Posted by orualundone in Attitude, Evangelism, History, Quote of the Day.
Tags: Avignon, Catherine of Sienna, Suzanne Noffke
No more indifference, then! No more sleeping in unawareness! No, with bold and blazing heart stretch your sweet loving desires to go and give honor to God and your best efforts to your neighbors, never losing sight of your objective, Christ crucified.
Catherine of Siena
Posted by orualundone in Attitude, Change, Growth, Heart Condition, Holy Spirit.
Tags: January 1 2011, New Year's Day, New Year's Eve
I was just thinking today, as I imagine most people are, about the new year that is coming in just a few hours. As usual I have various plans and resolutions for 2011, some of which I’ve made before and failed at and some of which are totally new. But part of what I was thinking is that tomorrow is actually no different than any other day. It has no significance whatsoever other than that we’ve culturally decided that tonight at midnight is the moment that the old year ends and the new one begins. Although necessary for time- and calendar-keeping, it is a totally arbitrary date that doesn’t even have any particularly astronomical, seasonal, or religious meaning to it (unless you count the Feast of the Circumcision, which is a pretty strange day to start a year on) . It’s just a day, kind of in the middle of winter, just like any other.
And yet we hang such importance on it. January 1 is the day we’re going to start that diet, change our lives, be a better person. We make resolutions and promises. We start regimens. We think that somehow the new year will magically empower us to be different than we have always been, than we were on December 31st. We can put all the things that happened in the past 365 days behind us and start over. I do it too, as much if not more than anybody else. New Year’s, the first of the month, my birthday, and arbitrary Mondays – I see them as a chance for a new start, to get the week or month or year right this time. I imbue starts of things with mystical powers that I think will help me be more organized, or more self-controlled, or happier. It’s a very human thing to do.
The trouble is, it doesn’t work. Most of my well-intentioned self-improvement plans come to nothing after a week, a day, or a few hours. And the dates on the calendar are just numbers. There is no difference between Monday and Friday, between January 1 and June 12th, between my birthday and President’s day in terms of my likelihood of keeping a single resolution in the long term. I know that sounds depressing, but we all know it to be true. But I am not feeling depressed right now, because I have realized something.
All those dates that don’t mean anything? They don’t mean anything to God either. Through Christ and through his grace, he is constantly making things new. Take a look:
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone, the new has come.”
2 Corinthians 5:17
It is Christ that makes us a new thing, not our own efforts, not some random calendar change. The moment we accept Christ into our heart we are a new creature. We don’t have to wait around for a particular date to arrive. It doesn’t mean his work on us is done, but the start of a relationship with him is the new beginning we should look to, not a day of the year.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
1 Peter 1:3
We have a new birthday, a new day to celebrate as the start of our new lives. And although we have to be willing to let God change us, it is not up to us to affect the change. We don’t have to rely on our own willpower, our own strength, our own ideas of who we should be or what we should be doing to change. We need to be malleable, but it is God who will make the true changes in us, not our own list of 11 Things to Change in 2011 .
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart with new and right desires, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony heart of sin and give you a new, obedient heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so you will obey my laws and do whatever I command.”
Instead of our own laundry list of resolutions, changes, goals, and things we want, God will, if we let him, put his living Spirit within us to guide our desires and make the changes in us that he has designed us for, not the changes that we think we need to be happy, or to make others happy, or even to make God happy. Sometimes we feel frustrated because we don’t feel that we aren’t changing the right way, or changing fast enough. The questions I need to ask myself in those times are first, am I seeking the change the God wants or the one that I think that God wants for my life? And, second, am I worried about my time, or God’s time?
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
God’s time is not our time, and his plans are not ours. He has a time for everything and a purpose for everything. Sometimes my frustration may come because what I’m striving for is not good for me, or not what I need to be placing importance on. But sometimes it may come from knowing what the right thing is and feeling like it’s taking too long. But God will make me beautiful in his time as well.
