Wednesday, December 18, 2013

TTRF Pieces 10 and 11: Looking Back and Going Forward

(This TTRF series starts with the post "Through the Refining Fire (TTRF): Intro 1.")

Piece Ten:  Looking Back on the Journey

            There are no guaranteed results from this trip through the furnace.  (In case you missed it, the first post of this “workbook” is “Through the Refining Fire: Intro 1.”)  It all has to do with your willingness to be honest, transparent, and obedient, and with how much you invested in self-introspection, prayer, Bible reading, and learning to listen to the Spirit. 

            And once again, there is no real end to this journey.  I would love to be able to say, “Congratulations on working your way through the Graduate School of Faith.  Here is your diploma.”  But that can’t happen.  Because we will never graduate until eternity comes for us. 

            But as you climb higher and dig deeper with the Lord - as you shift your focus from the temporary to God’s kingdom and His righteousness. - your life will become more vibrant, alive, and fulfilling.  It might still be painful, but it will be a bittersweet pain, knowing that God is with you through it all.

            And most likely, we will end up in the furnace again from time to time.  We will slip.  We will at times get tired of digging and climbing.  (Oh, don’t I know it!)  But we will be drawn back to God, because we know the blandness of life apart from Him and the exhaustion of trying to do it on our own.            

            Before we get into some ideas for future challenges, I would like to pose a few more questions for reflecting back on the whole journey that you have been on up to this point.  (Some of these will overlap, but that’s okay.) 

TTRF Piece 9: A Time of Waiting

(This TTRF series starts with the post "Through the Refining Fire (TTRF): Intro 1.")

            As I reflect back on my time in the furnace, I have to say that the most growth seemed to happen during the times of God’s deafening silence.  As we waited for years to get direction from God about finally buying a house, it seemed that the greater my need for an answer and for God’s leading, the quieter He got. 
            At first, I pleaded with Him for a sense of direction and for a house.  But by the end, I was just pleading to have any sense that He was even there, that He cared and was listening and hadn’t abandoned me.  What started out as a search for a home ended up as a search for knowing that I mattered to God. 
            It’s ironic to me that the greatest level of growth that I have ever had in my relationship with the Lord came out of a time when I doubted everything about my relationship with Him.  The most growth I have ever experienced in my understanding of prayer came from feeling like I totally failed at it. 
            And I could only get to this point by facing the walls and fears and doubts that I had inside.  And I could only do that when God hid from me.  Because the more He hid, the more I pursued.  It wasn’t that He had abandoned me (even if it felt that way); it’s that He knew I was ready to dig deeper and pursue Him more.  And this wouldn’t have happened if I was pampered by His presence and by His blessings.
            I think that there are at least five reasons why God remains silent for stretches of time: 

TTRF Piece 8: A Correct View of God

I have updated this series on my other blog.  Click here for the Updated Piece 8: A Correct View of God

TTRF Piece 7: A Correct View of You

I recently updated this series on my other blog, making it better and shorter.  Click here for the Updated Piece 7: A Correct View of You.

TTRF Piece 6: The Importance of Prayer

I am updating this "Through the Refining Fire" series on my other blog.  It's shorter and better than this one, so I am erasing this one and sending you here instead: Updated Piece 6: The Importance of Prayer.

TTRF Piece 5: Word of God

I am updating this "Through the Refining Fire" series on my other blog.  It's shorter and better than this one, so I am erasing it on this blog and sending you here instead: "Updated Piece 5: The Word of God."

TTRF Piece 4: Radical Obedience

I am updating these "Through the Refining Fire" posts on my other blog to make them shorter and better, and so I am sending you there instead.  Click here for the updated version of Piece 4.

TTRF Piece 3: Learning to Listen and Be Still

I am updating these "Through the Refining Fire" posts on my other blog to make them shorter and better, and so I am sending you there instead.  Click here for the updated version of Piece 3.

TTRF Piece 2: Honesty with Yourself and with the Lord

I am updating these "Through the Refining Fire" posts on my other blog to make them shorter and better, and so I am sending you to that blog instead.  Click here for the updated version of Piece 2.

TTRF Piece 1: The Desire to be Broken

I am updating these "Through the Refining Fire" posts on my other blog to make them shorter and better, and I am going to send you to that blog instead.  Click here for the the updated version of Piece 1

Through the Refining Fire (TTRF) Introduction

Update December 2020: I am updating these "Through the Refining Fire" posts on my other blog to make them shorter, more concise, with better questions and added Bible verses.  And so I am going to send you there and erase the series on this blog.  Click here for the updated introduction.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

UGW Q22: So What, Ultimately, is God's Will?

(This "Understanding God's Will" series starts at the bottom of the list with the post, "Understanding God's Will Intro Part 1") 

            22.  So what is the Will of God, according to the Bible?  And how do I find the next step in His plan for me?   
            Well, I’m glad you asked.  But do you really want to know?  Because once you know then you have a decision to make: obey or disobey.  And doing God's Will is not a simple, quick thing.  It’s a life-long, life-altering discipline.  And that’s part of the problem because we want simple jobs with quick and massive rewards.  We want to put in the least amount of effort and get the most benefits possible.  We want Him to open the doors, but we don’t want any responsibilities.  We want freedom, but no consequences.

UGW Q21: Will He Lead Where I Don't Want to Go?

