How to Not Sin When You Don’t Like God’s Plan

I’m thinking of starting a series called, “Stuff Jesus Did that We Label Sin but Shouldn’t Because Jesus Did that Stuff”.

(It’s a working title.)

As I read through the gospels, I see a lot of things that fall into this category. I am often scratching my head (not literally though; my dandruff is under control. But if yours isn’t, no judgment here. Scratch away).

Many of the things Jesus says seem harsh and unloving at times. I wrestle with how to reconcile those statements with His sinlessness when if I said the same words today, everyone would think I’m a big fat impatient jerk.

This morning I was reading in Mark about Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, and, again, I found myself wondering, “Is He sinning?”

Now, of course, He isn’t sinning anywhere ever in the Bible (or out of the Bible, for that matter), but you get my point: as I read I had to open up my mind a little bit and try to figure out why what appeared to be sin wasn’t actually sin and what that means for us.

At this point, details would be helpful.

Jesus is in the Garden, full of sorrow, presumably regarding His impending arrest, mauling, and crucifixion. So Jesus did the best thing He could think of when He was “full of sorrow to the point of death”: He got alone and prayed (Mark 14:34-36).

(That’s a whole different post, but it’s a pretty short one, so let me sum it up: when we feel that way, we should do what Jesus did, too.)

On we go.

This post wants to focus on the content of the prayer (I asked it; it told me).

“[Jesus] fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘AbbaFather,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’”

What is Jesus really saying here?

Jesus is telling/asking God to change the plan.

To me, that communicates Jesus doesn’t trust or agree with the plan. And not trusting God seems like a sin. Disagreeing with God is unwise, at best. It smells of rebellion.

Maybe I am reading my own life into this situation: when I ask God to change the plan, I know it comes from a place of not trusting Him.

But that can’t be so with Jesus because He is sinless. He is not distrusting or disagreeable with the Father or unwise or rebellious in any cell of His body.

So what’s the difference? How can Jesus tell God to change the plan and not sin, but when I tell God to change the plan, it’s usually rooted in sin? 

I think the answer is two-fold.

First, Jesus had the correct understanding of what asking God to do things differently is: not a sin. Asking God to change the plan is simply not a sin in and of itself. We may have been brought up to think it is, but, apparently, it’s not because of the sheer fact that Jesus did it. It is perfectly acceptable to God for us to suggest alternate ways of doing things when His ways scare the crap out of us. But I think most of us wrongly assume it is always a sin to “help” God brainstorm options that are more palatable to us.

(For more on this, go read all the times Moses petitioned God to change His mind/plan. It happened a lot, and God didn’t ever call it sin or dole out a punishment to Moses for objecting to God’s plan. This, logically, does not guarantee God didn’t consider Moses’ objecting sinful, but it makes a pretty good case.)

The second difference is how Jesus couched His request that God do things differently.

Before He told God to change it up, Jesus said, “Everything is possible for you.” Jesus acknowledged God’s omnipotence. Jesus was saying, “I know, Father, that You have the ability to change the way this thing is going to go down. I wouldn’t bother to ask if I didn’t believe that with My whole heart.”

In my estimation, Jesus’ prefacing His request with this admission is an expression of trust. It’s also an acknowledgement that Jesus can’t change things Himself; He is under the Father’s sovereignty and is letting God know He accepts that.

After Jesus told God to take His cup, He ended His prayer with, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “I realize the fact that whatever You decide to do – go ahead with Your original plan or adapt things at my request – it will be the best choice.”

Again, Jesus is showing complete trust in God and deferral to the Father’s ultimate authority. Jesus is expressing that while His mind might believe a different plan would be better, His heart’s true desire is to do what the Father wants done.

And I think Jesus’ framing His request this way is what determines He is not sinning for desiring a different course of action.

Where the rest of us get tripped up is we either don’t believe God can truly change things or our hearts don’t truly want what He wants. Or, worse, both are true of us. 

After a brief consultation with His disciples, Jesus prayed one more time. He determined His job was to get on with things, and if God wanted to answer His prayer and change the plan along the way, that was up to the Father.

So that’s just what Jesus did. “Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14:42). He embraced the path God had set before Him head on and trusted God to make it lead exactly where the Father wanted it to.

All this to say desiring things to go differently than how God appears to be making them go is not the sin. Doing things differently than how you know God wants them to be done is the sin. It’s in the doing things our own way that we express disregard for His omnipotence and sovereignty. It’s in the doing things against His orders that we show Him we really don’t care about His will at all; we want our will to be done no matter what.

