December 6, 2014

Christmas Countdown

It is a blessed Saturday in sunny Phoenix, Arizona! Today is a good day, a very good day. It is December 6th, if you can believe it, and that means that there are only 21 more days until Christmas arrives (20 if you count Christmas Eve as the arrival day!!) I cannot believe how quickly this year has passed by, and I cannot even begin to thank the Lord for His Great Gifts as He has covered me through each event, each hurdle, and each challenge. The Lord has seen to my every need, and He has carried me through each difficult change, every up and down, I experienced in 2014. God is Good, so very Good to me!

Today as I sit at my computer, I am reflecting on my life, and I am thinking back to where I was at this time last year (2013). Last year was a transition year for me. As I think back, I can point to three major "transitions" that occurred in 2013 that were foundational to my life, that were directly responsible for setting me up in my current "living" situation. I would not be where I am today if these three "transitions" had not occurred.
  • Home: I left my rented town home in May to "transition" into a shared living arrangement with my aging parents.
  • School: I started my advanced studies program at Regent University in May, "transitioning" from Masters student to Doctoral student, and starting what would be a life-changing experience for me. 
  • Work: I left my full-time job at CVS Caremark in August to "transition" into teaching at Grand Canyon University. 
I have blogged about "change" and how I really do not handle change well. It has always been the case with me that I look at change with a negative viewpoint. I think it stems from my childhood experiences whereby change always seemed to bring unpleasant outcomes. Some of the things I went through in my childhood -- moving frequently, starting new schools, meeting new friends -- were difficult for me to handle. I struggled with my life being up-ended constantly, with having to be the "new" kid in school, and with having to meet new people (I still am this way today -- I don't meet people easily). I also struggled with the fear of the unknown, that big what IF scenario, and I stressed over what "might" happen to me when faced with uncertainty. Moving often, changing homes, and being forced to adapt to new situations was not easy for me. I suffered from anxiety and panic attacks as a child. I hyperventilated, I had stomach aches and headaches, and I often melted down emotionally when I was forced to experience new, unknown things.

I think this is why I still struggle with change today. I am more flexible now, and I am more experienced (certainly). I am also more in control of the outcome, and I can regulate my internal thoughts and emotions to help overcome the anxiety and panic. Note that I say I can regulate my thoughts and my feelings -- I can -- I still experience anxiety and panic, it is just that I am now better able to handle it when it does come as the result of some change in my life.

God is good, so very good to me. He knows my weaknesses, my frailties, and He knows how I struggle with not knowing what tomorrow will bring.

It is hard sometimes to handle the comments that well-meaning people will make when I am panicked about something. Often, my fear is discounted or it is tossed off as a lack of faith. What these well-meaning people don't know is that for those of us who struggle with panic type disorders, telling us that we are giving into the fear or not trusting the Lord is not helpful. We already KNOW this is the case. We already KNOW that we are allowing irrational fear to get the best of us. Panic disorders are difficult to overcome, and those of us who struggle with them, understand all too well how to deal with them. We know that the only way to overcome the panic is to relax, to let go of the fear, and to rest (to be still). Psalm 46:10 says,

"Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world."

Yes, we struggle with this idea of being still before the Lord (to not tremble in fear). The word, "still" is interesting. Merriam-Webster defines the adjective "still" as follows:

adjective, stiller, stillest.
1. remaining in place or at rest; motionless; stationary: to stand still.
2. free from sound or noise, as a place or persons; silent: to keep still about a matter.
3. subdued or low in sound; hushed: a still, small voice.
4. free from turbulence or commotion; peaceful; tranquil; calm: the still air.
5. without waves or perceptible current; not flowing, as water.

Note the first five definitions signify the act of being at rest, being motionless. I think my favorite definition is #2b which says "silent: to keep still about a matter." To me, this represents the bulk of my worry or anxiety over the unknown in my life. For example, I have prayed to the Lord about my grades this semester. Yes, I know -- I blog about my grades all the time -- and I do stress over them. I worry about my GPA, my scholarship, my ability to study at this level, etc. This semester is no different from every other semester since I started graduate study back in 2010. I never know my grade until it is posted, and until that time, I worry about how well I will perform in the class. I am an achievement-oriented person, which means that I derive my sense of acceptance from what I achieve. I value achievement, and I strive to excel in everything I do. Now, I am not achievement-oriented in every area of my life, per se (I probably am, but I am more so in certain areas), but I am driven to excel in most areas.

