Friday, October 19, 2012

COM Ch 20A: Your Will Be Done?

Chapter 20A:  Your Will Be Done?

            Over the two decades that I have been a Christian, I have tried really hard to learn Scriptural truths and to apply them to my life.  I tried too hard.  I was missing the forest for the trees.  I ended up missing out on a rich, secure relationship with the Lord because I was too busy trying to do it right and meet His requirements.  I was so afraid of the wrath of the Old Testament God that I couldn’t enjoy the love of the New Testament God. 
            And the Bible wasn’t a way to get near to Him and to enjoy getting to know Him, it was a “To Do” list.  Do this, don’t do that, do that instead, do it again and do it right, and I’ll give you what you ask.  But when things didn’t seem to be working out the way that I wanted, I ended up disappointed in God and confused about why my “faith” wasn’t working.  I had thought that I was doing it right.  What happened? 

            Through all of this, God had been teaching me a very important lesson, something that took me decades to realize:  He is not a “formula.”  He is not a code to be cracked or a method to follow.  He is a Living Being that doesn’t want our “service” or “performance” as much as He wants our hearts.  (Or more accurately, I should say that He wants our hearts first, then our service.)  And He knows that we cannot truly be satisfied with just His gifts and His care.  We need Him.  As I said in an earlier chapter, I was learning this lesson.  But it was still so difficult - finding God’s Will.  Why?  Why did it have to be so hard?
            Obviously, for me, the first step to finding His Will was learning to want His Will.  (There is a long chapter on "Understanding God’s Will" in the November posts.  It was originally included in the appendix of this book and listed as Chapter 20B.  It's what I learned about "God's Will" after this whole book was written, which is why it was placed after this book originally.  But as I posted these to the blog, I decided to put that chapter up front because not everyone will want to read through my story first.  And I would love to share all that I learned about God's Will as I struggled through my understanding of it, even if no one wants to read this.  So that's why it's a little out of order now.  But if you haven't already, be sure to read it after you finish this book!) 
            But I could only really want His after I gave up mine, after I gave Him the right to say “no” to mine.
            “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.”  (Proverbs 16:3)  Committing my plans to Him meant putting my hopes and dreams into His hands, and allowing Him to do what He wanted to do with them.  And so I did, when I was forced to give up the home that we were ready to close on.  And again, when I handed over my desire for a large yard and my concerns over the mold.  That wasn’t easy. 
            In fact, I was crushed at first.     
            And I found myself playing the martyr again, the good step-child.  Lord, Don’t worry about me.  You don’t have to do anything for me.  I’m fine.  I’ve been here before.  It doesn’t really matter.  I don’t care anymore.”  But I did.  I really did. 
            By this time, I knew that a big part of having a right relationship with God was to be transparent, even with the pain.  And so I knew that I had to admit to Him and to myself the truth, or I would risk putting up walls again. 
            Lord, yes, I really do want a comfortably big, beautiful home with a large yard.  I want one that is aesthetically pleasing to us, that feels homey and that would fit our family for years to come.  I want one that I can garden in and still have room for the kids to run.  I’m afraid of getting a ‘no’ answer.  I really am.  It hurts to have to give up my dream of a nice home to raise my family in.  It hurts, but I’m trying.  And I do believe that You will guide us when it is time.  Help my unbelief.”
            I knew that if I couldn’t be fully honest with Him, I wouldn’t be able to get past it.  If I harbored these thoughts as secrets, they would grow and get more deeply entrenched.  They would become a wall between the Lord and me, putting distance between us and preventing me from finding and submitting to His Will.  And so I got transparent before God and placed these thoughts and struggles in His hands.  Sometimes being honest is all we can do.
            And then I spent some time ruminating over why the wait was so stressful.  And I eventually began to realize what the problem was.  It wasn’t that God was being difficult or letting me down.  It was me.  (Big surprise, huh?)  It was not God or His ways that were causing my pain and confusion.  It was actually my expectations, my misplaced hope, and, once again, my fears that were getting in the way and causing my anxiety and frustration. 
            Basically, I had been making it harder than it had to be.  And God was about to reveal to me so many mistakes that I was making and the fears that I had when it came to trying to find His Will.  (One of them being trying to make God into a code to be cracked:  If I just put the code in correctly, then the vault would open, right?) 
            For a long time, the sustaining hope I had was that God would miraculously intervene and pull us from our situation.  Maybe someone would call us up and say, “Hey, I have a house for you.  It’s in great condition, furnished, and right where you want it to be.  It has a large yard and it only costs half of what you’d be able to afford.” 
            The thoughts underlying my prayers were like this:  Oh, Lord!  I’m going to have faith because I have some hope that you’ll make our plan A work.  I’ll even settle for plan B!”  But now, I had no plan C or D, even.  I had nothing but confusion and a darkened path and hope in some vague idea of how He should handle it.
