Give God time to keep His promise

I try to control too many things. But I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember, so I’m not entirely sure when it started. I just have this driving urge to keep a handle on life so it won’t get away from me. Which is ridiculous, as any self-respecting Christ-follower knows (Luke 17:33). But, hey, I’m being honest here.

I try to control the silliest things too. When I go grocery shopping, I try to think of everything I need for about a month. Grocery stores aren’t exactly convenient to where I live, so it’s easier to make one big trip. But that means I have to plan ahead. That means I have to make meal plans. That means designing several different meals all at once and hoping that life doesn’t go crazy between shopping trips.

The trouble is, life always goes crazy. Life always screws up my plans, and usually I’m left with expired produce, questionable meat, or stale crackers. And none of that would have happened if I’d planned a week in advance rather than a month.

I’m not saying don’t plan. But what I am saying is don’t rush ahead too far, because you never know what curve balls are going to come at you.

Life will take crazy twists and turns. God will lead you down paths you never dreamed possible. He may take you down roads you never even thought you wanted to go down, and somewhere along the way you’ll realize you never belonged anywhere else. But that’s all part of His promise (Psalm 37:4). And God can be trusted to keep His promises (Hebrews 10:23).

But that means we have to wait.

I hate waiting. Maybe you didn’t know that about me. Unlikely if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time. Waiting is my least favorite thing.

At least, it used to be. God has been working on my old stubborn Scottish heart this past year, and I’ve begun to see the joy we can have when we release the things that scare us and trust God completely.

I had to go there several times in 2016. More than once, I had to pry my own hands off of my life and hand it over to God. And then I had to sit and wait and trust and pray, and that was literally all I could do.

No, I should clarify. It was all I did, but I could have done several other things.

I could have gone back to the corporate world and asked for my job back. I could have gone to my many loving and supportive friends and asked for a loan, just big enough so that I could afford groceries for the next month. I could have gone to a pawn shop and sold anything I had of value (I’m not joking, the thought did occur to me).

I could have done any of those things, but one question kept hovering at the back of my mind: “Do you trust God or not?”

I told Him at the beginning of this journey that I wanted to rely on faith rather than finances. I told Him I didn’t care what was coming, that I wanted to place my trust and my life and my future entirely in His hands. And if this was the life I was supposed to be living, I needed Him to provide for me, and if it wasn’t, I needed Him to stop.

Good gracious, friends, be careful what you ask for. Because God will hold you to declarations like that.

A few times throughout last year I thought God had stopped providing, but that was because I was planning too far ahead. So I started looking at life differently. I woke up every morning and thanked God for what I had that day, because every day I had what I needed for that day. And when tomorrow arrived, I would have what I needed then. God just wouldn’t always let me know ahead of time.

That is the recurring tale of my 2016. Until the end of December when God opened his storehouses and poured some major blessings on my silly head—blessings enough to provide over and above what I had expected for 2017.

While part of me is concerned He’s providing this much this quickly and telling me about it, the louder part of me is simply choosing to be thankful. I don’t want to forget what He’s taught me this year. Even if I have enough for months and months, it could still all be lost in an instant.

God has to be enough. Just God. Not money. Not possessions. Not power or influence or book sales or car maintenance or health insurance. All those things are wonderful blessings, but God is enough for me. He’s enough to provide what I need when I need it, and He doesn’t have to tell me what He’s doing or when He’s doing it. He’s God. He’s got a plan. He’s working everything out for my good. (Romans 8:28)

My part in this story is to be still. To trust. To wait. My responsibility is to give God time to keep the promises He’s made me, because He will. He always has, and He always blows me away with His goodness and generosity.

Are you trying to control your life? What about your finances or your health or people in your life? You can’t. You need to let go and give it to God and trust that He will work things out. And once you do that, you need to wait.

Even if it feels like you’re standing still. Even if it feels like you’re wasting time. Even when it feels like you should be doing something—anything. Just wait.

