Tag Archives: trust

Burn Us Up

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Stripped of everything and everyone.  Led a wandering people into the Promised Land.  Left with a mission to save her people – at the cost of her life.  Tossed into the flames.

Job.  Joshua.  Esther.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

What were the responses of these individuals to seemingly impossible situations – situations so dire, so dangerous and difficult, that there was no earthly hope remaining?

Job.  Job was a man “blameless and upright” who “feared God and shunned evil” – and “he was the wealthiest man in the east” (Iyov/Job 1:2, 3 CJB).  God blessed him greatly: expansive flocks, numerous servants, many sons and daughters, ease.  Protection.  Favor.  Then begins a saga of what seems nothing short of total devastation as the Adversary (Satan) is allowed to test Job’s faithfulness to God.  Within a span of moments, Job’s servants are slaughtered, his flocks are destroyed or stolen, and all his beloved children are killed in a freakishly strange accident.  From head to toe, his body becomes a mass of sores.  His wife bitterly prods him to curse God.  And Job’s so-called friends gather to pity his misery, “offering faulty and simplistic explanations of God’s dealings” (Stern, p. 952), urging Job to repent of supposed sins in order to restore God’s former favor.  Job has questions for God, wondering at God’s justice and dealings with humanity – with him – and, in the end, comes to this:

“‘I know that you can do everything, that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…. Yes, I spoke, without understanding, of wonders far beyond me, which I didn’t know…. I had heard about you with my ears, but now my eye sees you; therefore I detest [myself] and repent in dust and ashes.”’ (Iyov 42:2, 3, 5-6 CJB)

I am utterly undone; there is nothing for me apart from you.

Joshua.  Joshua is a leader trained under the hand of Moses and tasked with leading God’s people Israel to their rest in the Promised Land when Moses no longer was permitted to do so.  Joshua steps into hard situations, facing the opposition of fellow spies who could see only the giants inhabiting the area rather than the wealth of the land and the abundance of God’s favor.  In the face of fear, whining, and disobedience from his people he declares God’s promises confidently, conquering cities with song and bringing the people with him into the victory God was providing.

“‘Therefore fear ADONAI, and serve him truly and sincerely.  Put away the gods your ancestors served beyond the [Euphrates] River and in Egypt, and serve ADONAIIf it seems bad to you to serve ADONAI, then choose today whom you are going to serve…. As for me and my household, we will serve ADONAI!’”
(Y’hoshua/Joshua 24:14-15 CJB)

Whatever may come, whatever they may choose, my choice is made.

Esther.  The setting: the Jews had been taken into captivity and were now living in the land of the Medes and Persians – strangers in a strange land where ADONAI, the Lord God Most High, is not known.  The story begins: the king of the Medes and Persians, in search of a new queen, gathers the most beautiful of the young virgins for, essentially, an extended beauty pageant.  The winner?  Esther.  Having won the king’s favor above all the other women of the land, she becomes the chosen queen.  Plot twist: the king’s wicked and self-absorbed advisor, Haman, has also curried the king’s favor.  In a fit of temper over the perceived lack of deference toward himself from Esther’s Jewish cousin, Haman tricks the king into signing a proclamation that will have all the Jews slaughtered.  (It does seem excessive, doesn’t it?  Selfishness always has a way of creating evil excesses.)  But Esther herself is also a Jew, and cousin Mordecai pleads with her to rescue her people by going unsummoned before the king – a veritable death warrant.  The tension builds to a climax:

‘Ester had them return this answer to Mordekhai: “Go, assemble all the Jews to be found in Shushan, and have them fast for me, neither eating nor drinking for three days, night and day; also I and the girls attending me will fast the same way.  Then I will go in to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish”…. On the third day, Ester put on her robes and stood in the inner courtyard of the king’s palace….’ (Ester 4:15-16, 5:1 CJB)

Though I cannot see the end, I am here for such a time as this.

