It’s less than two weeks until Christmas. So how’s your Christmas spirit holding up? Do you feel connected to God? Or has the busyness of the season already robbed you of what little joy and peace you had?
Sometimes I think the root of our problem is the simple fact that we practically live like atheists or agnostics. And I’ll be honest, I don’t know how atheists and agnostics do it. How do they keep going? Even more, why do they keep going?
If you’re convinced there is no God (atheism) or you neither believe nor disbelieve in God (agnosticism), what’s the point? Of anything?
Why go to work? Why try to do the right thing? Why help someone less fortunate? Why tell the truth? Why remain faithful to your spouse? Why keep living?
Why? Why? Why?
What’s the point if there is no God?
If you believe there is no God and that the theory of evolution explains our existence, then there is no meaning or purpose or point to anything in the universe. If everything that exists came from nothing, then everything is an accident. Pure, random chance. And there can be no point to an accident. By definition, an accident lacks intention or purpose.
But if there is a God, then there is a point. Our lives do have meaning and purpose. We were created with intentionality. There’s a reason we’re here.
And if there’s a reason, then is there anything more important than understanding what it is?
In other words, if you exist for a reason, if there’s a God who created you with a purpose in mind, then it would seem like the wise thing to do to discover what it is and then live according to it.
I believe the Bible provides the answers to those questions. In it, we discover the One who created the universe. He has revealed Himself to us. He has shown us what He’s like and what’s important to Him.
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Hebrews 1:1-3)
Jesus is “the exact representation of his being.” In other words, Jesus is God.
In the first couple of chapters of Luke, we find the story of Jesus’ birth. For many of us, it’s a familiar story. Mary is virgin and gets a visit from an angel who tells her that she’s going to give birth. He tells her that God Himself will be the child’s father.
Do those last few sentences amaze you? Or has the familiar become boring and almost meaningless? If it has, maybe it’s time to stop what you’re doing and re-visit the story.
Think about it, God made the conscious decision to step out of heaven and become one of us. He was born to a virgin in the town of Bethlehem, just as it had been prophesied. He came to reveal to us what He’s like and to pay our penalty for sin.
It really is an amazing story.
Do you believe it though? Do you really believe it? Will it effect how you live today? How you speak? How you spend your time? How you spend your money?
It just doesn’t make sense to believe God stepped into human history and then live as if He doesn’t even exist. He wants us to know Him and experience His love for us. And He wants us to love Him in return.
It’s what God has always wanted. Friendship. With you.
Have you ever read the Old Testament and wondered how God could just wipe people out? I mean there’s the the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jericho and all the nations in the land of Canaan.
It just seems like lots of innocent people are suddenly killed as a result of God’s orders. Where’s the God of love and patience? Where’s the grace and mercy?
Let’s take a look, beginning with the fact that there are a couple of wrong assumptions in what I’ve just said. First, no one is innocent. Paul wrote to the church in Rome:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
From the youngest child to the oldest adult–no one is innocent. Not. Even. One. “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”
Second, God doesn’t “suddenly” wipe people out. He is always patient. In the case of the Amorites who occupied the land of Canaan, God waited hundreds of years before judging them. They had centuries to turn from their evil ways, which by the way, included sacrificing their own children. Not so innocent, huh?
In 2 Kings 17, Israel is attacked and taken into captivity by the Assyrian empire. God makes clear to Israel why this happened. Because they had sinned against Him by worshiping other gods, something He had repeatedly warned them not to do.
The Lord warned Israel and Judah through all His prophets and seers: “Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees…” 2 Kings 17:13
They rejected His decrees and the covenant He had made with their fathers and the warnings He had given them. 2 Kings 17:15
The Israelites persisted in all the sins of Jeroboam and did not turn from them until the Lord removed them from His presence, as He had warned through all His servants the prophets.” 2 Kings 17:23
Has God been warning you? Is there an area of your life He has put His finger on?
Is it a relationship? One you need to end? One you need to restore? One you need to persevere in?
Is it your finances? Has God been telling you to give? Or stop using credit cards? Is there a debt you need to repay?
Is it your health? Do you need to eat better? Begin exercising? Rest more? Work less?
Is it a sinful habit? A habit that’s now become an addiction.
I find that God will warn me in multiple ways. It could be through His word. Or a phone call from a friend. Maybe through a sermon or podcast. Or it could be difficult circumstances or a medical condition that will only get worse if ignored.
