Going the wrong direction

I was headed home the other day and was sitting at a stoplight waiting patiently for the light to turn green. As I sat there, my 5 year old grandson asked me if we were going to turn right or left to get to my house. He was quite proud of himself for knowing his right from his left. I told him we were going to turn left. He, in complete innocence, asked why we couldn’t get there if we turned right. I laughed to myself but smiled at him and said that we just can’t get there going that direction. We could try but we would just be going the wrong way. We’d eventually have to turn back and go the right direction. And just as I said that, the Lord in His great wisdom showed me that He too has only created one direction for everyone to get home; through Jesus Christ.

John 14:6-“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me'”

We could try all the other avenues available but still there is only one way. I have often had some long and difficult conversations with those who believe that there is more than one way to get to Heaven. Many of those people were family members. I have been told my stand is too narrow, my mind, as well. How dare I try to tell them that by just being good it is not good enough. But many, in their stubbornness, won’t listen and will walk their own path. He is offering us His kingdom, inheritance with the saints, eternity with Him and has shown us the direction we need to turn to get there. Just as if we were all sitting at that stoplight waiting to turn left to go home, many will turn right and try to get there. And God will allow it, knowing that eventually they will either figure out that they have to turn back and go the right direction or they will die trying.

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Are they trials or warfare or both?

Human nature hates pain, confusion, death. That is natural. It is understandable. Does the God we serve play a part in any of that? Is He totally absent in our pain? Is He in the midst of our pain? Does He cause it or does He just allow it? We have so many questions regarding this issue especially when we are in the middle of struggling and probably just as many when we are not. It appears that this will be a topic that will be debated and has been debated for centuries with few scholars agreeing on the answers. For what it’s worth, here are my two cents.

Many years ago, a friend asked me why his friend who had been such a godly man was so angry at God for the trials he was in the midst of. His friend couldn’t see that the trials were making him stronger; stronger physically and emotionally but much weaker spiritually. His friend was cursing the enemy and demanding that he leave him alone and he was mad at God for not removing the trial and for not protecting him from the enemy. As I was praying about how to answer, the Holy Spirit flooded my mind with many Scriptures that seemed to answer that very question. It wasn’t the enemy that was causing the torment and the pain, although you could occasionally see his hand in the midst. It was God that was bringing his friend through this trial to accomplish that strengthening, plus, I am sure, much more that he won’t see this side of heaven. He was actually cursing God. First off, it is not always the enemy that is the cause of these issues. If you read Job 1:6-12, you will see that even he had to ask permission to torment Job. Nothing gets past God and God knew that Job could be trusted not to fall. I Peter 4:12-13 states that we are not to be surprised at the painful trials we are suffering as if it were something strange happening to us. In other words, trials are to be expected. Does he blame the devil? Not at all. I Peter 1:6-7 tells us that we are to rejoice in these trials because our faith is being refined by fire and will result in praise, glory and honor when Christ will be revealed. I am sure that most of you have felt that fire Peter was talking about at one time or another. Even James tells us to consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds. He too states that it is a testing of our faith. This is a command not just from James but directly from the Lord. We are to be obedient in rejoicing in the midst of our trials. At this point, I am sure that you are thinking I have absolutely lost my mind and I appreciate that. I have been in that place. You are probably thinking “Well, easy for you to say… you are not dealing with what I am dealing with. Even God wouldn’t expect me to rejoice in this!!” But that is exactly what God is saying. Look at what these apostles dealt with in their own personal lives and yet continued to rejoice. We see Paul in prison, chained to Silas, feet in stocks and yet singing hymns. By the end of his life, Paul had been beaten, flogged, shipwrecked, attacked and thrown in prison and yet you never hear him cursing God for his circumstances. According to tradition, Peter was crucified upside down and chose that willingly. God doesn’t just use our troubles for our own strengthening while we are here on earth. He uses our trials to strengthen others (II Cor. 1:3-4). As you walked through one of these valleys and learned some valuable lessons, have you ever noticed that oftentimes someone comes your way with a similar struggle? What happens? You get to share how God walked you through the pain and someone else was given hope. And God was glorified.  Have you ever looked back on your trial months or even years later and saw how God used it in a totally unexpected way? Jer. 10:23-“I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for a man to direct his steps.” In Isaiah 43:1-3, God reminds us that He will be there with us in the midst of our pain, as we pass through the waters, when we walk through the fire. He promises that we will not be burned. You can sense Paul’s confidence in that promise while he is preparing for death. He knew that no  matter what he was going to endure, Christ had suffered more. There is no one who suffered more than Christ and He did it without a curse or retaliation, without bitterness or even anger. In light of what Christ suffered for us, we are asked to consider our troubles as light and momentary because they are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (II Cor. 4:16-18). That’s a goal that is worth suffering for. So what is God asking of us? God is asking us to change our mindset on how we view the trials we are experiencing. He is not asking us to say, “Praise God my spouse just died” but possibly “This really hurts and I hate it! Lord, show me your mercy and grace in the midst of my pain” or “Lord, help me to continue to be a light to others in the midst of my suffering. Let others see You in me”. As we seek to be obedient to these exceptionally difficult commands, He is faithful to help us in our weakness.

