Relying on God

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. – 1 John 4:15-16

The chick on the Bible study video, Kelly Minter, honed in on the word “know” this morning… she pointed out the Greek is more specific. “Know” here doesn’t mean intellectual assent, like I know my telephone number. Rather, this particular “know” means to understand as a result of experiencing, like I know my husband as a result of interacting with him daily and deeply for 10+ years.

We are to know the love God has for us because we’ve experienced it.

Bible study lady was making a fascinating point, and she proceeded to examine other times John uses both kinds of “knows”, but I found myself zeroing in on a different word in verse 16: rely.

We know and rely on the love God has for us…

It struck me that rely is a verb. It’s an action. To rely on God is an action we have to deliberately take or it won’t be done.

As I pondered what it is to rely on something, it also struck me that it can’t be done halfway. You either rely on something, or you don’t. But you don’t “sorta” rely on something. To “kind of” rely on something is to not rely on it at all.

Sometimes I get hungry. But I hate cooking. So I go to a restaurant and rely on people there to cook something for me. Except on Christmas Day. I know that 99% of restaurants are closed on Christmas Day, so I don’t rely on them to feed me then. (I rely on my mother-in-law then, but that’s neither here nor there…) What I’ve never done is “sorta” relied on a cook at a restaurant to feed me. I’ve never brought my own sack lunch, just in case my meal was burned or the chef got sick. I’m either all in or all out, wholly depending upon the restaurant or not depending on it at all.

In fact, I can’t think of one situation in which I’ve ever “kind of” relied on something.

So when John tells us to rely on the love God has for us, I’m fairly certain he means to whole-heartedly count on that love. Which we can do, logically, given that we know His love is trustworthy from past personal experience.  

We are being called to trust God’s love 100%. We are being commanded to put all of our hope in the fact that God loves us… no matter the trials that may come… no matter the suffering we will endure… no matter the bleakness of the current state of affairs. We can and should totally rely on God’s love for us.

Two emotions surface for me thinking about this concept:

First, I have a sense of utter desperation. Waking up to the news telling me about the slaughter of Christians all over the world countless times in the past six months is enough to make me feel like I can’t rely on anything for safety and protection from the evil in this world. If people are executed in American churches, the “safest” places on earth to worship, where else are we going to go to protect ourselves? My feeling of desperation says, “Thank God we can rely on the love God has for us because we can’t rely on anything else…” 

Thankfully, though, that first sentiment quickly gives way to another: peace. The love of God is not some consolation prize. We don’t merely rely on His love because that’s all we’ve got to choose from. (We can find plenty of other woeful substitutes with which to self-medicate… or so I’ve been told…) No, we stake our lives on God’s love for us, trusting Him and Him alone to take care of us in all the right ways at all the right times, because His love is rock-solid. It is wholly trustworthy to support us and nurture us all the days of our lives. The fact that I can rely on something as infallible as the love of God for all my needs is a reassurance like no other.

But just because it makes sense and brings me peace, it doesn’t mean relying on God’s love for me is easy. It’s not because relying on God isn’t my default setting. I’m a fallen human, just like you, so I’ve been programmed to rely on me. And that’s what I do unless I make the intentional decision to consciously rely on God. And the moment I stop focusing my thoughts on doing so, I slip right back into “self-sufficiency” without even realizing it.

Since I can’t rely on myself to rely on God’s love for me, it’s apropos to end with this: I’m going to rely on God’s love for me to help me rely on God’s love for me.

(I think those are His favorite kind of requests, by the way… when we stop pretending like we can do any single positive thing without Him wholly equipping us to do so… we are a desperate people… thank God we have a God who loves us and who not only allows us to rely on Him, He invites us to rely on Him.)

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Grief and Joy

I’ve been mulling over an oxymoron the last 24 hours or so.

At church yesterday, somebody (Keith Thomas – give props where props are due) brought up the idea that, as Christians, we can have hope and joy in the midst of grievous situations.

We can trust Christ is at work – doing His best work, in fact – and the hope we have in Christ will not disappoint us, according to Romans 5:5. The person discussing this issue said, “We can experience the depths of grief and the heights of joy at the same time.”