Now I’m not suggesting He’s going to wipe you out if you continue to ignore Him. Based on my own sin and stubbornness, I can tell you He’s very, very patient and full of grace and mercy.
At the heart of our sin is unbelief. We persist in going our own way and ignore God’s warnings, because we simply do not believe Him. We assume we know what is best for us. We think our plans for our lives are better than His.
We’re wrong though. We’re arrogant too. How foolish of us to ever think we know better than God.
The only answer is to take His warnings to heart, turn from our own way and follow Him.
No matter what He’s warning you about, no matter what He’s telling you to do–it is always in your best interest to obey Him.
I’ve begun a countdown. I even have a countdown app on my iPhone. Four hundred days from today, I will turn 50.
I don’t know about you, but 50 doesn’t sound young to me. Of course, it’s all a matter of perspective. If you’re 70, then 50 is young. If you’re 20, then 50 is ancient.
I have no expectation of living to 100 or even 90. My dad almost made it to 73. If that’s how long I have, then I’m well past the half-way point of my life. If my life is a football game, half-time is over and we’re playing in the 3rd quarter and I’m just six years from the 4th quarter.
Depending on your personality, you may be thinking all of this is a little morbid. Or you may be wondering who in the world actually thinks to countdown the days until they turn 50, especially when it’s still 400 days a way.
Here’s the thing–when I turned 30, I was disappointed. I had certain expectations that were unmet at that point. I expected my life to look different than it did. I figured by 30, I would “have my act together.” In hindsight, my expectations were the problem, not my life.
So when I turned 40, I had no such illusions of having a nice, orderly, problem-free life. There is no such thing. Turning 40 was no big deal. I guess the biggest thing I learned during the decade between turning 30 and 40 was how to extend grace. Even to myself.
So as I close in on 50, I don’t have expectations that life will be something it’s not, but I do have some expectations, of myself, that I believe are part of God’s plans for my life. There are some things I want to accomplish. There are character flaws I want to work on. There are people and activities I want to invest in.
I want to enjoy these next 400 days, but I also want to live purposefully. I want to have fun, while also walking obediently with God. In 400 days, I want to be able to look back and know I did life God’s way, not Gregg’s way.
What I’ve done is broken up the 400 days into 10 periods of 40 days each. Calendar wise, it might have been easier to just wait until the one-year mark and start counting down the months, but there’s something special about a 40-day period of time. (Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days. The spies explored the Promised Land for 40 days.)
Each 40 day period will give me an opportunity to emphasize something different depending on what I sense God doing in my life. Maybe prayer will be an emphasis during one of the 40 days. Maybe training for a 5k race will be. Or maybe studying the book of Ephesians. We’ll see.
In this first 40 day period, I’m emphasizing writing more consistently. I want to post here more often and I also have a book I’ve been working on…or not working on. I plan to finish it by October 9th, the end of the first 40 days. My goal is to write 1,500 words a day. Ambitious, but doable.
One emphasis that will run through all 400 days, and beyond, is simply obeying God–walking according to His ways. Jeremiah 29:10-14 says:
This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
The Israelites had been conquered by the Babylonians and carried into exile. They were no longer living in and enjoying the land God had promised to give them. They were captives in a foreign land.
Why though? What went so terribly wrong?
Israel had broken the covenant with God. He had given them His laws, but they chose to not follow them. God had graciously taught them how to live, but they stubbornly went their own way. Rather than give themselves wholeheartedly to God, they adopted the practices of the nations around them.
God had made it clear that if they would follow His commands, He would bless them and prosper them and protect them. But Israel rebelled against Him. They went their own way and did their own thing.
Maybe today it feels like you’re in exile. And you’re crying out for God to bring you back. You desperately want to experience His plans to prosper you and give you a hope and a future. Fortunately, He is always gracious toward us. When we cry out–He listens. When we seek Him–we find Him.
While you’re seeking and crying out though, maybe it’s also a good time to examine your life to see what caused “your exile” in the first place. Sometimes we get into bad situations because we live in a fallen, broken world. Bad stuff happens even when we’re trying to do the right things.
Sometimes though, our own disobedience leads us into exile. Our own choices got us to where we are. And while it’s good and right to cry out to God, it’s also time to make the changes we need to make. The surest path to experiencing God’s very best plans for our lives is to simply obey Him.
