Thursday, May 29, 2014

When Our Responses Fail: Finding Hope When We Blame God [Part 2]

  This is quite late in the posting! As it turns out, my original draft got accidentally deleted and I nearly went insane from losing all that I had written! So, I am recreating my original post from memory, but it may turn out much shorter.

  In my first post, I wanted to emphasize God's heart for us when we fail to trust Him. While many might think He is disgusted with our human reactions and has little time to deal with us in our anger and disappointment, I truly believe the God shown in Scripture actually reveals the opposite.  He desires an honest heart, not feigned submission or lip-service. We know from Scripture that the Lord takes no pleasure in outward service or obedience. He is in pursuit of our hearts and He greatly desires us to bring everything to Him, even the most raw and ugly parts of ourselves that are questioning Him. The "silence" of our Lord to our prayers is an invitation for us to trust in Him, who He is, not merely for what He can do. Perhaps the most remarkable and incomprehensible attribute of God is His patience. After all, if God is love (1 John 4:8) and if love is first defined as patient (1 Cor 13:4), then is not this how He responds to us in our relationship with Him? It is all too common that we have come to think of God has a grouchy schoolmaster, holding his pocket-watch near, watching his students carefully to make sure they are following the list of rules and instructions he has outlined to them on the blackboard. Somehow, this view of God as having a time-table and putting demands on us to be at a certain level of maturity and growth has taken a hold of us and stunted us. Even in the Old Testament, God was never shown to be this way. Although the Israelites suffered much (and often for long periods of time) from the consequences from their idolatrous and rebellious choices, He never withdrew His promises and gifts from them. At the end of every dark tunnel, His light was shining, always bringing them restoration. In Exodus 34:6, it is written, "And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth..." The Hebrew word for long suffering there means patient and slow to anger. This is who our Father is. It's not just a part of Him, it is inherently Him. And it was manifested through His Son when Christ revealed himself as "gentle and humble" (Matt 11:29) and then was "led like a lamb to the slaughter" (Isaiah 53:7). His heart is docile and tender towards us in all faithfulness.

 In the words of author and preacher, John Lynch, "the motivation of grace will always bear greater fruit than the coercion of demand." Shockingly, the Lord has created us to only function and grow when grace is given with patience. Oddly enough, time-tables, rules, and lists do not bring about true maturity and trust in a relationship. Only slow and enduring love will bring about a great harvest in our hearts. The Lord, knowing this and having designed us this way, did something potentially "risky" to bring this about. He imparted His Spirit to us through the work of His Son on the Cross. Instead of completely eradicating our fleshly human ways, He instead births us anew, granting us a new identity, a new heart. Then, He entrusts us to trust Him with everything concerning our eternal salvation and our earthly lives. He doesn't remove any hindrances, distractions, or temptations. He merely gives us the gift of Himself and then patiently walks with us through every valley and mountain-top. In human terms, this is the wrong way to deal with the human race. The usual thought is that one must employ control and manipulation, as well as weigh the rewards and punishments. Instead, the Lord offers freedom to each one of us and is patient to see us perfected in our freedom - the choices we make, the thoughts we think, etc. Even as we make choices that hurt Him or that bring harm to ourselves or others, He continues to stand with us when we refuse to acknowledge or trust Him. The Spirit speaks gently to our hearts, reminding us of our identity and how the Father particularly values and treasures us. This is His patience seen in action, spoken and poured out into our hearts. Solutions will not bring our allegiance to Him. Only the quiet presence of a friend who will never leave our side, ever.

 One of the most profound things that I have learned about our Lord is that He "is not afraid to risk the consequences of what we do with His grace" (On My Worst Day, John Lynch). The very same is true for His long-suffering love. When I spurn Him and His Word, He waits. When I scream at and blame Him, He receives it all with open arms. On your darkest of days, when you have failed to trust Christ with all of your life, when you want to turn your heart from Him, when you feel more hurt by Him than loved by Him, He doesn't flinch. His unwavering devotion stands in the fiercest storms and declares to us, "I am with you."

 When our responses fail, when we blame God, He does not reject us for He is utterly and completely given to our sanctification and is perfectly patient to see the timing of our growth fulfilled. He is so sure, so confident that He, having begun a good work in you, will bring it to completion (Phil 1:6).

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Looking at Tears

A friend of mine shared this fascinating link on Facebook of a microscopic study done on different types of tears. In the words of the author, "Like a drop of ocean water each tiny tear drop carries a microcosm of human experience." I love the explanation in this post about the scientific "why" behind the types of tears we produce. There is a divine work of art behind all creative things and it helps me to find that sacred purpose again, that the Ruler of all things is truly in control.

