June 24, 2015

Following the Lord

It is a hot and steamy morning in Phoenix. Yes, our temps are high, and the humidity level is rising. Granted, our humidity is only about 20-25%, and when compared to other parts of the country, this is mild. Still for us, it is getting to feel sticky and icky. This change in the humidity signals the start of our monsoon season, generally considered to begin with three consecutive days of dew points above 54 degrees. However, in the last couple years, the National Weather Service decided that this was not a fair indicator of the monsoon start so they picked an arbitrary period that runs from June 15-September 15. I guess they decided it was easier to have a BIG TARGET instead of tracking individual daily dew points. This way, the monsoon can start anytime in between these dates, and the weather forecasters can be "right" in their predictions!

No matter what, most Phoenicians know to check the dew points around this time of the month. Furthermore, we listen for the cicada's to begin their annual singing as this "noise" coincides with the start of the monsoon rains. Of course, this is "legend or folk lore" here in the desert, but it seems to ring true every year. The cicada's begin to sing at night, and then one-two weeks later, the rains start. I think these little critters are better at predicting the summer rains that trained weathermen (people)!

Why do we Suffer?

Today's blog post is a bit of a ramble. I don't have much to say, but mostly that is because I have a lot on my mind right now. I am stressing over my finances, and I am struggling with worries that are wearing me out. This combination is taking its toll on me physically and mentally, and even though I trust the Lord, I believe in the plans He has for my life, I feel so alone right now, so awfully alone.

A good friend of mine is suffering likewise, well, even more so, and we have been discussing the reasons why God is allowing this unending suffering to continue. I mean, at what point will it stop? How long must we suffer?

I read the words of Job today where he said, "You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?" So in all this, Job said nothing wrong" (Job 2:10 NLT). It is a challenge to accept the fact that God allows good AND bad in our life. We take comfort in knowing that God always desires our good so that means that whatever comes to pass does so for a reason. While there are many reasons why God allows suffering in our lives, none of them seem to bring comfort in the midst of the sorrow.

Here are ten reasons why suffering may occur in a person's life:
  • Suffering is a result of sin (Genesis 2:15-17)
  • Suffering can point us to hidden problems (Ecclesiastes 1-12; Psalms 78:34-35; Romans 3:10-18).
  • Suffering can show us "heart issues" (Job 42:1-17; Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-5; 1 Peter 1:6-8).
  • Suffering reminds us of eternity (Matthew 5:1-12; Romans 8:18-19).
  • Suffering puts life into focus (Ecclesiastes 12:1-14).
  • Suffering helps us trust God (Job 1-42).
  • Suffering draws us closer to God (1 Peter 2:21;  3:18;  4:1 ).
  • Suffering shows us God's power (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
  • Suffering increases our fellowship with others ( 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
  • Suffering can be used by God to help others (Matthew 27:46).
When we are in the midst of the sorrow, the trial, or the pain, remembering why God allows us to suffer doesn't do much to comfort us, but still it can be a point of connection for us when we think that God knows our weaknesses, knows our limits, and is aware of our needs. God is not absent even though it may appear that He does not care about our sorrow. The Word reminds us that the Lord acts on our behalf, by protecting us, comforting us, and helping us deal with the trials we face. He is not silent; He is not forgetful. He does not allow us to linger longer than necessary. No, we can take comfort in knowing that the Lord is present, active, and ready to help us to endure, to overcome, and to remain strong through the trial or circumstance. 

When God Waits

Often, I think the details of life swamp us like a raging flood. They overwhelm us, sweep over us, and pull us loose from the things we cling to most tightly. God asks us to cling to Him alone, to let go of every other thing we are holding on to so tightly so that He can move in our life. In moments of panic, our natural inclination is to grab the nearest sturdy thing -- be it a person, a job, a house, or place. We hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. In time, if the storm doesn't pass, we begin to panic and think that we are doomed. Sometimes these long-term events are in our life to help us get moving forward, to keep us from settling down, and to remind us that God's plan for our life might be someplace else. 

