What is God’s answer?

There are times when I start to spiral out of control with my desire to know exactly what God’s will is. Even when I’ve gotten an answer, I want to know I heard God right. A friend once asked me what would make God’s will clear to me. What would tell me exactly what His answer was? I had no idea how to respond. I joked about wanting Him to write me a letter, but part of me was hoping something like that would actually happen.

Later in the day, I came across this article (Maybe God Doesn’t Care) and I was reminded that while there is no such thing as too much prayer, there is a danger in relentlessly pursuing a concrete answer. Why? Because it actually stems from a need to control; a desire to know exactly what is in store and when. Yes, we should submit to God and seek to do his will. However, we also need to trust in Him and his ability to direct us. We have to allow him to actually act and give him the reins. We can’t allow ourselves to get stuck in a never-ending cycle of doubt and worry disguised as seeking his will.

Image taken from: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-6FYom8sr5L4/Ty1zdliEQyI/AAAAAAAAITE/3_vVk0I_VWQ/s1600/proverbs+3+5+6+copy.jpg

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I wasn’t ready for marriage

For any of you who have thought about the “practicality” of living together or debated how ready you are for marriage, I think this post is a great reminder that you can’t control for everything. At some point, you have to take a risk and you just have to move forward. That’s not the “end all” answer for every situation, but I feel this post is a good reminder of what’s important.

The Matt Walsh Blog

I met my wife on eHarmony. I was a morning rock DJ in Delaware, she was living in Maryland and finishing up her degree. I drove two and a half hours to pick her up for our first date. I spent most of my bi-weekly paycheck on tickets to a dinner theater in Baltimore. The rest went to gas and tolls.

And that’s the way it would go for the next year and a half (minus the dinner theater part). Once a week, I’d spend money I didn’t have and drive the 260 mile roundtrip to see the love of my life. Sometimes I’d sleep for a few hours in the guest room at her mom’s house, waking up at 2AM to head back to the coast for my 5:30AM radio show.

I was very tired back then.

And broke.

Lord, was I broke.

She’d take turns driving my way, burning gas she couldn’t afford to burn and…

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I don’t understand, God.

Ecclesiastes 11:3-5

3 If clouds are full of water,

they pour rain on the earth.

Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north,

in the place where it falls, there it will lie.

In my words: It is what it is. Things will take place as intended or as designed by nature.

4 Whoever watches the wind will not plant;

whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.

In my words: How can you expect results if you’re so busy worrying about the circumstances that you don’t invest in doing the work?

 5 As you do not know the path of the wind,

or how the body is formed[a] in a mother’s womb,

so you cannot understand the work of God,

the Maker of all things.

In my words: So much is beyond our own knowledge. If we can accept that, then why can’t we acknowledge that we won’t always understand what God is up to?

Ecclesiastes 3:11

11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

In my words: Maybe things don’t look so great or even interesting. Maybe you’re in an ugly situation. But perhaps, given time, that ugly situation will turn into something beautiful in God’s hands. Perhaps that not-so-interesting job or place or thing will end up becoming so much more than what you originally envisioned.  God has seen, not to mention created, all of eternity. It’s beyond our ability to comprehend.

Can an Unanswered Prayer be a Prayer Answered?

Have you ever hit a point when you can’t remember the last time you laughed wholeheartedly? When you’ve been so burdened, stressed, and frustrated that you don’t even know what to pray for anymore?

Maybe you know in your head that you’re supposed to wait on God’s plan and that he knows best. You may be aware that there are reasons that things don’t turn out the way you want. But that doesn’t necessarily make things easier.

My advice: Keep talking to God. Keep trying to get to know him and his will. Persist because it’s what you need to do and God will enable you to keep going. Sometimes he is pulling things together and he needs you to wait. Sometimes you were better off not getting what you asked for. Sometimes you grow and learn as you wait, and your prayer ends up completely changing.

Take a look at this man’s struggle to pray when he loses the ideal job; it’s a great reminder of God’s wisdom and foresight.

Disappointed by God?

What are the expectations we place on God? When things go wrong, do we grow distant from him? Do we question why he’s allowing us to go through so much pain and suffering? Do we get angry with him and rile at him? Do we ask ourselves why we even bothered praying about it when it looks like God doesn’t care?

