Reconciling God’s Promises with Life

 

I am deep into planning for our upcoming school year, so this week and next will be from the archives. Enjoy the memories!

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

God’s Words are often difficult to understand.
I don’t know why this is so, why God wouldn’t want us to easily comprehend Him and His ways, but that is a wondering for another time.
All throughout His Word, God makes promises about what will happen when we approach Him. He makes promises about how He answers when we ask Him for something. He makes promises about what He will give if only we would ask.
Sometimes those promises seem to be contradicted by the reality we can see.
Jesus tells us that if we ask, we will receive.
Jesus tells us that if we ask together with others, we will receive.
Jesus tells us that if we ask in His name, we will receive.
Jesus promises that if we are just persistent enough, just have faith enough, just beg Him hard enough with our faces to the ground and our tears falling like blood in desperation, He will give us what we ask for.
This is not what we live.
This is not what we live when a young mother dies of cancer. This is not what we live when a child lives her life in chronic pain and then dies. This is not what we live when a family is torn apart by depression.
So how do we reconcile this? How do we reconcile the promise with the life lived in this world?
Because Jesus also made other promises.
He promised that we would have trouble in this world, that storms would come against us, that we would be hated by this world in which we live.
Did He lie? Is He crazy?
Or is there something deeper within His words that we have trouble understanding?
Is there something deeper that we cannot see from our place here on earth, tethered as we are to the physical, unable to grasp the spiritual all around us?
From one who is stumbling along in the dark with the rest of you, here is what I believe based on what I read in God’s Word as a whole.
What God does is not always what I want. What God allows is sometimes more than I can comprehend. What God gives is often too hard for me.
What God accomplishes is always best.
Best for me, best for someone else, best for our world. Just…best.
Not painless, not comfortable, not happy.
Best.
I know from my own experience as a parent that best is often painful and unpleasant. My children often are unhappy (to put it ridiculously mildly) with what I decide would be best.
When Jesus tells us to ask in His name, rather than His name being a magical incantation to get what we want, perhaps it is a way of living, of remaining in Him as He is in His Father.
When Jesus tells us to ask alongside of others, rather than it being a way to coerce others into asking for what we want so that we can manipulate God, perhaps it is a way to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts in a way that cannot happen on our own.
I don’t know.
As my Papa would say, “Well, I’ll tell you…
I don’t know.”
Here’s what I do know.
When I look at God’s Word in its entirety, whether that be the whole of Scripture or the whole of Jesus’ life, I see a God who is ultimate power and who is ultimate love.
And I see a God who has a plan that makes absolutely no sense while in the middle of it all. A plan that seems, frankly, insane while you are watching it all unfold.
A plan that, at its ending, is better, is more beautiful, is more glorious than anything I could have imagined or asked for.
A plan that is best.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And He was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”…  And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back – it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.
I think perhaps that is why He gave us Jesus. To show us what the end will be even when the middle seems to be crushing the life out of us.
That end?
Best.

My Absurd Worry

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Why in the world, why in this crazy, messed up world, is it so hard to trust in God?
He has never failed me, He has never let me down, so why is this trusting business so difficult?
worry
Years ago when Daniel and I returned to the States from a year of mission work in China, we had trouble finding jobs.
We waited for months, watching our hard-earned savings dwindle away, wondering why God didn’t step in to help us. After all, hadn’t we just returned from spending a year serving Him? Shouldn’t He take care of us in return?
trust
Looking back, He was caring for us all the time. He gave us family and friends to support us by giving us places to live, recommendations for jobs, and extra money that I know they could have also used.
And we eventually did find jobs. Good ones. We didn’t starve. We didn’t end up on the street. We were able to build our savings back up.
We’ve recently been hit with a series of very expensive home and car repairs and replacements, along with several doctor bills.
And I worry. I worry a lot.
Which is ridiculous.
Do I really think that God can take care of three repairs but not four?
Do I really believe that God can sustain us through home repairs but not our doctor bills?
I feel a lot these days like Israel.
Israel doubt
God, I know that you just parted the Red Sea and all, but feeding us in the desert is clearly too much for You.
Lord, I’m grateful for the manna and quail, but giving us water from a rock? I’m just not sure you can handle that.
I know I’m being absurd when I worry. I look around at the birds of the air and the lilies of the field and still wonder if God can feed and clothe me and my children.
learn to trust
O ye of little faith.
He speaks to me when He says that.
So I take a deep breath and breathe out a plea to help me trust Him.
And then?
Then I set my heart on Him and seek after Him and His kingdom,
and know (at least for this one moment!) that all those things will be given to me as well.
Therefore do not be anxious, saying “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Art credit: He led them by a pillar of cloud by Providence Lithograph Company (1896-1913); all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2017

How to Seek God’s Will

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I have to give my two year old a lot of specific instructions throughout her day.
Two year old
I have to tell her which arm to put in which arm hole, how to get a blanket pulled over her legs, where each toy should go when cleaning up.
Needs lots of help
And she’s two, so I’m okay with this.
My seven year old, however, I expect to have a general idea of what I want from her.