You’ll see the door when He opens it. There won’t be any doubt in your mind.

Advertisements

Tomorrow will be better if you wait

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap] like coffee. Any kind of coffee. Hot or cold, blended or iced, black or with cream, Americano or latte, plain or flavored. Whatever. I like it all. In the heat of summertime in Kansas, there’s almost nothing better than a big Frappucino from Starbucks (yes, I like Starbucks coffee).

I didn’t used to like them, though, because they didn’t last very long. And once I finished, I was left with a cup full of partially melted ice mixed with watered-down coffee and slightly chocolate-flavored foamy stuff. Bleck! It was so much better to get hot coffee and sip it slowly.

But during the summer in Kansas where we had more than 30 days over 100 degrees, I broke down and bought a Frappucino. But something happened, and I had to let it sit for a moment before I could come back to it. And guess what? When I was done, I didn’t have ice left.

At first, I thought it was a fluke. But the next time I got a Frappucino, I let it sit for a little while, and the same thing happened. I let the ice get started melting, and I sipped it slowly. It lasted much longer, and it tasted much better than it did when I drank it all quickly.

It was better to wait

But waiting is hard. It takes effort and discipline. It takes concentration because you have to constantly remind yourself why you’re choosing to wait. You have to force your brain to remember that the end result will be better if you just hold your horses.

I’m not good at waiting. I see a path that looks promising, and I want to run down it at full speed, barefoot, hair loose, no bags packed or itinerary planned. And I don’t care if I skin my knees or break my toes or have to turn around seven times. At least I’m moving forward, right?

But sometimes moving forward only causes more trouble.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]You don’t escape from quicksand; you’re rescued.[/su_pullquote]

Think about quicksand. Your instinct is to fight to escape, to kick and thrash and flail, but that only makes you sink faster. But you don’t escape from quicksand; you’re rescued. And your best hope to survive is to hold still and wait.

Life’s like that too. But if you think that waiting is the same as doing nothing, you’re wrong.

Waiting is hardest job you’ll ever work. It’s the most challenging class in the school of hard knocks. It’s the most impossible obstacle course you’ll ever run.

Our culture has forgotten how to wait. We live in a world of instant gratification. We’re ruled by our watches and our calendars, and we’ve learned to settle for what’s passable and immediate rather than what’s excellent and inconvenient.

I’m so guilty of this, but I learned the hard way that I can’t rush God.

lam3-26He’s got plans for me, just like He has plans for you. But no matter how badly I want to achieve His goal for my life, I don’t get to decide when it happens. I can strive and fight and push and run as hard as I can, but I can’t move Him. God does what He wants. I can’t change that. And if I really understood His plans, I wouldn’t want to change it.

The Bible says it’s good to wait on God (Lamentations 3:26). I struggle with that. Nothing about waiting is good. It turns your stomach upside down. It turns your hair gray. It makes you cranky and irritable.

Or does it? Does waiting really do all that? Or do we do that to ourselves because we refuse to relinquish control of our lives, our dreams, our plans to the Person who already owns them?

Stuck in summer

I wake up in the morning, and I stare down a beautiful curving path into an autumn forest. Line with golden-leafed trees, blazing red maples and shimmering, white-barked aspens, and it smells like cinnamon and nutmeg and joy. There’s a giant pile of leaves just ready for me to dive into, and pumpkin-flavored everything is waiting just out of reach.

But I can’t get there because I’m stuck in summer. In the heat and the deadness of post-harvest dirt. There’s no end in sight. And I want that world so badly I can taste it, and I can see exactly how I’m supposed to get there. So why shouldn’t I run? Why shouldn’t I just leap forward and reach for that dream? It’s right there.

[su_pullquote] While I’m waiting, I’m learning who God is.[/su_pullquote]

But it isn’t just right there. I can’t see the twists and turns. I can’t see the distance or the effort or the disappointments or the successes that I’ll need to experience before I get there. But God can. And that’s why I have to wait.

