Sunday, November 18, 2012

November 18, 2012

Encountering God

The last month has been busy—too busy. I really don’t like to use that word because I think it’s a cop-out. We have choices; we make them; we have to live with them. I made choices that left me busier than I like to be. And when I become too busy, I hurry. And when I hurry, I cannot love the people around me. It’s not a new problem; it’s one I struggle with regularly. But what has changed is my desire. I not only know I need to change, I really want to change. This pace and kind of life simply isn’t working for me anymore. It’s not life giving; it’s draining, and it hurts me and, more significant, the people I love. But I know I can’t change myself. I’ve tried that too many times before, and I have come to terms with the truth that I don’t have that kind of power. But I still hold on to the hope that I can change. So what do I do?

Well, it turns out I was scheduled to go to a three-day retreat last weekend. It’s been on my calendar for 18 months. The Great Banquet is a ministry I have participated in for more than a dozen years, but I had not been on a weekend for 18 months. I really love these weekends because they are so transformative for those who participate—including me. But I have to be honest: this time I was simply looking forward to the retreat being over. This weekend was the last of a number of big commitments that have kept me driving forward for the last six weeks. I was looking forward to having all of these things behind me so I could figure out what my next step would be to figure out how to change my life.

I thought I was being faithful to my commitment and getting it behind me, but the truth was that God was being faithful to me as he put himself before me. Through many and varied wonderful teachings, personal conversations, and experiences, God met me in just the way I needed. I left the weekend with a deep sense of love, joy, and peace.

And what was even more amazing to me is that in our church, the sermon text was on Jacob’s wrestling with God. This text is wrapped in mystery, but what is clear is that Jacob feels fear and anxiety because he does not know what is ahead when he meets his brother Esau. These feelings drive him to God. He knows that he needs God, and that place of vulnerability and openness to God is a place where God can and does meet us.

But Jacob didn’t just have an encounter with God. He was left wounded in his hip socket. Like Jacob, we all have a limp. I was reminded over the weekend that my compulsive busyness comes from a desire to change things in ways that are really beyond my control and power. Sometimes our compulsive busyness comes out of that broken place. That’s not just true for me but for all of us. But when our brokenness and woundedness comes to light, we have the ability to see God and ourselves and our lives more clearly. That was true for Jacob. That was true for me this weekend.

I left the weekend with a more realistic expectation about my life. My life is still going to be full—but not busy. The warp and woof of daily life is not going to be like a retreat. There are things to do, people to see, and places to go. That is life. But the value of getting away from the ongoing demands of life to wrestle with God is what enables us to encounter God in new and fresh ways. To listen to his voice and to receive new insight that we just haven’t been able to see in the midst of our everyday, ordinary lives. It’s not that God isn’t always with us or communicating to us. It’s awareness that is missing, and when we intentionally get away to seek God, especially in times of need, there is something God always wants to say.

An encounter with the living God is not just for people in the Bible or for those we consider “spiritual.” As the people of God, we are called to wrestle with God. In the weeks ahead I’m examining my schedule to ascertain what it says about me and my life. I know I’m wrestling over and striving after many things, but I want to live my life striving after God. May it be so. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

November 3, 2012

Problems and Providence

Some relationships are just difficult. In Genesis 31, we see how difficult the relationship is with Laban because he is determined to use people to get what he wants. Laban has power and uses it for his own purposes. Jacob, along with his wives, decides it’s time to move on so that he can support his family on his own. 

The present difficult circumstances are a driving force in Jacob’s life. After he stole the blessing and birthright from his brother, Esau threatened to kill him. So Jacob fled to Haran, but the providence of God was at work, and in this place far from home, God gave Jacob heirs, fulfilling the blessing given to his grandfather Abraham.

The stress of living in a difficult relationship that drives Jacob to want separate himself from his conniving father-in-law. But the truth is Jacob needs to get home so the remainder of the blessing can be fulfilled in the Promised Land. Jacob is beginning to awake to the truth that God is blessing, guiding, and directing his steps, and he wants to trust more in God than himself or others. That is always a significant turn in our spiritual journeys.

As I think back on my life, it is always amazing and humbling to realize that some of the most significant turns have come due to difficulty in my present circumstance. Leaving home to go to college was a terrifying experience, but it opened me to a deeper desire to know the God who never changes. Struggles with infertility and the unfulfilled desires to have children led me to recognize that my deepest desire was to know and love God more and more. Struggles in a previous job situation where I felt very out of control and confused by the behaviors of others around me, led me to a place where I could let go of control and expectations and trust the grace of God to care for me and provide a future for me.

Problem solving is human nature, and we generally want to get around or over obstacles. But as followers of Jesus, we can embrace every circumstance as an opportunity to trust God. It doesn’t mean the circumstance is good. What it means is that God is good and loving and more powerful than anything we go through. And that is why we can truly believe and live into the truth from Romans 8:28-39:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We often don’t believe or know experientially that nothing can separate us from God’s love. It is when we go through trials and tribulations that we experience the truth that God is working in and through and for us in ways we have not seen before. And that enables us to grow and change and to trust him more. And that is what life is all about. I confess I am still prone to problem solve, and that is not bad. But what I want more is to recognize how God is with me in every circumstance of life and to trust his providence.