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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How to Be Helped

David makes a simple observation in Psalm 28 that has stuck with me for a couple of weeks now, so perhaps it is important…

He writes, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me,” (Psalm 28:7). 

Now, I don’t know if David believed this when he wrote it and was just stating a fact or if he was struggling with a heavy heart, as he often did, and was rehearsing truth in order to make his heart believe it… (I tend to assume the latter because a) verses 1-3 communicate David is in distress, and b) I am, as it turns out, a pessimist.)

In any case, I’ve been pondering the second half of verse 7 for a few days – my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me. In other translations it reads David’s heart currently trusts in God, and David is helped.

I guess there is a possibility the two ideas – David’s trusting and David’s being helped – were meant to be independent of one another, but experience tells me they usually aren’t.

When my heart has trusted in God in the past, I’ve been helped. Rarely, if ever, have I been helped while my heart was distrusting God. And by “helped” I mean emotionally stabilized and encouraged, not God gives me all the solutions to all of my challenges.

Interpreted that way, the verse presents us a very simple rule of thumb:

How to Be Helped

Simple. Not easy.

The truth is it’s hard for us to trust God most of the time. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Our feelings are loud and our circumstances are pressing and God is invisible and His timetable is not usually ever the same as ours… and we begin to question, quietly, in the corners of our souls where we don’t want church people to see, does God really have my best interest in mind?

The great theologian, Bono, once said, “What you don’t have, you don’t need it now.” But it sure feels like we need a lot of things and people we don’t have… It feels like God has maybe lost track of our needs… let them slip through the cracks…

And it’s when we are feeling like this that we have a choice. Do we want to be helped, or do we want to be hindered? It’s up to us, really. No one else can make the choice for us.

If we want to be helped, “all” we have to do is trust in God. God says He will meet all of our needs. Period. We have to resolve to believe Him (and Bono). If we don’t have something, it’s because we don’t actually need it. Not yet, anyway.

A final word: I suspect some of you might say to me, “I want to be helped. I want to trust God… I just don’t. And I can’t fake like I do…” I know. I lived as a hostage to my own limitations for many years (and frequently revisit that mindset, just to say hello…).

Something that freed me up in moments like that is this instruction: go to God and tell Him, “I want to trust You, but I don’t. Please help me trust You.” That’s it. You don’t have to pretend like you trust Him when you don’t – that’s exhausting, and He knows the truth anyway. Just sit before Him with a transparent heart, and ask Him to help you.

In fact, you might not even want to trust Him right now… maybe you’re hurting and want to hang it all up. Go to Him and tell Him just that – that you don’t want to trust Him – and ask Him to help you to want to trust Him… the crazy thing is, He will. And once He gives you the desire to trust Him, even though you don’t, then you can ask Him for the trust itself.

Whatever your next step is on the road to trusting Him more, as David wrote in verse 7, God is your strength to move forward.

Helping God

There’s a slightly crazy story in the Bible that speaks to the slightly crazy in my life, even though some of the details are a bit different.

Abraham.

God chose this nothing-special-about-him man to be the patriarch through which God would grow His people and, eventually, through which He would birth Christ to save the world.

So God lets Abraham in on this plan when he was 75 years young. He and his wife, Sarah, had no children, but when God made this promise to him, “Abraham believed the Lord,” (Genesis 15:6).

But then life happened.

Days gave way to months, and months gave way to years, and Sarah didn’t conceive. Slowly, their confidence in the Lord’s promise began to waver. Nobody was getting any younger, and, finally, they cracked.

Helping God
Photo by Stuart Miles @freedigitalphotos.net

Eight years later and still childless, probably fairly depressed and in need of a good marriage counselor, Sarah came up with a brilliant plan to “help” God make good on His word. She convinced Abraham to sleep with her servant, and, sure enough, the servant bore Abraham a son, Ishmael, at the ripe old age of 86.

Patting themselves on the back, Abraham and Sarah looked forward excitedly to God extending their family line through Ishmael, making the Abrahams into a great nation, blessing them, and giving them a beautiful land to live in under God’s protection with everything they could ever want.

Until Abraham turned 99 years old and God said, “No, no. You’re mistaken. Ishmael is not going to father My people. That was never My plan. I always intended to bless you with innumerable descendants through your wife, Sarah. You know, the moral way?”

More literally, God said to Abraham, “I will bless [Sarah] and will surely give you a son by her…she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her,” (Genesis 17:15-16).

This time, however, instead of responding in faith to God, Abraham hit the floor and laughed (Genesis 17:17). The text doesn’t explicitly say how Abraham laughed, but it could have very likely been a mocking laugh, as could have Abraham’s rhetorical question he asked under his breath, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old?”

