Friday, November 30, 2012

Starting Your Own Relationship With Jesus Christ (And Why We Need Him!)

             John 3: 16: “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
            God so loved the world.  He didn’t just love the world; He so loved the world.  He so loved the world that He (Jesus) would die in our place before He would miss out on an eternal relationship with us.  He knew that we would disappoint Him and hurt Him and fail Him, but He still so wanted a relationship with us that He made a way.  He knew that there would be many, many people that would reject His gift of love and salvation, but an eternity spent with those who would choose Him was worth the price of dying on the cross.  That is some amazing love!     

            Let me ask you something:  If you were to die today or if Jesus came back today, would you be ready?  Seriously!   This life, as we know it, isn't going to go on forever.  And we are not invincible.  People die every day, in every kind of way.  Are you ready to face eternity, what comes the moment after you take your last breath?  Have you figured out who Jesus is and why He matters so much?  Because this will be what matters most the moment after you die.  And, quite honestly, it's what matters most in this lifetime, too.
            Maybe right now you’re wondering how you can have a relationship with Jesus.  Or maybe you’re wondering what the difference is between having a “relationship with Jesus” and “religion.”  I believe that confusing these two things has prevented a lot of people from having the kind of relationship with Him that we were really meant to have.  So let me clearly say this: A relationship with Jesus is not the same thing as “religion.”     
             I believe that religion is best defined as “Man’s attempt to get to God.”  We try to follow all sorts of rules or traditions in the hopes that they will score us enough points on God’s big scoreboard to get us into Heaven.  If we could just be “good enough,” He has to let us in, right?  But these are our attempts to get to God.  And they won’t work. 
            Biblical Christianity, however, is all about God’s attempt to get to man.  A relationship with God is only possible because of God’s attempts to reach out to us.  And He has made a way for us to get into Heaven that isn’t left up to chance.  He’s provided a sure way, instead of leaving us to wring our hands and wonder, I hope I’ve been good enough. 
            You know, I have to ask:  What kind of good, loving God would He be if He allowed something as important as the eternal home of our souls to be decided by a vague definition of “good enough”?  If He left us to wonder if we made it in or not, not knowing until we die?  I can’t think of a crueler cosmic joke.  And yet, for some reason, humans seem to want that.  We would rather try to work our way to Heaven than to simply accept God’s sure, easy way.  Why is that?
            I wonder if it has to do with two things: our desire to be our own “master,” and our need to be in control, to feel like we are doing something to get what we want.  We don’t want to be accountable to God and to live for Someone else.  We want to live the way we want and yet still feel like we can get into Heaven.  So a “good enough” scoreboard sounds pretty good to us.  As long as we are living as decent people and we make sure the good outweighs the bad in the end, we should be able to get into Heaven without having to make Him Lord of our lives.  Right?   
            And we like the idea of working our way to Heaven with our good behavior and likable personality because we feel like we are doing something, having some control over the results.  And that makes the idea of Heaven seem more real and accessible to us.  Because to just trust that a prayer or a decision gets us into Heaven feels too implausible, too unreliable.  We don’t like to leave things up to other people, even God. 
            It would be like someone telling us that all we have to do is push this red button and then we will get world peace.  And we go, “That’s it?  Just push this button and we’ll have world peace?  That’s too easy!?!  It doesn’t seem right.  We have to do something to get world peace.  We have to work at it.  Not just push a button.”  And so we never do push the button because we just don’t believe that it works that way.   
            Well, God did provide a red button, so to speak.  We cannot work our way to Heaven or earn our way to Heaven.  But if we will trust Him and just push the button, we can be sure that our eternal resting place will be with Him in Heaven.  Because it’s not about earning enough points on His scoreboard; it’s about what He’s already done and made available to us.    
            All of history has been about God’s attempt to reach out to us.  And it will ultimately end with us getting what we wanted: an eternity with Him or apart from Him.  In the beginning, God created us because He wanted a close, genuine relationship with us.  And Adam and Eve had this with Him in the Garden of Eden. 
            And it could have remained that way if they had chosen to obey God’s one, simple command to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  God knew that if they did eat from it, they would introduce severe, heartbreaking consequences.  He wanted to spare them the knowledge of evil.  He wanted to spare them the consequences that come with evil.  And He wanted to be close to them.  And so that is why He clearly warned them not to do it.  But they did it anyway. 
            They chose to disobey and they ate from the forbidden tree.  Now before this, they were unaware of evil.  They only knew good.  But by their sin, they became aware of evil and let it loose on the world.  And as a consequence, they introduced pain, disorder, and death into the human race.
