When God Doesn’t Answer — Rambling Thoughts

Did you know that I have a heck of a lot easier time trusting God when I feel Him telling me exactly what to do and assuring me that everything’s going to be okay?

The other night God called me to send a text which I normally wouldn’t send. No details, but it just wasn’t something I would typically be comfortable doing. But I felt so strongly that God wanted me to send it that I obeyed. Granted, for the rest of that night and into the next morning I was completely fretting about the decision, wondering if I had made a fool out of myself, worrying if I had completely stepped out of bounds, and basically chewing myself up over it. Even though I kept feeling God tell me, “It’s going to be okay.”

You can probably guess how silly, ashamed, and relieved I felt when everything worked out perfectly. Just like God said it would.

But what if God is silent?

What if I’m begging for an answer to a question and He feels entirely distant about it?

What if I’m totally confused about a situation and I have no idea what to expect, and God doesn’t say a word?

What then?

It’s at moments like this when it’s harder for me to trust God. I grow impatient, I want an answer now, I want to know what in the world I should expect in the future, which hopes to hang onto and which to let go. And when God doesn’t give me an exact answer, I can be very tempted to take matters into my own hands and/or assume God wants things one way or another when I really don’t know what He wants.

I’m a high-energy, let’s-get-up-and-go sort of person. I like to move, to be active, to go do something. I don’t care for waiting.

But maybe that’s exactly what God is calling me to do right now. To wait.

And yet to also do more than just wait.

To wait patiently. To sincerely trust Him, even when I have no idea what He’s doing. To continue to serve Him whole-heartedly while I’m waiting.

There’s probably a good reason I’ve recently been listening to John Waller’s “While I’m Waiting.”

Why does waiting have to be so hard?

Maybe that’s just a rhetorical question. It’s hard because trusting on God and waiting for His direction requires my being patient, killing off my own desires, and choosing His will over mine.

As I read somewhere, nothing of value is easily earned.

My journey with Christ, my daily decisions to follow and trust Him, will be hard fought. But I know that they will also be entirely worth the battle.

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Unpredictable

Psalm 40:4a – Blessed is that man who makes the Lord his trust….

I guess that if there is one thing that I have learned in life, especially over the last few years, it’s that I really can’t trust anybody here on Earth. As harsh and critical as that sounds, it’s true: people are simply untrustworthy. But God isn’t. When He does things in my life that I don’t want, or when He doesn’t answer my prayers the way I want Him to, He is actually working in my best interests. He has not, does not, and will not let me down in the same way people are bound to do.

God is not untrustworthy. He’s just unpredictable.

It’s like riding a horse. I can trust my mount to always act like a horse. That doesn’t mean that I can trust her to do what I think she should do, or what I’ve asked her do, or what I think is the sensible thing to do. My horse doesn’t think like a human, so she won’t act like one. Simple, right?

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Neither does God think like I do:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55: 8-9

God will always think and act like God. Scripture tells me that God is trustworthy and always working in my best interests. I might not understand His ways – oftentimes I won’t – but I can always trust that His ways are ultimately better than mine and that even if I feel like He is letting me down, He is actually building me up.

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Because I can always trust a horse to act like a horse – which includes being unpredictable – I always have to stay alert when I’m riding. If I don’t then I’m probably going to get dumped. I wasn’t prepared; I wasn’t watching; I wasn’t listening to my horse’s cues; I wasn’t ready to respond….

My relationship with God is the same way: I can’t just go along for the ride. God is unpredictable, and He might throw something at me I’m not ready for. And then what will happen? If I’m not prepared, my faith might be shaken. I might not handle the situation to the best of my abilities. I might mistake His unpredictable nature for untrustworthiness.

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I have to be prepared; I have to be ready to ride. My relationship with God isn’t like my relationship with people, whom I tend to relate to at arm’s length so that I’m always somewhat protected if they somehow break my trust, and to protect them from my breaking theirs. My relationship with God is more like my relationship with my horse. I can’t work with my horse at arm’s length if I really want to know her well enough so that we can both grow as a team. The only way for me to understand her nature and to be prepared for her unpredictable ways is to be as close to her as possible, both physically and emotionally. To ride with close contact on the bit rather than on a loose rein. To watch her ears and not the clouds. To learn her reactions, her habits, her means of communicating. To build up our trust in one another. To create a relationship with her that nobody else has.

That’s when trust in the face of unpredictability is enacted. That’s when faith comes to life.

And that is how I want my relationship with God to be….How it should be….

The most beautiful, trusting, epically-glorious, and truly unpredictable ride of my life.