Is there an area of your life that needs examining? A relationship? Your finances? Something at work? What you watch or look at? How you use your time?
Remember, God’s commands are never meant to rob our joy or fun. It’s just the opposite. God’s commands provide for us and protect us. They keep us from danger. God’s ways are always for our good. Never for our harm.
You may not be 400 days from turning 50, but there’s nothing stopping you from using these next 40 days to intentionally walk according to God’s ways, so you position yourself to experience the plans He has for you.
The answers to those questions lie within your heart.
The heart is tough to describe though. Even tougher to figure out.
The heart includes our emotions, passions, appetites and conscience. It includes our mind and will.
Of course, I guess you could separate all those different elements, but when it comes right down to it–we’re talking about the heart.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about the heart and read this familiar verse in Jeremiah 17:9…
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
That sure doesn’t sound good, does it? Deceitful. But not just deceitful–deceitful above all things. Not just some things. ALL things.
What’s interesting to me is that it doesn’t say the heart is evil. Just deceitful…and beyond cure. Medical science can cure a lot of dangerous diseases that used to be beyond cure. But the heart? It’s beyond cure.
Who can understand the heart? The implication is that no one can. No one can understand the heart, other than God, who says in the very next verse:
“I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”
So the heart is deceitful above all things. And beyond cure. And we cannot even understand our own heart.
No wonder that God warns us in Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
Above ALL else. Guard your heart. Why? It’s the wellspring, the source, of your life. From it flow your emotions and passions and desires. It sets the direction for your life. It decides what you will care about, what you will invest your life in and who you will worship.
Now listen to God’s heart expressed in Deuteronomy 5:29 says, “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!”
When we don’t fear (respect and live in awe of) God and keep his commands–our hearts will naturally find someone or something else to fear, to follow, to bow down to, to worship. In other words, we will find another god, an idol for ourselves. We will allow just about anything to take God’s rightful place in our lives.
And then, by consequence, we forfeit God’s best in our lives. There’s no way we can violate the first two of the 10 commandments and think “that it might go well” with us. And yet that’s exactly what our deceitful hearts would have us believe. We think we can live according to our own ways, violate God’s laws and still have life go well.
Because we’ve adopted the world’s values, we’ve come to believe that money, material possessions, the right relationship, food, sex, alcohol, television, pornography, golf, football or some other pursuit will make us feel happy, secure and fulfilled. Many of us will also attend church or a Bible study and think we’re actually living the “Christian life.”
But our hearts have deceived us. We’re not living the life God intended. We’re worshiping idols and lesser gods.
We attend church and toss up a prayer here and there and then wonder why the whole “being a Christian thing” isn’t working for us. We’ll even get angry at God for not coming through for us like we thought He would.
So what’s the answer? What are we supposed to do? How do we know when our own hearts are deceiving us?
Let me suggest two things we can do.
First, we must spend time in God’s word. There’s no substitute for allowing His word to fill our minds and hearts. We will never learn to think like God if all we ever do is fill up on what the world is serving to us. Maybe it’s time to cut back on television, internet, Facebook, Twitter, radio, magazines and the newspaper.
It’s hard to say we don’t have time to spend alone with God if we’re spending four or five hours a day ingesting various forms of media.
Second, we need others. We have to live in community with others who love us and will tell us the truth. And it wouldn’t hurt for us to take the first step and ask for the truth. Give a trusted friend the freedom to speak truth to you. Ask if they see anything in your life that is of concern, any actions or habits or words that aren’t lining up with your beliefs as a follower of Christ.
Yes, we’re forgiven through Christ. Yes, we have a new nature. But we can’t trust our hearts. I wish we could, but I know my own heart wants to deceive me. And yours wants to deceive you.
So above all else, we need to guard them and only allow in what will compel us to love and obey God.
I don’t believe in formulas. In Chemistry? Yes. In life? No. God isn’t a predictable science experiment. If we do A and B, God is not obligated to do C.
Life is messy. We live in a fallen, broken, sinful world. Bad things can happen even when we do the right things.
Mixing a fervent prayer with the right measure of faith doesn’t always yield the results we want. See #1 and #2.
I don’t believe people get cancer and die because they didn’t have enough faith.
Sin does not always prevent God from blessing us. If it did, none of us would be blessed. Ever.
Those things being said, I’ve been thinking about prayer and obedience the past few days. Now I don’t mean to pit them against each other, but go with me for a moment. Which is better–prayer or obedience?