That’s why waiting matters. That’s why waiting is good. Just like a Frappucino is better once the ice has started melting, tomorrow will be better if I wait until God says it’s time to run.

lam3-22-23Choosing to wait is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Making the conscious decision to set aside what I want right now in favor of what God wants right now has taken more faith than I thought I had. But I’m still here. I’m still waiting. And I’m not going to stop, because while I’m waiting, I’m learning who God is and who He wants me to be.

Every morning, I get to start over fresh (Lamentations 3:22-24). New day, new mercy, same God. He doesn’t change. He won’t be rushed. And His timing really is perfect.

You can’t win a fight without fighting back

I finished the revised draft of a 109,000-word novel yesterday. This is the sequel to my debut novel, which released December 2014, and it’s part of a series I’ve been writing since 2001 or 2002. Somewhere in there. It isn’t the hardest book I’ll ever write, but it is the most difficult and challenging one I’ve written to date. I was sorely tempted to give up a few times over the last month.

Fortunately, I am blessed to be surrounded by many much-loved friends who were willing to encourage me and brave enough to tell me I needed to eat a sandwich or take a nap. (If you are a friend to a ridiculously stubborn and independent person, you understand what my poor friends deal with.)

I was tired. I was frustrated. I was irritated at myself (for my perceived slowness and my inability to hit my overly ambitious, self-imposed deadlines). I wanted to give up, but I didn’t. I kept pushing forward because I’ve got a host of people who would probably track me down and strangle me if I didn’t deliver the sequel pronto. That was one motivating factor. 😉

But the biggest motivation to finish came from my deeply held belief that God keeps His promises.

black-and-white-sport-fight-boxerToday’s verse is Hebrews 10:36.

Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

God has never let me down. Not ever. He’s always been there when I needed Him. He’s always provided for me, sometimes even when I didn’t know what I needed or when I needed it. And years and years ago before I even understood what I was doing, God showed me that I could write. And God promises that if we use our gifts and talents for Him, He’ll bless us and He’ll bless the work we do in His name.

Somewhere along the line, during this crazy month of rewriting, I lost track of who the book belonged to. It’s not mine. I gave it to the Lord all those years ago when the idea first came to me. So no matter how difficult the journey gets between now and when the book releases, between when the book releases and Book 3 goes into production, and so on and so forth, God will make it worth it.

It’s hard to hold on to that sometimes because–let’s just be honest–life sucks. Crazy bad stuff happens. Loved ones die. Your insurance goes up. Your car breaks down. That unexpected expense that empties your bank account. Work is too stressful. You lose a relationship. The other half of your brain moves away. And it can’t all happen one piece at a time. No, it’s all got to happen at once, and you get so distracted by all the awful, discouraging things going on that you forget who’s really in control. Because nothing feels controlled. Everything feels out of control.

So what do you do when it feels like life is circling the drain? When nothing you do is good enough. When the straw broke the camel’s back years ago but nothing’s changed. What can you do?

You can give up, sure, but do you believe God or not? If God’s given you a job to do, you need to do it. It might stink right now, but if you throw in the towel, you have no idea what you’re leaving behind. God made you a promise, and He always keeps His promises. So instead of walking away, endure patiently.

Enduring isn’t fun. Being patient isn’t fun either. So patient endurance is a double whammy of anti-fun. But if you can do it (and God will give you the strength), you’ll be able to keep moving forward. And you will move forward, even if you feel like you’re standing still. And someday, farther down the road, you’ll be rewarded for it.

You don’t get rewards for giving up. You can’t win a fight without fighting back. And it’s not that our lives should be about rewards or what we get in return for serving God. That’s not the point. But we do need to remember that God doesn’t give us difficult tasks without promising to make them worth our effort.

What are you facing today? A frightening diagnosis? A new diet? A new job? Shoot, I’ve got lots of friends who just had new babies. Talk about a challenge. God has promised to be with you and to give you strength when you need it most. And He’s promised that the trials and struggles you go through are all part of a bigger plan.