Sometimes we do hard things by simply taking the first steps away from comfort — even if we do it screaming.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  The Jews are taken into captivity by the king of Babylon; among these captives are four faithful followers of God: Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  With their God-given wisdom and steady commitment to righteousness these men win the favor of the pagan king of Babylon.  However, this favor is put into jeopardy when the proud king has a massive statue created of himself – a statue which he demands all his subjects worship to honor him as a god among men.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to worship any other than ADONAI, the Most-High and only God.  Their punishment?  The furnace is stoked to seven times its usual heat – so hot that the guards are incinerated by mere proximity – and these three men are cast into the flames:

‘“Is it true that you neither serve my gods nor worship the gold statue I have set up?….
But if you won’t worship, you will immediately be thrown into a blazing hot furnace – and what god will save you from my power then?”
Shadrakh, Meishakh, and ‘Aved-N’go answered the king, “Your question does not require an answer from us.  Your majesty, if our God, whom we serve, is able to save us, he will save us from the blazing hot furnace and from your power.  But even if he doesn’t, we want you to know, your majesty, that we will neither serve your gods nor worship the gold statue…”’ (Dani’el 3:14, 15, 16-18 CJB)

There is nothing and no one else we will choose, so burn us up.

Have you ever been in an impossible situation?  Have you ever been stripped, suddenly or gradually, of people, of relationships, of title and position, of health, of livelihood, of security, of hope?  Have you ever been crushed so thoroughly that you thought you may never rise again, either literally or figuratively?  Have you ever met with opposition so fierce that you were overwhelmed?  These questions are mostly rhetorical.  To be human in a world still yearning for the soon-coming promise of all things being made new (Revelation 21:1-5) is to know these pains.

As Christians we tend to approach suffering and massive challenges with favorite promises such as Romans 8:28: “Furthermore, we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called in accordance with his purpose.”  We remind ourselves and each other that it will get better, that God in His kindness does not forget us.  David’s words in the Psalms become encouragement: “For you, ADONAI, bless the righteous.  You surround them with favor like a shield” (5:13 CJB).  These promises are true – completely, unerringly trustworthy because they are made by our faithful Promise-Keeper, our good and only God.

But if waiting for the blessing at the end is our only aim, our suffering easily becomes small and self-serving.

“When the night has come and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light you’ll see — no, I won’t be afraid. Oh I won’t shed a tear, just as long as you stand, stand by me.” – “Stand By Me,” NEEDTOBREATHE version

If I endure in impossible situations only because I am awaiting God’s favor, I have missed the glory of living outside myself.  If I persevere only because I am waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled, I am still living as a slave to self and to comfort rather than as one wholly surrendered to the awesome presence of God Most-High.  If I live with my focus on pleasant outcomes, my hope still rests in having good things directed toward myself rather than in seeing the One who alone is pure Goodness.  I would be serving my own self-interests without needing to surrender myself completely to Jesus Christ, Son of God, who is the Beginning and the End (Rev. 21:6), the Master and Creator of both time and eternity (Col. 1:14-17).

I confess that I often want to settle my hope on the promises God has given me – I know He is faithful, so it becomes easier to look forward to those joys, to that future vision.  So much easier, in fact, that I forget to keep my eyes on my God, who is the giver of every good thing.  I forget all too often that He is my Hope – not the promises, not the vision.  He alone is the Goodness.

‘I said to ADONAI, “You are my Lord; I have nothing good outside of you.”’ (Tehillim/Psalms 16:2)

No good thing apart from Him – I am undone.

“Whom do I have in heaven but you?  And with you, I lack nothing on earth.  My mind and body may fail, but God is the rock for my mind and my portion forever.” (Tehillim 73:25-6)

There are many choices that brought my 2019 graduates to this point. My students did hard things not because they were assured they would arrive successfully — or ever — at this day but because they were doing what was right. #mybravehearts #proudcounselor

What have I apart from Him?  He is my everything.  Even where all else falls away and my flesh is destroyed, He remains.  I am undone.

Doing hard things; choosing what is right over what is easy; choosing what is just over what is safe – we do not endure in righteousness because we are waiting for pots of gold at the end of the rainbow or even for peace after the fury of the storm.  Job did not cling to God and pray for the forgiveness of his misguided friends because he knew God would restore double what he had lost.  Joshua did not choose God above all else, speak fearlessly, or lead a wandering people because his hope was in fame or reward.  Esther did not go before the king because she was guaranteed to walk out alive from the throne room, heralded as rescuer of an entire people.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not bear the king’s wrath because they were assured of their flame-proof skin and the fearful honor of a pagan king.   All these so-labeled “heroes” of Scripture did what they did because it was right.  They did not do it because they always understood or knew there could be a favorable outcome; they did not do it because they were the most brave, selfless, or saintly individuals to walk the earth.  They took up the tasks and faced the circumstances before them because they knew no other way:

The Lord gives and takes away – all these are wonders far beyond me.
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
If I perish, I perish.
Burn us up.

