Monday, September 16, 2013

Giving up CONTROL pt. 2

A week ago, I was in Siloam Springs visiting my college friends for a long weekend. I decided to go ahead and go to the Gathering, although I ended up coming in a little late. I “just happened” to find an empty seat right in front of Laura, one of my dearest JBU friends. God knew I needed to be there, and He made sure she was right there.

The student speaker talked about serving God, as a kick-off message for the JBU service groups. And honestly, it made me really frustrated. Not because of what he was saying, but because of what I was feeling.
Back in July and August, I felt like God was leading me toward something that was much much bigger than me. I had an idea of how I was going to serve God, and I really wanted it to work out in my timing. I knew it would be hard – really hard in many ways. But I also knew that if God opened those doors, He would provide the resources and the strength for me to carry it out.

I thought I was willing to make that sacrifice, to take that step of faith. Instead, the door closed—at least for now—just as the door to applying for the job I had been filling during my internship opened up. That was a huge process in and of itself! But by the time I sat in chapel last Sunday, it seemed obvious that God was leading me toward SP and not toward the other opportunity. Which is why the chapel talk annoyed me. Here I had been willing to put myself through a lot to go and serve God. And He had shut the door! What was up with that? We’re supposed to serve God and all that, so why did He close it down??

Yes, that feeling really is as immature and selfish as it sounds. I think part of it is that I wanted to serve God on my terms, in a way that would draw attention and praise to myself. I wasn’t consciously thinking that….but it probably played a subliminal role.

God had been clear though – that chance was a definite “not now.” So I had applied and interviewed for the job before I left my internship, two weeks before my visit to JBU. And in my mind, it was obvious what ought to happen next. God had clearly led me to the internship, and He had finally brought me to a place where I felt good about staying on there and looked forward to returning to the roots I had started putting down for the past two months.

When the speaker finished, the band came up and played “Oceans” by Hillsong. I had never heard the song before, but man it sure hit me right between the eyes. As I’ve said before, for quite a while God has been teaching me about trusting Him and surrendering my plans to His. And this song really summed it up. And I didn’t know whether or not I could sing it. I knew in the back of my head that I may or may not actually get the job from SP. And here God was, asking me to surrender my plans and expectations to Him, to come to a place “where my trust is without borders.” I didn’t want to say it, because I didn’t want to mean it.

I like knowing what’s going on and what I’m doing. I don’t like change, I despise the unknown. I want to be in control of my own future, partly as a defense mechanism from 10-year old baggage that I know is not healthy and that I’m trying to let go of. And this summer, God has been working in mighty ways to show me that I cling so hard to the control because I don’t trust Him to take care of me and protect me. I don’t trust Him to have my best at heart because of how He’s let things hurt me before. And that’s hard for me to admit out loud.

So I sat there as most everyone else stood and sang. I sat and I wrestled and I cried. Because I was not willing to give up my {albeit false} sense of control. I didn’t want to go “wherever You call me” – I wanted to go back to SP where I had finally become comfortable after two long, hard months.

But He kept asking—gently and yet insistently—for me to lay it down. And I was scared. Scared that if I did, He would just slam the SP door shut in my face too. But deeper down inside, I knew that His plan would be better—even if it wouldn’t be to my ideal liking.

As I wrestled, my mind flashed back to the previous night. I had gone to the Swing Dance Society’s first swing dance evening of the semester. I don’t really know how to dance – I don’t think of myself as a very well-coordinated dancer. But the several guys who had asked me to dance with them had all been patient teachers. They put me through the paces pretty quick, trying to teach me several of the basic moves. And I had to trust them. I didn’t know what I was doing, or where I was going when they initiated a step. I just had to pay close attention to their explanations and/or the signals they made by gently tugging on one arm or the other. A lot of times, I made mistakes. Many times, I also made assumptions about what their next moves were going to be, and sometimes that got me in trouble.

As those thoughts flashed through my mind, I could see the relation between the two—trying to learn swing dance and deciding to trust Christ’s plan for my life. Pardon the analogy, but it’s as though God was holding out His hand, asking me if I would like to dance. Would I trust Him enough to place my hands in His and listen to His leading and guiding? Or would I jump to conclusions and try to do things my way, which typically ends up in me being at the wrong place in the step?