Hold up just a minute there, Abe. Aren’t you the same dude who had his first son at age 86? What really is even the difference? You were old then, and you’re old now. GOD HAS DONE THIS FOR YOU BEFORE. And you’re going to doubt Him now?

Yeah, he is. Just like we do.

Honestly, it had been 13 years since Ishmael was born – 13 years since God had done the improbable in Abraham’s life. That was plenty of time for Abraham to lose the awe over that situation…or to rationalize it away.

Instead of learning from that experience and trusting God anew, Abraham says to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” (Genesis 17:18).

Abraham is bargaining with God! He’s trying to help God out again… “No, no, God. Making my super old and, up until now, totally barren wife pregnant would be way too much effort. Just use the boy I already have to carry out your grand plan of redemption!” When you think about it, that’s pretty kind of Abraham to look out for God like that… he was just trying to spare the Almighty the stress of having to figure out a way to make a woman who shouldn’t be able to get pregnant conceive.

Now, if I were God, my patience with this Abraham guy would be all but over. Yes, he has had faith at times, but, by and large, he has mucked things up over and over, taken matters into his own hands, and thinks he knows better than Me the majority of the time. I’d be ready to exercise my holy judgment right about now.

But God doesn’t do that.

God pours out grace.

“Then God said, ‘Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers,'” (Genesis 17:19-20).

Do you see what God did there? He answered Abraham’s prayer for Ishmael.

Abraham loved Ishmael dearly and wanted the best for him. He asked God to bless Ishmael. Now, true, Abraham was thinking that blessing should come instead of God blessing Sarah’s future son. But God, rich in love and mercy, blessed Ishmael in addition to blessing Sarah’s son. A lot of times we think, “Poor Ishmael! He was conceived in a sinful way because his dad didn’t trust God, and then he got gypped out of his inheritance when Isaac came along.” But we forget that God loved Ishmael as much as He loved Isaac. Abraham asked God to take care of Ishmael, and God did (although, not quite like Abraham had in mind.)

So what can we learn from this story? It’s okay to “help” God keep His promises, and He may even doubly bless you for doing so? That’s probably not the takeaway.

I think the morals of the story are more along the lines of a) God can be trusted, b) He doesn’t need our suggestions, c) He shows us more grace and mercy than we deserve when we don’t trust Him, d) He is okay with us telling Him what’s really on our minds, e) He makes wrong choices work out for our good, but not without allowing the natural consequences to break our hearts, and f) nothing is too hard for God.

If I’m honest, I’m a little too much like Abraham. I have faith at times, but, mostly, I doubt God’s power and trustworthiness. I doubt God’s intelligence and try to “help” Him by suggesting ways He should work my life out for me. I forget God’s track record of provision and follow through in my life and in the lives of others. And, like, Abraham, I need to stop distrusting and start waiting patiently for the Lord to unfold His perfect plan. 

You too?

From a Blessing to a Curse

It has happened to all of us.

We’ve taken a gift from the Lord, and the next thing we know, it’s mysteriously transformed from a blessing to a curse. We’re left scratching our heads, asking ourselves, “HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!”

It happened to the Israelites, too, and we just might figure out how this kind of thing happens to us by examining their story.

It was a month after the Israelites had been set free from Egypt. They were trudging through the desert, unsure of their future. Noticing their supplies dwindling, they began to complain about their food supply, worrying they wouldn’t have enough to get them to the Promised Land… whenever that would be. After a chat with the Almighty, Moses told the Israelites God had heard their complaints and He was going to miraculously provide quail that evening and bread the next morning (Exodus 16).

Of course, both provisions came to pass, just as Moses had told the people they would.

The first day the Israelites gathered their manna, Moses told them they were not to keep any leftover manna until morning. But, understandably, some did. “However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them,” (Exodus 16:20).

That bread rotted faster than any bread in the history of the world, and their miraculous gift from the Lord went from a blessing to a curse.

The question for them – and, thus, the question for us – is why did the blessing spoil? 

The Israelites were in the middle of nowhere, worried about where their next meal was coming from. They were insecure and anxious. Then, when the provision came, they stock piled it out of fear and distrust that the Lord would actually provide for them again.

So, to recap, we have worry, insecurity, anxiety, fear, and distrust all in play here. But the glue that held them all together – the true cause of their blessing rotting in their hands – was what they chose to do with those emotions. Because they felt this way, they chose to act disobediently. And, ultimately, it was the disobedience to God’s command not to keep the manna that led to the instant demise of their blessing. 

What would have happened if the Israelites had felt the full weight of their worry, insecurity, anxiety, fear, and distrust but had chosen to trust God anyway and obey Him? Well, they wouldn’t have woken up to rotten bread. If they had chosen to use their emotions as motivation to trust the Lord with their blessing more, to depend on Him to meet their needs more, they would have avoided the curse of a maggot infested kitchen.

