The God of the Unexpected

The God of the Unexpected

Am I the only one who prays (i.e. asks God for something) with a generalized idea of how I think God should (or could) answer that prayer? Please tell me I’m not alone in this. Well, this summer has been a massive test in Faith-Building 101. I mean, I thought I had faith, but God showed me what’s up (and that I don’t have as much faith as I thought. Ok—that I am more or less riddled with unbelief.)

And basically what has come from all of these “trials” has been a new name for God: The Unexpected God. This part of God delights in answering my prayers in the most unusual ways—just to make sure there is no room for boasting on my behalf, I’m pretty sure. (Because pride is that ever present sour note seeking to wreck the symphony of life as I know it.)

And since you’re on the edge of your seat dying for specifics (surely I’m not the only one who wants to know all the details), I will whet your appetite with some examples.

Health:

This summer was the first time the “c” word came into play (cancer). I was hit with a crisis of conscience, so to speak, and faced with the reality that my life wasn’t as invincible as I thought. Maybe even that “I know the plans I have for you” could include leaving the earth sooner than I would have dreamed. I said I trusted God for a lot of things (like the safe-keeping of my one and only child) but faced with this possible crisis, my true heart was revealed. No, I didn’t trust God; I trusted my control and decision-making skills regarding the raising of my child—and not much else. And what would become of my precious baby if I wasn’t around to make sure it all turned out ok??? “Touché, Lord. I see now. I’m supposed to trust you before the crisis, not when trust is the only option I have left.” In the end, after a lot of uncomfortable testing, the issue turned out to be what I call, “The Un-sexy diagnosis”. God has a sense of humor too, does He not? I’ll spare the details, but this unfortunate illness, while quite painful and even embarrassing at times, is not going to send me to an early burial (and I am thankful for that!).

During the wretched times of waiting (as I’m sure any of you who have been thrust into the modern health care system have experienced) were many anguished prayers, “Lord, just give me another 15 years…” after all, that wasn’t too much to ask, was it? Then the Unexpected God swoops in to deliver an answer, albeit a bit slower than I would have liked. “No, child, you don’t have cancer, instead, you will undergo an array of embarrassing and uncomfortable tests only to find out you’re pretty much stuck with this for a while—oh, and you won’t really even want to talk about it, that’s how un-sexy this health issue is.” He did answer my prayer though—not in the way I imagined (and with more irony and humor than I would have thought possible), but an answer none-the-less.

Finances:

Towards the beginning of the year my husband and I decided we needed a little Dave Ramsey in our lives. We were tired of merely “existing” as far as finances goes—we knew there had to be a better way because playing the lottery hadn’t panned out for us (imagine that). So we sacrificed and sacrificed and said “NO” to our somewhat spoiled only-child as well as to ourselves. I mean, we said no a lot. It was kind of depressing, to be honest. I mean, who doesn’t like instant gratification? But we kept our eyes on the prize and pressed on. In only a few short months we managed to pay off three of the credit cards. At the same time, my twelve year old Ford Taurus was breaking down every five minutes, and my precious kitty (yes, I’m a goofball of an animal lover) was diagnosed with diabetes. It seemed for every financial move forward we took two steps backwards. The savings would be built up, only to be used again and again for health, car, or pet issues.

I can’t tell you how many times my prayers were uttered so eloquently (and with a screechy tone of desperation), “Lord—help!” Of course, I had my ideas of how this help would come—but so did the Unexpected God. Turns out, He had a two-for-one deal in the works.

He laid it on our hearts to look into purchasing a new car (something we have never done, and even when purchasing a used older car, had high interest rates nothing short of highway robbery.) I thought, “Buy a new car, God???? But that will just increase our debt!!!” “Trust ME,” He says. So we bought a new car—and got a loan with an extremely low interest rate. Turns out, paying off those three credit cards had significantly improved my husband’s credit score, even though it had only been a few months. On top of that, we were not required to give money down (Hallelujah—the savings account was SAVED!!!). So in the end, we sold our beat up Taurus for cash, and used the cash to pay off more debts. So much so that the monthly payment of those debts almost equaled the monthly car payment. And our new car insurance premium? It went DOWN! So all in all, the monthly cost of the new car was nearly entirely offset by paying off a few other things (vet bill is gone!).

