I have to give my two year old a lot of specific instructions throughout her day.
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.
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.
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.
I have spent much of my life wanting to know God’s will for me.
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.”
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
It happens all the time. Just look at what happens any time a Christian leader is found out or, worse, confesses. Just look at what happens whenever a Christian public figure says something that is outside of our comfort zone. Just look at what happens so many times when someone in our own churches does or says something we don’t agree with.
We talk, we rant, we fill up the air with our words. And our words are not of grace.
It is too easy to speak harshly within the anonymous confines of the internet. We forget at times that those on the receiving end of our arrows are as beloved as we are.
Why do we do it?
We fear that others will think poorly of us or of our faith if we do not speak out quickly and harshly against whatever was wrong. We fear that we will be viewed as the same if we speak words of love instead of words of condemnation.
We fear, perhaps, that we are the same deep down inside, and we do not want anyone to know the truth.
Yet the irony of it all is that the very One we are trying to defend is the same One who shared meals, shared life with those who made the most public of mistakes.
The irony is that the Bible is crammed full of one another verses…and not one of them mentions devouring one another.
Show kindness and mercy to one another. Love one another. Outdo one another in showing honor. Welcome one another. Bear with one another. Be kind to one another. Forgive one another.
These are just the beginning.
Jesus said that people would know that we follow Him by our love. Too often love is not what we show to the world. I confess that perhaps I would not think very highly of Jesus if all that I knew of Him was what I read on the blogs and Facebook pages of His followers.
May God help us.
May the God of love and grace teach us how to get rid of our motto of We eat one another alive.
May He instead change our hearts to adopt the motto of We never leave a fallen comrade behind.
“Is it more important to be right or to be loving?”
I ask her the question as she stands with her hands on her hips, righteous indignation quivering through every inch of her little body.
It seems an easy question when put in such stark terms, but which of us answers it correctly in each one of our little choices every day?
Certainly not me.
I find myself struggling with whether loving the person or desiring to be right is more important. I wrestle with the decision of whether having the perfect event or loving the person is better. I fight hard against the desire to let my agenda, my task list trump the to-do of loving the person.
Love God. Love people.
It is that simple. It is that hard.
Pride stands in our way. Desire for an experience to be amazing puts up a wall. Need to feel accomplished plants its roots.
Yet it truly is simple. Will we obey our own desires or will we submit ourselves to God?
“To be loving.” The answer barely escapes through her gritted teeth. She doesn’t want that to be the right answer.
I know, my darling. I know. I, too, want a different answer. I, too, want to protect myself, to protect my perceived interests and rights.
The trouble is that when you commit yourself to this God of power and love, you commit to letting Him defend you. Your job is to obey. In this case, that looks like love.
It is making yourself vulnerable in order to love the person. It is making yourself nothing in order to love the person. It is making yourself a servant in order to love the person.
I watch my littlest follow her sisters around like a puppy. She is desperate to be big enough to join in with their play. She is willing to try anything to keep up with them and to feel a part of their games and, more importantly, their friendship.
I see myself all too well in her. I, too, find myself following after others with whom I desire friendship. I will do things that I don’t enjoy or participate in too many activities just to feel as though I belong.
I find it hard to understand why I do this, to figure out what lies behind this quiet, desperate feeling. Part of the trouble is that there have been too many occasions of friends drifting away as though I weren’t quite worth the effort. I think, though, that an even bigger part of the trouble is my disbelief of what God has told me, of what He has told all of us.
I don’t truly, deep down inside, believe that I am worth being loved.
If I did, it wouldn’t matter how many friendships ended quietly, I would still be ready once again to make myself vulnerable for another.
I don’t believe that I am valuable and that all I truly need is Him. So I chase after other people, trying to prove my worth to them and to myself. I think that I need other people more than I need the approval of my God.
I forget, you see, that I already belong. I belong to the One who tossed the stars into their orbits and who crafted the sweet violet. I belong and I am worth more to Him than all the birds in the air.
Maybe someday I will do a better job of believing it.
There sometimes comes into the heart of all of us a desire to be sure. A sudden longing for certainty about that which we profess to believe.
We wish to be able to say I believe with no niggling of doubt that causes us to draw back from the ringing shout we had wanted to pronounce.
Doubt is that persistent shadow that startles us now and again just when we’d thought we’d left it behind for good. It is that small voice that sometimes lingers and sometimes only whispers and is gone.
We want it to disappear for always. We long to be certain, to be troubled no longer by questions.
Yet I am beginning to discover that certainty is not faith. Certainty is based on evidence, on proof, on concrete and unassailable fact. Faith, however, is relationship. It is risk and it is vulnerability.