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Acts 27 “The Sin Ship”: Part 3 of 4

Acts 27: 39-44

So this is what happens when we hit the end of our ropes, when we’ve ridden the ship of sin as long as we can and suddenly we can go no further. When it’s time to let go for good. There’s no easy landing, no easy dismount. We have to be humbled. We have to be shipwrecked. Sin isn’t something we can just sneak out of, no matter how hard we try. On the contrary – we must face the consequences of our sin.

Sometimes we wonder if we will ever survive that shipwreck. The sin that we have lived in for so long is being battered to pieces, being exposed for the frailty it is. The strongest sin is no match for God’s power. And as our sins are basically being torn out from under our feet, we too are being exposed – mere flesh and blood, helpless, weak. No more crutches, no more facades.

If we want to live, we have no choice but to abandon ship. Otherwise, we will be destroyed with the vessel. But in order to abandon ship, we must “jump overboard.”

Can you imagine how terrifying that must have been for the sailors and prisoners, especially those who couldn’t swim, to leap out of the safety of what they had known – however rickety and wrong it was – into the storm of God’s wrath and the just consequences for sinful decisions?

In the story in Acts, it sounds as if the ordeal was an every-man-for-himself situation. Similarly, when we own up to our sin, we often feel as though we are entirely alone and the whole world has turned against us. Those can be some of the most agonizing moments, days, months, or years we will ever face. When in that sea of consequence, we wonder if we will survive the tempest, if we will ever reach land again. Or will we just be destroyed by the agony that consumes us?

But there is a promise of hope.

The last sentence of this passage says, “And so it was that they all escaped safely to land.” Notice the “all.” Not some, but “all.” Because they were obedient and because they had the courage to leap overboard, God carried them through the storm. Yes, they had to suffer in the sea for a while, but God brought them through it. Just like He will you or I or anyone else who takes the plunge of faith and willingly faces the consequences of one’s sin and then leaves the wreckage of that sin behind.

It’s not going to be easy – those were probably the worst, loneliest, most painful months I have ever endured. Sometimes those sea waves still bombard me. Nevertheless, God has carried me through.

He has set my feet on dry ground once again. He set the ship’s passengers’ feet on dry ground again. He will do the same for anyone else who has the humbled, repentant heart to abandon the Sin Ship.

 

 

Acts 27 “The Sin Ship”: Part 2 of 4

Acts 27:13-38

Do you see the point God is making here? When we heed the world’s advice rather than God’s, we head off on our own like the ship and its crew. At first things seem all right, with just a gentle wind to blow us along. But then we find ourselves trapped in the Tempest of Sin, doomed for destruction. And we passionately wish we had listened to God rather than to the men of the world.

I notice how much the passengers had to lighten the ship. Three times they throw items overboard. We aren’t told exactly what the first items are – I’m guessing they were sundries that were not necessary for the voyage, very possibly the merchandise to be sold at the journey’s end. Secondly, the crew pitched out the tackle – the means of making the ship travel. Lastly, the food – human sustenance – was thrown into the sea.

From one perspective, the point being made here is that the only way to get back with God – to become right with Him – is to get rid of everything in our lives which is ensnaring us in sin.

  1. The merchandise – the material things which are distracting me. They’ve got to go. The crew members were distracted from obeying God because they were more concerned about the material wealth and satisfaction they could gain by selling this merchandise than they were about attaining heavenly  joy and satisfaction through obedience to Christ. Do I have any material idols which are distracting me from serving God? Then overboard they must go.
  2. The tackle – whatever aids my journey of sin. If there is something that is supporting my sinful lifestyle, and that is basically enabling my sin, I have to get rid of it. How can I become untangled from my sin if I have numerous crutches which make it easy for me to remain in wickedness?
  3. Food – human strength. Food’s not bad, and even Paul mentions that we need it. But food only supplies human strength, which is not sufficient for freeing me from sin. I desperately need God’s strength, not human resources and human power. If I want to be completely cleansed of my sin, I must turn to God and rely on His strength rather than on mine, because only He can rescue me from this storm.

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 “And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, when they had let down the skiff under pretense of putting out anchors from the prow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, ‘Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.’ Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the skiff and let if fall off.” vs. 30-32

When we have strayed from God’s will in order to accomplish our own, we can’t try to sneak back into the Way of Life. That’s what the sailors tried to do – they didn’t want to be shipwrecked with the rest of their companions to face the consequences of their mistakes. So they pretended to be doing the right thing – stopping the ship – while they were secretly plotting to abandon ship.

Deceit will not work…at least not for long. Truth always – always – comes to the light. God has a knack for gifting godly people with the ability to see right through ungodly deceptions. Lies and cover-ups are exposed, and the deceiver’s chance of escape is cut off.

Once we’ve taken the wrong path, we can’t abandon ship and sneak back into the presence of God. Instead, we have to ride out the storm. Not that it will be easy – on the contrary, riding out the storm can be the most painful, terrifying, and humbling thing that we have ever done. But if we want to get right with God, we must ride out the tempest. That painful, humbling, terrifying process is what purifies us and helps us to become right with God once again.

 

Joy, Prayer, and Gratitude

Many times I wonder what God’s will is for my life. What college should I attend? What major should I take? What should I do with my summer? The questions go on and on, usually without any definite answers (at least not right when I want them) so that I end up living one month, week, day, or moment at a time, uncertain as to exactly what God wants of me.

But on the other hand, there are instances when God astounds me with the clarity in His Word. Lately, as I have been reading through the New Testament, I have been searching for what I call “Purpose Passages.” These are verses which tell me what I am meant for, how God wants me to use my life for Him. I have actually been surprised — and wholly excited — by the number of such passages that God has shown me. But perhaps the most shocking thus far is 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18, which reads:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

What caught my attention was the last portion, which says, “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Certainly I knew that rejoicing, praying, and thanking God were things we should do, but I never thought of them as God’s will for me. When God designed me, He intended that I should “[r]ejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks.” That sounds so…happy. And, honestly, truly wonderful! It is incredibly exciting that God wills this for every Christian! He wants us to have joy, to constantly talk with Him, to have sincere gratitude residing in our hearts. What could be better?

Yet, as I read those three seemingly simple commands, I realize that they are not nearly as easy to follow as  they would appear to be. They do not happen on a regular basis…and they should. They are the sort of commands which sound so fairy-tale perfect that it is hard to imagine them happening in modern-day reality. And yet, I know that they are a genuine possibility because,

“…with God nothing will be impossible.” Luke 1:37

So then, in application, what might 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 look like in my life?

1. Rejoice always. God has given me incredible blessings to be joyful about! Baby goats, a horse to ride, a love for walking and running, good books to read, the ability to write, a fantastic family, twenty secluded acres in the Bull Mountains of Montana, a wiggly dog who wakes me up with kisses in the morning…. I could go on and on! There are a lot of rotten things that happen in life, but I need to look for the good things. The old adage “every cloud has a silver lining” is definitely true. Even in the most miserable, dreary, terrible day, I can find joy in God’s presence and in the hope of His return. Joy must be sought before it can be found. Satan would love to tear me down with frustration and hopelessness, but I must keep my eyes on the joy Christ offers. My mind and heart need to be open to the little things of life — the wildflower on the ground, the scent of hot cocoa, the way the sunlight glistens on my horse’s neck, my quiet moments with Mom in the morning before anyone else is awake. They are little things, but they can — and do — bring joy to my heart.

2. Pray without ceasing. If one of my best friends from Lewtana were with me all day, I would not stop talking with her, would I? Of course not! I would not necessarily be doing all the talking; I would be listening, too. And I can do the same with God. He is with me 24-7, so I can pray with Him all the time — talking and listening to Him. Who knows what He wants to teach me through such ordinary tasks as vacuuming, painting the garage, feeding baby goats, doing homework, etc. It seems as if I learn the most valuable lessons through simple things like these. I am confident that Christ has a great deal to teach me…if I will take the time to listen and discuss things with Him.

3. In everything give thanks. This command seems to go hand-in-hand with “Rejoice always.” If there is always something to be joyful about, then there is always something to be thankful for, right? Even in difficult, discouraging situations, I can always find some part of my life to be thankful about. In addition, I can be thankful for “bad” things because when trials and tribulations come my way, I know that they are intended for my spiritual growth and development. When times get tough, I need to be grateful that God will use it for good, that He can be glorified through the way I handle the situation, and that the challenge can help me to become more like Him. Now, I know being thankful is not always easy; my sinful human nature makes it more natural to complain and grumble when things go wrong. But what if I did look at even the difficult situations with “an attitude of gratitude?” Why, then the whole picture would change! I would see hope, encouragement. I would realize that no obstacle is insurmountable with Christ, and that each mountain I must climb will only serve to bring me nearer to Him.

Now, it is time for me to put this passage into practice. In summation, I need to 1) keep my eyes open for the joy around me; 2) talk to my Best Friend and listen to what He has to say; and 3) thank Him, thank Him, thank Him!

This is, after all, His will for my life.

Completion of the Borders Project

So now I’m finally posting the final production of my art class “borders” project! Sorry it’s taken me so long to get around to this.

To start with, Dr. Salix gave me a previous student’s board to use for my project. I had to tear off the initial artwork, which consisted of drawing paper thickly glued onto the board. I didn’t take any pictures of this process, although I should have because it ended up taking way more time than I expected. And I learned two lessons: 1) Remove glued paper by scrubbing it with a rag and water and 2) remove the excess glue by scraping it off after it has dried. Of course, I learned this the hard way by trying to scrape the paper and wash off the glue…oops.

