Friday, September 23, 2016

Best of the Best Series: Loving the Unlovable

There are certain jobs God has called me to do in which I find great joy.  There are others that often make me downright miserable, which really doesn't make sense to me.  Aren't we supposed to be joyful when we're doing the Lord's will?  Shouldn't we find peace in knowing that we're doing the things He's called us to do?

So, recently, these questions led me to thinking that maybe this one particular task that I dreaded was not really something He had called me to do.  Perhaps I had misunderstood.  Or perhaps it was His will many years ago when I first took on the responsibility, but maybe it was time for me to step away.  After all, deep down, the only reason I feel like I do it is because no one else will.  Is that a good reason to do something?  If I gave up this dreaded responsibility, wouldn't it free up more time and energy for me to do the things I'm sure God called me to do?

All that being said, I didn't want to step away from the position until I was absolutely certain that that was what God wanted me to do.  Being in God's will is more important to me than my own personal comfort.  So, I prayed and prayed and prayed.  I waited.  I listened.  And to be honest, all the while, I kept hoping that God would let me off the hook.  I didn't want the job any longer.  It was too time-consuming and FAR too stressful.  It created in me a terrible attitude, and I personally didn't think it was worth losing my testimony over.  But, evidently, God had another opinion on the matter.

Instead of taking away the responsibility, He actually placed even more of it in my lap.  Just, boom, here you go!  Obviously, I wasn't happy with this response.  In fact, I was quite disappointed and frustrated.  Didn't God care that I was unhappy in this position?  I know He understands how much it stresses me out and causes an array of attitudes to swell up within me.  What was He thinking?  How can this be for my good. . . or anyone else's, for that matter?

The answer to that question came to me in the form of an e-mail from a friend.  She was discussing her own current trial which involved an angry, mean-spirited coworker.  In her e-mail, she stated that even though she wanted to be mean right back, she kept hearing the still, small voice reminding her that her job was to love the unlovable.  At the time, my focus was on my friend's predicament, but later, as I mulled over that phrase, "love the unlovable," I realized that it doesn't only refer to people.  It also refers to circumstances.

To drive the point further home, my dear husband pointed out that maybe God wouldn't allow me to step down from the position until I straightened out my attitude.  That was certainly not what I wanted to hear, but deep down, I knew he had a good point.  My attitude about the entire situation was stinky, and I knew it.  But rather than stick with it and go through the effort to fix my attitude, I wanted to simply run from the problem.  It definitely seemed like the easier route, but I know that easier is not always better.

I think maybe God is waiting for me to accept His will for my life (in all areas) and to learn to love the unlovable.  Sure, it's easy to do the pleasant tasks, the ones I find joy in, but where's the sacrifice in that?  God has given me this job to do, unpleasant though it may be, and He is longing for me to find joy in that service.  Unfortunately, this will require a lot of work on my part, especially in changing my attitude and thought process toward the position.  However, I can rest assured that I am not working alone.  Who better to teach me how to love the unlovable than Love Himself?

For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. - Philippians 2:13

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Best of the Best Series: Fighting on My Knees

The older I get, the more I realize that every day brings with it at least one battle.  Naturally, there's the fight against this old, wicked flesh.  In addition to that, there are health battles, financial battles, relationship battles (and I'm not just talking about the husband/wife kind, though those are prone to happen as well from time to time), battles with balance and too many more to name.  Each day presents me with a list of both opportunities to pursue and battles to face.  I've come to understand that's just the way it is in this life.

But you know what else I've discovered?  I fight best when I'm on my knees.  No, seriously, when I fight the battles on my knees, I am always victorious.  When I try to face them on my own two feet, on the other hand, I always fail.  While this phenomenon may seem odd, the success rate of this "knee fighting" is due to the method itself and what it entails.  Allow me to walk you through my version of fighting on my knees.

It begins on my knees in worship.  Kneeling prostrate at the feet of Jesus, I shower Him with praise for Who He is and what He's done.  I recognize His many blessings in my life and thank Him for the way He has worked in each circumstance.  Additionally, I thank Him for what He is about to do in my life, knowing that He is always working for my good.  In this state of worship, I acknowledge Jesus as my Lord and Savior and offer praise for His great sacrifice on the cross.  And sometimes I simply weep due to His great grace and mercy.

The next phase involves prayer.  Whether physically or symbolically on my knees, I realize that I can do nothing without the power of God in my life, and it is here that I gain access to that power.  The position of my physical body is not important, but the position of my heart certainly is.  It is still bowed before God, humble in His almighty presence.  During this time, I alternate between talking and listening.  I pour out my heart, then listen for God's response to my cries.  I ask questions and heed His answers.  Whether loud or quiet, I can rest assured that He always hears, and with this knowledge, I gain strength to face the oncoming day and the battles it holds.

