When God speaks…are we listening?

It’s fair to say that as Christians, we want to hear from God. We desire His input about what is going on in our lives and around us. We seek his guidance on matters that are close to our hearts and minds. Still, sometimes, we just don’t seem to hear from him about the things we’ve been inquiring for counsel on.

As much as we may find ourselves tempted to say or think, ‘Ahem, Lord Most High, are you hearing me?,’ patterns in scripture suggest that wouldn’t be an appropriate response from us. God does hear. He does care, particularly for those who are listening to him and heeding his commands. When we don’t feel like we are hearing from him, there are some things we need to keep in mind.

We quickly forget who is sovereign. While it’s quite true that he is interested in the details of our lives, he has a grander picture that he’s drawing together. Sometimes the things we’re focused on fall under not now, not at all, or not how you think. Meanwhile, he’s working, but he’s working in the order that brings about the greatest glory and goodness, which might not mean addressing our concerns promptly.

If we want whatever we’ve been asking about more than him, expect to be disappointed. If he gives us that promotion, or that ministry opportunity, or fill in the blank with what occupies your thoughts, it will fall short of our desires if we’ve placed too much emphasis on that person or event filling us. On the other hand, if he says wait or no, until we’ve come to a place where we’ve surrendered it, we’ll feel a measure of frustration and/or confusion about why it is so much on our radar and evidently, last on God’s to-do list.

If we’re ensnared in a pattern of sinful behavior that God’s been pointing out to us, but we’re persisting in it, we shouldn’t be too surprised if our requests are put on hold. This is a tricky one to me because of course there will always be something that still needs to be weeded out of our lives. However, I do think that when we’re patient in our relationship with the Lord, he will nudge us in the direction of our besetting sins. As much as it can be irritating and discouraging to ask for something and keep being redirected to the dark places that we don’t want to see or address, again, it is out of his love that he guides us to deal with these things first. Ask him to help you see past the manifestations of sinful behaviors and down to the root of the problem. That’s the place where he needs to work with you and as that place is cleared away, the Spirit helps you with the outward attitudes or behaviors that you can’t seem to change on your own long-term.

If we aren’t spending much time building a relationship with him, we are less likely to hear answers to our questions. There are times in our lives when we get busy and/or distracted by the things we’re involved in and we allow them to crowd out regular fellowship with the Lord. When this happens, sometimes we lose some sensitivity to his voice. Even when this is not the case, we have to keep in mind that growth and depth in a relationship takes a great deal of time and if we don’t choose to carve out that time, a relationship will lose ground or stagnate. We need to be available to him for his purposes when he’s invited us to come.

Ok. Suppose you know the Lord is sovereign over your circumstances, you want his purposes more than the desires of your heart, you have a clear conscience before him, and you are invested in your relationship with him and…you still find yourself straining to hear a reply. Ask him to help you listen to what he has for you right now. Make every effort to respond to what he is saying. Be willing to accept his words for you might not appear to relate to that which you have been asking him about. Hang in there.

Postlude of thanks

joyful

In wrapping up this series on gratitude, I’d like to highlight a few practical ways to infuse our daily lives with thanksgiving and share some of my own reasons for thanksgiving that have come out of reflection on this year’s thorns.

Opportunities to integrate acts and an attitude of gratitude:

  • Find a time each day (or week) that you can regularly spend recounting what has happened that you can give thanks for
  • Expand your view of gratitude beyond immediate things in ‘your world’…what about nature? what about things in the lives of neighbors, friends, family? what finer details of your life are just a given? anything you’ve been overlooking that is worth thanks?
  • Pray for a heart of thanksgiving
  • Partner with someone to encourage accountability. Check in once a week…send a text, email, or call them to see how it’s going
  • Look for opportunities to write a note of thanks or express verbal appreciation for people around you (friends, family, co-workers, roommates, professors, etc.)
  • Branch out…even to some folks you might not know as well…i.e. sending a letter or email of thanks to one of your church’s mission partners for the work they are doing
  • When you have a situation that would tempt you to complain, examine if there might be some aspect of God’s provision in it…even if you cannot see anything, entrust it to the Lord, letting Him know you are confident He is able to use even that for good.
  • Spend some time reading through scriptures expressing gratitude.
  • Set aside time each week or month to sing some hymns of thanks to God.
  • Journal about your history with God…the ways He’s acted on your behalf and through your life up until this point.

