Friday, July 08, 2011

Spiritual Muscle Development

So, what happens inside you when you're asked to wait? Is waiting, for you a time of strengthening or weakening? Have you ever stopped to consider why God asks you to wait? Let me point you to one of his purposes.

When God asks you to wait, what happens to your spiritual muscles? While you wait, do your spiritual muscles grow bigger and stronger or do they grow flaccid and atrophied? Waiting for the Lord isn’t about God forgetting you, forsaking you, or being unfaithful to his promises. It’s actually God giving you time to consider his glory and to grow stronger in faith. Remember, waiting isn’t just about what you are hoping for at the end of the wait, but also about what you'll become as you wait.

Waiting always presents me with a spiritual choice-point. Will I allow myself to question God’s goodness and progressively grow weaker in faith, or will I embrace the opportunity of faith that God is giving me and build my spiritual muscles? (See Psalm 27:4).

It’s so easy to question your belief system when you’re not sure what God is doing. It’s so easy to give way to doubt when you’re being called to wait. It’s so easy to forsake good habits and to take up habits of unfaith that weaken the muscles of the heart. Let me suggest some habits of unfaith that cause waiting to be a time of increasing weakness rather than of building strength. These are bad habits that all of us are tempted to give way to.

Giving way to doubt
. There’s a fine line between the struggle to wait and giving way to doubt. When you’re called to wait, you’re being called to do something that wasn’t part of your plan and is therefore something that you struggle to see as good. Because you’re naturally convinced that what you want is right and good, it doesn’t seem loving that you’re being asked to wait. You can see how tempting it is then to begin to consider questioning God’s wisdom, goodness, and love. It's tempting, in the frustration of waiting, to actually begin to believe that you’re smarter than God.

Giving way to anger
. It’s very easy to look around and begin to think that the bad guys are being blessed and the good guys are getting hammered (see Psalm 73). There will be times when it simply doesn’t seem right that you’ve had to wait for something that seems so obviously good to you. It will feel that you’re being wronged, and when it does, it seems right to be angry. Because of this, it’s important to understand that the anger you feel in these moments is more than anger with the people or circumstances that are the visible cause for your waiting. Your anger is actually anger with the One who is in control of those people and those circumstances. You’re actually giving way to thinking that you've been wronged by him.

Giving way to discouragement. This is where I begin to let my heart run away with the “If only_____,” the “What if_____,” and the “What will happen if_____.” I begin to give my mind over to thinking about what will happen if my request isn’t answered soon, or what in the world will happen if it’s not answered at all. This kind of meditation makes me feel that my life is out of control. And I’m able to think my life is out of control because I’ve forgotten God's wise and gracious control over every part of my existence. Rather than my heart being filled with joy, my heart gets flooded with worry and dread. Free mental time is spent considering my dark future, with all the resulting discouragement that will always follow.

Giving way to envy. When I am waiting, it’s very tempting to look over the fence and wish for the life of someone who doesn’t appear to have been called to wait. It’s very easy to take on an “I wish I were that guy” way of living. You can’t give way to envy without questioning God’s wisdom and his love. Here’s the logic: if God really loves you as much as he loves that other guy, you’d have what the other guy has. Envy is about feeling forgotten and forsaken, coupled with a craving to have what your neighbor enjoys.

Giving way to inactivity. The result of giving way to all of these things is inactivity. If God isn’t as good and wise as I once thought he was, if he withholds good things from his children, and if he plays favorites, then why would I continue to pursue him? Maybe all those habits of faith aren’t helping me after all; maybe I’ve been kidding myself.

Sadly, this is the course that many people take as they wait. Rather than growing in faith, their motivation for spiritual exercise is destroyed by doubt, anger, discouragement, and envy, and the muscles of faith that were once robust and strong are now atrophied and weak.

The reality of waiting is that it’s an expression of God’s goodness, not empirical evidence against it. He’s wise and loving. His timing is always right, and his focus isn’t so much on what you’ll experience and enjoy, but on what you’ll become. He’s committed to using every tool at his disposal to rescue you from yourself and to shape you into the likeness of his Son. The fact is that waiting is one of his primary shaping tools.

