Staying Free

Being free is hard.

It sounds easy…being rid of the metaphorical chains that bind you to literal misery…having the ability to move about, run away, make your own choices…

But being free is hard.

Because it takes intentional effort and vigilance to remain free.

The Israelites are a good case study. (Aren’t they always?)

They were enslaved in Egypt, worked ragged, abused, and then God/Moses led them to freedom. Pharaoh decided to let the Israelites go, granting them the ability to trudge out into the desert, move around as they wished, run away from the oppression, and make their own choices…they left with tons of goods, and the Lord Himself showed them the way they should go.

They were finally free.

About one month after they were set free, the Israelites were out of water and low on food. Because they were free, it was up to them to provide for themselves…maybe they didn’t know how since they never had to do so previously…or maybe the nomadic existence made it difficult to have reliable, regular sources of food and water…or maybe the unforgiving desert is to blame for their lack of resources.

Whatever the reasons, Exodus 16:2-3 reads, “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.'”

The gnawing hunger and parched mouths led the Israelites to long for the days when they were enslaved in Egypt. Their unmet physical needs actually made them think they would prefer beatings and unreasonable work loads to being free from the inhumane abuse to which they were accustomed if that meant they’d get an all-you-can-eat buffet each day.

This wouldn’t be the only time the Israelites grumbled against Moses, despising him for taking them out of their Egyptian slavery. Many times, in fact, the group said they’d prefer being enslaved again to having their freedom, as long as their stomachs were filled.

Not many of us are the kind of slaves the Israelites were in Egypt. But we all have our own masters, nonetheless.

Sometimes we let people control us…sometimes it’s food or exercise or shopping or alcohol or tobacco or prescription drugs or illegal drugs or lust or greed or ambition or achievement or money or recognition or work or ministry or volunteerism or love for our children or spouse that relentlessly drives us to unhealthy ends.

We humans can make masters out of anything. Literally.

God designed us to serve Him…to be ruled by Him…to submit to His will…to worship Him…and if we don’t, we take our service-oriented natures and our default tendencies to worship elsewhere.

We all enslave ourselves to someone or something.

(And if you’re thinking, “I don’t…you’re probably enslaved to yourself. You probably do whatever you want to satisfy you. In essence, you are your own god.)

We all become enslaved to things that aren’t God at some point.

The good news is we can gain our freedom.

If we pursue breaking free from that master, we can often learn how to gain control over our “issue”. Which is great!

To no longer be controlled by what someone else thinks or by an addiction of any kind is true freedomAnd it is an amazing, healthy place to be.

But.

Being free is hard.

Because it takes intentional effort and vigilance to remain free.

Whatever controlled us before will pop up again, and, just like the Israelites, there will be times we long to return to our former masters, cruel and unhealthy as they may be.

We will be tempted to willingly return to our unhealthy behaviors that were so easy and so comfortable in the past. When our old masters seem to beckon us, we have to work to maintain our freedom from them.

How?

By reminding ourselves of the truth. Any master who is not God will not satisfy us. They can’t.

By remembering how miserable we were when we were enslaved to ________. The grass is not greener on the other side, and nostalgia is more akin to fantasy than historical biography.

By reminding ourselves of the joy we experience when we make God our Master. Recall times you’ve been satisfied in Him worshiping, reading scripture, serving, ministering…

By asking the Holy Spirit to empower us to resist the lure of former masters. The Spirit is real and He really can enable us to resist temptation and see through lies.

By talking through our desires to return to unhealthy masters with encouraging friends and family. Don’t let shame that you even have the thought to sin keep you from opening up to someone about your struggle. Because guess what…we all think about sinning every single day. It’s called being human. And when we try to fight our impulses on our own, our success rate is dramatically lower than when we call on our brothers and sisters in Christ to help us.

Getting free is hard.

And staying free is hard.

Lord, help us make an intentional effort to remain free so we may serve You only, our one true Master.

Holy Moments

It’s true what they say: you can’t help people who won’t help themselves. But, oh, how I love to help people who truly want the things of Christ but have temporarily lost sight of how to get to them.

I love the feeling of being in relationships with people who share with me when they are faltering and allow me to encourage them back to Him. Those friends with open spirits, who long for the Lord… It is so sweet to come along side them and support them. And then to see the ensuing victory – that moment when the fog lifts and they see Jesus again! They knew he was there all along…. they kept the faith. And victory becomes theirs. These are holy moments to be a part of.

