God Says What’s Best (It’s Not About You)

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxWe’re not the center of the universe.

While this statement might not surprise you, we can easily slip into a me-centered way of thinking. It’s not just about selfish, demand-what-we-want-when-we-want-it thinking that’s selfish. You can certainly find someone who is a bit more selfish than you, so you don’t see yourself quite as selfish. Me-centered thinking is more sneaky than the obvious me-statements, whining, and high expectations for people to tend to personal needs and whims. Me-centered thinking is in every single one of us, and it particularly begins to decay the health of church families when we begin with ourselves as the foundation of plans, judgments, and assumptions.

“Well, I know that happens to some people in some churches, but people in my church are much more mature as believers than that. We know the dangers, and we’re cautious never to put our individual selves above the church.” It happens more often than you might recognize, and refusing to consider how me-centered thinking is impacting you as an individual or the church as a whole is negligent and deters you from spiritually growing as God intends.

Even when we know God is sovereign and accept him as all-knowing and all-powerful, our behavior often contradicts our beliefs. Because we can’t understand everything about God, we make some assumptions. We start with what we do understand and make assumptions. We project our limited understanding onto what must be true about God.

We experience fear, and we know God’s Word refers to fear, so we infuse our experience of fear into our belief of what God means when he refers to fear.

We hear a particular Scripture verse taught in a way we’ve never considered before, and without checking the context of the verse or keeping the context of the teaching, we begin to expand the application into areas God never intended. We make our own rules because they make sense to us without checking to see if God says our rules are necessary or God-honoring.

We’re confident God guided in a specific direction in one situation, so when we’re in a similar situation again later, we assume God wants us to move in the same direction.

God’s will is unchanging, but the specifics of how he wants us to respond changes across situations. He desires an ever-deepening relationship with us, which means we must rely on him through every moment of every situation. He guides us to stand up, speak up, speak up, and shut up, depending on what he knows is best in each situation. If faith was as simple as “If A, then B…If C, then D,” we wouldn’t have to rely on God’s leading on an ongoing basis, because we would live within the bounds of legalism. It’s obvious through Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees that legalism is not the same as a thriving relationship of faith with God. He’s not interested in legalism. He wants sacrificial dependency that spurs us toward bold obedience.

When we want what is best, we can become so passionately invested that we place blinders on our eyes, causing us to miss some important truths God. We need to invite God to reveal the situation in which we’re starting with what we most want and projecting our wish lists onto what we’re proclaiming as God’s will. Faith is yielding to God. It’s dying to self to live in his will, which isn’t a one-time decision. It’s an ongoing commitment. We need to set everything of our own wills to the side—our assumptions, wants, relationships, and much more—in order to hear clearly from God. Only declare his will when your confident it’s founded in God’s Word and not in your own.

Trust the Lord with all your heart  and don’t depend on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

The Give and Take of Hope

hope“Why would God give me hope just to take it away?”

I’ve heard it often, and it’s usually in a painful moment. Someone who wanted children so badly was finally pregnant, only to suffer the death of an infant. Someone who had struggled to get on track financially finally gets a job that will provide, only to get hurt and not be able to continue working as the bills pile up. Someone connects with a lifelong partner after a long wait and much pain, only to find out they’ve been deceived and cheated yet again.

In each situation, there is hope, and that hope seems to be trampled on and destroyed.

But hope isn’t about circumstances. We often put our hope in the wrong things. We claim our hope is in God, but then it begins to slide toward hope in what God can provide, what He’s willing to give us. Our hope is in our children, our jobs, our marital status, our financial security, and so on. We claim God provides when those areas of our lives are going well. We are hopeful, because it’s easy to have hope when things are going well by our own perspective, either now or just around the corner. But that hope can easily deflate when things get troubling…when we’ve displaced our hope.

Hope isn’t the same as hype. Hope is enduring, underlying, and chronic. It’s not in what we can see and plan. It’s in God. It’s trust. It’s faith. Pain doesn’t erase it. It can certainly surround it with fog temporarily. But hope still shines.

Our ability to see the sunlight doesn’t determine whether or not the sun shines. Our ability to have hope doesn’t depend on what we can see, understand, and plan.

When All You Have Is Enough

28983400348009a2312d7f61db01556eAll you have to give is more than enough…when your all is for God.

He makes up the difference when you offer what you have completely for Him. It becomes His to use in whatever way He knows is best. It might not end up perfect. In fact, it rarely will. But it will always be better than what we offer on our own, because God adds and multiplies, stretches and ripples. He weaves and purposes in ways we can rarely see or understand. If we only offer what we have when we understand, we do not trust God as fully as we can, as fully as He desires.

When we do, there is a peace in the uncertainty, comfort in the struggle, purpose in the fragments.

Take all that you have, put it in your hand, and hold it open, inviting God to take what He wants to use, give what He knows you need, and set aside what is only taking up space in your life.

Soft Targets

We often hear how terrorists are hitting “soft targets,” or at least, they carry a high risk of being attacked. They’re those everyday situations, so they don’t feel too “soft” to us, living everyday life. And if we’re honest, they aren’t “soft” to a terrorist either. After all, there’s as much intent to harm regardless. Sure, fewer people might be involved, but numbers really don’t make an attack better or worse. An attack is an attack. Pain and suffering is pain and suffering. Scare tactics are scare tactics, and death is death.