These photos moved me as I am a lover of beautiful and sad things. I am drawn to the tears of grief, which look empty, filled with cracks and confused patterns. There are no distinct shapes in that one. I also like the tears of release, which looks like two continents disconnecting, floating away from each other. The tears of change and tears of ending and beginning are remarkable because they look like the landscape of a countryside, which is so representative of the changing seasons.

 From all the ones presented in the link above, which ones most struck you? And, why?

Tears of Grief

Tears of Release

Tears of Change

Tears of Ending and Beginning

Friday, May 9, 2014

When Our Responses Fail: Finding Hope When We Blame God [Part 1]

I was reflecting recently on the Christian's response to God during harsh trials. There are some real-life stories I have read and known about Christian brothers and sisters who have experienced traumatic sufferings and losses. While I don't know their inner heart and thoughts, some responses I have seen of them have included smiling heavenward, praising God, entrusting everything to Him, quoting well known Bible verses and quotations by famous Christian "giants" in the faith. They appear to not question at all. Their response is one of strength, unflinching in the face of a living nightmare. They model Christianity perfected. They make the rest of us envious of their humility, trust, and endurance. We never hear a sour word from their lips, only praise and gratitude. As some say, "Father knows best", right?

This post is not for those who can trust God with their loss.

This post is for those who are questioning God's heart towards them and everything surrounding their painful circumstance.

  I have a memory of a conservation I had with the Lord when I was young, probably a preteen. I often chatted away to Him all my silly thoughts when I was a girl. This occasion was no different. I remember thinking about pain and trials (probably in relation to the end times or something extreme, haha!) and I out-right promised God that I would always be faithful to Him come what may (did I mention I frequently suffer from the Peter-syndrome?). I look back now and see that my Father was smiling, understanding my well-intended promise but probably feeling a pang in His heart that the promise of His little girl would not be kept.

Then came life's storms. For a time of my life, I was rebellious, wanting Christ, but not depending on Him for anything. Then, He softened me heart and I threw myself on Him with a full trust, taking everything to Him, seeking Him on every area of my life. It was sweet. It was the relationship I had always wanted with Him. Things were looking up-hill! Life would always be filled with the joy that I knew then....or, so I thought.

Then, the foundations of my life were shaken. Things that were permanent and certain were ripped from under me. Imagine the winds of a hurricane, ripping apart everything and everyone you once knew. It was that kind of force.

My initial reaction was firm. I knew God had been aware of this devastation long before it came. I knew Him and His character. Things were bad, but He was going to take care of me and everyone that I loved. What does one do after a hurricane? You look around and, if you and everyone you love is still alive, you are inexpressibly thankful! That was the same joy and gratitude I experienced. I had everyone I loved still with me. We could make it through the loss because at least we were together.
Once again, I threw myself into trusting God even when everything was uncertain. All the promises of His Word seemed clearly meant for this situation. I was holding onto them with all my might! I kept my eyes in His Word. I reminded Him of His promises. I gave Him all my heart, all my tears, all my prayers, desires for restoration that I thought were in-line with His will. For a long season, I hovered in this state. Waiting, fasting, praying. He would answer. He would come. Not just for a quick-fix moment, but a permanent restoration would take place in the physical circumstances. I assumed it would be a very slow process, but very certain.

The silence that proceeded this season was profound. There I was, still in the aftermath, doing my part to piece things together, believing that God was going to honor my daily efforts to "patch things up" by restoring the whole circumstance and the relationships and people's heart involved. I poured my heart into planting His Word into this situation. I invested all that I was into assembling pieces of the foundation again. I put my true needs and wants last. Everything and everyone was priority. Not that I did these things perfectly. I didn't always love with enduring patience and compassion. I struggled mightily to serve. I expressed and repented of all my failings to Him during this time. And I kept trudging, trudging, trudging. When God did bless me with personal gifts during this season (always gifts not related to the devastating situation I faced at home), I almost didn't want them. Or, I wasn't sure if it was okay to receive them. They brought immense happiness, but never erased the pain of the present circumstance.

Little by little, the wreckage drifted from me. The flood-waters were taking the pieces of aftermath from me, things that I thought I was a part of to piece back together. And all those parts deteriorated until everything I was certain of was gone. The only thing that became certain to me was the uncertainty of life, of people I loved, of my own life, good decisions, bad decisions, etc.

It wasn't until the very tail-end of the storm, when the last of the wreckage was taken, that I put aside the work, the gifts, and the Bible and sat down to confront God.