My favorite do-hard-things person: my brother. Climb fearless, brave heart.

It is not that God fails to protect and shield us with favor – quite the contrary!  We can see God working out for good the crazy-impossible situations and sheltering His people with His protective favor.  These accounts in Scripture all have quite “happy endings,” as it were.  But we could look at these stories then protest that John the Baptist was beheaded (Mattityahu/Matthew 14:1-12) and Stephen was stoned (Acts 6-7) – where were God’s favor and protection then?!  Why did Paul so frequently escape dangerous circumstances – stoning, shipwreck, imprisonment, torture – yet others died for doing what was right?

There is a truth deeper than physical security or comfort that every one of these persons understood, whether we can perceive the “happy ending” or not: there is no good thing apart from God.  They made the choices they made, doing hard things, because in the end God is All-in-All.  In Him we lack no good thing.

These individuals found themselves in a place of surrendering fully to the Lord.  They could conceive of no other response, no other way to live.  Burn us up.  We are invited to make these same choices – choices of how to respond verbally, mentally, emotionally, and even physically.  When we choose God’s way, our “yes” to Him is our automatic “no” to fear of man, to fear of death or pain, and to the deceitful glimmer of hope placed in anything other than our God.

When we learn to live wholly surrendered to God, it is not that our lives and circumstances suddenly hold no value.  Rather, it is that we see value beyond the moment because we are already living in the reality of eternity, being filled and sustained purely by the presence of God’s Holy Spirit within us.  Burn us up.

I declare that God Most-High is my Goodness.  I do not fear death, and I would willingly give up my life or bear pain on behalf of righteousness, on behalf of truth and the wellbeing of others.  I would do this not because I am marvelously brave or selfless but because I have already made my choice.  Burn me up.  I make my choice not because I am hopeless or resigned to struggle but because I am thoroughly confident in Living Hope, which is Jesus Christ, my All and my Only.  Burn me up. 

There are many times when I wail or rail or plead to understand.  There are many times when the pain within and the pain without is so great that it surely must be impossible to bear.  There are times when I resent the path my feet walk and the tasks set before me, especially when I hold deep promises for which the time never seems to come.  There are times when the world seems to crumble around my loved ones, and I wish only that I could remove their pain.  Lord, ‘“I do trust – help my lack of trust!”’ (Mark 9:24).  There are times when doing what is right faces so much opposition that I feel I might as well be assailing a brick wall with a toothpick, and I am excruciatingly weary.  So very, very tired.  Yet in all these situations my responses must be shaped by a choice already made, a “yes” already given: I know no other way to live, no way apart from Him.  Burn me up.
 

So I stand, arms spread in humility and need toward the heavens, for I am undone.  Whom have I but you, my Lord, Most-High God?  Burn me up, for I know of no other way to live.  I have no Goodness apart from you.  Burn me up, for there is no greater joy, no place I am more well, and no wholeness more complete than total surrender to the One who gives and takes away with such exquisite kindness and relentless holiness.  Blessed be His name.

Dear hearts, let us learn to do hard things not because we are waiting for better days but because we already know Goodness.  We live in the eternal reality of better days and better promises because our Better has already come: Jesus Christ, our Messiah (see Hebrews).  Let us choose justice over security and righteousness over ease because we know the Giver of life, who holds us faithfully in His love for all eternity.  May our response become “burn us up,” because we know no confidence apart from El-‘Elyon, our Creator and Sustainer.  I bless you this day to walk in the fearlessness of knowing Living Hope as our Lord shows Himself to you.  As with Job, may your eyes now see and your heart be overcome by the awe of Most-High God, the All-in-All.

A quick note regarding the “CJB” and the funny-looking words or names you may have seen:  All Scripture quotations and references, and commentary, are taken from David H. Stern’s Complete Jewish Bible, which is the chosen version for many Messianic Jews (i.e. Jews who have recognized and accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah, the Savior).  I have utilized the transliterated Hebrew versions of words and books of Scripture (e.g. “Tehillim” for the English word “Psalms”) where it was therein used.  I am currently studying the Jewish roots of Scripture, which is an adventure you will likely read more about in the future. 😉

Posture of Worship: The Place of Hope

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Does this holding this position look easy to you? Because it's not. (Image from Ballroom Dance Chicago blog)

Does this holding this position look easy to you? Because it’s not. (Image from Ballroom Dance Chicago blog)

On the dance floor, professional dancers are easy to spot: it’s all about their posture – how they move and carry themselves.  In the same way, those who are amateurs (or non-dancers!) are just as easily marked by their lack of appropriate posture.  Graceless bumbling, sloppy lines, and cringe-worthy missteps can result from poor posture.  Posture is a habit that must be either learned – or unlearned.