I came away from that experience in awe, “Only You God, only You could have worked that one out in that way! Your plans seem to really work out well, especially when I stay of out of them.”

Just Be Real—Be You

 

I could ramble on about the dozens of other Unexpected God moments of the summer, but the moral of the story for me? Just be real. Be real with God (about your fears, doubts, and insecurities) because He can see through that façade of religiosity anyways. He knows how to get to the heart of the matter.

Part of being real for me is writing in a “real” way. I don’t want to be a “preacher” of words, but a “sharer” of life with my readers. Like two buddies having a beer together, (ok, two proper ladies having a tea-time—whatever floats your boat). For so long I have attempted to disjoint my personality from my writing to be more “likeable” and build a bigger audience (because trusting God to increase my platform is too hard, right?). But you know, life is too short for all that bravado and I don’t intend to waste any more of it. I especially don’t want to waste it on doubt, insecurity, and the most hideous of all diseases—pride. Because in the end, putting up a front, as they say, is just another form of pride; as well as telling God how to answer my prayers or make Himself visible to me.

After all, God really does know what He’s doing. Who would’ve known?!

In what ways has the Unexpected God visited you this summer? How has He increased your faith and trust in His plan for your life—and that all things really do work together for your greatest good?

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When Life’s a Herd of Chaos by Rachel Quinley

When Life’s a Herd of Chaos by Rachel Quinley has to be one of the most unique devotionals I have ever read. I absolutely love it. I think I’ve read so many devotionals over the years I’ve become jaded. After all, how many times have lovely sentiments been written with a verse tacked on and a prayer thrown in? Don’t get me wrong, I love devotionals, obviously, because I write them as well. But sometimes they all run together in an ooze of inspiration that never really does what it’s intended to do: awaken spiritual growth.

Such is not the case in When Life’s a Herd of Chaos. This devotional is not only different than anything you’ll probably read (as far as devotionals go); it is also riddled with humor. Rachel has so much charisma as she retells her personal experiences and challenges the reader to examine their hearts. I really cannot praise this book enough. As typical for a devotional, each inspiration has a verse and prayer included, but even the format behind that is much different than one might expect. The illustrations are marvelous and unexpected. I found myself laughing and being convicted in the time span it took to read the short writings—about two minutes or so. The following are some examples of chapter titles to whet your appetite:

Who Gives a Care?

Feel Like a Reject?

In a Jam and Can’t Get Out

A Quarter-Back Christian

Don’t Explode—Go Slow! When you’re ready to wrap a golf club around a tree because you missed a shot, step back, lay the club down, and if necessary, pick up your bag and go home. That’s better than ruining your golf club—and Christian reputation.” (pp.21-22)

The above quote is one of many humorous illustrations making important—convicting—points of truth. I love this devotional, I refer to it over and over again, and I strongly urge you to pick up a copy for yourself. Rachel Quinley sent a copy to me personally, and she assures me she will do the same for anyone else interested. You can contact her at rachelquinley@att.net for pricing and shipping information. You can also read more from “When Life’s a Herd” as well as other inspiring devotionals on her blog: Rachel’s Knee Mail.

(I received this book from Rachel Quinley in exchange for my honest review. I was not paid to give a good review, and every opinion here is strictly my own.)

Rachel Quinley is an experienced writer and speaker, having traveled throughout the United Staes, Canada, and the Caribbean Islands, sharing devotions at Christian seminars and conferences. She is also a published writer for magazines and leadership manuals. Rachel and her husband, Ernest, live in Mobile, Al.