Once I had removed as much paper and glue as possible, I painted the entire board (which is over four feet tall and three feet wide) with white gesso. So this is what I had to start with when I came to class on Monday morning.

To begin with, I sketched a jumping horse (taken from a photograph) with graphite.

Next, I traced over the graphite with charcoal.

Then the painting began. Here’s the first wash of charcoal and gesso.

He’s coming to life! Next comes more shading and definition. I also deepened his barrel and drew in the fence rails for him to jump over. This was the end product of three hours of work on Monday.

On Tuesday morning, I decided that the rails were too dark, so I painted over them with gesso. I was going to completely white them out, but the first coat of paint didn’t completely cover them, and Dr. Salix and I agreed the faded look actually suited the picture. They gave the horse something to jump over, but their color didn’t detract from his. I also added in some background elements (the grain of the board and the remaining glue gave the sky a fantastic texture) and continued to finesse my horse

Then, more detail work. I added more highlights and shadows to the horse and the fence rails, added charcoal lines for tiny marks, and made the mane stand out more from the mountains.

Finally, after more shadowing, highlighting, and blending, the piece was complete.

So it was a far cry from my initial idea, but Dr. Salix was very pleased with it and I was excited with how well it turned out. As for the idea of a mysterious border theme…well, I guess it doesn’t have much of that. But, at the same time, if you think about it, there is some concept of a border. The horse is jumping over a fence, apparently out of a pasture, but what is he jumping into? And why is he jumping at all? Is he jumping away from something, or toward something?

Regardless of how you interpret the drawing, the horse is crossing some sort of boundary. Maybe, for me, this painting is almost a reflection of my past year in college. I stepped outside of several of the borders I was accustomed to — my home, a primarily Christian community, a room to myself, home school, a safe and secure environment without tons of sinful influences. It was a giant leap, and there were so many times when I wanted to run back to my “home pasture” and just stay there. Sometimes the “hurdles” I had to surmount seemed too great for little ol’ me, and only God’s grace helped me to clear them without knocking down too many poles.

At the same time, I know that there are more borders ahead of me which I must eventually pass over. New steps I must take, new obstacles to surmount. College, work, writing, relationships…only God knows where my future may lead. But He is offering those new opportunities to me, like a fresh, green expansive pasture, and I hope that I will leap toward them as eagerly as this horse appears to be leaping out of the old pasture and into the new one. The jumps themselves may be frightening, but I believe the landings themselves will be worth it.

What about you? What border and boundaries are you facing…or avoiding…in your life?

Look Up

Gazing at death may be terrifying, but gazing past death to the presence of Jesus waiting for the believer is the hope that dissolves the fear. We have the opportunity to glorify God in the face of death, boldly declaring our confidence in the fact that we will spend eternity in the presence of God. ~ NKJV footnotes

“When they [the Jewish council members] heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him [Stephen] with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!'” Acts 7:54-56

I don’t face death in the same way Stephen did; I won’t be stoned for my faith. But I do face a lot of sin here on campus and sin is, in a sense, death. Oftentimes, I find it very difficult to deal with this sin that surrounds me. Try as I might, I can’t ignore it, but I don’t want it to taint or depress me either.

Here, in Stephen’s example, I have found the answer I’ve been looking for.

I want to be like Stephen — pleasing God and being Spirit-led. The problem is that too often I get so fretful and distraught over life that I try to deal with issues in my own way. However, when I truly take the time to consider the outcomes and alternatives, I find that it would be far better to yield everything to God and to pray, “Lord, guide me in this situation. Let me know what to say and do.” I do not have to brave life on my own, no matter if I am the only “Christian” in class; God is with me, and that makes “us” a majority.

Stephen’s words in verse 56 have given me such hope because they have reminded me that I can look beyond the crudity, profanity, and obscenity that I face. If I focus on those evil things, then, yes, they’re definitely going to tear me down. But…why should I think about them? Why should I worry or fret over them? They are so petty compared to Christ! He has already conquered all of those things and He has promised me an eternity free from sin. An eternity. Can you imagine it? That makes the short period of our suffering here on earth seem so…little. Someday, I won’t have to worry about all this junk and worldliness. Even here and now, I shouldn’t let it overwhelm me because, through His death and resurrection, Christ has already conquered the sin and wickedness of the world. That means He will conquer them in my life as well…if I only allow Him to.

I think this has been one of my challenges for this block of the school year — to look beyond the sin to the glory of God, to yield my responses to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and to focus on Christ’s victory over sin. The phrase that has kept coming into my mind is “Look up.” My hope is in Christ. My future is in heaven. And my victory is in my Lord.

Look up. Look up. Always look up.

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. ~ Colossians 3:1-4