            I would dream up all these silly scenarios like, “Maybe God will cause so-and-so to get us a lottery ticket for Christmas and it will win all the money we need.”  (Because I won’t buy one myself.)  Or “Maybe my school loans will be paid off by an anonymous donor who randomly picked a loan to pay off out of the goodness of their hearts.  And we can have the extra couple hundred dollars a month to put toward a home.” Or “Maybe some rich, old person will retire to Florida and the Lord will impress it upon their hearts to give us their home here.”  And these fantasies kept me going, kept me from losing hope.  These daydreams gave me a little sense of, Okay, I can go on!  After all, relief is right around the corner . . . somehow.   
            I knew that they were ridiculous fantasies, but I had “faith” that God could work it out this way if He wanted.  And deep down, I believed that God was pleased with my bold level of faith in Him and that He would honor that with an answer, with a miracle.  If I believed and didn’t doubt, God would make it happen.  Not necessarily in a way that I dreamed about, but somehow!  And so I would subtly remind God that I was doing my best to believe and not doubt, and so now He “owed” me my answer.  (Usually by playing the martyr card, the “look how patiently I am waiting for You and how I trust You” card.) 
            As the wait got longer and longer, though, and nothing was happening, I began to put the pressure on God by trying to pray my expectations into reality.  I began reminding God that I was still there and trying to nudge Him into action by revealing options that He may have overlooked.  As though He needed help finding an answer to our prayers.  
            You know, Lord, there’s a little house here that doesn’t sound too bad!  I think we can make it work?  Is this Your Will?  Should I reach out to that little old lady who lives across the street?  Maybe she needs a friend (and maybe she’s ready to retire to Florida)?  No answer!  Okay, but I’m here, still waiting, in case You have anything You want to tell me!  I’ll be right here . . . waiting!”
            Just as I caused stress for myself when I expected that I would get to eat a snack in private or a chance to rest my eyes when the kids were around, I was learning that my expectations of how God will answer or how He should work were causing me much discontent.  Because if things didn’t work out according to my daydreams - according my firm, imaginative “faith” in His ability to perform a miracle for us - then I became disappointed with God, with myself, and with life. 
            Now, not only did my expectations cause discontent and confusion, but so did my misplaced hopes.  I was sitting in a seminar recently (to meet my counseling license requirements) and the speaker was mentioning how hope can keep people going through the toughest circumstances.  And I realized that, all this time, I had been able to keep going because I believed that if I just waited long enough, God would bring us what we wanted.  You know, Hebrews 11:1:  “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  Well, I hoped for a home and I had faith that God could do it, and I was certain that God would reward that eventually. 
            But as I sat there, not paying attention to the speaker and consumed with depression over the long wait, the Holy Spirit began to challenge me with a few questions:  What if, after all this waiting, I didn’t eventually get what I wanted?  What would that mean?  Would God be any less God?  Would He still be a good, holy God, worthy of praise? 
            And it was then that I realized that I had misplaced my hope and my faith.  I had been putting my hope and my faith in the strength of my hope and my faith, and in my idea of what God would do.  Not in God as He is.  If I just hung in there and hoped to the end, God would make it work the way that I had faith He would.  Right? 
            My attitude seemed to be, “My will be done and then I will praise You” or “I’m praising You, so I’m sure You’ll do it my way.”  But putting my hope and faith in God would mean saying (and really meaning), “Your Will be done and I will praise You, regardless.”  I needed to base my hope and my faith on God as He is, not on how He answered my prayers. 
            And on top of my expectations and misplaced hope, I also had many fears that made it hard to have peace during the long wait and God’s silence.  What if I missed God’s “sign” when I thought I was being wise to wait?  What if I got confused and ended up trying to make something happen that wasn’t God’s Will?  What if I got blinded by my own desires? 
            I’ve made many mistakes before in finding God’s Will.  In the never-to-be-adoption, I put God’s name on my will and prayed to that end, instead of really listening to Him.  And I’ve made the mistake of assuming that a job opportunity and the first house we rented must have been God’s Will because they happened so easily.  I accepted them without further inquiring of God.  The details sounded good, and they fell into our laps.  So it must be from Him, right?  But did I stop to ask if it was from Him?  Did I wait for His answer?  Nope! 
            How different might my life be if I listened to that still, small voice that said, “Wait and pray about it!” or “Don’t take this job!”  And I really did have an unsettling sense that something was just not right with the job offer and that I should see the house first before saying “yes.”  (My parents owned it, so I figured that it must be in good condition.)  But I didn’t listen and I didn’t take the time to pray over it.  And so I think that I ended up on a path that wasn’t God’s first choice for me.  That being said, I really don’t know how different our lives would be, and I don’t necessarily want to know because I do like where God has us in life now.  (Not necessarily the house we’re in, but in life in general.) 