The target is pretty much always the same. People see our culture (or another) as a threat to their lifestyle and ideology, and they will do anything to attack, threaten, and take it down. They cause harm, because they see harm being done to them. It sounds odd, because we might not have any personal interactions with people who seem to hate us so much. We feel distanced from them, but they make assumptions about us and us about them, which only helps that feeling of distance. It also helps us generalize.

People justify some really bizarre things.

We can try to understand motivations without respecting or approving of them.

In fact, when we don’t try to understand, we’re actually at more of a risk, because we’re only preparing and responding to the possibilities based on our generalizations (and often our fears). We have more responsibility than we want to embrace at times. We need to ask questions, help fix misconceptions, and trust God more than we trust our own preferences, comfort, social media posts, or friends’ opinions. Just because something sounds good doesn’t make it true.

Setting Aside What I Don’t Know for Who I Know

be-still-and-take-time-to-know-godGod doesn’t always tell us what to do or what He will do, but He always tells us who He is, always reveals Himself to us, and always wants to be known.

I woke up early in Israel and started the day with Bible study. As is often the case with Bible study questions, I was prompted to consider how something in Scripture impacts me. What is the purpose? What is my response? As I encounter God through the truth of His Word, it’s important to consider such questions. God speaks to me personally. However, I’m surrounded by people who God speaks to just as personally. God’s Word isn’t about me. It’s about God. As I thought about the day ahead, journeying through Israel with a small group of women, each on her own journey, how could I respectfully and compassionately pour into each one in a way that confirms, supports, encourages her to listen and respond well to God’s Word? How could I encourage each one to seek and know God…not just about God but God Himself.

Facing and living God’s will doesn’t mean I need to know God’s will every step of the way. I need to know Him. He is enough. He doesn’t have to give me an explanation. He doesn’t have to tell me what’s coming down the road. He doesn’t need to help me understand how everything is going to work out and fit together. He wants me to know Him, and He wants me to encourage others to do the same.

Knowing God gives me the strength I need to move forward into uncertainties.

He helps you do the same. Get to know Him better today, right now. Don’t miss out on His presence.

Refreshed by Surprise

corn-field-and-country-road_129708_thumbI was doing well the day after a tough day. Meeting with a friend, helping someone, and getting things done around the house was helping. But there were still remnants of weariness, and the heat wasn’t helping, especially since I decided to mow and take a walk late afternoon.

Taking a long, hot walk ended up more refreshing than I expected.

A couple miles into the walk, on one of my favorite country roads, I felt something odd. A cool breeze met the sweat on my skin and I shivered. I looked up to see if a storm was brewing but saw no clouds. I looked at the corn to determine the direction of the wind, but the leaves were only slightly fluttering. The wind I felt made no sense by what I could see, but I was going to enjoy every moment.

As I followed a turn in the road, the breeze intensified. I walked tall and breathed deeply. And I sighed.

I thanked God for respite, for His presence and provision. Life is difficult sometimes, but He never ceases to invest in my life. I can get so focused on myself and my circumstances that I miss out on the glimpses of His glory and peace. He comforts me, but I choose to stress instead. He nudges me, yet I try to maintain control. He shows up, and I take Him for granted or ignore Him.

Not today.

That unseen breeze reminded me. He doesn’t take all my problems away, but He gives me mercy and grace through them. He doesn’t show up as I expect, but I’m thankful for that, because He shows up His way. And His way is always better. I might get weary, but He doesn’t. Just like the breeze, I can’t see Him, but I feel His presence. I don’t fully understand Him, yet I trust Him. When I follow Him well, He surprises me with the refreshment I need, just at the right time and place.

Listen and watch for Him today. Set aside your expectations and simply trust Him to meet you where you are. Accept what He gives you. He is always willing to give you His presence, and that is the most refreshing gift of all.

The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. (Job 33:4)

When Self-Help Isn’t About Self

wordAll Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Scripture is about God, not us. What God wants to say about Himself to you is more important than telling you what to do. We often look at God’s Word as a self-help book. We use the concordance to look up key words so that we can cull through all the verses that include the one word that describes our situation or what we think we need (or need to get rid of).

God can speak to us through His Word in any way He chooses, so even when we’re looking for something specific that we don’t need, He can pour into us in ways we don’t expect. We can’t wait to seek Him until we think we’ve figured out how to seek Him. Our need for understanding or perfection will paralyze us. We need to seek Him the best we can.

So, am I contradicting myself by saying we shouldn’t go to God’s Word with certain intents but we should go to God’s Word with any intent? I’m just saying God, in His sovereignty, is able to work through our intents, even when ill-willed or misguided. However, that doesn’t give us the excuse to neglect the purity of our intent.

God wants us to seek Him. He wants us to know Him. He wants our humility, and when we seek Him only for the answers we think we need for ourselves, we aren’t humble. We will always wrestle with our selfishness. I’ve actually grown to appreciate the need for such wrestling, because it’s not a one-time choice. It requires continual yielding, recognizing who I am in relationship with God. He is God. I am not. I am His.

And His Word is a gift. Get to know Him through His Word.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12-13)