Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mercy in Not Knowing

I like to plan ahead on everything.

I want to know what's happening next week, next month, and ideally, next year. Make that 5 years. I want to know what God's plans are and how things will happen. I want to be prepared.

But many times I don't know what's happening. There have been times, when as I’ve cried out in prayer about difficult circumstances, relational strain, changes, decisions, or just confusion about the future, I’ve said things to God like:

"Why does this have to happen?"
"Why can’t things stay the same?"
"Why can’t You help me understand what you’re doing?"
"Why can't You just tell me what to do?"

There's a sense of control in knowing what's happening, even if that control is merely perceived. It also seems logical that we deserve to know what's happening in our lives, and why it is happening. So my heart rationalizes my demanding attitude or complaining spirit.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not promoting we hide our true feelings or fears, because God already knows them. It is good to be honest with God. But where should that honesty take us? Like David in many of the Psalms, does it remind us of God’s goodness, His wisdom, and His power? Or does it take us down the road of self-pity, questioning how God could allow such horrible things to happen to us?

Ultimately, do we want to know things that God does not intend for us to know or understand?

“God is also a wise Father who knows when knowledge is too heavy for us. He is not being deceptive when he does not give us the full explanation. He is carrying our burdens (1 Peter 5:7). If we think our burdens are heavy, we should see the ones he’s carrying. The burdens he gives to us to carry are light (Matthew 11:30).” Jon Bloom, God is Merciful Not to Tell Us Everything
What a perspective change! It isn’t cruel of God to not let me in on His plan, to give me a full explanation or to inform me of the outcome of a circumstance. It's His great mercy! He wants me to trust Him, and not to lean on my own understanding.

I like to think my own “wisdom” or understanding is right. I have to recognize that I am finite and limited, but I serve One who is infinite, all-knowing, and all-powerful. If I would only look at my situations in light of His glory and grace, I would be much quicker to respond in worship. He is in complete control.

Next time you’re questioning a particular difficulty, be honest with God and remind yourself that He is a wise Father who gives us exactly what we need. It's not always what we want, but it is what we need.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gratitude: Responses to Difficulty

The times when our hearts are really revealed come when things are difficult. What is our first response when things get hard?

To complain?
To withdraw?
To find an escape?
To blame God?
To blame others?

We all have sinful responses that come naturally to us, and the difficult circumstances squeeze them out the most. Have you ever heard testimonies of missionaries or those who’ve faced incredibly difficult physical strains, persecution, or other immensely challenging situations, but continue with unwavering hope in Christ and gratitude in Him?

And I complain when my schedule gets interrupted.

The apostle Paul’s attitude as he wrote the book of Philippians is a great example of unwavering hope in Christ. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Paul didn’t say that because it would be a good catch-phrase for sports’ teams or things we want to accomplish. He wrote that in the midst of very challenging physical circumstances. He had faced tremendous persecution and was writing from prison. I think we often miss the depth of Paul's writing when we turn verses like Philippians 4:13 into a slogan for everything. Paul expressed a few verses before, “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Is that your natural response when things don’t go your way?

I'm afraid it's not always mine. 

Paul’s response in Philippians 4 is deeply theological: it’s rooted in His understanding and relationship with God. And yet it’s deeply personal, because his response isn’t something he thought would make a nice statement, he was experiencing it. He knew that God was enough. He grasped what God had saved Him from. And he realized that he could respond in thankfulness no matter what temporary afflictions or troubles came his way.

I pray that God would deepen my understanding of the foundation of my gratitude, that I might respond in thanksgiving no matter what comes my way.

Nancy DeMoss asks,“The choice before you and me today is: Do we only give glory to God for the part of our life that’s going the way we want? Or do we worship Him, trust Him, and give Him thanks, just because He is God—regardless of the dark, painful, incomprehensible places we encounter in our journey?

Giving thanks amidst difficulty isn’t easy. That’s why we need Christ. That’s why our union with Him and our understanding of the gospel is so important. Because gratitude and thankfulness is so much deeper than thinking of the good things God has given us or the blessings we’re experiencing. Because things change, and if our gratitude is based on when life is good, it will falter when we perceive things to be bad. That is why it is essential for our gratitude to be rooted in God. Until we experience everything as loss compared to knowing Christ, it will be hard for us to be truly grateful people.

But when we do experience Christ's redeeming power, we will overflow with thanksgiving!

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of Your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in You; I will sing praise to Your Name, O Most High.” Psalm 9:1-2


Monday, November 10, 2014

Gratitude: Grateful Responses

In Choosing Gratitude, Nancy DeMoss says that we have two options of responses regarding our circumstances: we can whine, or we can worship. Instinctively, my heart tends to move to whine more than it does worship.

“This is too hard.”
“Why does everything bad happen at once?”
“Why doesn’t God just remove this hardship?”
“When will this situation change?”
“Why am I not seeing this answer to prayer?”