So, how do you build your spiritual muscles during the wait? Well, you must commit yourself to resisting those habits of unfaith, and with discipline pursue a rigorous routine of spiritual exercise.

What is the equipment in God’s gym of faith? Here’s the things that he’s designed for you to build the muscles of your heart and strengthen your resolve: the regular study of his Word; consistent godly fellowship; looking for God’s glory in creation every day; putting yourself under excellent preaching and teaching of Scripture; investing your quiet mental time in meditating on the goodness of God (e.g., as you are going off to sleep); reading excellent Christian books; and spending ample time in prayer. All of these things will result in spiritual strength and vitality.

Is God asking you to wait? So what’s happening to your muscles?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! (Psalm 27:13)

“Someday, maybe, someday.” We’ve all said it, but it’s not really a statement of hope. It’s more often a fatalistic resignation to the death of some kind of dream.

“Someday I’ll get a decent job.”

“Someday we’ll be able to afford the kind of house our family really needs.”

“Someday I’ll get myself in shape.”

“Someday I’ll finally find a good church.”

“Someday I’ll find that special person to love.”

“Someday we’ll get our finances in order.”

“Someday I’ll go back to school.”

“Someday I’ll quit saying ‘someday’.”

“Someday” is a way of communicating what we wish would happen, but deep down inside we don’t really think it will. We say it because it makes us momentarily feel better about the things in the here and now that we have trouble accepting.

The reason our somedays are more fatalistic than hopeful is that in our sane moments we all know that we don’t have the power and control over our world that we’d need to have in order to guarantee the realization of our dreams. We also know that we’re harvesting the choices we’ve made that have led us to where we are. So our somedays are more medicinal and therapeutic than hopeful predictions of what surely will come. They’re mental pills to get dissatisfied hearts through disappointing days.

The someday of Psalm 27 is very different. It’s a statement of confidence that is both deeply encouraging and powerfully motivating. When David says that someday he’ll see “the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living,” he isn’t caressing some future dream in order to help himself accept present disappointment. In fact, this statement isn’t a wish or a dream at all. It’s not really a hope for some future outcome. No, what David makes here is a statement of identity. David is remembering who he is, and in remembering who he is. He’s remembering what he has now and in the future.

Who is David? He is a child of the God of Israel. He is one of God’s chosen, the object of God’s love, the recipient of God’s promises. The God who is his Father is a God of immeasurable power, unfathomable wisdom, inconceivable sovereignty, untainted truth, and abounding grace. David’s God isn’t only the ultimate definition of what is good; he also has the power and control to produce every good thing that he’s promised to his children.

He’s in absolute control of every location, circumstance, individual, natural force, institution, and relationship. As Nebuchadnezzar said, after being humbled by this God, “he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Dan. 4:35).

Trust in God isn’t a thin hope in some not very sure outcome. Hope in God is rather a present investment in a future guarantee. What God says will be done. What God has promised will come to pass. His word is reliable because in his grace he wants to bless us, and in his power he has the ability to do anything he’s promised to do. When you live with his promises in view, you live with confidence, courage, and unshakable hope.

You then become free of anxiety and worry. You become free of vain attempts to manipulate people and situations in order to get what you want. You place yourself in the hands of a sovereign God of grace who knows exactly what you need, when you need it, how you need it, and where you will need it. And because your Father is good, he’ll never turn a deaf ear to your cries, and he’ll never abandon you in your hour of need. No, you won’t always understand what he’s doing, and you will be tempted to think that he’s got his timing wrong, but the more you entrust your life to him, the more you’ll experience his faithful grace again and again.

Who holds your someday? Are you still attempting to change things that are beyond your power and out of your control? Have you simply given up and in your disappointment are you resigned to play mental dream games to keep yourself going? Look up! Your Father controls it all, and he looks on you with grace and favor. It’s never ever risky to place your past, present, and future in his hands. His someday isn’t a someday at all; no, it’s a will be.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Parenting: It's Never an Interruption

Parenting is all about living by the principle of prepared spontaneity. You don't really know what's going to happen next. You don't really know when you'll have enforce a command, intervene in an argument, confront a wrong, holdout for a better way, remind someone of a truth, call for forgiveness, lead someone to confession, point to Jesus, restore peace, hold someone accountable, explain a wisdom principle, give a hug of love, laugh in the face of adversity, help someone complete a task, mediate an argument, stop with someone and pray, assist someone to see their heart, or talk once again about what it means to live together in a community of love.