I guess the next question would be: better for what?
How about–better for getting what we desire?
We desire better health. We desire a new car or house. We want to get married or see our current marriage improve. We want to pay our bills on time, get out of debt and have a little left over for a vacation once in awhile.
Is it better to pray or obey?
I can already hear you saying the answer: Both!
And I would agree with you. It’s obviously better to do both, but my sense is that many of us only do one. We pray. We pray for God to intervene. We pray for Him to rescue us. We pray for Him to change someone’s heart. We pray for a breakthrough.
But often, we don’t obey Him.
A couple weeks ago while driving home from a weekend out of town, I stopped for gas at a little country gas station. As I came out of the store, I noticed a very obese woman sitting in her car smoking a cigarette.
Now imagine this woman begins to experience a chronic cough and shortness of breath. Not hard to imagine, right?
She has a choice now: she could begin praying God will heal her or she could stop smoking, eat healthier and exercise. We would think she was foolish for only praying, but not changing her habits, right?
I wonder how many of us get into difficulties with our finances, our relationships or our own medical issues and beg God for a miracle or some kind of breakthrough, but what may be better is for us to simply obey Him. And then add our prayers.
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is giving instructions to the Israelites before they cross the Jordan River to take possession of the land of Canaan. In chapter 28, Moses goes into great detail about what will happen to them if they fully obey God and carefully follow His commands. And he goes into even greater detail about what will happen if they do not obey.
There’s no mention of prayer. God’s blessings are contingent upon their obedience, not the fervency of their prayers. God graciously instructed them on how to live and was very clear about the blessings or curses that would follow their choices.
It’s not just Moses though. In John 15:1-11, Jesus is teaching His disciples that He is the vine and they are the branches. Apart from Him, they can do nothing. In verses 7-8, He says:
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you…” Isn’t that another way to say, “if you obey me?” Obedience plus prayer results in much fruit bearing.
Jesus goes on in verses 9-11 to say:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
We remain in Jesus’ love by obeying him. And what is the result of doing that?
Joy. Complete joy.
Isn’t that ultimately what we all want? Complete joy?
So what are we to do about the difficulties we find ourselves in?
Let’s take our finances for example. If we’re in a mess–are we continuing to spend beyond our income? And just as importantly, if not more so, are we giving? 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 says:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
Are we crying out to God to give us relief from our financial difficulties, while choosing to sow sparingly? God promises we will reap generously if we sow generously.
Are we asking God to heal our high blood pressure, but eating a diet full of unhealthy food? God has given us healthy foods to eat for our enjoyment and good health.
Are we desperately pleading with God to heal our marriage, but not practicing the principles in Ephesians 5:22-33 or reading a good book on marriage or attending a Weekend to Remember marriage conference or seeking counseling? Sure it takes two to heal a marriage, but are we at least doing our part?
God not only gave us His commands for our own good, He also gave us His Holy Spirit to empower us to obey them. He has instructed us on how to live this life. But are we listening? Are we following through on what He’s already told us?
I’m not at all suggesting that obeying God is somehow better than praying to God. But I am saying that if we’re praying without obeying, then I can’t help thinking God is saying, “I’ve already answered your prayer. You’ll discover it as soon as you obey me.”
Last thing: it would be worth re-reading the five disclaimers I started with.
In Luke 14:25-35, He had a large crowd following. Exciting, right? Who wouldn’t love that? High energy. Momentum. Things are starting to take off.
That’s when Jesus turns to the crowd and tells them they can’t be one of His disciples if they don’t hate their family and their own life and unless they die to themselves.
I wonder if the disciples looked at each other and thought, “What did He just say?! He’s going to kill this thing if He doesn’t stop talking like that!”
Clearly, Jesus wasn’t just interested in a big crowd. He was looking for fully-devoted followers who were willing to lay aside everything for Him. He wasn’t interested in being a priority on a to-do list, He was interested in being THE priority who came before everyone and everything else.
And before they were too quick to follow Him, He told them to first estimate the cost. Were they willing to pay the price of following Him? He didn’t want an impulsive decision that would soon be forgotten when the going got rough.
Have you estimated the cost of following Jesus? Once you have, also estimate the cost of not following Him.
Which one is more costly?
If you decide to follow Jesus, I mean truly follow Him–putting Him before everyone and everything else, then you may find it helpful to formalize that decision. Below, is a title deed. A title deed to your life. Read it through. If you agree with it, copy it and sign it. Feel free to add to it or modify it. The point is to make a firm decision.