            But that’s what I fear about trying to make something happen, about rushing ahead without absolute assurance that it’s God’s Will.  I could end up missing out on the path that God would have led us down if I try to make my will happen.  And His way is always better.  Thankfully, though, God is merciful and sovereign and has many back-up plans.  And He promises to work everything out for good, even our mistakes.  But it still means that I would miss out on His original plan for me, if I had just listened and obeyed in the first place!   
            Honestly, it’s this fear of making bad choices and reaping the bad consequences that freezes me up when trying to find His Will.  I know that I can make choices that are not His Will.  But just because I can do something (even if it seems to work out or it came easily) doesn’t mean that it was His Will.  I can choose to do the wrong thing.  God lets us make choices.  I don’t have to choose His way. 
            I mean, of course, I trust God to do what’s right.  And I know that whatever He does is always for the best.  The problem, I realize though, is that I just don’t trust me.  I don’t trust myself to be able to really hear Him correctly.  What if my own thoughts drowned out His voice and I wasn’t able to hear Him correctly?  What if I couldn’t recognize the right house, even if He put it right in front of my face?  He wouldn’t fail me, but I might!  I put more stock in my ability to screw it all up than I did in God’s ability to come through loud and clear.       
            I had built my expectations up so high that nothing short of Jesus himself coming down here with the keys and the address would help me know which house was for us.  I had been wrong before about God’s Will, how could I know anything for sure?  I fear that His “sign” might be so subtle that I’d miss it.  Then I’d be left to fumble through life by myself, reaping the consequences that I deserved for being such a failure at hearing God.  (I especially feel this way when I haven’t done my devotions in a while).
            And I will admit, in all humiliating honesty, that as I wait to see what God’s answer is about a house for us, I am also afraid that His answer might not be exactly what we want and that I will have to accept way less than what I had always hoped for.  And so, way deep down, I realize that I’m not sure that I want to know what His answer will be.  It’s like someone who won’t go to the doctor because they know that there will be bad news.  If I don’t really seek His Will then I can’t get let down - in case it’s a disappointment.  And if His answer is not what I am looking for, I might overlook it.  I might miss God’s Will because my wants would blind me.  And I’d end up going after what I wanted instead, something that wasn’t His Will. 
            And the one that hurts the most right now, I am afraid of building up too much expectation in my children.  We’d been let down before, losing the last house we tried to get.  What if we encouraged our kids to pray for a house and God brought a little, rinky-dink place that just met our basic needs?  I knew that I would still do my best to praise Him in that and to bring Him glory.  But how would they feel about God then?  Their faith is still so new.  Would they feel that He let them down?  It was one thing for me to get my heart broken, but my children?  It broke my heart just to think of breaking theirs.
            We visited one house once.  A really nice, split-level house that the kids really liked.  Jason and I knew that it was more than we could afford and that we were just looking.  But the kids didn’t realize that.  As we walked out, Kody looked me in the eyes and said, “So, when are we moving in?”  His eyes were so full of life and joy, and his smile was so huge and free.  It broke my heart.  I choked up as I realized that I was seconds away from crushing the hope and joy that he had.
            “Oh, Honey, we can’t get this house.  We’re just looking.”  His smile fell, and he stood up straight and tall and said that it was okay, that he knew that.  He rolls with disappointment as good as anyone I’ve ever seen.  Just sucks it up, puts on a smile, and moves on.  Breaks my heart!   
            And if all this isn’t enough to get me down, I also feel bad for doubting God.  Like He’s too small of a God for me and this problem is too big for Him.  I have shortened His arm.  Surely, He would have His reasons for however He answered, and it would be my responsibility to praise Him and to make sure that my kids understood that God’s name will be glorified no matter what.  But it’s still hard and I feel like such a failure.  And I wanted so badly to “wait well.”   
            And that’s another thing that really trips me up when waiting for Him to reveal His Will.  The . . . well . . . the waiting!  So many times in my humanness, I want to hold on tight to my life, to have full control over my circumstances.  Subconsciously, I believe that if I have the control and agonize over every detail then I can head off any problems before they start.  But having to wait on someone else means relinquishing any control that I thought I had. 
            And we usually have to wait a lot longer than we are comfortable with for Him to reveal the next step.  And I hate to wait.  I hate to be in the dark.  And so I fight His timing a lot, even though I know that the Bible says that He makes all things beautiful in His time and that He is never slow in keeping His promises. 
            No, it’s not that He’s too slow; it’s that I’m too fast.  I don’t like to struggle with the uncertainty and the pain that come with waiting.  And honestly, I don’t really like it that He usually reveals only one step at a time.  I would like to see the whole picture before I trust.  But that’s part of needing to be in control.  And it’s a part of me that I need to have transformed by the Spirit.  Waiting for God to make all things beautiful means learning to be content with “ugly” and “undone” until then.     
            I’ve done it wrong for so long.  I’ve, once again, lived in my fears.  I was completely consumed with anxiety and worry.  I was focused more on my expectations, hopes, and fears than I was on Him and His abilities.  And I was too paralyzed with fear to think clearly.  Oh, how strong I thought I once was! 