When Darkness Prevails (Or at least tries to…)

“How could I have let this happen again?” Oh the irony of failure. In that moment, gazing at my cut up wrist while experiencing a tremendous load of excruciating personal pain I realized that even in this I had failed. Isn’t it amazing how Satan traps the thinking? The darkness is always easier to analyze once the light has returned.

I know it was spiritual oppression, the same haunts burdening me my whole life had returned. I thought I had been “free” forever of such troubles, but the reality hit—the depression, anxiety, and temptation to escape the hurt will probably always linger to a certain extent. The Enemy knows how to push my buttons–not to give him too much credit–but he’s pretty good at it.

Writing about this less than 24 hours later is risky, I recognize I’m opening myself up to a world of further rejection, but I know there is someone out there who understands my pain and this, my friend, is for you.

Sobbing on the couch the emotional torture continued. “What have I done wrong this time? Why am I not good enough for them? Why must I fail at everything? I’m not loved, I’m not accepted, and I never will be. I’m destined to be a lonely outcast.” The record played over and over and while most days hitting the “off” button is a no-brainer, this day was different.

I didn’t really want to talk to anyone. But I knew if I didn’t reach out I may do something worse. Maybe I would get it “right” next time. Sometimes being well studied in the Bible makes it even harder to push through such oppression. An extra measure of guilt rushes in, “I know better, I shouldn’t be feeling this way, this is wrong…etc.” Satan pounces on the opportunity to condemn the already condemned spirit.

I texted my mentor, who was at that moment the only person I felt I could trust. Though we had only known each other a short time I knew she would not judge me, condemn me, tell me I was crazy, or say she couldn’t relate to me.   She called me and said three words. Though it wasn’t an instant fix, it was exactly what I needed to hear from another human being.

“You are loved.”

I felt nothing close to being loved that morning–I felt rejected personally as a human being. I needed that jolt of reality from another Christian. “You are worth something. I don’t reject you. I love you. I appreciate you.”

So this post is not to tell you I have figured everything out, I’ve been cured forever, or that I know the secret answer for every suicidal or spiritually oppressive thought. I know the word of God is always the first answer, but beyond that, when the feelings overwhelm, having someone you can turn to– whom you can trust implicitly–is the next best option.

If you have such a friend, thank them for their presence and support in your life. If you don’t have someone in your life whom you can be 100% open with, pray that God would bring one to you. I prayed for such a person for several months, and God answered only weeks before my spiritual “relapse”. He knew what I needed, He saw what was coming, and He indeed made “a way to escape” that I could bear the pain (1 Cor. 10:13).

This post is also for the people who hide their pain from their Christian friends in fear of condemnation, judgment, rejection, or abandonment. We need community, we need relationship, and we need Christians who don’t shy away from the spiritual lepers like me.  I’m not perfect, I struggle too. I refuse to hide it. One of my biggest pet peeves within “church” is the lack of transparency. We need to be able to walk in to church and say “No, I’m not okay.” Or even, “I want to die.” And know that we will be supported, comforted, and helped. I’m not the only one out there. Or maybe I am? Either way, God has sparked a new desire within me—perhaps a new focus. I hope to help and encourage others as I’ve always tried to do, but even more so, inspire others to live transparently. Trust me; there is someone out there who could be helped by you if you’d only be real about your struggles.

Let’s join together and stop pretending we’re walking on clouds all of the time. This is life, it’s real. No one is on cloud nine 100% of the time—even if they are a Christian. Ask God if there is someone in your life who simply needs to be told they are loved, appreciated and wanted as a human being. You never know how God could use that to lift someone out of a pit of despair.

Liar, Liar

“Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts. May the Lord silence all flattering lips and every boastful tongue.” Psalm 12:2-3 TNIV

Where has all the integrity gone? Lying has become a way of life for the majority of people, even Christians. The following are lies I’ve heard from self-proclaimed Christ-followers:

“I told this guy I was married so he’d leave me alone”.

“If you get pulled over by a cop, never, under any circumstances admit fault (even if you know you were wrong)!”

“Just say you’re busy so you won’t have to go to [an event].”

