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.”

Unanswered Prayers

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God answers prayers. Of course, He does! This is why we bring our petitions to the Lord. Yes, through prayer we grow closer to the Lord, growing more intimate in our relationship with Him. But let’s be honest, there are times when our prayers seem to go unanswered. There is an unspoken expectation that God will answer our prayers, the way we want and when we want. We know He is a good God. He is a God of love. He is a God who knows how to give good gifts to His children. We know all of this. Still, most of us have little difficulty thinking back to a moment when our prayers went unanswered.

Dreams die. Friends and family remain unhealed. We still don’t know what direction to take. Depression lingers. Betrayal comes. Confusion refuses to loosen its grip on our mind. Doubts remain.

Can we trust God even when our prayers remain unanswered?

We want to say YES, but we don’t always FEEL like saying YES.

Once I prayed for six months for clear direction, never to find it. It wasn’t until I took action, stepped out into an uncertain future that I found the answer I’d been looking for.

Another time I spent three months praying about something and moving towards a dream I’d had only for it to all fall apart, despite what I thought God was speaking to me.

It’s so much easier when His voice is clear and His presence near, but that isn’t always the case.

I’m reminded of two sisters who were praying for their sick brother. They called out for Jesus to heal him and their prayers seemed to go unanswered. The story is found in John chapter 11. The sisters were Mary and Martha and their brother was Lazarus. Jesus received the message from the sisters to come at once, yet he delayed. He could have arrived before Lazarus died, but he didn’t.

Jesus chose to allow Lazarus to die.

We know this is a story of resurrection, but imagine how Mary and Martha must have felt during that time period. Jesus had let them down. They were hurt, in deep mourning. They weren’t given advance notice that resurrection was coming. That would have been much easier on them.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we were given a list of explanations every time we felt God delaying? Every time things worked out against our expectations. We don’t have to question, because God just tells us plainly! If only that was how things worked!

I guess we wouldn’t have much need for faith if we never had doubt.

So what is my faith in? Is my faith in the answered prayer or is my faith in God, who may choose to give a clear answer or who may not? Another way to ask that question would be is Jesus really enough? That’s where my faith is. Jesus, who claimed to be God. Jesus, who said He was going to die and then be resurrected. Jesus who then did exactly what He said. Jesus, whose own brothers proclaimed, “He is God.”

Jesus is my confidence, whether my prayers are answered or not.

Jesus, who sees all things, past, present, and future.

Yes, we often forget how limited our view is. Our perspective is confined by our present circumstances, emotions, and knowledge. God does not hold such limitations.

This is why I often remind myself of the wisdom found in Proverbs three.

Proverbs 3:5 (NLT) Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.

I may lack understanding, my prayers may seem unanswered, but I am fully convinced that God is still God. When I lack answers, He does not. When I lack direction, He does not. When I am confused, He is not.

Regardless of what seems to be happening in life right now, God is still trustworthy.

When I’m Not Good Enough

photo-1520206319821-0496cfdeb31e.jpegYou caught me. I’ll confess. There are moments when I am convinced I am just not good enough. Moments where I feel so far short of the mark that I’m certain God would be better off moving on. Too honest? Probably, but maybe you can relate? Have you ever have moments where you wonder why God chose you? Maybe you’re in ministry and you feel inadequate. You could be a member of the worship team and are convinced you don’t belong. It could be as simple as the fact that God somehow saw fit to allow YOU to be a Christian. I mean, if He really knew everything that wouldn’t have happened, right? Except that He does and it did.

Why do we have these doubts?

Last week I had one of those prayer times that started off good, but the further in I got the more frustrated I became. This doesn’t happen often to me, but when it does it is so agonizing because I know what it’s like to go in burdened and come out light and I can’t understand the occasions when it just doesn’t seem to work right. That morning my mind was bringing up all of my inadequacies, unbelievably aware of all my shortcomings. I love the Word of God, but it just felt like promises for someone better than me.

Still, I know His Word is true. How I feel in any given moment doesn’t negate the power of His Word, nor disable me to stand firm on His promises. I chose to end my time that morning by shutting off my wandering thoughts and reminding myself of my sonship in Christ and simply asking God to have His way.

Perhaps there’s been enough honesty in this post already, but the truth is the older I get the less confidence I feel in anything, yet, somehow the more trust I have in the Lord. I don’t know that, as of now, I have the words for exactly what I mean by that. I doubt my reasoning skills, my knowledge, my decision making, my ability, my emotions. I don’t always have a lot of confidence that things will work out, even when I’m certain I’m doing what God is asking me.

Still, I trust the Lord. Even if the outcome isn’t what I’d hope for, the responsibility is His. A lot of times we think we have faith in God, but really we have faith in a positive outcome and when the outcome isn’t what we want or expected we don’t know what to do with that. I’m learning that It doesn’t matter if I feel “good enough”. It doesn’t matter if things go my way or if they seem to blow up in my face. He has still chosen me. It doesn’t matter if I deem myself “worthy” or not. He still loves me.

Perhaps this is surrender. Giving up all my ideas and understanding, giving up my expectation that things will always work out and simply trusting the Father to complete the work He started in me. I truly have no hope in myself. Only in the hope of the cross can there be anything of worth produced in my life. 

Except that even with that understanding, I still find myself from time to time feeling like I haven’t done enough. I know my salvation has nothing to do with my own righteousness and everything to do with His grace, yet I still feel like I haven’t prayed hard enough or that I have to do more in order to measure up.