As usual, it’s about the heart. If our hearts are right, like Jesus’ heart was – yielded to God’s wisdom, love, and ultimate authority – we can ask Him to change anything without sinning in the process.

 

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How to Reduce Fear and Increase Faith

In Mark 4 Jesus asks His disciples two questions I think He asks you and me pretty regularly, too.

His inquiries are made to the disciples at the end of the story of how He speaks to the wind and the waves in a “furious squall” and they immediately die down.

After calming the storm with just three words, “Quiet! Be still!” Jesus says to His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:39-40).

It struck me that what Jesus is implying is that if they had faith, they wouldn’t have fear. Faith and fear, then, are opposites.

If we find ourselves fearful about something, the best prayer we can pray, it seems, is, “Lord, increase my faith!”

How does God increase our faith?

First John 4:18 reads, “…perfect love drives out fear…” And this description of what love does comes right after John’s defining what love is: God. “God is love,” (1 John 4:16).

So, God is love – perfect love, of course – and perfect love drives out fear. Logic tells me, then, that God drives out fear. But it’s a particular aspect of who He is that removes fear from our hearts: Love.

If you’re still with me, I believe God increases our faith in Him by driving out the fear in our hearts via His making us more and more aware of His perfect love. 

The better we understand His love for us, the calmer we are and the more easily we trust Him, whatever may come.

I think it’s worth noting Jesus’ second question is, “Do you still have no faith?” He didn’t expect the disciples to have perfect faith, just some faith. But, apparently, they didn’t have any at all.

It would make sense to me that fear and faith are inversely proportional: the more we have of one, the less we have of the other.

I was tempted at first to write they cannot coexist, that when we feel or have one, we cannot feel or have the other. But I don’t think that’s true.

We are fallen and will never have perfect or complete faith in God about anything. Our flesh and Satan whisper doubt to us all the time, scaring us. But the more we focus on God’s love, the louder our faith will be and the quieter our fear will get.

The last part of these questions that caught my eye is the word still. “Do you still have no faith?” I can sense Jesus’ exasperation that after all the disciples had seen Him do, all they’d heard Him say, all they’d experienced with Him, they still didn’t believe Jesus knew what He was doing when He told them to set sail that night? They still didn’t believe Jesus would protect them no matter how terrible the storm got or how soundly He slept?

Why didn’t they have faith in their teacher who was obviously divinely anointed?

Because in the moment they forgot everything they knew about Him. They forgot the miracles they’d witnessed Him perform, the healings they’d seen Him do, the wise teachings they’d heard from His mouth, and the hints He’d been dropping that He was the Messiah.

Instead of recalling the truths about Jesus – the things that would have given them faith – the disciples focused on the wind and the waves threatening their lives. They focused on the fear.

We have to train our minds to remember all the ways Jesus has been faithful to us throughout our lives. We have to think about all we’ve been through with Him, how He has blessed us and protected us in the past. Especially in the middle of a fear-inducing storm, we have to focus our thoughts on His impeccable character and unfailing love for us.

To reduce fear and increase faith in our lives, we need to study His perfect love and remember all He has brought us through.  

Dictating to God

The other day I read the account of poor Thomas (dude doubted ONE TIME, and he’s never lived it down… maybe we ought to have a little grace and stop calling him Doubting Thomas? Or start calling ALL Christians Doubting <insert name here>? I digress.), and something new popped out at me.

If you’ll recall, Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples when the resurrected Christ appeared to them. But when Thomas returned to the group, they filled him in.

“So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe,'” (John 20:25).

Those last four words reverberated in my head.

I. will. not. believe.

I was convicted for Thomas.

“Lord… may we never be so brazen as to dictate to You what we will and will not accept as adequate proof of who You are,” I prayed.

Jesus had some how entered a locked room and shown the other disciples His hands and side, and their response was great joy (John 20:19-20). They didn’t tell Jesus, “Nope. Not good enough. You’re gonna have to do better than that. In fact, You’re gonna have to do exactly what we say, or we aren’t going to believe it’s really You.”

But that’s how Thomas reacted…

The disciples told him they had seen the Lord, but he didn’t believe them.

(Although the text doesn’t say it, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to assume the disciples told Thomas more than, “We have seen the Lord!” I think they probably also told him exactly what happened because it was all so miraculous – Jesus magically entered the locked room and showed them his wounds, spoke to them, breathed the Spirit on them, and gave them marching orders (John 20:19-23)).

True, it’s not an apples to apples comparison. The disciples saw and heard Jesus and believed. Thomas only heard about Jesus… but he was hearing ten of his closest friends all tell him Jesus was resurrected, something Thomas knew Jesus had told them was going to happen (Mark 8:31), and Thomas still chose not to believe.

