because it’s biblical, but because it works.

The letter (the Law) kills but the spirit (Grace) gives life” – 2 Cor 3:6

Zahl doesn’t discount the Law. He describes how we need to allow the law to drive us crazy, so that we come to our senses.  I now see how it is necessary to be killed by the Law before Grace is even an option to consider.  We have to exhaust ourselves in trying to satisfy the Law and finally abandon our efforts and die to it before we turn to Grace.

I won’t go any further in describing Zahl’ work, but here are some quotes & paraphrases.  I hope they will whet your appetite enough to order the book.  Each night in December I could not wait to finish the dishes and find my cozy spot and read.  I felt hope rising:  hope and excitement in being able to offer those whom I love this kind of grace that brings out the best in people.

  • Grace is too good to be true.  It’s totally unfair
  • ‘theological anthropology’-takes in original sin, total depravity and our un-free will, our bondage
  • Marriage needs perpetual absolution.  Husbands have to forgive wives for being women. Women have to forgive their husbands for being men.
  • Everyone needs the same amount of love – 100 % unconditional one-way love
  • For grace to be grace there must not be any conditions, no partial role for me.
  • Grace is listening to another person without bringing the conversation back to you.
  • Grace never tries to fix, but trusts God to do this.  Grace listens
  • Grace in the marriage produces grace with the children

 

 

 

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