Some advise us to keep our expectations low in life so we can protect ourselves against getting hurt. Does that apply to God? Perhaps we should be evaluating our expectations against the word of God. We need to look at our source of information on God – the Bible and our own connection with him – and then compare that to the expectations we have of God. Are we expecting his good to be based on our definition or his? When God says he has good plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11), do we take that verse at face value or do we think about in context of the God we know whose wisdom goes far beyond our perspective (Romans 12:2)?

When things are falling down around us and we want to rant and rave at God because he isn’t answering us the way we want him to, we need to take a step back and consider what we know of God.

  1. God is a LOVING God. There’s no one else who loves you more.  But remember that he also loves ALL of us, even those we see as enemies.
  2. God is JUST. But his justice doesn’t necessarily look the same as it does in our minds.
  3. God is WISE. He sees a much bigger picture than we do and he knows what’s coming down the line.
  4. God is JOY and PEACE.
  5. God is PATIENT. His patience ties into his wisdom as well and that’s what we need to remember when we’re feeling impatient with him because his answer may take much longer than we think it should.
  6. God is FAITHFUL. If Jesus can die on the cross for sinners, don’t you think he will do everything in his power to honor his relationship with you?
  7. God is STRONG and ALL-POWERFUL. There is literally nothing that he can’t handle.

In addition to what we know of God’s character, we should also take into account that his plans involve us. He asks us to have the heart of a servant.

This isn’t a one-way relationship. God has a special role for each of us and in our service, people witness the love of of God. Sometimes what happens in our lives is not about us, it’s about the people around us who witness our relationships with God.

So, take a fresh look at your situation and try to see how God’s answer may tie into a greater purpose. That doesn’t mean he’s not looking out for you but it does mean he has a much broader perspective. I believe we shouldn’t lower our expectations of God, but adjust them to align with God’s character and his promises.

Read more in this blog post titled Expectations.

Submissive wife? No way!

This morning as a I checked my email (which I do incessantly), I saw the familiar Single Roots newsletter in my inbox and was thrilled by the subject line – Allowing Myself to Dream.

However, when I opened up the link and began reading, I was disappointed. It’s not that I disagreed with anything that Shahan had to say. In fact, I completely agree that God wants us to live life to the fullest rather than twiddling our thumbs as we wait for the one. But, I was looking for something else. I was hoping for a post that would tell me it’s okay to dream about love and marriage.

I wanted someone to tell me there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the part of me that some might label old fashioned. The part of me that longs to be a wife and a mom.

Why did I crave that affirmation? Why do I need someone else to tell me that being a modern woman doesn’t require that I give up my desire for marriage and family? As I wrote this post, the answer surprisingly brought me back to a truth I needed to be reminded of.

On a college trip to Chile, I somehow ended up in a conversation with one of my classmates about premarital sex. When I revealed that I didn’t believe in sex before marriage, she was astounded to say the least. Her response was something along the lines of the following: “I can’t believe that as an educated woman, you subscribe to such antiquated beliefs.”

I was shocked by her reaction. What did having an education have to do with my religious beliefs?

As Christians (male and female), I know we are constantly experiencing this divide. To express one’s religious beliefs is not “PC”. We may be seen as backward  and judgemental, or automatically grouped in with conservatives, evangelists, or “Bible-thumpers”.

As a woman, I have witnessed this conflict on a very gender-specific level.  In my experience, the modern woman is expected to be career-focused, ambitious, independent, and self-sufficient. She should be comfortable with her sexuality and unconcerned with societal conventions.

When I joined the working world and later re-entered school to get my MPH, I felt the weight of these expectations on a very personal level. I don’t know how to explain exactly how I experienced it except to say that they were subtly woven into the fabric of the community around me. It felt as if expressing a desire for marriage and children was just not done. I hesitated to bring up church life because of the negative association attached to religion. And it was a given that my ambitions in life should center around my career. I felt alienated from my peers.

I remember telling a good friend of mine that I felt inadequate compared to my classmates because I wasn’t sufficiently passionate about public health. Her response struck a chord because as soon as she said it, I was hit with how right and true it felt. She said, “That’s not true. You are passionate. You’re passionate about God, friends, and family. You’re just passionate about something different.”

