When Our Spiritual Seasons Don’t Match Our Expectations

29861“I say this because I know what I am planning for you,” says the Lord. “I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you. I will give you hope and a good future. Then you will call my name. You will come to me and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will search for me. And when you search for me with all your heart, you will find me! Jeremiah 29:11-13

What’s your immediate response when you read these verses?

I’m not asking you for the “Sunday School answer,” the one you think you’re supposed to give because it’s what’s expected. The one that “if my faith was as I wish it was, this is how I’d answer.” The one that “so-and-so, that person who has immense faith I know,” would answer. God knows your initial response. He knows your struggles. He wants you to be honest with him – and with yourself.

For many, these verses spur confusion, regret, fear, anger, frustration, because…

  • How could God say he doesn’t have plans to hurt me when I’ve been hurt?
  • Is God not big enough handle the details of my life?
  • Does God simply not care?
  • Am I doing something wrong?
  • Why do I struggle with knowing or understanding God’s plan? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Life doesn’t make sense, but it’s not because God can’t make sense of it. It makes perfect sense to him. He knows. He understands. We don’t. We’re limited in what we can know and understand. We make all sorts of assumptions about what’s going on in our lives within our limited knowledge and understanding, and those assumptions lead to some of the above questions. We can easily get stuck in the muck of limited perspective even though that’s not God’s intention at all. Our limited perspective is a blessing. We can’t handle what he knows and understands. We weren’t created to be little gods. We were created by THE God to be his creation. We’re created in his image. We’re not carbon copies.

Let’s commit to setting aside our needs for more of what we want and letting God consume us with what he wants and what he knows we need through each season of our lives. Life changes just as the seasons change. We can be warmed by the sun one day and bone-chilling cold the next. We gather beautiful bouquets of colorful flowers one day and dig into frozen ground to find any remnant of a sign of life the next. It’s not just about what’s going on around us; seasons occur deep within us. Our lives are marked with spiritual seasons – and they aren’t as predictable as the beginning of seasons on the calendar. A season can be short or long, expected or unpredictable, welcomed or ignored. We won’t understand or appreciate every spiritual season of our lives. We likely won’t even acknowledge some, while we try to bask too long in others.

What you’re currently experiencing as winter might be a spiritual spring to which you simply haven’t been awakened yet. The chill you feel in the air in the middle of what you believe to be summer might be an early onset of spiritual fall. God – and your spiritual growth – isn’t ruled by a calendar. You have your own calendar with God. Your calendar is unique and cannot be compared to any other. Jeremiah 29 includes no words that indicate if you plan and do well enough, you will prosper. Prospering in God is drastically different than prospering by the world’s standards. You will prosper through his plan. Because he created you and knows you more intimately than you know yourself, he knows where to guide you and how to use your experiences of living in this imperfect world. You can trust him for his perfect plan or try it on your own. I’ve tried it both ways, and as difficult as it is to yield myself to him and give up my own needs and wants, the bottom line is that God takes care of my needs and wants much more completely when I yield them to melt into his.

So how can you not only live with but thrive in the promises of Jeremiah 29:11-13? We’ll dig into these verses in more depth in tomorrow’s post, but for now, let’s consider and share:

What’s a word or phrase that best describes what you believe your needs to be in this spiritual season of your life?

Every Season

29861There is a time for everything, and everything on earth has its special season. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

God’s Word declares every season is set apart. It is marked by particular events, challenges, necessities, lessons, and purpose. Every season combines with other seasons to complete a person’s life and purpose on earth. Individual seasons cannot stand alone in isolation. Seasons are dependent on each other for context of meaning. Growth is only possible because of the combination of seasons.

We could identify broad terms in an effort to capture the essence of each season: spring=renewal, summer=beauty, fall=productivity, and winter=dreariness. Yet single words don’t begin to portray the full scope of each season. Different parts of the world experience natural seasons in a variety of ways. Different people experience spiritual seasons in a variety of ways. How one person responds to a situation in a spiritual winter differs from another person’s response to a similar situation. How one person celebrates during a spiritual summer differs from another’s celebration. Productivity differs. Renewal differs. There’s variation in spiritual seasons, yet there is also consistency.