            (But why did God even provide the “temptation” in the first place, you may ask?  Because if people didn’t have the right and the option to disobey - to rebel against God – then they wouldn’t have the choice to obey and to choose God.  And God didn’t want robots, forced to love Him.  He wanted people who wanted to be with Him.  Isn’t that what we all want when it comes to love - to know that someone loves us because they want to, not because they have to?)      
            Death is part of the consequence of and punishment for mankind’s rebellion.  But it is also an act of mercy, in a way.  Because if we were to live forever under the influence of and in the presence of evil, we would never again be able to get back a perfect relationship with God or to enjoy life without evil’s influence.  And therefore, we would never really rest from pain.  But through our physical death, we have a chance to leave this sin-filled life behind us and to enter again into the kind of eternity that we were meant to have.  If we choose it.
            And that’s the most important truth we could share:  We choose where we spend eternity!  And we only have this lifetime to make that choice.  And there are only two options:  God’s Team and Not God’s Team. 
            Because of the fall, we are all born on Not God’s Team.  And we will stay there unless we deliberately choose to go over to God’s Team.  We cannot accidentally end up on God’s Team.  Nor do we end up there by default.  It has to be a deliberate, conscious choice - a choice to leave Not God’s Team and join God’s Team.  And we cannot earn our way onto God’s Team.  There is no mysterious “good enough” scale.  When we stand before God, it will be “I chose Jesus as my Lord and Savior” or “I didn’t.”  It’s clear-cut and sure.         
            Of course, we can deliberately choose to stay on Not God’s Team if we want to, by refusing God and His offer of salvation.  And there are plenty of people that consciously reject Him and serve their own gods: nature, false gods, themselves, etc.  And that is their choice.    
            But I fear that far more people will end up in Hell not by “choice”, but “accidentally.”  Because they ignored the truth about God and decided to not make a decision about Him.  And they thought that it would still be okay, that they would up in Heaven by default because they didn’t deliberately choose against God.  These are the people who say, “I hope I’ve been good enough to get into Heaven” or “Sure, I’m spiritual; I believe in a God out there somewhere.”  But they ignore what the Bible says about the only way to salvation.  But even not making a choice about God is still not choosing God’s Team, and that automatically keeps them on Not God’s Team (the team we start out on).      
            People usually wonder, How can a loving God send people to Hell?  The truth is, I don’t think God “sends” anyone to Hell.  He doesn’t threaten us with Hell, as in “If you’re not good enough, this is where you’re going.”  He warns us of Hell, as in “This is where you are headed, so please take the way of salvation that I made possible.” 
            He wants all people to come to Him.  He waits patiently over the course of history for as many people as possible to come to Him, pursuing them for years and years.  And He doesn’t give up on us, because He wants us with Him in eternity.  He is far more concerned with where we’re going than where we’ve been.  Which is why He is so ready and willing to forgive, no matter what we’ve done in our past. 
            He doesn’t “send” us to Hell . . . but He does reluctantly allow us to choose Hell.  And as a matter of fact, according to Matthew 25:41, Hell was created for Satan and the angels who rebelled against God.  It was not made for humans.  It's we humans who choose to follow Satan there by choosing against God.  He allows us to choose Him or to reject/ignore Him.  And He does this because He doesn’t want to spend eternity with robots.  He wants to spend eternity with those who want to be with Him.  That’s no different from us humans.  We want to be around people who want to be with us, not who are forced to be with us.  And, as I said, I think this is a reason why He allowed evil to exist in the first place.  In order to have the ability to choose God, we had to have the right and the option to choose against God, to choose a different “lord.”   
            When Adam and Eve disobeyed, they introduced a “sin nature” into all of mankind.  And because God is holy, He cannot tolerate sin.  Because He is just, there had to be a penalty for disobedience.  He couldn’t just ignore it or excuse it.  There had to be a penalty.  We would expect any judge worth his position to demand justice and the payment of the penalty for crimes committed.  What would we think of a judge who turned a blind eye to someone who stole or murdered?  That wouldn’t be right.  There has to be a penalty that fits the crime.  This is what justice is. 
            Well, the penalty for mankind’s sin was separation from God and, at death, eternal separation.  Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden and separated from God’s presence.  And this “separation” is passed down to all of us because sin is in the human race.  We are all born on that path of separation, the path to Hell.  And if we die while still on it, we will remain eternally separated from God.  But here’s the thing, none of our attempts to get off that path on our own will work. 
            That’s the bad news.  But this is the good news: God made a way.  We can choose to get off that path of separation and into an eternal relationship with God (Heaven) because of what He has already done for us.  Yes, God is holy and just, but God is also love.  And in His love, He couldn’t bear to have us separated from Him.  He so desires a relationship with us that He made a way for us to spend eternity with Him.  And what He did was pay that penalty Himself. 