It was an interesting concept… He used an example of a mother losing her teenager whom she knew was a believer. Deep grief, yet tremendous joy…

To be honest, the idea didn’t really take hold of me emotionally the first time I heard it. Sure, I agreed with it, but it remained in the philosophical compartment of my brain for the next hour.

Then I went to service, and as the Lord is wont to do from time to time, He put His finger on a part of my heart I’d been trying to pretend wasn’t hurting and communicated, sans words, “You are experiencing deep grief and tremendous joy simultaneously right now.”

He was right.

I’d been trying for so long to convince myself I was only experiencing the joy Jesus was offering in my situation, subconsciously believing that if I never admitted to myself that I was also extremely sad, then I wouldn’t be. I’d be able to keep the feelings of grief at bay.

Except I couldn’t anymore.

Things came to a head, and I – superior emotional wall-builder that I am – couldn’t keep the bricks in place any longer. The wall fell, and I felt firsthand the truth I’d been exposed to earlier that morning… we can experience the depths of grief and the heights of joy at the same time…

I scribbled something down on Twitter so I wouldn’t forget it…

Grief and Joy

From experience, I think this is a true equation. Prior to my becoming a believer in Jesus, I was hopeless in times of grief. After I became a believer, I was hopeless in times of grief when I neglected to focus on Christ. But those rare moments, like yesterday, when I’ve considered Jesus’ faithfulness and goodness in the midst of my grief, I’ve found hope and joy.

But, to be honest, it doesn’t matter at all if I think this equation is true. My feelings and experiences don’t make something true. Truth is defined in the Bible, and our experiences only serve to confirm truth. But that’s another post.

My point is, I don’t want to post this idea without biblical proof. And Peter gives it to us.

In 1 Peter 1:6, Peter writes to believers, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”

Joy during suffering and grief…

How? What are they rejoicing in while they suffer so greatly?

If we back up to verses 3-5, Peter tells us.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Verse 6 begins, “In all this…” That is, the believers are rejoicing in the 4 things (at least) I highlighted in verses 3-5 while they “suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”

So, it can be done…

You, me.

We can experience the depths of grief and the heights of joy at the same time… if we keep Christ in the center of our suffering. 

 

How to Be Satisfied with God When You Feel Dissatisfied with God

Sometimes it’s easy to feel God’s love.

For whatever reason, every worship song you hear and Bible verse you read floods you with absolute confidence in the Lord’s personal affection for you. You walk around with a smile on your face, knowing, like the psalmist, that His love really is better than life, and you have the warm tingly feeling in your soul to prove it (Psalm 63:3).

Other times, not so much.

No amount of Chris Tomlin lyrics or scripture perusing resonates. You feel empty as a tin can and can’t figure out why the Lord doesn’t seem to satisfy you. Your attempts to draw near to Him fall flat. And you feel guilty.

After all, He’s supposed to be all we need… He wants to be our heart’s main desire, everything and everyone else paling in comparison.

And we want that to be the case… but sometimes it just isn’t. We don’t feel His love all the time, and when the feeling escapes us, we often grow dissatisfied with Him.

Does it have to be that way?

What if we could learn to be satisfied with God even when we don’t feel warm, lovey feelings for or from Him?

I’m just throwing out the question because, as the valedictorian of basing beliefs on feelings instead of facts, my personal opinion is this tall order feels dang near impossible. (There I go again, letting my feelings tell me what’s true/possible…)

In Romans 5 Paul talks about how we have peace with God through faith in Jesus, and that brings us hope (Romans 5:1-2).

Verse 5 reads, “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us,” (Romans 5:5).

In other words, believers have God’s love in their hearts… all the time… whether they feel it or not. It’s a permanent condition of our souls, to be inhabited by the love of God. It’s a fact.

So even when we don’t feel love for or loved by God, we can choose to believe the truth that we are loved by Him, and we have His love within us (and Romans 5:5) to prove it.

God’s love is in our hearts – the feeling component of ourselves. If we aren’t feeling it, something is askew. We need to ask Him to help us feel His love again.

In the meantime, perhaps we can choose to be satisfied with the knowledge that His love has not left us and that He will help us feel it again, sooner or later.

How to Stop Feeling Disappointed

Sometimes I feel disappointed.

You too?