I think of it this way. When a major disaster strikes, often we have to make a decision in a split second. We may need to head underground or leave and go to higher ground. Our choice in the moment could save or end our life. Likewise, there are times when we have stayed too long in one place, relied too much on one provision or person, or even refused to move because we were comfortable, safe, and content. Yet, God may be using the circumstances in a person's life to get them to see that He needs them to let go, to get moving, and the only way to get them to go is to strip away everything from them, everything that holds them back.

The same is true for striving. Striving simply means to exert oneself vigorously. The Cambridge dictionary says striving means "to try very hard to do something or to make something happen, especially for a long time or against difficulties." Thus, when we strive, we are using our own strength, all our power, be it reasoning (understanding) or physical strength to accomplish some task or goal. What's more interesting is the fact that as humans, we strive all the time. Daily, we strive to do good work, to be a good provider, to be faithful, etc. We strive to do our best, and while in and of itself, striving is not a bad thing, it is a human endeavor. Striving uses our strength to accomplish goals, tasks, or objectives.

Conversely, to rest means several things based on the intention, attitude, and action.
  1. to stop being active for a period of time in order to relax and get back your strength, or to cause someone or something to stop doing an activity in order to get back strength
  2. to be or stay under the control of a particular person or organization
  3. to lie or lean on something, or to put something on something else so that its weight is supported
If we consider these three components of the word, rest, we can see that God calls us to rest because we need to relax and regain strength, we need to remember that He is in control, and we need to rely upon Him because He is more able to handle everything that concerns us. Therefore, when we rest, we relax and regain our strength. We renew our reliance upon God as our head and our authority, and we receive from Him what we need to remain faithful, to remain committed, and to remain resilient until the trial, temptation or circumstance has passed.

The Bible calls us to "be still" and to "rest in the Lord" (Psalm 46:10). Yet, so frequently, we do not rest. We choose instead to strive, to attempt to do everything under our own power, our own control, and through our own efforts.

In ministry and areas of calling, it is vital to understand that God will not allow us to do ministry in our own strength. Often, the calling we have received is impossible for us to achieve on our own. We lack the knowledge, the understanding, the experience, the education, and the wisdom to do what God is asking us to do. Therefore, we must allow Him as our head, our leader, and our guide, to do this work through us. We must cease striving in order for God to act on our behalf.

When God Acts

The Word gives us stories of God's actions on behalf of men. As we read these stories, we see His power and His glory. And yet we feel still that we are good enough, qualified enough, and able enough to handle everything on our own. Sometimes when we are in prolonged periods of suffering, we are placed specifically in the trial to teach us the lesson of rest. I know that this is true in my case. I asked the Lord to help me learn how to rest. Of course, I never thought He would provide opportunity to practice it! Yes, I naively thought the Lord would 'gift me' with the ability to rest. He choose to teach me how to rest through the burden of suffering, of sorrowing, and of sitting still. I have had to sit still, to remain where I am, and to face the difficulty day in and day out in order to convince me that resting is what must occur. I must cease striving, and I must rest.

I am praying today for God to act on my behalf, to move, to make a way, to open a door. Yet, I believe He will wait until I rest. Once I rest, really, really rest, then He will move and my way will be made smooth. The timing is up to me. I prolong the suffering because I refuse to rest, even after I promised Him that I would do it. 

Dear Lord, 

Help me this day to take back my words to you, and to repent of my foolish behavior, my arrogance, and my futile ways -- thinking that I could somehow in my own strength accomplish your will for my life. I cannot do it, Lord. I cannot do it. I confess this now in the Name of Jesus, and I turn my efforts, my abilities, and all my strength over to you. I rest, Lord. I give up. I give in. I rest and I trust you to accomplish your work in whatever way you desire and think is best.

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