The Bible is clear about lying. It is sin. The excuses one conjures up to justify lies are evidence of a guilty conscience.

“It’s not hurting anyone.”

Wrong. Sin always, always bears consequences. Jesus said, “The good man brings up good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that all men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:35-37 (emphasis mine). Though a person may never know they’ve been lied to the most important One knows: God.

How can we expect to witness to our unbelieving friends and neighbors when our character stands in question?

As a Jesus-follower, I never want to find myself caught in a lie. The best way to not get caught in a lie is to not lie. I never want to be responsible for turning someone away from a saving faith in the Gospel because I had no integrity. A Christian who lies gives the unbelieving world another excuse to hold on to their godless existence. Let’s be salt and light, friends; after all, how can we call ourselves Jesus-followers when we make a habit of deceiving people?

As Christians we are called to a higher standard, even if taking that high road is more difficult or painful.

I recently read an “inspirational” article saying women want to be lied to by their spouses and it creates a better marriage by boosting the woman’s self-esteem. Apparently, when she asks if she looks fat she wants to hear “no” whether it’s true or not.  It’s likely our spouses are afraid to tell the truth because of reactions they receive. No wonder relationships have so much angst and heartache. Lying is so commonplace that hearing the truth hurts our feelings so we decide we want to be lied to and we think others want to be lied to.

If we want to bear witness to the life-transforming power of Jesus, we need to be people of integrity who refuse to tolerate even an inkling of intentional sin. May our prayer resonate with the Psalmist, “Because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path.” Psalm 119:128 (emphasis mine)

Freedom is Here

clean

Yesterday was a big day in my life; I would venture to say it was a life-changing experience, second only to my conversion. You should see my face today, I cried so much my eyes are swollen. I don’t even have the energy to put make-up on. Spiritual warfare is exhausting.

Two days after my last bout of major depression my Sunday Class teacher emailed me (completely unaware of my struggles-nice work, God) and invited me to partake in an afternoon of fighting for my spiritual freedom. That certainly sounded like something I needed. I agreed and we set a date, April 29th.

It was 1:00pm before I made it into the modular room where my teacher Steve, sponsor Kimmy, and another prayer warrior, Terry, awaited my arrival. Steve and I worked through the 7 Steps to Freedom in Christ (Neil T. Anderson) while Terry and Kimmy prayed for me…for 4 hours.

“‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.'” Isaiah 1:18

I went in with mild expectations of what would happen, but I emerged a changed woman. I discovered fighting for my freedom was hard, painful, and exhausting. Throughout this ordeal I uncovered bitterness I was unaware of, strongholds that had been weighing me down, and serious repentance of issues I had never regarded as sin. What happened was extremely personal, and for the first time in my life I was 100% honest. I heard my own voice declare sins, repent, renounce, and claim freedom in Christ. Verbal reinforcement is powerful.

There I stood in the presence of God, uncovered and completely exposed. I had to make a choice.

All of my years of bulimia, addiction, rebellion, self-mutilation, and controlling had only served as a means of self punishment. I was giving myself what I thought I deserved. In order to walk in Freedom, I had to choose to forgive myself and renounce my sin. Steve insisted, “You don’t just ‘try’ to forgive, you must choose to forgive yourself.” Whew, it was powerful and it took me several minutes to work through.

“As far as the east is from west, so far has God removed our transgression from us.” Psalm 103:12

There was a lot more to this than forgiveness. Specific issues had to be recalled (which was not fun), and their sinful patterns renounced. It was basically 4 hours of repentance. During this time the battle raged on in my head (the enemy at work), I would read a statement like, “I am innocent” and would hear, “You will never be innocent!” I had to renounce the enemy repeatedly in every area of my life. I’m telling you, folks, the war against the spirit is serious. Satan does not want my freedom, but guess what? He has no power here anymore.

