Saturday, March 29, 2014

Faith: Let's Take a Test Drive

Faith seems to be the theme running through my life during the past few weeks. I've been learning about what simple faith means from a variety of sources. And even in the midst of the academic portion of learning, I'm receiving some hands-on training. It's pretty much like God is saying, "You've got the facts now so let's give this puppy a test drive!"

Consequently, I haven't been blogging lately because of these tests of faith. Processing through these events have taken a lot of my mental energy. I've also been using more of my free time to pour into a lovely group of single women. In return, they have been pouring back into my life. What a blessing! I'll put in a quick plug for the (in)courage community groups. If you aren't part of one, you really should join! 

So I have been pondering some things in my heart much like Mary did after she observed the reaction of the shepherds and heard what the angel said to them following the birth of Jesus. She was quite amazed to hear what these people had to say about her son and wanted to preserve these things in her mind.

The things I'm pondering are not nearly as great. But, as I grapple with this issue of simple faith and apply what I'm learning to present circumstances, it does leave me to wonder at times what is happening. 

I think testing is probably an accurate way to describe what's going on. I've written about testing in previous blog posts, but I have a new level of appreciation for it now. 

You see, I've been sincerely praying for answers to several issues close to my heart. It seems that those issues which are most important to me--translated as I've been praying extra hard--have actually gotten worse. So the more I prayed about them, extended my faith, and trusted God with the outcome, it seems the farther away from an answer I've gotten. 

I think it's no coincidence that the more I dig in and trust God, the harder it's gotten. Satan wants me to become discouraged and give up on God, to think He's not listening. But, as a spiritual mentor of mine pointed out recently...

Faith takes possession 
by anticipation of 
God's provision.

I am believing God will provide an answer. When? How? I don't know. It's His agenda and not mine. I have to be okay with the sovereignty of God. But I will keep praying.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Expectations vs. Reality

"I've done everything you've asked. So you can give me what I want now."

Have you ever said anything like that to God? My guess is probably not in so many words. Naturally, we know better than to be demanding in that way. Right? (You're nodding your head right now, I hope.) But, maybe we secretly do expect God to respond that way.

This past weekend I watched a livestream of a singles conference from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC. They had several good speakers, but one in particular said some things that resonated with me. She talked about life plans. As a young adult, she'd mapped out her life, but it seems as if her expectations did not meet her reality. She was still single when she'd planned to be married with children by now.

Imagine these scenarios:
  • You studied for a career, but ended up in a different profession. 
  • You had intentions of moving to a particular house/neighborhood/city, but ended up in your 3rd or 4th choice.
  • You were sure you would be married by a certain age, but find yourself still single.
  • You would have 2 or 3 children by the age of 35, but your house is still empty.
  • You planned to travel abroad or be a missionary, but somewhere along the way those dreams are still unfulfilled.
You get the picture. If you haven't imagined your own scenario by now, take a few minutes to think about it. We all have these great plans, but sometimes life doesn't align itself to match our plans. Sometimes these plans are really good things, yet hopes and desires remain unfulfilled.

The thing that really struck a chord with me was when the speaker talked about bargaining with God. It's easy to fall into this perception that if I'm doing all the right things--pursuing God, putting God first, reading my Bible regularly, praying--that it's a given that these expectations would be finally be fulfilled. You know, Do this + this = That. That's the way life works. We have a sense of entitlement after we've done "all the right things" so we think to ourselves, surely now that I've done these things, God will finally give me my heart's desires.

Another week goes by...
           Another month goes by...
                      Another year goes by...

and that desire still hasn't been fulfilled. Then what? We start to question God. We start to question ourselves. We compare our lives to others. We may even try to manipulate circumstances, make changes, or simply take over and do it ourselves.

The speaker shared this quote from John Newton:

"Everything is necessary that God sends our way.
Nothing can be necessary that He withholds."

This quote is profound, yet makes me uncomfortable. These things that I find "necessary" may not be necessary in God's design. I'm still processing that thought. But what all of this reminds me of is a simple Bible verse that God continues to put in my path, and has done so quite a lot lately.

For I know
the plans
that I have for you.
They are plans for good
and not for disaster
to give you a future 
and a hope. - Jer. 29:11

(I broke up the verse this way to cause the reader to stop and consider each of these phrases. I recommend reading it several times this way.)

Most of the time I've stopped reading right there at the end of verse 11. But last week Im my devotional reading the next two verses were tacked onto this. They really stood out to me:

In those days when you pray, I will listen.
If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. - Jer. 29:12-13

Yes, God has plans for me. He knows the plans and they are good plans. He knows exactly when to unfold these plans for me. In the meantime, I need to keep working on really knowing the One who is in charge of those plans, praying to Him. God is listening even when it seems He isn't. I just need to keep looking to Him. It's there that I will find my Hope. My hope is not in the outcome, it's in the One who is in charge of the outcome.

Linking up with