Before rising, there is one last thing I must do.  Bowing at the feet of my Master, I surrender everything I have to Him.  My life.  My will.  My desires.  My expectations.  My actions and attitudes.  Everything!  With every ounce of humility I can muster, I admit that I am not the one in charge of my life and that it is not even, in fact, my life.  It is His to use as He wills.  I beg my Lord to empty me of myself and my own ambitions and to fill me with His spirit, to arm me for the battles that await.  And with a smile, I leave myself behind, rise to my feet and go to war, armed with the power of God.  How can I be defeated?

Perhaps you have your own version of fighting on your knees, or maybe this is a new concept for you.  Whatever the case, I hope you are encouraged that, even though each day brings about new battles, you are guaranteed victory if you're fighting on your knees.  Daniel found that victory.  So did David and the three Hebrew children.  And Joshua.  And so many more, including Jesus Himself.  Think about it, what was Jesus doing when the mob captured him and ultimately led Him to Calvary?  He was praying in the garden.  He was fighting the battle on His knees.  And in the end, He won!

We can too, but only if we're fighting in the proper stance.  You can try standing on your own two feet if you want to, but as for me, I've learned my lesson.  I'm staying right here on my knees!

 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? - Psalm 118:6

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Best of the Best: Whose Fault Is It?

I've been reading recently about great men and women of God from history. As I read their stories, I find myself saying, "Boy, I sure wish God worked like that today. Wouldn't it be nice if He spoke to me the way He spoke to them?"

This morning, the Lord smote my heart about that. He reminded me that He is a God who never changes. He reminded me that He is a God who is not a respecter of persons. He reminded me that I have the same opportunities to hear His voice and see His work as the men and women of old did. The difference? I'm not listening, and I'm not paying attention.

Did you ever notice how easy it is to be upset when things don't go right? We fuss. We complain. We argue. But, how about the times when things DO go right? Do we stop and praise the Lord for working things out? Do we have a worship service right then and there? Do we tell others about how the Lord met our needs? Sometimes, but mostly we just go on about our day, not even taking notice of the things that went smoothly. We are unobservant and ungrateful people.

I'm reminded of an old Southern Gospel song called, "Who Moved?" It basically says that if we don't like the current state of our spiritual lives, it's our own fault, not God's. He hasn't moved. We have. If we feel distant from God, it's because we've gone our own way instead of following in His footsteps. If we can no longer hear His voice, it's because we've surrounded ourselves with too much noise. If we can't see Him working, it's because we're too distracted to notice.

God hasn't changed. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Neither does God play favorites. He doesn't decide that He's going to spend more time with this child or that child. The amount of time we spend with God is up to us, not Him. He's always there waiting for us. He's always available to us. He welcomes our fellowship. He'll never turn us away. He wants to hear from us. He wants to speak to us. He wants to comfort us. And, He wants to work in our lives.

So, if our spiritual life seems a little dry, whose fault is it? We have access to the water of life.
If our pathway seems dark, whose fault is it? We should be walking with the Light of the world.
If life no longer holds happiness, whose fault is it? Christ is our joy and the source of our song.
If we feel we can't go on, whose fault is it? The Lord should be our strength.

You see? It's not that God is not available to us. It's simply that we are not making use of God's full potential. We've trusted in Him to save us, but we're not trusting in Him to keep us safe. We've trusted Him as the way of salvation, but we're not trusting Him to lead us in the way of life. We've trusted in Him for eternal security, but we're not trusting in Him for day to day security.

God is waiting for us. Whether or not we choose to avail ourselves of all that He has to offer is up to us. So, if we're not feeling His presence in our lives, whose fault is it?

Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. - James 4:8

Monday, September 19, 2016

Best of the Best: Help! I'm Stuck!

Have you ever played with a Chinese finger puzzle (aka, Chinese finger trap, Chinese handcuffs)? Who would have thought that a simple braided tube could evoke both panic and laughter, depending on whether or not your fingers happen to be the ones in the tube?

The trick to the Chinese finger puzzle is that the captive must keep in mind that the trap defies logic.  In other words, common sense tells you to pull your fingers away from the tube, but because of the way the trap is designed, your attempts to pull free only tighten the trap around your fingers.  The trick is to relax and allow your fingers to go limp.  Then, and only then, will you be freed.  In order to free yourself, you must throw out common sense and your own vain attempts to pull free.  Letting go and relaxing is the key.

Life certainly has its shares of Chinese finger puzzles, doesn't it? Things that ensnare us.  Time and time again, we find ourselves prisoners of bodies that lack strength and energy, finances that spend far more time going than coming, deadlines that hover, storms that threaten, relationships that stress and frustrations that could fill the Grand Canyon.  And the fact of the matter is that all of these things are just part of life, and there's not much we can do about it.  What was can deal with, however, is how we approach these puzzles.