So this New Year, if I make any resolution at all it will be to open myself up to the possibilities God has given me to be made new. I don’t often feel like a new creation, holy and blameless with a new heart. But that is because I close myself off from it, I still try to do things on my own. The truth is, the only thing keeping me from being a new, vital, pure creation in God is…me. But the very best thing to realize is that however many times I find myself failing to do something in my own strength, I can never miss my chance with God. He doesn’t allow us to be new in him once a year, or even just once when we first accept him and then it’s gone. No, with Christ every day, every moment is a chance for him to make us new, to give us more grace, and to move us closer to being perfected in him. And no matter how far we’ve wandered from a good relationship with him, no matter how many times we’ve tried to wrest control of our own destinies our of his hands, every single day is a new chance to return and let him start work on us again.
“The unfailing love of the LORD never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day. I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”
Posted by orualundone in Attitude, Prayer, Words.
Tags: James, Psalms, the tongue, words
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.
This has been on my heart lately as I think about what I want for this upcoming year. My words are often not what they should be. I complain a lot. I gossip. I use sarcasm, sometimes in a way that is not as welcome as I thought it would be. And I tell lies, mostly white ones, usually when I find it socially convenient to do so. And even when there is nothing particularly wrong with my words, they usually aren’t actively honoring to God or praiseful either.
The meditations of my heart are often trivial and unflattering. I spend a lot of time reading or watching useless entertainment, and thus that is what I think about. I don’t spend vast amounts of time plotting evil, and I know not every thought I have needs to be deep and prayerful, but the majority of my thought life is given over to completely worthless subjects.
I want to start regarding my thoughts and words as a much an important part of my Christian walk as my devotional time and church time. Not just my conscious thoughts and words when I’m actively discussing God, praying, or thinking about a sermon but my casual, haphazard speech and my unbidden thoughts. I want to learn to keep a guard on them and ask myself if what I am saying and thinking are pleasing to God. Because thoughts become words and words become actions. If my thoughts are shallow and useless, I become ineffective. And if my thoughts are bitter and resentful, then my actions will shortly follow.
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.
Posted by orualundone in Attitude, Fears, Peace, Worry.
Tags: Moving, Plains, Proverbs
There’s nothing like spending time with your family to drive home the ways in which you are (and sometimes aren’t) like them. My parents were here for a week over Christmas, which can be stressful for everyone since our apartment was not really designed to accommodate 4 adults, 5 cats, 1 dog, and an over-large Christmas tree. Still, I think we all handled it relatively well. Despite some nerve-getting-on by various parties and a few spirited debates over things such as whether the government is actually hiding aliens from the American people, a pleasant holiday was had by all. I think.
Of course, the things that irritate you the most about your family are often the traits that you yourself have and don’t particularly like. In my case I was unreasonably frustrated with my father’s incessant scheming and planning throughout the whole trip. He was constantly trying to find the best deal, save the most money, make the best plan to get home in the face of various possible weather scenarios, and plan their summer trip for his maximum advantage. Every time some new bit of information about the impending winter storm, the price of butter at a particular store, or the predicated cost of gas in Texas next June he would recalculate all his plans, including multiple contingency plans in case this or that factor changed.
It drove me up. the. wall. Of course, I do exactly the same thing. I am just as obsessive, just as nervous and probably just as irritating when I get it in to my head that I’m going to do something that requires advance preparation. I make endless lists, itineraries, and back-up plans. I get quotes on costs, reviews, and gather vast amounts of data on whatever it is I want to do, whether it’s buy a new toaster, take a vacation, or plan our weekend get-together. Sometimes this a good trait (I’m great at safety preparedness), but often I take it too far and waste more time than Isave by obsessing over what could go wrong or whether I’m getting the best deal or if something better might be out there. When I’m indecisive it’s often because I’m terrified of not making the most out of my time, money, energy by choosing the second-best thing. Of course at some point this wastes time, energy, money on its own and shows a complete lack of trust in God’s provision.
Right now I have a lot to obsess and worry over. In the next 4-5 months my husband and I are planning on quitting our jobs and moving across the country to a strange city where we know virtually no one. We are doing this without any assurance of future employment, income, or health insurance. And all the apartment research, job hunting, moving quotes, and lists of best neighborhoods and hottest careers in the area will not actually prevent this from being an unmitigated disaster.
We are moving because we truly believe that this is where we are being called, where we belong. It will give both of us more opportunities to follow the dreams God has given us, and to live on less money while doing so. But we could very easily fall flat on our faces while attempting it. We could be vastly misinterpreting what God is telling us. Or he may prevent us from moving entirely, showing us a completely different plan for our lives that may involve us staying put. Or he may send us somewhere we never expected.
