When God is Not Himself

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We attribute all kinds of things to God that really have nothing at all to do with who He truly is. At the base level of human nature, we all carry expectations about God, about ourselves, about each other and about life that are, at best, unrealistic. One well respected leader in my life calls these “phantom expectations.”

Although, as mentioned, they are not realistic, they’re hidden within our subconscious lives, empowered by our past experiences, and so project false images onto God, ourselves, others and life which set us up for repeated disappointment and resentment.

I want to explore this a little today because I spent some time with God this morning, and my eyes were opened to see that I have, once again, been perceiving God to be one way, when in reality He is nothing like what I’ve been expecting Him to be. Partly, I want to be disappointed over the fact that so there is still so much space between what I see and what is true, but the greater part of me is so thankful for God’s ongoing intervention in my life. Daily, I am still being transformed into His image, and I can rest in His faithfulness to continue that process until it is time for me to go home.

Still, even while I’m thankful, I am restless. I want to know: where do such expectations come from? And how on earth do we trade them in for expectations that are more realistic? This is an important part of our growth process, if we truly want to walk with God, and if we want to be able to endure through the tough stuff of our lives still believing that He is good and worthy of not only our praise, but our trust.

I will speak from my own experience, because that’s where He started with me, and because I, like you, am very human. This levels the playing field, uniting us in the one reality we all share. Our human experience positions us to naturally draw conclusions which are not always rooted in the reality of eternity, of Heaven – our true home, where our true identities were born. And when our conclusions are drawn from the realm in which we can see and interpret things apart from the truth, we become prone to believing things about God that are skewed, to put it mildly.

In my own example, I was sifting through a recent season with God, and saw a vision of a large, clean, rather empty space. But I was standing in the middle of that space, clinging tightly to an armload of “stuff.” There was a wall, acting like a border, around the space in which I was standing, and I was content to stay hidden within that space, protected by the wall, clinging to my manageable load.

When I asked the Lord about what I saw, He exposed a fear I was carrying, a lie I was believing: that He might want to invade that large, clean, manageable space with more…more than I have right now…more than I can handle on my own…more than I feel ready to take on again (especially in light of the assignment I have just finished). Part of my protective stance had to do with protecting myself from God’s assumed desire to “bless” me with more, while my heart needs some time to rest with a whole lot less.

Many people think the Bible says that God will not give us more than we can handle. They therefore reason that God must think they can handle an awful lot, and so try to muster up the strength to do so. Or they reason that maybe they just need to grow in their own confidence, until they feel like they can handle what they think God thinks they should be able to handle. On the one hand, they strive to survive. On the other, they strive to believe something until they feel it. In either case, they are striving under the burden of a lie, and the fruit of that is usually burnout, plus a view of God that is less than lovely, and certainly less than true.

In actuality, the Bible does not say that God won’t give us more than we can handle. It does say He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear, and that with every temptation, He will provide a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13), but God does not give temptation. He allows it. That’s another discussion for another day, but suffice it to say there is a real difference.  Scripture says what God gives, as a good God, is good. And what He allows, He will cause it to work for our good, as we love Him and submit to His plans for us. (James 1:17 & Romans 8:28).

This should bring a lot of clarity to our experience, but in my distorted human perspective, aided of course by the enemy’s deception and accusation against God, I have somehow arrived at the conclusion that in His goodness, God has given me more than I feel I can handle so that I will lean more into Him and be able to make it through. From this perspective, “more” looks and feels like a disciplinary tool used for the purpose of teaching me to rely more on Him. Certainly, this can be, and has been, true at times. But it is not necessarily always so. It is, as He revealed, not so right now.

To take what has been true and assume it is true now is to cut God out of the process and settle for a religious formula I can quickly access but which, unfortunately, leads me to a wrong conclusion. To take what has been true and assume it is always true is to cast a shadow over the true nature of God, and instead project a phantom expectation over Him, because I have let my perception of my past experiences and how He chose to present Himself within them define Him in my current season.

To simplify that for a you a little bit, I remember once entering a season that was so unfamiliar and overwhelmingly scary that I cried out to God for some kind of revelation of His presence. I was looking for the God I had known, because I needed the comfort of something familiar. Instead, He told me not to count on anything I had learned about Him in previous seasons. All He gave me was the promise of His goodness.

So I had to wade through deep waters in which I could not swim, searching for something I could not see. What I can tell you about that season was that it was life-changing. I got to know God in a way I had never known Him before. That wouldn’t have been possible if I was formulating the experience through the lens of my past seasons and what I had learned to be true about Him there.

His goodness showed up in scrambling my equation, so that I was positioned to see Him, and not what I had learned about Him. I hope that makes sense. In anything we experience, our goal should be God, not merely attaining or even upholding a truth about God.

Because we have faith, we can slap a label of  God’s “goodness” over any hard thing and tell the world that, despite our difficult assignments in life, our God is faithful and good to us. This is true. And at the same time, it’s not. God is always good, but not all of His assignments are meant to be difficult, even when our experience says they are.

It is not so much an issue of contradicting realities, but of the angle we lean into. Some things, while they are always true, will not be the truth God wants us to lean into in our present season. And if we do, we will miss the truth He is wanting to reveal to us about Himself – not just the things He does, but Who He is. The only way I discovered this contradiction in realities was by spending time in His presence, where He revealed His heart to me, and where truth took on a whole new light which I could never have discovered through the equation of the facts I could feel and see plus what I know the Bible says.