Certainty is about control, about predicting behavior. Faith is a gift from me to you, a gift of myself placed into your hands.
I have read about certainty and faith in the context of a marriage. Certainty in marriage is secretly reading all of your spouse’s emails and texts and journals. Certainty in marriage is hiring a detective to follow your spouse to be sure he is being faithful. Certainty in marriage is tapping the phones to be sure of the trustworthiness of your spouse.
Faith in marriage is a gift. It is an offering of myself, of my vulnerability and my heart, to you as one whom I believe to be faithful.
When I trust you, I take a little piece of myself…and put it into your hands. And then I’m vulnerable. Then you respond, and I find out whether you are trustworthy…I give you the gift of my trust, and you give me the gift of your faithfulness. ~ John Ortberg in Faith and Doubt
Perhaps, after all, certainty is not what we truly long for.
If by it (the intellect) we could prove there is a God, it would be of small avail indeed. We must see Him and know Him. ~ George MacDonald in The Curate’s Awakening
Perhaps, after all, certainty is not such a prize to be pursued. Perhaps, after all, God is more pleased with the vulnerable gift of faith than He is by the chasing after an elusive proof of His existence.
We value freedom quite highly here in the States. We make it one of our highest goals to obtain freedom for everyone.
Freedom is a noble and worthy goal, isn’t it? It is a good that we as Christ-followers support, right? Even Jesus, after all, speaks of setting us free.
Many of us who have grown up in the States have become confused about what freedom means. We think that freedom means living without limits, being able to make our own choices, casting off all restraint.
This is not freedom. This is autonomy. Autonomy is a very different thing.
So what is freedom? In the world of Jesus, what does freedom mean?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about freedom in Creation and Fall,his commentary on the first few chapters of Genesis. He speaks of us being created in the image of the Triune God says that one of the implications of this is that we are meant to be relational beings. Being created as relational beings means that we are dependent. Dependent on God and dependent on each other.
This freedom we are given by being made in God’s image is, Bonhoeffer says, “a relation and nothing else. To be more precise, freedom is a relation between two persons. Being free means ‘being-free-for-the-other’, because I am bound to the other. Only by being in relation with the other am I free.”
Yes, we are free, but free within our relationships. Yes, we are free, but it is a freedom with limits, a freedom with boundaries. It is a freedom that only makes sense within the context of our relationships.
It is the sort of freedom that a cellist in an orchestra has.
A cellist who asserts her autonomy while playing a Rachmaninoff symphony will only cause sour notes and chaos. A cellist who asserts her freedom within the confines of the orchestral relationships around her creates art and beauty. She is free to bring out the best within herself only because she willingly submits herself to the limits of the piece and the limits placed by the conductor.
Insisting on and clinging to our autonomy creates only sour notes and chaos.
Being set free, however, asserting our freedom for those around us…
This gives beauty, peace, joy. This kind of freedom is what brings out our best, most true selves.
It is a question as old as humanity: Why are we on earth and what are we supposed to do while we are here?
Even the ancients spent time on this. The Bible tells us from the very beginning in Genesis about many who searched for and discovered their purposes: Jabal discovered how to raise livestock, Jubal developed different types of music, Tubal-Cain mastered metalworking.
These ancients figured out what to do while here on earth, but what about us? What is our role? Many answers can be found by gazing into the moment we were created.
We have a dual role, we humans. A dual purpose, given to us by God Himself. Let us make. We are created, a part of God’s creation. In our image. We are God’s unique counterpart, His representatives here on earth.
Being made in God’s image brings with it certain responsibilities. The second part of Genesis 1.26 says that God decided we were to rule, to have dominion over, all living creatures.
David echoes this in Psalm 8 when he says that God crowned us with honor and made us rulers of all that God created.
This has, unfortunately, been used too often as an excuse to plunder the earth and destroy it. Instead, “as God’s image bearers…we are to be wise stewards of the earth, caring for it and protecting it in a way that reflects and embodies God’s rule over his creation.” ~ Resounding Truth by Jeremy Begbie
Israel was supposed to be a picture of this. Israel was called to be God’s people, accomplishing God’s purposes for humanity in and for the world. They had experienced God’s rescuing power and love and were intended to be His way of giving that love to the rest of the world.
Does that sound familiar, as though it were, perhaps, something we are supposed to do? I wonder what would have happened if Israel had obeyed. What would our world look like if they had acted as God’s representatives? This is a painful question because Israel’s purposes were but a shadow of our own.
