Monday, February 24, 2014

What Faith Looks Like

A couple of times this week the question, "How do I trust God?" has been asked with sincerity by those who struggle, who want to trust, but are stuck in fear or uncertainty. What a great question!

First and foremost, it begins at the cross. If we haven't reconciled our sin and depravity with the goodness and provision of God, we have no grounds to trust Him. Those who do not come to God through Jesus will be judged by their own righteousness, which falls short on every count (James 2:10).  The sidebar to the right tells how to become God's child--it's the first and most important step of faith you'll ever take.

My friend, Naomi, once described the Christian walk in terms of "trust" and "faith." It's as if I'm walking through a dense fog on unstable ground. I can't see where to place my foot, but in order to move ahead, I must pick it up and set it down... somewhere. Faith is the action of picking up my foot and setting it down in a place I've never been before (think Abraham).

When we seek God in His Word and prayer, He provides a solid footing. I move forward, not knowing where my foot will land, but believing God will not let me fall (Psalm 37:23-24). When I look behind and see how far I've come, that's trust. I act on faith, but the greater my confidence in God's provision based on past experience (trust), the easier it is to step out on faith. If I never take that first step, I will never prove God's faithfulness.

Too often we get caught up in "me:"  the idea that "I" can mess it up, that "I" will ruin God's plan or fail Him in some way, shape or form. Logically, if I never move, I will never fail. But that's not what Jesus says. To the servant who refused to try, who buried his God-given investment until the master returned, Jesus said, "‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed.... For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 25:26, 29-30).

It sounds crazy--it doesn't make sense to our human minds--but God actually doesn't want our efforts or perfection. He's not concerned about failure. He calls us to faith, that nail-biting, knee-knocking first step that says, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water” (Matthew 14:28). 

The truth of the matter, like it or not, is that you and I are not big enough to create failure. God is the Creator--of all things (Colossians 1:16-20). He uses failure and weakness and foolishness in ways we will never understand (1 Corinthians 1). We cannot "let Him down" or ruin His plan. He's bigger than that. Greater. Mightier. Wiser. The only step of failure is the one that refuses to move.

"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." (James 1:5-8)

"But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6)

Are you ready to walk by faith?
1) Talk to God--confess your pride, your disbelief and unwillingness to obey. Admit your fear and ask Him for help.
2) Continue in prayer, asking God what step of obedience you need to take right now, this minute. My guess is that you knew where you're holding back before you sat down to pray--but now you and God are in this together and you're on His side, not your own. That's the way faith works.
3) Do it. Don't write it down, think about it or ask a friend for help. Just. Do. It.
4) Thank God for His help. You did it! You acted on faith and obeyed. It's just that simple.
5) Ask God to reveal what you should do next. NOTE: God's will is always in agreement with His Word. If you do what's right you'll rarely have time to do what's wrong.
6) Praise Him as He answers your prayer and helps you obey. Tell others. Talk to Him constantly as you go about your day asking for help, direction, strength, wisdom and forgiveness as needed. Sing songs of praise, and
7) Keep doing the next right thing.

I have taken [you] from the ends of the earth, And called from its farthest regions, And said to you, ‘You are My servant, I have chosen you and have not cast you away: Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’"  (Isaiah 41:8-10)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Complaining in Black and White

So this week when the temperature dipped again, schedules ran amuck and dental appointments went haywire, I saw complaining in black and white.

Last time I questioned the difference between authenticity ("Wow, this is hard") and complaining ("I don't like this"). The answer came in a moment when I realized complaining is another way of saying, "I want when I want it!" Ooh. Not pretty. Not desirable or appealing, but true.

When I complain, "I'm cold," really means "I don't like being cold. I want to be warm."
"My husband expects breakfast on the table at 7:00a.m. sharp," means "I don't want to serve my husband breakfast at 7 every morning."
"I wish I could go shopping today," means "I don't want to do whatever it is I'm obligated to. I'd rather go shopping."

The solution? Ah, the solution made me cringe. I had to own up to my discontent. God had provided for my need. I turned and stomped my foot in response. It's not a small offense. Once I got past the choking words of guilt and admission, words flowed and my heart began to melt. It sounded something like this:

"Oh, God. I want __________ and I'm angry and resentful You haven't provided it. I don't like feeling this way and I know it's wrong. Please help me let go of my desire and trust You. Help me want what You want, because right now, I don't.

"Until my heart changes, please give those around me grace. Please fill my heart with grace; help me be patient, gentle and loving because right now, I'm not. I can't manufacture those things, they're not in me, they're from You by Your Spirit.

"Help me give up what I want and desire to please You more than myself. Ugh. Why do I want what I want all the time? Thank you for giving Yourself for me. I need You. I am rebellious and selfish, but You know that. You loved me and died for this rotting, demanding soul who loses sight of You and fights against Your will and way. Please forgive me for not being content and trusting You with what is best. Thank You for working out Your good purpose and glory in my life. Amen."

I can't say change happened lickety-split, but God answered my prayer. He changed my heart and revealed the pride that lies behind complaining--the I-want-what-I-want syndrome. May God help us trust and depend on Him in each situation, for every moment. Praise God for His perfect love and provision, because I know I need it. It wasn't the last time I'll ever complain...but seeing the reflection as I stuck out my tongue at the mirror of God's Word is great motivation for change!

(see a similar post from my friend, Sarah, "The God Who Satisfies: Comfort or Contentment?" )

"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." (Romans 5:1-6)

"Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:11-13)

"Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain." (Philippians 2:14-16)

Friday, February 7, 2014

Authentic or Complaining? What's the Difference

Facebook is full of it. Conversation stirs. Life happens. We share. My most recent thought-spinning has been, "Am I complaining? Or being real? Is it wrong to seek understanding when life disappoints?

One of our greatest heart-motivations, especially as women, is to be understood. We share because we want someone--anyone--to enter our experience and share our joy, hurt, frustration, disquiet. I can only imagine weary Adam listening to Eve process their sin after removal from the Garden. How we long to be heard, known, understood and affirmed.

Unfortunately we find it easiest, natural even, to seek understanding in selfish, short-sighted ways. We argue; we complain. We respond with sarcasm, flirting and slander. Or, wonder of wonders, we clam up altogether and dare someone to draw us out.

One of my recent goals has been to be who I am both in public and private. The same person--warts, hairspray and all. Jesus, my example, was who He was (and is who He is!). Nothing more. Nothing less. That's my goal. But where on that continuum is the line between authenticity and complaining?

What do I say (or not say) when plans change, disappointments strike, and wishes fritter away? Do I bite my tongue? Ask for prayer? Praise the Lord? What's real and what's wrong? I'm still working it out in my head and heart, realizing that others feel relief and encouragement when they witness God at work in my struggles and trials in spite of my sinful self. The goal is to honor God through honesty--even if it's not comfortable, or pretty, or pleasing to men. The flip side is to get caught up in moaning about unwanted circumstances and unmet expectations or cover them altogether, shushing loud children, presenting coiffed hair and a calm smile. How wide is the line? How narrow? If you have a thought or comment, please share it below.

I realize some of you are facing life or death decisions and circumstances. Please know that this entry is not intended to be trite or insensitive; it's simply where the rubber meets the road for the author in this moment. Perhaps you will share a comment or two as well.

"I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!" (Psalm 27:13-14)
"Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,  holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain." (Philippians 2:14-16)
"Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one." (Colossians 4:6)

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." (Ephesians 4:29-30)