Un-Expecting Expectations

fillintheblank.jpgDo you prefer fill-in-the-blanks or open-ended questions? Which would best describe the way you live out faith?

When we live out our faith with fill-in-the-blanks, we look for what we expect to fit. Sometimes we don’t even look at the context of the blank. We just know a blank is coming, and we sift through what’s coming into our lives to find what best fits. We know something must go there, and we don’t want it to be blank for long. We’d prefer the answers be handed to us on an answer key or shown on a large screen right in front of us. Fill-in-the-blank living can create a lazy interaction. Yes, we’re still engaged in doing something, but we’re jumping from one statement and blank to another, skimming what comes in between.

What if we lived out faith with open-ended questions that invite us to search? Open-ended questions aren’t as safe, because we can get off track without the structure of fill-in-the-blanks. We can easily meander down a rabbit trail or get distracted by a squirrel. Yet open-ended questions engage us. They invite us into experiences. As we learn through experiences, we apply what we learn. We feel a sense of ownership, because we’ve engaged in the process. We’re not just interacting with pen and paper; we’re interacting with the world around us. Open-ended questions lead to mistakes that seem a bit more significant than the fill-in-the-blank mess of crossing out a wrong answer. Just because we experience something doesn’t make our interpretation of what we experience or our perspective of what is accurate and what isn’t reflective of truth. The mistakes of open-ended questions can have lasting impacts, yet we continue to learn through those experiences when we’re seeking God’s truth over our own preferences and perspectives.

When we live by fill-in-the-blanks, we look for something specific. We expect something to fit, and when it doesn’t, we’re not sure what to do. When we live by open-ended questions, we explore what fits, and the answers we find through our experiences are richer and deeper.

Consider a few questions Jesus asked.

“Why do you notice the little piece of dust in your friend’s eye, but you don’t notice the big piece of wood in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:2)

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why are you thinking evil thoughts?” (Matthew 9:4)

“Why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

Knowing what they were talking about, Jesus asked them, “Why are you talking about not having bread? Your faith is small. (Matthew 16:8)

But knowing that these leaders were trying to trick him, Jesus said, “You hypocrites! Why are you trying to trap me?” (Matthew 22:18)

Jesus knew immediately what these teachers of the law were thinking. So he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?” (Mark 2:8)

When Jesus turned and saw them following him, he asked, “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38)

Jesus had the answers before he asked the questions. He didn’t ask because he needed the answers. He asked because he wanted people to work through the answers. He wanted them to search for the answers, engaging in the experience of learning.

What kind of questions are you asking? The ones you can easily fill in the blank or the ones that take a bit more time, move you out of your comfort level, and sometimes create more confusion before creating clarity?

Engage in a relationship with God. You’ll find the answers you need.

This Can’t Be Right

14657310_1460833877264039_930398364757535582_n-300x149Then they said to Him, “John’s disciples fast often and say prayers, and those of the Pharisees do the same, but Yours eat and drink.” (Luke 5:13)

We often question out of our expectations and experiences, as if certain things can’t change. We see differences and proclaim, “Well, this can’t be right, because it’s not what I know to be true or normal.” But what if our ideas and expectations need to be tweaked?

They often do.

Just because someone or something doesn’t fit our cookie cutter molds doesn’t mean we should reject them. We can listen, learn, and when appropriate, change. Sometimes we accommodate what we learn into our existing ideas and practices, and the two meld together. Other times, we set aside what we encounter but not before learning from and wrestling with it. But when we simply reject things without filtering, either quickly or over time, it through truth, we miss out. Just because we don’t like something or it makes us uncomfortable is not a good reason to toss it aside.

Instead, we can search for truth among what we encounter, what we experience, and what we expect. And we can let that truth change us into who God wants us to become…instead of changing ourselves into what we most want.

Instruction to Live

Green Apple In Woman HandsKeep my commands and live. (Proverbs 7:2a)

People often think that God takes all the fun out of life. That with all His commandments and expectations, life is somehow less than it can be.

Not true.

Not even remotely true.

God fills life. His commandments add fullness. There is freedom in obedience.

God’s instructions aren’t just “do not,” but “do.”