If you have an idea…please add it to the comments section! 🙂

Here are some things I’m thankful for this year:

  • A more comprehensive knowledge of Scripture
  • A deeper sense of God’s sovereignty and His goodness…even when I don’t understand
  • The rich blessing of working in women’s ministry and seeing the harmony of very different ladies coming together for a common goal
  • A spirit of partnership among colleagues at the library
  • My parents and my younger brother…for their quiet moments of support
  • A ‘yes’ from the Lord this semester about attending a class. I missed school.
  • Believers who have been faithful before our generation and recount their stories in books and in music, so we can hold fast to them today
  • People who I might not even realize who have prayed for me this year. I felt their prayers and truly can’t imagine where I would have been without them.
  • A stirring desire to take up ballet again these last few days…it usually brings me joy, but while I’ve been very sad this year, it felt like a weighty burden instead and so I’d let it go
  • His presence in places no one else could enter; His persistence when I wanted Him to go away; His love as I saw so much in me that was unlovely; His confidence that this chapter will not be the end of the story He has written for me

Thanks for reflecting on these things with me. God’s grace to you!

Thanks…for thorns

rose

“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Job 2:10

I’ve been working my way up to a post on thanks for things that we didn’t want to happen, or things that we’ve asked for and haven’t received. This morning, I listened to one of Nancy Leigh DeMoss’s podcasts on gratitude that relayed a prayer that is so fitting for this discussion. Here it is:

George Matheson was a 19th-century Scottish preacher who lost his eyesight at a very early age. As he wrestled over this set of circumstances, he eventually prayed this prayer:

Dear God, I have never thanked You for my thorns. I’ve thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the cross I bear. Teach me the value of my thorns.

Oh, that we can learn what it means to offer thanks and praise to God even for the things we wish He would change, or fix, or take from us!

Are there any thorns in your life that you’ve prayed for God to take away, that you might serve Him better? Can you find some aspect of that thorn that can be used for His glory?

When I think of thorns in my own life, I rarely think of them as blessings or avenues of God’s provision. I generally view them as limitations and places where I don’t measure up. Nevertheless, thorns keep me humble where I might otherwise be proud. Thorns soften my heart in places where it would be hardened. Thorns permit me to reach the end of self and find I’m desperately lacking and in need of Him.

Perhaps in my most recent wrestling with thorns, I have discovered that true beauty of character seems to be somehow connected to the presence of thorns in our midst and the way that we choose to respond to them when faced with the reality that they won’t simply go away.

Friends, may we be found faithful with the thorns He has permitted, in His sovereignty, through His love, and for His purposes.

Here’s an excellent song for giving thanks in every set of circumstances!

Thanks for things great and small

Charles Spurgeon said, “Let us daily praise God for common mercies-common as we frequently call them, and yet so pricelss that when deprived of them we are ready to perish.”

I think that it comes more naturally to us to give thanks for the really big things and the relatively small things, but someone miss that huge chunk of day to day provisions that we come to expect. To illustrate what I mean, consider that when someone comes along and helps you out with an enormous project, you probably offer profuse thanks, right? Likewise, when a coworker takes care of a minor task for you that will save you time, you are likely to express thanks for that as well.

Yet what about the day in, day out things that make up that whole realm of the mundane in our lives? Do you thank your wife for doing the laundry? How about God for providing that job you go to month after month, year after year? Then there’s your church leadership for all of the behind the scenes work they do (often unpaid) to keep things running. What about your roommate for the little things he or she does that make your day brighter or easier? Do you thank your husband for his help with the children?

I venture to say that the folks that make up our routines are likely to get the least thanks from us, especially given the amount of contact we have with them. However, if we don’t express frequent gratitude towards them, what happens? Generally, we come to a point where we marginalize their contributions towards us and they feel it and don’t appreciate it! Further, our relationship with the Lord is affected by our lax attitude.

Perhaps one of the saddest aspects of this lack of gratitude is that it is usually unintentional. We are thankful for all those mundane things at first, when they are new, but as we grow accustomed to them as part of the rhythm of our lives, we mentally (and sometimes emotionally) focus our efforts on other things in life, things that are now new or things that are demanding or things that we are working towards. That’s why the remedy is to be intentional about extending thanks. We have to be reminded that all these things are actually worth the time it takes to recount them as blessings.

May we make every effort to give thanks to God and those closest to us for their daily graces, and through that, may our relationships deepen and abound in joy.

A people known for their…gratitude?

gratitude

Do you think that Christians are a people that are known for their spirit of gratitude?

I confess that if they are, I’m not one of the spokespeople! 😦

However, perhaps for the first time, I genuinely want to be.

Recently, I met with a woman from my church who mentors me. She made a point of spending some time outdoors at our local beach and offering up thanks to the Lord for what He is doing and what He has done. There was such a spirit of gratitude, trust, and humility in her. I have a deep respect for her because I know that although her life is certainly blessed, it hasn’t been easy. Still, her inclination is to have hope and to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.

About a week later, I came across a new book by Nancy Leigh DeMoss called Choosing Gratitude. Gulp. Oh, Lord…I murmured inwardly…I see a theme coming, but you know better than anyone that gratitude is a great deficiency in my life. Sure, I’m ok at pleasantries…telling folks thank you and writing thank you notes…but actually having a heart of gratitude…er…think again.

When I hear remarks about how I should be grateful for such and such, I get this horrible lump in my throat. I can’t quite choke past the ‘should.’ This overwhelming sense that if I was really a good Christian, I would will myself to be grateful under all circumstances. It sounds like this burdensome chore to me that I’m supposed to grin and bear and act like I love it and yet somehow not appear to be pretending.

There’s good news. Well meaning Christians might make comments like this, but God doesn’t heap tasks on us that we ‘should’ do and then put the burden on us to make it happen and make Him look good while we’re doing it. For that, I can say…I’m grateful! 🙂 There’s hope of becoming a grateful person because as we submit ourselves to Him and His work, He takes the burden and He transforms us into people with His heart. So, when I go to Him and say, wow, I blow it in this area over and over and…(you get the point)…in His time, He can refine me no matter how far off I am from where He intends me to be.

This week, I want to elaborate a bit about gratitude, what scripture teaches about gratitude, and how we can practice gratitude in the midst of all kinds of circumstances. I welcome you to join me in these posts and, feel free to share your own recommendations, too!

Welcome to campus!

Special thanks to Janelle Sander, Access Supervisor @ Rolfing Library for her guest post on adjusting to life @ Trinity!

On transitioning to campus life…

It was a little more than a year ago that my husband and I were going through some of the same transitions that many of our new students have been through in the last few months or are going through now—reverting from a “normal” life where we both worked full-time jobs in the “real” world back to a world where assignments and papers dictate how we will spend our nights and weekends.  Now, I know that our experiences are similar to only a fraction of the population here at Trinity.  Some have come straight from other schooling experiences, while some have been out of school much longer than we have.  The point is that we’re all here, trying to adjust to a new normalcy.  Here’s a few tips for making the transition a little easier (hopefully):

Start building a community:  I know this may seem a little basic, but I believe it is essential to creating the Trinity Experience.  The people you connect with during seminary are not only going to be great friends now, they will be the start of your network when you graduate into the next stage of your life.

Finding a church home:  There are many churches in the area.  Check out Trinity’s online church guide for ideas: http://www.tiu.edu/files/college/studentministries/churchdir07.pdf.

Get to know the area:  The North Shore area (not to mention Chicago) has some amazing things going on during all times of the year.  In my opinion, its healthy to take a break from studying sometimes!  Check out these local resources:

Ask questions.  People here are friendly and want to help out – remember, we’ve all been there at some point and can identify with what you’re going through.  Soon classes will start and you will settle into a routine.  The year will go by and before you know it, you’ll be helping someone much like yourself settle into next year.

Searching for a new paradigm

A reflection out of my reading in Call to Joy & Pain and work with Live a Praying Life

This year has confronted me about how much I have grown up with clearly drawn lines around where God’s turf was in my life and that there has been terrain where He was not to tread because, after all, it’s my life.

But it isn’t really; it’s His.

As I aim to grow in Him, this season has surfaced a great many ‘I wants’ that have been severely disappointed. I realize that I was raised to have a plan and move towards it, but the more my plans fall through, the less I believe that paradigm works. To complicate things further, God tells us that He has plans for us, yet we don’t constantly walk in the knowledge of what those plans entail. He hasn’t exactly sat me down with a timeline and told me word for word what I need to do to arrive there…wherever ‘there’ is. Sometimes, we have to walk purely by faith that God does, indeed have a plan, one that we cannot see.

I don’t like the idea of relinquishing my whole future to God, wholly undefined from my own vantage point. What might He fill that life with? Still, is there anyone else who would be better to give that blank check to? My prayer life is being disrupted in these thoughts of what it means to pray…that it is more about being transformed into persons with His heart and His desires. Suffering and pain can be part of the means God uses to produce the character He needs to see His work accomplished.

Even in the face of knowing enough about God to know that He is good and His ways are perfect, it’s difficult to say with each instance or circumstance of life, ‘This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” I have these what ifs and what abouts that choke out joy and highlight pain or failure.

Somehow, in a way that I cannot see, God will supply all that I ever needed. I don’t yet grasp what it means to live with anticipation of what God will do, without being tempted to define what I think that should be or keep my heart on the fringes so I don’t risk more brokenness.

All of the misshapen pieces I have examined this year, the places I wish I could hide or fix, struggles that I could not mask, I know that God has a use for those things. On what might seem desolate terrain, He will amaze me with what harvest He can grow, in His time and in His way. The purification process will one day yield fine metal for Him to use. In the meantime, He helps me take down my fences and tills the ground for a work that has yet to come.