            The payment required was death (a physical as well as “spiritual death,” an eternal life apart from Him).  And so Jesus (God the Son, who took on human flesh) came down here and died a physical death that He didn’t deserve so that He could pay the price for our sins, so that we could trade in eternal death for eternal life.  This enormous act of love met the requirements of justice.
            And this is another crucial difference between religion/false religion and Christianity: Jesus Christ.  What we decide about Jesus Christ determines if we have religion/false religion or Biblical Christianity.  When it comes to religion (or a generalized spirituality), God can be anything to anyone.  He can be found in us, in the trees, in unity, in music, etc.  He can be Buddha, the universe, or a cow.  He can be whatever the person wants Him to be.  And we can get to God in any number of ways: meditation, drugs, good works, giving money, being sincere in whatever faith we have, sex, etc.  And that is what makes it religion or false religion.
            “Religion” doesn’t have to acknowledge Jesus as God, Lord, and Savior.  “Religion” doesn’t have to claim that Jesus is the only way.  “Religion” doesn’t have to believe that we cannot work our way to Heaven, no matter how good we act.  “Religion” can be whatever tickles our fancy or makes us feel good about ourselves, life, the universe, and the end.  What a mess! 
            I know that people want to believe that all religions are right, as long as the person is sincere in their faith.  But the truth is, they cannot all be right, not when they all believe different things about who God is and how we get to Heaven and what Heaven is.  If each religion has a different map . . .written by different people . . . with different directions . . . to different places, they cannot all be essentially the same thing.  They can all be wrong, but they cannot all be right.  This “all religions are the same thing” idea is a very sweet-sounding, “love everybody,” na├»ve way to convince oneself that you don’t have to make a decision about it all.  That no matter what you believe, it’s all okay. 
            But I am here to say that – like it or not - it does matter what you believe.  Tremendously!  Eternally!  While “religion” can be whatever we want it to be, a faith grounded in the Bible - Biblical Christianity - knows that “religion” will not save.  It is only Jesus that saves.  And He doesn’t save just because He was “a good person, a good teacher”.  He saves because He is God.  Whatever you do, do not say that He was a “good, wise person” unless you also claim that He is God.  Because if He isn’t God, He was either a liar (deliberately deceiving people into following Him and believing He was God) or He was a lunatic (mistaking believing that He himself was God).  When deciding who Jesus was, it’s only one of these three options: liar, lunatic, or Lord. 
            In Christianity, Jesus is God, and it is only by His sacrificial death that we are saved.  Because Jesus isn’t just another man.  He is part of the trilogy that makes up the one God of the Bible.  He is God in the flesh, the Holy Spirit is God in the spirit form, and then there is God the Father.  But they all-together make up God, the one and only God.  It’s a mystery, I know.  But this is the way it is.           
            And because of Jesus’ death - because God paid the penalty that His justice demanded - we now have the option of going to Heaven.  We can accept His payment on our behalf so that we can once again have a relationship with God.  Or we can choose to pay it for ourselves by ignoring or rejecting Jesus as Lord and Savior, and by rejecting His sacrificial death.  Thereby, remaining on that path of separation that leads to Hell. 
            But if we want spiritual life, the only option God has given is to allow Jesus’ death to pay the price for our sins.  And all it takes on our parts is a decision.  It is a decision to believe that Jesus alone made the way for us.  It is choosing to make Him Lord and Savior of our lives.  This is the “red button” that will bring us eternal peace.
            Romans 10:9 tells us what’s required to restore that relationship with God.  “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  It’s all about Jesus.    
            And I have to say, that’s a mighty fine option - letting Jesus’ death do all the work of getting us into Heaven.  And all we have to do is choose it, like accepting a gift.  How merciful!  It is so much easier than we make it out to be with our “good enough” scoreboard and our efforts to earn Heaven.  (As a Christian, “being good and living right” isn’t something we do to get into Heaven.  But it is how we will want to live after we accept Jesus, living out our thankfulness, our love, and our desire to honor Him.)   
            This life is not all there is.  And this life isn’t really about this life at all.  Our time on earth is our deciding ground.  It is the time for God to build His eternal kingdom, His eternal Family.  But the choice is ours.  We can reject Him.  We can ignore Him.  Or we can choose Him!  We can choose eternal life, because of what He has already done for us!     
            Now, maybe you are not ready yet to accept Jesus as Lord.  Maybe you don’t really believe yet.  But maybe you want to believe, or you want to want to believe.  These are good, important steps.  He will meet you wherever you are at.  If you sincerely reach out to Him and open the door to Him - even a little bit - the truth will begin to be revealed to you.  And the more you seek, the more you find. 