            And this cannot bring about the kind of peace, patience, faith, and trust that come with doing it God’s way.  If I wanted to wait well, I needed to start focusing more on the Solution than on the problems.  I needed to be less concerned with finding God’s plan, and more concerned with . . . just finding God.     
            After that seminar and the Spirit’s challenging questions, God gently admonished me about my pursuit of that house, that idol.  And He gave me the key to waiting well:  Your hope of eventually getting what you want should not sustain you.  My grace should sustain you.  My grace is sufficient for you.” 
            My grace!  My grace!  My grace?  What is grace? 
            It’s the very thing that keeps us alive.  It’s the reason that I am breathing each and every day.  The reason that my heart beats, that we have our health, our children, forgiveness, salvation, flowers, beautiful fall days, Today, and everything God has blessed us with.  It’s God giving of Himself to us, in His own generous, wise way.  And it’s letting God be enough for us, regardless of wants left unfulfilled, dark times, and closed doors. 
            I can’t force Him to reveal the next step before it is time, but I can stop living for the moment that He reveals that step.  I can start living in Him during the wait, in a way that pleased Him.  Because I’m sure that my fretting, anxiousness, and worrying were not pleasing to Him, nor were they accomplishing anything.  Waiting well on God is not putting my life on hold until God shows me the next step.  It’s realizing that the journey is more important than getting the answer. 
            As time goes on, I am beginning to see “waiting” in a different light.  Waiting on God is not the same thing as doing nothing.  It’s not just sitting back and waiting for the “go ahead.”  (Sometimes it is.)  It’s about actively seeking God’s face and about drawing near to Him, regardless of how long He tarries.  I could be spinning my wheels waiting for the green light (exhausting and discouraging myself in the process), or I could fill this time with productive things. 
            Once I stopped dreading the wait and began to accept it, I started to see the potential benefits of an extended time of waiting.  And now, it’s become a time to practice patience, to develop a transparent relationship with Him, and to evaluate how well I am living the fruit of the Spirit.  It’s become an opportunity to find ways to bring Him glory in the wait.  And as I start to take my focus off of me, I’m beginning to see the needs of those around me.   
            Also, I am learning that a time of waiting may necessarily be a time to search my heart and see if there is any offensive way in me, if there is any idol that I need to let go of, or any characteristic that needs to be matured.  (And yes, there are all of those!)  Also, God may intend for an extended time of waiting to be a time of discipline or refining.  He does allow trials in our lives specifically to grow us or to force us to seek Him.  But what happens with that trial and where we end up hinges on how we handle the journey. 
            It may be that it’s a time to see if there is anything blocking my relationship with God, as I should be doing daily anyway.  And it may be a time to consider if there are any sins that I need to seek forgiveness for.  Maybe God has been trying to get through to me, but He couldn’t because I have closed a door.  I believe that we have a great responsibility to examine our lives and our hearts to see if there is anything blocking God.  It is a Biblical truth that sin, disobedience, bitterness, pride, unforgiveness, being judgmental, etc., hinder our relationship with God, our ability to hear Him, and His ability to work in our lives.  But we don’t always know that they’re there until a trial or time of waiting exposes them. 
            As I came to realize, I had been trying to do “all the right things” and follow Biblical principles as a way to get what I wanted, instead of a way to get closer to God.  For so long, I thought that if I could just apply Verses X, Y, and Z, then I would get the prize.  But somewhere along the way, after the pain and confusion of the long wait, I began doing these things because the relationship with God mattered more than getting my answer.  And I think that sometimes God allows the wait to drag on too long so that we finally make it to this point.   
            And when I get to the point where I’ve done all that I can and there’s nothing else I can do, waiting becomes a time to just cling to Him.  To cling and to let Him become my all, to just rest in His arms in the darkness.  It’s not my job to know the whole future.  It needs to be good enough for me that He does, and that He will reveal it when it’s time.  One step at a time. 
            Oh, this is hard.  This is all so hard.  I want to see the big picture up front before I trust.  But that’s not faith.  Just like there are things that my children have no business being concerned about and that they need to leave up to me, there are things that I shouldn’t be concerned about and that I need to leave up to God. 
            My job is not to dwell on those, but to be still, to trust the Lord, and to do only the job that He has put in my path today.  Sometimes, it’s nothing more than to love and care for my family, to forgive and seek forgiveness, to look out for the needs of others, and to do my best to glorify Him in the my current situation.   
            And that’s one thing that I think we can do when there’s nothing else.  As we cling to Him during the confusion and the wait, we can do our best at the job that He gave us today, in this moment, for His glory.  We can take our eyes off of the future and all the things that we don’t know and can’t do and don’t have; and we can do our best in the job He gave us today. 
            Maybe . . . maybe this is what He’s waiting for?  Are we faithful with the jobs we already have?  Are we obeying what we already know is His Will, as revealed in the Bible?  Can we praise Him no matter what comes or doesn’t come our way?  Are we thankful for the blessings He has already given us?     