But if I allow myself to fixate on planning to the extent that it becomes an obsession, then I will not hear his voice if he tells me we’re on the wrong track, or that he has something better for me than I have dreamed for myself. Yes, if we are going to move I do need to make some plans, look for a job, look for an apartment, save up the money. But I also need to accept that the only way it is going to happen is through his grace and provision. And that even though we feel very certain about this, he may still tell us no.
Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.
This is one of those verses that I’ve probably read (or skimmed past) 100 times and yet never actually saw before. I find it amazingly comforting today. It frees me from that burden of making everything happen, of achieving all my own plans and dreams and schemes. It’s fine that I have things that I want, and that I want to work towards them. But ultimately, God’s plan will be fulfilled whether I go with it or fight it. If God truly want us to pick up our lives and make a new start, then he will provide exactly what we need to do that, just as he has in the past so many times before. But if he has another future for us, all my scheming in that direction won’t get us anywhere. The only thing struggling against his plan for my life will accomplish is to make the journey longer and more painful than it needs to be. My only job is to not hold on so tightly to my own dreams that I cannot hear him whisper his own, far superior dreams to me.
Posted by orualundone in Attitude, Fitness, Grace, Growth, Lessons, Pain, Struggles, Suffering.
Tags: Fitness, Pain, Prize, Racing, Training
I recently started a new exercise regimen. After several years of trying, and mostly failing, to get fit on my own I finally gave in and bought some exercise DVDs that would tell me what to do. I hate exercise videos, but I have noticed that I tend to lose focus on my own and have trouble figuring out what the best strategy is, and DVDs are significantly less expensive than a personal trainer. Although the individual workouts are short, they are intense and brutal. By day three I could barely get up off the couch because I was (and still am) so sore. My aching muscles have got me thinking about what physical fitness can teach about spiritual fitness.
The Bible is not short on comparisons of spiritual and physical training, and I’m beginning to see why. It’s a powerful metaphor, and frankly if you are not able to be disciplined with your body it is going to be hard to be disciplined in your spiritual life (I have this problem!). Although we would like to think we are above such things, our bodies do have a huge influence on our emotions, actions, and attitudes. Here are the things I’ve been thinking about in regards to physical training and spiritual growth.
1: You can’t be your own trainer.
Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t just go for a run, or pick up the Bible and read on your own and get some positive effects. But in both fitness and spiritual growth you can vastly benefit from the wisdom, guidance, and encouragement of others. I tend to approach Bible study and prayer the same way I approach exercise and many other areas of my life – haphazardly. I try things aimlessly. I page through Psalms. I do some arm exercises. I download a bunch of sermons to listen to and go for a long run one day, and then the next day I’m eating cheetoes and watching TV all evening.
In fitness, having a guide to help you find an effective routine that will get you where you want to go is invaluable – whether it’s a person, a guidebook, or a simple regimen. You can exercise all you want, but if you aren’t doing the right combination of things you may never reach your goal – or you may end up hurting yourself. In my case, having a clearly deranged woman with incredible abs telling me what to do each day and yelling encouragement helps me to stay on track because it removes the feeling of aimlessness that often prevents me from wanting to work out.
In your Christian walk, a mentor can help guide you in a similar way. But even Bible study guides and books can really get you to go deep into the Word and build those spiritual muscles, make you really think about things in a substantive way. That’s something all all the unfocused reading in the world will never achieve. A good preacher or teacher can also bring you God’s word in a way you have never thought about before, and help you to connect the dots on what he is trying to tell you.
However, the ultimate trainer is God himself. He is the one we need to surrender to, and he is the one with the plan for where he wants us to go and how we should be trained to get there. Bible studies and devotional plans are good things. But what will really make our faith muscles grow are the experiences and challenges that God puts us through to make us strong for the work that he has for us. Just like I show up and submit to the trainer on my DVD, doing what she says each day to build my strength and endurance, I need to “show up” with God and submit myself to his training, however difficult and painful it is at the time.