Thomas had enough evidence. But it wasn’t the type of evidence he wanted. He refused to believe the truth about Jesus – namely, that He had risen from the dead – because it wasn’t on his terms.

How often do we do that?

How often do we tell God how to speak to us or what to do for us and then doubt His goodness, power or love when He doesn’t conform to our demands? 

Conversely, how often do we miss God speaking to us or doing things for us because He does so in a way that is outside of our box?

Lord, help us change our hearts from “I will not believe unless…” to “I will believe always.”

How He Loves Us

“Jesus looked at him and loved him.”

This sentence stole my breath yesterday.

I came across it in the Gospel of Mark, where an account of Jesus’ interaction with a rich man is detailed.

Mark 10:17-22 reads like this,

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Some things strike me about this account.

The rich man obviously respected and revered Jesus, falling on his knees and calling Jesus “good teacher”. The man appeared to be a devout Jew, upholding these major commandments Jesus mentions. And, yet, the man was very concerned that he might need to do even more to inherit eternal life… It seems this guy wanted Jesus, a leading Rabbi, to confirm that he had dotted his i’s and crossed his t’s when it came to his salvation. He wanted assurance, something, ironically, he would not find in doing anything more.

There he was, pleading his case to Jesus that he had done everything required of him by Jewish law (or at least the “important” things as expressed in the 10 commandments), but he didn’t get it. He didn’t understand that his eternal destiny didn’t depend upon him doing anything…

Instead of wringing the man’s neck in anger… instead of shaking His head in disappointment… instead of throwing His hands up in frustration… Jesus looked at him and loved him.

Jesus validated this man’s worth by looking at him instead of away from him, and Jesus loved him in spite of his failure to understand what Jesus was saying to him. 

Jesus continued, explaining to the man that what he really needed to gain eternal life was to place his faith in Jesus, by way of selling his possessions and following Christ. Unfortunately, this man wasn’t willing to do that.

Two thoughts cross my mind.

One, do we approach the lost this way? When we share the Gospel and people don’t get it, do we look at them and love them anyway? Do we treat them with dignity and respect? Do we continue to care for them in our hearts?

The second thought I have is far more personal. I am often the rich man in this story; I don’t get what Jesus is saying to me, or, worse, I get it and choose not to follow Him. But just as He did with this man, Jesus looks at me and loves me anyway. His is a beautiful compassion that does not waver in response to my behaviors or short-comings. 

And He feels the same way about you. No matter where you are in your journey with Him, He is looking at you with the loving, healing, calming, faithful gaze that only our perfect Savior can sustain. May your heart be steadied by His look and His love today.

What do you want me to do for you?

“What do you want me to do for you?” (Matthew 20:32).

Jesus had asked this question of two blind people. And you can guess how they replied.

“Lord, we want our sight,” (Matthew 20:33).

And you know what Jesus did?

“Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him,” (Matthew 20:34).

He gave them what they wanted.

Let me tell you what that doesn’t mean. That doesn’t mean He’ll give you what you want. That doesn’t mean He always gives people whatever they ask for. So hear me loud and clear that this isn’t prosperity gospel.

For whatever reason, Jesus felt moved to give these two people what they asked for – their sight – but He gave them so much more than that. When they received their sight, they became his disciples immediately. He gave them faith.

Curiously, when Jesus asked his own disciples the same question, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:36), His response was anything but accommodating.

James and John asked for the privilege to sit right next to Jesus in Heaven (Mark 10:37), and Jesus politely responded, “You have no idea what you’re talking about,” (Mark 10:38, paraphrased).

The question begs, then, why does Jesus sometimes give people what they want and not other times?

The theological answer, I believe, has to do with asking according to God’s will (1 John 5:14-15, Matthew 7:11). If our hearts are aligned with His, we will desire for ourselves what He desires for us (Psalm 37:4). And if we desire the same thing, what we ask for we will get because we are in agreement with God (Psalm 145:19).

What was the difference between the blind guys’ asking and the disciples’ asking? Both seemed to be asking for self-centered things… Maybe Jesus had the foresight to realize the healing of the blind men would develop faith in them, which most certainly was God’s desire for them, while giving James and John seats of honor in Heaven would only promote their own self-centeredness, which is never in God’s will…

Jesus did tell James and John not only did they not understand what they were asking for, it wasn’t up to Jesus who gets to sit where in Heaven (Mark 10:40). So perhaps Jesus didn’t do what they asked because that wasn’t His department… again, their request didn’t line up with the desire of God.

What do you want Jesus to do for you?