Yes, life is hard. And following Jesus is harder still. But He promised that it would be worth it.

He’s God at both ends of your journey

When I have a question, no matter how random or strange, all I have to do is type it in my smartphone and wait for an answer. When I’m hungry, I can go to a fast food restaurant and get a burger immediately. When I’m thirsty, there are Quik Trips on every corner with fountain drinks on the cheap.

No matter what I need, or even really what I want, there’s a way to get it right now. Nobody really has to wait for anything.

We live in an instant gratification kind of world, and to a certain extent, there’s nothing wrong with that. The convenience of modern technology has made it easy to get fast answers, make fast decisions, and accomplish more in less time than ever before. Those are all great things. But instant gratification doesn’t help us learn patience, and it absolutely doesn’t help us learn to make long-term decisions.

mountains-man-person-hikerToday’s verse is Isaiah 46:4.

I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
    until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
    I will carry you along and save you.

There’s nothing short-term about God. But being a long-term God also means He’s not really into instant gratification.

You can ask Him for an immediate answer until you’re blue in the face, but He won’t just because you asked. He loves you enough to withhold a good blessing in order to give you a better one, and sometimes that means holding off on answering your prayer until it fits in His schedule. Not yours.

In a world obsessed with now, now, now, I think God is asking us to wait, wait, wait. Nobody really likes waiting, but you have to admit that it builds character. And once you get down the road a little farther, you can look back and realize that waiting actually did you a favor. How many times have we jumped on a deal or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity only to discover that a better deal or a better opportunity came up a few weeks or months later?

There’s always a time for action, but waiting is an option we need to consider more frequently in our fast-paced, instant-gratification focused, short-term world. God has promised that He’ll be with us until the end of our life on Earth. He isn’t just God for a moment. He’s not just God until you have a problem too big for Him to solve (that never happens, by the way). And He won’t even stop being your God after you die. He’ll be your God in eternity too.

So don’t ever get it in your head that God’s going to walk away from you or abandon you. One of the many things I love about God is that He’s in it for the long haul. He doesn’t sign up to be our God for the days of our youth. No, He wants us all the days of our lives, from our foolish childhood, to our rebellious teenage years, to our bullheaded mid-life crises, and finally to our wiser years when we finally start understanding what matters in life. Throughout all of those stages in our life experience, God wants to be our God. And if we ever feel like He’s stepped away from us, He isn’t the one who moved.

Don’t rush learning how to follow Jesus

I’m not a patient person. I’m like the least patient person you’ll ever meet. That’s why I marathon television shows. That’s why I rarely read books series until they’re complete. I don’t like waiting for stories to resolve. I want to know what happens right away.

Unfortunately that lack of patience seeps into other areas of my life. It’s one of the reasons why I didn’t do well in music lessons. My mom is a crazy accomplished classical musician, but she didn’t get there overnight. It took 45 years for her to get to that place. I wanted to pick up a musical instrument and be perfect right away. I didn’t want to work at it. I didn’t want to make mistakes and have to learn from them. I wanted the benefit of the skill without the drudgery of the discipline required to achieve it.

Sound familiar to anyone? We all have our sticking points when it comes to patience and discipline. Ironically, I had to learn that I had a lot to learn, regardless of what career path I chose. I settled on writing because I thought I was a great writer when I was little.

Yeah. Wow. Looking back, I knew nothing. And all I’ve learned in 25 years of writing (yes, I wrote my first story in kindergarten) is that I still know nothing, and that I have a lot more to learn. I’ve learned that I’ll never stop learning. But learning isn’t about filling your head with information. I mean, that’s part of it. The greater part of learning is patience. It’s hard work to learn. It’s trying and difficult, but the more you work at it, the stronger you get.

S059QDGBOG_1549x1037Today’s verses are Hebrews 10:32-36.

Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever. So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

Following Jesus takes discipline. Sorry to burst the bubbles of anyone who signed on expecting an easy ride. Think of following Jesus like two magnets with opposite poles being pressed together. On one side, you’re drawn to Him because you belong to Him, but on the other side you’re repelled because you still have a dark nature that wants your own way. You have to fight yourself every step of the way if you want to follow Jesus.

And then add in the trouble our enemy throws at us. We have an enemy who hates us because Jesus loves us, and our enemy will do everything in his power to distract us, stop us, hurt us, discourage us, and slow us down. But instead of seeing all those obstacles as barriers to following Jesus, try to see them as opportunities to grow.

Don’t rush following Jesus. Enjoy it. It takes time. It takes years. Learn to see the trouble as opportunities for God to show His power. Learn to see people as family members who just don’t know Jesus yet. But the more you seize opportunities to follow Jesus, the stronger you’ll become.

Jesus says to love your enemies. That’s not easy, but that’s part of following Him. You won’t want to do it, and Satan won’t want you to either. But Jesus says it, so we do it. Loving an enemy is an obstacle because they don’t want your love, but if you treat it as an opportunity, your faith will grow. Every time you extend love or kindness or forgiveness to someone who wants to hurt you (and you get nothing in return), it demonstrates to everyone around you and even to yourself that what Jesus says matters more to you than what is commonly or popularly accepted. And God blesses an attitude like that.

 

A beautiful rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Commit everything you do to God

I don’t do this very often, but every now and then I just need reassurance from God that He has a plan and that He’s not going to let me fail as long as I’m following Him.

So here is one of my favorite Psalms. It cheered me up immensely this morning, and I thought I’d share.

A beautiful rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

A beautiful rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Psalm 37

Don’t worry about the wicked
or envy those who do wrong.

For like grass, they soon fade away.
Like spring flowers, they soon wither.

Trust in the Lord and do good.
Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.

Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you your heart’s desires.

Commit everything you do to the Lord.
Trust him, and he will help you.

He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn,
and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.

Be still in the presence of the Lord,
and wait patiently for him to act.
Don’t worry about evil people who prosper
or fret about their wicked schemes.

Stop being angry!
Turn from your rage!
Do not lose your temper—
it only leads to harm.

For the wicked will be destroyed,
but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.

Soon the wicked will disappear.
Though you look for them, they will be gone.

The lowly will possess the land
and will live in peace and prosperity.

The wicked plot against the godly;
they snarl at them in defiance.

But the Lord just laughs,
for he sees their day of judgment coming.

The wicked draw their swords
and string their bows
to kill the poor and the oppressed,
to slaughter those who do right.

But their swords will stab their own hearts,
and their bows will be broken.

It is better to be godly and have little
than to be evil and rich.

For the strength of the wicked will be shattered,
but the Lord takes care of the godly.

Day by day the Lord takes care of the innocent,
and they will receive an inheritance that lasts forever.

They will not be disgraced in hard times;
even in famine they will have more than enough.

But the wicked will die.
The Lord’s enemies are like flowers in a field—
they will disappear like smoke.

The wicked borrow and never repay,
but the godly are generous givers.

Those the Lord blesses will possess the land,
but those he curses will die.

The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
He delights in every detail of their lives.

Though they stumble, they will never fall,
for the Lord holds them by the hand.

Once I was young, and now I am old.
Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned
or their children begging for bread.

The godly always give generous loans to others,
and their children are a blessing.

Turn from evil and do good,
and you will live in the land forever.

For the Lord loves justice,
and he will never abandon the godly.

He will keep them safe forever,
but the children of the wicked will die.

The godly will possess the land
and will live there forever.

The godly offer good counsel;
they teach right from wrong.

They have made God’s law their own,
so they will never slip from his path.

The wicked wait in ambush for the godly,
looking for an excuse to kill them.

But the Lord will not let the wicked succeed
or let the godly be condemned when they are put on trial.

