Wednesday, January 21, 2015

In Control

I just finished reading a novel that was really good but extremely sad. In it, the main character and her family were in a horrible car crash, her parents dead on the scene, and her little brother and herself seriously wounded. As the novel plays out, her brother dies as well.

As she is in a coma, the novel is told through her eyes first as herself and then as she sees things in her comatose state. Stricken with grief over her family's passing, and in such bad shape herself that she would need quite a few reconstructive surgeries, the girl battles between whether she wants to fight for life anymore, or whether she wants to give up and die. Because according to one nurse, it is the girl's choice whether she lives or dies.

While the author did a beautiful job writing the story (except for the swear words, that is), there were a couple of things I disagreed with her on. One of them was this idea, that we get to choose our own destiny.

Because although we choose several things in our lives, who to marry, where to go to school, whether to accept Christ's sacrifice, we don't control our destinies.

God does.

In the book of Job, we get a glimpse of just how much God is in control of things. Satan approaches God, and accuses Job of only being faithful because of all the stuff God's given him. Satan insists that if Job lost all his wealth and kids, he would curse God instead of fearing Him. Later, Satan is adamant that, if Job was diseased and suffering, he would turn his back on God.

Of course, if you've read the book of Job, you know the end of the story. Job stays faithful (though admittedly gets a little whiny and woe-is-me, but honestly I don't know anyone except Jesus who wouldn't have in his position), God gives Job's "friends" a spiritual slap in the face, and Job gets more stuff than he had before, including ten more kids.

But have you ever noticed before that God had to give Satan the okay? Satan didn't come charging in, and say he was going to do all this crud to Job and there was nothing God could do about it. He had to wait for God's permission.

Even bad stuff can't happen to us without God's allowing it.

Of course that begs the question: why on earth would God allow all this crud to happen to Job? Why does He allow bad things to happen to us?

Why do we struggle with illnesses?

Why do we get passed over for opportunities we would love to have?

Why do we have trouble finding jobs?

Of course, there's always the possibility that we're suffering because we were stupid and did something we shouldn't have. Suffering can sometimes be chastising to bring us back to God.

But barring that, if we've searched our souls honestly, and God's not telling us to wise up and shape up, there's really only one reason God lets us suffer.

To work it out to our good, and His glory.

Remember Job? In the end, God's glory was revealed to six people (not including Satan, who obviously must have already known God was so awesome). Job's friends, who God rebuked. His younger acquaintance (they never mention when he happened along, so supposedly he came with the other guys), who also learned his view of God was rather flawed. Job's wife (you don't hear her telling Job to curse God after that).

And of course Job himself.

Job learned just how great his God is. Job got to see first hand that God had never forsaken him, though He did allow Satan to kick Job around a bit. He learned that, ultimately, God held his entire world in His hands, that all the time he was suffering, God was working it out, shaping his destiny.

If I Stay, by Gayle Forman, was a beautifully haunting story, which almost had me in tears (and I'm not a crier by any means). But unlike Mia, who was burdened with the choice of whether she would die or live, our destiny isn't controlled by us, but by One greater.

And honestly, I'm quite happy it's that way.

Empty Thank Yous?

So today, as I woke up twenty minutes before my alarm went off, I was laying in bed praying, and when I got up, I realized something. I do not know how it had never struck me before, at least not quite in this way, but it was a little shocking at first.

I am, by nature, a very ungrateful person.

Even though I say thank you a lot.

It's super easy for me to forget everything I have in pursuance of my goals. Searching for a full-time school counseling job? I'll forget to be happy I substitute teach for two different districts. Feeling sick and achy one day (like today)? I'll forget that only two years ago I was so sick I wasn't able to work full-time. Frustrated and angry at my five-year-old, slow-running-at-times laptop? I'll forget that there are many people who don't even own desktops (something that would be devastating to me as writer). Yeah, #firstworldproblems anyone?

It's so easy for me to forget that, even though I want all these things, I have it pretty good right now. I want to work toward the future, but I can't forget about the present.

And even though I say thank you, and think I'm grateful for what I've got, I've come to realize that often they're empty thank yous.

Because even as I'm saying it, I'm wanting more. Even as I'm thanking God for the breath He's giving me at this moment, I'm wanting that shiny bauble dream to happen.