2: You can’t do it alone.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
This should be a no-brainer. Everyone needs partners to help them get in shape, to encourage them and build them up. We all need community on the spiritual journey too. People we can share our struggles with and open to, and who can keep us accountable in our lives. I’ve tried both fitness and the Christian walk without community and it does not work. Satan’s first tactic to prevent us from changing or from reaching our goals is to isolate us. Once that is accomplished it’s all to easy for us to succumb to thoughts like “I’ll do it tomorrow” or “why should I bother, it’s hopeless” and we practically implode in ourselves in very little time. God made us to live in community for a reason – we need each other. Not just in high, spiritual matters but in practical, everyday ways.
3: You have to do it every day.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Consistency. I’ve written any number of times about my struggles with this, and they haven’t gone away. But if you are going to train for a race, you have to do it every day. That doesn’t mean you have to (or even should) do the exact same thing every day. But you have to face each day – even rest days (because rest is a part of training) – as a day that you are preparing for the race, a day that is an important part of you reaching your fitness goal. What you do or don’t do, what you put in your body, the attitude you have – all of those things are integral to how effectively you are able to train. You need to be thinking everyday “How is what I’m doing preparing me for this race, this goal?”
It’s the same with spiritual training. Not only should we be spending time in prayer, in praise, in the Word every day, but we should be looking at everything in our lives, all our experiences and challenges each day, for what they can teach us about God and how they can make us stronger spiritually and more like him. We should ask ourselves “What is God trying to teach me in this situation?”, “How can this experience grow me spiritually?”. and “What action here will bring me closer to being like Christ?”.
The spiritual walk is no more about church and devotions than fitness is about a 20-minute work out. It’s a constant, consistent, and pervasive practice that is required if you want to get results.
4: It’s going to hurt.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.
To build muscles you have to tear them a little bit, let them heal, and tear them a little bit more so that they grow back bigger and stronger. To build endurance you have to push yourself past the point where you think you can’t go any farther, again and again, until you find you can go farther. It’s going to hurt at the time, and it’s going to hurt even more the next day.
You can’t grow in your faith and trust in God if that faith is never stretched to its very limit and beyond. It has to break a little bit and grow anew if it’s going to be stronger. Every roadblock, frustration, and disappointment, though painful, is a chance for us to put our trust in God again and for him to come through for us in ways we can’t imagine yet.
They will hurt at the time. The hurt may linger. But each time we experience heartbreak or hopelessness and yet still keep clinging to God, the stronger our faith will become and the more able to weather the future storms of life. The more times we see God come through in a seemingly impossible situation, the more we will trust him in the future.
And in the same way that a good trainer will never push you beyond what your body can really bear, to the point of true injury, so our good God will never give us more to handle than he is able to save us from.
5: It’s always going to get harder.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
It feel like every time I get to the point in my training where I’m starting to feel good about things, feel like I’m able to handle the workouts, they suddenly get harder. So too in my spiritual life. As soon as I feel like I’ve really learned some lessons, things are flying along and I’m just happy and praising God, with everything finally under control – boom, all of a sudden there’s a big hill and I am doing everything I can just to keep it together. A tragedy hits, something stressful comes up in my work or my marriage, there’s a problem with a friend, and all of a sudden my hard-earned smooth sailing has turned into very choppy waters.
The thing about fitness is that if a workout is easy, that means it’s no longer effective. At best you might be maintaining, but you certainly aren’t making gains. If it’s easy for your muscles to handle, then it’s not growing them and not challenging you. A few workouts like that are fine, but if that’s all you do for a long period of time at best you will stagnate. More likely, you will start slipping backwards and losing ground.
If everything is going well in your life, and with your faith, then you aren’t really needing to use those spiritual muscles to stay in touch with God and to handle difficult situations. You pray less, because you don’t need anything. You don’t wrestle with doubt because you have no reason to doubt – everything is fine. You don’t have to work to give grace, because no one is giving you hard a time.
These times are a welcome respite for all of us, but if they continue for too long we lose our spiritual fitness. If a problem comes and we’re spiritually complacent and stagnated, we will have lost the resources to deal with it. Like a sucker punch coming out of nowhere, we will be totally incapacitated.
Just like a trainer keeps upping the difficulty and intensity of the workouts, so God keeps new challenges coming at us just as soon as we feel like we’ve mastered the old ones. He doesn’t want us to be satisfied with an imperfect relationship with him – we can always get better, always get closer to him and trust him more. Unlike physical fitness, to which there is a limit, our God is infinite and limitless. There is always more to learn, more to train for in the process of becoming like Christ.
