Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Obedience and patience

You might be thinking from the title of this post, "Obedience and patience?  Seriously?  Those are the two things I like to hear about the least!"  I know I sometimes feel like that, and it's because obedience and patience are the two things that I need the most right now!  I need to obey God and I need to wait.  And waiting is hard.  I read through Jeremiah 42 this morning and was hit hard by the story though.  There are three important verses in particular that I want to focus on and that I would like to examine here and unpack with you, dear Reader.

Background:  Jeremiah is a prophet of God who didn't really ask to be one and has been through a ton of hard stuff because even though he didn't ask to be a prophet and felt he wasn't ready to be one, God equipped him and Jeremiah chose to obey.  God sends Jeremiah with probably the worst news possible almost all of the time to the people of Judah, and nobody wants to hear it.  Why?  Because what God tells Jeremiah to say is a warning to the people:  He wants Jeremiah to warn the people that if they don't repent from their current practices (that is, turn away from what they are doing currently that dishonors God and follow God instead), destruction is sure to come upon the land, and an entire population of people will be wiped out.  Hardly anyone likes Jeremiah for this, especially because false prophets keep saying things like, "Don't listen to Jeremiah; God will not sent Babylonians to destroy us!"

Why does God do this whole destruction-punishment thing, and why does He even say he feels grieved about it?  Because God is a Father, and He is just:  Like a parent, He loves His children very much, but in order for the child to grow up and be successful the parent must punish the child for bad behavior so that the child can develop well.

So we arrive at chapter 42, and there is only a remnant of Judah left after the Babylonians come through and then the Ammonites.  The army officers of the remnant of Judah come to Jeremiah and beg him in verse 2, "Please hear our petition and pray to the LORD your God for this entire remnant.  For as you now see, though we were once many, now only a few are left.  Pray that the LORD your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do."  Jeremiah agrees, and he's probably happy because it appears in this moment that people are actually going to listen to him and to God for once and actually do what's best for them.  He says he'll tell them everything he hears from God and won't hold anything back.  So the remnant replies in verse 6, "Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the LORD our god, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the LORD our God."

I am convinced that this sort of obedience that the remnant professes in verse 6 is the kind of obedience that God looks for in His children.  He's not looking for wimpy half-hearted obedience.  He's not looking for His children to only obey Him when it suits their own personal desires, to only obey Him when he says "yes" to everything that they want to hear.  He is a firm parent.  He needs His children to obey him whether he says "yes" or "no".  He has His peoples' best interests at heart always, and He loves us always.  This means that since He knows what is best for us, for things to go well with us we need to obey Him even when He says "no"; that is to say, we need to obey Him even when it goes against what we really would like to do.  Unfortunately for the remnant of Judah in these two chapters, they disobey because God tells them through Jeremiah not to flee to Egypt, which is what they had been planning on doing all along.  I haven't read further than chapter 43 at this point, but we know at this point that destruction will come for them later at Egypt if they choose to flee there, even though at first they will be able to live an easier life.

This brings up another juicy point:  Sometimes the easier way is not the best way.  Sometimes we have to suffer things that we don't want to at all.  We're like that child kicking and screaming when told that we can't go to the playground today because it's raining outside.  The important thing to remember is that God uses hard times and moments to shape us and prepare us for things that have yet to come, and to prepare us for the good that He has in store for us.

Now let's look at what it says in verse 7:  "Ten days later the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah."  You might be thinking, "Okay, so what?  This is boring."  Dear Reader, the point is that God is a God of processes, not of instant gratification.  How well does instant gratification work when it comes to raising a child?  It doesn't discipline the child well, that's for sure.  I'm sure you can think of a couple of kids who are being raised this way or who are older and were raised this way...  God does not coddle His children like this.  God's timing is perfect, and once again He knows what's best for us.  This means that sometimes we have to be patient and wait.  Our prayers may not be answered in an instant.  It may take a day, or it could take ten as we see with Jeremiah, or it could take even longer.  And so ensues a time of waiting.

But what does it mean to wait?  It doesn't mean just sitting there!  Look at how John Ortberg puts it:
[To wait] doesn't mean to be passive or inactive or fatalistic.  It means whatever I do while I'm waiting for Sunday [an answered prayer, a certain event, a blessing, etc.], I do with Him.  I work with Him, I rest with Him, I ask questions with Him, I wrestle with Him, I complain with Him.  I wait on the Lord.
 Of course this requires a ton of patience, especially when we've been waiting for answers or healing or blessing for a long time.  I'll let you know that I've been granted a couple of really amazing dreams that I want to follow through on and I want to see come to life really bad, but I know that they require that I wait.  What does this period of waiting involve?  Well first, I'll be studying in Spain in the fall; before I am able to go, I need to prepare my heart, pack bags, tie up loose ends, and of course still continue life here in the United States!  After that, I have dreams of going to graduate school, but this requires that I wait as well.  During that period of waiting, I need to finish my undergraduate studies.  And I picture myself living and working in Costa Rica in the future, which of course requires more waiting as I finish all of my studies, do all of the necessary planning, get things set up, actually finding a job, etc.  There are more dreams floating around in my head besides these, but I share these just as examples.

