Wednesday, June 8, 2016

When I Can't Say "No"

How many times do you find yourself caught in a bind between two different things--good things--that you said, "yes," to? And how many times do you realize it's going to create a problem so you agree with fingers crossed behind your back? You said you would. You want to. Kind-of. Or feel like you should. So you hope and pray the conflict will work itself out before you have to.

Ugh. If you're like me, you hate, hate, hate that you got yourself in the situation to begin with, but you didn't know how to avoid it on the uptake.

The solution--although this is like one alcoholic talking to another--is simple but hard. Simple to understand in theory. Hard to do in practice.

I've spent the last few years memorizing the book of James, and it has a lot of practical application. Now that I've gotten to the end of it, these words keep smacking me up the side of the head: But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (James 5:12).

Did you catch that? He says, "But above all..." Here's a quick review of "all" the things he's referring to. Above being joyful in trials? More than withstanding temptation? More than not showing partiality or living by faith or guarding my tongue? More than living apart from selfish ambition, repenting of sinful desires, and not boasting in the future? More than not taking advantage of the poor, grumbling against other believers or looking for the day of the Lord? Umm. Wow. "Above all...." do what you say you're going to and don't do what you say you're not going to.

OK. Easily said, but how? Here are a few things I'm learning and trying to apply when I want to do it all (knowing I can't):

1. Consider my priorities. My first priority is to please God. My second is to help my husband. Then care for our children and home. After that I can think about work, ministry, extended family, and community obligations. If the opportunity doesn't fit my priorities, I need to say no. It's not wrong. It's actually right.

2. Ask myself why I'm hesitant to say "no." This is a hard one, but so very, very important. If my reason for saying no is because I'll let someone down, I've already lost the battle. I will let them down if I'm not doing things right. Honestly, my reason for wanting to say, "yes," is almost always about me. I want a pleasant outcome from our conversation. I want them to think happy thoughts about me, how nice I am, how capable I am, how wonderful I am...are you ready to throw-up? Do you see how it can spiral way out of "nice-world" into "me-world?"

3. Acknowledge my limits. If I didn't need to eat or sleep I could do it all, right? Wrong. And, the truth is, we all have limits. We have a limited amount of free time, a limited amount of energy, resources, and thinking ability. Lest we think it's a sin to say "no" because of limits, think of our Lord Jesus. He experienced those same limits in His earthly body. The One who existed from eternity past took on a human form that confined Him to real needs--the need to eat, to sleep, to rest, to relax, to submit to authority, to be in one place at one time.... To be like Jesus means to acknowledge my limitations and serve God with what I have. He is able to order my day. All I have to do is trust Him and ask (Psalm 90:12).

4. Determine the price I'm willing to pay. I might be able to squeeze it all in, but at what price? Will I put my husband and family in a tough spot, feeling like left-overs, just to win someone else's approval? (see point 2). The truth is that when my goal is to please God and live according to His Word and standard, I cannot begin to imagine the blessings. But I do that by remaining firm and following through with what I know is best, not what I want or feel in the moment.

Any standard besides God's standard is a straw man. It has no will or force of its own. It cannot mete out the rewards or consequences it promises/threatens. It has no teeth--other than self-inflicted ones. If my personal standard is one of efficiency and busy-ness, I will bear the burden and consequences. If my standard is financial comfort or influence, I will forfeit eternal blessings for temporary ones. By living according to my personal values--or the values of someone else--I compromise the most important, meaningful parts of my life. What do I stand to lose? A clear conscience before God, inner joy and peace, a thriving relationship with my husband and children, my health, personal finances, loss of opportunity, influence, sanity, respectability.

A life lived by faith is one that says, "no," based on an understanding of godly, biblical principles. Saying "no," means I trust God with the outcome. Yes, I really want to do it all. No, I don't want to let people down. Yes, I want to be liked, admired and trusted by others. But over and above it all, I want to trust God with my efforts, choices, lifestyle and heart attitude. I want to live the humble life of a servant, to be like Jesus, to depend fully and confidently in my Heavenly Father, knowing His gifts are best, they are eternal, they are good, they are abundant--just like Him.

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

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
    and your justice as the noonday.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
    fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
    over the man who carries out evil devices!
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
    Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
    but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
    when he delights in his way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
    for the Lord upholds his hand.
I have been young, and now am old,
    yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
    or his children begging for bread.
He is ever lending generously,
    and his children become a blessing.

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
    and his tongue speaks justice.
The law of his God is in his heart;
    his steps do not slip.

Mark the blameless and behold the upright,
    for there is a future for the man of peace.
But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
    the future of the wicked shall be cut off.
The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him.  (Psalm 37:3-9, 23-26, 30-31, 37-40)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Best Kept Secret

There are things we do, habits we form, ways of thinking and understanding our world that we take for granted. Since my mother-in-law moved in, we have discussions, assuming everyone thinks the same way we do when just between the two of us there are three opinions.

One of the best kept secrets--one of the things we say with our mouths and even agree with in our heads but don't actually believe--is that the Bible holds the secret to life. If we really, truly believed the Bible is directly from God, we'd pound it down first thing in the morning. We wouldn't make decisions without consulting it. We would want to know what it says that we don't know. We wouldn't gloss over the words or let it sit on the shelf untouched.

The truth is that we "know" it's important and good for us. We feel guilty when we think about how we "should" spend time reading and trying to understand it. But we never. quite. get. there. And, truth be told, sometimes, for a couple of days, we give it a go but the newness wears off, we don't quite get it and we fall back into living life.

Reading the Bible should be a conversation--God talks. We listen, We talk back. It's a circle. A conversation circle.

Here is some help for meaningful Bible reading. If you're not spending significant time getting to know God through His Word, you are missing out on the biggest part of your existence--one that will last for eternity.

1. The first thing my soul needs is an inclination to God and his word. Without that, nothing else will happen of any value in my life. I must want to know God and read his word and draw near to him. Where does that "want to" come from? It comes from God. So Psalm 119:36 teaches us to pray, "Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to gain."

2. Next I need to have the eyes of my heart opened, so that when my inclination leads me to the word I see what is really there and not just my own ideas. Who opens the eyes of the heart? God does. So Psalm 119:18 teaches us to pray, "Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law."

3. Then I need for my heart to be enlightened with these "wonders." I need to perceive glory in them and not just interesting facts. Who enlightens the heart? God does. So Ephesians 1:18 teaches us to pray "That the eyes of your heart may be enlightened."

4. Then I am concerned that my heart is fragmented and that parts of it might remain in the dark while other parts are enlightened. So I long for my heart to be united for God. Where does that wholeness and unity come from? From God. So Psalm 86:11 teaches us to pray, "O Lord, I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name."

5. What I really want from all this engagement with the Word of God and the work of his Spirit in answer to my prayers is that my heart will be satisfied with God and not with the world. Where does that satisfaction come from? It comes from God. So Psalm 90:14 teaches us to pray, "O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days."

6. But I don't just want to be happy in my own little private world with God. I want my happiness to be as full as possible for spreading and expanding for others. I want to be strong in joy. This will make me durable in the face of threats or adversity. Where does that strength and durability come from? It comes from God. So Ephesians 3:16 teaches us to pray, "That God would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man."

7. Finally, I want my strength in Christ to produce good deeds for others so that the glory of God will be seen in my life. Who produces these good deeds? God does. So Colossians 1:10 teaches us to pray, "That [we] will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord . . . bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God."

All this I pray "in Jesus' name," because God gives these things to my soul only because Jesus died for me and removed the wrath of God so that the Father might "freely give me all things" (Romans 8:32).

(From John Piper: