Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Check yourself

I recently finished reading the second book of Francine Rivers' Mark of the Lion series (I love the series so far!), and as I read about the developments in one of the character's life, my conscience was struck with the realization that I do not know for certain if I am doing God's will. In the book, the character of Phoebe pours herself out and wears herself down while caring for poor widows and their families.  She visits them everyday, sews new clothing for them every night, and brings them food, money, and love.  However, though noble and good, this is not God's will for her at this time. Eventually, Phoebe suffers a stroke, becomes paralyzed on one side of her body, and can no longer communicate by talking, yet she is still fully aware. It is in this state that she truly understands and accepts God's will for her, which is to pray unceasingly for her two children who rejected God and live lives that no mother would want for her children. Before the stroke, Phoebe was too busy and too fatigued from her work with the poor to pray for her children.  I think she subconsciously used her work to distract her from facing the messed up state of her children's lives, thus avoiding and failing to pray for them when they needed it most.

We so easily get distracted!  This is especially true here in the U.S.  Our lives our busy and filled with excess.  Not only that, but we are told to seek our own; the media is full of messages that we are number one, our needs are first, and we can fill our needs by doing x, y, and z.  In response to this, God may choose to take us by the shoulders and plunk us down into situations (possibly not as serious as a stroke!) where we have no choice but to be redirected.  This may be frustrating and confusing at first, but then often we have that "Ahhh, yeah, ok, I get it God" moment.  God did not have to "redirect" me for me to come to the realization that I don't truly know if I am doing God's will. I don't know his will because I havn't asked him recently. I felt God leading me in his will a couple of months ago and so I started down that path, but I haven't consulted him since! I've just gone on my merry little way, asking for help and guidance with certain things, but never pausing long enough to actually listen to God. How could God give me guidance when I would not be lead?  Yes, God is all powerful and he could sit me down and tell me how it is, but that is not his nature.  From the beginning he's given us choices and he's let us make them for better or for worse.*   

In order to follow and carry out God's will we must seek his will.  It doesn't work to go about our daily lives focused on ourselves and only pay attention to Him when life gets bumpy. We are called to a greater purpose.  If I truly desire to know God's will, then I must have both eyes open wide and see beyond myself.  I must seek God every single day so that I can be filled up with his Holy Word (Matthew 4:4), which brings wisdom, truth, lasting joy, peace, comfort, protection, and displays God's unceasing love. With my eyes open and the armor of God on, I can go and do God's good and perfect will--with his help of course!  Romans 12:2 "2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."  

Don't know if you're doing God's will?  A pastor once told me that you know if you are doing God's will if you are "bearing fruit," for this is what Christ appointed us to do (John 15:16 and Romans 7:4).  There are two main thoughts on what Jesus and Paul are referring to when they say to "bear fruit."   One thought, is that when we bear fruit we will possess the fruits of the spirit "22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."(Galatians 5:22-23)  So in this case we will know if we're doing the will of God if these qualities make up who we are.  The other thought is that to bear fruit is to show God's light to the lost, so that they may see and believe and no longer be lost, but be adopted as sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:23)--this would be bearing fruit for God's harvest "36Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together." John 4:36.  This "harvest" is God claiming as his own, thus granting eternal life, all who claim Jesus as their savior.  I believe that both of these thoughts are what it means to bear fruit as both work perfectly together.  The first step to bearing fruit is to give up control and completely trust in the Lord 7 "But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.  8 He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." Jeremiah 17:7-8  

Father God, I am sorry for not seeking your will but instead selfishly and ignorantly always following my own.  Help me not to deceive myself by pretending to seek your will just so that I can put a "check mark in the box."  Instead, let me seek after you with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength.  I will need your help in doing this Lord!  I am so easily distracted! Let it be as it is in the prayer you taught us to pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven."  Wow!  If your will was done on earth as it is in heaven, earth would be unrecognizable! It would be a utopia where unselfish love for one another would abound.  Help me to seek you in whatever I do, for it is my desire to glorify you and you alone will sustain me, you alone can give me my deepest desires.  Thank you for banishing worry and fear, thank you for giving me peace and purpose, thank you for your absolute faithfulness and love.  All glory be to you, in Jesus name, Amen.
34"My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work." John 4:34

*Because he loves us he doesn't force us to do anything, but rather leads us using the Bible, and the circumstances were faced with, some disciplinary, are all to his glory, all to refine us and make us more like him.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Right Mindset

I've discovered that I often could care less about God's big plan, for the world or for me. Usually, I'm completely caught up in the here and now, my mind is preoccupied with it and I can't see beyond it. In the mornings I think about the day before me and the possible challenges I might face at work, or the things I want to get done around the house that night. I focus on the weeks and weekends and how busy each is going to be or how I'm looking forward to spending time with Scott once it is the weekend, or once fill-in-the-blank. Usually, the farthest I look into the future is a couple of years from now, wondering what I will do for my occupation or if I will go back to school for something. I am happy when everything goes my way, I can become moody when things don't. I am focused mostly on me in the here and now. If you are like me well, I'm afraid there is something very wrong with our mindsets!

In Colossians 3:1-2 Paul writes "1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." Or as The Message translation of the Bible puts it: "1-2 So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective." You see, the world is so much bigger than us! When we are focused on whatever is right in front of us we fail to see the "grand design." We chase after meaningless, worldly things though in the end they gain us nothing, if not bitterness.

It is important to think bigger than the here and now when we consider the things we desire for ourselves, when things are going well, and when life is challenging. When I desire things, an "eternal outlook" helps to keep me from desiring/idolizing/worshipping worldly things that really aren't that good for me and will turn to "dust" (Ecclesiastes!). When times are good, this outlook helps me to keep things in perspective and reminds me what I am here for, to do God's will and bless others. When times are tough having an eternal mindset can make all the difference.

Granted, I haven't experienced the tough times that some have, but I know that it is crucial during these times to follow the advice in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 "16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." First, in verse 16, I love that if we lean on God he gives us all the strength we need and he, The Living Water (John 4:10), The Bread of Life (John 6:35), renews and sustains us through difficult times. The struggles we experience are only momentary, and as Christians, what waits for us in eternity "far outweighs them all." This means that if you put the worst things that happen to you, or anyone, in this life here on earth on one side of a balance and the glory of eternal life in God's presence on the other side of the balance there is no competition! Or as Paul writes in Romans 8:18 "18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."and Paul was definitely a man who knew what suffering was. The promise of eternity with God is too great, God's just too awesome! Praise God!

When I look back on the tougher times in my life I can see benefits that have resulted from each one. In middle school, I struggled through some hard times and at that time I wasn't too happy with God for allowing these struggles, but now I believe God put these struggles in place to prevent me from going down a certain detrimental path that I am sure I would have otherwise. Then in highschool, God addressed what caused me so much pain in middle school, and blessed me with something much greater than I had imagined as an answer to my prayers. Thank you God! I have seen similar things happen in others lives as well, where God denies us something, or gives us hardship, only for things to come out much better than they would have otherwise. Remember, we can only see a teeny, tiny, microscopic amount of what is really going on and what is really going to best for us.

As I make an effort to shift my mindset to focus more on the eternal, I need to remember that "in all things God is working for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose . . . to be conformed to the likeness of his son." Romans 8:28-29. Though things may not be stellar, God is working for my ultimate good and that good is to do God's will as he conforms me to the likeness of his Son. I have been, and will continue to be "refined like silver in a furnace of clay" as "Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time." (Daniel 11:35) and while being refined isn't a whole lot of fun, I have already seen the benefits of time when I was "refined" in college. I can think of three very significant things that resulted from it, all of them positive. You see, if I adopt an eternal mindset I can have patience and I can bear through tough times knowing that God has my best interest in mind. Instead of hopelessness I will have hope. "5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans 5:5 Along with this mindset, let us also keep in mind Romans 8:38 "38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."