What does that have to do with anything at all?  Well, I had an inkling and did a quick Google search to confirm my suspicions: the word “posture” and the word “imposter” come from the same Latin root.  (Nifty, right?!  I certainly thought so!)  An imposter is someone who is simply a fake posing as the real thing – but imposters are easily spotted because they just can’t pull off the part.  Their posture marks them as inauthentic.  Either you’ve got the posture, or you’re nothing but an imposter.

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9 NKJV

I have been thinking a lot about hope recently.  I have been eager to write about this subject again, but each time I write about hope, it is always more of a challenge than I anticipate.  Sometimes it seems as though nothing goes the way I expect – and everyone feels this way on occasion.  You are likely familiar with some of the feelings that commonly accompany this thought: helplessness, uncertainty, frustration, disappointment – a sense of being adrift.  We must be diligent to acknowledge then eradicate these feelings before they devolve into what it possibly one of the most dangerous mindsets we could hold: hopelessness.  Though we truly feel these things, we must realize that they are not the Truth (which is that we have been renewed into the living hope that is Jesus Christ and the good inheritance we have through Him – check out 1 Pet. 1:3-5).  Hope is a raw, wild, beautiful subject that encompasses all the highs and lows of life, and it should be handled accordingly.  Connecting it to the idea of posture, I am going to make this statement:

True hope can only be experienced from a posture of worship.

I recently finished a two-month reading through the book of Exodus.  I am continually fascinated by the story of God’s people.  Throughout Exodus, we see how God released and continues to release His people from bondage.  As the Exodus story begins to unfold, Moses brought word to God’s people of God’s coming deliverance and showed them signs to prove the authenticity of the message.  At this point, the Israelites eagerly believed and bowed to worship God (Ex. 4:31).  We all love to hear a special word from God, to feel His presence strongly and clearly.  There’s just something about those precious moments that make worship the obvious and irresistible response.

But then things didn’t go as they had hoped.  When Moses went before Pharaoh to call for the release of the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage, Pharaoh scoffed and forced the Israelites to continue making bricks for his building projects – only now they had to do it without the benefit of being given the necessary straw.  Wait a minute – it didn’t have instant results?!  Pharaoh was supposed to set the Israelites free, right?!  God had promised to deliver them, so they suddenly felt they had the right to be angry that their situation was seemingly getting worse instead of better.  In their angst, the Israelites promptly gave up on the promises of Yahweh, and they immediately chose to blame Moses, crying out for God to judge Moses harshly (Ex. 5:18-21).  They quickly forgot the goodness of God – seriously, less than one chapter of Scripture separates these events!  Theirs was a small hope indeed, for they allowed it to be snuffed out the moment an unexpected circumstance arose.

Once again, God’s people were caught up in the hype of the moment: up, down, trusting, despairing – all as their circumstances dictated.  Giving up and blaming others (including God) are two common results of disappointment.  God’s people didn’t look for the bigger picture, and even Moses freaked out when they blamed him for the turn of circumstances (Ex. 5:22-23).  What was God’s response to this?  “Now you shall see what I will do…” (Ex. 6:1).  You see, God isn’t focused only on immediacy; He looks at the full story – the Story He has already written and knows from beginning to end (see Ps. 139:16-18).  God’s view isn’t limited to the scant sliver of time and space that we can see.

Life without true hope is like being trapped on a perpetual roller-coaster ride of emotions and circumstances.

Life without true hope is like being trapped on a perpetual roller-coaster ride of emotions and circumstances.