I’ve always had a passion for the Lord, and I want to always be passionate about the things of God. Still, there are moments when I catch myself relying too much on my own driven nature rather than the strength that is found in surrendering to the strength only He can give. I find myself relating to the people of Israel in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Romans 10:1-4 (NLT) Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved.I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.

I pray that I will not have misdirected zeal. That kind of zeal leads to more insecurity and self-sufficiency. When I truly surrender, I have peace in my soul. I walk with quiet confidence knowing that nothing can separate me from God’s unrelenting love.

An Undivided Heart

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Sometimes what I want conflicts with what I want. I mean, I want to have a closer relationship with the Lord, but I also want to watch the office (for probably the 74th time). I want to pass the test, but I also want to go hang out with my friends during the only time I have to study. What I want in the moment conflicts with what I want in the long run. There is a division that happens inside of me and it is terrible.

I like to believe there is NOTHING I truly want more than to honor God and grow in my walk with Him. Deep down I’m sure you’re the same way. We want to do what is right and to make good choices. We want to love people, treat them with kindness and help them find hope during life’s dark moments. Unfortunately, there have been too many moments in my life when I also want something that is in conflict with my desire to please the Lord. This is why I find the word God gave to Israel through His prophet Jeremiah so important.

Jeremiah 29:13 (NLT) If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.

Wholeheartedly. With all of my heart. All of my affection. If I take all my desire and seek after the Lord alone, I will find Him. That is what I want, but too often I have found myself with a divided heart. James tells us what it’s like to have a divided heart.

James 1:5-8 (NLT) If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

When I read this, it has hit home more times than I can count. I have had divided loyalty between God and the world. Have you experienced that? Divided loyalty leads to us feeling unstable and unable to receive from God. It’s an incredibly frustrating experience because I know that His ways are best for me and I want to receive everything He has for me. More than that what we need to receive most is God’s Himself, to be in His presence. Yes, it is His presence that sustains us through the highs and lows of life. His presence is our source of peace, strength and joy.

The divisions of our heart create division from God’s presence. Our heart longs for the closeness found beneath the shadow of His wings. There is safety and security in the closeness found under His wings and I long for it. To be so close that I can hear His heartbeat, that my heart would begin beating for the things His heart does.

Yes, how many times has my faith not been fully established in Christ? I ask the Lord to deliver me from the storm, but I also run to anyone who will listen or I try to avoid dealing with the problem by staying busy and occupying my mind.

How many times have I asked God for wisdom, but have failed to trust God alone for the provision? Our actions always reveal where our faith is placed. Do our actions reveal that we are turning to God alone or are we grasping at anything that seems like it will work?

Are we seeking God wholeheartedly or are we divided? The good news is that our hearts don’t have to stay divided. We can choose to cut out false pursuits and give all our affection to the Lord. So today I will choose to do exactly that. Later on tonight, I will make that choice again. Come morning I will make that choice again. This is not a choice I can make only once and be done with it, because my affections constantly shift and my desires come and go, however, I still have the power to choose. So I will remind myself of God’s Word and renew my pursuit of God every single day. Or as many times a day as it takes.

Reflection Question: What are some desires you have that conflict with your desire to pursue Jesus?

A Change of Heart

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“I’ve had a change of heart.” Has anyone ever said that to you? Have you ever said that to anyone? We often use that expression to indicate a change of affection. Meaning, I was feeling one thing and therefore choosing to act a certain way, but now I’m feeling differently and will act accordingly. When we come to know Jesus there should be a change of affections that takes place inside of us.

Romans 2:28-29 (NLT) For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. 29 No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.

Firstly, I want to point out that we are not made right with God because of our heritage. I know your grandma founded the church, but you are not in a better spiritual condition because your dad was a pastor. You become a true Christian when genuine heart change takes place inside of you. We naturally place our affections in worldly things. These are not necessarily bad or sinful. It is just our nature to desire the satisfaction of the world. We seek out peace and comfort from worldly possessions, entertainment or people. As we mature in Christ there should be a change that takes place. We desire less of worldly pleasure and more of the presence of God and to see the Kingdom of Heaven advance.

This should result in a visible change in how we spend our time. Our affections always drive our actions. Equally true, our actions always reveal where our affections truly lie. I am reminded of the words of John the baptist.

Matthew 3:8 (NLT) Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.

Does the way you spend your time, the choices you make, the words you speak reveal the heart change inside of you? How has being a Christian affected your life in the last year? How have you advanced the Kingdom?

These questions are challenging, but important. Too often, we let large sums of time pass by and we have sadly done very little. I do not write these words to belittle you, but to encourage you. God is not in Heaven wagging His finger at our lack of achievement. He is a loving God, patiently waiting for us to acknowledge Him and allow Him more involvement in our daily lives.

I only share these words, because I too have fallen so very short of the mark, more than I would care to admit. It is also because I know first hand the grace of our Lord and His faithfulness to forgive our shortcomings.

Romans 3:22 (NLT) We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

It is our faith that makes us right with God and because of our right standing with Him, our desires and affections begin to transition from the world to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Take some time today to sit quietly in prayer and ask the Lord to increase your affections the things of Heaven. Time spent in His presence is never wasted. In fact, the quickest way to increase affection for anything is to invest more time into it.