“So take everything the Master has set out for you, well made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way…This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the devil and all his angels.” Ephesians 6:10-12 msg

I left that meeting not just feeling like I was lighter, but knowing I was set free. Once and for all, it was over. The decades of depression, the eating disorder, the sins of my haunting past; it was over. I was no longer defined by my past. I am not a failure, disappointment, or a worthless whore. I was clean, I was whole. I had prayed for years to be made whole, I had begged and pleaded for healing and often wondered if God had turned his back on me. But yesterday, April 29th, I was set free once and for all. Spiritually and emotionally made whole. I walked out of that room whiter than snow. Finally, what I knew in the Word connected with my own experience.

The battle is not over, the war wages on. Is the enemy done with me? I doubt it. He is forever seeking to destroy my faith. What is different? I am equppied now to fight the battle with truth that sets me free. I know what to look for, I know how the enemy develops strongholds, and I know how to stop it. I can say with all authority under heaven, in the name of Christ Jesus, I have been healed and made whole. I am free.

(Neil T. Anderson has authored many books on spiritual freedom including, Victory Over Darkness, The Bondage Breaker, Overcoming Depression, and the manual I went through, The Steps to Freedom in Christ)

*In the coming posts I will list specific prayers from the 7 Steps to Freedom.

Well, That’s Not How I See It….

“Mommy, when I’m 29 like you, I won’t be afraid anymore!” My daughter has an interesting perspective on things. She firmly believes that everything will be better for her when she is older. Eventually we are faced with the reality that life does not get easier with age.

Children can be short-sighted in their perspective.

They get excited over little things like petting animals at a farm, eating at a special restaurant, or getting a new box of crayons. Their world is small and simple and they usually don’t understand why the adults are so serious. They want to run and play, laugh and learn while the grown-ups have to work and budget, say “no” to their wants, and discipline the bad choices.

As adults our perspectives can be influenced by outside sources. Some may become “pessimistic” because they see everything in their life as a personal attack against them. There is the “glass-half-full” crowd who appear bubbly and worry free most of the time, skipping gleefully by the faulty elements surrounding them. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle.

Media plays a role in our views. We are inundated with messages to look good, spend money, get rich, and seek personal happiness at any cost to those around us. We receive messages from other people that may influence our perspective. Recently my daughter looked up at my husband and said, “Daddy, you’re fat! I think you eat too much!” I quickly shushed her and explained that it wasn’t nice to call people “fat”. However, my husband was deeply affected by that statement from his wide-eyed four year old even though he knew she was not being malicious. A few minutes later he came to us and exclaimed, “Daddy’s going on a diet!” For some reasons my pleas for him to improve his health went unnoticed, but this comment from his daughter was a powerful motivator. Over time we each receive similar messages from people about who we are and what we are worth which shapes how we view ourselves and our world.

God also has a perspective, “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘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) His perspective is far superior to ours and as much as we try to understand, it will always surpass our complete comprehension.

God’s perspective is righteous, “Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.”(Hosea 14:9), and eternal, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

Understanding how God sees things should effect how we see things. As we learn his ways we recognize through our circumstances we are given opportunities to trust him (Psalm 37:7-9), be rewarded (Proverbs 14:14), mature (Philippians 4:11-13), and fulfill our purpose (1 Corinthians 7:17, Ephesians 2:10).

Today I woke up and checked my electricity meter. (We have a pay-as-you-go system where we load our card with whatever amount of money we want then insert it in our meter to purchase as much electricity as we can afford at any given time.) It read $3.34 and I chuckled to my husband, “Not bad!” That would get us a few more hours of lights, computers, televisions and air-conditioning. There was a day when I would have panicked at the same scenario but I realized this morning that God is reshaping my perspective. He uses his word of truth, wisdom of Godly friends, and sometimes the honest remarks of my little Samantha.

As I traverse my God-given path through life,

 I’m trying to be mindful of my limited and somewhat faulty perspective. I’m determining to give my experiences to God and trust him with the results. Thank you, Jesus, for continuing to mold my perspective.

“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am God, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Isaiah 46:4