Wanting His Presence Over His Answers

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like going through hardships and difficulties. If I had a magic button that I could push to make all bad things go away, I certainly would use it. Sadly, no such button exists–at least not that I’ve found.

So often, I want God to rescue me from my struggles. “Just make it go away, God!” (Seriously, I’ve prayed this prayer.) After all, isn’t that why I’m a Christian, so I can avoid hardships?! Unfortunately, that’s not exactly what the Bible says. John 16:33 says, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (NLT, emphasis mine).

So what’s the point? I’m learning that hardships and suffering are permitted in our lives for a number of reasons. One of them is to draw us closer to God. (They’re also used to refine us. But that’s a post for another day.) As I’ve walked through my own brand of suffering, God has faithfully reminded me that He is with me. While I know and firmly believe He can swoop in and “make it all go away,” I believe He is giving me something greater–His presence.

Isaiah 43:2-3 says, “When you go through the deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through the rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you” (NLT, emphasis mine). I love the realness of this verse. It’s basically saying, “Look, you’re gonna go through some really hard stuff. But I will be with you and these things will not overtake you!”

Isaiah 41:13 says, “For I hold your right hand–I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you'” (NLT). This has been a particularly comforting verse for me. Envisioning the God of the Universe holding my hand–like a father holds his daughter’s hand–has allowed me to walk through things I never thought I could face.

There are so many other verses that promise God’s presence. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 NLT
  • “This is my command–be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 NLT
  • “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

While I still want the bad stuff to go away, I’m learning to pray as Moses did: “… If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place” (Exodus 33:15 NLT).

Trusting the Dream Giver

A few days ago, a friend and I were talking about how we walk through difficult times without always knowing why or what the end of the story will be. She pointed out that the people of the Bible also walked through hard times not knowing the why or seeing the end of the story–which got me thinking about some of them.

Joseph was one of those people. As we find him in Genesis 37, his life was on track. Sure his brothers weren’t huge fans, but he was deeply loved by his father. On top of that, God spoke to him through dreams. And they were good dreams:

“‘Listen to this dream,’ he said. ‘We were out in the field, tying up bundles of grain. Suddenly my bundle stood up, and your bundles all gathered around and bowed low before mine!'” (Genesis 37:6-7 NLT).

“Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. ‘Listen, I have had another dream,’ he said. ‘The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!'” (Genesis 37:9 NLT).

Then his life took a dramatic turn. His brothers, jealous because of the favor he received from his father and these dreams that foretold of them bowing to him, sold him into slavery. Suddenly, his life was very different than the one he had envisioned. He found himself in a foreign country, working as a slave. But the Lord blessed him, “The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master” (Genesis 39:2 NLT). However, despite finding success, this wasn’t exactly the fulfillment of his dreams. He was still off track somehow.

Once again, things took an unfortunate turn. He was falsely accused of attempted rape and thrown into prison (Genesis 39:6-20). I can only imagine how Joseph felt. On that first night, I wonder if he cried out to God in frustration and desperation, “There must be some mistake! This can’t be right! What about the dreams you gave me?! How will they be fulfilled from here?!” In that moment, I believe Joseph had a choice–he could bemoan the unfulfilled dreams and become bitter. Or he could keep his eyes on the Dream Giver and trust Him to do what He said He would do. I think the story shows that he chose to trust God because, once again, God blessed him, even in prison: “But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him His faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden” (Genesis 39:21 NLT).

But I’m sure this was a choice he had to make over and over again–in moments of fear or loneliness. Or when he successfully interpreted the cup bearers dream. I’m sure he thought this was the moment when all things would be set right. But the cup bearer forgot about him. And he was stuck in prison for two more years! I can imagine how hard it was for him to pull himself back up and say, “I will trust you Lord, no matter what!” But I believe that’s exactly what he did.

We all know the conclusion of the story. He was released from prison and saw the fulfillment of his dreams (Genesis 41-45). But none of it would have happened if Joseph hadn’t chosen to trust God–over and over again.

“God is not a man, so He doesn’t lie. He is not human, so He doesn’t change His mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” – Number 23:19 NLT

I’ve been given this choice too. I can choose to focus on the dream that is unfulfilled or the promise that has been unmet. Or I can keep my eyes on the Dream Giver and Promise Keeper. God’s Word says, “God is not a man, so He doesn’t lie. He is not human, so He doesn’t change His mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” (Number 23:19 NLT).

So I will choose to trust the Lord, no matter how many detours life seems to take. I will choose to trust Him, no matter how many times I get my hopes up that this will be the moment that all things are set right, only to be disappointed in people again. I will “hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise” (Hebrews 10:23 NLT).