  • Seasons change, assuring us nothing is permanent.
  • Seasons change without our control.
  • Seasons require adaptation.
  • Seasons don’t always make sense.
  • Seasons invite awe and appreciation.

How have you specifically experienced one or more of these facts of seasons?

God will use every spiritual season of your life. He wastes nothing. If it’s in your life, it can and will be used by God.

  • You can choose to appreciate the beauty of what God is placing in front of you – or not.
  • You can choose to be thankful for what God is providing you – or not.
  • You can choose to learn the lessons God teaches you – or not.
  • You can choose to adapt to changes around you – or not.
  • You can choose to trust God through challenges – or not.
  • You can choose to seek God’s perspective on each situation – or not.
  • You can choose God – or not.

Every season is not enjoyable. Every season is not comfortable. Every season is not desirable. We want to avoid the uncomfortable and settle into seasons of comfort. We pull the covers over our heads and try to pass time as the challenges swirl around us, then tightly grab onto the celebrations, unwillingly to unclench our fists in hopes the moment will stay. We want to know what we can do to grow pleasant fruit in our lives as quickly as possible. We don’t like the waiting process. We don’t like not being able to see the connection between what we’re doing today and what happens in our lives tomorrow. We want life to make sense, but we have limited information, understanding, and perspective.

God has every detail. He knows each growing season of every area of each life – yours, mine, and every single person he’s ever created to live on earth. His purpose for us is driven with the passion of establishing an ever-deepening relationship with each and every individual. He uses what we experience as both good and bad to benefit us in a way that ultimately glorifies him. Each season places demands on us – expectations to rely on God, respond in obedience, and welcome results. We experience similarities across some seasons and situations, but others seem foreign to us. We get disoriented, discontent, and disappointed.

Every season requires sacrifice. In order to fully experience God’s purpose, we must yield to him as the one who guides and provides. He should be the only one we trust, because he is the only one who has perfect perspective. We think we can handle our experiences – past, present, and future – but we are vastly limited. Every season holds blessings for us. In order to fully experience each blessing, we must choose to set aside what we think and want, inviting God to consume us.

You might have a favorite natural season, but you cannot live in it every day of your life. The same is truth for spiritual seasons. Regardless of where you’d prefer to be, you will not be there every moment of your life. You can choose to sit and pout about it, or you can use the time given to you, learning the lessons and growing the way God purposes so that every season that follows is nourished by the preceding seasons.

Today’s post begins a series of Pure Growth, which will include excerpts from the study published under the same title. We’ll dig into a study of spiritual seasons, so we can choose pure growth, the purpose God intends for us. We’ll determine to embrace every time and every season, because we’ll grow in seeing and living life by God’s perspective.

Grace in the Morning

graceThe Lord’s love never ends; his mercies never stop. They are new every morning; Lord, your loyalty is great. I say to myself, “The Lord is mine, so I hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:22-24)

Ponder It.

  • How do you define God’s grace?
  • On a scale from one to ten, how fully do you live out of God’s grace every day?
  • What do you need today? What does God say about your need(s)?

Receive It. God’s grace gives you what you need to live. What do you need for today? Be careful. How you define what you need and how God defines what you need are likely different. We can become accustomed to assuming we have a right to something when we’re not promised by God to the same things we’re promised by the world. There’s a chasm between the two. Even when we claim the promises of God, we often live by the promises of the world, and we don’t like it when the promises of the world don’t pan out. The truth is…the world lies. God doesn’t. We can trust God’s promises, but we can’t trust the world’s. We don’t think God’s grace is sufficient because we don’t fully experience what God’s grace is. We try to fit it into a box of what we think it is. We want to believe God is big enough to take care of everything about us and our lives, but we also want to understand everything about what he’s doing. We want to micromanage, give our instruction, and rely on him to make the adjustments we most want. However, we can’t make God into what we want him to be. He can’t be both big enough to be sovereign yet small enough to be understood by those who he created. What we want and prefer doesn’t change who God is. God’s grace is sufficient, because God is sufficient. He is all we need, but we have to believe he is all we need in order to experience he is all we need. Today, he is everything you need. It might not be comfortable, easy, or burden-free, but you have what you need to deal with every moment and situation. Not in your own strength, but in his. Not in your own wisdom, but in his. Not in your own plan, but in his. Are you willing to fully yield to him and trust him for grace at the beginning of today, tomorrow, and every day?