As an Indian American woman raised in the church, I never quite knew what to think. I would hear relatives tell me in chiding tones that I should learn how to cook if I wanted to get married and that I wouldn’t be able to find a husband who would accept my feminist views. I grew up in a church where elders turned a blind eye when boys left service to hang out in the basement, but made sure girls were not doing so.  The double standard grated on my nerves. I would read Paul’s letters saying women should cover their heads, submit to their husbands, and not be allowed to preach in church, and my temper would rise.

As much as I long for marriage and family, that doesn’t make me a conservative in all of my beliefs. My heart rebelled at the notion of man as the traditional head of the household, making all the decisions, and calling all the shots. I believe in a 50/50 marriage, one in which decisions are discussed and made together.

So what should we seek to emulate as women? The role that modern society now assigns us? The submissive wife of the Bible? For those of us who come from different cultures, do we take on the responsibilities outlined in those cultures as caretaker and cook?

The answer is incredibly simple and yet not easy. We take on the role God asks us to adopt. When I realized a few years ago that God kept bringing my attention to this issue, I recognized my stubborn refusal to allow God to direct me. I was scared he would give me an answer I didn’t like. And that’s when I forced myself to say a prayer I didn’t want to say. I asked God to help me see the role he designed for me as a woman and then, to help me accept and adopt it wholeheartedly.

It was a prayer I had to repeat many times but I’m grateful he asked it of me because now I feel closer to him on an issue that used to separate me from him.

So, if you’re reading this and wondering what that answer is, I ask you to take the these next steps. Pray and submit your will to his. Read every passage you can in the Bible about the role of women, discuss questions with fellow believers, and keep asking God for his perspective and wisdom. If you come to your own God-given answers, you’ll find the role he has for you and you won’t need to fit into anyone else’s definition.

As for me, I believe it all ties in to the often quoted Proverbs 31. It’s an astounding chapter actually if you take into consideration the historical context. Here is a woman who is viewed as capable and wise; she is a provider and a mother and wife who makes her husband proud. She appears to do things not usually part of the female role and is well-respected as is her husband. She is the woman I want to be.

After a lot of prayer and contemplation of God’s word, I finally feel at peace with my role as a woman of God but sometimes I just need a little reminder to not seek affirmation from any other source than him.

Death and Community

Shock. Loneliness. Overwhelming grief.

Those are just a few of a multitude of conflicting emotions that hit us hard when someone dies. Last month our church lost one of its founding members. More importantly, a wife lost her husband, two sons lost their dad, and a daughter-in-law lost a father who treated her as his own. A community lost one of its own.

Death often acts as a catalyst for reflection. For me, it is always a reminder of three very important things – (1) community is a strange phenomenon and (2) what meaning have I given to my life? and (3) remember the bigger picture.

Community: While I watched people pay their respects to a man I barely knew (despite having grown up with him), I was hit with these reminders again. Youth members set aside finals, hectic work schedules, and even long distances to support these two young men who are experiencing a loss difficult to comprehend. Some of us may not even be close to them; we stumbled with what we could possibly say; but we tried to be there and show that we care. Former members no longer attending our church took the time on a work night to honor a man who did a lot to help without saying much. A community often split by church politics, judgement, and gossip, came together as one in recognition of the value of this individual and the grief of his loved ones. It’s both beautiful and disturbing. There is incredible beauty in the ways in which many gave of themselves in order to help and support the family. It’s also disturbing to know that there is so much potential for our church and community to be stronger on the good days rather than  just the bad ones and to not know how to make that happen. Having recently felt that God is calling me to stay in my home church and work to revive it; this was an especially difficult reality.

Meaningful Life: When a fellow classmate died my senior year of high school, our entire class was deeply affected.  There was one thing that stood out for all of us in our memories of her – her smile. Her smile reflected inner joy. That was the first time I dealt with death on a more personal basis and the first time I asked myself “How would I want to be remembered?” As the viewing progressed, stories were told of a man who was always willing to help and work hard, who shared his faith with others, and who served “behind the scenes”. I know more about the kind of man he was now than I ever did before. His life reflected meaningful and humble service. His life reflected Christ.

I think it’s an important question to ask ourselves – What mark do I want to leave?  I believe that when we look at life from that perspective, it helps us realign our goals with what God wants of us. My answer is that I want to be known as a woman who went out of her way to help others. That desire has manifested in the career choices I’ve made as well as the role I believe God has given me in ministry.