Title Deed to My Life
Because I believe that:
all things, including me, were created by and for Jesus (Colossians 1:16),
I exist for His pleasure (Ephesians 1:5) and can do nothing apart from Him (John 15:5),
God loves me unconditionally and will never stop loving me (John 3:16, Romans 8:35),
God’s desire is for me to live forever in friendship with Him (Revelation 21:3),
I deserved death, but instead received eternal life as a free gift (Romans 6:23),
Jesus died in my place (Romans 5:8), thereby rescuing me from the dominion of darkness and transferring me to His kingdom (Colossians 1:13),
He promised He would never fail me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5),
the Holy Spirit lives in me and gives me power to live (Acts 1:8),
God has promised eternal rewards for my faithful service in this life (Matthew 25:21),
God is going to make heaven and earth new and my real home will forever be with Him in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21),
money and possessions are on loan to me to be used to advance God’s kingdom, not to simply further my comfort and lifestyle (Matthew 25:14),
I, _________________________________________, hereby surrender total control of my life to God (Romans 12:1-2). My surrender is unconditional. I relinquish all rights to:
my heart, hopes, emotions, desires, dreams, goals and plans,
my money, possessions, bank accounts, investments, cars, houses and all other property,
my time, schedule, appointments, priorities, hobbies and recreation,
my physical body, strength, energy, health and diet,
my relationships, including, but not limited to my parents, spouse, children, extended family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, teachers and strangers,
my career, job, business, ministry, education and ability to produce wealth,
my gifts, abilities, talents, strengths, weaknesses and experiences,
my mind, ideas, thoughts and words,
what I look at and listen to, including all media (internet, movies, music, books, magazines, etc.),
my past, present and future,
anything and everything else.
Finally, I acknowledge that:
God has forgiven me totally by grace, not by any works I’ve done, and that I now live by and under God’s grace. My best works or worst sins will never cause God to love me any more or any less.
I must depend on the Holy Spirit for the power to be a disciple of Christ. I am unable to do it alone.
I actually never had any rights to relinquish since all I am and all I have is from God anyway.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)
When I was 16-years-old, I began weight training to get in shape for football. I immediately fell in love with it and have kept at it for most of the past 31 years. Except for the previous 11 months.
A year ago, we moved which made it much less convenient to get to the health club where I used to train. A few months after moving, we let our membership lapse. While I tried to keep up with running, I didn’t continue weight training.
Just after the holidays this year, I was feeling the effects of not training. I’d gained some unwanted body fat. My lean mass (muscle) had decreased dramatically. So while the scale hadn’t changed much over the past year, my body composition had changed.
I was also starting to notice some physical symptoms related to stress. For most of the past three decades, my body had a way to relieve some of the stresses of life, but without weight training, I was feeling the ill effects.
I knew I needed to do something.
Several weeks ago, we joined the fitness center on campus, which is just a short walk from our house. In just a few short weeks, I’m seeing my body (and stress level) return to what I’ve been used to.
Even though I’m getting older, I keep telling myself year after year that I want to be in the best shape of my life. While it’ll be tough to top my condition at the age of 19, it doesn’t mean I can’t try.
That’s the problem though. Sometimes I can try a little too hard.
To build muscle (and lose fat), it’s necessary to push the body beyond what it’s comfortable with. That principle is called, “progressive overload.” You place more load on the muscle or cardiovascular system than it’s used to handling, which forces it to adapt by getting stronger. If you don’t push, you don’t grow. At least not very much.
A year ago, I was experiencing pain in both elbows–the result of lifting heavy loads during my training. I tried adjusting the exercises I did, but the pain didn’t actually go away. The only thing that really helped was resting for the past 11 months.
So now at the age of 47, my fitness training is a balance of pushing myself and listening to my body tell me when it’s had enough. Continuing to ignore the pain (injury type pain, not just the discomfort of a burning muscle) is just foolish. I’ve learned from my mistake. You can’t just manage symptoms if you really want to fix something. You need to get to the root issue.
Which leads me to this question: what’s at the root of most of the problems in my life? How about your life?
I’m not talking about exercise any more. I mean problems with relationships, work, finances, emotional health and any other issues you want to name.
What’s at the root?