6: It will change the rest of your life.
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
I’ve already talked about training not just being about the actual workout time but about a lifestyle of training and preparing and growing. But just as your whole live impacts your training, your training can impact the rest of your life. When I am not fit and not trying to be fit, my baseline health and attitude is not great.
But once I really start to get in shape, if I can get over the initial hump where I’m just tired and sore all of the time, my whole life starts to change. I have more energy, I sleep better, my moods are generally more positive. I start to crave better, healthier food because my body knows it can’t run on junk. I’m more productive at work and more relaxed at home. Thousands of little benefits that reinforce each other.
It’s the same in my spiritual life. When I am consistently spending time with God, turning to him when I am in trouble, being faithful in the areas of my life that I know I have trouble with, and seeking out good fellowship and teaching, my whole life completely changes. I am more loving and forgiving of others. Less judgmental. I work harder, even when I don’t really like what I’m doing. I am more compassionate and less self-centers. My attitude is better. I am grateful and often more cheerful. I am more able to be present to others and more open to what God is trying to teach to me. And all these benefits make me want to spend more time in spiritual training.
I find more and more as I work to change myself physically that I see spiritual parallels with all of my struggles and successes. And with my weaknesses. My physical and spiritual failings mirror each other: My lack of consistency, self-control, and endurance are the same in both the physical and spiritual arenas. The main difference is that the consequences of these failings are literally visible in my physical body, while they can sometimes be easier to hide in my spiritual walk – at least to hide from other people.
While I certainly don’t think that someone who is not fit cannot have an awesome relationship with God, or that someone who is in peak physical condition automatically has an olympian’s spiritual walk (exercise, like anything else, can become an idol, obsession, or escape from God), I am definitely starting to believe that physical training can help me spiritually. Both in the ways that it can help me develop attributes for my faith which I am lacking, and how it can keep me in mind of the spiritual lessons God wants me to learn along the way.
But when all is said and done, it is important to keep sight of which kind of training is the more important one. Spiritual and physical training are not mutually exclusive, and are in fact often very complementary. But it’s important not to let my fitness goals overshadow my growth as a Christ-follower, for it is clear which of the two is of greater importance:
For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.
1 Timothy 4:8-10
Posted by orualundone in Attitude, Pain, Salvation, Trust, Worry, Worship.
Tags: Absalom, David, Psalm 3, Trouble
I can’t believe we’re already into December and nearly done with 2010. I am not sure where the time went, but I am pretty sure it mostly did not go where I wanted it to. This year flew by more quickly than any other I can remember, and despite some exciting things happening I feel like I’m nearly the exact same place at the end of the year as I was at the beginning of it. But I also feel like big changes are just around the corner, which is both thrilling and frightening.
The high school girls that I do Bible Study with recently chose a book on praying the Psalms as our newest study guide. I wasn’t sure about it at first – it’s one of those thin little Bible study guides, almost a pamphlet, with few frills. Just two pages of stark, uninspiring questions and little guidance or personal insight. But it’s proven to be quite an interesting and thought provoking journey through psalms I had largely ignored. This week was Psalm 3 “Praying your trouble”.
O LORD, how my adversaries have increased!
Many are rising up against me.
Many are saying of my soul,
“There is no deliverance for him in God.”
But You, O LORD, are a shield about me,
My glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I was crying to the LORD with my voice,
And He answered me from His holy mountain.
I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the LORD sustains me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me round about.
Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God!
For You have smitten all my enemies on the cheek;
You have shattered the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the LORD;
Your blessing be upon Your people!
There’s a lot to unpack in this little song, but I just want to write about the one thing that struck me for what I needed to hear this week.
David is being pursued by the army of Absalom, his own son, who is trying to overthrow him and looks like he actually has a decent shot at doing so. As David does so many other times in his life, he cries out to God – first in despair and then later in praise. This psalm follows a familiar progression for David in many of the songs he wrote in times of strife.