            But it has to be a sincere, genuine attempt to find Him.  If you are only pretending to look for Him, hoping that you will find nothing, you will get what you are looking for:  nothing!  But if you really want to believe (or want to want to believe), then the best thing you can do is tell Him this.  Simply say out loud something like, “God, I don’t know if I really believe in You.  But I want to know if You are really there.  Please, show me if You are real.”  Pray this sincerely and often, and keep your eyes open.  And when the desire to give up comes, push past it and pray this prayer again.  And then see what happens!  Keep your eyes open and you will begin to find Him.         
            “But I still have doubts!  How can I become a Christian?” you might be asking.  The way that I see it, we can choose to believe in God and Jesus . . . even with doubts.  In fact, the only way that we can believe in God and Jesus is while we still have doubts.  Because whether we admit it or not, we all have doubts and unanswered questions, all the time.  (We are just more unaware of them when life is going peachy.)    
            This is why we have to step out in faith.  God says that faith is absolutely necessary.  If we wait until we have no doubts, we will never choose God.  But we can choose, as an act of our wills, to accept that He is telling us the Truth in the Bible.  Faith isn’t saying, “Wow, I am totally convinced of You and my need for You.”  (Although that would be wonderful, of course.)  Faith is saying, “God, I don’t understand everything.  But I will choose to take You at Your Word, even though I have doubts and questions.  Help open my eyes and help me believe.” 
            And here’s a secret:  Faith isn’t something that we have to drum up within ourselves or force ourselves to have.  It is actually a gift from God.  God wants us to choose Him.  He wants us to accept Him.  But He knows that we humans are full of doubts, questions, sin, rebellion, the need to be in control, and the need for absolute proof.  And so, left to ourselves, we would never come to God. 
            But just as He made the way for us to get into Heaven, He also gives us the necessary “tool” to accept His way into Heaven:  Faith!  Galatians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.”  What this means is that we get to Heaven only by the fact that He made the way and that He develops our faith in Him.  We do not get to Heaven by anything that we do.  It’s all Him! 
            Our part is not to climb our way to Heaven; it’s simply to accept His gift of faith and eternal life, turning our face toward Him and saying, “Okay, I choose You.  I want to believe.  Help me!  Give me faith!”  If we will just open the door to Him - honestly telling Him where we are in our level of faith and doubt, and asking Him to help - He will grow our faith, our understanding, and our belief in Him.    
            And as we walk with Him, we will learn to trust Him more and to believe in Him more.  And we will come to know that doubts and questions are a part of life and the Christian journey.  And when they come up, the best thing we can do is not to feel bad about ourselves and doubt our faith, but to take those doubts to God in prayer and ask for His help.
            Remember, our feelings follow our thoughts.  Our thoughts follow where our mind goes.  And our mind goes wherever we decide to let it go.  If you will choose to put your faith in the Bible and in God even though you don’t “feel it” - if you let your will and your ability to decide lead you - your feelings will eventually get in line.  And as you walk with God and watch Him work in your life and dig deeper into His Word, your faith in Him will be strengthened.  But it takes a decision to believe first, instead of waiting until all your doubts are gone.
            Skeptics need to see before they believe; but faith demands that we believe before we can see.  People who don’t want to find God won’t.  People who don’t want to believe in Him will not find “proof” of Him.  But people who do will find Him - if they have the eyes to see and ears to hear.                   
            God is doing all He can to reach out to us - through nature, through His Word, through Jesus coming here in the flesh, through knocking on the door of our hearts, through implanting within us a deep sense that Someone is out there.  He gives everyone the chance to come to Him.     
            He says in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” 
            No one will be able to say, “But I didn’t know that God was real.”  Because God says that we will not have any excuses when we stand before Him and He asks, “Why didn’t you believe in Me?” 
            He will hold us all accountable for the choice we make (or don’t make).  And in the end, He will give us what we asked for.  If we ask Him to cover the penalty for our sins, He will do it.  (He already has!)  But if we ask to be left alone, He will allow it.  He won’t like and it will grieve Him; but He allows it because He has given us the freedom to choose.      
            Now, to put some people at ease, I do believe the Bible teaches that there is an age of accountability, an age when we are old enough to choose or reject Jesus’ sacrifice.  If a child dies before this age, they are under His grace and mercy and automatically end up with God in Heaven for eternity . . . because they never made it to the age where they became accountable for their choice.  But after that age (I have no idea what age that is), we are held accountable for the choice we make or don’t make.  But if you lost a baby or child, I believe that you can rest assured that they are already safe in His loving care and will be there to meet you when you get there.      
            Now, if you want to choose Jesus’ payment for your sin - so that you don’t have to pay it for yourself with eternal separation - it doesn’t take any real effort on our parts.  It was all done by God already.  All we have to do is accept it in prayer.  All it takes is a genuine desire to turn to God and a prayer that expresses it. 