Like the Israelites, I forget to worship continually.  Instead, I remember to worship only when life is going “well” (according to my standards), and I begin to grumble or fret when they don’t.  Like God’s people, I can become distraught when my circumstances don’t match my expectations about His promises.  I forget to remain in a posture of worshipful trust and instead choose to let my faulty perceptions tell me what to believe about life, about myself, and sometimes even about the nature of God.  When I revert from a posture of worship to a posture of hopelessness or fear, I become an imposter, trying to fake a life of trust and obedience.  If I say, “God, I trust you” but am consumed by despair when I don’t like my circumstances or outcomes, I am merely an imposter who isn’t truly living with the hope I profess. Genuine trust flows only from a posture of worship, and genuine hope can find a home only in the life of a person who is living from a posture of worship.

In the altar-call, vision-from-the-Lord moments of life, it feels easy to choose a posture of worship, and these moments are both totally valid understandably meaningful.  What I’ve realized, however, is that we, as Christians, often don’t know what to do after those moments, when we finally stop weeping (or laughing), the meeting ends, or another obligation arises that requires our attention.  Two imperfect responses are common: either we simply “collect ourselves” and go on precisely as we did before, or we decide that our lives would be best served by living one “Jesus-high” to the next.  But neither of these responses indicates a true posture of worship.  The act of “doing worship” (singing songs, etc.) and the intentional maintenance of a posture of worship in daily life are not necessarily equivalent.  Specifically in regard to the second response, while I won’t argue that houses of prayer, worship movements, or revival-style meetings are valid ways to continue seeking God, it has become popular in Christendom (especially for people of my generation) to become fixated on the act of worshipping without necessarily learning how to live from a true posture of worship.

Okay, so perhaps we don’t always really know what to do with God’s promises and the things that He speaks to us.  Often, like the Israelites, we eagerly receive, claim, and cling to God’s promises – then we create a mental script of how we think these promises will play out.  We concoct genius plans of how to get to where God has told us we are going, becoming easily enamored by the “how” of the promises.  Then, in mere moments, our plans can come tumbling down around us when circumstances don’t proceed as we thought they should (or hoped they would).  In these instances, we unfortunately often choose to blame God.  But if we do that, we must realize that means we are blaming God for our inaccurate assumptions about life.  We know that God’s promises to us are faithful and true because “He is faithful in all He does” (Ps. 33:4), and all His promises are made “yes” and “amen” to us through Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 1:20).  And if we truly believe that God is faithful and true in all His ways, then it is not Him who needs to change but us.

I can say this confidently not because I always get it right but because I frequently get it wrong.  When life doesn’t go the way I hope, it becomes all too easy to embrace a martyr-like sense of hopelessness.  (That is, I allow myself to have the mindset of “Here I am, obeying God, wallowing through life until a better someday.”  As I said, it’s a false sense of suffering, and ultimately it will hamper my ability to actually see the good that God is doing.)  I am a person who finds a great deal of both pleasure and security in planning for and thinking about the future.  (If life is a journey, I’d like a map, please!)  I have plenty of God-dreams and goals, and I thought I knew the route I’d take to get to those things – but it turns out that I have been wrong numerous times.  A recent pattern in my life has been that God is continually stripping away my so-called plans – plans that I was excited about and had invested a lot of my hope in.  And as my plans have been stripped away, I have had to honestly confront the source of my hope: is it in my plans, or is it truly in God, whom I claim to trust whole-heartedly?  Am I living in true Hope, or am I an imposter, skimming by in my own strength and trying to live one “Jesus-high” moment to the next?  I’ve been asking God a lot of questions and doing a lot of soul-searching lately, and through it I have been learning both humility and trust.  (It’s amazing how God always manages to teach me those things, and how there is always more for me to learn!)

True hope grounds us, holding us steady.

True hope grounds us, holding us steady.

Disappointment, when handled appropriately, provides an excellent opportunity for reevaluating priorities and beliefs.  Why?  According to Romans 5:5, “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  This is true Hope: that, enabled and guided by the power of the Holy Spirit, we live and rest in the consistent goodness and utter faithfulness of God’s nature, which is the foundation of His promises.

This is the posture of worship.  Hope becomes our anthem as we recognize that our lives are secure in the Living Hope that is our “living God and everlasting King” (Jer. 10:10).  Everything else will disappoint, but hope grounded in our God will never fail us.  Coming to God in the steady hope of faith, we “must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).  When worshipping our God becomes the focus of our lives, hope is a natural result, leaving us free to live in joyful expectation of seeing “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13).  When we have true hope, we are no longer subject to the ups and downs of circumstances or the changeable cries of our emotions.  I don’t know about you, but I crave the freedom that comes from living in and with true hope.

