What will you do when God says "no"?

What do you do when you don’t get your way?



My eldest screams with a red hot rage and sobs tears of hurt and disappointment.

As much as I would like to hold my head up high and speak with condescension about the ways of a child, I can’t. Instead, I will bow my head with shame and confess that, even if I don’t do it out loud or in front of people, I have much the same reaction in my deepest places.

I received another “no” from God this week.




It really hurt. Yet another of my well-laid plans was swept away with the dust of a hope.

I do gain deep peace and joy from knowing beyond a doubt that the only reason that God said “no” was because that wasn’t what was best.

And, just as I wrote recently, my heart still grieves.

There is a piece of me, that child that can’t seem to grow up, that wants to shout and rage and stamp its foot and demand a “yes” from God.



The desire, the temptation, is not wrong. As I often tell my eldest, the feeling is not wrong, but what you choose to do can be either wise or foolish.

So what did I choose to do?

This time (I wish that I could say “every time”) I chose what was wise.

With tears, I praised God.

I thanked Him for telling me “no” because I trust that it was best, that it was done out of love.

Then I went to church and worshiped.

You make all things work together for my good.
You stay the same through the ages,
Your love never changes.
There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning.
And when the oceans rage,
I don’t have to be afraid
Because I know that You love me.
Your love never fails.


My whole life I place in Your hands.
God of mercy, humbled I bow down
In Your presence at Your throne.
I called, You answered
And You came to my rescue
And I want to be where You are.


You stood before my failure,
Carried the cross for my shame.
My sin weighed upon Your shoulders,
My soul now to stand.
So I’ll stand,
With arms high and heart abandoned,
In awe of the One who gave it all.


I turned my eyes back to Jesus and gained back my perspective. No matter to what God says “no”, it is so small compared to the huge thing to which He has already said “yes”: allowing us to become His children through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. He has given us everything, and so…

I’ll stand
My soul, Lord, to You surrendered.
All I am is Yours.

art credit: 
songs are from Your Love Never Fails (Jesus Culture); Came To My Rescue (Hillsong United); The Stand (Hillsong United) 
sketching is The Three Crosses by Rembrandt

What You Should Do Next

What should we do now?

How should we respond?

When life seems to be running rapidly into a dead end




When we feel carved out and emptied by the rivers of this world’s realities




When the weight of our pain threatens to crush



When our hearts are pitted and scarred by pain, anguish, shame



What should we do?

Yes, we continue to obey, to follow the signs.

To what purpose? To what end?

The men who walked in the fire told a king that even if God refused to rescue, they would continue to obey.

The man who lost all but his life declared that even if God took the last thing remaining to him, he would continue to trust.

Why do we obey, why do we trust even when we cannot seem to find the light?

Listen.

Listen to the Word speak.

Listen to what the Word says as He is drawing very near to His own darkness.

“Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

The Glory of God our Father.

Out of the rocks, His glory bursts forth.



Out of the dead and the dying, His beauty shines out.



All praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Father, glorify Your name!


(If you are viewing this via email/in a reader, may I suggest that you click here to view this video?)

Follow the Signs

May we continue our conversation from last week?


Reality is hard.

Our family has become steeped in pain and loss.


Many others suffer far greater tragedies.

Reconciling the hurt with the heart of God is hard.

It is tempting to add a veneer of softness, to speak in cliches that turn raw, ripped-open pain into a lie.

Sometimes this is even encouraged among those of us who follow Christ.

Yet to do this denies that we are real, that our hearts can be ripped in two, that our pain and loss can suffocate and almost overwhelm us.


To do this denies that Christ is real, that His body and heart were also ripped apart.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

All through the Bible, God seems to not place much importance at all on whether we are free from pain or suffering. 

Abel. Abraham. Joseph. Moses. Uriah the prophet. John the BaptistJesus’ cousin. All of the apostles…Jesus’ closest friends.

Understanding why Kristina had to die is hard.


I might never know the reason.