            There is no magic formula for the prayer, but as I already said, if you “confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.   For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. . . . ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”  (Romans 10:9-10, 13)   
            If this is something that you want to do, here is a prayer that you can pray.  (Or use your own words.)  It doesn’t have to be fancy; it just has to be real. 

            Dear God,
            I admit that I am a sinner and that I have been living life apart from You.  But I don’t want to do that anymore.  I want to spend eternity with You.  And so today, I am turning to You.  I am choosing to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  I believe that He came here and died for my sins, and that He rose from the dead, proving that He is God.  I ask for forgiveness for my sins, and I choose today to make Him Lord of my life.  I open up my heart to You and ask You to fill it with Your Holy Spirit, so that I can live the rest of my life for You.  Thank You for Your sacrifice for me, and thank You that because of it, I can spend eternity with You.  In Jesus’ name,  Amen 

            If you chose to pray this, tell someone about it.  Telling others is an outward testimony about what has gone on in your heart and it helps to cement your decision to turn to God.  And get a Bible and start reading, and find a good, Bible-believing church so that you can grow alongside other believers.  And welcome to the Family!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why I Wrote This Blog!

            My reason for this blog:
            “. . . to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”  (Isaiah 61:1)

            The goal for all believers:
            “He called a little child and had him stand among them.  And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 18:2-4). 

            Well, hello there!  My name is Heather and this is not a blog.  Okay . . . yes, it is.  But not really, because there is no place for comments like on normal blogs.  But what I have put here are some resources that I hope will encourage and inspire other Christians on their walk with the Lord.  There is a section that explores “God’s Will,” where I share how I understand His “Will” and what it means for Christians.  There is a “Bible Study” that I put together, intended for people who have been walking with the Lord for a while.  There are some random, thought-provoking posts: questions to ask God and others, and a post on why we eat what we do.  And, in the October posts, there are two books that I spent the last five years writing.  And I am inviting you to read them for free.  Yep, that’s right . . . totally free!  
            Free?  That’s outrageous, you say.  Why would you do that?  And surely there must be some catch!   Honestly, there really is no catch.  Both books are free and both are here in their entirety.  In the “Why These Books Are Free” post, I explain more about why I put five years’ worth of work out there for free.  But for now, let me say that when God helps heal the damage caused by your past and when He gives you insights into how that happened, you want to share it with others.  To help them find healing.  To help them in their relationships – with themselves, with others, and ultimately, with God.  And this is why I am giving these books to you.  
            The first book, Child of Mine:  My “Sweetly Broken” Journey, is about  . . . well . . . my journey to being sweetly broken.  It’s about the good times and the bad as I have gone through the different stages of my life so far, from naive child to cocky young adult to smug married woman to confident mom.  And then, it’s about the fall that I took from that high horse.  It’s about the hard lessons I have learned and the beautifully-painful trials that have moved me from fearful self-sufficiency to being a “sweetly broken” child of God.  But mostly, it’s a story about how God can take broken pieces and make something beautiful. 
            And my story is not too different from so many other people’s stories.  We all have pasts full of pain and heartache and longing.  We all have fears and doubts and insecurities.  And whether we acknowledge it or not, these things affect our relationships – with ourselves, with others, and with God.  And I hope that by honestly sharing my story, you may find something of yourself in it, something that resonates with you and that helps bring you some encouragement or insight or healing.    
            But instead of just writing my story, I went a step further and wrote Through the Furnace:  Your “Sweetly Broken” Journey.  I took the lessons and insights that I gained during my “time in the furnace” and I put them into a workbook-style devotional guide to (hopefully) help you work through issues from your past and any hindrances in your relationship with God right now. 
            As a licensed counselor, I love helping others gain insights into their lives and overcome their hurts, scars, and fears.  I believe that my role as a counselor is not to tell people what to believe, but to gently encourage them and to walk beside them as they explore their lives and sort out truth from falsehood.  I believe that most of us just need some gentle guidance and some fresh perspective in order to overcome the things that weigh us down and to find the truth that is there.  With God’s help, of course. 
            And that is what I hope Through the Furnace does – that it helps you explore your own life and fears, with God’s help.  So that you can find God’s Healing and Truth and Love and have a more authentic, fulfilling relationship with Him.  Nothing would fill my heart more than to know that someone was helped by something they found in these books.  [Actually, what would fill my heart the most is to know “that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John verse 4)  But this is right up there with that.]   