Seven year old

More independent
I would feel disappointed if I had to give her as many minute directions as I do her younger sister. As my eldest matures and as our own relationship grows, one of my hopes is for her to know me well enough to know what I want from her without me having to detail it out.
Age gap
Help each other
I have spent much of my life wanting to know God’s will for me.
Seeking God's will
I wanted to know what college to attend, which career I should pursue, whom I should date, whom I should marry. Much of my relationship with God was consumed with begging Him to tell me what He wanted me to do.
I told myself that I was seeking God’s will in order to please Him and bring Him glory, but in truth I wanted to know His will in order to protect myself. I wanted to be sure that I would be successful, that I wouldn’t make any mistakes that would cause me lasting pain.
I am learning.
I am learning that God’s relationship with me is much like my relationships with my daughters. The more I know God, the more our relationship grows and the less He has to direct my every move.
Only asking God to tell me about His will does not constitute a growing relationship. That amounts to not much more than a dictatorship.
When I am with my husband, I don’t want either of us to order the other about. I want us to understand each other deeply so that orders are not necessary.
And so it is in our union with God, a person both loving and beloved. He does not delight in having to always explain what His will is; He enjoys it when we understand and act upon His will. Our highest calling and opportunity in life is to love Him with all our being. ~ Dallas Willard in Hearing God
In recent years, rather than seeking God’s will for my life, I’ve spent my time seeking God.
I seek to know Him, to understand Him, to love Him more. In that loving, I trust that He will let me know if there is something specific I need to hear. I trust His Spirit in me to guide me when either I am beginning to head in the wrong direction or there is a specific thing He wants me to do.
And He does. He fulfills that trust.
I have a long way to go. I have not yet grown to the point of having an easy, conversational relationship with God throughout every day. But I want that. Oh, how I long for that kind of relationship with the One I love.
Rather than praying “God, help me to know Your will so that I can do what you want me to do”, my new prayer is “God, help me to know You more so that I can love you more.”
Seeking God
That is a prayer I believe He delights in answering.
And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever. I Chronicles 28.9

edited from the archives: the daughters mentioned in this post are now four and nine. Time, slow down! Just a bit.

The Mystery of Prayer

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So much of this kingdom-living life is mystifying.
We are given a magnificent vision of being made priests and kings. We are told to go out into the world and live in a way that brings God’s rule to earth and creation’s praise to heaven.
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So much of the time we wander around, having no earthly idea what to do.
Yet here we are.
This is our mission whether or not we understand it completely.
This is our goal whether or not we can perceive the next step.
This is our purpose and we may not set it aside every time we fail to discern the way forward.
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Part of the answer to finding our way is in prayer.
Prayer itself is a mystery, however central to our lives as Christ followers. Perhaps it wouldn’t be prayer without also being a mystery.
Yet it is a mystery we can, in our own fumbling way, find the shape of. This mystery of prayer has the shape of heaven and earth joining together in Jesus and our sharing in that joining through the Spirit.
The very act of prayer says that we stand in the space between heaven and earth. Prayer says that, in some mysterious way, we are called to stand for God on earth and to stand for creation in heaven.
But again the very practice of prayer, before we even begin to think about the content, says in and of itself: we are people who live at the interface between God’s world and the life of this present world. We are people who belong in that uncomfortable borderland. We are called to stay at this post even when we have no idea what’s actually going on. ~ N.T. Wright, After You Believe
Remaining at our post even when we have no idea what’s actually going on takes humility and patience. It takes faith and hope. It takes the living out of virtue, as I discussed recently.
Yet doing this, remaining at our post, continuing to pray even when you don’t understand how any of it works or what on earth you are supposed to say, trains our hearts.
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Even if we gain no clarity at all, our hearts are being trained in humility and patience, in faith and hope.
Prayer changes us. It is a piece of what transforms us into the people God created us to be.
Prayer is one of the disciplines which, when practiced regularly both in public and in private, builds our character, habit by habit and virtue by virtue, into the royal priesthood through which God will restore the world.
But it means that we come to prayer knowing that we’re to reinforce the heart habits that make us, by second nature, who we are. And we rise from prayer with the heart formed that bit more securely in its settled second nature of trust and obedience. ~ N.T. Wright, After You Believe

 