God’s purposes are not for me to understand His plans: His plan is for me to understand Who He is…Faith is this unwavering trust in the heart of God in the hurt of here. (Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience)

Can I trust in the heart of God?



In C.S. Lewis’ story of Narnia, The Silver Chair, two children (Jill and Scrubb) and one Marsh-wiggle (Puddleglum) are given by Aslan (the Christ-figure) four signs with which to find the lost prince of Narnia. They completely muff the first three signs which leads to their imprisonment with a madman who is chained to (you guessed it!) a silver chair. The fourth and last sign is that someone “will ask you to do something in my name, in the name of Aslan”. The madman entreats the three travelers to free him, which is where I will pick up our story:

“Once and for all,” said the prisoner, “I adjure you to set me free. By all fears and all loves, by the bright skies of Overland, by the great Lion, by Aslan himself, I charge you –” 

“Oh!” said the three travelers as though they had been hurt. “It’s the sign,” said Puddleglum. “It was the words of the sign,” said Scrubb more cautiously. “Oh, what are we to do?” said Jill.


It was a dreadful question. What had been the use of promising one another that they would not on any account set the Knight free, if they were now to do so the first time he happened to call upon a name they really cared about? On the other hand, what had been the use of learning the signs if they weren’t going to obey them? Yet could Aslan have really meant them to unbind anyone – even a lunatic – who asked it in his name? … They had muffed three already; they daren’t muff the fourth.


“Oh, if only we knew!” said Jill.


“I think we do know,” said Puddleglum.


“Do you mean you think everything will come right if we do untie him?” said Scrubb.


“I don’t know about that,” said Puddleglum. “You see, Aslan didn’t tell (Jill) what would happen. He only told her what to do. That fellow will be the death of us once he’s up, I shouldn’t wonder. But that doesn’t let us off following the sign.”

That doesn’t let us off following the sign.

We aren’t guaranteed that anything here on earth will turn out okay. I wish we did have that promise. 

Instead, if we have nothing else (and we do have so much else!), if we can turn to and trust nothing else, we have the cross.

After his wife of only four years had died of cancer, C. S. Lewis said 

If only I could bear it, or the worst of it, or any of it, instead of her…But is it ever allowed? It was allowed to One, we are told, and I find I can now believe again, that He has done vicariously whatever can be so done. He replies to our babble, “You cannot and you dare not. I could and dared.”

And so I find that perhaps, after all, it does not matter why. It does not matter from whence came the hard thing. 


If God ever had to prove anything, at the cross He proved His love, His promise to work for the best of all He created.

It is not a bad thing to seek for the why’s and how’s and from where’s. God is able to handle our questions, our fears.

Yet if we never get any answers, if we never know the reasons, if we never understand, we who have chosen to follow Christ, who have allowed Jesus to be the Lord of our lives, we who have embraced His sacrifice of love…

We aren’t let off following the signs. 

Art Credits: Photograph of Cross wooden statue by Asta Rastauskiene
; Marsh-wiggle picture (I was not able to find the original); Rembrandt’s The Three Crosses  

Thanks also to my wonderful Dad who gave me some of the ideas in this essay.

You Are What You Do

“I don’t feel like obeying today.”



My eldest believes that she should only obey when she feels like doing so.

I am quick to disabuse her of this idea.

The incident does, however, cause me to begin mulling over the connection between actions and emotions, between behavior and the heart.

Is there a reason why we are supposed to obey, to do what is right, even when we don’t feel like it? Isn’t that hypocritical?

“I shouldn’t read the Bible if I’m only doing it because I have to.”

“I shouldn’t go visit Maria at the nursing home because my heart isn’t in the right place.”

Which comes first? The physical act or the heart change?


A.J. Jacobs is a humorist who writes books about the human experiments he conducts. In several of his books, he mentions the connection between his actions and his emotions. 

