A Single Step

I’ve been thinking about my future quite a bit recently, questioning whether I am who I wanted to be when I grew up. In many ways my life does not look the way I ever imagined it would. Years ago, DH and I sat down together for a series of discussions about where we wanted to raise our family. We agreed on the Pacific Northwest. Instead, we’ve lived in the Midwest for our entire marriage.

Moving from the Great Lakes to the Great Plains, I struggled to find my place. Even now, I want to live in a different home, a better neighborhood, someplace with a fenced-in yard and more than one family within walking distance that we truly call friends.

The thing is, God is with His people no matter where we are. He sometimes sends us to places we would never otherwise choose. Yet, through our journeys, He refines us, both for our own benefit and to bless those who surround us.

Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7, NASB)

While my family isn’t in exile, we are living life here because this is where God has put us right now. I may wish to be somewhere else–especially when I wake up to several inches of snow on the ground or am calling in yet another noise disturbance for the people next door–but this is where I am. I need to be fully present here, working and praying for the people in our community. And as they are blessed, that will be a blessing to us as well.

I don’t know what the next step of our journey holds. God may keep me right where I am. Or He may send me to the Pacific Northwest (or Hawaii … Hawaii always sounds wonderful at the end of winter). Or maybe I’ll move somewhere else that never made it onto my list of places I’d like to go. The question is: Do I trust Him enough to take the next step down His path, wherever it leads?

Lord,

I do trust You. I know You are a good God and I am not. You love me and know what is best for me. Even though what I want is a good thing, I know You may have another, better plan for me. I can trust You to lead me. I choose to follow You, even though I don’t know yet where we are headed. You are with me and that is enough.

Advertisements

Long-term Care

When I was younger, long about high school, I would read or hear the story of the Exodus and all the signs and wonders of the plagues (Exodus 7:1-12:30) and crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-31), followed so quickly by the golden calf incident (Exodus 32:1-6). And I’d be dumbfounded, “How can these same people who saw such miracles ever have wanted to abandon God for this ridiculous idol?”

More recently, I’ve been reading the promises and curses for the people of Israel 40 years later as they are about to enter the promised land (Deuteronomy 28), and I’m getting that same feeling of dismay. God is very clear in promising the good that will come if the Israelites follow Him and the evil that will come if they don’t. Still, having read the rest of the story, I know they choose don’t.

Of course now, 20-some years after high school, I can see a little deeper into the story. God has worked in some amazing and unexpected ways in my life and the lives of those I love. Yet, when I face difficult and uncertain circumstances, it is disheartening how easily I fall into the deception that God must not really want to bless me and perhaps I’d be better off striking out on my own.

Today I’m giving you a choice. You can have life and success. Or you can have death and harm. I’m commanding you today to love the Lord your God. I’m commanding you to live exactly as He wants you to live. You must obey His commands, rules and laws. Then you will live. There will be many of you. The Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to take as your own. (Deuteronomy 30:15-16, NIrV)

Disbelief is exactly what it comes down to, isn’t it? God states His desire very clearly throughout the Bible: He wants to be with us. He wants to love us and to bless us. The issue is my choosing to believe that His blessings are only those things wrapped up in pretty paper and topped with a shiny bow. Or only when He gives me what I want. Or only when He keeps me from being hurt.

Yet, that’s not the way blessings are described in the Bible. James put it this way, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12, NIV). Or how about Jesus’s own words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit …. Blessed are those who mourn …. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst …. Blessed are those who are persecuted …. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:1-12, NIV). The apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians to take heart, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17, NIV). It’s good to bear in mind those troubles Paul said were achieving glory included shipwrecks, imprisonments, brutal beatings, sleeplessness, hunger, and death threats from Jews and Gentiles alike. Those don’t sound much like what I’d want to follow with a hashtag reading soblessed.

God blesses us for our eternal good. He gives us what will be of the most benefit over the long term, even though it may be hard or painful now. In the same way I require my kids to learn math facts or clean up their rooms, even though they struggle and say they’re bored and tell me I’m mean, because I know such knowledge and practice will serve them well later in life, God chooses to be momentarily “mean” to us and require more from us than we feel is strictly necessary to make our lives better in ways we can’t yet fully understand. And on some long days, that is hard to believe.

Lord,

You promise the best to us. You promise more than we could ever ask or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20). But You also require that we trust in Your goodness and love for us. That is hard sometimes, God! When life looks bleak and nothing seems to be going the way I want it to and I’m tired of the lessons You keep leading me through again and again and again, I just want to throw my hands in the air and admit defeat. And perhaps I should. Maybe if I gave up my own determined misunderstanding of Your ways and Your truth, I would find it easier to recognize the eternal glory for which You are preparing me.

Thank You that, in the meanwhile, in the muddle, You never give up on me. You are good. Your love endures forever. Your faithfulness lasts throughout the generations (Psalm 100:5). Amen.

Back and Forth

The end of the year is a traditional time to take a closer look at my life. I find myself considering this past year: my joys, my triumphs, my missteps, my sorrows. And I think about the coming year and what may lie ahead.