In Matthew 22, there are two different groups of people who are trying to trap Jesus in His words. If they could trap Him, then they could arrest Him or discredit Him. The Pharisees gave it a shot by asking him a tax related question, but Jesus aced it. “So they left him and went away.”
That same day, the other group came and asked a question related to marriage and heaven. I’m sure they thought they could stump Him, but He began His answer by saying:
“You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”
Isn’t that the root problem for most of us? We’re in error, we make wrong choices, because we don’t know the Scriptures (God’s word to us) or His power that’s available to us?
If my elbows begin to hurt again, I could try ice and ibuprofen. I could try different exercises. I could keep pushing and hope the pain goes away. Or I could go to the root of the problem and make a real change.
Maybe the pain in your life is pointing to a root issue. Maybe it’s the result of not knowing the Scriptures or the power of God. Why no let the pain and confusion press you into God’s word?
You have a need. God promises to meet that need…but nothing happens. So you wait. Then you wait some more. And you keep waiting…and waiting…and waiting. Until you’re tired of waiting. So tired.
After God promised Abraham and Sarah they would have a son, they waited 25 years for his birth. David waited 14 years to become king after being anointed by Samuel and he spent much of that time running for his life. A Savior was promised thousands of years before Jesus finally came on the scene.
We might have to wait a week for the results of a biopsy, fifteen months to sell a house (or longer these days) or a few years for a start-up business to become profitable. Maybe for you it’s waiting for God to provide a spouse or a child.
Waiting is a mega-theme in the Bible. It’s something we have to learn to do well.
Let’s quickly look at a few ways to NOT wait well. I’ve tried each of them.
1. Anger. God doesn’t behave like I want Him to. He doesn’t come through for me, at least not the way I wanted. So I conclude He’s not good after all. He’s not loving or kind like He says He is. He’s just not worth trusting. After all, I did my best to obey Him and now He’s treating me unfairly.
Then I think I have every right in the world to be mad at Him. Soon, my anger turns to bitterness and cynicism. It’s a downward spiral from there. I’ve been in that spiral. It’s not pretty.
2. Discouragement. The waiting seems endless. Things aren’t getting better, they’re only getting worse. In fact, just when it seems things can’t get any worse, sure enough, they do. My circumstances can look so overwhelming that I lose hope. I can get to a place where I cannot even see how things will ever get any better. I’ve been there, too.
3. Feeling sorry for myself. This is a subtle one to fall into. It’s a victim mentality. I did what God wanted, but I guess He’s just against me. It’s also a twisted way of trying to manipulate God. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t had much success with that.
4. Manipulating my circumstances. Abraham and Sarah tried this one. When Sarah couldn’t get pregnant, she suggested Abraham sleep with one of her servants. Being the unselfish, man-of-faith he was, Abraham went right along with her plan. When God has me in a season of waiting, it’s best to not take things into my own hands. Nothing good can come of that. It’s also a good idea to be sure you’re getting wise counsel, even if it’s coming from your spouse.
5. Lowering my expectations of God. This may be the worst of the five, but I was guilty of this for a number of years. After living through the first four, I figured the safest bet was to just lower my expectations of God. I just wouldn’t expect him to do anything for me. If I didn’t expect Him to answer prayers, bless me or help me out of difficult situations, then I wouldn’t be disappointed. If He did do something then it would be a nice surprise. I guess it’s kind of like the person who gets burned in a relationship and vows to never fall in love again.
I don’t know if there’s a more offensive way to view God than as someone who really can’t be counted on. Someone who won’t come through and therefore shouldn’t be trusted. It’s a total lack of faith and reflects a terrible view of God.
So those are the wrong ways, but how do we respond when the need is unmet and God doesn’t seem to be in a hurry?
We actively wait.
A doctor I saw in Little Rock (before we moved) was an ultra-marathon runner. Those are the 100-mile races. He and I got into a fitness discussion one day and he was explaining his workout schedule to me. There didn’t appear to be any rest days, so I asked him about it.
He said his rest days consisted of going to the athletic club and riding a stationary bike. He called it “active rest.” He and I had different definitions of “rest.”
Waiting on God is kind of like that though–it’s active. We pray. We read His word. We seek counsel. We worship. We serve. We live in community with others who are believing God. We continue doing the last thing He showed us to do.
We actively wait.
My wife, Robyn, is a great example. She is doing an awesome job leading the Young Life ministry in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She has an incredible team of committed college student leaders. Ministry is occurring on the University of Arkansas campus, at Fayetteville High School and at the middle school level.
