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!

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

The cost of love

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‘Unused grace is like a fragrance capped in a bottle‘, so I read the other day in one of Charles Spurgeon’s devotions.

perfume bottle

Thinking about grace prompted me actually to list in my mind the 9 fruits of the Spirit, such as kindness, patience and self-control.   Those examples of God’s grace then reminded me of the qualities Paul exhorts the Colossian Church ‘to put on’ daily, such as compassion and humility.

Then God stopped me cold in my thoughts.  When do we act kind? or exercise patience? or control our emotions or show love?

Only in those situations that TRY our patience, with those people who are difficult to love, and when our feelings lure us to vaunt or to fall into self-pity.

Do I know what I’m asking God to do when I pray for Him to grow in me these qualities fitting for a child of God?

 

 

A radical solution to my ‘red lizard of sin’

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red lizard of sin  It can be reassuring to be surprised by what one reads. Reassuring because I’m encouraged to know God has plenty for me still to learn; therefore, there is no danger of growing bored!  But surprises can also deliver blows to the solar plexus.

It was just a few nights ago, April 23rd to be exact, when I opened up Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening devotional classic. See the text here. Dishes done, I relaxed cozily into a favorite spot on the sofa, coffee in hand, relishing the time to read.  The Holy Spirit had anything but a peaceful few minutes in store for me.  ‘Au contraire!’ A mini-torrent of conflicting thoughts captured my full attention.  Spurgeon opened like this:

We go to Christ for forgiveness, and then too often look to the law for power to fight our sins.”  Thereupon followed quotes from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

Illustrating his point by using the example of the sin of an angry temper, Spurgeon pressed on, saying in essence, STOP trying to cope with the evil of the temper yourself (through willpower and good intentions) but deal with it in the same way that you trusted God for your salvation.

Curious and so far, in agreement, I read on.  Spurgeon’s verbs grew fierce.  He wasn’t talking about reducing the frequency or minimizing the damage from this sin, but KILLING it.  How? – By taking it to the cross for JESUS to give the deathblow.

About to sputter back, No thank you! I’m handling my sins in my own sweet time, with help from the Holy Spirit, I shut my mouth.  The Holy Spirit, through the bold words of this London preacher, had cut me off: I realized that WERE I to hand over a sin to Jesus to kill, FIRST OF ALL, I’d have to:

  • name the sin
  • then actually be willing to relinquish it, ALL of it!

Lock, stock and barrel

What’s the big deal, Maria?  Don’t you WANT to be free from your # One sin?

Well….., I’m not sure.  You see, over the past few days as I have I thought about what that FIRST besetting sin is, I have come to understand that before I hand it over, I actually must NAME it………

Drum roll copy

as……..(and this is embarrassing!)

  • the sin of being preoccupied with myself – of thinking of ME and what I want before I think of anything or anyone else.

When I thought of the occasional GOOD days when I TRY to be ‘other-centered’, those efforts don’t do anything more than assuage my conscience.  Resolves and self-control DON’T decrease my desire for and pleasure in indulging this sin – thinking about ME!  My ‘attempts to be good’ just make me feel self-righteous (more preoccupation with #1!)

Just when I was about to despair over this perpetual cycle, I heard a reminder of Jesus’ commitment to set us free with His truth! Jesus names sin for what it is – SLAVERY!  (John 8:32-34)  His audience sputters and reacts predictably (like me!) that as Abraham’s children, they’ve never been slaves. But Jesus counters with this shocking statement:

Whoever commits and practices sin is the slave of sin.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be enslaved any more.  So (picking up with Spurgeon’s reasoning) here is how to deal with this sin – trust Jesus to kill it just as we trusted Him to save us.  We can’t do either (save our souls, or spring free from sin), BUT we can turn to Him, trust Him and give Him free rein.

To that end, Spurgeon instructs us how to pray:

  • Lord, I have trusted You, and Your name is Jesus, for You save Your people from their sins. Lord, this is one of my sins; save me from it!”

Finally, as an ‘Amen’ Spurgeon eliminates all escape routes: “Your prayers, and your repentances, and your tears – the whole of them put together – are worth NOTHING apart from Him.  Only Jesus can do helpless sinners good, and helpless saints too.”

If you’ve read this far, you might be wondering what the red lizard at the start of this post symbolizes.  He embodies ‘sin’ on the shoulder of a fictional character in CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce. Read about how God kills THAT creature, thereby freeing the poor soul from bondage.

Passage here

A couple of conclusions I have drawn about this sin of shameless preoccupation:

  • I’m not the one to kill sin, Jesus is.  I just have to hand it over to Him.
  • For, the forceful sway of each and every sin has already been severed.  Jesus gripped that true indictment of Maria in His hand when the nail pierced it (and ALL the sins of His to-be-adopted brothers and sisters).
  • The power comes from re-calling the historical and effectual fact of the Cross

All that remains is to go out and enjoy new freedom, walking with the one and only champion and liberator, and heralding to all who would listen this good news.

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