It was the first time I had ever felt anger and despair in their most raw form. I blamed Him for everything, even the choices of people. Yes, I freely confessed, that I was grieved and angry at the people for their choices, but inevitably, Who permitted them to make their own decisions and not correct them in the act? God. I don't like beating around the bush. Anyone who knows me well is aware that I emerge from my quiet, laid-back shell with a vengeance when someone or something challenges a very deep place in my heart. I had no qualms confronting God with my militant rage. 

 No doubt some might think these words irreverent very much like what Job's three friends thought when words of bitterness and anguish fell from his lips. It can be enough to make one feel guilty about expressing true emotions. It can lead to comparing ourselves to others who have undergone similar trials and seem to come out pure, not jaded. It can lead to increased bitterness in our hearts, believing that somehow those others are the "favored" saints and we are the ones rejected because we our response to pain was less than perfect.  

So, how does one find a grounded hope and encouragement in the seasons when we feel nothing but bitterness towards our Lord? Is there any hope for those of us whose faith has failed? Is God disgusted with our lack of faith? Does He even care? 

 In Christ, we who fail most grievously find the deepest hope. We find our hope in two main areas:

1. In my darkest moments, I have become aware that the Lord desires an honest heart, not feigned submission or lip-service. We often think He is too holy and above our passionate human emotions, that it is dishonoring to Him to speak back to our Creator because our hearts are bruised and bleeding. I was appalled to be shown that modern Christianity taught me that lie about Him. God teaches me that I can bring everything to Him, even the most raw and ugly parts of myself that are questioning Him. The first step, on our part, is allowing that vulnerability to be expressed in our prayers and cries to Him. While ranting and raving may have come easily to me, there are many I know who are too timid to "yell" at God, to express their distrust, disappointment, and bitterness towards Him. It doesn't feel right to some, but it is something that becomes more natural once released. This can be compared to the marriage between husband and wife. Honesty and communication will only ever benefit such an intimate relationship, even when that honesty means sharing with your spouse that you struggle loving them and trusting their decisions. With a human being, there is always the risk of offending, hurting, and losing their trust in that process of being honest. But that is a risk worth taking when you truly love your spouse who is "one flesh" with you. Both members are to enter into one another's hearts. That is the design of marriage. It is the perfecting of love which casts out all fear. With our Father, there is absolutely no risk involved. The relationship is always safe because He is always faithful to listen and to take what we have to give. He doesn't turn away in the way that our spouse may need to when we reveal our hearts. Our spouse may not understand at first, may need much time to process. God already understands us intimately and is not shocked by what He sees or knows. There is no veil between us and our Lord. He desires to hear everything we have to say to Him.

2. The "silence" of our Lord to our prayers is an invitation for us to trust in Him, who He is, not merely for what He can do. It is not a wrong to desire that God come down and do what we know He can do. But, more often than not, the Lord must restrain Himself. Miracles and gifts have never and will never foster lasting faith. Secure circumstances and restored relationships will not foster faith either. It seems like it would, but we don't know our own hearts. In his book, Disappointment with God: Three Questions No One Asks Aloud, Philip Yancey takes the reader through the entire Scripture to learn why God is often "silent" in our sufferings. He leads readers through the entire history of the Israelites and their face to face encounters with the Lord and His miracles, but they ended up being the most rebellious and wayward group of people because of it. It is easy to think we would respond better than them; however, it takes maturing humility to accept that we would not. There is a very significant reason to why the Lord restrains Himself from fixing or repairing situations in our lives. Yancey, in his books, points out how many times Jesus, even when he was on earth, was divinely restrained from "doing" something about the present issues of that day. He gives the example in Luke 13 when Jesus looks down from a high hill and cries out, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" About this passage, Yancey states, "That wail of grief over Jerusalem has about it a quality almost like shyness. Jesus, who could destroy Jerusalem with a word, who could call down legions of angels to force subjection, instead looks over the city and weeps. God holds back; he hides himself; he weeps. Why? Because he desires what power can never win. He is a king who wants not subservience, but love. Thus, rather than moving down Jerusalem, Rome, and every other worldly power, he chose the slow, hard way of Incarnation, love, and death. A conquest from within....Jesus Christ never forced anyone to believe in him. He preferred to act by appeal, drawing people out of themselves and toward him."

This is something I am still searching through and seeking to understand. God would not have me dependent upon the answers to my prayers, nor upon the restored circumstances. He knows the only way He will have my full heart and full love is when I become significantly aware of only Him and His particularly love for me through the anguish. Without a doubt, He chooses us as His most valuable treasure, our hearts are His greatest desire. He will not demand, manipulate, or pay us for it. He desires that we freely choose Him above everything else. The most astounding part is that He is perfectly patient with us to come to that point. He gives an astonishing definition to the word long-suffering. This is what I hope to focus on in my Part 2 post...