            And just to let you know, both books can be done with other people, like a book club.  I provided some questions for each chapter of Child of Mine that you could print up and use as discussion questions.  They are in the "Child of Mine Fellowship Questions" post at the end of the Child of Mine book.  I recommend reading the chapter and answering the questions on your own first, and then getting together with your partner or group to discuss your answers over some wonderful snacks.  Good food and good fellowship!  Can't beat that!  

            Now, I’m going to say this up front so you know what you’re getting yourself into:  I am a rock solid, Bible-believing Christian.  So when I say “God,” I am not talking about some mystical, New Age version of God.  A god that is whatever or whoever we want it to be.  I do not believe that all roads lead to Heaven.  I do not believe that we can make up our own rules. 
            When I say “God,” I am talking about the God of the Bible.  I am talking about God the Father.  And the Holy Spirit.  And my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ . . . who provides us with the only way to Heaven.  And in order to have the most abundant and rewarding life here on earth and in eternity, we need to seriously consider our relationship with Him.  Because in the end, only what we do for Him and His kingdom will last.  It is my sincere hope and prayer that this blog will help you on your journey to the most enriching, complete relationship with Him possible.  Well, this side of eternity, at least.
Take care and God bless you!  And to God be all the glory!!!  Your friend in Christ,

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Understanding God's Will (UGW) Intro

            Alright, I need to say this up front.  I am no expert in “God’s Will” or in how He works or what the Bible says.  I can only tell you what I think and believe at this point in my life.  And that could change.  There could be a Bible verse that I didn’t know about that could alter my view.  God’s ways are a mystery.  And ironically, they become more mysterious the longer I walk with Him.  But this is how I understand it now.  (And I may refer to things that I wrote about in deleted posts.  But it should still make sense.  Hopefully.) 
            And despite the fact that I seem to have a lot of answers here, I also have my fair share of unanswered questions and doubts still.  We will always have deep, hidden doubts and fears, even as Christians.  (While I may have doubts and questions about how God acts and moves and answers prayer, I do not have any doubts about God’s existence or love.)  And these are usually hidden pretty good until we face trials and tragedies.  And then, all of a sudden, we’ll find ourselves thinking and wondering things that we never thought we would.  But I want it to be known that it is normal to have doubts and unanswered questions.  The key is to be honest with the Lord about them and to let them drive us closer to Him.  The more we do this, the more we will grow in our confidence and faith, and the more we will learn to seek refuge in Him when other doubts spring up.     
            Anyway, what I want to look at is how we view God’s Will versus how I think the Bible portrays God’s Will.  I think that there is so much confusion over this, because we have grown up with so many pat answers and assumptions about what it is and about how God works.  And I think that this is why “Finding His Will” has been so hard for me in the past.  Not only did I have misplaced hopes, fears, and a lot of expectations about how God “should” answer, but I also had many misconceptions about what “His Will” is and how to find it.           Let me start by looking at these two examples from my life: a job that I got and the first home we rented. 
            Just after my internship, I was looking for a part-time job.  I could only work a handful of hours a week since I had a toddler.  And they needed to be evening hours so that I could work when my husband, Jason, was home. 
            As I interviewed for a position, the interviewer assured me that I could do almost all the work in the evening and that there would be minimal interruption during the day.  And I asked several times to make sure.  As I considered all the facts, everything sounded pretty reasonable.  All I had against it was this tiny, little nagging sense that I wasn’t running it all past God.  It was just a hint of a feeling that something wasn’t right, that I was going off in my own wisdom, and that God might actually want me to say “no,” or to at least slow down and pray and wait for guidance.  But the details all seemed right, and I couldn’t see any real reason not to take it.  And I needed the job (or I thought I did).  It was an open door, so it must be God’s Will, right? 
             Well, it was a few weeks after I got the job that I learned that it was very disruptive to my day.  This was a crisis-management counseling position, and so I had to be there when called upon.  And I was called upon at all hours of the day, several times a week.  I had to drop everything and ask my husband to come home from work so that I could attend staff meetings with the teens in the hospitals, sometimes up to an hour away. 
            I only made it four months before burning out and needing to find a new job.  Had I just slowed down and listened to that still, small voice (which I didn’t really recognize as the Holy Spirit at the time), I would have been spared a lot of trouble.  Thankfully, God allowed me to find a much more convenient part-time job after that, a position that opened up just as I was leaving the other one.  He is sovereign! 
            But, you might be wondering, maybe all this was God’s Will?  Maybe He planned it all to happen that way to get me into that second position?  Maybe, but I don’t think so.  I had the sense that I was rushing ahead of God, and yet I didn’t listen.  I believe that He might have had a different plan in mind, but I missed it with my hasty choice.  He, however, took my mistake and worked it into a new plan.   