Live It. How is God providing for your needs today? Keep a running list throughout the day, acknowledging each time God provides for you. Be sensitive to notice even those things you might not consider as needs and provision.

Grace in the Night

graceGod once said, “Let the light shine out of the darkness!” This is the same God who made his light shine in our hearts by letting us know the glory of God that is in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

Ponder It.

  • How have you experienced God’s grace in the darkness of your life?
  • Where and when have you been spiritually stuck?
  • How does God’s grace impact the authenticity of your life?

Receive It. God’s grace meets you where you are. God makes a way where there seems to be no way. He brings light into the darkness. He reveals the truth…when we invite him to do so. Sometimes God illuminates our lives, and we don’t see what he’s revealing to us, because we refuse to look. We keep our eyes tightly shut, refusing to see the truthfulness of what’s around us. We would never admit to wanting to remain in the dark, but it becomes a habit. It’s comfortable. Our eyes have adjusted to the darkness, and we don’t feel the need for additional light. Sometimes God doesn’t illuminate our lives because we refuse to move toward him. We settle into a corner of the darkness and wonder why we can’t see. Our fear, anger, frustration, sadness, or other emotion overrides our desire to see beyond where we are. We feel stuck, so we stay stuck instead of using it as a motivation to move. Then there are the times God illuminates our lives and we sigh in relief, have an a-ha moment, or exclaim in excitement over what misunderstanding or misinterpretation is revealed. Where we could once see only a small piece of the puzzle and made extensive assumptions about the bigger picture, we now see more of the bigger picture and reorient our perspective based on our newly acquired knowledge. God’s grace filters everything through truthfulness. God’s grace is authentic. There is no deception in God’s grace. It will not trick you. It will not toy with you. It will meet you where you are and pour into you through the next steps of your journey. It will seep into the darkness around you, even where you didn’t know darkness existed. Darkness might seem uncertain and overwhelming, but God’s grace is invasive. Where you experience God’s grace, you will be nourished.

Live It. Turn on a flashlight and shine it around you. If it’s light where you are, you won’t notice it much. You might take it for granted or think it’s unnecessary. But there is some degree of darkness around you. Shine your light into it and consider the places in your life in need of light and grace.

Grace in the Routine

gracePeople, trust God all the time. Tell him all your problems, because God is our protection.  (Psalm 62:8)

Ponder It.

  • What parts of your daily routine would you not want to do without?
  • What would you like to incorporate more into your routine?
  • What is God’s perspective of your routine?

Receive It. God’s grace is reliable. God is trustworthy and anything that is of God is trustworthy. God cannot be anything other than trustworthy because it is his character. Grace is God’s, and we can rely on it. Our trust in and reliance on God’s grace often waxes and wanes, but it’s not because grace itself shifts. It’s because we are unreliable. We bend. We move. We stand still. We run. We walk. We sit. We hide. We seek. But God’s is unfailing. God’s grace is unfailing and unchanging.

The most reliable parts of our lives turn into our routines. We brush our teeth at a certain time, we set aside certain times to sleep, we take medications throughout our routines, go to work, eat meals, and so on, all on a schedule. Yes, we’re usually flexible in our routines, but there are common threads that work throughout our days. We can quickly take our routines for granted, assuming we’ll be able to sleep at night, assuming we have a consistent job, assuming nothing major will come along to rock our world and disrupt our routine in overwhelming, long-lasting ways. But really, our routines can and will differ. Your routine of today is not the same as your routine of 10 years ago, 20 years ago, or 30 years ago.