It really doesn’t take much to cause us to feel disappointed. That’s kind of just life’s default setting. Even for you optimists it takes effort and intentionality to overcome our hard-wired inclination to feel less than impressed with a lot of facets of life.

But why do we feel disappointed so often?

I suppose the clinical reason is because our expectations aren’t met.

Expectations

Lower your expectations, they say, and your expectations will be more easily met. So, in theory, you’ll be disappointed less often.

Can I say that emotional math has never really sat right with me? 

We are created in God’s image, and I don’t think God restrains His desires and dreams and feelings in an effort to self-protect against disappointment. So neither should we.

We were created with the ability to feel deeply, just as the Lord does. And with those feelings come expectations… of ourselves, of other people, and of God.

And that’s okay!

Expectations are perfectly logical and reasonable things to have.

The trouble comes when we misplace our expectations – when we set them on people (including ourselves). It turns out people can’t handle the full weight of other people’s expectations. And when we think they should, we set ourselves up to be disappointed at some point or another.

So if people can’t bear the weight of our undiluted hopes and dreams and passions and feelings, and if dialing our emotions back a bit in an attempt to self-protect isn’t the answer, what is?

What are we to do with our God-given emotions that naturally produce expectations?

In the book of Isaiah the Lord says, “Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who hope in me will not be disappointed,” (Isaiah 49:23).

When is “then”?

For the original audience of this prophecy, “then” was after the Lord brought back the rebellious Israelites to their homeland, after 70 years of living in exile in Babylon. So, basically, after they realized the gravity of their idolatry and repented, then Israel would know that God is God.

Our “then” is along the same lines. After a period of discipline for committing idolatry in our own 21st century ways, after we’ve come to our senses and repented and the Lord has chosen to forgive us and restore us, then we will know that God is God.

And whether it’s old school Israelites or modern us, when we know God is God, when we choose to put Him where He belongs – on the thrones of our hearts, above all other loves we have – what we’re really doing is hoping in Him. In other words, we’re placing our expectations on Him.

And when all of our emotion-driven desires are placed on God, we will not be disappointed. 

Where disappointment comes from

This is a promise! And an exciting one, at that. This is emotional math I can get behind.

We don’t have to dial back our passions or build self-protective walls of “_____ isn’t that important to me…” No, we can feel the full effect of our hopes and dreams and have no fear of disappointment if we put all of our hopes in the Lord

Are you feeling disappointed about something today? Ask yourself two questions:

  1. What expectation do I have that isn’t being met?
  2. In whom or on what am I placing that expectation?

Then pray something like this, “Lord, I feel disappointed about ______. I have wrongly put my hope in ______ to fulfill my expectation about this. Forgive me, Father, and help me to put my hope in You about this situation. The Bible says if I hope in You I will not be disappointed. I’m taking You at Your Word and trust You because You are faithful.”

When We Suffer

Paul.

I can’t begin to understand the fervency of this dude’s faith. I think part of it is just his personality. He was a zealous Jew before he became a zealous Christ-follower. He seems to just be one of those people that never does anything halfway. It’s all or nothing for Paul.

As such, his vocal dedication to Jesus through every conceivable trial and tribulation makes sense… sort of.

I mean, Paul went. through. it. If ever there were a Christian who would have had reasonable cause to give up the faith, it was Paul. Beatings and imprisonments and persecution far greater than anything we could imagine – not to mention having to lead a bunch of knuckleheads in the faith who seemed to exasperate him in every city he planted a church… The whole thing sounds exhausting to me.

So what was Paul’s secret to staying the course? How did he muster up the emotional, spiritual, and physical energy to go round after round of his ridiculous life?

I think he gives us a little glimpse in 2 Corinthians.

He tells the believers at Corinth that he and Timothy suffered and had hardships in Asia. In fact, Paul says, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death,” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

Can I just tell you I am there with Paul some days?

No, there is no bounty on my head. The government isn’t after me (although folks from the Department of Defense have been reading my blog – I like to pretend it’s Jack Bauer). I don’t have a physical malady that is threatening my life like Paul seemed to have had.

