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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The Worst Illness a Christian Could Get….

It’s one of the worst illnesses a Christian could get. Evidence of this cruel disease has popped up everywhere over the past several decades. No doubt, it has infected more believers now than ever before. Perhaps you have already contracted this disease without even knowing it. The symptoms are silent and deadly, spreading through thoughts and rationales. And how am I qualified to speak on such an illness? What gives me the right to draw attention to its ravages amongst the bride of Christ? Well, as the saying goes, “It takes one to know one.” I, too, have been infected with this deadly virus.

Where it all began…

Recently my husband, daughter, and I went to a favorite restaurant. We were quickly seated at the table where we proceeded to browse the tempting appetizers, entrees, and deserts colorfully displayed throughout the menu. Our mouths watered with anticipation. As the waitress approached I smiled as I usually do, getting ready to show my best Christian politeness while ordering. But the waitress kept on walking. She hadn’t even looked at me. A little disappointed I reasoned, “She probably has another table that was seated before us. No biggy.” But over the next fifteen minutes servers walked by our table, nary a one looking us in the eyes. My husband was irritated as my five-year-old grew increasingly hungry and restless.

“I think they’ve got ‘Somebody-Else Syndrome,’” I told my husband.

“What?” He asked looking confused.

“Every single one of them seems to think ‘somebody else’ will take care of us. And because they all have that mindset no one ends up helping.”

Eventually I went to the hostess at the front of the restaurant and explained our plight. It was still another five minutes before a server came to our table. As annoying as that situation was, God used it to speak to my heart.

So, what now?

I have no idea if any of those servers were Christians or not. It doesn’t really matter because the principle lies within the thought process. It goes something like this: the preacher brings attention to a need within the church and you nod, even pray about. “Lord, please meet this need. Please bring the right person along to help.”

Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with such a prayer, but it fails to really address the issue. Whether consciously or not, it has an underlying tone of, “Lord, let someone else take care of this, because you know I can’t do it.” Obviously there are legitimate needs that cannot be met by every individual. I know when my pastor shows slides of the orphanage our church funds in India that I cannot fly there and personally get hands on. I understand these things. So, before you post an angry comment, this is not about giving people a guilt trip. As I said before, I too have prayed such prayers and thought such thoughts.

But what would happen if we prayed, “Lord, what can I do to meet this need?” You see, such a prayer puts the ball in our court, and that makes us uncomfortable. Because the reality is, in most circumstances there is something we can do.

Here are some of the excuses I have used to rationalize away any personal responsibility in helping others in a hands-on way.

“I don’t have enough money. God wants me to get out of debt first before I donate financially.”

In this day’s economy, I have a feeling I am not the only one who has used this excuse. It’s tantamount to saying I need to stay at home and study the entire Bible inside and out before I go in to the world and share my faith or serve in the church or surrounding community. It’s a clever ruse tempting to keep us in the stagnant waters of selfishness.

“I don’t have enough room, I don’t have enough resources. I don’t have enough time.”

Once again I refer to the above explanation. If we wait until we are “ready”, until we have enough, are enough, or own enough, then we will never—I repeat—never make a tangible move forward because we will never be “ready”. There will always be more bills to pay, more books to read, more personal “needs” to gain. I am convinced this is one of the single greatest deceptions among believers and it has immobilized the church. While some are willing to write checks, few are willing to get their own hands dirty. Like I said, I have been there too.

If all of us sitting in the pews on Sunday are infected with Somebody-Else Syndrome, the needs of our communities, even the needs of our brothers and sisters, will never be met. And what a shame that is. Indeed, I know many unbelievers who are far more generous with their time and resources than Christians. And this becomes a roadblock for them. After all, why should they believe in God when the people who say they follow God are so self-absorbed and inward focused?  If that is what God is all about, just judging, pointing fingers at sins, and not actually doing anything else, then what is the point?

Service not Serve-us…

A couple of weeks ago my pastor used this phrase, “service instead of serve-us”. How true is this, though? If we had a mindset of “what can I do, Lord” instead of, “Lord, let somebody else step up” more needs would be met.

If it sounds like I’m worked up, I am. I write this with high emotions as I watch a friend in need being turned away. Too many Christians infected with Somebody-Else Syndrome. Initially, when I heard of her need, I prayed, “Lord, please meet her need.” You know what He said? He said, “You can meet this need.”

He reminded me of a verse I had recently posted on facebook and twitter:

“I want you to share your food with the hungry and bring right into your own homes those who are helpless, poor, and destitute.” Is. 58:7

“But Lord, you know this type of situation has turned out badly in the past. You know our circumstances, finances…blah blah blah.” It was clear what God required. I was given an opportunity to practice what I preach, to get my hands dirty; to sacrifice comfort and resources. And I admit, I hesitated. But I am glad that after a few minutes of spiritual wrestling I submitted.

But here we are again. The same friend in the same situation and I am left wondering, “If this person was a missionary or speaker, or someone famous, the same people who say they cannot help would be willingly opening their doors.” Maybe that is too cynical, but it’s what I am left with after weeks of watching my friend struggle.

Once again I know what God requires of me, and I am willing now because I have seen the blessings and spiritual rewards for following His voice. But I am still reeling over the occurrences of Somebody-Else Syndrome that has infected many believers today.

Who is willing to sacrifice comfort, time, and resources to meet the needs around them? Who is willing to take a dose of God’s word, God’s truth, and eradicate this disease lurking within? Who is willing to serve Him by serving others instead of serving self? It’s time we rise up and get uncomfortable. Our brothers and sisters are hurting and are being rejected by their own spiritual families. This ought not be! It’s time we say “Lord, I want to share my food with the hungry and bring right into my own homes those who are helpless, poor, and destitute.”