In The Year of Living Biblically, he is focusing on Ephesians 4.29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.” when he writes this: 

The weird thing is, I think my G-rated language is making me a less angry person. Because here’s the way it works: I’ll get to the subway platform just as the downtown train is pulling away, and I’ll start to say the F-word. I’ll remember to censor myself. So I’ll turn it into “fudge” at the last second. When I hear myself say “fudge” out loud, it sounds so folksy, so Jimmy Stewart-ish and amusingly dorky, that I can’t help but smile. My anger recedes. Once again, behavior shapes emotions.

In My Life as an Experiment, he says this: 

Historically, the handshake was seen as a democratic gesture…But nowadays, I think the bow has more benefits. Though it may seem pretentious, it’s actually deeply humbling. Just lowering yourself before someone – the universal symbol of modesty – makes you feel more respectful. Behavior shapes your thoughts. 

Is it odd that I’m finding wisdom in a comedian?


Yet God did create us with physical bodies, and our physical condition, whether health or posture, does seem to affect our emotions. 



If a comedian isn’t authoritative enough, how about Aristotle?


Aristotle also believed that your actions shape your heart: 

Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a particular way…you become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions. 

He also said: 

We are what we repeatedly do. 

 So perhaps, after all, it is not hypocritical to do right things when our hearts are rebelling. 


Perhaps, instead, this is how we train our hearts to desire right things.



Perhaps, too, paying attention to our physical bodies, such as our posture while praying, can help us to keep our hearts focused.


And since finding wisdom in a comedian and in an ancient philosopher should never be enough for us, God also gives us instructions for our physical bodies in order to help our hearts become truly His: 

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. ~ Deuteronomy 6.6-9 

Which commandments had God just given them? 


Ah. The most important of all.



Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. ~ Deuteronomy 6.5

Image credits: A.J. Jacobs from The Year of Living Biblically; cropped from The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio

Love the Lord your God

Lately I’ve been hearing and reading a lot about what I should do as a follower of Jesus.



I’ve read about persecuted people who live in third-world countries, families who sell their homes so they can adopt more children, young parents who move to the inner city.

When Jesus calls us to abandon everything we have and everything we are, it’s almost as if he is daring us to put ourselves in the flood plain. To put all our lives…all our property and all our possessions…all our hopes and all our dreams in front of the levee and then to ask God to break it. To ask God to sweep away whatever he wants, to leave standing whatever he desires, and to remake our lives…according to his will. ~ Radical by David Platt

We have to continue to fight – for the individual and against evil and destructive forces – because the cause is always worthy. And once you have stepped into this world, you can never walk away. Once you have been made aware, you have a responsibility to care. ~ The Scent of Water by Naomi Zacharias

I’ve read and heard many important and completely true things.


Jesus does ask us to give up everything for Him.


He said that if we do not hate our own lives, our own families in comparison to Him, we cannot follow Him.

Salvation is free, but discipleship costs everything we have. ~ Billy Graham

As I read and listen, guilt begins to trickle into my heart.


Am I doing enough? Am I living right? Am I giving up everything for God? Am I too comfortable in my current life?


This is a dangerous thought-road for me, partly because I am a firstborn and I love rules. 


I like lists and I want to know exactly what I have to do to be in obedience to God.



As I begin to think about our family, however, I am reminded of the things that we are doing for Christ. 



Having kids at all is a big step. I didn’t always want children, but God convinced me that this was one way in which He wanted me to serve Him: to have and raise up children who will glorify Him with their lives. 


We have made a lot of material sacrifices, both for me to stay home with our children, in order to personally raise them in a way that will glorify Him, and for us to not start adding up debt so that eventually we can have disposable income that we can give back to God.


Could we do more?


Of course. And that is the trouble.


No matter how frugally we live, how much we give away, how much time we sacrifice, it can never be enough.


We could always do more. It is impossible to do enough to repay all that God has done for me. It is impossible to truly give up everything for Jesus.


So what do I do? Wallow in my guilt? Give up because of my inability to do or give enough? Is that really what all of these books and teachers are telling me?


No, but I’m afraid that it seems that way at times.


I am learning however, very slowly, that it is not about what I do or don’t do, it is not about what I give or don’t give. It is about a relationship.