What would our world look like if we were truly acting as God’s representative? What would our neighborhood, our community look like if we were caring for and protecting our world, if we were sharing God’s rescuing love with the people around us? Different?
Things have gone wrong and many live in alienation from one another and in purposeless and destructive living. We should want to be different. We should be reflecting the image of God to the piece of creation in which He has placed us.
Our second role from that moment of creation is our very creatureliness. “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…”
We are created by God. Along with the trees, mountains, birds and sun, we ARE God’s creation. We humans, however, have a unique role that was given to us on behalf of all of creation. A role that only we can fulfill.
We are (as far as we know!) the only creatures who can love God in return. We are the only part of creation who can give voice to the wordless praise of all creation.
In the human being, creation finds a conscious answering voice, a mortal from the dust of the earth who can know and respond to God’s love as a creature, love God in return, and as a part of this response, voice creation’s praise. ~ Resounding Truth by Jeremy Begbie
This is a beautiful picture and a beautiful role. What grace that God entrusted this to us! And yet what tragedy that our role as worshiper in creation has twisted into worshiper of creation. Including worshiper of self. Just as we have twisted our role as God’s representative, we have twisted our role of offering worship on behalf of all creation.
However. (What a beautiful word is however!) God gave us grace through Christ.
Jesus. Man. God. A man who gave complete and un-distracted praise to God. A man who perfectly acted out God’s wise rule in the world.
He is creation’s worship to God ~ perfect praise from us to God, creation’s perfect voice. He is the image of God to us ~ perfect representation of God, being a wise steward of the earth He brought healing, restoration, hope and peace from God to earth.
Jesus helped and healed many people, like this. He made blind people see. He made deaf people hear. He made lame people walk. Jesus was making the sad things come untrue. He was mending God’s broken world. ~ Jesus Storybook Bible
The most exciting part of this news about Jesus? We are invited to join Him. What joy and grace! What a gift! By reflecting God’s image to the world around us, to the tiny piece of creation (human and non-human) in which God has placed us, we are voicing the praise of creation back to God.
The Bible is the Word of God. It is God speaking to us, revealing Himself to us so that we can know Him, know how much He loves us and so that we can learn how to love Him in return.
This Bible of ours is a beautiful book of love. And there are parts of the Bible that are downright disturbing, parts that don’t adhere to our black and white notions of God. We like to gloss over these, to skim over them so that we don’t have to think about them, but they just won’t go away. There are parts of God’s Word that don’t fit the image we have of God. They don’t fit the sort of God we want God to be. Even God the Son does and says some absurd and strange things. Like the cursing of the fig tree. Who, for the love of God, would curse a tree because it is not bearing fruit in the winter? How could that action possibly have been done for the love of God?
Another of these disturbing pieces is God as a jealous God. We tend to think of jealousy as weak, as petty, as fear. We think of it as wishing that we were and had what we are not and do not. But God is in everything and by Him everything lives and moves and has its being. How can both of these be true?
We don’t always get a resolution of the images of God that don’t fit, these pieces of God we can’t make sense of. This one, though, has become clearer lately through reading Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. She speaks of the jealousy of God as mother love, as a lion or tiger protecting her young with passion and fierceness. This jealousy of God is the kind of jealousy that protects her vulnerable children from all that would hurt them, from all that would steal their joy.
It makes sense, then, that one of the times this image of God is given to us is in the first of the Ten Commandments. These commandments were meant to show us how much we need God, to teach us how life works and the way we will be most happy. So if God is jealous to keep false gods away from us, it is the jealousy that wants to protect us from all that would harm our souls.
God’s jealousy allows us to trust Him.
Who, after all, would trust a God, a parent, spouse, or lover, who said to us, “I really love you, but I don’t care at all what you do or who you become.”? ~ Kathleen Norris
It is resolutions like this, resolutions that show that what seems disturbing is all somehow out of love and holiness, resolutions that help us trust for the unknown, disquieting pieces. They help us trust that God is holy and is love and is working to make all of us and all of this world into what it was created to be.
Resolutions like this help us trust that God is a jealous God, “who loves us enough to care when we stray. And who has given us commandments to help us find the way home.” ~ Kathleen Norris
The older I get, the more gray shades I see in our world. An expansion of colors, a deepening of my perceptions, these nuances that make my life richer are a bit astonishing.
It was much easier when the lenses I wear saw only black and white.
Life gets harder when you see things from other points of view. Straight lines get hijacked and carry you off to the unknown. Solid perspectives grow a little blurry and you begin to take a softer view of those you disagree with.