But I do often share Paul’s sentiments that I am under great pressure, far beyond my ability to endure… at home… at church… in new ministry ventures… in relationships… in my walk with the Lord… and sometimes I just want to pack it all up and go Home. My mind spins, like Paul’s, and I despair, thinking to myself, “Surely, this is it. Surely, this is the end of the madness because I cannot. take. any. more.”

And that’s usually where I stop. I identify with Paul’s emotions, and I sit down in the mud and give up. I stop reading his letter to the Corinthians right there, in the middle of verse 9.

And I miss out.

I miss out on the explanation as to why hard things happen in my life.

“But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead,” (2 Corinthians 1:9). I miss out on the invitation to intimacy with the Lord – utter reliance on Him – and seeing His power displayed in a new, tangible, personal way in my life. One reason we experience hardship is because God wants us! He wants us to realize we can’t really do anything – much less anything difficult – without Him. He wants us to draw near to Him, and we simply will not do that unless circumstances force us to. The human heart is a stubborn beast that way.

As if He Himself weren’t enough reason for us to draw near, God offers us even more. He is not “empty-handed”, as it were. He gives us an invaluable gift I miss out on when I give up during hard times.

I miss out on the deliverance offered me by the Lord.

If I would just keep walking, relying on Him, “…he will deliver [me],” as Paul says (2 Corinthians 1:10). Paul recounts how God has delivered him in the past and declares his belief that God will deliver him in the future. “On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,” (2 Corinthians 1:10).

(Side note: what deliverance looks like in your mind may be far different than the deliverance God has in mind. His version is always better, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time.)

At this point I’m thinking, “This is all well and good, Paul, but I am not an optimist like you seem to be. You may be able to ‘set your hope‘ on God’s deliverance, but I just can’t swing that in my own power.”

And Paul says to me, “Kelly, once again, you’ve stopped reading prematurely. Look at the next verse, friend.”

“On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers,” (2 Corinthians 1:10-11).

Whoa.

Zealous Paul – superhero Christian Paul – derives help keeping his hope set on God through the prayers of fellow believers!

I feel better.

Paul needed people to pray for Him. I need people to pray for me. And I need to be praying for other people, especially those who are struggling to keep their hope set on God.

And Paul really believed that the Corinthians’ praying for him helped him. Prayer to Paul was not some obligatory, trite ritual. It was an avenue of powerful support one believer could and should offer to another.

When we are suffering, we need to remember how the Lord has delivered us in the past, and we need to believe He will do it again. And when we can’t muster up that belief on our own, we need to ask believers who love us to help us set our hope on God by praying for us. 

 

When All Feels Lost

When the world starts to turn upside down and my stomach turns with it, it can feel like the whole globe has run clean off its orbital path, veering into the vastness of dark space waiting to swallow it whole.

When all feels lost
image via chrisroll at freedigitalphotos.net

When order and routine and the expected and all that is right get disrupted, it’s easy to believe God has lost all control and the whole system is nothing more than rotating chaos.

I give up hope. I sit down and throw my hands up in despair while I watch the whole thing fall apart through doomsday glasses. At least I think it’s going to fall apart. I’m so easily convinced God can no longer redeem.

Something inside knows better. An inkling rises against the apparently hopeless fate of the world – of me – and I am spurned on with a defiant, “No! All is NOT lost! It cannot be!”

So I put on my space suit and swim into black. I put my lasso around the Earth and try to muscle her back to where she belongs. Sweat on my brow, I pull. I pull. I pull and nothing happens.

Defeated, I drop the rope and drift. Wherever weightless space wants to take me. All feels lost. I feel lost.

And then, God.

“Time out!” He yells. “I’m still here!”

“And nothing has really changed!” He continues. “I have loved you with an everlasting love! I knit you together in your mother’s womb, and I know all the hairs on your head! I have called you by nameyou are Mine! You are precious and honored in My sight, and I LOVE YOU! I take great delight in you! I have good plans for you! I will never leave you or forsake you! I am with you always! When you walk through the fire, you’ll not be burned! Come to Me, and I will give you rest! Put your hope in Me – in My unfailing love! Trust in Me with all your heart!”

And everything else?

“I am working all things together for your good,” He says.

The truth is nothing is out of His control. Ever. The world feeling like it’s off its path? That’s just a feeling. It’s not reality. The heart is deceitful above all else, and so is Satan, the father of lies. It’s just an illusion that the Earth isn’t exactly where it should be – that I’m not exactly where I am supposed to be.