Maybe I am drawn to relationships like this because so often the shoe is on the other foot – I’m the one who misplaces Jesus.

So many days I can’t remember how to get to Him, but I believe He’s still there… somewhere… And one of these faithful friends comes along and speaks life to me. They encourage me toward Him in love and truth. And, inevitably, the fog lifts. And, surprise! There is Jesus again. My face lights up, and I laugh because He was there all along…. and my friends share in my joy. It’s as if we’ve banded together, two Christians against the Evil One, and we’ve prevailed!

I love those moments – holy moments.

They make me think of our daughters as babies learning to walk.

Holy Moments

They both walked late. Like their mama. We’d encourage them – show them how to move their little legs – put incentives just out of reach. Hold their little hands, then just a finger, then we’d let go altogether, hoping to see them toddle on without us. For a long time, they’d fall. They’d fuss. They’d grow frustrated. They’d insist on holding our hands a little while longer. And we felt those emotions right along with them – frustration, exasperation – waiting with baited breath for them to finally get it, believing that day would come and pedestrian victory would be theirs.

And on the day they finally walked by themselves… we came unglued with excitement and celebration! We ourselves didn’t accomplish anything…. except we had believed with all of our hearts that these little ones would walk one day… And when all those weeks (months?) of persevering in faith came to fruition, our hearts burst with gladness. And then it was on to the next issue to tackle… potty training… learning to read… learning to write… and on and on the issues go.

So it is in meaningful Christian friendships. We encourage. We pray. We listen. We believe on behalf of another who isn’t feeling it. And, eventually, we see breakthrough – glory – in the most literal sense of the word. Grace.

When Moses had to hold his arms up in order for Israel to win a battle against the Amalekites, he grew weary. His friends held his arms up for him, helping him accomplish his purpose (Exodus 17:11-12). And all were blessed by being a part of the victory the Lord gave them.

I’ve had many friends hold my arms up over the years. They are sweet friendships I treasure. The ones I treasure most, however, are those who have allowed me to hold up their arms in their times of need as well. It’s that mutual exchange of hearts and heartaches that births glory-full relationships.

If you want more meaningful relationships, be willing to hold someone else’s arms up, and be open enough to allow them to do the same for you.

There’s something holy about it… two friends united by Christ’s blood, encouraging each other to press into difficulty and grasp the Truth of the Cross tighter still…

Don’t miss it.

Prayer: Conflict Resolution with God

Unable to sleep despite needing to sleep, I went downstairs for the next best thing – coffee. I paced the length of my kitchen as the machine sputtered. The coffee maker struggled to brew as I struggled to order my thoughts.

I began speaking aloud to the Lord, using Him as a sounding board for my broken logic and heightened emotions. He listened patiently. He gave me all the time I needed to verbally rearrange the pieces of the puzzle… in vain.

Sometimes prayer goes like that. It isn’t so much a laundry list of “Please do these things for me, Lord,” as it is a wrestling match to align my heart with His on matters.

image via wikipedia/Jason M. Carter

His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways (Isaiah 55:9). Sometimes we have to fight for understanding. Sometimes we have to settle for peace without clarity, but even that doesn’t always come without an altercation with God.

Our broken minds are inclined to believe a lot of things that aren’t true, especially about ourselves and about God (see Jacob – Genesis 32). So it’s no wonder we have to spend a lot of time with God – the Spirit of Truth – to sort out our right thinking from our wrong thinking (John 16:13). Part of “fight[ing] the good fight of the faith” is mentally fighting the inclination to believe falsehoods (1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Corinthians 10:5).

He doesn’t take offense to our (respectfully) arguing with Him (see Moses – Exodus 3-4). He knows that’s part of the process. He delights that we’re speaking honestly with Him, seeking to reconcile our perceptions of reality with who He is and what His Word says. And He knows it is hard and exhausting at times (see Jesus – Luke 22:44).

He never expects us to will ourselves to believe things we struggle to comprehend. Mostly because He knows we can’t. And He certainly doesn’t expect us to pretend we trust Him when we don’t.

Instead, He invites us to come to Him in conversation and work things out. He knows that it is through this wrestling process that our hearts will learn to value what He values and trust His character.

If your heart is overwhelmed, put on your singlet, pop in your mouthpiece, and get on the mat with the Lord.