I am, by nature, a very logical and analytical person.  If I weren't such an emotional basketcase, I'd make a great Vulcan (though I'd prefer to pass on the pointed ears).  I have a tendency to attack any given problem or situation from a logical and analytical standpoint.  Step one, assess the problem.  Step two, create a list of possible solutions.  Step three, choose and implement the solution.  Step four, survey the results, then repeat if necessary.  Steps five through ten, consume significant amounts of chocolate. Straightforward.  To the point.  Think it through, then act accordingly.

It sounds like a good strategy, but there's one problem--I've left no room for faith.  And so I pull and thrash and expend time, energy and other valuable resources attempting to solve my latest Chinese finger puzzle.  My logic says, "Pull, and if that doesn't work, pull harder."  My faith says, "Just relax.  Your Father can take care of this."  Two different voices.  Two distinct messages.  But I only get one choice.  To whom will I listen?  Will I continue to struggle, always searching for new ways to make everything work according to plan?  Or will I just relax and allow the Lord to have His will and way in every area of my life?

I wish I could say it is an easy choice.  It should be, but the truth is, sometimes it's just so difficult to let go.  But I've recently come to realize that I'll never be truly free until I do.  Until I place my complete trust in Him, I won't be free of worry or anxiety or depression.  Until I surrender everything I have and everything I am, I will be held captive by my own desires and ambitions.  Until I learn to relax, I will be cut off from the real peace and joy that the Lord wants for me to have.

You know the best way to escape from a Chinese finger puzzle?  Don't stick you fingers in there in the first place.  Likewise, the best way to avoid the frustrations and discouragement of life is to not stick our fingers in the mix.  Just give the problem to God.  Don't get mixed up in it.  Don't waste time and energy trying to find the solution.  Just turn it over to the One who knows all and relax.  He's working all things for your good, and unlike us, puzzles don't ensnare Him or stress Him out.  Let it go.  Just take a deep breath, and relax.  God's got this!

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:6-7

Friday, September 16, 2016

Best of the Best: When Prayers Seem Unanswered

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:  For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.- Matthew 7:7-8

And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. - Matthew 21:22

If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. - John 15:7

If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it. - John 14:14

At first glance, it seems that the Bible is saying that if I want something, all I need to do is ask God for it, and I'll have it.  Let's give that I try.  I want a million dollars in my bank account.  I want an enormous slice of chocolate cake.  I want perfect health, effective immediately.  Hmm.  Nothing happened, so does that mean that the Bible isn't true?  Has God failed to keep His promises?

Unfortunately, that's the first conclusion many jump to.  They claim, "Well, I asked God for this, and He didn't give it to me, so I guess He can't be trusted after all."  Admittedly, I've found myself wondering about it a few times.  But what we must understand is that when we study the Bible, we must study it as a whole.  It is vital that we compare Scripture with Scripture.  So what does the Bible, as a whole, have to say about why our prayers sometimes seem to go unanswered?

1.) We don't ask.  James 4:2 says, "Ye have not, because ye ask not."  Yes, God is omniscient.  He knows what we need and what we desire.  Still, He longs for us to ask.  Why else would He have commanded it so many times?  I think sometimes we're afraid to ask God for things because we don't want to set ourselves up for disappointment if it doesn't happen.  But God longs for us to ask and leave the rest up to Him.

2.) We're not specific.  God does answer our prayers, but often we don't realize it because we didn't pray specifically.  For example, when I pray for God to help us financially, I may be thinking about a bigger paycheck, an unexpected monetary gift, extraordinary book sales or something along those lines.  So, when none of those things occur, I assume God didn't answer my prayer.  However, God may have answered that request by making the tires on my vehicle last longer or by having meals provided by others at a gathering.  Didn't those things save me money?  Sure, it just wasn't what I was expected.  If we want something specific, we should pray for something specific.

3.) We don't believe.  James 1:5-7 says, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.  But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.  For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord."  I'm not one of those people who thinks that if you believe in something enough, you can heal the sick, cast out demons, perform miracles, etc.  If God wants you to, sure, but I don't believe it works that way.  On the other hand, faith plays an important part in our prayers.  How many times in the gospels did Jesus commend someone for their faith?  Of the many people Jesus healed, He often commented, "Your faith has made you whole."  After all, if we don't believe God can give us what we want or need, why are we asking for it in the first place?

4.) We ask for the wrong things.  James 4:3 says, "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss."  Sometimes God doesn't give us what we ask for because He knows it's not a good thing for us to have.  Some things are just not in His will.  If we want God to give us the things we ask for, we need to learn to ask for the things He wants to give.  To do that, we need to heed Psalm 37:4 which says, "Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart."  That doesn't mean that He'll give us what we desire but rather that He will teach us what to desire.

God still answers prayer.  It may not be in the way or at the time that we expect, but He will fulfill His promises.  Remember, He is a loving Father and a faithful Friend.  He wants us to be happy.  He wants us to live fulfilling lives, and He'll give us everything we need to do that.  The rest is up to us.

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,  Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. - Ephesians 3:20