            And another time that I made a hasty choice was in regards to the first house that we rented.  We were in an apartment out by my grad school (Miss ya, Trinity!), but we were looking to move back home by Jason’s work.  My mom and step-dad, Bob, owned some rental houses there.  And Bob called me up one day and offered to rent a house out to us.  Something inside (or Someone) said, “Wait!  Check it out first.”  But I didn’t listen.  My reasoning said, “He’s my step-father.  Of course he wouldn’t rent out to me something that wasn’t fit for us.  I’ll just have faith that God brought this because it’s for the best.”
            Well, after we said “Yes” and made plans to move, we got to see this home.  And we were horrified.  It was disgusting and filthy.  It reeked of animal pee, the carpet was soiled, and there were fleas and mice poop all over.  (We had to bomb it three times for fleas.  And I was eight months pregnant.)  And it was like a fun house at a carnival, with walls ever-so-slightly slanted this way and that.  And it was tiny, tiny, tiny.  It was so filthy that we had to live with my parents for a month so that it could get fixed up enough to not be a health hazard.  (Bob hadn’t really kept watch on the previous renters, so he didn’t even really know what condition it was in.)
            And then, as house prices rose and we had a second child and I decided to stay home and we couldn’t make enough money to move up, we got stuck in that house for several very unhappy, very depressing years.  Thankfully, God eventually moved us to a better place, but I wonder how things might have turned out had I listened to the Spirit’s quiet nudges or took the time to pray.  So was the path that we took God’s Will for us, His preplanned path, to get us where we are now?  Or did we have some responsibility for what happened and where we ended up, especially since I knew that we didn’t seek God’s advice in the first place? 
            I think the first thing we need to do when we talk about God’s Will is to define it.  When we say, “God’s Will,” I think there are actually three different things that we are referring to:  God’s desires, God’s plans, and what actually happens.  If you said, “It’s God’s Will that I moved to Denver,” it could be that you think it’s what God desired for you, or that it’s what He preplanned for you, or that it was God’s Will because God always does what He wants, so if a move to Denver worked out then it must have been God’s Will.  You know, the whole “Whatever happens is what God wanted because God always does what He wants” argument.  
            I think it causes a lot of confusion when we lump them all together as “God’s Will,” because they are all different things.  So, what is it?  Is His Will best understood as His desires (what He wants to have happen), His plans (what He has planned to have happen), or what actually happens?  And does He cause what happens or just allow what happens?    
            And we add to the confusion when we believe that since God is all-powerful, He’ll always do whatever He wants to do, His plans are fixed.  And we respond to this belief in one of two ways: 
            1.  We go through life doing “whatever” and falling through whatever “open doors” are there because God always does what He wants or plans, regardless of us.  Right?  Or . . .
            2.  We stress ourselves out over finding His Will because we believe that He planned one particular, “right” path for us.  And we have to find it.  Or else! 
            The first way causes us, I think, to be lazy in our spiritual disciplines, in seeking righteousness, in obedience, and in prayer, because we don’t believe that we have an effect on God’s Will.  (Been there!)  And the second way causes us to freeze up and panic about making decisions, because we believe that we have to find the path that He wants us to take or we will be out of “His Will.”  (Definitely been there!)     
            This thinking also causes pain and heartache when we face tragedies, like a death or natural disaster or illness.  Whatever God plans, happens.  Right?  And so, whatever happens is because God planned it.  (And if God planned it and caused it, then there is no such thing as free-will.  We are just puppets on a string, acting out our prewritten roles.  Right?)  We know that God could’ve stopped it if He wanted to, so He either didn’t care, He wanted this to happen, He isn’t all-powerful, or our prayers didn’t matter.
            Did He plan it?  Was it “His Will”?  Does He always do whatever He wants?  Do our prayers make any difference at all?  Or is our understanding of God’s Will off?  And do we have more of a role in and responsibility for God’s Will than we realize?  
            So to better understand “God’s Will,” we need to first define it.  Desires?  Plans?  Or everything that happens?  Personally, I think that “His Will” is most accurately defined as what He desires.  It’s what He desires for us (the choices He wants us to make and the path He wants us to take, etc.), and it’s what He desires from us (living God-glorifying lives and being obedient, etc.). 
            His Will isn’t about a pre-set path.  It’s about how He wants us to live - abiding in Him and in daily obedience to Him and His Word.  We make problems for ourselves when we confuse seeking His Will with seeking His “pre-set plans” for us.  Because He does not (usually) reveal His plans for us ahead of time.  And, for the most part, I do not think that there are pre-set plans for us.  Yes, I think that in His love and wisdom, He has “best plans” for us.  But I do not think that His paths and plans are pre-set and unchangeable.  They hinge on us.  Our behavior, choices, and obedience to Him and His Word have a major effect on if His best plans for us happen or not.