“First-World” Problems

**Published on Encourage 365, November 2012**

On Sunday my Pastor showed a riveting video called “First World Problems Rap” and the irony of this video should be evident to any viewer.  I appreciate the message and encourage you to watch it (it’s only two minutes).

 

(Here’s where you click the link to watch the video before reading on…)

 

So, yesterday our church launched a 30-day challenge to start a “First World Problems” complaint jar. You guessed it, every time we catch ourselves complaining about a “problem”–much like what is depicted in the video–we have to drop some money into the jar. At the end of the 30 days we turn in our jars to the church benevolence fund so the money can be used to help others. Immediately I knew I needed to participate (and I hope you’re challenged to do the same—donating the money to your church or charity).

 

Making a “complaint” jar is a great idea and something I hope to continue beyond the 30 days. Even in one day both I and my daughter have begun to realize how much we gripe about trivial things. Let’s face it, waiting in line at Starbucks really pales in comparison to the trials most children face in third world countries. I am ashamed to even admit how often I forget to pray for those children. Most of us will never get the opportunity to travel to a destitute country and personally help, but most of us do have the capability of helping out through active service in our communities.

 

The church I attend has several outreach groups that work with homeless people, foster children, disabled children, hungry families, and more. Even if your church does not offer these things, there is something somewhere that you could probably get involved in. Even if it’s just dropping off canned foods for a food drive or hygiene supplies to homeless communities. The needs are there, we just need to open our eyes and look (and pray) for opportunities.

 

All of our situations are unique. My situation requires me to be home much of the time. I’m a wife, I home-school my daughter, I’m a full time student, and a freelance writer. I am in my home a lot! But a few months ago I prayed for God to show me what I could do to get “hands-on” and He was faithful to immediately answer that prayer! Sometimes we are fooled in to thinking we don’t have the time or resources to make a difference when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. We may never know what impact our small acts of kindness could have on another life.

 

So my challenge to you is the same challenge my Pastor shared with the congregation. Make a complaint jar and keep track of just how often you complain about “first world” problems. The results will probably be shocking. Remember, the point is to change our perspective. Faith is supposed to be active. Jesus didn’t just sit in the synagogue all day and preach. He was out there demonstrating a hands-on faith, as were the disciples. And we’re all familiar with James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this; to look after the orphans and the widows in their distress and to keep oneself faultless from the world.”This is the kind of faith I want to demonstrate to the world; this is the kind of faith I ask God to create in my life.

 

A faith that moves.

 

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24

(Also see related article: Let’s Do Justice from Prodigal Magazine)

Bonded

Bonded

“I cling to your laws, Lord; don’t let me be put to shame.” Psalm 119:31 NLT

Have you ever gotten super glue on your fingers? I have and it is miserable to try to get off. Once it’s bonded to your skin, it doesn’t want to leave.

How bonded are we to the word of God? The Psalmist said he “clings” to the word. The Hebrew word means “attached to, stuck, adhered to, or bonded with”. This gives us quite a mental picture! Adhered to the word of God, fixed to it, immovable from it; this is the way of the one who is not ashamed.

“You need to persevere.” Hebrews 10:36

“Let us not be weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

“For this very reason make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:5-8

Do you want to persevere in your faith and be productive for the Lord? The key is to cling, or be bonded to the word. If we are clinging to the promises of God, then we will not be put to shame; in fact we cannot be put to shame because God is faithful to his word! The problem is we want to claim God’s promises over our life without the commitment. We like to hear, “all things work together for good” but we don’t really pay attention to the last part, “to those who love God”. (Romans 8:28) When we come to a place where we truly desire to see God active and abounding in our lives we must come to the end of ourselves and our pride. Lay aside our selfishness in order to know the word of God, understand it, and love it. To love the word of God is to love the character of God. When we love and seek him our desires are aligned with his, and he gives us those desire with much pleasure!

“As for you…never tire of doing what is right.” 2 Thessalonians 3:13

The command to persevere is all over God’s word. It’s not easy to rest on the promises of a God we cannot see, feel, or touch; yet we are urged to do so with determination. Perseverance leads to confidence and trust. We will not be ashamed because we will be resting in the truth of God and faithfulness to his word.

“As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.” James 5:11

The Lord finally brought about Job’s deliverance. It wasn’t instant, but it did come, and Job had to persevere in order to obtain the blessing. We are fortunate we are not generally asked to persevere as Job did. For the majority of us we don’t even come close. Job was able to stand before God blameless even in his afflictions, and he was able to persevere without shame. His friends had some interesting judgments over his life, but God knew Job’s heart and that is all that mattered. In the end, all things worked for Job’s good because he loved God and did not give up on his promises.

If we want to stand before God and man unashamed, we need the word in our hearts. We need it to be bonded to our lives with the stickiest of spiritual super glue, or determination. All around us there is a battle for our love and attention, but we must first and foremost keep his word at the center. It takes focus with perseverance.

Prayer

Thank you for your promises, God! I am undeserving of your favor, and yet you are generous beyond measure with what you provide for your children. Many things I know I take for granted, and I confess it. I confess my pride and love for other things over your word. Change my heart! Direct it towards your truth that I may persevere until the day I see you face to face. Let me never become weary in following your laws, because I trust you and know you have designed what is best for me. Continue to teach my heart how to love your word as it should!