Do pursue Him.

Do honor Him.

Do love Him and others.

Do let Him change and grow you.

Do know how much He loves you, how He has sacrificed for you, what He has planned for you.

Do live.

 

The Less-Than-Perfect Holiday

0913229c6aec0a2173854970ec3f9e86It’s that time of year when many families come together and laugh and smile and make memories and post all their best moments on social media to share with the world and be affirmed with comments about how adorable and wonderful and amazing their family is!

And behind those snapshot moments are struggles, conflicts, unhealed hurts, and wishes that things would be better, not just in the family but in life.

Admitting we have struggles, conflicts, and hurts doesn’t mean we’re miserable. It doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy the holidays with family. It simply means we admit that everything isn’t perfect, that there’s opportunity to grow. It means we don’t wallow in how things could be so much better “if only.” We’re willing to be patient, honest, gracious, and humble. We don’t wait until someone else changes before we’re willing to go the next step. We choose to change despite what someone else chooses. After all, we all have a different perspective of the truth of a situation. And most likely, we’re all a little right and a little wrong.

So this holiday season, even today, take a deep breath and resolve to be humble enough to consider someone else’s perspective. Extend some grace. Show compassion. Be authentic with discernment. Take a small step in the right direction. Refuse to expect everything to change and be healed at once. Allow others to grow, and take responsibility for your own growth.

Let go of what needs to go, and hang onto what’s truly important.

The Healing Season

il_340x270-761747324_qjmzLord my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me. (Psalm 30:2)

How have you defined healing when you feel you or someone else missed out on healing?

How have you defined healing when you’ve experienced it (yourself or someone else)?

How might your expectations of healing affect the healing itself?

Healing can be instantaneous but it is more often a season. Even when we see Jesus healing someone in the New Testament, we must recognize that the healing process involves more than a one-time act. In many cases, people had been seeking healing for years. People had been crying out to God or trying a myriad of remedies. People had struggled with pain, isolation, and loss. All of those details are part of the healing process, too, not to mention the adjustment that happens after the moment of healing. Sure, people celebrate, but their lives are changed. Their relationships change. Their routines change. Their faith changes.

Do we pursue healing? Perhaps the better question is, “Do we pursue healing well?” Does our pursuit involve preparation—not just for a preconceived notion or timeframe for healing but for whatever God wants to do through our growth and struggle? Are we well prepared to handle whatever will happen? Do we have strict guidelines of what outcomes will be good or bad, or do we trust God to rework, define, and infuse purpose into the process? Do we claim “God heard my prayers” only when we get what we want?

Healing is not equivalent to having everything turn out the way we want. Healing involves God working in our lives to mend as He knows gives us an opportunity to grow closer to Him. Healing involves His purposing of all things according to His ways while working in the messy world that’s, for now, full of pain, consequences, and sin. If we want to see healing as He sees it, we have to set ourselves and our assumptions and desires aside. We may not get everything we want, but if we want Him more than anything, we’ll get what He wants and knows is best, which is better than anything we could dream up.

Reach out and encourage someone who needs physical, spiritual, or emotional healing today. Refrain from trying to give them all the answers or advice. Refuse to give isolated verses or sayings that are either pulled out of context or might end up making the person feel as if they have done something wrong or have too little faith. It happens often even with our best intentions. Instead, simply encourage with love. If you know a small gift or act of service the person would appreciate, add that as encouragement as well.

Stored Up Goodness

ca205306b38c47bc228dd337d90850dbHow great is Your goodness that You have stored up for those who fear You and  accomplished in the sight of everyone for those who take refuge in You. (Psalm 31:19)

God stores up goodness. That means we don’t have access to all of it at once. Not because God is stingy, but because He knows when and how much we need His goodness. His goodness includes His wisdom of timing and provision. His goodness involves storing and releasing.

God’s goodness is always good.

How we expect or accept it isn’t.

Listen Without Expectations

God speaksThen He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the Lord’s presence.”

At that moment, the Lord passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Suddenly, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13)

God doesn’t always show up as we expect. He doesn’t always speak in a whisper or a whirlwind. If we want to hear Him, we need to listen, setting aside our expectations and paying attention.