Thursday, July 23, 2015

When Life Feels Wrong

Some days life just feels wrong. Off. Out of control inside. Out of control outside. And sometimes it's not just a "day" but weeks or months. Maybe years.

The truth is that we don't have as much control as we think we do (or think we should).

And life is not about what we feel, what we see, hear and perceive. It's about what is. And what is? God. His Word. It's not a trite answer, even when it sounds like one. 

Here's the way it works. When you and I feel like this:

...we're experiencing chaos, confusion, anger, strife, envy, jealousy, bitterness.... Why? Because life is off. I know what I want but can't...quite... reach it: comfort, peace, success, acceptance, wealth, a godly marriage, a happy family.... And before long "the getting" consumes me--I think about it all the time, plan and work, pray and cajole. I do everything I can--good or bad, right or wrong--to fix my life, get it under control, and make things right. When I drive down the street or turn on the TV, I notice everyone else who has "it": a child, a new car, a perfect family, good health. It isn't fair. It doesn't seem right. And the bad feelings get worse. 

The problem is my boss, my paycheck, the other woman at church, my child's teacher, the condition of my home/car/clothes.

But that's not what Jesus said.* He said it's not the things that happen outside my heart that bring on sin and feelings of failure--it's what's already inside. I get angry because I wanted something I didn't get. I slander others because I have a hateful attitude. I fight chaos and confusion because I don't trust God and I don't want what He's sovereignly given. I lust and do not have because I want an easy, comfort, peace-filled life. Every statement, every moment of life going wrong begins and ends with me. 

The things we want aren't necessarily bad. It's not the thing or outcome that matters. What really matters is why I want it. Do I want to be and feel successful? Look good? Be happy? Or do I want what God wants? Am I trusting Him to use the difficulty, the lack of good, to help me grow in compassion, patience, gentleness, kindness? How do I respond when I don't get it? And how do I respond when it's taken away or interrupted? That's the tell.

This is it: when the heat is turned up and life gets hard, what comes out of my heart? Jesus? Or a grownup version of a monster-child? As Jim Berg says, when God pours on hot water, it reveals what's in the tea bag of my heart. What's inside is no longer a secret--good or bad, it comes out, coloring my life and interactions.

The only solution is simple, but hard: repentance. I must agree that what I want has become more important than what God wants and turn around--turn around to seek His good for me, His purpose, His glory, His honor instead of my own. How? Through Jesus. When I come to God through Jesus, He is there to help, to change, to provide, to forgive.

So how're you doing? My life doesn't feel right today, but by God's grace and with His help, I will keep looking at Him, doing what is right, and waiting for His provision. Easy? Hard. Impossible.... without Christ, prayer, and the assistance of the Holy Spirit, my Help and Comfort.

*But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. (Matthew 15:18-19 NKJV)

Thus says the Lord:

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear; when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.

"The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give every man according to his ways,
According to the fruit of his doings." (Jeremiah 17:5-10 NKJV)

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
    Nor stands in the path of sinners,
    Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
    Planted by the rivers of water,
    That brings forth its fruit in its season,
    Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so,
But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish. (Psalm 1, NKJV)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Good Distractions Gone Bad

I haven't been writing much lately between summer youth ministry and taking graduate classes, but if you'll humor me, here's a peek into this morning's blessing as I read the final chapter of 1 Timothy:

Saturday, July 11, 2015                                                                                    1 Timothy 6
v. 11 But flee from these things [a different doctrine-v. 3, godliness as gain-v. 5, riches-v. 9], you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.

Impression: How easy it is to get distracted by good things, by lesser things, by deceitful things and miss God! To get caught up in details of doctrine that lead to strife, envy and disputes is to miss the mark. When my conversation and reputation is focused on being right, I am more about myself than God. To get drawn into keeping certain laws and traditions as a means of contentment—formulas for how to raise our children or keep our home or manage a church—I have missed the mark and left God behind. When my life is all about following a prescribed formula for godliness and personal gain, I am more about myself than God. And if I am drawn away from the truth by a desire for riches and personal comfort, when getting and having is more important than meeting with the Body of Christ and serving others, I have again missed the mark and left God behind. I am more about myself than God.

It is as I walk with the Lord that I find myself hungering and thirsting for righteousness, reflecting (not recreating) godliness, living out faith in love time after time after time with patience and gentleness. The only worthwhile endeavor is “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in inapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen” (v. 15-16).

Application: The goal is to forget myself, to leave myself behind, and to follow Jesus; to follow Him wholeheartedly, with everything I have and am, and to pray and ask for His gracious hand of protection from those many temptations and good things that would draw me away from His face. It is my responsibility and thankful response to seek His face, to harness my thoughts and emotions as I sift through the value and weight I place on people, circumstances, dreams and goals. Who am I seeking to please? Who am I serving? Who has first place in my life? What am I willing to die for? What hill am I willing to die on? Any hill, any cause apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, is vanity.

Lord, as I enter this day, this day of calling and serving and loving; this week of ministry; I ask Your guiding, loving, protecting hand on either side of my face. Direct me in Your way. Guide me in Your path. Let me not turn to the left or to the right. Let me not be distracted and carried away by my sinful longings and the deceit of my heart. Keep me true and steadfast, focused and centered always on Your loving care in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Your precious Son. May Jesus be my focus, my motivation, my source and my prize. In His name I pray, Amen.