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Fearing Death

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Death.
avoiding death
It is not something we want to talk about.
It is not something we want to think about.
Death.
ignoring death
It is uncomfortable at the least and terrifying at the most.
It is coming for all of us, yet we rage and fight against it.
Death is common to all of us, yet is a topic avoided by most of us.
Even among those of us who claim to follow Christ, death seems to be a frightening event and so we try our best to ignore it.
Death will not be ignored.
fearing death
This week I attended a funeral for a young man who was a close friend of my youngest brother growing up.
We all know people for whom death came at a young age.
Death will not be ignored.
Yet death does not have to be feared.
Jesus Himself teaches us this.
Jesus taught us of death
He allowed Lazarus to remain in the grave for several days, rather than healing his illness, to show us that He could control death.
He interrupted funeral processions to raise up the dead, just to show us that He could.
He spoke lightly of His own death, telling His followers that He would die but soon rise again.
Jesus teaches us that death does not have the final word.
death does not win
We serve a God who has all power over everything that we fear, even power over death.
We serve a God who has all power and who loves us as His children.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. ~ Hebrews 2.14-15
He became flesh so that through death He could conquer death.
Rembrandt The Three Crosses
He conquered death and we do not have to be slaves to the fear of death.
defeating death
Lift up your heads. Look to Jesus and do not be afraid.

Art credit: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt

How We Can Live the Kingdom of God Right Now

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The in-between is hard.
This time and space between our first step towards Jesus and coming face-to-face with Him is difficult and often confusing.
Following Jesus
Do we buckle down and learn to follow all the rules?
Do we throw rule-following to the wind and learn to live authentically?
Following Jesus
How in the world, how in this very world, are we supposed to live out this God life?
Jesus speaks often of the Kingdom of God. It is coming, it is near, it is breaking through.
The Kingdom of God is His rule, His will being done here on earth as it is in heaven.
He taught us to pray for this to happen.
Now.
Praying for the Kingdom of God
Paul speaks of living now as though we were already perfected. One habit leads to another which leads to another which suddenly leads to hope and love breaking through into our world.
Perhaps it is a little of both the rule-following and the living authentically.
When we try to obey God’s beautiful law, His law which shows us how life works best, we slowly become the sort of person who naturally and authentically follows after God.
It takes work, it takes choice by painful choice to build these habits, but the more work you put in, the more natural it becomes.
Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. ~ C. S. Lewis
Living in the Kingdom of God
It is as though we are planning to move to a distant country and are trying to learn the language of that country before we go. It takes work to learn a language, but the more we work at it and the longer we practice, the more that language becomes a part of us.
After awhile, we begin to think in this new language; even, perhaps, to dream in it. If we work steadily on, when we finally move to our new home we may even be mistaken for a native.
Isn’t that our ultimate goal, our telos? To be mistaken for a native of the Kingdom of God?
Suddenly, after years of following the rules, we find that the character of Jesus is becoming authentically our own character. When we do the work, with the power of the Holy Spirit inside of us, we find that love and peace and patience are becoming our natural response.
We also find that as we become more like a native of God’s Kingdom, we are bringing pieces of God’s Kingdom to rest all around us.
We are doing the work that allows God’s Kingdom to break through to our homes, to our workplaces, to our churches, to our relationships.
And so we find that at the same moment we have been praying Christ’s prayer of Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, the Spirit has been working within our very selves to transform us into the answer to that prayer.
God’s ways are as beautiful as they are mysterious.
It is an astounding idea that He would allow a partnership between these frail jars of clay and the Holy Spirit’s death-defeating power.
Yet He does allow it, even command it.
Through us, through our weak and cracked selves, the Kingdom of God is breaking through to heal and restore our broken world.
Let us continue our labor to obey God’s law, to choose His habits, to learn His language,
so that one day we might be mistaken for a native of His kingdom.

Hold Fast to your Ideals

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Intentional parenting is exhausting.
Parenting
I am not a mommy blogger, nor am I a homeschool blogger. Being a homeschooling mommy, however, is a very large piece of my life right now, and every once in a while I need to speak of these things.
Homeschooling
We are at the end of a school year, and I am worn out.
I have been weary and have thus become lax in my parenting.
parenting is hard
I have let behaviors slide that should have been corrected. I have allowed books and shows into our home that sabatoge the lessons of character I want to teach my children. I have not been as intentional about filling our home with Jesus.
parenting is exhausting
This past weekend, my husband and I went to a homeschool conference. Along with the practical helps and the curriculum browsing, I found my vision again.
We all have ideals for our homes. Whether you homeschool or not, whether you have children or not, whether you are married or not, you have a vision for what you want your home to be.
ideals
I have become lazy in reaching for my ideals. There’s not really a way to soften it, although I would love to make excuses for myself.
I was negligent, and especially when it is children’s lives and souls that are at stake, negligence should never be an option.
If negligence is not an option, I must instead find my resolve. I must find the resolve to hold fast to my vision for homeschooling, for parenting, for shaping my home into a small piece of God’s kingdom here on earth.
A lofty goal? Yes, but one toward which I believe God calls all of us to reach.
vision
I am painfully aware that I will never attain this ideal.
I am joyfully aware that God has promised Himself, His Spirit’s help in bringing His kingdom into my home.
God has already won, His kingdom is steadily coming, even while I am still waiting for change to occur.
He has promised that if I will continue to be faithful, He will continue to help me. Even when my children have forgotten everything I’ve ever taught them, even when I yell at them once again, He is with me. He has never failed me.
I must simply take a deep breath
whisper a prayer for forgiveness
a prayer for help
and try again.
Try again to reach for perfection
to reach for Jesus.
I find that He is already here.