My relationship with the Triune God is what is most important in this life. This is more important than giving away all of my possessions. This is more important than eradicating all of the sin in my life. This is more important than moving to the inner city or telling everyone I know about God.


What I focus on most has to be my desire for God. 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. ~ Mark 12.30-31




The idea of the primacy of loving and desiring God is made more clear in the writings of Brother Lawrence:

I know that for the right practice of it, the heart must be empty of all other things because God will possess the heart alone. As He cannot possess it alone without emptying it of all besides, so, neither can He act there and do in it what He pleases, unless it be left vacant to Him. 

You need not cry very loud. He is nearer to us than we are aware. Every one is capable of such familiar conversation with God; some more, some less. He knows what we can do.  Let us begin then. Perhaps He expects but one generous resolution on our part. Have courage.

We must know before we can love. In order to know God, we must often think of Him. And when we come to love Him, we shall then also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure.

What do I desire most of all in this life? Whom do I love best? 


If it is not God, than it doesn’t matter how radically I live, how much of my time or resources I give away. 


If I do desire God most of all, even if I am simply trying to love God best, than I can trust myself to His hands, knowing that He will change my heart, which will naturally change the way I live. I will know what He wants me to do, how He wants me to live, and I will be at peace even if others think I am not doing enough or not doing the right things. 

Again, I will reference Brother Lawrence

when he had failed to love God best of all, he only confessed his fault saying to God, “I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my failing and mend what is amiss.” Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it. 

Abba, please help me to desire You most of all, to love You above all. If left to myself, I will never love You. It is You who must mend my broken heart. It is You who must purify my heart so that my life will glorify You. Let me only pursue my love for You and then be at peace, trusting that You will not let me fail. 

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. ~ Jude 1.24-25

Freedom Under Authority

I did it again.


I yelled with anger at my daughter.


She was not obeying.



Neither was I.


I’ve spoken before about the difficulty of obedience. Could we explore this a little further?


Part of the trouble, I think, is that we have come to view authority with suspicion. We see authority, even the authority of the Church, as being heavy-handed and suppressing. We think that authority keeps us from being truly free, keeps us from being the person we were meant to be.



I was listening to my Mars Hill last week and heard an interview with Victor Lee Austin, the author of Up With Authority, who suggests that we need authority in order to flourish as human beings.


He uses the image of a cellist in an orchestra. There are many pieces of music written for cellists that we can enjoy listening to, but that is only a small piece of what a cellist can do. For the cellist to flourish, for her to be more fully herself, she needs something bigger. For something bigger to exist, we need authority…the conductor. 


Authority, instead of crushing freedom (although unrighteous authority certainly can do that), enables and increases freedom. The more involved we are in complex society, the more we need authority making the decisions. Having true authority increases the “ability for persons to act in concert for good that can be achieved by corporate action”. 



Back to the orchestra for a moment: Austin says that “the conductor is drawing the cellist forward into a place where she can be more fully herself, which she didn’t necessarily see beforehand and that is through what happens as the orchestra plays”. 


If I could trust the authority of God enough to obey Him, I would become more myself, more free, more able to work for God’s glory and the good of those around me. 


Which leads me to the biggest reason I don’t obey: I don’t believe God.


That sounds horrid when I say it out loud, but it is true. If I truly believed that God’s way of love was better than Satan’s way of unrighteous anger, that it was more effective, I would show my daughters love rather than rage.



I have been reading Psalm 119 this week and was struck by the psalmist’s eagerness, almost desperation, to obey God:

vs 5-6: Oh, that my ways were steadfast when obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.

vs 10-11: I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

vs 15-16: I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.

vs 20: My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.

vs 33-34: Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.

vs 45: I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.

This goes on for 176 verses! 


I want so much to desire obedience with such fervor. But how?


I notice two things. 


I notice that David spends much of his time in beseeching God to help him obey.  


I notice that a delight in obedience seems to begin with a delight in God’s words, an immersion in the words of God.


Aha.


God must change my heart to desire obedience, to desire Him.