So how does the enemy play into all this? How do I know that it is the Lord and not the enemy? Personally, I would much rather praise God in the midst of my pain or struggle and to look for what He is trying to do in my life than to curse the One who brought it on. God can use any circumstance, good or bad, and use it for His glory (Rom. 8:28). The story of Joseph is a prime example (Gen.37-50). I am sure that if we were Joseph and endured what he did, we would be cursing someone. But knowing how God used it puts a different slant on it. We can see the ending but unfortunately, we can’t do that in everyday life. Put yourself in Joseph’s shoes while it was happening and it takes on a whole new meaning. What would the enemy try to accomplish through what he was enduring? He would be playing on Joseph’s mind, trying to get him to rebel or to hate his brothers. He’d probably tell Joseph that he was unworthy of God’s love and that God had caused this to happen. Would he try to get Joseph to try to get revenge on his family instead of  promoting reconciliation? Absolutely! Will he try to do that to you? Absolutely! How is the enemy playing on your mind? Is he trying to tell you that you are not loved by God; that you are not even saved? Is he telling you that you are too fat or too thin, not smart enough, not rich enough, not good enough? These are the tricks and lies of the enemy. He is the father of lies (John 8:44). Do not believe him.  What should we do instead?  If we live by the Spirit, let us walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Know his tricks. Know Who you belong to.  Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and know that God is your refuge and strength. Yoke yourself to Him and He will help carry your burden. He will walk with you, comfort you in your distress and will strengthen you in the midst of the fire. Count on His promises and look for His hand at work in your life. He is there. Jer. 29:13-“You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart”.

Putting God back on the throne!

Everything is going along fine. Breakfast tastes wonderful. You got up early to spend time with the Lord. Your husband told you how beautiful you are this morning and life is good. Then, your 15 year old daughter walks out of her room with a skirt so short that you can see her underwear. Her makeup is so thick you have to look closely to make sure that it really is your daughter and is her hair really purple? What happens? You lose your temper. Your heart pounds. You say things you never meant to say. She gets angry and yells back and you yell louder. After she storms off to her room, you wonder where that fit of temper came from. You are sure you saw steam coming out of your ears. You’ve noticed that it is happening a lot lately. You notice that you yell at your husband when he is driving too slowly or even driving too fast.  You’re angry because he doesn’t come home as early as he once did. You get angry when he spends money on something trivial that you would never have purchased or maybe you’re angry because he just didn’t discuss it with you first. Maybe you’ve noticed the pit of your stomach churning when something doesn’t quite go right at work but you’re not in a position to say something. So you stew!  and you fret! You’re right and they are wrong but they just don’t know it. Or maybe they know it but just don’t care like you do…..Life would be so good, if only.…. Have you ever uttered those words “If only….” ?  Maybe it’s “If only my husband would come to salvation, life and our marriage would be perfect”. “If only my co-workers would do their job correctly…”. “If only my children would show me some respect…”So many of us struggle with anger, with lack of control, with impatience and yet we know we are following Jesus intimately. We pray daily. We read His Word and go to church faithfully. We seek His face, seek His presence and ask for help with patience, help with those fits of anger. We pray for others, especially those we are angry at. Have you noticed that after praying something will happen that tests your patience but patience is notably absent, even non-existent? Even your anger seems stronger instead of weaker? Why is that? what is happening? Did you notice that most of those “if only’s” always involve others changing? Rarely do we utter “If only I …” When we utter those words,”if only” the object of our thoughts becomes an idol. It is what we think we need to have that perfect life. Does God promise a perfect life? I Peter 4:12-13 says to not be surprised at the fiery ordeals you’ve been enduring as if it were a strange thing, but to rejoice in your suffering. Everyone is going to suffer in some way, whether it be in marriage, in one’s health, in our jobs, or in our faith. We think we are in control of our lives or at least we try to be. And unfortunately, we often try to control the lives of others to make our lives better. Isaiah 64:8 states that “You are the Father and we are the clay and you our Potter. And all of us are the work of your hand”. Romans 9:21 goes further and states that it is His will to determine whether we are made for special use or for ordinary use. When we try to control our lives, we are not allowing God to be in control; to be our Potter. We are trying to be God. We have pushed Him off of His throne and placed ourselves there and He is allowing us  the opportunity to try. But what we are seeing is the mess that comes from that control. We don’t know the plans He has for us, for the lives of our children, or even the eventual salvation of our spouse. We can’t see that He knows best, for we think we know what is best; for us and for our family. We don’t trust that He will do what we want Him to do for them. We need to stop trying to be God. What we need to do is to get off of His throne and let Him back in control of our lives. Sounds so easy, but how do we do that? We need to recognize that we are not in control and He is. We need to confess and repent of trying to be God  in our own lives and in the lives of others. And when we recognize that we are trying to be in control, to step back, trust Him with whatever is happening and let Him do whatever He needs to do. And we need to pray… pray for your husband’s driving instead of telling him about it. He has heard your words. Pray about your daughter’s wardrobe and what you can say that will influence her. Pray for your co-workers. But most importantly, pray for yourself. Pray that you will put others above yourself. Pray for a right heart, for humility and grace. Humility; to not put your own importance above others; to not show that you feel superior, especially in regards to your faith. Humility in realizing that we are all sinners in need of grace and mercy. And pray that you can extend grace when others are wrong. We were all deserving of death but we  have been given grace and we need to extend it to others. As we get our hearts back in line, our actions will eventually follow suit. It is not an easy process. We all like control and once taken, it is hard to give it back to the One who is truly in control. I Peter 4:11b-“To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen”