The Pain of God’s Best for Us

im_OKContinued from here.

Let’s return to the quote I started this blog series with:

We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” ~ C.S. Lewis

People sometimes ask me whether Christianity becomes easier or harder as I mature in my relationship with God. My response is “yes.” It becomes easier for two primary reasons: (1) Obedience is simple – either I am obeying God in a situation or I am not, so I no longer engage in mental gymnastics to lie to myself about “wrong” being “right” or acceptable just because I want it to be; and (2) I have a long track record to look back upon – God was faithful before, so I more easily trust that He will be faithful again.

It becomes harder primarily because I am becoming “weirder” (I prefer the term “Messiah’s misfit”) as I conform less and less to the patterns of this world. As a simple example, the Holy Spirit has convicted me to obey the speed limit when I drive, which is something even most Christians fail to do. Whenever I share this simple example with a group of Christians, most will say they are glad that God has not convicted them of this. However, the Bible makes it clear that it’s a sin to break the speed limit:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” ~ Rom. 13:1

I love people where they are, just as God loved me where I was when I routinely disobeyed Him in this area (along with many other areas of my life), so I don’t try to fill the Holy Spirit’s role of convicting them. At the same time, I do not allow the majority’s voice to give me “permission” to sin along with them. Whether or not the Holy Spirit has convicted anyone else, he has convicted me. Thus, I must obey the speed limit when I drive, even as people I love mock me for doing so. That has gotten harder as I continue conforming into Christ’s image.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace wrapped like a mummy on crutches below the words. “I’m OK.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

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Christianity Requires Effort

treadmillContinued from here.

All relationships require some amount of effort. No two people see everything alike, and so at least one person (and preferable both) in the relationship need to make an effort to align with the other so the two can walk together. A relationship with God is no exception. I fear that far too many Christians assume that because receiving salvation required minimal effort on their part, that’s the way a relationship with God is always supposed to be. Anyone with this mindset clearly has not spent much time in God’s Word because the Bible is filled with stories of the effort required to walk with God. Jesus himself told us that there’s a cost to discipleship. And what is that cost? EVERYTHING!

Now, you might be thinking, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! That’s not what I signed up for. I only want enough of Jesus to avoid going to hell, but I’m unwilling to make changes in my day-to-day life that require effort.” If that’s your mindset, then you are not Jesus’ disciple, and you don’t really believe him. It’s not enough to believe that Jesus is the Son of God: “even the demons believe that—and shudder” (Jas. 2:19). Being a disciple of Christ involves more than simply saying, “Yes, I believe Jesus died for my sins. I receive you as my Savior so I can avoid going to hell. I’ll see you when I get to heaven. Meanwhile, I’m going to live my life however I see fit.” That’s not discipleship.

Discipleship involves radical changes. It involves choosing to love God more than yourself or anyone else in your life. It requires you to be willing to let go of ANYTHING you possess, recognizing that you possess nothing but God … and He is enough – more than enough, actually. Discipleship means that you choose to die to your selfishness day after day, becoming a servant not only to God but to everyone around you. You willingly let go of everything so that you can gain everything, becoming enslaved to Christ to experience the freedom of Christ.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running in a treadmill. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

The Effort of Being in a Relationship with God

 

barbellI previously shared that I am reading Janet Brooks’ book, Enjoy!: More than Surviving Life’s Transitions. She caught my attention when she quoted my favorite Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, as saying,

We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” ~ C.S. Lewis

I had not heard that quote before reading it in Brooks’ book, and I have been meditating on this concept since reading it in one of the early chapters of her book. I also decided to return to reading another of Lewis’ books (I had taken a break after spending a year in divinity school – needed a break from reading theology books). I recently started reading his book, The Problem of Pain, which I’m sure I’ll be blogging about in future weeks. But I digress…

In her book, Brooks asks why we find it so hard to trust God even though we know how intimately He loves us. She postulates the reason is that we know how much work it’s going to take to transform us into the image of Christ in his perfection. She then weaves in the above quote from C.S. Lewis. I think Brooks has hit the nail on the head – Far too many Christians never grow up because they see how much work is involved and simply don’t want to do it.

Think about it. Becoming a Christian requires nothing of us other than belief. While this can be a blow to our pride, there’s not much to do. I say, “Jesus, please forgive me for my sins and come into my life,” and just like that, I’m a Christian. This requires very little effort on my part because Jesus did all the work. The reason I can say a simple prayer and be reconciled to God is because Jesus did everything else. Effort was certainly required to reconcile me to God, but Jesus expended 99.9% of that effort. He allowed himself to be tortured, killed, and temporarily separated from God so that minimal effort would be required on my part – simply believing – for me to be reconciled to God. However, that’s not the end of a relationship with God. It’s only the beginning.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lifting a barbell. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Are You Willing to Submit Your Will to God?

Continued from here.

I have shared this several times, but it’s worth repeating. In his book Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God, Henry Blackaby says that two words never go together: “No, Lord.” If God is your Lord, then you will always say yes to His will. If you say no, then He is not your Lord. In other words, you are not His disciple.

Most of us want to straddle the fence. We want the blessings of being a disciple of God without having to the pay the cost, but it doesn’t work that way. We love to quote the scripture about not worrying because God will provide all of our needs, but we don’t “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). In the legal world, this is called a condition precedent. To activate “all these things will be given to you as well,” we must first prioritize God’s kingdom and righteousness. We accuse God of not being faithful in providing for us when we did not first do our own part of chasing Him rather than chasing what we want.