Retroactive Obedience

In yesterday’s Spiritual Legacy post, I mentioned that God is never pleased with doing the right thing the wrong way.  The good, beneficial, godly ends never justify disobedient, hurtful, hateful, or otherwise corrupt means.  I didn’t chase that rabbit trail yesterday, but a great example of this concept showed up in today’s chronological Bible reading.

In Deuteronomy 1, Moses recounts to the people the first time God tried to lead them into the Promised Land, 40 years earlier.  Moses reminds the Israelites that they didn’t trust God.  Despite His promise to give them the land, they were scared of the big, bad inhabitants of the land, and they didn’t believe they could defeat them.  Because of the unbelief, God says none of the adult Israelites will live to see the day Israel moves into the Promised Land.  In fact, He commands them not to go into that land (Deuteronomy 1:40).

And Israel freaks.

They back peddle.

Like a child who didn’t realize the punishment for disobedience would be so severe, Israel is stunned.  You can almost hear them say, “Lord, if we had known our disobedience would have resulted in this, we never would have done it!  We were happy to disobey because we thought You’d just give us a little slap on the hand.  We never dreamed of this harsh consequence.  Have mercy on us!”

And then Israel decided to obey retroactively.  “Then [the Israelites] said, ‘We have sinned against the Lord. We will go up and fight, as the Lord our God commanded us.’ So every one of [them] put on his weapons, thinking it easy to go up into the hill country” (Deuteronomy 1:41).

This behavior is just like my 4 year old’s.  If I tell her to clean up her room, and if she doesn’t, I punish her.  I tell her no TV show that night.  And then she bursts into tears, not out of sincere repentance, but out of self-pity.  She offers to clean up her room and does so as fast as she can, thinking I will give her the TV show back.  But she is mistaken.  Once the punishment is doled out, no retroactive obedience is going to change that.

So it is with Israel.  Actually, it is worse with Israel because God had already told them to forget about the Promised Land.  “Turn around and set out toward the desert,” He told them before they acknowledged their sin (Deuteronomy 1:40).

After their owning up to their disobedience (they claim it; they don’t apologize for it), God tells them again, “Do not go up and fight, because I will not be with you. You will be defeated by your enemies” (Deuteronomy 1:42).

Right now, in this moment, what it means for Israel to obey the Lord changes.  Obedience is no longer going into the Promised Land.  The time for that has passed.  Now obedience means to turn away from the Promised Land.

But Israel doesn’t like that idea.

Moses says of Israel, “‘You would not listen. You rebelled against the Lord’s command and in your arrogance you marched up into the hill country.  The Amorites who lived in those hills came out against you; they chased you like a swarm of bees and beat you down from Seir all the way to Hormah,'” (Deuteronomy 1:43-44).

And how did the Lord react?  “[Israel] came back and wept before the Lord, but he paid no attention to [their] weeping and turned a deaf ear to [them]” (Deuteronomy 1:45).

Clearly, God does not care for delayed obedience.  He is not manipulated by people who offer to obey Him on their terms.  With God, there is one acceptable way to obey Him – His way.

When the Bible Doesn’t Help You

Sometimes we have to make decisions about which the Bible does not speak.

We have to choose what college to go to, where to live, whether or not to have another child, etc., etc., etc.

These specific situations are not spelled out for us in the Bible.  There is no verse to which we can look for black and white answers to most of life’s decisions.

What do we do then?  How are we to make wise choices when it’s not often clear to us whether one option is better than the other?

Moses had this problem once upon a time.  The Israelites had been roaming around the desert for over a year since leaving Egypt.  The Lord was giving Moses specific instructions for proper worship, and the Israelites were responding beautifully.  For once, they were obeying well, doing everything “just as the Lord commanded Moses” (Numbers 9:5).

In Numbers 9:1-2, “The Lord spoke to Moses…’Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time.'”

Most of the Israelites did so in obedience.  But there was one group that had a problem, “…some of them could not celebrate the Passover on that day because they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body” (Numbers 9:6).

The Israelites knew that cleanliness was important to the Lord.  They knew it was particularly important during worship.  They wanted to participate in Passover, obeying the Lord, but they didn’t want to do it in the wrong way.  They were worried.

Nowhere in the Law was there a prescription for what to do when the Lord commands you to celebrate the Passover, but you’re unclean.

Confused, the men went to Moses and Aaron and asked them what to do.  Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you” (Numbers 9:6-8).

Wow!