What you do know is that Scripture gives you the wisdom that you need and your always-present Messiah gives you the grace that you need to be ready to respond to the moments of opportunity he will give you. Along with this, you and I must remember that our Lord loves our children more than we ever could and his commitment to their growth and change is more faithful and persevering than ours could ever be. Because of this, in his grace and love, he will manufacture moments that expose the needy hearts of our children to us. He will faithfully employ the little moments of everyday life to expose to us and our children their need of rescuing and forgiving grace. And he will not do this only at the moments which you feel are appropriate and when you feel most prepared.

Let me give you an example. We had planned a day at a local theme park with our children. I was anticipating a day of familial amusement park bliss. You know, I was hoping that on this day my children would be self-parenting and if God could throw in a fully sanctified wife that would be cool! Well, we get down to the park and are getting out of the van and one of my children said, "Dad, may we have something to drink before we go into the park?" It didn't seem like a dangerous request. I opened the cooler, which was full of soft drinks, and all of my children sighted in on the one can of soda that they all knew was the best. Immediately, global nuclear war broke out. They were pushing and shoving, grabbing and pulling, throwing ice at one another, saying unkind things and hitting one another's hands out of the way. I couldn't believe it, we’re not in the park yet and my day was already ruined!

So, I jumped in and said, "Do you want to fight? We don't have to pay all this money for you to fight. I'll take you home, put a cooler in the backyard with one can of soda in it and you can fight for ever!" Soon my children aren't fighting anymore because they're watching the crowd gather as I lose it in the parking lot of the theme park.

Let's analyze what's going on in this moment and what's happening inside of me. What's going on is that a God of grace is taking a mundane moment of daily family life and using it to do something wonderful for my children and for me. He's making the condition of their hearts visible in order to produce concern in me that would hopefully result in awareness and a desire to change in them. But I'm not at all encouraged in this moment with what God is doing. You see, I'm not angry in the parking lot because my children are sinners. No, I'm angry that God has exposed their sin, and because he has, I have to forsake my agenda for the day and parent them! It all seemed a huge imposition; a hassle that I just didn't want to deal with.

But the reality is that if your eyes ever see, or your ears ever hear the sin, weakness, rebellion or failure of your children, it’s never an imposition. It’s never an interruption. It’s never a hassle. It’s always grace. God loves your children; he’s put them in a family of faith, and in relentless grace he will reveal their need to you again and again so that you can be his tool of awareness, conviction, repentance, faith and change. And because in these moments he asks you to forsake your agenda for his, this opportunity of grace is not just for your children, it's for you as well.

But my problem is that there are moments when I tend to love my little kingdom of one more than I love his. So I'm impatient, discouraged or irritated, not because my children have broken the laws of God's kingdom, but the laws of mine. In my kingdom there shall be no parenting on family vacation days, or when I am reading the paper on my iPad, or after ten o'clock at night, or during a good meal, or... And when I'm angry about interruptions to my kingdom plan there are four things I tend to do.

1. I tend to turn a God-given moment of ministry into a moment of anger.

2. I do this because I’ve personalized what isn’t personal. (Before we left for the amusement park that day, my children didn't plot to drive me crazy in the parking lot).

3. Because I’ve personalized what isn’t personal, I am adversarial in my response. (It's not me acting for my children, but acting against them because they are in the way of what I want).

4. So I end up settling for situational solutions that don't really get to the heart of the matter. (I bark and order, I instill guilt, I threaten a punishment and walk away, and my children are utterly unchanged by the encounter).

There’s a better way. It begins with praying that God would give you new eyes; eyes that are more focused on his eternal work of grace than on your momentary plans for you. This better way also includes seeking God for a flexible and willing heart; ready to abandon your agenda for God's greater plan. And it lives with the confidence that God is in you, with you, and for you, and will give you what you need so that you can face, with courage and grace, the parenting moment that you didn't know was coming.