Not What I Wanted (Part Two)

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If you didn’t catch part one you can read it here.

We’re not supposed to doubt! We’re good Christians and always say the right thing. Growing up, I certainly felt like I couldn’t express my doubts or fears. When I was a teenager I wrote the words, “If I said what I want to say, you’d comfort me with religious cliches and then write me off as another lost cause.” I knew that if I expressed my doubts that I would be told, “just have more faith”  or “trust God.” That’s not bad advice necessarily, however, we need to know that it’s ok to doubt.

Jonah’s decision to run from God’s plan put him into another situation that surely wasn’t what he wanted. In the middle of the ocean, the violence of the storm threatened to tear the ship apart. This wasn’t your Sunday afternoon rain shower. This was an act of God. Jonah told his traveling companions that this storm was his fault and that if they wanted to live he would have to be thrown overboard.

I don’t know if the storm stopped right away, or if it raged on, but either way, Jonah would be stranded in the middle of the ocean.

Jonah was a dead man.

He had run from the Lord. Surely death was what he deserved.

Still, he cried out the Lord for help. The Lord heard his cries and rescued him. It was the way he was rescued though that gives me pause. God sent a great fish to swallow him. That’s one way to keep the ocean from becoming his grave. I don’t know how Jonah felt at that moment. Perhaps he felt grateful. I know inside that fish he repented and decided to obey the Lord. All I can say is that I would have some questions. I’m not convinced that becoming fish food is better than dying at the hands of the storm. I would struggle to see God’s providence in this situation.

I would have some doubts.

Doubt is something we all deal with. We doubt if God hears us. We doubt if people will accept us as we are. We doubt our abilities, talents, and intelligence. When it comes to God what is it that causes us to doubt and what do we do with it?

Let me say this: when we doubt we are in good company. John the Baptist doubted in Luke chapter seven. That’s crazy to me, this is John the Baptist! He recognized who Jesus was while still in the womb. He jumped for joy at the presence of infant Jesus inside Mary when she came to visit Elizabeth. John spent months preaching and preparing the way for the ministry of Jesus. However, when he found himself sitting in a prison cell he questioned, “Is Jesus the Messiah, or should we be looking for someone else.”

After Jesus died, many of his disciples had completely lost hope. They had believed He was the Messiah, but now in the shadow of doubt they felt abandoned. They had given up. Some of them were even ready to move on with their lives.

In 1 Kings Elijah finds himself in the valley of doubt and depression. Fresh off his victory at Mt Carmel where God had done some miraculous signs Elijah had been threatened by the queen and suddenly out of nowhere he was just done. He had no hope left. He was ready to die.

Doubt can happen when we least expect it. Sometimes it comes because things just don’t go how we expected. Sometimes it comes because life is just more challenging than we had imagined. Then comes the mind games. “If you were really a Christain you wouldn’t feel this way, you wouldn’t have these thoughts.”

Again I must say that it is ok to doubt. Doubting is not some big bad demon that must be slain, although it must be contended with. It’s what we do when faced with doubt that determines the outcome. Doubt can be a force that can drive us deeper into faith. How could one even have faith if at first there was no doubt?

Faith can be hard to gauge because we base it on our own experiences and outcomes. If things are working out, we feel like we have a lot of faith. While at other times things seem bleak, we are full of doubt and feel faithless. However, that doesn’t mean we lack faith. Our faith is not be based on what we see, feel or on our circumstances. Our faith is in God and who we know Him to be, based on scripture and through our relationship with Him. We know He loves us. We know He provides for us— faith says even though I may not see that provision right at this moment, I KNOW God is faithful and will provide!

Faith is to trust God, even in the midst of our doubts.

If you have doubts, don’t despair. Don’t ignore them. Bring them to the surface and own them. Pray about them. Wrestle with them. In all of those stories above, God never got upset or disappointed by their doubts. He answered each of them based on what they needed in that moment. We can be afraid to bring our doubts to God, but He is bigger than our doubts.

We may feel like because of our doubts we are undeserving, but one of my favorite parts of the story of Jonah is that he cried out to God and the Lord rescued him. He hadn’t done anything to redeem himself. He didn’t deserve it. God simply rescued him.

It was there in the belly of doubt that Jonah found faith.

I believe we must engage our own doubt before we can engage a world in disbelief.

Look for the final part of “NOT WHAT I WANTED” next Monday.

Not What I Wanted (Part One)

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We sometimes have these thoughts: “If I follow God, everything will work out exactly as I want. I will always be happy. Things are just easier with Jesus.”

Why shouldn’t we think this way? These ideas are heard often from pulpits, sometimes intentionally sometimes not. We love hearing encouraging words about the love, goodness, and provision of God. Don’t misunderstand, I believe in all of those things. I  believe Romans 8:28 when it says all things work together for good, I just don’t think we get to determine what “good” is.

At some point in our Christian walk, many of us come to a place where we look around at our circumstances, emotions, direction and think, “THIS IS NOT WHAT I WANTED.” That is certainly what happened to Jonah.

Jonah was a prophet. I don’t know if he liked being a prophet or not, but there must have been seasons where delivering messages on behalf of God was joyful. I imagine there were times when Jonah loved being a mouthpiece for the Most High. Then God gave Jonah a simple task, Go to Nineveh and let them know that because of their sin, God’s gonna destroy the city.

Nope. I can almost here Jonah’s cry, “This is not what I wanted.”