Pay Attention

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Tell us of God.
Look at the lilies of the field. Watch the birds of the air.
Show us what God is like.
Once there were women kneading yeast into their bread.
We want to know about God.
There were these workers, see, who were lining up for their pay at the end of the day, and some had worked all day while others had been there only an hour.
What does God want from us?
Once upon a time, there was a businessman who had been dishonest with his boss and was about to lose his job, so he called in all of his master’s debtors.
We want to see God.
Pay attention to the sparrow that falls to the ground.
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When people ask to know more about God, the Son of God answers by telling them to pay attention to the world all around.
There is nothing that is separate from God. Nothing that can be deemed secular. Nothing of which could be said, That has nothing to do with Him.
We can learn as much about God by paying attention to the world around us as we can by reading Scripture.
The Holy Spirit within us whispers that both are created by the Word and speak of the Father.
Pay attention!
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Scripture speaks of truth and truth is what happens in our world.
Even when what happens is not right and good, it speaks of God.
People can learn as much about the ways of God from business deals gone bad or sparrows falling to the ground as they can from…knowing the Ten Commandments by heart. ~ Barbara Brown Taylor in An Altar in the World
What happens in our world is truth and Jesus is truth and if we want to know God we only have to look around to see Him.
Pay attention.

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This Beautiful Ordinary

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Ordinary.
Shoes
Is there such a thing?
I’m tempted to think so.
In the midst of the dishes and laundry and cleaning toilets, snotty noses and bedtime stories, the routine can seem mundane, dull…
Ordinary.
Until I really look. Until I really stop. Until I really see what is around me.
Nothing is ordinary.
Messy kitchen
Those dishes mean a miracle of earth producing food that can be purchased and eaten at our table.
Laundry
That laundry means a miracle of cotton growing from the ground and being woven into fabric that keeps our bodies warm in this cold winter.
Toilet
This filthy toilet means an act of service, a deliberate dying to myself in a beautiful sacrifice for my family.
Sad baby
Those snotty noses mean a miracle of beautiful, sturdy bodies that are growing so very quickly.
Bedtime story
These bedtime stories mean a miracle of imagination, of minds that eagerly search for and grasp new meanings and ideas every day.
These very things that seem so ordinary are the very fabric of the miracle that is my life.
The Christian faith does not simply, or even mainly, propose a few additional facts about the world.  Rather, belief in the Christian God invites a new way to understand everything. ~ Andrew Davison in Imaginative Apologetics
Because all is created, because all is love, than nothing is ordinary. Everything is sacred.
I cannot separate my life into ordinary parts and miraculous parts, into secular parts and sacred parts.
Without Christ, nothing was made that has been made. In Christ, all things hold together.
No matter what surrounds you, it is not ordinary, it is not solely of this world.
No matter how tempted I am to name something as mundane, as secular, it is not so.
Nothing that God has created is ordinary.
New Family
All is miracle. All is sacred.
There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation. ~ Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water

edited from the archives

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The Eighth Day

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It is finished.
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A cry in which is heard echoes from the beginning of time.
The cry of God on the cross is the same cry proclaimed at the end of creation.
The finished work of the old creation pushes toward the finished work of the new.
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John crafts his gospel with great care, word by word putting the story together.
How does he begin? In the beginning. A bold start, echoing the start of all things.
He weaves his signs of God’s glory throughout. Seven signs, of course.
On the sixth day, on a Friday, Pilate declares Behold the man.
The culmination of creation, the culmination of God’s created glory.
On the sixth day, on a Friday, God declared that it was finished.
On the seventh day, on a Saturday, on the Sabbath, God rested.
He rested from His work. He rested in the heavens and He rested in the tomb.
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And then?
What happens after the Sabbath?
On the first day of the week…early, while it was still dark…
The new creation begins.
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Just as new creation followed the original seventh day of rest, so does new creation follow God’s day of rest after the cross.
New creation on this earth, heaven breaking in to the old to bring God’s kingdom here and now.
God’s kingdom come, His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
It is the eighth day once again.
Rejoice and get to work.

Art credits: all photography is copyright Made Sacred 2017