There are more analogies in this story we don’t have the space to explore, so let’s just apply this one.

Disobedience transforms our blessings into curses. When we choose to let our fear move us to take matters into our own hands, to move from a place of trusting God with our blessings to distrusting God with them, we’re well on our way to destroying them completely.

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.”

It’s Clear Above the Clouds

If I had to guess, I’ve flown about 100 times in my life. As a military kid, flying was a way of life. Whether we were moving halfway around the world or traveling to visit extended family members we weren’t privileged to live near, I spent more time at 34,000 feet by the time I was 12 than most people do in their whole lives.

All that to say, I’m familiar with the process.

Yet, every single time I ascend in an airplane, I am filled with wonder. Good wonder, mostly. (I have bad wonder too – how do people taller than 5’6″ and more than 115 lbs use the lavatories, for instance.)

My flights Thursday and Sunday were no different. Like a child on her first flight, I peered out the oval window almost the entire time, waxing philosophical.

During the initial climbs I pondered, as I always do, how it is that the human brain came up with this extreme way to defy gravity. I imagine God was laughing as gleefully as the Wright brothers were when they finally got their contraption off the ground. The joy of creating and the thrill of invention is something God is quite familiar with.

Then, as we passed through the clouds, I thought, as I always do, how mysterious clouds are. They look so soft and fluffy, like cotton stuffing from a child’s teddy bear, yet we physically pass through them as if they are phantoms. I’m not up on the science, so perhaps that’s why it perplexes me that we can see clouds but we can’t feel clouds…

photo (2)

After we passed through the clouds, we were, as it were, above the clouds. We settled in at cruising altitude and sped across the round surface of the earth at over 600 miles per hour, but it felt like we were crawling… another enigma that always comes to mind when I’m flying.

It’s at this point I always think about how close, relatively speaking, I am to space. The clouds beneath me, the light blue sky bleeding imperceptibly into navy blue, I suppose, as a result of the dark, atmospheric blanket hugging our little world – it’s miraculous to me that the average human (astronauts not withstanding) can safely and successfully travel that far off the ground…

photo (1)These are the things that run through my mind on each and every flight I take. But that’s not it. There’s always more. I always have at least one unique revelation when I’m hurtling through the sky in awe.

(For instance, when I was 13 years old, flying alone, peering out the window, I decided the deceptive nature of clouds was a symbol for life – nothing is as it seems, and everything is a disappointing facade. I was delightful back then 🙂 )

Thursday’s flight was no different. With my forehead pressed against the plexiglass (I hope someone cleaned that before I got on the plane), staring straight out at the bluest of sky, I realized something.

It’s always clear above the clouds. 

When planes take off, assuming it isn’t an entirely clear day, they are below the clouds, and their goal is to get above the clouds to make a smooth ride for the passengers. Pilots may disagree with me, (and they certainly would be qualified to do so), but I personally have never been on a flight where we didn’t get above the clouds and discover every single time that it was clear up there.

We pass through the clouds, sometimes being unable to see anything at all and often uncomfortably bumping our way to higher elevation. But once we get up there, it’s clear… always.

And so the spiritual analogy practically writes itself.

There are real clouds in our lives. I spend most of my time living under them, fretting about the storms they potentially hold. Sometimes I climb inside them, disoriented as to which way is up, blindly searching for safe ground to return to. But rarely do I successfully navigate through them to higher, clearer, peaceful sky.

The Lord doesn’t want us to stay beneath the clouds, too afraid to deal with the painful things within us and that life has in store for us. The truth is, we can’t avoid all pain. If we don’t go through the clouds, sometimes the clouds come down to us – all the way down to the ground in a thick haze of fog.

And the Lord doesn’t want us to get stuck in the clouds – to begin to unwrap the parts of ourselves that need His healing, to begin to embrace the painful parts of life that are meant to grow us into Christ’s image – only to get turned around and fearful when confusion sets in. If we scramble back to the “safety” the ground has to offer, those clouds will still be there, looming, waiting for us to gather up the courage to try to deal with them again…

God wants us to persevere, pushing through the clouds, trusting that He is guiding us by our right hands, leading us to clear, peaceful skies above the clouds.  He wants us to trust Him with our hearts, our pain, our scary circumstances, our needs, our wants, our everything – even when we can’t see – and to allow Him to bring us to the place of His peace that surpasses understanding.

It’s not that the clouds aren’t there anymore when you’re flying at 34,000 feet. They are. You just have a different perspective on them. The storms they contain aren’t so threatening when they are below you. And when we are truly trusting God, allowing Him to infuse our hearts with His peace, the broken parts of ourselves and our lives don’t seem quite so consuming anymore.

“For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

Isaiah 41:13

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.”