The Big Picture: Last but certainly not least, I sat there struggling to hold back tears at the sight of his loved ones falling apart and I looked back on my day and felt ashamed. I was so irritated that morning at having to deal with a 3 hour commute due to traffic, struggling to find someone to answer questions for my research project, and stresses from all corners. But what is all that in comparison to the grief I witnessed that night?

We’re so busy questioning God that we fail to recognize his eyes see it all and yet he loves us enough to listen to our rants. Why do we get mired in the details instead of looking at the bigger picture?

 

Death puts things into perspective. Why can’t we hold on to that perspective on a daily basis? 

Challenge: “I Just Want To Be Okay”

For anyone who has struggled through change and questioned life’s difficulties, this is a post worth reading. Essentially, the author is talking about what it looks like to be content in all situations as Paul learned to be. It may seem daunting to accept life’s uncertainties, but God will help you with that. You never have to do anything alone or on your own strength.

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

– Philippians 4:11-13

One Step at a Time

I Kissed My Date Goodnight

I survived a miniature family reunion this weekend in New Jersey. Relatives gathered from near and far — including both coasts of Canada, Texas, Argentina, and The Garden State itself. We spent several days riding the magical carousel of eating and talking, eating and talking, eating and talking. Conversations effortlessly (and loudly) filled every empty space with multiple languages, laughter and much-needed reminiscence.

pizzaOn my final night there, we ordered a few pizza pies from a local joint and gathered around the table for — wait for it — more eating and talking. (If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?) I found myself in a particularly heartfelt, honest conversation with my brother, his wife, and my cousin, Daniel. We talked about faith and how sometimes it’s hard to believe in God, sometimes it’s hard to understand his ways. We each had areas of faith we struggled with, yet all…

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God Gave Me a Break (Another look at burnout)

The US packaging

Do you know what God did for me today? He literally gave me a break.

This week I decided to attend a nondenominational church I often visit, especially because I knew the pastor would be talking about marriage. I left having connected with the Holy Spirit and gained some food for thought about relationships. I then headed to my home church to catch part of service and most importantly, to teach my Sunday School class.

All was going as planned until I rounded up the teenage boys who comprise my class. As I waited for the last two to come out of the sanctuary and head upstairs, I found that no one was in the classroom. When I looked back, the other two had also disappeared. I spent a good 10-15 minutes searching the entire church twice and even the parking lot, only managing to find one of my 6-7 students.

Giving up the search, I headed back to my classroom defeated and I decided to pray. I’ve been challenged quite a lot through this class; whether it be with my students’ questions or personal feelings of failure. There have been many times I’ve come home feeling rejected by my students’ lack of interest that day. I’ve often questioned whether I was the right person to be teaching and whether I’d correctly read God’s will for me.

I want to share my prayer from this afternoon:

Father, today my students literally hid from me in order to not go to class. A part of me is hurt by that but then…I shouldn’t take it personally.

Father, at times like these I wonder if this is really what you’ve called me to. How capable am I really? But I know you don’t need me to help these kids understand you. I only need to be willing and you’ll take care of the rest. So, I put these kids in your hands and ask you to bless them with a keen interest to know and love you. Open their hearts to a deep understanding of your love. Draw them into strong personal relationships with you. Let their lives be centered on you and you alone. Help them turn to you and rely on you. Let them know that only you can provide the fulfillment they seek.

Father, please use me as you see fit. Be with me and guide me and bless me in this ministry you’ve given me. Encourage me, Father, and help me be heartened. In your name I pray, Amen.

The one thing that guarantees burnout is the fear that whatever you’re doing has been useless or is not appreciated. More than anything, that is what drains me of the desire to continue. However, what I thought of today was the post I put up earlier this week, especially this quote – “Take the time to be fed so that you can effectively feed others.”.

I re-read that post and I realized that today, God allowed me to take the time to be fed through the morning sermon and through the fellowship of friends at my home church.

Yes, I feel discouraged by what happened today but maybe God wanted me to take a break. And in that case, it just makes me more capable to “effectively feed others”.

Also, I may not have held class today, but I did have the opportunity to pray for my students and that is probably the most powerful thing I will ever do for them.