Spend some time telling Him what you want. He cares. He wants to hear your heart. Close your eyes and picture Him asking you, personally, “What do you want me to do for you?” But don’t expect Him to give you what you ask for. It might not be in your best interest. It might not line up with His desire for you. After you tell Him what you want Him to do, ask Him how He feels about that request. He will show you if it is in line with His heart or not, and He’ll show you why. Thank Him for only giving you that which is best for you, and ask Him to help you trust Him.

The One Thing God Will Never Ask You to Sacrifice

I wrestled long through the night, trying to convince God my situation is the exception to His rule…to His Word. He listened while I presented my argument 1,000 different ways, but my logic couldn’t change His mind.

God is God so He is always right.

When I awoke the next morning, I was tired. From the lack of sleep, yes, but even more so from the fighting to make myself Him… to take His place as the One who calls the shots…

Well.

He does intend on making me like Him, but not Him.

I could tell I’d lost my case the night before, and I was desperate. So I did all I could do – I shot straight with Him. Finally.

Through my tears I poured out the heart behind all my lobbying. And through His tears He talked me through the truth.

“It’s not fair…” I railed, less like a toddler and more like a battered soul that can’t take one more punch. And with no pause He responded “No, it’s not… And it wasn’t fair that Jesus hung on a cross for crimes He hadn’t committed but He did it anyway because of love.”

“Jesus sacrificed Himself even though it hurt,” God continued. “And don’t think for a minute it didn’t hurt. When Christ called out to Me from the cross, it was a cry – ‘My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?'”

Tears formed faster than I could blink them away.

God went on.

“‘With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last,’ the scriptures say. Jesus’ sacrifice hurt Him. But He did it anyway. Because He was motivated by love for you.”

The words confounded me. How? How could Jesus knowingly – willingly – walk into such pain and keep His focus so narrowly on the joy on the other side?

The truth of the matter is loving sacrificially will hurt me too, but I can’t look Jesus in the eye and tell Him He doesn’t know. I can’t tell Him my hurt is greater than His was. The difference between me and Jesus is that His sacrifice cost Him the Father… when Jesus took our sin, He and the Father were separated

As I learn to sacrifice, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, one thing I will never have to say is, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Jesus had to give up even that – His relationship with His Father. I may be called to go to great lengths, but that will never be one of them.

God brought me back from my thoughts. “I WILL NOT LEAVE YOU,” He emphasized to me. “I will walk with you, one foot in front of the other. And you may limp. And it will hurt. So if you need to put your arm around My neck, I will support you.

And we will walk. Together. One foot in front of the other.”

The Key to Greater Intimacy with God

Do you wish God would talk to you more often? I mean really speak to you, Spirit to spirit, communicating clearly with you even though it may be inaudible to the human ear?

Are you tired of never knowing what God wants you to do? Are you bored with the Bible and often think to yourself (and occasionally complain out loud) that you don’t “get anything” out of reading it?

Jesus tells us how we can change all that.

In one plain verse in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus gives us the key to greater intimacy with God.

In the beginning of chapter 4, Jesus used a farming parable to explain to a crowd of people the different types of responses people have to the Word of God (Mark 4:1-9). Later, when they were alone, the 12 disciples asked Jesus to explain what the parable meant (Mark 4:10-23). In verse 13 Jesus asked the disciples, “Don’t you understand this parable?”

I think it is safe to assume Jesus may have been feeling frustrated and/or disappointed with the twelve men who should have understood Jesus better than anyone. Yet, they consistently demonstrated they didn’t

And I wonder, “Lord, are You frustrated and disappointed with me when I fail to understand you, after all these years of being with You?”

And then I quickly add, “Don’t answer that.”

He dissected the parable for the slow disciples, and then Jesus gave them a piece of advice we’d do well to heed ourselves. 

“Consider carefully what you hear… With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more,” (Mark 4:24).

In other words, “Pay attention to what I say… If you apply it, I will tell you more.”

In other other words, “The key to ever-growing intimacy with Me is to, first, know My Word, and to, second, act in accordance with My Word.”

Could it be that we struggle to hear God and “get things” out of our Bible reading because God knows we won’t obey when He speaks to us? If our track record is one of hearing the Lord and then promptly ignoring Him, why would He waste His energy on continuing to try to communicate with us?

It’s only by His grace that He doesn’t completely clam up and leave us out to dry. No, He continues to be open to communicating with us despite ourselves. But, according to Jesus Himself, God is only as chatty as we are obedient.

If you want deeper intimacy with God, show Him by doing the things you already know He wants you to do, and more intimacy will follow.