The more I meet people who were raised differently than I was raised and the more I read authors from other places and times and faith traditions, the more I begin to catch a glimpse of how much my view of God, of the Bible, of the world around me is colored by my own place and time and faith tradition.
Just as with every place and time and faith tradition, there is truth to be found and there is misunderstanding. There are many issues of our faith that I have been rethinking and restudying lately, asking God once again to teach me His way.
Issues like the role of women in the church and in the family, homosexuality, how science and the Bible fit together, what the inerrancy of the Scriptures really means. On some of these issues I am changing. On others I remain. Yet on all of these issues and more, as I read and study I realize something that is even more important than figuring out what is right and what is wrong.
No human here on earth is my enemy. We who claim the name of Christ are all trying to love Jesus and obey God’s words. Rather than those who disagree with me being the enemy, being the one who is deliberately misinterpreting God’s words, being the one who picks and chooses what they will believe, those who see things in a different light are just trying their best to follow Jesus.
Just like I am.
Perhaps they are interpreting Scripture incorrectly, but perhaps I am the one who is wrong.
Grace. It is easy to receive and devilishly difficult to dole out freely. I spend so much time wanting to get it right, sometimes from good motivation and sometimes from pride, that I quit looking at the person with whom I differ. I see black and I see white, and the sharp edges of truth keep me from seeing the gray shades of Jesus in the face of the person before me.
It is easier to look at the black and white of an issue, because to see the gray of a person is to see Jesus. And seeing Jesus is always hard. Looking at the face of Jesus has a way of changing you deep down where it hurts.
There is a reason why Jesus said that the most important thing is to love. Loving God and loving people is more important than getting it all right. He didn’t say it was the easiest thing. Most things with Jesus aren’t.
Loving others has a way of hijacking the straight lines of your life and carrying you off to the unknown. Loving Jesus has a way of blurring your sharp edges and softening the contours of your heart.
Imagine that you are out taking a walk in your neighborhood and you stroll down a street that is a little unfamiliar. The road is lined with sidewalks and trees, the houses are evenly spaced with a bit of yard for each. The houses are nothing fancy, just small, American Dream with a white picket fence sorts of houses. As you stroll along, just as the shadows begin to lengthen and the creeping dusk begins to carry with it the scent of a coming rain, one lighted window catches your eye. You pause and find yourself caught by an image. Young adults, seated around a table with a card game on it, joined by an older couple. Children playing together on the floor. A gray-haired elderly man walks in using a cane. You are not sure why the scene has so captivated you, you really must be getting home before the rain begins to fall, but something about the sight of extended family enjoying each other’s company keeps you rooted for longer than you should have stayed.
What are your thoughts as you stand there, feeling chilled by the damp in the air yet unwilling to walk away just yet? Are you filled with a longing you can’t quite explain? Does it remind you of your own family and the time you had with them just the other week? Do you wonder what bitter fights and disappointments lurk in a room more removed from the street views?
What is it about a family?
We all want one. Even those who say they don’t need anyone around would, I dare say, wish deep inside for a perfect family to love them.
Even the word itself brings a picture of love and peace, acceptance and light. The idea of multiple generations caring for one another is enough to set our hearts yearning for an ideal.
Does family really matter? In this world that would tell us that career is more important than children, that independence is better than living intertwined, is family truly that important?
Yes. Emphatically yes.
Families were designed to bring us back to God. There is much about the workings of a family that draws us in, that points our hearts toward God.
The miracle of the birth of a baby, for instance, turns your mind toward thoughts of God, especially God as Father. When you hold your own baby for the first time, your heart is drawn to mystery, drawn to contemplate the miracle of creation. I just read this in WORLD magazine:
The baby daughter of writer Whittaker Chambers helped to move him from Communism to Christ. Chambers wrote inWitness (1952), “My eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear—those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through my mind: ‘No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been created only by immense design.’”
These children are gifts from God sent to turn us back to Him.
Other purposes of family? Those who have been raised in godly families are more able to see the goodness of submitting to God’s authority because they have seen how good life is when we submit to the authority of our parents. Birth and death connect us to God far beyond most other events in our lives, and we can truly experience this connection best if we are surrounded not by institution alone but by those who know and love us best.
Our families are shrinking in size. We think nothing of moving far away from our parents and grandparents. We fill our lives with so many activities that we lose sight of the hearts of those who are most precious to us.
Sometimes these things are unavoidable. Yet if we do not at least deliberate and ponder this mystery of what was intended by the One who created the very idea of family, I fear that we will lose something sacred, some thing that keeps us close to the heart of God.
And anything that keeps us close to the heart of God is too rare and precious to be tossed away careless.