Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Trusting God

You just need to trust God. How many times has someone told me that? How many times have I said it to myself? And yet, so many times I've failed to understand that properly.

For many years, I think I interpreted "trusting God" as trusting that He would work everything out according to my preference or safety. I'd find myself anxious about an upcoming flight (what if the plane crashes?), a job interview (what if I say the wrong thing? or don't get the job?), confronting a friend, making decisions, dealing with job loss, and much more, and think, "I just need to trust God more." But what that meant to me was trusting that God would keep me safe, protect me, help me ace the interview, help me not to lose a friendship, help me make the right decision, or help me find a job (preferably on my timetable). While God obviously can do all these things -- He is all powerful! -- He doesn't always. He knows the best plan for us, and sometimes He intervenes to protect us from harm but not always. I've learned that trusting God doesn't mean trusting that everything will go smoothly.

The dictionary defines trust as "reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence" and "confident expectation of something; hope." God is the most worthy object of our trust, completely reliable in every way. However, we must be certain that we are trusting in Him rather than for Him to produce a desired outcome. I can still talk with Him openly in prayer and ask for that outcome. But my faith must not be shaken if I don't get what I want.

The ultimate example, as always, is Jesus. I remember how he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane and said, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." (Matthew 26:39) I'm trying to adjust my prayers accordingly.

Recently I was praying specifically that a negative thing would not happen to me. When that thing happened anyway, disappointment filled me. What was the point of praying? Hadn't I shown that I trusted that God could do this for me? Yes, God did have the power to protect me from that situation happening. And I'm certain He had compassion on me as I experienced it. But for some reason, He didn't prevent it. Through it, I learned (again) of the need to apply "Thy will be done" to my prayers just as Jesus taught his disciples to pray. Sometimes I even say something to the effect of "Thy will be done, and help me to accept Thy will." One thing we can always trust is that God will walk through any difficult circumstance with us and will give us the power to endure in our faith if we ask Him.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Why I (Sometimes) Love Studying the Bible

  1. I've always been someone who wishes God would speak to me audibly, especially at crucial moments of decision. The Bible contains God's words and exactly what I need to know about life here on earth (and thereafter!). It's the next-best thing to actually hearing His voice out loud.

  2. Every time I read or study a book of the Bible or read a passage, even if it's one I'm very familiar with, I notice something new that's applicable to my life.

  3. It's full of people who are just as messed up as I am.

  4. It reminds me who I am in Christ and the importance of reflecting on that instead of what the world or the culture currently values.

  5. Reading the prayers of Jesus, David, Paul, and more teaches me how to pray.

  6. I love when one passage leads to another, which informs the first, and when I see the connection between one part of the Bible and others and marvel at God's plan in putting together this book.

  7. In the Old Testament, I enjoy discovering passages from books like Isaiah, Psalms, and more that point so explicitly to the identity and mission of Jesus.

  8. Reading the Bible is a way of preaching to myself and reminding myself of the endless nuggets of wisdom that are so easily forgotten.

  9. It helps make more of Christ and less of me, while at the same time becoming more of who God created me to be.

Now to address the "sometimes" part. I have great difficulty studying the Bible completely on my own. I much prefer to do it in the context of some type of group accountability. I like having "homework" and having to complete it by a certain day; otherwise, it's too easy not to do it or do only do it when I "feel" like it. With homework, I do it consistently because I committed to it. Somehow I don't slip into legalism, though some may struggle with that. Without a group, it's important to at least have a plan. Pick a certain book of the Bible to study, maybe even get a study guide or other resources, and plan ahead for the coming month(s). You'll be more likely to follow through. I guess the point of this is we each need to know ourselves and what works best for each of us and in different seasons of life. I often don't think I've fully processed something I'm learning until I've discussed it with someone else. That may not be true for you.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Preventing Spiritual Amnesia

You know the feeling--you've just returned from a Christian retreat or conference, and you're bursting with new knowledge you're excited to apply to your life. Or you've finished reading a book that seems to have shifted your thinking in a significant way. Maybe it's as simple as a particularly affecting time of worshipping God or a great conversation with a friend about spiritual matters. There's a sense of fullness, of motivation, of life changing for the better.

But you're quickly drawn back into the mundane matters of life, whatever those are for you. Responsibilities. Sitting at a desk getting work done, making phone calls, doing laundry, sitting in traffic, feeding hungry kids, doing the dishes. Over the course of a month, a week, or even the same day, the fresh lessons begin to seep out of you, and you return to old habits.

I've experienced this countless times, and recently was reading and discussing a Christian book with a group and had it happen again. With each chapter I amassed food for thought and new insights for, with God's help, making positive changes in my life. The day of the discussion or of reading that week's chapter, I maintained an awareness of the information and changed my behavior accordingly. But on the other days, I experienced varying degrees of forgetfulness. A couple weeks ago we discussed the last chapter, and I felt a low-grade panic: What if I forgot everything from the book and lost it forever? Was this material doomed to hiss out of me like air from a balloon?

It got me thinking: What could I do to prevent this spiritual amnesia? Here's what I've come up with so far, but I'd like to hear from others as well:

  • Find God in the ordinary moments of life. Train yourself over time to think about, talk to, and just be with God regardless of what you're doing. Sometimes I stand at the sink washing the dishes and think "I can be with God right here, right now!" Keep your eyes out for blessings, even ones that are more hidden (laundry is a blessing because it means I have clothes to wear, and if I'm also doing others' laundry it means I have people in my life and home).

  • Make it a priority to hang out with others who are like-minded. I've found that I am much more likely to keep my mind set on spiritual things if I'm around others who are also seeking God and imitating Christ.

  • Teach what you learned to someone else. Obviously make sure you have a willing "student" first! This could be in a formal or informal setting.
    Remind yourself of what you learned. Write a few summary points in a journal, or post a notecard somewhere with a one-sentence reminder.

  • Memorize scripture related to what you learned. Bible Gateway is a great tool for quickly looking up Bible verses on various topics if you need help finding ideas.

  • Don't move on to the next topic of study until you have a better handle on this one. Sometimes I am very quick to put down one book and immediately open the next, or finish reading or studying a book of the Bible and jump into the next one. It might be even better to continue delving into the topic that has excited you for a while longer and let it settle in rather than speeding forward to the next victim of spiritual amnesia.