Jeremiah had to wait ten days for God to answer his prayer, but during that time he wasn't passive.  He continued to pray, and continues to live life.  One final word on waiting that I greatly enjoy:  In the Spanish language, the word for "to wait" is "esperar".  That same word "esperar" also means "to hope".  While we are waiting for whatever it is we are waiting for, we are hoping.  We hope for something that hasn't yet come but that we have faith will indeed come to us, that answer to our prayer.

In the end when God told him what to tell the remnant of Judah, they still didn't listen and went to Egypt anyway, but Jeremiah's example of being a faithful servant is one that I pray that you, dear Reader, would take to heart.

Blaming God

(This is from way back in March or April.  I thank my lovely G.I.G. for the awesome time discussing the following!)

Imagine that someone had all the money, resources, and power in the world. Imagine that you had heard that this person was generous with all of his or her things, and had been known to freely give things to those people who needed them. Imagine you were just twenty or so dollars short on cash and needed the money in order to pay your rent for this month (or pay for textbooks, or pay the mortgage, or pay bills, or whatever).

Imagine yourself, then, going up to that well-endowed person and asking for $20.

What would you do if that person didn't give you the answer you were looking for (which, we're assuming, is a yes?)

You have a few options:
-You could keep asking for the money
-You could sigh resignedly and decided "Oh well, he/she really isn't generous after all"
-You could get angry at the person because he/she gives to tons of other people; why not you?
-You could acknowledge that the person may have a reason for not giving you the money and still believe that person to be generous
-You could try to bargain with the person, or try to say that you'll pay him/her back later

Whether it's healing a financial situation, healing a medical situation, healing a relational situation, healing an educational situation, or any other sort of healing, when we turn to God and ask Him to help us, we usually expect to receive that help. What sucks is that sometimes, we don't receive the help we ask for. Sometimes we weren't really expecting Him to help anyways, in which case we're not too disappointed because it just perhaps confirms the notion that He wasn't really generous after all. Sometimes it makes us angry because we needed His help so bad, and it was only a situation that He could fix, and He didn't do it, and this causes us to turn away from Him in a huff and decide, "Well, if that's how you're going to be, then I don't need you. I'll be fine. I'll do it myself." And there's a whole range of other responses we can have towards that.

Many times, basically, we blame God Himself for not giving us what we want. Don't we have good reason to, though? It's His fault that He won't be generous with us like He is with some other people.

There's a couple of different ways one can explore this:

-If you do not know someone, or if you do not know a person very well, and you go up to that person and ask him or her for money, how likely is it that the person will give it to you? How does that person know that you are trustworthy and will pay him or her back, or that you truly need the money that the person is giving you? God truly seeks a relationship with you, and He truly does desire to give you your heart's needs, but you need to show up.

-Sometimes, God has a different plan in mind. Maybe something has to happen in a specific way such that you grow from it, it shapes you, He can use it in a better way, etc. We cannot even begin to comprehend, in our own selfish selves, what plans an omnipotent being could possibly have for us, until those plans start unfolding in our lives little by little.

Friday, August 3, 2012

He is

Psalm 62:11-12a = "One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving."

I was reading Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick when this verse jumped out at me from the page, as did Furtick's basic premise of the chapter I was reading: God is great, and God is good.  I felt compelled to tack on, "and He is."  The first part of the verse reads "One thing God has spoken."  My immediate thought, the one resounding deeply in my heart that may not simply come from myself but has been spoken into my heart, is God speaking the words "I am."  God is power as much as God is love, but God also is.  Is what?


He is personal.  He is present.  He is just.  He is faithful.  He is God.

I had the opportunity during the time I was in Costa Rica to dance a dance of worship two Saturdays ago in the church to a song called "Angels Fall Down" by Skillet.  Once being granted the opportunity on Tuesday, I fretted for the rest of that day and the next four days over the dance, trying to set a basic choreography that would honor God while leaving room for interpretation and for Him to move through me as I danced.  I shed sweat, blood, and tears, cried out prayers from Jesus's words in John 17 for God to use this dance to further His glory, and when it came time to do the dance I gave it all I had.  And on my computer, after I retrieved it after the dance and went to close out iTunes, I saw a link to a song called "I AM" that I had no idea existed. I had never downloaded a song by that name before.  There was no other information.  I clicked it to listen and discovered it was a broken link.  The only other people to touch the computer before me in that building spoke little to no English, not to mention probably didn't know how to download music illegally and then delete the file so that it becomes a broken link.  To this day I still cannot find the original file.

Was it a God thing?  Maybe, maybe not.  But suffice to say it reminded me ever so clearly why I was there in that room, dancing in worship to God.  Because He is great, and He is good, and He is.