Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What Have You Been Doing Lately?

"Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves with the same attitude, because He who has suffered in His body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing in what pagans choose to do - " 1 Peter 4:1-3

Whew - God is really speaking to me this morning regarding several different issues, but in the way that only women can understand, they are all related and intertwined, and so I'm slowly trying to digest it.

(Side note: my husband and I ran across a book once called "Men are like waffles, Women are like Spaghetti," referring to how for women, life is all connected and overlapping, like noodles on a plate. But for men, they have their own little compartments, neatly stored in their own little individual nook (maybe the only thing they do neatly, depending on the man), like waffle cubbies.)

So, needless to say, I'm having a noodle moment. So, hopefully you can follow me.

The main topic is something that God first started speaking to me about in college through Dr. Larry Crabb's book, "Inside Out." I highly recommend it. I have a list of about 10 books that have been hugely influential in my spiritual life. Some of those I  fully believe God led me to for that precise season. Inside Out was one of them, pretty close to the top of the list.

It's a very deep book, as Dr. Crabb is a deep person, so I won't try to summarize. Rather, I'll just say that part of it is about recognizing that so often we fall into the trap of approaching the gospel (and therefore our relationship with God) with the belief that it offers us relief from today's life.

Let me make a clear distinction here. By relief, I do not mean Hope. The Gospel always has and always will offer Hope, because Jesus Christ is our Hope. If your gospel doesn't bring you Hope, I would seriously examine what you're believing to make sure it's established in Truth.

What I am saying is that so often we want relief in the form of our problems being fixed, or better yet, eliminated. We can fall into subtle traps of believing that if we're just obedient enough, just get into the Word more, just pray more, than we'll feel better. We'll see change.

Yes - those things can happen. And often they do - because God pours out His grace abundantly and overwhelming on us, all the time.

HOWEVER, if we set our faith on the fact that God will always respond in the ways that we think He will to offer us relief, we will be set up for a fall. A hard one. And possibly into doubt...exactly where the enemy wants us.

Sometimes, the hardships we face - the disappointments, the hurts, the physical ailments - they won't go away. They stay, despite our spiritual disciplines and attempts. So, what then?

This is where I get excited - I know, sounds weird. Please stick with me.

This is where, if we will hold on to God long enough, we can experience Him a new and powerful way. Because what we see happen here is that He starts to strip away our false expectations of Who He is, how He moves, and what this relationship thing is all about with Him.

He reminds us, like in 1 Peter 4, that in this life, we will face trials (that's also in James 1:2-4).

"Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves with the same attitude, because He who has suffered in His body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing in what pagans choose to do - " 1 Peter 4:1-3

Arm yourselves with the same attitude - in other words, expect it. Be prepared to suffer - not because you're making bad choices and therefore reaping the consequences - but because we're choosing to no longer make those decisions and you're therefore now facing new struggles.

Example - Because you're spending time in God's Word and developing a closer walk with Him, you know aren't as comfortable watching the certain TV show anymore. It's not that it's 'all' bad - it's just that there are a few off-color jokes, some sexual stuff that you used to just dismiss - but now you're just not sure you can rationalize it anymore. So, even though you enjoy it, you decide that it's not the best way to spend your 30 minutes in the evening anymore.

Enter very slight suffering. A little bit of dying to what the flesh wants in order to foster your close relationship with God.

But now, you don't have the connection with the co-worker you used to, discussing the latest episode over lunch. You explain a little of why you chose to not watch it anymore. Now the relationship feels distant and you really don't have anything to talk about.

Enter more suffering - loneliness, missing a past friendship.

I'm sure you get the point.

This really challenges me in some ways, because even though I don't consciously subscribe to a faith based on my convenience and comfort, my flesh is very invested in those things and rears its ugly head, A LOT. And so it's in those moments where I have to choose what I am going to fix my eyes on. Will I allow the discomfort, the unmet need, the disappointment direct me to Jesus, to seeking His Presence and a deeper understanding of Who He is, or do I choose to focus on the lack.

Back to the example above. I think part of our problem is that we stop here. We sense God directing us to take that step, to give up the TV show that in turn led to a loss of relationship. And then we focus on all that we've lost. All that God has told us to give up, or has seemed to have taken away. And we question, assuming that if God has called us to do something, then it will come with a certain set of emotions, that it will look differently.

And we miss Him. Because instead of looking to Him in place of those things, we're now looking back at what we've given up or lost.

But if we persist, if we continue to meet Him in His Word, to seek His face, what we discover is a new sensitivity instead of the numbness that the media we were exposing ourselves to had caused. We now have a greater sense of His direction and discernment on decisions. And we have peace because even though it's not all fixed and okay, we know that we're exactly where He wants us. 

And perhaps, just perhaps, your co-worker begins to take notice of the changes in you. Even though she may not be quick to say anything, she's thinking and wondering what is going on. She's challenged by the stance that you've taken. And God begins to move in her life as well.

And we gain a new perspective that pain is not always bad. That despite our hurt and loneliness, God is still there, speaking and directing us. That His Presence isn't mutually exclusive with our disappointments, but that He meets us in them and shows us that He's greater than our fears and lost dreams.

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