If we don’t position our lives in a posture of worship, we will never experience God’s goodness not because He has ceased to be good but because we will be chronically blind to it.  So how can we choose and maintain a posture of worship in our lives?

The answer is simple: choose worship.  Always.

There is no better way to combat hopelessness, depression, and despair than to choose to worship God.  Your attitude will affect everything else, including how you respond to situations and how you perceive your life.  If you can’t get your eyes off yourself and onto God, you are never going to be able to live in the fullness of hope.  When we choose to rejoice in God’s goodness and sovereignty, we find ourselves more able to stop clinging and to make room in our lives for Him to work His best in and through us.  Practically, this may look like committing to listening only to worship music for a certain period of time.  (I do not merely mean “Christian” music but legitimate, solid music that exalts the Lord rather than self and tunes your heart to what God is saying and doing).  Perhaps it means getting into the habit of telling God “thank you” more often, considering all the good He has done and is yet to do.  Or maybe for you it means engaging fully in corporate worship with your church (even when you don’t feel like worshipping.)  I encourage you (and myself): you have control over your emotions.  Choose to worship and allow your spirit to rise to the occasion rather than wallowing in self-pity.  Position yourself to receive and live in hope.

It is important to understand that a posture of worship is not necessarily physical.  Maintaining a posture of worship is oftentimes about your spiritual, mental, and emotional state.  However, sometimes, when despair and fear begin to creep in and hope seems to be nothing more than a distant yearning, we need to intentionally put our physical bodies in a posture of worship.  There comes a time when you need to get on your face before God – literally.  (From experience, I recommend choosing a spot with a rug or carpet.)

 “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise…”
– Heb. 10:35-36

What are you doing to maintain or improve your posture, my friends?  Hope is not just for “someday” – it is right now, beautiful, wild, and alive in Jesus, the final culmination of God’s every promise and good plan for you.  Today and every day that follows, may we choose to live from a perpetual posture of true worship and embrace the freedom of hope that comes with it.  This is how my conversation with God began this week, and I hope it will be a new beginning for you as well:

Lord, I invite You to replace the bad, the good, and even the “better” with Your best in my life.  When I remain in a posture of worship, despair and grumbling find no purchase.  Fear slips away in the sweetness of your Presence.  This is where I belong, what I was created for: a life of worship.  Position my heart to worship and listen.  Posture my flesh to be in continual subjection to Your Spirit.  I choose worship; I choose freedom to worship You in the fullness of hope and abundant life.  Tune my life, my mind, my heart, and my flesh to the music of Your Spirit.  Amen.

Black and white Hope

I Suggest You Run

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Every day we have opportunities – opportunities to learn, to grow, to step into destiny, to embrace adventure.  Yet all too often we shrink back, afraid of where opportunity might take us, of not making the “right” choice, or of failure and disappointment.  Life, relationships, choices – I often fear doing the wrong thing.  My greatest fear in this is:  what if I take an opportunity and then it doesn’t work out somewhere down the road?  Does that make it wrong to take the opportunity?  Does that put me at fault because I “should have known better”?

I struggle most with these questions when I feel that God is asking me to take an opportunity and then it doesn’t have the results I expect.  Did I miss God’s voice?  Did I do something wrong?  I imagine you can relate to these questions.

The truth, however, is that God doesn’t ask us to know the beginning from the end – that is His job.

My parents told me something that, at the time, I thought was odd: “You don’t know until you know.”  What they meant is that sometimes you simply have to take the next step without trying to analyze all the steps that will come after.  God asks us to take one step at a time and let Him take care of the future.  The problem with my thinking is that I tend to look for the results I expect But if it isn’t my place to know the beginning from the end, how would I know what the end should look like?  Ecclesiastes 3:11 states that God “has made everything beautiful in its time.  Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work God does from beginning to end.”  We are designed with a yearning to know (and it is good!) that will never be fully satisfied on this side of heaven.  He knows the paradox of our fragile frames and our thirst for the fullness of eternity, and He is tender with us.  He unveils the splendor of our journey step by step so that we can learn to trust in Him and not in ourselves.  Trust would not be trust if there were no question of the path!  (Check out Timeless Trust for more on this subject.)  Someday we will know fully, but now we know only in part (1 Cor. 13:12).

puzzle piecesSometimes life feels like a jumble of puzzle pieces that have no box to tell you how many pieces there are or show you what the picture looks like.  I have two options: I can clumsily attempt to make the pieces fit – or I can simply trust God, the Master Designer, and allow Him to add the pieces and put them together into a masterpiece.