I don't think it's wrong to work toward goals, or to be super passionate and spend most of your free time on them, as long as we aren't consumed by them to the point of forgetting what God's given us right now.

When reaching our goals turns us bitter against what we have, where we're always searching for what we don't have and finding our lives lacking, that's when it becomes a problem.

When we begin living our lives for our goals, instead of for God, that's when they become a problem.

I have so much be to thankful for. And yet I often forget it, and fret about what I don't have. I want to be more, accomplish more, have more.

But here's the thing: unless we learn to be grateful for what we have now, we will always want more.

Unless we realize that God gives us exactly what we need, when we need it, and that we have so much already, we'll never be satisfied when we reach our goals. It will always be more, more, more...

So I'm trying to be more grateful today. I'm trying to remember that what I've been given, what's been entrusted to me, is quite a bit of awesomeness. If this isn't your struggle, great. But if it is, if you find yourself wishing you had things, endlessly working toward goals that have become gods, please, just stop and think for a minute.

No matter how bad you have it, when you think about it you probably have it pretty good.




Monday, January 12, 2015

Boatside



Let's talk about someone you've probably heard a lot about. Peter, the apostle, the guy who was ready to chop off an ear for Christ (sorry, van Gogh, guess you didn't think of it first), and then a few hours later was swearing he'd never heard of the Man.




Pastors preach a lot about Peter. There's a lot of life lessons we all get to learn from Peter's failures. I feel like he has the greatest number of embarrassing stories told about him in the Bible. Then again, he didn't kill anyone or sleep with anybody who wasn't his wife, so maybe he doesn't quite have that position all by himself. But we hear a lot about him.

We hear a lot about his lack of faith.

Like that time Jesus walked on the water, and when He came aside their boat, the disciples were all afraid. Then Peter, gathering courage, asks to be allowed to come to Jesus on the water. Jesus lets him come, but Peter sees the waves...

We know the rest of the story. His heart quakes within him, he starts sinking, and Jesus has to pull him out of the waters. And our pastors all tell us pretty much the same thing: poor, faithless Peter. If he'd only trusted Jesus...

But Peter had a lot more faith than a lot of us do.

Sure, he may have botched the whole thing by looking at the waves, instead of keeping focused on Christ, but he had the faith to step out of the boat.

So many of us are still in the boat.

We know there's something God wants us to do, because it's been gnawing at us like termites in a log, but it's going to be hard. It's going to be Herculean in nature, a feat we can't possibly do on our own. It's going to be practically like walking on water.

So we stay in the boat where it's safe, instead of taking the plunge. We stay cowering under the comfort of what we know, instead of stepping out into the storm.

Peter may have taken his eyes off Jesus, but we never have our eyes on Him to begin with.

We're too busy watching what the world does, what the world thinks. Instead of hearing Jesus say, "Come," we hear the crashing and roaring of the world saying, "That's crazy! You're insane! Why would you think you could possibly do that?"

And you know what? The world's right. You can't do it. But He can.

When Peter stopped focusing on Jesus and His strength, he started to sink.

When we trudge along in our strength, we sink.

But when we rely on His strength, like Peter, we can do the impossible. I mean, come on, Peter walked on water when he kept Jesus as his focus.

Don't stay in the boat. Get thee out into the storm.

It might be safe in the hull, but isn't being in the center of His will so much better?

I'm not saying it's going to be like strolling on the beach during a balmy summer morning. It's going to be hard. You're going to be scared. And that's okay. I'm scared too. There have been so many plunges I've had to take, and to be honest, most if not all of them were hard, hard, scary, chest-tightening-why-on-earth-am-I-doing-this types of plunges.

But when I look back, I haven't regretted a single one.

Because all of them took me toward Jesus.

So, if there's something you've prayed long and hard about, something you know without a doubt God wants you to do, please, do it. Risk it. But don't stop there. Don't sink like Peter. Keep praying, and focusing on Him. Because no matter how hard it is, you know it'll be worth it in the end.

I'll be jumping out of the boat with you, as I work on some big projects this year, many of them I'm quite terrified of, if I'm honest. I can't get them done on my own either.

But we don't have to work on anything alone. God is there, calling us, helping us do the impossible things, just like He helped Peter walk on water.


So what is God asking you to step out of the boat into?