There are potentially many reasons Jonah might not have wanted to go to Nineveh. Yes, they were wicked, hence the forthcoming destruction, but I suspect the core reason revolved around their nationality. Ninevah was the capital of a nation called Assyria. They did this thing where they invaded Israel and took them into captivity. These guys basically came in and said, “You don’t live here anymore. You’re now our captives!”

Rude.

So now God wants Jonah to go and give THEM a Word of the Lord. No thank you. I didn’t sign up for this. They don’t deserve it. I’m out.

And so Jonah literally ran the opposite direction of Ninevah.

Ahh, direction.

Of course, we want to be led by God.

Proverbs 3:6 (NLT) Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

We all pray for direction. In our heart, we do want to be in “His perfect will.”

However, too often what we mean by, “show me which path to take” is actually, “give me a high paying job, a beautiful wife, and help me to avoid problems.”

Amen.

So what do we do when where God is leading us, isn’t the perfect life we had imagined? What if instead of greater popularity God asks us to give up friends? What do we do if God asks us to lay down our dreams? What about when following God means embracing the pain in our lives instead of avoiding it?

Romans 8:35-37 (NLT)  Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

Too often this false expectation that we always get what we want leads us to a crisis of faith. The truth is we don’t always get what we want. Sometimes we have to make hard choices. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices. Surrender can’t begin until God requires something of us we don’t want to let go.

I recently had a conversation with some students, one of them said, “people today think that God is meant to serve us, rather than us to serve God.” Tragically this might be true. I don’t think many people would say outright that they believe that, but we can see that belief embedded in our thought process and revealed in our attitudes. It’s almost as if we approach God like a vending machine, handing out miracles and dreams. Yes, He’s a good Father, but a good Father knows when to withhold things that are not good for His children.

Yet, when God doesn’t provide what we want; when He doesn’t send us the direction we had expected it can really throw us for a loop. When what life gives us is not what we wanted it can easily send us into an experience where many of us have spent a lot of time, but rarely want to acknowledge.

Doubt.

Look for part two next Monday.

I Never Wanted To Get Caught

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It’s instinct. Hide your flaws. Cover up your sins. Protect your pride. There is something inside all of us that pushes blame away from ourselves. We see it in kids, who immediately deny doing something, they may not even understand why it was wrong, but something within them says, DENY IT.

Where does this come from?

We don’t want to get in trouble. We want people to look up to us and we are afraid if they see the real us, they will abandon us. We don’t want to be that vulnerable. Perhaps we’ve been hurt before.

I recently asked our junior highers, “Is it ever a good thing to get caught?” They almost all agreed, yes! I later asked them if it is ever bad to not get caught, and they were quick to give examples of how not getting caught can lead to continuing those actions later in life, which could have far more serious consequences than it would now. I think they’re pretty smart.

What are some things we choose to hide?

We hide our sins. We Certainly don’t want anyone knowing about those.

We hide our hurts. We can’t have people seeing us as damaged goods.

We hide our fears. No one wants to be seen as anything less than courageous.

We hide our doubts. After all, what kind of Christian has these kinds of doubts?

Regardless of what it is we are hiding, the best thing we can do is get it out into the open. I don’t mean post it on social media, or start telling anyone who will listen. Find someone trustworthy, who will stand by you no matter what. If you’re not sure you have anyone like that, talk to a pastor or leader in your church. Perhaps they can even help connect you to someone who is willing to listen. Maybe even consider seeing a counselor. Get it in the open, no matter what.

When we keep things hidden in the dark, we give them the power to remain in our lives.

I don’t mind if my room is messy, as long as the lights are off I will leave all my clothes on the floor. The moment I turn on the light something changes. I can’t stand to see my room all messed up! (I know my Mom is happy reading this.) When the mess is in the dark, it doesn’t matter. It only affects me if I happen to wander around and stumble into the mess. However, once the light is on, not only are the obstacles easier to avoid, they are easier to clean up.

About ten years ago, I had just come to the place where I knew I wanted to pursue ministry. Except, there were some things in my life that I knew could destroy me if I didn’t do something to remove them. I didn’t really have anyone close to me that I felt comfortable talking to. So in a moment of absolute resolve, I sent an e-mail to my pastor. I knew I couldn’t wait to try and find the right time to talk to him or I’d never do it. I put it all out there in that e-mail.

It’s a scary thing to do, putting it all out there. We have a common fear that when it’s known we will receive judgment and ultimately rejection. Thankfully, that isn’t what happened. My pastor responded with love and understanding and began to work with me to develop an action plan to overcome.

It’s never easy to take that step into vulnerability. It’s never easy to be so fully exposed. However, we eventually have to ask this difficult question. Do I want to live with this forever? Am I ok if this thing gets worse? What kind of person am I really?

It’s time to turn on the lights.

I believe this is part of what it means to “live as people of light.” (Ephesians 5:8) Every part of our lives should be exposed, nothing hidden. Living in such a way ensures that anyone looking at your life can see the work God is doing within you. It doesn’t mean we are perfect or have no flaws, rather it allows people to see the divine in the midst of our humanity.

We are all imperfect people, chosen, accepted and loved by God. When we allow His light to permeate every part of our lives, we have nothing to fear. We can live life in peace and with confidence. I believe it is only when we fully embrace that light that we can begin to share it with others. It is only when we fully live in the light that Christ can be displayed through us.

Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT) “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”