            These things, I’ve come to find out, are His Will for me.  I have been so focused on the unknown, distant plans of the future, that I was neglecting what He had already revealed as His Will in the Bible; particularly, thanksgiving and praise, especially during the pain and hard times.   
            Philippians 4:6-7:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” 
            I used to wonder if God instructed us to be thankful because it made Him feel good to be thanked.  And I’m sure it does.  But now I realize that it’s mostly for our benefit.  When I am anxious about something and I pray while focusing on my concerns, I fall deeper and deeper into my fears.  Why don’t I feel better?  Where is that peace that God said I would have if I prayed? 
            Oh, that’s right!  God says that I would have peace if I prayed with thanksgiving.  So I’ve been praying differently, and prayer has not been as stressful for me as it used to be.  I’ve already learned to be honest with my fears, my concerns, and my desires, but now I am adding a few things.       I’m confessing to Him that I struggle with trusting Him, with letting go and giving it all over to Him.  And I’m asking Him to help me with that.  But I am also trying to remember to recount all the things I am thankful for, things that I’ve learned through the trials and the ways He’s demonstrated His faithfulness and goodness to me before.  I’m learning to pray like this: 
            “Yes, Ryder’s teeth are decaying, Lord, and I’m praying for Your protection over them and for wisdom to know what to do and the money to do it.  But I’m thankful for the lessons that I learned because of this trial.  I’m thankful for all the things that I learned about eating healthier and for all the diet changes we have made since then.  I know that we will all be healthier overall because of it and that his adult teeth will have a better chance at being stronger because of these changes.  If his teeth hadn’t started decaying, I never would have made these changes.  So I am thankful for that.  I am also thankful for Your faithfulness in keeping him safe as we looked for the best treatment option and that You finally brought one that feels right.” 
            Remembering God’s faithfulness and blessings and practicing thankfulness make it easier to leave current fears and concerns in His hands.  God says that He sometimes purposely brings tough times to test our hearts or teach us a lesson.  (See Exodus 16:4, 20:20; Deuteronomy 8:2, 16; Judges 2:22, etc. )  And I don’t want to miss out on the lessons that come with the hard times, if He knows that they are lessons worth learning.  What a waste of a trial that would be?  To go through the hard time but to gain nothing from it because I despaired or sat in hopelessness would be an enormous waste of an opportunity for growth.  
            So I’m – once again - deliberately and consciously practicing thankfulness for the good things that I do have.  I’m trying to focus on enjoying His gifts, on the little things that brighten up each day.  Like taking a walk in the evening with my family or watching my kids laugh and ride bikes, or enjoying a rare, quiet moment.  I’m trying to see Him in “today,” instead of just trying to find Him in the future.  Before I lose sight of Him completely. 
            During this wait for an answer, Jen once tried to comfort me by saying, “Oh, just hang in there, You’ll find a house soon.  And I have a feeling God will really bless you when you do.”   It was a nice sentiment, a hopeful wish.  But I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that it may not be true!  God’s ways are not my ways.  My plans for myself are not necessarily His.  Maybe (gasp!) it will never happen for us the way we hope.  I may never get the place that I always wanted, the place that I always assumed I would have when I grew up. 
            And I had to ask myself . . . Could I be content with that?  Could I still praise God in that and bring Him glory no matter where He placed me?  Or, if He placed us somewhere I wasn’t happy with, would I let it become a source of bitterness for me?  After all, no amount of hoping would make it God’s Will if it wasn’t.  That was a hard thing to wrestle with, but God was convicting me on the Bible’s clear command to praise Him and to be thankful, no matter the circumstances.
            Psalm 96:4, 8:  “For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise . . . Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name . . .”
            Colossians 2: 6-7:  “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
            1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
            Hebrews 13:15:  “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that confess his name.” 
            Regardless of where or when God is going to lead us, His Will during the wait is that I learn to praise Him when I am hurting.  And sometimes it’s not what I want to do; sometimes it does feel like a sacrifice.  But that’s okay! 
            Does God call us to praise Him because He is some narcissistic God who needs to have His ego boosted?  Is it because He is a sadistic God that enjoys seeing people struggle to meet an unrealistic command to praise while they are in pain?  Is it because He just doesn’t care what we are going through or how we feel?
            No!  No!  And No!  Now, many, many godly writers have written on the subject of pain.  And I don’t intend to go into all that the issue involves.  But I would like to add my ideas about why I think we are commanded to praise Him in all things, even the pain.   
            When I praise Him, I am taking my focus off of my problems and my fears, and I am putting it on Him.  I am essentially acknowledging His goodness and power and wisdom to handle my situation.  And I think that this opens me up to His goodness, power and wisdom.  Whereas focusing on my problems shrinks God in my eyes and closes me off from those things.  