When looking ahead, I like to plan. I want to know where I’m headed and have a good set of directions from here to there. With my proverbial map and compass, I don’t simply hope I can make it, but I am confident in my ability to use my tools to navigate the path.

Is it just me or does life not work that way very often? Even when I may have an idea where I’m going, my map gets torn and I misplace my compass. Suddenly, I have no way to know whether I’m even on the right road or moving in the right direction. I start to run this way and that like a squirrel who can’t decide whether there is enough time to cross in front of an oncoming car.

Once again, I’ve discounted my lack of future knowledge. I can plan all I want and waste my time scurrying about when I’ve lost the tools I think I need.  Yet I’m no further ahead than I started out and I’m exhausted to boot. Not only have I lost my confidence, but I no longer have much hope that I’ll actually get wherever it is I need to be.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. (Psalm 62:5. NIV)

So many times, I have put my hope in jobs or friendships or my own thoughts about what will be best for me and things haven’t worked out as I’d planned. I conveniently forget that I don’t really have the whole picture, that God’s ways are higher (and deeper and wider) than mine (Isaiah 55:8-9).

God rarely promises a particular outcome to our life circumstances. He has never asked me to trust that any situation will turn out the way I’ve prayed it will. Instead, He asks me to trust in Him. To believe that He knows what is best for me–even better than I do. To rest in Him and allow His hope to fill me because He is everything I need.

Man, that’s hard!

Lord God,

Thank You for having such great patience with me. You ask me for one simple thing, yet I try everything I can to get out of giving it to You. I want to be the one to make my own plans, to rely on myself. I refuse the comfort that comes from just letting go and allowing You to hold me.

Rather than accepting Your rest, I wear myself out trying harder and harder to do what only You can do: give me a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

Please forgive me for trusting in myself rather than You. For settling in on Your throne in my heart and asking You to make Yourself comfortable on the footrest. Thanks for continuing to offer me rest and peace, even when I’m not really sure I believe You.

Much Ado

Various strong opinions of refugees and terrorists have been lighting up the social media circuits this season. As I scroll through my news feed, I see sympathy for those in crisis and sorrow for the plight of people fleeing the destruction of their communities. I also find the fear that allowing displaced persons to resettle in our own neighborhoods would make us vulnerable to those among them who may violently oppose our religious, political, or social ideals.

Fear. That’s a topic I’m pretty familiar with. I struggle with myriad fears. Some are probable, but many are not. I am not an expert on immigration or refugee issues. I don’t really know how likely these concerns may be. But, honestly, I’m not sure it matters.

Much as I don’t like the idea, I can’t read the Bible and believe that God calls me to feel safe because my country has a strong military presence, a powerful leader, a stable economy, or a well-defended perimeter. Instead, He asks me to trust in His strength, His leadership, His stability, His defense, and to share His love with everybody.

Don’t forget to welcome outsiders. By doing that, some people have welcomed angels without knowing it. Don’t be controlled by love for money. Be happy with what you have. God has said, “I will never leave you. I will never desert you.” So we can say boldly, “The Lord helps me. I will not be afraid. What can mere human beings do to me?” (Hebrews 13:2, 5-6, NIrV)

This passage would be much easier to deal with if it were phrased a little differently. If only the writer of Hebrews had said, “welcome friends” or “welcome people just like you” or even “welcome folks who will bring you lots of gifts and be great friends.” I could definitely get behind that last one. But that’s not what the verse says. It says to “welcome outsiders.” Other translations use the term “strangers” or “foreigners.” The meaning is pretty clear–I need to welcome people who are different from me, people who don’t run in the same circles I do, people who come from somewhere else, people who may make me feel really uncomfortable.

And the potential threat to national security that scares so many of us? Yeah, that’s in there, too. “I will not be afraid. What can mere human beings do to me?” If God is with me, what business do I have fearing anybody (Romans 8:31)?

God,

You have called me to show Your love indiscriminately. I don’t often do that well. I wait to grant blessings on those I feel have earned them. I want to save up favor for people who will likely repay me in kind, or at least let me feel good about giving to someone who can’t give anything back. I dislike the idea that I’m supposed to show love to my enemies in the same way I do to my friends, but that is Your command (Matthew 5:43-48).

I pray for our leaders and those who influence national policies. I ask for Your wisdom as they determine how best to respond to crises around the world and within our own borders.

Please help me to have no fear of bad news, but trust in You. May I find Your Light, even in the darkest places. Let me live rightly, being gracious, showing compassion, and freely passing Your blessings to those in need (Psalm 112).

For Me

DH was up for a promotion at work this week. I spent most of the last several days being excited because it seemed he was the top candidate for the job and while the hours weren’t any better, the increase in pay would have been substantial. We found out yesterday afternoon that the position went to someone else. DH was a little disappointed, but I felt crushed.

