On the One Hand…And the Other

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I’ve been confronted recently with a tendency I have: to settle quickly with things that aren’t always meant to be neatly packaged and resolved, and which I was not necessarily meant to settle with.

Often, when I’m not sure what to do in a situation, or what to believe, I choose to rest in the least conflicting answer I can, for the sake of avoiding inner turmoil. This doesn’t mean I intentionally neglect truth, or fail to seek God’s wisdom in the issues I face. It just means that sometimes, by God’s wise design, the answers aren’t clear, and I have to – or get to – choose where I will stand. And sometimes, when I am weary, sitting down becomes an easier thing to do than standing firm. So I tend to grab onto a corner of truth that I know has been firmly established and I set up camp there. I grab ahold of what I’ve learned is true about God, and I determine to let that be good enough to get me through.

The problem is that I am too often, too willing to set up camp in a place I think is good, when God has a new territory to lead me into. Sometimes God wants to reveal something different about Himself – either to me or to those around me – and that requires me being willing to walk through unfamiliar, uncertain territory.

This is more common than I’d like to accept. I would prefer that things be spelled out for me in a nice, neat, clear set of instructions. Turn here. Stop there. Do this, don’t do that (this is where religion gets established in the hearts of men). Believe this, don’t believe that. I’m really good at Follow-the-Leader, and I like that kind of arrangement. I would rather, in fact, serve leaders than be a leader, because it requires very little interpretation. Interpretation makes me nervous.

When it comes to the messy matters of life, such as we are currently facing (COVID-19 pandemic), a fresh struggle presents itself. And the question I have found myself chewing on is this: what do I accept and embrace, and what do I resist? If it’s here, and it’s not moving – even as I pray – does that mean I am just supposed to shrug my shoulders and leave it alone until God decides to do whatever He wants to do, or is there something more for me to do here? Is there, in fact, something different that God wants to do, and that He has invited me/us to be a part of? And if so, how do we step into it?

It would be easy for me to just hand God everything, attribute everything to His wise discretion, and busy myself with living through it. By this, I don’t intend to suggest that He is the author of evil or disease, but rather that, in trusting Him, I have learned to be comfortable with accepting anything He gives permission to affect me. This is an easy place for me to rest because I’ve had the privilege of long seasons of healing and seasons of deep suffering, during which I have come to know God’s heart. Because I know His heart, I trust that His plans, in everything – even the hard things – are always good and always redemptive. So, while it may not be pleasant to endure through some of the things He permits, I am able to – without fearing that He has abandoned me.

But my “rest” has been disturbed recently, as I’ve been processing what I believe is a God-given question: what if the things we are given to endure through are not just given arbitrarily? What if they are not just meant for us to endure through? What if some of them are given to develop faith, strength, or some spiritual gift? What if they are meant to mature us, but only as we learn to discern their purpose, and in some cases, even resist mere blind acceptance of them?

This can become a tricky road, and I can understand why so many (including me) choose the “simple” route of just attributing everything to God and attempting to move on with life in the midst of the chaos. But I don’t necessarily believe that simplicity is about embracing less. In fact, I believe it’s about embracing more – embracing the fullness of God as being sufficient in and for everything – and sifting through all the lesser revelations and adaptations we tend to settle for.

I’ll give you a personal example. When I was pregnant with my third child, I wrestled with a sense that God was going to take her from me. Not as a punishment, and not without His loving purpose attached to it, but just as a part of His greater plans. I struggled deeply with the thought, wondering how to embrace it. Wondering how to embrace her life, knowing I was preparing to give it up. I knew God was walking me through the struggle, because even though it was painful and hard, I had so much peace. I knew I was in a process that He was very present in, and so I “naturally” concluded that this was His will, and He was teaching me how to trust Him more, even through the loss of what I held most dear.

“The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away,” was how my reasoning went. I attempted to settle where I thought He was asking me to.  I embraced the surrender of the life He had placed within my womb, and did my best to prepare myself to love her without limits, even if it was only for a few moments of her life.

Then, the night before I was induced, I went to church for a mid-week service. There, God turned the entire journey on its head and revealed His heart in it. I had misunderstood His intentions. What I was trying to let go of, in an attempt to surrender to and trust Him more, He was inviting me to fight for. When He asked for her life, He was wanting me to take hold of what He had given me, and NOT let go! You can imagine my gratitude that night, and the different kind of peace I had on my way to delivery the next day.

Let me pause here and just say: what if I hadn’t gone to His house that night?! The choice to stay home, and comfortable, to give in to tiredness or emotional struggle and not engage with God and His people could have meant that I missed out on a life-changing word – literally! I am such a firm believer in gathering together as a church. I know we can worship God and even seek Him in our homes (as we are having to do now), but nothing replaces the local church body God calls us to be part of (see Hebrews 10:25)!