If I would look to God, I would remember that He holds all things in His hands, that He is good and does good, that He is the source of all power, that no purpose of His can be thwarted, and that I can trust Him. But where does my heart naturally wander? To complaining or whining, as if I had a better idea than God Himself.

Reminds me of Moses, who when God told him He would use him to rescue the Israelites from slavery, retorted, “I’m not eloquent…I’m slow of speech and tongue." (Ex. 4:10) He dared to question God’s wisdom. God’s response was to rebuke him: “Who has made man’s mouth?” Oh yeah...

Nancy DeMoss says, “Forgetfulness and ingratitude go hand in hand.” It sounds silly when we read a story like that of Moses’, until we compare it to our own lives. How often does our forgetfulness of God's power and wisdom lead us to respond in ingratitude?

The problem when we whine is that it destroys how God wants to use that difficulty to refine us.
Complaining prevents me from being grateful for what God has given.
Stewing over a relational challenge prevents me from being grateful for that person.
Lamenting over something not happening prevents me from being grateful if it does happen.

It takes a lot of humility to be grateful. To be grateful, I must realize that any source of good is outside of me, and I often want the applause and approval of others for myself. Ingratitude ultimately stems from pride—thinking I deserve better, that I need a particular thing, that it’s owed to me.

In order to become grateful people then, we must make a habit of confessing and repenting of our ungrateful attitudes, and then renew our minds in the truth of the gospel (what Christ has done for us when we were completely undeserving). Identifying specific places where we are prone to complain and express ingratitude is another step towards becoming a grateful person. We cannot put-off what we have not identified, and we cannot put-on if we haven’t put-off. Merely confessing to God, “sorry for being ungrateful” will not change your future actions. Without heart transformation, your ingratitude will seep out, even if it's not in the exact same area as before.

What areas is God convicting where you tend to whine instead of worship? 
What would biblical repentance look like? 


Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Heartbeat of Reformed Theology

What comes to mind when you hear the term reformed theology? There are lots of things that people automatically think, some positive, some negative. 

I wanted to share this article I read that I believe encapsulates reformed theology well. The author gives many aspects of the "heartbeat of Reformed Theology," but in the end, sums it up:

"I think it is more accurate to say that Reformed theology is a system of doctrine that seeks to rightly articulate the teaching of the Scriptures for the glory of God. It is His glory that is our heartbeat, propels us to action, and the reward that we seek after."
Jason Helopoulos
Everything--from salvation, to sanctification, to glorification--is ultimately about God's glory, which is why John Piper asks, “Do you feel loved by God because you believe He makes much of you, or because you believe He frees you and empowers you to enjoy making much of Him?”

P.S. Gratitude series will be continuing soon!


Monday, November 3, 2014

Gratitude: Gospel Driven or Blessing Driven?

There is a lot of talk about thankfulness and gratitude. After all, no one wants to be around a complaining person. And gratitude is said to boost your emotional state. But what is our gratitude based upon?

The blessings we enjoy?
The people we love?
How life is going?
Comparing to those worse off than us?

While those could be reasons for gratitude, in reality, our gratitude is based on none of those things. Its basis is not things we receive, but a Person. Our gratitude should stand in stark contrast from the shallow gratitude the world offers, because our foundation for gratitude is based upon the finished work of Christ on the cross.

“…if we turn our gratitude for all these blessings away from the One who provides them, we’re left with a handful of colorful thread—yes—but no pattern, no connection between them, nothing to arrange these scraps into anything truly useful or even just plain beautiful.” Nancy DeMoss, Choosing Gratitude (emphasis mine)

Oswald Chambers remarks, “The thing that awakens the deepest well of gratitude in a human being is that God has forgiven sin.” Has God forgiven your sin? Those who have been forgiven of their sin should be the ones filled with the deepest gratitude. Sadly, instead we often complain, whine, and express discontentment. In reality, we’re a lot like the Israelites, who experienced God’s power and goodness and faithfulness, and then turned around and complained about something else.

I’ve recently been listening to the song “My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness” by the Gettys. It has beautiful words. Consider the first verse:

My heart is filled with thankfulness
To Him who bore my pain;
Who plumbed the depths of my disgrace
And gave me life again;
Who crushed my curse of sinfulness
And clothed me in His light
And wrote His law of righteousness
With pow'r upon my heart.

When’s the last time you spontaneously responded in praise and worship to God for what He has done for you in Christ? If it’s been a while, maybe you haven’t been immersing yourself enough in the truth of the gospel. Because if we really see who we were before Christ— foolish and darkened in our understanding, disobedient, led astray, without hope, dead in our trespasses, strangers and alienated from Christ, then that should well-up gratitude in our hearts for what He has done for us.

Don’t think there’s anything in your life worth thanking God for? Pour over the Scriptures and see what God has done for you. If you have been redeemed, then you have much to be grateful for!