God’s grace is unchanging. You can rely on the routine of God’s grace. God will not pull his grace out from under you. In fact, God wants you to not only stand firmly on his grace but also be wrapped in and covered by his grace. God wants his grace to permeate every area of your life so that you respond out of his grace.

Live It. Consider what constitutes your routine. How can you see God’s grace working throughout your routine? Acknowledge God’s grace and apply it throughout your routine. If you have trouble focusing on God’s grace throughout the day, consider humming or singing Amazing Grace throughout your “routine” moments.

Grace in Change

graceDo not be shaped by this world; instead be changed within by a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to decide what God wants for you; you will know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Ponder It.

  • How has your life changed recently?
  • How would you like your life to change?
  • How do you believe God wants your life to change?

Receive It. Grace is consistent throughout change. Grace doesn’t change, but our lives certainly change. Whether you are growing toward God or away from God, you are changing…and God is not. You can trust God’s grace to be available at any time in your life. We don’t always accept or acknowledge it. We don’t fully live out of grace. We can roll in the comfort of God’s grace in one situation, sure-footedly step out in grace in another situation, and extend the warm hand of God’s grace in yet another. But those aren’t the only situations in which we experience God’s grace. We struggle to see God’s grace when we think we’ve done something unforgiveable. We ignore God’s grace when we’re comfortable and don’t see our need for it. We trample on God’s grace when we take the wheel to drive through life on our own. Life changes, and we receive and give out God’s grace in different ways to different degrees. But the changes of our lives don’t affect the reality of God’s grace. His grace is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, because grace is who God is, and he is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We have grace whether we acknowledge it or not. We have grace whether we live it out or not. We have grace because we have a relationship with God, and it’s a part of who God is. We limit the impact grace has in our lives because our preferences, attitudes, and rational thinking limit the reality of God’s grace. We sell grace short, because we are limited, and we rely on our own limited perspective. But grace doesn’t fall short. It is plentiful through all the changes of our lives despite what we think. We can believe God for his grace instead of just believing God’s grace exists.

Live It. Make a list of three areas in which your life has changed in the last three months. List three ways today is different than yesterday. Place both lists in your Bible after writing today’s date on them. Trust you’ll find them later and notice how God continues to teach and extend grace in the coming months. Give God the glory.

Grace in Relationships

graceLove the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second command is this: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” There are no commands more important than these. (Mark 12:30-31)

Ponder It.

  • With what relationship(s) do you currently struggle?
  • How do you need to extend God’s grace in a relationship?
  • How do you need to experience God’s grace in your relationship with him?

Receive It. God’s grace can be the foundation of our relationships. But our relationships are messy, because we’re messy. We don’t rely on God’s grace, because we’ve been hurt, and we struggle to extend grace to others. We’ve been offended, and we don’t trust God’s abundant grace to cover offenses. We say we trust God’s grace. We want to live it out. We want to reflect God’s grace, but do we really? Is there gossip, unforgiveness, bitterness, jealousy, or anger in your relationships? God’s grace can change that. God’s grace doesn’t just cover up those things. God’s grace removes it. God yanks up the deep roots of anything that gets in the way of grace. He tosses it all aside in a compost pile, because the very junk of our lives becomes the fertilizer that enriches our lives of today and tomorrow. God doesn’t let anything go to waste. We can’t pull it up ourselves and use our junk as fertilizer. We don’t have the insights to know how to accurately weed through everything. God does. He guides the process with his grace. His way is good. Our way is imperfect. God knows we’re limited. He created us. Our relationships require his grace. They won’t be productive without God’s grace. They will be destructive. Oh, they might look good. We might even impact each other in great ways, but if we don’t build relationships in God’s name, we are not as blessed as God desires. He wants us to live in abundant grace, including our relationships. That means we trust him to live abundant grace through us. Because of grace, we will forgive others and heal, we will notice people and sacrificially serve, and we will see all kinds of needs and generously give—not just of the time, energy, and resources that God gives us but of the grace only he can provide.

Live It. Extend grace today. The person who irritates and frustrates you? Ask God how he wants you to respond, then do it!