In the end, I had to give in. God thankfully has a tight enough hold on my heart that I could not truly refuse His request, even though my fleshly desires didn’t want to let go of my supposed control. The second song we sang was “Rise,” also by Hillsong. It focuses on praising God. I didn’t want to stand up and sing that song either. I wanted to stay “stuck” in a place of pitying myself for what I had to lay down.

And that too was very selfish. Who do I think I am??? Even Jesus had to submit His desires to God. And even He didn’t think it was an easy or flippant thing (see the Garden of Gethsemane!). But even He—God’s own Son—humbled Himself and submitted to one of the hardest and cruelest forms of death man has ever created (see Phil. 2). And we’re right back to the same perspective thing I was talking about in my previous post.

It’s God’s glory that matters. And thanks be to His grace and patience – He’s not going to give up on me until He has stripped me down of my selfish ambitions and pride. And no, it’s not a fun process. But He is worth so very much more. And in the good moments, I can remember what truly matters. And it’s not what I’m going to be doing at any point in the future.

Laura was wonderful and sat with me for a while afterward – we talked about letting go of the past. She came up with several good analogies that helped explain how I was feeling J She’s the best J

And you know what? I was right. God did end up shutting the SP door too. I got the call Thursday that they picked someone else. Last Sunday night helped me be prepared for that, but it’s still been hard. Friday especially I was really frustrated with God for not coming through on this and doing things my way. There were definitely lots of tears and some internal yelling going on. And I don’t confess that lightly. I forget His lessons soooo easily……

But He is still faithful, and His plan remains unchanged—His plan to bring Himself glory and to conform me to the image of His Son. To the praise of His glorious name.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Giving up CONTROL

Just read over my posts on here from the last couple months. And am reminded again of the truths God has been teaching me.

And this time, I’m going to start this in the right place: Focused on HIM.

GOD’S GLORY. That’s what is number one, that’s what is MOST important. But this morning I have had to confess to Him, once again, that my focus is often consumed with myself and what I am doing.

God’s plan is so vast and so huge, and it is centered around one thing: His Person and His work of bringing Himself glory, and of redeeming the world. It sounds so prideful and selfish of Him – but that’s the big difference. God OUGHT to be “prideful” and “selfish,” because He is the ONE who is worthy of being at the center of ALL THINGS.

It’s hard for us humans (or at least for this human….) to not be so very self-focused. I think that my life and what I am doing with it is so very important – and it’s just not. Certainly not in comparison with all of human history. I’m one teensy tiny piece of the much bigger puzzle. But I blow that little piece way way out of proportion.

But isn’t that the earliest human sin? To want to be like God, to have the freedom to choose whatever we want. To do things OUR WAY, rather than surrendering to God’s plan and trusting in what He has commanded us. This may be reading a little bit into Genesis 3, but I definitely think that selfishness is the most basic human sin. Selfishness and independence. Because when Adam and Eve chose to eat the fruit, they were making the choice to not trust what God had chosen. They wanted to know for themselves. They wanted to be independent operators, to have the right to be like God.

And that foundational sin still plagues us. We lose perspective on the big picture of GOD’S holiness and worth and awesomeness, and we become consumed with our little insignificant lives. Because it’s annoying that He can be focused on His own glory, but all the rest of us are supposed to be serving Him. And yes, that attitude is a very very dangerous sin. But if I look at my own life carefully, that’s what I’m doing so much of the time…though not necessarily with an outright rebellious attitude, but that’s what is at the core of it.

It’s scary to recognize that in myself, and I have to get down on my knees and confess that to God.

But in that moment, I am reminded that in some ways this is all a big circle. Christ Jesus came to the world and died for all sinners. The payment has been made, the sin has been atoned for. Christ has won the victory. I cannot fight in my own strength and overcome the core sin in my life—but I don’t need to: because Jesus already did. And so the choice which stands before me is to trust in His completed work, to place Him on the throne of my heart, and to bare my soul to His redemption and sanctification. A big part of which is daily dying to myself and making the decision to live for HIM.

God is good. God is faithful. God alone is worthy. I am called to “simple” surrender and trust, faith and obedience. And I can rest in Christ, knowing that He has triumphed. For the sake of His own glory! J