In the book, Radical, by David Platt, I recently read this: 

The fruit of our salvation…is indeed a gracious gift from God.

I can’t even want to obey God, much less actually obey, without His gracious help.


In order for God to change my heart, I must steep myself in His words. 



If I meditate on His words, if I refuse to neglect His words, God will help my heart to begin to believe His promises.


Will you hide His word in your heart along with me? I am memorizing verses 33-34 this week: 

Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.



Will you join me in memorizing this and praying it to God this next week? What might He do in our hearts?


One last thing I noticed?


Seeking out God’s precepts results in the ability to walk about in freedom. 


God’s authority, His laws, gives us the freedom to truly be ourselves!


Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.


~ Will you go here for one more thing to read about the importance of memorizing the Bible?

A Pure Heart

“I don’t like obeying.”



My eldest daughter’s puffy, tear-stained eyes pierce me with the anguish that only a three-year-old can have.

“I know, darling. Obeying is very hard sometimes, even for Mommy. I have a hard time obeying God sometimes too.”

Just like my eldest, I get very frustrated with how difficult it is to obey. I want to just fix everything that is ugly and wrong in my heart. I want my heart to be pure and whole and I want this right now.



Our conversation reminds me of what I read in Brother Lawrence’s “The Practice of the Presence of God” where Brother Lawrence says that perhaps God doesn’t want us to try to fix everything in our hearts all at once. Perhaps God just wants us to focus on one or two things at a time while we allow Him to change our hearts:

When an occasion of practicing some virtue was offered, he addressed himself to God saying, “Lord, I cannot do this unless Thou enable me”. Then he received strength more than sufficient. When he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault saying to God, “I shall never do otherwise, if you leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my failing and mend what is amiss.” Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.

Why do I feel as though I must agonize over my disobedience? Why do I think that I must be pure before I am worthy of God’s love, worthy to ask Him for anything? Isn’t that the whole point of the cross…that I cannot be worthy on my own?


In Mark 9, a father brings his demon-possessed son to Jesus’ disciples who are unable to cast out the demon. The disciples try to cast out the demon without prayer, without asking for God’s help. This is what I do all the time. I try so hard to cast out my own failures, my sin, the ugliness of my heart without asking for help. Just as the disciples did, I underestimate the power of evil in the world and in myself. I don’t see how weak and proud I am.


Then Jesus has an exchange with the father that gives me such hope!

This man asks Jesus, “Would you heal my son?” And Jesus says, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” That is, “I can do it if you can believe.” The father responds, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” That is, “I’m trying but I’m full of doubts.” Then Jesus heals the man’s son. This is very good news. Through Jesus we don’t need perfect righteousness, just repentant helplessness, to access the presence of God.


Jesus could have told the man, “I am the glory of God in human form. Purify your heart, confess all your sins, get rid of all your doubts and your double-mindedness. Once you…can come before me with a pure heart, then you can ask for the healing you need.” But Jesus doesn’t say that–not at all. The boy’s father says, “I’m not faithful, I am riddled with doubts, and I cannot muster the strength necessary to meet my moral and spiritual challenges. But help me.” That’s saving faith–faith in Jesus instead of in oneself. ~ King’s Cross by Timothy Keller

Aha.

Putting my faith in Jesus rather than in myself. Telling God that He must mend and clean my broken and ugly heart if He wants my heart to change…and then not worrying about it anymore!


To be able to confess to God when I fail and then leave it with Him ~ this is grace.

To allow Him to change me while I simply rest in His love ~ this is grace.

To leave to God the work of making my heart beautiful while I focus on and enjoy the sweet relationship I have with Him ~ this is grace.


Praise be to God for the good news of His grace!

May I remember this grace instead of being frustrated with my inability to obey.

May I trust that God’s seeming delay in making my heart beautiful is what is best, that the journey is somehow essential to the goal, rather than being impatient for a perfect heart right now.


art credits: “Brother Lawrence in the Kitchen” from a book published by Fleming Revell Co. in 1900; “Christ with Martha and Maria” by Henryk Semiradsky in 1886