And if that’s true – if it’s true that God is sovereign, that nothing is out of His control – there is no globe petering out into infinite darkness that I need to fret over. There is no world completely off its course that I have to drag back to its proper path. I am neither helplessly doomed nor responsible for righting all that seems wrong to me…

My job is simple – to fix my eyes on Jesus. Minute by minute, hour by hour. Whether I feel right on course or lost in the depths of outer space. I must resist the urge to cry, “All is lost!” and fight the pressure to control everything. Neither action is fitting for one who is intimately acquainted with the Lord.

I will fix my eyes on Jesus, and simply say, “I trust You.”

Hostages of Hope

I’m not really sure how it happened.

Maybe it’s because I keep re-reading that crazy gratitude book.

Or maybe it’s because I’ve spent more time in the Psalms this year than any other book of the Bible.

Or maybe it’s because I finally got fed up with being fed up and did something about it.

Or maybe it’s a combination of these things, swirled together by the Lord in His perfect timing to finally begin producing a change in me that’s been a long time coming.

I hardly recognize myself.

I’m positive. As in optimistic. As in not cynical. As in I have hope.

And those of you who know me well know this is a radical change indeed.

I used to quip, “I’m not a pessimist; I’m a realist.” And I always knew it was a cop out. What I really was was stuck in feelings of hopelessness, even after – well after – I became a Christian.

And I know I’m not alone. A lot of (most) Christians live in doubt and bitterness and anger and depression and cynicism.

But we don’t have to.

(It’s taken me YEARS to believe that to be a true statement, by the way – that we can choose to have hope. It can be a lot more complicated than it sounds, which is why it often feels impossible, but it’s not. And that’s another post for another day.)

Not only do we not have to live in hopelessness and cynicism, upon further reflection, I think, as believers, we mustn’t.

Here’s why.

To not have hope – to adopt a cynical, hopeless perspective about ANYTHING – is to disbelieve the power of Christ.

As Christians we believe that Jesus bore the punishment we deserved for our sins on the cross, died and rose again. We believe God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, and the evidence of that acceptance is that Jesus was resurrected (1 Thessalonians 4:14).

If we are convinced the resurrection happened, we are also convinced of God’s total sovereignty (Psalm 103:19). After all, if He can make a dead man rise to life again, as impossible as that sounds, can’t He do anything (Jeremiah 32:27)?

Can’t He redeem any impossible situation we find ourselves in?

Hostages of Hope
image via sattva at freedigitalphotos.net

If we have hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we must have hope in ALL seemingly hopeless situations. There’s no room for cynicism and/or giving up and/or losing hope in anything or anyone if we believe in Christ.

THIS IS NOT NATURAL FOR ME! I can’t emphasize enough that I am NOT a naturally sunny person with a pleasant disposition. You will never catch me with a “Life is good” bumper sticker on my car. Hear me when I say I am not an optimist writing this pie-in-the-sky blog post. To hope when it seems illogical, to hope when it is uncomfortable, to hope against my natural will is just as difficult for me as it is for you.

It’s hard to not let people and circumstances affect our having unwavering hope in Jesus’ ability – His desire, and His ultimate plan – to rescue and redeem everything.

When we find ourselves feeling hopeless and cynical, I think the underlying cause is that our hope has subtly shifted from being in Christ to being in man (others or ourselves). We have to find a way to put our hope back where it needs to be.

Here is one practical way I have found to do that. When you catch yourself having a cynical/hopeless/depressed/angry thought about anything, staunchly refuse it by asking God to take away that feeling and to replace it with hope in Him (2 Corinthians 10:5). And then make yourself find something to thank Him for in that moment (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

This is a simple exercise, but it’s very difficult. Don’t worry – you don’t have to do it perfectly. But you won’t begin to change unless you start. You will find, as I have, the more gratitude you offer, the more hopeful you will become. You’ll feel yourself begin to change. Others will notice a change in you. You’ll go from being a hostage of negativity to a hostage of hope. And I think that’s exactly what the Lord has in mind for us when we become believers (Romans 6:22).

“Never partake of the cynical view of life.” –Oswald Chambers