I was sad for him, but, I’m ashamed to admit, I was more sad for me. Tossing and turning overnight, I found myself chatting with God about my feelings. I realized that I’d expected Him to bless us financially through this promotion, but He hasn’t. That bothered me, but I wasn’t entirely sure why. Getting out of the shower this morning, it finally came to me. “God,” I said, “I thought this new job would mean I wouldn’t have to trust You every single month to make ends meet.”

Bingo.

And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:19-20, NASB)

My old friend Lacktrust has been visiting again. There’s a Gershwin standard she likes to sing called, “But Not for Me.” It’s a pitiful tune about how great life and love is for everybody else, but not for me. Too often, that’s what I find myself thinking as I consider God’s promises. I start to believe that He has all these great plans for everyone around me, but my life? Well, maybe it’s slipped His mind.

Father God,

I have a terribly short view of Your grace toward me. Forgive me for the arrogance of believing I’ve been singled out to miss the grace and blessings You lavish on other people, but I don’t think You’ll pour on me. Even when I can look at my own life and see Your provision. Even though there have been more months than I can count when the debit column didn’t match up to the credit column in our budget, yet we still had plenty. In spite of every way You have already blessed me, I persist in fearing that Your bounty is not meant for me.

Thank you for this continued opportunity to grow in faith and trust. Please give me eyes to see Your hand at work. Give me the heart to believe Your promises are always true, even for me!

Character Counts

We had to call the police on our new neighbors the other night. We could hear them arguing and saw through an uncurtained window as one partner assaulted the other. I found out later, they’d gone out that evening to celebrate their one-year anniversary. I thought back to the early days of my own marriage. I wasted a lot of time worrying that DH might hurt me somehow or abandon me. I realized that I haven’t entertained such worries in years.

“Why?” I wondered to myself. “Why don’t I worry anymore about DH leaving me or using violence against me?” The answer came to me quickly: I don’t worry because DH is not that kind of man. I don’t worry because I know him and that’s not his character.

Almost immediately, I had a lightbulb moment. I spend a lot of time worrying about what God will do to me. How He might hurt me somehow or abandon me. And yet, it’s just as much (or more) a waste of my time to worry about those things. I don’t need to worry because I know God and that’s not His character.

“For the mountains may move and the hills disappear, but even then My faithful love for you will remain. My covenant of blessing will never be broken,” says the Lord, who has mercy on you. (Isaiah 54:10, NLT)

God, 

So often I think the worst of You. Even after everything I’ve seen You do, after all the promises I know have come true. Still, I fall back into thinking it’s easier to trust in my fallible self than to let go and believe that Your mercy will never fail. It’s seems so much more plausible that You’ll tire of me, You’ll grow weary of my many poor choices and bad habits. But, instead of giving up on me, You love me. You think I’m worth saving, over and over again.

Thank You for choosing me, Lord, when I had no ability to choose You. Thank You for hanging on to me, when I’m afraid I can no longer hang on to You. Thank You for being You, even when I think You’re more like me.

To Know Know Know You

I had a panic attack again the other night. My heart was racing and I couldn’t seem to stop shaking. As DH and I talked about it, he listened to my litany of all the areas of my life where I’m not in control and it scares me. He chuckled. Not cruelly, just as a preface to telling me it was no wonder I was panicking, what with all the space in my brain being so clogged up with worry over things I can’t do anything to change.

As I’ve thought about that the last couple of days, I came to a rather unsettling conclusion: I don’t want to have to trust God all the time.

That’s not very comfortable to admit. Yet it’s true.

Too many times, rather than making the effort to build an actual relationship with God, I tend to think of Him like tech support. He’s out there, doing His thing, but I wait to call until something has gone wrong. When CTRL+ALT+DEL hasn’t solved the problem, well, I guess it’s time to pray. Maybe I can get God reboot the system.

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (II Peter 1:2, ESV)

I find it very easy to worry about what God is going to do or to allow to happen. God doesn’t seem to think the way I do (which is probably a great benefit to the rest of the world). But for me, it means that a good portion of the time, things are not going to go the way I wish. And I get to choose. I can either fuss and fume and fret that the road in front of me is not the way I would have chosen to go, or I can trust that God has a bigger, better plan for my life than I do.

Maybe, though, if I really allowed myself to spend time quality, quantity time with God, to get to know Him in that experiential way, maybe I wouldn’t waste so much time and energy worrying about what He’s about.

God,

Sometimes, it seems so much easier to do things the way I’ve always done it. Even when that’s the hard way. I don’t want to have to upgrade my system–even when that’s what tech support recommends. I don’t want to trust that … well, I guess I just don’t want to trust. What if You make me do something hard? What if You do something that hurts? What if I can’t live the life You want me to–what if I fail?

Or maybe that’s the whole point of the grace part. Because I will fail. Over and over and over again.

But You never will.

Thank You. Thanks for being patient with me as I trudge through the brambles alongside the narrow path. Thanks for blessing me, even when I’ve done nothing to deserve it. Thanks for loving me, no matter how unlovably I’ve been behaving.

Thank You for bringing me peace.