Put your hope in the Lord.
Travel steadily along his path.
He will honor you by giving you the land.
You will see the wicked destroyed.

I have seen wicked and ruthless people
flourishing like a tree in its native soil.

But when I looked again, they were gone!
Though I searched for them, I could not find them!

Look at those who are honest and good,
for a wonderful future awaits those who love peace.

But the rebellious will be destroyed;
they have no future.

The Lord rescues the godly;
he is their fortress in times of trouble.

The Lord helps them,
rescuing them from the wicked.
He saves them,
and they find shelter in him

The hourglass from NewSpring Church's 2011 Judgement House, Wichita, KS

What you learn when you wait for God’s answer

I finished my first “for real” novel before I hit high school. What do I call a “for real” novel? I mean one that has more than 50,000 words. I never thought I was a great writer, but I did think I was good enough to get published. So I started trying very early on, preparing myself for rejection after rejection because every author out there says that’s what you should do.

I don’t know how many rejections I finally had to get before I started thinking that maybe I needed to try something different. I just know that in 2001, my freshman year of college, I felt the need to try to write something different.

So I did. And that began a journey that lasted from 2001 to this year. December 1, 2014, my first novel hits the shelves. And I guarantee you that it looks nothing like it did when I finished the first draft in 2003 or so. This wasn’t an easy journey. If it were thirteen years of hard work, that’d be one thing. But this was thirteen years of hard work, full of dashed dreams, harsh criticisms, and one major philosophy change that turned my perspective on its head.

And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I remember the first time it was properly rejected. The manuscript request. The elevated hopes. The rejection letter itself. And the disappointment that followed. I thought I had prepared myself, and I really hadn’t.

It’s not wrong to get your hopes up, as long as you recognize that fact that what you hope for won’t always happen. But how do you live like that? How can you hope for anything with the knowledge that it may not happen? And how does that fit into a Christian lifestyle?

Today’s verse is Hebrews 4:16.

The hourglass from NewSpring Church's 2011 Judgement House, Wichita, KS

The hourglass from NewSpring Church’s 2011 Judgement House, Wichita, KS

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

Why is it that when we don’t get our way, we instantly jump to the conclusion that someone is trying to prevent us from happiness? Does that happen to anyone else, or is it just me? That’s my default.

When someone tells me No, my first reaction is that they don’t like me or they’re trying to deny me something. And that’s rarely the case. Admitting it makes me sound childish, so I’m hoping others out there struggle with the same problem.

The plain truth is that our authorities sometimes have to tell us no for our own good.

If you’re a parent, do you let your child do whatever he or she wants? If you’re a manager, do you let your subordinates do whatever they want? No! That’s a horrible idea. Because most of the time people don’t know what they want. And as the appointed authority you are the one who has to make the decision as to what’s good for them and what isn’t, whether they like it or not.

This is true with my novel. More than anything, I wanted it to be published. More than anything, I wanted it to be in print. And I had my heart set on accomplishing that. But it wasn’t to be—at least not at that moment. And now I know why.

Because the manuscript as it was 10 years ago wasn’t ready. It wasn’t what God wanted it to be. And I didn’t know enough about writing, the industry, my book, or myself to be published.

I’ve learned so much in 10 years, I don’t think I could fit it in a book if I tried. And if I had run ahead of God and done things my way 13 years ago, I wouldn’t have learned any of it. Granted, I might have learned some of it in the school of hard knocks, but this way, I got to learn what God had for me and still get my book in print without having to overcome the consequences of bad decisions.

That’s what He does for everybody. Just because He says no now doesn’t mean the answer will always be no. It may just mean that you’re not ready. It may just mean the time isn’t right.

So before you give up on God, take a step back and try to see it from His perspective. How do you handle disappointment when you don’t get what your heart is set on? I’ve learned how to hope in God’s plan, knowing that if He doesn’t give me what I want, I still have a lot to learn. And if He does give me what I’ve asked for, it’s up to me to make the most of it right now.