But we do this. We go to church, or listen to church, or read the Bible, or hear about what the Bible says – and then we cut and paste that over our lives, so that we have the illusion of some kind of anchor to hold fast to. We do this with the right motivation, I believe. We genuinely want to love God and trust Him. We want to believe in Him no matter what. The problem comes when what we’ve come to believe about Him is perverted by our own understanding, and justified by it all at the same time.

Again, using my own example, I have heard and been taught that if an assignment isn’t so big that it feels overwhelming for me, it isn’t from God because He only gives what I can’t do on my own. This has lent greatly to my perception of God wanting to invade every empty, neat and orderly space in my life with “more.” And because I love and trust Him, I have opened myself up for the “more” I’ve believed He wants to give.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe there is truth in this. I do believe that God can and does give assignments that require His help to complete. But that’s only a part of what He does. He also gives rest. He also leads us, at times, beside the still waters, allowing our souls to be refreshed, not overwhelmed. To carry the conclusion, as I have, that God is always looking to arbitrarily invade the space of my life with more than I can handle, to teach me how to lean more into Him, is to put a phantom expectation on Him that keeps me from truly knowing Him…because my human heart would rather hide from a God like that than draw near to Him, in order to have less to manage.

This is messy, and it’s a revelation I am not yet finished walking out with Him. So forgive me if I do not lead you into a complete conclusion today. Actually, I am hoping I don’t, because I don’t want to hand you an answer you can tuck away in your purse, another religious formula you can grab onto when something doesn’t make sense. I am hoping, instead, that this discussion will lead you straight into a conversation with God about the conclusions you’ve drawn about Him in your own heart. I want to lead you to Him, not to my understanding of Him.

That’s the real beauty of God – that He wants us to know Him. Wherever we take an established truth and slap it over something we experience, we are in danger of trading the traditions of men for relationship with God. All of Scripture is an invitation to know God, to know Jesus, more – to walk into a revelation of what has been written and spoken.

As a Pastor, and as a woman who has great respect for my own Pastors and the teachers God has placed in my life, I value the teaching and preaching of the Word of God. I especially value the dedication of the ones who take seriously the calling to preach and teach it, because it equips me and us to live the life God has created us to. But if we stop at the preaching and teaching, wrap it up and put it in our purses each week, it will only be a notebook full of labels we will pull out when we need something to slap onto our circumstances, in order to make us feel a little more secure in what we’ve been told to know.

But if we will take the Word of God, what is written and what is preached and taught, and take it back to God, opening up our lives to Him, and inviting Him to open Himself up to us, I think our conclusions about God and our understanding of His Word might grow by leaps and bounds. I think our relationship with Him would get so much deeper.

Of course this is a process, a lifelong one. We will be, or we should be, getting to know God more every day that we’re alive. And in the process of getting to know Him, there is always an untangling that needs to be done – a hanging up of the phantom masks we’ve placed over Him – and an embracing of a reality that is far beyond our own ability to understand.

This is the real “more” we are always being offered. It’s not always or necessarily found in the contents of what our lives or hands can hold, but in the depth of the revelation we receive about Him, through relationship with Him, in the things He gives us to hold and walk through.

Today, God is teaching me that my empty spaces, even the empty hands I have (which are not really empty, but emptier than they were) as I step into a new season, are not viewed by Him as available real estate for His own benefit. He is not looking to necessarily fill them up with “more,” as I was expecting Him to.  I arrived at, or agreed with, that conclusion somehow in my last season, as His good gift became hard to bear at times, turning bitter in my mouth in certain moments.

What started out good, through the lenses of my own experience, became too much to bear, and I in turn reflected that back upon God, as though it were part of His design. And so, even while I leaned into Him for strength, I mustered up my own in order to get through it, holding fast my confession that “He is good,” even while I struggled beneath the weight of was sometimes tainted by the presence of what was evil.

This is the way of humanity: the struggle to keep our faith afloat while we wrestle through the realities that crash over us like giant waves. But God sees, and He knows. He is gentle with our brokenness. Yet, He provides a better way, through the revelation of His true nature. Through relationship with Him. Through drawing near enough to see things clearly, and allowing Him to separate out the weeds from the harvest of what He intended in our circumstances. There is chaff that must be separated from the wheat of all our seasons.

Not everything we go through and not everything we walk away with is from the hand of God. But it takes drawing near to God to tell the difference between what is from Him and what is from our own faulty perception, influenced by the enemy’s lies.

God is not Himself when we look at Him through the lens of our own human conclusions, colored by the pain and frustrations of our experiences. He is Himself when we become willing to see Him as He is, when we come before Him willing to let our guard down and hear Him speak to the fears and torments and deception of our hearts. He graciously reveals Himself to the heart that seeks to know Him.

And that, Dear Woman of Breakthrough, is eternal life. That is where we discover everything He said was true. It can’t be found outside of up-close, personal and intimate relationship with Him, where our own opinions and evaluations are laid before Him, and He is given the space to correct our faulty misperceptions. Do you know that His correction is evidence of His love (Proverbs 3:12)? God help us to run into Your presence, eager to be corrected and thereby grow in your love!

My prayer for you, for us, today is that we would take up residence in the heart He has given us, the heart that longs to know Him. We have been given a new heart, but too often, we prefer to live in the revelations of the old one. Our new heart, however, is full of space that invites Heavenly realities to become the territory we abide in. May we go there today, with great expectation, even if we go trembling. Because He who has promised is faithful! He will meet us as we come to seek the truth of Who He is.

{Photo images courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com}

 


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