            And if, as 1 Thessalonians 5:18 shows us, it is God’s Will that I give thanks to Him in all things and I am not doing that, can I really expect Him to show me the next step in His Will for me?  When I am not doing what I already know is His Will for me?      
            Refusing to praise Him means that I am still grasping at straws, still searching for some angle to keep control of my situation, refusing to acknowledge His Lordship over my whole life.  It’s refusing to shoulder the daily cross that He has asked me to bear and refusing to “do life” His way.  And He can’t bless me for that!   
            When it comes to hard times, long waits, and unanswered prayer, many people choose to get angry and bitter.  And this happens when we judge God based on what we get in life, based on our expectations of what He should do.  But this is not knowing God as He is revealed in the Bible.  And I think that this closes us off further from God and our ability to hear Him and to feel His comfort and peace.  It’s a hardening of the heart, and this oftentimes leads to compounding problems and consequences.  But to start to praise Him in the pain means that we are beginning to understand who God really is, instead of viewing Him through our own misconceptions. 
            After Job lost all of his children and was in incredible anguish, he was able to say, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”  (Job 1:21)  Now, of course, after this he encounters more trials.  And eventually, he curses the day he was born and questions God.  But I think it is such a beautiful thing that Job understands God’s right to give or take away (even if he doesn’t really like it).  And that he pours out his pain and doubts honestly to God, letting it draw him nearer to Him.
            There are so many times in my life when I have forgotten that I need to be able to praise God’s name whether He chooses to give or take away.  That I need to glorify Him when He says “yes” or “no.”  Instead of learning to praise His name when He denies me some request I have made, I question the strength of my faith, I wonder if I asked in the right way or if I deserve the thing I am asking for, or I wonder if God is even listening or cares.  I fear that maybe I am a failure, and I try harder to make my request happen, as if it is my job to force “success.”  I consider everything except the idea that maybe He is simply asking me to accept His right to say “no” or to “take away”, and to learn to praise His name anyway. 
            I think a huge indication that we are humbled children that trust our Father and rest in His love is that we are able to say “Blessed be Your name” when God gives and when He takes away.  That we can draw near to Him whether He says “yes” or “no,” even if it means pouring out our pain and doubts and anger to Him.  Because this is when we have been able to fully put “self” aside and acknowledge His right to be God in our lives.   
            If we praised God only in the good times - if we acknowledged His goodness, power, wisdom, and love only when we were getting our way - then He wouldn’t really be God of our whole lives, would He?  But it’s when we can praise Him - no matter the circumstances - that we have acknowledged that He is God over every area of our lives. 
            Praising Him in the hard times ultimately is a way of humbling ourselves before Him.  It’s a way of saying, “You are God and I am not.”  It’s a way of saying, “I don’t see the big picture and I don’t have the answers, but I know that You do and so I trust You to handle it.”  This is when we fully let go of the control and the need to be in-the-know, and we hand it over to God.  This is when we become content with being His child and with Him being our Father.
            Even Jesus felt anguish at having to give up His desire to live so that He could go to the cross for us.  (And my sacrifice is so small by comparison.)  But He still did it.  Despite the incredible pain He was in and His desire to escape the cross, He still acknowledged God’s authority and wisdom and goodness when He said, “Yet not mine, but Your will be done.”  And also Jesus let His pain drive Him closer to God, by being honest with His Father about what He was feeling.  This is so important to maintaining a close relationship with God and an open heart to God.  We shouldn’t be afraid of offending God with our honesty; we should be afraid of closing Him off from our hearts by trying to hide our true thoughts and feelings from Him.       
            But how can I praise Him, you ask, when I don’t feel like it?  Well, simply put, praising Him is not a function of our emotions.  It’s not something we do because we “feel like it.”  He doesn’t say, “Be happy!”  He says “Praise!”  And praise is a verb, not a feeling we have to drum up.  When you read the passages, you’ll see that it’s a command to our wills.  And sometimes, as it says, it is a sacrifice.  But it’s something that we need to do because of who God is and who we are, regardless of if we feel like it or not.
            And we can praise Him in the hard times by accepting the things that have happened as from His hand.  We can praise Him by being honest with Him, by running to Him with our pain.  We can praise Him by finding something in it to be thankful for (there is always something if we look hard enough).  We can praise Him by finding ways to bring Him glory in the hard times.  We can praise Him by obeying.  And if nothing else, we can praise Him by falling down at His feet or in His arms and saying, “I will trust.  God help me trust.” 
            As I said before, I think we give more power and authority over our lives to our feelings.  And that is not how it is supposed to be.  While God delights in us when we obey with joy, I think He still honors and blesses the decisions that come strictly out of our wills.  Even if our feelings are not joyful and peaceful and loving . . . yet.  And even when we don’t feel like praying certain prayers, He still responds to those prayers that we pray solely from our wills.  And if we continue to do the things that we know we are supposed to do, our feelings will catch up. 
