Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Week in Review: Faith Testing

I try to stay consistent about posting on this blog even if it's only once a week. Last week was different. It's not that God wasn't teaching me anything--au contraire! Sometimes it's better for me to "Be Still" and just listen rather than write.

The past few weeks have been challenging in many ways. I won't go into all the details, but suffice it to say that we all have seasons in our lives that push us out of our comfort zones and stretch us in the faith department.

This morning I was working on a Bible study about faith and immediately realized that God used some of the events of the past few weeks to stretch me in the faith department. I wish I could say that I got an A+. Not even close! I had good moments and bad moments. There were times when I reacted to circumstances through my flesh by saying or doing things that were not so Christ-like. And then I had some Spirit-filled moments when I desperately prayed for God's help and turned to Scripture.

As I look back over the week, I can see that those moments when I turned to God and the Word were some of the most peace-filled moments of the week. Did my circumstances get better? No. Not really. But, I did feel peace that passed all understanding...

And the peace of God, 
which surpasses all comprehension, 
will guard your hearts 
and your minds in Christ Jesus. 
Philippians 4:7

...and when I did go to God and Scripture first, I found that things fell into place a little better than if I had tried to do things in my own strength.

Fear not, for I am with you; 
be not dismayed, for I am your God; 
I will strengthen you, I will help you, 
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

There's one other thing I learned this morning about my faith: It's been getting stronger over the years. I can now see how my faith has been shaped by my environment and other people since I was a child. My belief system has been rather limited in the past. My knowledge of Scripture was limited and therefore my knowledge of who God is and what He can do was limited. 

As I've spent more and more time in Scripture, I can see how my perception of who God is has been changing. The God I know right now is not the God I knew 10, 20, or 30 years ago. He's much bigger, He's much more loving, He's much more personal, and He's much more awesome than I would have thought a few decades ago. These are the kinds of things we learn only after spending years getting to know someone.

If you need a faith boost, read the 11th chapter of Hebrews. Faith is the confidence we need when we cannot see anything happening and it is by faith that we trust God, knowing that He is able when we are not.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pop Quiz: Are you Ready?

Tests. They were the mainstay of our school years. We studied a subject for a period of time and then the teacher would give a test to gague how well we've learned. Most of the time the teacher would tell the class a test was coming. It gave us time to prepare. It was nice to have one last time to study the material before test time.

Inevitably I would have a teacher or two (or three) who enjoyed giving a pop quiz. Oh the groans that rippled through the room whenever a teacher greeted us with those words! Those were tests you didn't know were coming. If you didn't know the material, you were sunk! However, the teacher used these pop quizzes to learn how well we were retaining what he or she was teaching.

Spiritual life is not really that different. My Teacher often allows those tests to come along to see how well I am learning and growing in a particular area of my life.

I recently had one of those "pop quizzes," although I didn't realize it at first. I was going down the road, in a place which I had been a few times before. On this road I had the option of reacting the way I always had in the past. In church-speak some would call this "reacting from the flesh." Simply put, I wanted to react the way I always had in the past which is just jumping in and doing what I wanted to do--to take control.

However, because this is a place which God (my Teacher) has been teaching me for a while, my reaction this time was different. My initial reaction was the same as always (what can I do?), but I did not pursue that thought for long. I immediately began to ask God what I should do.

When I had gone down this path before, I asked God what to do and He put up a literal roadblock. I was kind of expecting to see the same response again. A closed door is kind of comforting, you know what I mean?

Well, do you know how teachers just stand by and watch you as you take a test? That's how I felt God was with me at that particular moment. He was there and I knew it, but He was not giving me the answer to this test. Instead, God did give me the kind of responses which made me think, "What's this got to do with it"?
This time I needed to figure it out based on what I've learned.

After much consideration and prayer, I felt that either choice I made in this situation would have been okay and covered by His grace. There was no wrong choice to be made because nothing I was considering would have been sinful or immoral. But there was an obvious choice--my way or God's way. One choice more closely fit with my resolve to allow God to control instead of me trying to control. So, I turned left instead of right.

It was shortly after that decision was made that I sensed a confirmation from God that I'd made the better choice. It was then my Teacher began to instruct again and that's when I realized I'd just been tested.

I've written about this area of control before. One of my first posts on this blog was called God's Timing. So this is not the first time I've been tested in this area of my life and it certainly won't be the last.

This pop quiz came up so suddenly that I didn't have a chance for last-minute studying, but alas... I have been a student all along. I've been learning from the Master Teacher.

Psalm 66 tells of the Israelites praising God for his mighty deeds and answered prayers. In the middle of that Psalm is verse 10 which says...

You have tested us, O God; you have purified us like silver.

Hmmm. Purufied like silver. Reminds me of another post I wrote a while back about the proofing process.  Proofing is a phase that reveals flaws and errors in the metal. 

Tests can come at any moment. I need to stay in the word and connected to God, learning at all times. I also need to seek God's will.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on 
your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do,  
and he will show you which path to take. - Proverbs 3:5-6

There's a conditional promise in this verse. If I trust in the Lord, He will guide me to make the best choices. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Your Will Be Done

Are you familiar with King Hezekiah? A number of years ago I recall studying Hezekiah of the Old Testament. He was one of the few good kings who ruled over Judah. The story of Hezekiah made a lasting impression on me. I think about his story occasionally and was once again reminded of Hezekiah's story. 

Hezekiah followed the Lord, but he became ill and was told by a prophet that it was time to set his affairs in order. Hezekiah was told that he would not recover from the illness and would die. Imagine knowing that!  

Hezekiah did something bold--he prayed fervently for his life to be spared. He reminded God of his faithfulness to serve the Lord and how he always tried to please God in everything he did. 

So, Hezekiah was a good guy who loved God. He prayed for something he really wanted, asking God to change his mind and allow him to live. Then he wept bitterly. What Hezekiah was asking for was not really a bad thing (it wasn't against any of God's laws, it wasn't immoral, etc.). In his mind, Hezekiah wasn't ready to die and would like to continue leading Judah on the Lord's behalf.

God heard his prayer and extended Hezekiah's life by 15 years...

‘This is what the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and three days from now you will get out of bed and go to the Temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my own honor and for the sake of my servant David’” (2 Kings 20:5).
But (wouldn't you know it) during those extra years bad things happened. Hezekiah allowed people from other countries to see all the treasures in Judah (the Babylonians would eventually come back and take all the treasures). This time also ushered in one of the worst kings in their history to take over when Hezekiah finally died--his own son, Manasseh. 

The sovereign God knew that it would be better for Hezekiah to die the first time he became so ill, but God allowed him to live. He answered Hezekiah's big prayer.

I think of this scenario sometimes when I pray those big prayers. In my hurt and suffering, when I ask God to change my circumstances--or those of others--I wonder if having my way will result in relief now, but more pain later? It always gives me pause to ask for God's will to be done.

The thing that I am learning is that it's okay to ask God and pray those big prayers. It's okay to believe God for big things, to have faith in a God who can move mountains and creates life.

God wants me to talk to Him about these big things and the little things that concern me. But, I also understand that when I ask, I should keep in mind what Jesus taught the disciples to pray in Matthew 6:10 says,"Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."