Every time I watch Ever After, I have to appreciate the meddling of Gustav, Danielle’s faithful friend, who sends Danielle’s true love searching for her.  In an excited panic, Danielle yells to her friend in disbelief, ‘“And now he is heading for my house!”’  With a bright grin, Gustav simply replies, ‘“Then I suggest you run.”’  Danielle’s face lights with delight, and she darts across the field to meet her love.  How I wish that were always my response to opportunity!  All too often, though, I hide from situations that I am uncertain of and wish that someone (particularly God) would tell me what the best choice is (i.e. the one that works out most agreeably in accordance with my expectations).

ever after

Potential does nothing unless you take the opportunities that are set before you.

Yet even as part of me shrinks back, there is another part of me that longs to stretch my legs and run freely into opportunity.  As I tackle my final year of college, I have many exciting (read, “terrifyingly exciting”) choices before me, choices that have me at a crossroads in some ways.  As I consider the potential outcomes and ramifications of each decision, my poor mind is spinning in circles.  But the truth is that God started me on this path long ago, whispering His faithful promises over my life and sheltering me in His grace.  It is not my job to BE God and know how everything will work out.  It is my job to TRUST, obey, and simply take the next step that is before me.  I will never know until I know – and only God knows what the fullness of my future looks like.  Though not knowing exactly what lies ahead bothers me, I know that God is good and that He wants me to focus on the opportunities He is giving me now.  After all, opportunity disregarded is nothing but wasted potential — a journey never taken, a life never fully lived.  And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I do not want to look back and see only “potential” in my life.  (Check out Live Wild for more on living adventurously.)

What opportunities have been set before you now?  What step is God asking you to take next, trusting Him with the results?  Perhaps it is time to simply start running and see where God will take you.  The results may not be what you expect, but consider that your expectations may be different that God’s intentions.  This is the essence of God’s working all things together for our good (Rom. 8:11).  Do not allow fear to make yours a life of wistful if-only thoughts and “great potential.”  God always uses all the pieces – nothing is wasted in the puzzle of your life because He already knows the end from the beginning (Is. 46:10) because He is the Beginning and the End (Rev. 1:8).  All your days were written by Him before one of them came to be (Ps. 139:16), and His intentions toward you are good (Jer. 29:11).  He longs for us to walk boldly with Him in His sure mercies (Is. 55:3), knowing that, ultimately, it is He who sustains us and nothing can snatch us from His hand (Jn. 10:28-30).

And so, my dear friends, I suggest you run.

Timeless Trust

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A very wonderful and wise lady at my church said that we wouldn’t have to say, “I trust you” if there were no question of the path.  Isn’t that so true?  “I trust you” isn’t something we randomly say to start a conversation like a “Hey, how are you doing?” sort of greeting; it is something deep and personal that we say when we don’t know what the outcome is going to be.  Real trust is always revealed in the face of uncertain circumstances.

Yet trust is a tricky thing because it makes us vulnerable.  Trust is about relying on someone or something other than yourself to come through for you, and that can feel scary – dangerous, even.  And that is where we run into trouble trusting God.  Oh, we know we are supposed to trust Him, knowing that His plans are best and that He is good.  So, like good Christians, we place our “trust” in God – but just in case He doesn’t come through on His promises, we devise a back-up plan, a Plan B to implement when Plan A just isn’t working out.

In The Princess Bride, Westley told Buttercup that he would always come for her because that is what true love does – it keeps promises and always prevails.  Always, Westley said.  Now, long story short: Westley left, Buttercup ended up engaged to the horrid Prince Humperdinck, Westley came back only to be parted from Buttercup again.  Then the prince was going to force Buttercup to marry him.  At the wedding ceremony, Buttercup waited in all the defiance of her certainty that Westley was coming.  She goaded the prince, gloating that Westley was coming to rescue her.

And then the hasty ceremony was over, and her words broke something deep inside me: “He didn’t come.”  He didn’t come.  How often do we say that about God?  We find ourselves in situations, waiting expectantly for certain, even promised outcomes, and then we hit the point where our situation becomes so hopeless, so unalterable, that we give up on trusting Him.

"He didn't come."

“He didn’t come” — Do you sometimes feel like that?