            Feelings are fickle.  But faith is a choice!  Obedience is a choice!  I don’t think it’s going to hold any water with God if we stand before Him and use “our feelings” as an excuse for why we didn’t obey Him.
            “Lord, I didn’t feel like making my kids a top priority.  I wanted my own life.  They got in the way of my happiness and my dreams for myself.” 
            “Lord, I didn’t feel like sticking it out with my wife.  I wanted to pursue a more fulfilling relationship.” 
            “Lord, I didn’t want to work hard at my job because it’s not what I wanted to be doing and I didn’t like my boss.”  
            “Lord, I didn’t want to read my Bible because I was so tired and stretched thin.” 
            “Lord, I didn’t want to wait for You to guide because the wait was too long and painful.”
            “Lord, I didn’t want to forgive . . . to speak only kind words . . . to look to the needs of others . . . to practice self-control . . . to tithe . . . to obey . . . to praise . . . because I just didn’t feel like it.” 
            Can you imagine using these excuses before the Lord and hearing, “Oh, that’s okay.  Because you didn’t feel like it, I’ll let it slide.”?  I think many of us need a severe wake-up call in this kind of thinking - before we find ourselves standing before the Lord in shame and regretting the things that “could have been” if we had just done what we knew God wanted us to do. 
            This doesn’t mean it’s easy to do.  In fact, it’s terribly hard to remain faithful and obedient when the journey seems so long and the trials seem so large and the temptations look so good.  Most of us are like monkeys in a lab experiment when it comes to obedience.  When we obey or do the right thing, we want our blessing immediately.  I pushed the lever; I want my treat.  But God doesn’t necessarily work that way.  He has reasons for the trials and hard times.  He trains us and refines us through them.  But it takes perseverance and faithfulness and clinging.  Wandering in the desert for forty years or going through a refining fire or holding up under temptation is not for the faint of heart! 
            As I struggle with the unknown future, I have to put my hope not on getting what I want, but on the fact that God will work out His plans as long as my eyes are squarely on Him.  And I need to not dwell on and act on my feelings, but dwell on and act on the Word of God.  And when I do this - and when I continue to do this - my feelings will eventually get in line, and I will find out that God has grown me in so many ways that I didn’t even know I needed to be grown in. 
            It’s a little-known secret that this is the way that feelings work, that they follow our thoughts and our focus.  But most of us don’t want to know this secret because we’d rather let our feelings lead and hope that God accepts them as a valid excuse.  But God will not bless the decisions that we make when we follow our feelings; He blesses us for our obedience, when we follow Him, whether or not we feel like it.  And this is why it’s so important - when our feelings confuse us - to set our minds on the things above and not on earthly things.  (Colossians 3:2) 
            I can’t force the door open, but I can fix my eyes on the Lord and His Word in the meantime.  No matter what is going on in my life, I need to see what God expects of me from His Word.  And I need to believe that He holds the future and will work things out for good, or I’m gonna end up in despair and hopelessness.  I need to trust that He will guide when it’s time, or I’m going to freak out and step out on my own. 
            Psalm 37:5 says, “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.” 
            Ultimately, I need to stop focusing on me and bring it all back to Him.  Committing my way to the Lord means honestly presenting my hopes and dreams and plans to Him, but then allowing Him to change whatever doesn’t fit with His Will.  It means being willing to let Him close doors and open doors as He sees fit, instead of just praying that He opens the doors that I want Him to and then parking myself in front of those doors until He does.  It means being willing to obey, even if I don’t like or understand what He’s asking me to do, trusting that He has His reasons and His timing and that He will work it all out for good in the end.    
            And Proverbs 4:6-7 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”  Trust with all your heart!  Lean not on your understanding!  Acknowledge Him in all your ways!  And then He will make your paths straight. 
            Throughout this whole search for His Will about a house, I was willing to trust only if I could see the road ahead and if it ended in me getting my way.  I was leaning on my own understanding of what I needed and what was best for me.  Oh, I was acknowledging Him in my ways, but not in all my ways.  Throughout this whole waiting time, my focus has been on the wrong things.  My heart was consumed with an idol.  And my joy and hope rested on getting what I wanted.  And I ended up miserable, deafened to the Holy Spirit’s leading, and way off-track in my spiritual walk. 
            And I was so consumed with my hunt for a home that I neglected to acknowledge Him in so many other areas of my life.  Was I treating others the way I should?  Was I watching my tongue?  Was I building others up?  Was I seeking to draw closer to Him, for the sake of the relationship?  Or was I just so focused on the answer that I was waiting for and on how frustratingly silent He was?  That’s what happens when you have an idol.  You become so focused on it that it eclipses your focus on Him in other areas of your life. 
            And I have been so concerned with the future and with what I don’t have that I was forgetting to enjoy what God has already given me.  I was forgetting what He is capable of.  And this makes it so easy to forget what a good God I serve.  But praising Him, even in the pain . . . praising Him shifts my focus from the cloud to the silver lining.  No, it shifts my focus from the cloud to the Maker of the cloud. 