Another example is that we love the Bible verse promising that God will give us the desires of our heart. Who doesn’t want this, right? But the condition precedent is that we must first “take delight in the LORD.” James tells us that the reason we don’t receive the desires of our heart is that we are not delighting ourselves in the LORD but instead…

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3)

James’ very next words are, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?” Why are they adulterous? Because they delight themselves in their own pleasures rather than in the LORD. We rail at God for not giving us what we want when what we SHOULD want is HIM, and He gives Himself to us freely.

So, are you willing to submit your will to God? If you are, you must do all that He tells you to do. That being said, it’s not about doing the right thing so much as it is about obeying Him to express your love for Him. God isn’t looking for people who do the right thing – He is looking for people who love Him enough to do the right thing. There’s a big difference, and it all comes out of our motivation. Do you love Him enough to submit your will wholly to God? If you say yes and actually do it, you will be blessed beyond measure.

[Graphic: Cover of Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

Submitting Your Will to God Simplifies Your Life

snakeContinued from here.

Since I began submitting my will to God in 2013, my life has become much simpler – harder, but simpler. The reason is that I no longer put forth the mental energy of trying to figure out how to get out of obeying God so I can do what I want to do.

For example, as a young adult, I did not want to tithe, so I put forth much mental energy to figure out a loophole to get out of it that went something like this: “Back when tithing was commanded, people didn’t have to pay taxes at a rate like we have to pay today. God could not possibly expect me to pay this much in taxes and then, on top of that, 10% of my income to the church. And even if He did, how do I know how much to tithe? Is the 10% based on my gross earnings or my net earnings? And what about rebates or monetary gifts? Does God really expect me to tithe out of those? This all sounds too complicated to actually do.” Today, I simply give to my local church 10% of whatever hits my bank account, and I also give as the Lord leads me to give, so I wind up giving much more than 10% of what I earn. It’s simple – just not easy when I don’t feel like giving.

Satan’s way is complex, but God’s is simple. God says, “Don’t eat the fruit.” Satan says,

Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” … “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” ~ Excerpts from Gen. 3:1-6

See how simple God’s command is versus Satan’s mental twisting to turn God’s no into a yes? Either we trust God, or we do not. If we trust Him, we will do what He says to do, which is quite simple … it’s just not easy.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with a snake coiled around her. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Choosing Obedience over Feelings

how_you_feelingContinued from here.

It’s easy to follow God when things are going well. When I have just received a blessing from God, it’s easy for me to praise Him with all that I have within me and shout His goodness from the rooftops. It’s a different story when His will requires me to suffer, such as when my son faced major back surgery a few years ago. It wasn’t easy to focus on God’s goodness as my son faced having two titanium rods screwed into his spine to correct his scoliosis. I did not easily praise God during this season, and yet I did praise Him – not because I felt like it but because it’s His will that I do.

One of my greatest obstacles – and this is likely true for you as well – is that I often don’t feel like obeying God. If I let my feelings drive my choices, I would only do what God tells me to do whenever it’s convenient or feels good. However, God’s ways are rarely convenient. He commands me to pray for and show kindness to the people I want to yell at or complain about. He tells me to drive the speed limit when I’ll be late for an appointment if I do. He leads me to extend grace and love to people who make my life difficult, whether it’s an incompetent waiter or a grumbling relative. If I let my feelings drive my choices, I would never do what God tells me to do. In other words, I would never be a disciple of Christ.

In my quiet time this morning, I read the passage about an exhausted Jesus sleeping through a storm that terrified his disciples. I found it interesting that Mark notes that when Jesus said, “Let’s go over to the other side,” Mark says,

Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat.” ~ Mark 4:36

Note that they took Jesus “just as he was.” When I think of taking someone “just as he was,” it generally means not all cleaned up but in a state that the only someone who loves you would receive. As an example, one of my dear friends is going through a rough time and keeps apologizing for being “just as she was,” which is in emotional distress. I receive her “just as she was” because I love her. She’s not in a state that she would like to be, but she’s too overwhelmed with what’s going on in her life to “clean up good.” I wonder if that’s the point that Mark was making about Jesus – that he was in a state of exhaustion and too tired to cope, hence his ability to sleep through a raging storm. One does not get that way by taking the easy way. I suspect Jesus had to choose obedience over his feelings and that he was so exhausted because doing so took a heavy toll on him.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sitting on a chair and asking, “How ya feelin’?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Not My Will, but Yours be Done

painContinued from here.

I shared an example of what it looks like to submit your will to God in my last blog entry, but let’s take a deeper look. God gave us free will, so we are free to use it as we desire. We are free to use it to be selfish, to try to manipulate other people to our will, and to do evil – God won’t stop us from exercising our free will in vile ways that do much harm to ourselves and others. However, if we use our will in any way other than in submission to God, we are not Jesus’ disciple. That’s a tough pill to swallow, isn’t it? But it’s the truth. Jesus said that we cannot be his disciple unless we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. That means we must follow Jesus’ example of saying, “yet not my will, but yours be done.” Are you willing to submit your will to God as Jesus did?

Jesus said those words before going to the cross, which he certainly did not want to do. He did not spend the night praying and sweating blood because he wanted to be mutilated and killed. Yet he submitted his will to God. He had free will, just as we do, but he chose to submit that will to the Father, even when it came at the ultimate cost of being mutilated, killed, and separated from God as he carried all of our sins as he died. While we know the glorious end to the story, I wonder whether Jesus did in the dark of night as he prayed his anguished, earnest prayers as his disciples slept. I wonder if he simply knew that God’s will was for him to suffer and whether he simply loved God more than he didn’t want to go to the cross.

Regardless of what Jesus did or did not know on that fateful night, we generally have no idea what the end of our story is going to be. We face the crossroads of seeing that God’s way will bring us inconvenience or suffering while we could easily exercise our own free will to take the easier path. Which will we choose?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lying on the floor in pain. Courtesy Bitmoji.]