Unlike many of Israel’s other leaders, Moses doesn’t make the decision himself.  He doesn’t rely on his common sense, his intelligence, or his authority as Israel’s leader.  Instead, he prays!  When he doesn’t know what to do, Moses asks God.

And you know what happens next?

GOD ANSWERS MOSES.

UNbelievable.

God gives a very specific direction to Moses concerning the unclean Israelites (Numbers 9:9-10).  They didn’t have to guess what the Lord would have them do.  They didn’t have to hope they guessed right.  They didn’t have to take matters into their own hands.  All they had to do when they were unsure was ask God for direction.  And He was faithful to answer.

I know it often doesn’t seem that easy in our lives.  We feel like we ask Him about our unclear decisions, but God doesn’t seem to answer.  But I want to challenge myself (and you) to believe that He will answer, even if He doesn’t seem to right away.  He was faithful to answer Israel, and He is faithful to answer us, some way, some how.

Spells of Waiting

I think I am in a “season of waiting” right now.  I say “I think” because I’ve been wrong before about God and His ways.  And I say a “season of waiting” in quotes because I really can’t stand that word “season”.  We Christians throw it around a lot, and it annoys me.

“That’s just the season of life I’m in right now.”

“We’re going through a rough season.”

“My kid is in a rebellious season.”

Season, season, season.  It has become as cliche as “just sayin'”.  Just sayin’.

Alas, I cannot think of another word to use.  Allow me to consult my thesauraus.

Oooo, I could say, “I am in an interval of waiting,” or, “a period of waiting,” or, “a term of waiting,” or, “a spell of waiting.”

I like “spell”.

Dibs!

So, I think I am in a “spell of waiting” right now.  I think this because I’m not sensing a lot of responsiveness from God to my prayers lately.  No “yes’s”, no “no’s”.  So that just leaves “wait’s”, right?

And I want to cry out, “But, LORD, I’ve been waiting for soooooooooooooooooooo long!  Surely, You will act soon.  Surely, I cannot be expected to be able to wait much longer.”

But what I really mean is, “LORD, if You don’t act NOW, I will be fully justified in taking the situation into my own hands.  Whatever sin I may commit during this “spell of waiting”, You will not be allowed to hold me responsible for.  I’m only human!  And You aren’t taking care of things… so, in essence, it’s Your fault I have to sin.”

Turns out I’m not the only one to think like this.

In fact, the entire nation of Israel acted just like this when their leader, Moses, was having a pow-wow with God for longer than they preferred.

God told Moses to come meet Him at the top of a mountain so He could give him some instructions for leading the Israelites in proper worship.

To be fair, nobody was expecting that conversation to take as long as it did – 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24:18).

While Mo was chatting with God, all the Israelites at the foot of the mountain saw was “what looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” (Exodus 24:17).  Days passed.  Weeks passed.  Nobody had heard from Moses.  The people began to worry.

Like me, the Israelites found themselves in a “spell of waiting”.  And they began to panic.  “LORD,” they probably thought, “how long must we wait?  We don’t understand what You’re doing!  Are You even up there?  Is Moses, our leader, even still alive?”

And, also like me, they began to rationalize. “LORD, You’re slowness to act is forcing us to take matters into our own hands.”  In other words, “God, You cannot be trusted.”

Picking up the story in Exodus 32, “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us.  As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him,'” (Exodus 32:1).

And Aaron complied.  He took gold, melted it down, formed a calf out of it, and the people began to worship an idol.

All it took was a 40 day “spell of waiting” for the Israelites to exchange their relationship with the One True God for a vastly inferior substitute.  And the irony is that they actually thought they were making a wise decision.   They thought they would be better off worshiping an inanimate hunk of gold than continuing to wait on the Lord that they knew from personal experience was trustworthy!

Huh.

When I’m in a “spell of waiting”, I sure am glad I never tire of waiting on God.  I never wonder what He’s doing, or if He is snoozing on the job.  I never try to take control.  I never fashion substitute gods out of ice cream or people or entertainment to meet my needs in the interim.  I never think pursuing those substitutes is wise or will make me better off than continuing to wait on the Lord that I know from personal experience is trustworthy…

Have I ever told you that I think sarcasm is my spiritual gift?

The truth is waiting sucks.  Or, more accurately, we suck at waiting.  It is hard and no fun and even torturous at times.  But we can get through it.  And if we get through it without trying to take control, all the better.  God uses “spells of waiting” to mature our faith in Him.

Waiting is like eating healthy – nobody likes to, but, supposedly, it’s good for us.