            I have accepted the fact that God isn’t guiding us anywhere, yet.  (In fact, what if He is actively working to keep us here for some reason and I am fighting Him every step of the way?  What kind of blessings and lessons am I failing to see in my pursuit of what I don’t have?)  And we continue to keep our eyes open for the door that He would open. 
            But I thank God for this wait.  Because it is teaching me to put my faith not in the God that I think He should be, but in the God that He is.  What I need to be sure of and certain of is not that my answer is right around the corner, but that God is at work and will bring about His Will, in His time and in His way.       
            Most of my discontent came from feeling like God owed me something that He wasn’t giving me.  But as I began to release my expectations, misconceptions, and fears, and my plans, dreams, and efforts to the Lord, I felt something unexpected happen - a tiny, little wellspring of peace bubbled up from deep inside.  As I began to rely less and less on my wisdom and strength and to let go of the need to be in control and to see the future, I began to rely more and more on Him. 
            Even though I still have no answers and no assurances from Him, I found myself one day actually peacefully resting in His care.  And somewhere deep inside, I could feel a sense of . . . what is that?  Joy?  Yeah, I think it’s joy!  And I have never felt that kind of deep, abiding, makes-no-earthly-sense joy before.  Joy and peace in the midst of pain.  And I have to say, there is nothing quite like the feeling of being able to praise Him and enjoy Him when you are hurting.   It’s so . . . bittersweet.  So deeply satisfying in an odd way.  And it makes me feel stronger.  Not in myself, but in Him.
            You know, it’s funny, but it wasn’t until I was working on corrections for this book that I noticed the similarity between the key lessons I learned as a parent in chapter 7 and the keys lessons I learned to “waiting well.”       
            Lesson #1:  If I want to maintain my sanity, I need to let go of my expectations of how I think God should act.  And instead, I should be willing to look for the unexpected ways He may be working in my life.  I need to leave the door open to how He chooses to answer, instead of closing it with how I think He should answer.   
            Lesson #2:  To maintain my peace and trust, I should look no further into the future than the here-and-now.  I should do the job that He gave me to do today, to the best of my ability and for His glory.  And let Him take care of the future.  As I like to say, “I just need to focus on my job, and let Him do His job.”   
            Lesson #3:  To maintain my joy, I need to count my blessings.  I need to practice thankfulness every day and with every prayer, seeing Him anywhere that I can find Him in “today.”  And, if I may suggest, smile a lot and sing a lot, for sometimes they are the only things we have any control over.     
            Lesson #4:  Be humble.  Be needy, helpless, and dependent . . . daily!  Be needy for Him, not just for what He can do for me!  Be helpless to handle life on my own, knowing that He is my source of strength and comfort, and that He holds the future and I don’t need to know what’s in it.  Be dependent on prayer and the Word, knowing that this is how I will know what God’s Will is for me, what He expects out of me.   
            As long as I am walking according to His Word and seeking righteousness, He will work out His plan in my life.  I don’t need to be so concerned with having Him reveal His Will to me ahead of time.  I need to be more concerned with seeking Him, living righteously, and being obedient to whatever He asks.  Because He is God and I am not.
            [Okay, now, I want to clarify something here.  When I say we need to be seeking “righteousness” or living righteously, I am not referring to performing righteous acts out of a sense of legalism, or to make ourselves look better or feel better, or to attain some level of favor with God.  For God is not pleased with these filthy, righteous acts; these attempts to earn favor, mercy, or grace.  And I am not referring to our righteous standing before God - because we are not “righteous” in God’s eyes by anything we do but only because of what Jesus did for us. 
            But we do have a responsibility to do our best to live righteously.  To submit all areas of our lives to Him as the Holy Spirit calls us.  To strive to be holy, as He is holy.  We need to abide in Him more and more, getting rid of the things that do not glorify Him and adding the things that do, so that our lives reflect Him more and more and bring Him the most glory possible.  This comes from humbling yourself before God.  And this, I believe, is the kind of living that leads to powerful and effective prayers.  Because then you are all about God’s glory!]  
            Regardless of our circumstances, whether we get what we want or not, we can choose to honor and glorify God!  We can choose to praise Him when He answers, whatever it may be, and we can choose to praise Him when He keeps us waiting.  Our lives, even in the hard, dark times, could be a glorious witness for Him, if we would just draw near to Him and His Word and be willing to obey Him. 
            It’s like what I said about being aware of what kind of witness we have in the good times and the bad.  Others are watching to see how we glorify God in the rain forests and in the deserts.  Angels are watching!  The Heavenly ones and the fallen ones!  (I try to keep this in mind: Which of them are praising their leader based on what I am saying and doing?)  And you know what?  We may not have gotten what we wanted, and we are still wandering this desert.  But He is still a good God!  And I am learning what it means to say, “Your Will be done!  Whatever it is!  Your Will be done and blessed be Your name.”    


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