The problem is that we put limits on our trust – particularly time limits.  When things don’t happen and promises aren’t fulfilled according to our concept of a “timely manner,” our trust falters.  After the marriage ceremony, Buttercup’s trust in Westley failed.  She had gone past the point of no return, and so she jumped, in a matter of minutes, to her back-up plan.  As she prepared for suicide (a dramatic but not entirely uncommon back-up plan), Westley revealed his presence.  Of course, she is delighted to see him but is also grieved at her recent marriage to the prince.  Yet Westley announces that it wasn’t what it seemed – she isn’t really married to that cad and is free to leave with Westley instead.  You see, Westley and Buttercup had different perspectives.  Buttercup was so caught up in her disappointment that things weren’t “working out” that she failed to see circumstances as they really were.

I find that this is a very honest depiction of our relationship with God: time-bound trust, unmet expectations, uncertain outcomes – and a back-up plan to “save” us from disappointment and make us feel secure.  My dear friends, we have to give up our back-up-plan way of life.  What does that mean?  It means that you give yourself fully to what God is doing in you and through you.  It means that you don’t plot out what you will do if (insert promise here) doesn’t come to pass (even though God said it would).  It also means – and this is very important – that you don’t plan how you will be “happy” if God doesn’t come through for you. 

Now, don’t get indignant about that statement; let me explain.  I don’t mean that we shouldn’t be content with life or that we shouldn’t find joy in simply being in relationship with our King.  After all, that is more than enough because He is more than enough.  But we cannot spend our time planning on how we will be good, happy Christians if God’s promises fail because that is the same as renouncing our trust in Him; if we are thinking this way, we are basically affirming that He isn’t “coming for us.”  I have done this many times – even recently (as in yesterday): sitting and thinking about how I will decide to be “content” even if my God-dreams never become reality.  Warning bells should have been going off in my head long ago – or perhaps they were and I was too busy being a “happy Christian” to hear them.  There is a MAJOR problem here: this kind of thinking is reliant on lies about God’s goodness and faithfulness (or lack thereof).

I never considered it bad to have a back-up plan, and I never considered it incongruous to have a back-up plan even as I claim to trust God completely.  In fact, I never even realized that I had back-up plans for my life until I realized that none of them would work out.  Sometimes God has to take all other options away for us to realize that our trust needs to be in Him alone.  I’m not even out of college, and I had back-up plans for my back-up plans for the rest of my life.  I sensed the Lord smiling knowingly as He asked me this last week, “And how is that working out for you?” as I stood amidst my crumbling, last-resort plans.  Obviously it wasn’t working out so well.

Now, take note that nothing happened to break God’s promises in my life; the only thing that had a break-down was my plans for “just in case” God’s promises don’t come through.  This brings up an interesting point: not only can we follow our own plans for our lives, we can also (and perhaps more dangerously) be following God’s plan for our life in our own strength.  That is why we desperately need to listen to the heart of Proverbs 3:5-6:

The path is straight and sure, but that doesn't mean you can see its end.

The path is straight and sure, but that doesn’t mean you can see its end.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct [make smooth, make straight] your paths.”

The truth is that, in order to “trust in the Lord with all your heart,” you actually can’t lean on your own knowledge, your own strength, your own back-up plans.  Relying on your own strength will make your path confusing and fraught with worry, and when you are trusting in your own strength – even while following God’s plans – you will never be able to see the fullness of His blessing and faithfulness in your life.  According to these verses, all we are required to do is trust Him; we don’t have to strain or struggle to discern the route or try to “figure things out.”  And notice that the promise that God will direct you, making your path smooth and straight, doesn’t mean that you get to see your path beginning to end.  God calls us to take part in His adventure, and He guarantees His goodness toward us.

It is hard to give up your back-up plan when your every fear rises up to scream that you need to protect yourself and that God’s promises cannot be trusted.   But we can refute and lay aside these fears with strength and victory, by the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace.  Know all His promises are “yes and amen” (2 Cor. 1:20) and that He is always faithful even when we are faithless because He cannot deny His nature (2 Tim. 2:13).

And so I will leave you with the words of the Lord from Isaiah 55:10-11.  May these beautiful words of life stir up a fresh hope within you as you wait for the sure promises of our Lord, who always comes for you; and may He expand your trust beyond the boundaries of time into the limitlessness of eternity:

spring buds“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may bring seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”