Returning to my story, I learned something in that journey that I am now having to remember: not everything is meant to be embraced. Although God has ultimate authority over what touches our lives, and we are called to endure through the hard and painful things, sometimes we are to do so while warring against them. When my child takes a hard left turn, I have to accept that God has given her a mind and a will to make her own choices – even if those choices lead her away from God. In such moments, it is sometimes easier to just throw my hands up and “leave it up to God.” As humans, we tend to resist the struggle of the conflict and attempt to do our best to learn to live with things we cannot change.

But what if the things we cannot change are things God wants to change?

What if, in a marriage that is wounded by infidelity, we choose to suffer through the battle and fight for covenant love to prevail – instead of “surrendering” to God’s design of free will and its consequences? I’m not saying everyone in a broken marriage should stick it out. I am saying that we should turn to God in the presence of everything that touches our lives, and ask what He wants to do through it. I have cringed inside at the many stories I’ve heard from people who claim their divorces were the result of God’s mysterious ways. I have likewise cringed at the many stories of those who remain married, despite abuses and tragedies that likely could have been avoided if they had sought God’s specific direction rather than accepted a generic understanding of “God’s will”.

God knows us personally, and has designed specific plans for our lives. Those plans require that we turn to Him for His wisdom in every situation we face. Too often, we look to the left or the right, to see how other people have walked through and where they have settled, and we follow suit. But what if God has designed for you to know something different in what you’re experiencing?

I think sometimes we choose the path of least resistance and resolve that God will do whatever He wants to do, reasoning that we can just tend to whatever else we have going on in the meantime, and call it trust. But if we look at the stories of Abraham and Moses and Paul and John the Baptist – if we look at the life of Jesus, we see that God chooses to  draw us into deep conflict, and to intervene and bring change through relationships with people just like you and me. He invites us to live uncomfortably and to resist what we are called to endure, whenever it isn’t His will or desire for us or the people we love. He invites us to enter into the struggle against what is permitted, rather than refusing to engage with it.

Maybe you, like many, have just always figured that if it comes, it must be God’s will. If He is in control, and chooses not to prevent it, then we just have to accept it as His will. But, as with the case of the child God invited me to fight for, sometimes He chooses to develop us through the struggle of accepting but not embracing the things He allows to touch our lives. There is a process of maturity, and a depth of friendship and intimacy tucked into the discomfort of every situation we face.

So how do we gain access to it? If you’re like me, you’ve probably spent too much time wondering and trying to figure it out on your own. And if you’ve tried and missed it, you’ve probably determined it’s safer to stay on the neutral sidelines of “whatever God wants.” But God doesn’t want robots. He wants friend He can share His heart with. And God is okay with us “missing it,” when we are in pursuit of His heart. When our aim is to know Him, and to share in His desires, and our attempts are sincere, He is more than pleased, and the reward is always growth in Him.

Dear Woman of Breakthrough, take a good look at your life today, and confess what you see. Have you made room for things you shouldn’t have? Have you embraced things that were sent for you to learn to refuse? Have you grown comfortable with a vague sense of the will of God, rather than pressing in to know God’s heart for you and those you love, in every circumstance?

The hard, but beautiful part of this journey is that there is no set of directions you can pre-set. This is a step-by-step journey through which you are meant to develop deep relationship with the God Who made you. The point is not so much to know all the answers, but to know the heart of the One Who is the answer.

There is an invitation before you, Beloved, to wrestle. Before you just set your mind to survive whatever you’re facing today, and wait for God to change it (or not), ask Him what He desires for you in and through it. On the one hand, where things are great, it is easy to say God is good, and He is for you, and you can trust Him. But on the other hand, where things are difficult and messy and maybe even painful, God is still the same. And on either hand, He may desire to do something we haven’t even begun to imagine…if we will just come with teachable hearts, desiring to know more than just the “stuff” He gives or allows.

The moral of this blog is simple: don’t settle with what you weren’t meant to. And don’t assume it is the will of God just because it has touched your life. Get into intimate conversation with God and get instructions! Then take your position, and hold it until you see what He desires.

Pray with me today:

Lord, You are the Good Shepherd Who goes before us, behind us, and on every side of us. You lead us into peaceful pastures and war-torn valleys. You supply for all of our needs, and You allow us to know need, that we may find our hope in You alone. You are wise beyond our understanding, and we know we need You, more than we are often aware of. Forgive us, Lord, for so often accepting things as “Your will” which may in fact just be an opportunity to partner with You in warring against them, so Your true will can be established. Help us not to lean on our own understanding, or to take the easy road of settling for whatever brings the least amount of spiritual conflict. We were made to endure through great conflict, to learn to stand boldly in You, to be confident in Your heart for us, and to believe Your promises even when they are threatened. Teach us, Lord, about Your heart in every circumstance we face. Develop discernment in us, and help us to rest in You alone, as we seek relationship with You above all other things. Lord, You are our comfort. Let us not trade You for a shallow explanation of our circumstances. Help us to be willing to wrestle with questions and endure through uncertainties until we have gained access to Your heart for us in everything. We love You, and we want You to receive all You have laid up within our lives. In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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

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