I can’t see the end of my story, but I know that God does. So I choose to trust Him, no matter what!

Hope for the Future

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
– Corrie Ten Boom

I used to feel so secure in my future. I had things planned out so far in advance–to the point that I stopped asking God what His thoughts were. Then my future became uncertain, and I was forced to trust God with it. Or at least that’s what I’ve told myself. I use Matthew 6:34 almost as an excuse for why I’m not planning anything beyond the next few minutes: “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (NLT).

The truth is, the future frightens me. From one day to the next, I honestly don’t know what new pain or challenge I will face. I’ve told myself that by not planning for tomorrow I’m not worrying about it. But the reality is, I am so worried about tomorrow that I refuse to think about or plan for it. I’ve even trained my kids not to ask about anything beyond today. “Mom, can I have carrots in my lunch tomorrow?” Journey would ask. Then I’d hear Faith reply, “Remember Journey, don’t worry about tomorrow!” It sounds so spiritually stupid now as I write it. But I thought I was protecting them, along with myself, from unmet expectations of the future. If I don’t plan for it or hope for it, I won’t be disappointed.

But the other day, as I was dropping the kids off to school, Journey asked about plans for next summer. My first inclination was to give my usual caution: “We’re not going to worry about things that far in advance.” But I stopped myself before I said it. I felt so strongly that instead of shutting it down, I should encourage a hope for the future, not only for him and his sister, but for me too.

James 4:13-16 says, “Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog–it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’ Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil” (NLT). This was another verse I used to keep myself safe. But the point of it isn’t to tell me not to plan for the future. It’s to warn me not to make my plans without God’s direct involvement. After all, He said in Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope'” (NLT).

Just as the Corrie Ten Boom quote above says, I can trust God with my future. I can remember that He’s the one in control and He has good things planned for me. And in my trust of God, I can teach my kids to embrace the future and not be afraid of it.

The Struggle for Joy

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV).

I’ve discovered the secret of living a life full of joy. Wanna know what it is? Thankfulness. Finding something for which to be thankful will always point me back to God and restore my joy. But here’s the problem: Most of the time I don’t want to be thankful. I want to complain and moan and cry and whine. Being thankful is just too much work. It’s just easier to complain, and frankly, sometimes it feels better–at least for a moment.

This weekend, my kids and I took a quick road trip to Legoland. What should’ve been a two-hour drive, stretched to nearly three hours. My kids, who are usually pretty good with long car drives, were becoming impatient. The traffic was cutting into their play time. But being the good, hypocritical mom that I am, I encouraged them to start looking for things about which they could be thankful. I even quoted scripture to them: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV).

Then Monday rolled around and all I could see was what was going wrong in my life. I complained and whined and got a sinus headache from all the crying. Then Tuesday came and more of the same. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I shake this funk I had stumbled into? But this morning, as I took a step back, I realized that in all my complaining, not once had I really taken the time to offer worship or give thanks. I had spent the better part of two days feeling sorry for myself and telling God how He was failing me. No wonder I was in a funk.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s essential for me to be honest with God–to tell Him truthfully when I’m struggling. We all need those unfiltered moments. But even in those times of “realness” with Him, something productive and life-giving has to come out of it. The only way I know how to do that is to take the focus off myself and my problems and look to Him.

So that’s what I’m doing. It’s not easy. It requires me to be intentional about what I’m thinking and talking about. But I’m choosing thankfulness and joy today.

What about you? How do you pull yourself out of a joyless funk?

It’s Time to Let Go

As a parent, I’ve learned that life is a series of stages that we move in and out of. When my kids were younger, I was always a little slow catching up with them and their changing stages. I like consistency and I’m not a huge fan of change. So it’s difficult for me to let go of something, even if it’s not working anymore. I would fight for a week to get them to do what they had done before. It wasn’t until it dawned on me that maybe they’d outgrown it, that we were able to move on to something that worked better.

During this journey, letting go of what I thought I had in my marriage (even if it really wasn’t what it should have been) has been difficult. It felt too much like giving up. But I realized something the other day: No matter what happens in our future, no matter what miracle God does for us, we are never going back to our old life. That life is gone. And just like with my kids and their changing stages, if I’m unwilling to let go of the past and what doesn’t work anymore, I will never be able to grab hold of what God wants to do now.

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:18-19 ESV).

I love Isaiah 43:18-19, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” God isn’t asking me to let go of something without offering me something far better. I want the new life God has for me, whatever it looks like. And that is going to require that I let go of a life that is gone and doesn’t work anymore.

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