The budget is lagging behind though…to the point that her salary was cut until adequate funds are raised. She isn’t waiting passively, she’s waiting actively for God to work. She is continuing to do ministry: coach leaders, plan retreats, hold events, etc. She’s also actively working to raise the funds to meet her budget. She is active while she waits on God to lead her to the people He has called to help support the ministry.
Your circumstances are different.
You’re trying to repair a broken relationship.
Medical test after medical test hasn’t revealed the cause of your symptoms.
You’ve tried to sell your house, but the offers aren’t coming.
Active waiting is refusing to give into the five destructive waiting behaviors while continuing to pursue and believe God. I know it’s not easy. I’ve failed many, many times. I’m getting better at it, but I still fail. A lot.
God is at work in your circumstances. Right now. He has a purpose behind the waiting. When the time is right, the waiting will end. In the meantime, wait for Him…actively.
(By the way, if you or someone you know wants to invest in a strategic, life-changing ministry to middle school through college students, email Robyn at: email@example.com)
I don’t know who first said that. Probably the Marines.
Years ago when Robyn and I owned a personal training facility, we had one particular client (we’ll call her Susan) who’s goal seemed to be the avoidance of pain at all costs. Susan had certain exercises she liked and had a certain level of resistance she would tolerate. Increasing the resistance was out of the question. Week after week, month after month, it was the same thing.
Once in awhile, I would try to sneak in a little extra resistance on an exercise, but Susan would feel it and politely ask that the additional resistance be removed. As you can imagine, Susan’s results were less than stellar because she would not endure the necessary pain.
I really wish there was another way. I really do prefer pleasure and comfort. I don’t like to hurt. But to get faster, stronger, quicker, better or to lose weight and get healthier…pain is required. Just no way around it.
James 1:2-4 says:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
It can be painful when our faith is tested, but it’s the training program for developing perseverance, which leads to maturity.
So how might this look in your life today?
If you need to be more patient, God is not going to zap you with more patience. He’s going to put you in situations that will require patience. If you need to learn to love unconditionally, then God may give you unlovable people to love. If you need stronger faith, He will orchestrate circumstances so you must trust Him.
None of those scenarios are easy. Often they’re painful, just like working out, but whatever you’re facing today–don’t quit. Is it a financial struggle? Loss of a job? A serious illness? A marriage that seems hopeless?
Pain is strengthening your character and conforming you to the image of Christ. Don’t resist it. Don’t run from it. It won’t last beyond what you can bear.
Pain is weakness leaving your body. Pain is also weakness leaving your character.
I was reminded this morning that there’s often no “right” answer.
A friend, who’s developing a logo for our church, sent me several designs yesterday. There was one I liked more than the others. This morning, he sent the links to a number of church websites so I could check out their logos.
Knowing that I, as a 46-year-old, am not the target audience for our church, I showed the various designs to five college girls who were at our home for breakfast. There was one logo we pretty much all agreed on, but in general they liked design elements that I didn’t. I can’t say I’m surprised.
When it comes to the Christian life, there are just as many different preferences, opinions and convictions. The Bible doesn’t clearly address every area of life. In those areas where the Bible is silent, we’re free to develop our own convictions. For example:
I have friends that attend a United Methodist Church and others that attend the Greek Orthodox Church. My church is non-denominational. None of us are right or wrong.
I know Christian women who have had cosmetic surgery. Other women have convictions that would not allow them to do that. What’s right for one person may not be for another.
You may have a conviction that drinking alcohol is wrong. The person sitting next to you at church on Sunday may have had a couple glasses of wine at dinner the night before.
Some families choose to home school their children. Others send their kids to private Christian schools. We’ve always had our children in public schools. There’s no “best” way for everyone.
The problem comes when someone decides their particular conviction or preference is “right”, “best” or even worse, “biblical.” It’s easy then to judge others or try to get them to conform to your conviction. That’s legalism.
You’re not going to agree with everyone in your church or even everyone in your family. Rather than judging or arguing about individual preferences, choose to love and show grace. We’ve got too much to do to get caught up in senseless arguments.
Gregg Stutts - Gregg is a pastor at The Church at Arkansas in Fayetteville. He is married to Robyn, the Young Life director in Northwest Arkansas. They have four children: Rachel, Erica, Amy and Rob. Gregg has authored two books and often teaches on marriage.