I know that I struggle with this need to achieve. It has been this way for so long, and it is part-and-parcel with who I am. I don't struggle to achieve ahead of others, meaning that I don't compare myself with others, but rather I compare my performance with a standard I set for myself. Some might call it perfection, but I don't consider myself a perfectionist. I know what I am capable of doing, and as such, I know the bar I set for my achievement is very high. I don't expect others to perform at my same level. So while I do consider other people and their work, I don't consider myself in competition with anyone. I am in competition with myself, and that means, that I expect my "best" performance at every assignment or project.

Lately, the Lord has been calling to me to "rest," to stop striving against Him. I am striving, I know it. Striving is something that I do often. I strive because I want to excel, to succeed, and while striving can be a good thing (as in working hard toward something), it can become excessive and have detrimental effects. Merriam-Webster defines the verb, "to strive" as follows:

verb (used without object), strove or strived, striven
[striv-uh n] (Show IPA) or strived, striving.
1. to exert oneself vigorously; try hard: He strove to make himself understood.
2. to make strenuous efforts toward any goal: to strive for success.
3. to contend in opposition, battle, or any conflict; compete.
4. to struggle vigorously, as in opposition or resistance: to strive against fate.

In my case, I am guilty of number four. I am struggling vigorously against a STRONG OPPONENT, namely the LORD. Of course, I know that I cannot win or make any headway against Him for He is God. Yet, I struggle in vain, I strive to overcome His way, His will, and in doing so, I wear myself down (and out). I am like Jacob who struggled against the Lord. In Genesis 32:24-26, it says:

This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket.  Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Yes, I am wrestling with God, and I am not going to win. It will be His way, His way, His way. Yet, there is part of me that so much wants to go my own way, to do my own thing, and to walk in my own will. It is not that I want my will completely because I have surrendered my will to Him. It is more so that I do not like the way we are going, the direction we are moving in, and I want to take a different path, to go a different way.

In truth, I am contending with the Lord regarding the plans He has for my life. I am questioning whether He is right and if He knows best. I know in my heart and in my head that His way is best. I am completely convinced of this truth. Yet, I find that I do not want to go where He is sending me, where He is calling me to go. I am being stubborn and willful. I am wrestling with the Lord over the way to go. I know it, I know this is the case, and I am feeling the weariness in my body and my soul.

What does this mean for me? How do I stop striving against the Lord? How do I rest in His will, and in His way?

The WORD tells us to rest, to be still, and that means to "keep still about a matter" or to be silent on it. I think what is happening is that I am continually crying out to the Lord about a particular thing, for example, my grade in my courses at Regent, and the Lord is saying to me "be still, Carol." He is telling me to let it rest, to stop asking about the same thing over and over again because He has already taken care of the matter. The matter is in GOOD HANDS.

Secondly, I believe that whenever I contend with the Lord over a matter it is because I do not like what He has said to me -- I am in many ways -- arguing my case before the Lord. He is the LAW GIVER and JUDGE and I am like a trial lawyer pleading my case before the High Court. The court and the SUPREME JUDGE has the authority to rule on my case, so therefore, all I can do is present my side of things and then I must wait for the JUDGE to rule for me or against me. Of course, praise be to God, we always receive a favorable ruling (that is grace in action), but it doesn't always mean we will win our case. The LORD will decide what it best and will rule accordingly. We must therefore submit to His ruling and abide by the terms of His assessment of the situation.

I think that more often than not this is what happens to us. We plead with the LORD, and we make our case before His throne. We wait for His ruling and when it comes, if it is not what we asked for, then we go away mad, disappointed or dejected (remember Cain?) The LORD determines what is best for us, and even when we are seeking His way completely, we often will not receive the exact thing we have asked Him to deliver. Yes, this is true. We may not receive what we ask. Matthew 7:7 NLT says,

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you."

Yes, this verse tells us what to do. The translators of the New Living Translation give this verse the heading of "Effective Prayer" and as such we assume that it means that we are to continue asking for what we want in order to receive it. Yet, I believe that while we are encouraged to ask anything of the Lord, it must be with the understanding that He will only give to use what He considers "our good." Ecclesiastes 6:12 says this,

In the few days of our meaningless lives, who knows how our days can best be spent? Our lives are like a shadow. Who can tell what will happen on this earth after we are gone? 