            In the Old Testament, we get an idea of how God works with people.  And generally, He clearly lays out two paths: the blessing path and the curse path.  And the people decide which path they take by their obedience or rebellion.  Yes, God has some long-term, overarching plans that He is working out over the course of history (salvation and restoration), and we can’t change those.  (Thank God!)  But He leaves it up to us which path we take in our individual lives to get to that end.   
            I do not think that God always does whatever He desires or that He forces His plans on us.  I do not think that everything that happens is because God wanted it or planned it to happen.  We have responsibilities and an effect on life, and we are responsible for many of the consequences.  And this is just how He has set up life.  Not everything that happens is “God’s Will.”  And finding His Will is not about finding “the next step.”  (Sometimes, it is – like when it is time for Him to reveal the next step.) 
            And this is where I get hung up.  I needlessly exhaust myself in search of His future plans, when I should be searching for His Will today - for how He wants me to live in my daily life, as revealed in His Word and in prayer.  And as long as I am doing that, the next step would become clear to me as I went along, abiding in Him and living in daily obedience to Him and His Word.  That is where my focus should be, not on finding “the path.”      
            He doesn’t promise to reveal His path and plans for me because I’m desperately searching for them.  He holds the future, and doesn’t let us in on that ahead of time.  But He does promise to guide me (one step at a time) and care for me when I am doing His Will as revealed in the Bible - living in humility, fearing Him, seeking wisdom, living righteously, praying, and obeying, among others.   As shown in the Bible, these things are His Will for me.                  
            Psalm 25:9, 12:  “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. . . . Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord?  He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.”
            Proverbs 2:1-2, 9, 11:  “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding . . .  Then you will understand what is right and just and fair - every good path . . . Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.”
            Proverbs 11:3:  “The integrity of the upright guides them . . .”
            Isaiah 33: 15, 16:  “He who walks righteously and speaks what is right . . . this is the man who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress.  His bread will be supplied, and water will not fail him.”  
            Jeremiah 6:16:  “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.  But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’“  (Italics are mine.) 
            Humility, wisdom, integrity, righteousness, seeking “the good way,” and obeying are what will take us down the good, restful path.  But that path is not pre-set and fixed.  Because we can refuse to look for or go down that path.  We can refuse to include Him in our choices.  We can disobey.  His plans for our individual lives don’t just happen apart from our effort and obedience.  But how much time and energy do we waste worrying and fretting and wavering, all because we are searching for His plan while neglecting His Will?   
            And so the sobering thought is . . . we have a choice in whether or not we fulfill “His Will.”  His Will (at least what He desires from us) is not a mystery; it’s all there in His Word.  But do we take the time to discover it?  Do we abide in Him?  Do we put aside our own selfish desires and plans in obedience to Him instead?  Or do we just want to know what the next step is?   
            Since His Will is about how we live our lives and our obedience to what He calls us to do, I think that His Will goes undone many, many times.  When we don’t seek to know what He expects out of us in His Word, when we don’t obey the Spirit’s nudges, when we don’t pray, when we ignore needs that we see, when we do not do the good that we know we should do, when we violate one of His commands, etc., His Will doesn’t get done. 
            Our problem is that we would much rather seek His plans than seek Him with our whole hearts.  We would much rather believe that His Will has to do with finding out His plans or His path than it does with reforming our life.  We want a quick open door, not a makeover of our spiritual lives and disciplines.  We want the blessings without any work or responsibility on our parts.  And we want to believe that everything happens because He made it happen, not because it was some consequence of our own doing. 
            But we do have responsibilities and we do create consequences.  His best plans for us don’t always happen because we can choose to obey or disobey, and we can choose to pray or not.  He allows us to do that.  And He allows us the consequences.   He honors our free-will and our choices and allows us to have an influence over what happens in life, for good or for bad.  We have a hand in (and a responsibility in) making His Will happen and in reaping “blessings or curses.”  By obedience, righteous living, and prayer. 
            Yes, God is all-powerful and He does indeed know what is best.  And whatever He does is best.  But just because He knows what’s best and wants what’s best doesn’t mean that He causes those things to happen, apart from man’s cooperation.  I believe that He voluntarily limits His use of power in causing things to happen.  He does not use His power to force things.  He doesn’t do “His Will,” regardless of us.  He hinges it on us.   
            Now, I’m sure that this has brought up more questions than it has answered.  So I want to look at some of the questions that you might want to ask right now.  And I want to fill in the answers in more depth and with the Scripture that supports it.  Now, I hate to be redundant, I really do.  I hate being redundant, saying the same thing over and over again, kicking a dead horse, repeating myself.  But in the name of being clear and thorough, I will repeat much of what I’ve already said.  So bear with me.