He starts off by voicing his complaint, fear, or problem. He does this loudly, without restraint (in other psalms he even accuses God of deserting him or being the cause of his distress). Then he remembers aloud the things God has done for him in the past, surrenders himself to the Lord, and then praises God for what he is going do in total assurance that God will save him. This is an excellent way to pray when we are under attack, but it is the middle part of the process (verse 5 in this psalm) that really struck me.
Not only does he express his trust and surrender to God, but at the very time where he should be fleeing or fighting or doing something to stop Absalom’s onslaught, David lies down and goes to sleep! He reminds himself that God has done great things for him before and then goes to bed – helpless, defenseless, protected only by God’s will.
I am pretty good at voicing my problems to God. And I am good at asking for his help. I’m not always great at remembering his past faithfulness without some prompting, or remembering to praise him for what he has yet to do, but I usually manage to get there. The one thing I am terrible at, though, is surrendering in such a vulnerable and complete way in the midst of crisis.
I will cry out to him, but it is nearly always as I am making my own plans to extricate myself from the situation. I might ask him to show me what to do, or to help me do what I need to – but I’m always doing. Or at least planning to do. I might leave him room to change what I do, but I need to have something in mind. It literally never occurs to me in those moments of trouble to actually stop. Stop for a significant period of time (longer than it takes to count to ten!) and allow him to take over.
This is not to say that action is always wrong and inaction is always right. Taking a nap when things get rough can just as easily be an avoidance mechanism as a sign of faith. And sometimes real, decisive action is called for. But it is also important to recognize the times when all the striving and plotting in the world will not be able to save you or change your situation one bit, and no amount of worrying or raging will do anything to help you. When outside forces you cannot control converge upon you, that is the very time you need to remember God’s miracles in the past, lay down your arms, and let him be the one to save you.
Posted by orualundone in Attitude, Belief, Blessings, Nature of God, Trust.
Tags: Beth Moore, Isaiah, Living Free
The other day I met with the two high school girls who I do a biweekly Bible study with. They’re great kids, and we’re making our way through Beth Moore’s Living Free – an excellent short study focusing on breaking free of the strongholds in our lives and learning to know God and believe him.
The chapter we were working was focusing on believing God – and the difference between believing in God (that he exists) and believing God (trusting him and his promises to us). One of the main verses was Isaiah 55:8-9:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
We all were familiar with the verse, but we spent a lot of time discussing what it meant (and the beautiful thing about Scripture is that it rarely just means one thing). There are lots of ways to look at it, the most common being that God is saying “I know what I’m doing and you don’t, so calm down”. Another is “God works in mysterious ways” or “Things that you think are bad God can work for good”. I think those are all very valid and vital interpretations, but we also came one more takeaway message from this verse.
If God’s thoughts are so much higher and better than ours, does that mean we’re always wrong? Not necessarily – everyone gets it right sometimes! But I think what God is trying to get at is that our first reactions are very often the opposite of his. We may eventually come to the right conclusion, for various reasons. But that gut instinct, that spontaneous first response – that’s the essence of “our way” and it’s usually the wrong way to go.
Here’s an example from my week, last week. Our old car broke down, to the point where it was clear that putting more money into it would be foolish. My first reaction was: “This is terrible. It’s so stressful, and now we have to eat into our savings to get another car, and it takes so much time and effort to find something and then take care of all the paperwork. This week sucks.”
That reaction is neither godly nor constructive. The way I should have (and eventually did) respond to the situation was more like “Well, that old car gave us our money’s worth. I’m so grateful that we live close enough to work that being without a car for a few days isn’t a hardship, and I’m so blessed that God immediately provided us with the perfect car that we were able to pay cash for without going into debt. The whole process of purchasing and paperwork went so easily. God is so good to us!”.
It took awhile to get there, but I believe that is the response that is God’s way, as opposed to “my way” which is ungrateful, pessimistic, and kind of bitchy – and completely unproductive since the situation is not going to change no matter how much I whine about it. I need to learn to check my responses when seemingly-not-so-great things happen and see how they line up with what I know of God’s way.
Not that I can know precisely or fully what he’s doing in a situation, but if I can learn to hold up my initial reactions to what I know of the nature of God, I will gain a more Christ-like attitude in my view of life. And the more I know about the nature of God through spending time with him and studying his Word, the more my first reactions to situations will start to mimic his, and the “higher” my thoughts will be.