The idea is that there is only ONE who knows what is best for us, and that ONE is the LORD. Therefore, when we ask of Him, we must expect that He will only give to us what He has determined is the "best" thing (person, place or thing) to meet our need. 

With this in mind, I must wrestle with the fact that I am contending with the Lord over some specific answer to my prayer. I have asked Him for several things of late, and His response is not acceptable to me. It is the only thing that can be so therefore the issue is whether I will accept His answer/His gift or whether I will continue to plead my case after the JUDGE has ruled. In short, I am close to being cited for CONTEMPT OF COURT. 

Thus, as I consider what I have asked from the Lord recently, I must accept His determination and provision. I do not know why I am so adamant about wanting my way in this matter. I normally let the Lord have His way because I know that it is the best thing for me. I guess I am feeling stressed, feeling pressured, and feeling as though I am at the breaking point. I want release, I want relaxation, and I want restoration. The Lord has kindly told me to wait, to be patient, and to rest.

My conclusion is this:
  • The day I surrendered my life to the Lord was the day I gave Him control over my comings and my goings. I gave Him authority to direct my steps, and to lead me in the path of His choosing.
  • The Lord has graciously provided for me up to this point, through all the battles and difficult aspects of my faith-walk. He has never left my side nor has He asked me to "go it alone."
  • The Lord has provided His grace to cover me in situations outside my control. He has enabled me to receive job offers, promotions, salary increases as well as to receive positive feedback on my research studies.
  • The Lord has given me direction, told me where to go, when to go, and how to go. He has not been silent on any issue, need or concern since the day I began to walk in His way.
In a good analytical argument, one would see clearly the fallacy of my logic and reasoning (before my conclusion). I am a person gifted in reason, and I rationalize through analytical analysis and observation. So to behave as I have behaved means that I am forgoing the analytical rationale and choosing instead to follow illogical and irrational lines of thinking. I am being irrational and illogical. I am favoring to follow after faulty thinking rather than sticking to that which is true, clearly true.

Why am I doing this? Ah, so the answer comes down to this one question. 

1 Corinthians 14: 33 KJV - For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

Isaiah 45:18 NLT -  For the LORD is God, and he created the heavens and earth and put everything in place. He made the world to be lived in, not to be a place of empty chaos. "I am the LORD," he says, "and there is no other.

Hebrews 11:13 -
All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth.

The Lord is not the author of confusion or chaos. That right belongs to the enemy. The Lord is the author of peace, and as such, whenever we experience any type of chaos in our lives, we must look to the source, to the point of origin. Often, we bring on our own chaos through the choices we make in life. For believers who are determined to seek the Lord's will and way, the source of chaos almost always falls to the enemy, the devil and to his followers who seek to devour and destroy.

1 Peter 5:8 NLT - Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

So what then is my summation? What is my next step?

My summation is that I have chosen to believe the lies of the enemy when I should have stood faithful on the promises of God. I have chosen to listen to the wiley serpent who wanted to lead me astray, to cause me to discount the word of the Lord in favor of my own illogical and faulty thinking. Moreover, I have chosen to contend with the Lord over His provision for my life, His focus and His direction for the next year, and in doing so, I have wrestled with Him in the hope that I could somehow win. My response is humble confession and a quick turn around in attitude, in behavior, and in thinking.

Dear Lord,

Thank you for your grace and your willingness to help me see the error of my way. I realize that much of my frustration of late has been due to the overwhelming stress of my work and study load. However, other issues and concerns have also caused me to suffer, to doubt your provision. I am struggling with my own health issues, my parents declining health, and the prospect of caring for them without steady income. All of this has caused me to stagger and to feel burdened beyond my ability to stand. I understand today that your desire for me is to care for me, to shepherd me, and to provide for me so that I can accomplish your specific will in my life. When I struggle against you, when I seek my own way, when I attempt anything without your help -- I will fail and I will lose the feeling of confidence, of hope, of resilience. I will suffer, and I will wear down, which is the enemies plot against me. The enemy knows my weakness well and he hits me where it hurts most. However, you are my DEFENSE, my STRONG TOWER, my REFUGE, and my HOPE. It is in YOU alone that I place my trust this day. May the Lord's will come to pass in my life this day. I give you all praise, all honor, and all glory in your precious, your matchless, and your perfect Name. Amen, so be it, thy will be done! Selah, pause and calmly think about it!!

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