            21.  Will He take me somewhere I don’t want to go or make me follow His Will if I don’t want to? 
            Yes and no.  Yes, He did drag Jonah to Nineveh, but I don’t think He generally sends along “big fishes” to drag us, kicking and screaming, to places we don’t want to go.  I believe that His typical way is not “a big fish,” but to pursue, challenge, call, and convict us.  He will knock on the doors of our hearts and ask us to go with Him.  And when He does call us to something we don’t like, if we will remain in Him, be obedient, and focus on Him and His glory, our feelings will eventually get in line.  But He does allow us to rebel and to be hard-hearted, if we choose.  And I think it breaks His heart and grieves Him when we do.  He wants so much more for us than we want for ourselves.

UGW Q20: What if I Missed the Path?

            20.  What if I missed the path that God wanted me to take? 
            Get on the new path!  I think that it is indeed possible to miss the first and best path that God wants us to take, by our refusing to obey and follow Him or by our negligence.  And I think this happens more than we realize.  But God is a wise, sovereign God and He can see how any situation can be turned into good.  And He’s always opening up new paths.  So I would say that if you feel that you’ve missed an opportunity or a path that you knew God wanted you to take, don’t dwell on it.  This prevents you from being of further use to Him.

UGW Q19: What if I Pray for the Wrong Things?

            19.  What if what I’m praying for is not God’s Will or plan for me?  What do I do?  Like the Israelites begging for and getting meat (Numbers 11), could I end up getting what I ask for as sort of a punishment?  
            I wondered about this one, too.  If I was asking and asking for something that God didn’t want to give me, would He end up giving it to me because I begged so much, but then there would be a punishment attached to it?  That’s how I felt as I pleaded with God for a house.  I mean, that’s like what happened to the Israelites, right?  Or is it?

UGW Q18: Our Responsibilities

            18.  You keep saying that we have responsibilities in getting God’s Will done?  What kinds of responsibilities? 
            I’ve already gone through many of them, but if you read the Bible, you’ll find lots more.  Because as I said before, His Will is a Verb.  It's more about the way we live in obedience to Him than it is about finding His plan for our life. 

UGW Q17: But God Can't Change His Mind

            17.  But what about the Bible verse that says that God can’t change His mind? 
            1 Samuel 15:29 says, “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.”  I grew up believing this as a simple fact about the nature of God: He is incapable of changing His mind.  It made sense.  I mean, if He knows all things and knows what’s best for all things and always does what’s best in all things, then, of course, we can’t change His mind.  How could we talk Him into something other than what He’s going to do?

UGW Q14 and 15: Does God Force Nations to Sin? Is He Sovereign?

            14.  So what about in the Old Testament when we read things like God sending a nation to destroy another nation as a punishment, but then He turns around and punishes the nation that He just used as a tool of discipline?  How could He cause this - force a nation to be His tool of discipline - and then punish them for it?  Isn’t that unfair?
            I have a hard time understanding this, too, to be honest.  I’m not totally sure how He works or how much free-will overriding He does here.  But keeping in mind His justness, His sovereignty, His fairness, and His decision to allow us free-will (and the consequences), this is the best way I can understand it.

UGW Q16: Can We Change God's Mind?

            16.  Can we change God’s mind with our prayers? 
            Yes and No.  There are Old Testament examples of people who pleaded with God in prayer to not apply a punishment that He said He would do.  And as a consequence of their intercessory prayers, God relents and doesn’t do what He said He’d do.  It seems to me that the times that He has changed His mind in the Bible were almost all because of appeals to His merciful side, to spare the people the terrible consequences of their sins.

UGW Q13: Am I Limiting God's Power?

            13.  But aren’t you limiting God’s power when you say that He’s not in total control of everything?
            No, I don’t think so.  And yes, He is in control of everything as far as everything that happens to us has to go through Him first.  And I am not saying that He’s not all-powerful.  I believe that He is indeed all-powerful.  If He chose to wipe out the earth in a second, He could.  He could do whatever He wants to do.  But I don’t think that He does do whatever He wants to do.  Because I think that when He created the world, He decided to make man with a free-will that He (generally) will not override, even though He can.

UGW Q12: God Works All Things for Good

            12.  I used to take comfort in the fact that God does whatever He wants to do and that God causes everything to happen for a reason.  But if that’s not the case, what then? 

UGW Q11d: Bad Things Beyond Our Responsibility

            Now, I’ve just been talking about the bad things that happen as a result of our own actions and choices.  But what about the bad things that happen that we had no responsibility for: tornadoes, getting hit by a drunk driver, being wronged by someone, the loss of loved ones, etc.?  Does God make these things happen for a reason?

UGW Q11c: Deliberate Ignorance

            Now, that’s all about the first main problem that we need a wake-up call in.  And here’s the other - deliberate ignorance.  Deliberate ignorance not only affects our economy because we choose to deliberately ignore the fact that we spend more than we make, but it also affects the health of our minds and bodies and society as a whole.
            When it comes to our minds, I think that many of us do not give much thought to what we allow into them.  We choose to be ignorant of the effects of the things that we shouldn’t be watching, reading, listening to, and thinking about.  And we excuse it with, “It won’t affect me.”

UGW Q11b: Marriage Trouble

            I think that we as a society need a wake-up call in two major areas.  (There are many more, but I’m only referring to two here that are on my heart).  Our constant selfish search for satisfaction outside of God’s marriage design, and our “deliberate ignorance” when it comes to the harmful things that we allow into our homes, our minds, our food, our bodies, our children’s bodies, etc. 

UGW Q11a: Do Things Happen for a Reason?

            11.  But don’t you think that God could’ve caused bad things to happen for a reason, even if He didn’t really want them to happen?  
            Sometimes, maybe.  I wish that I could say no . . . and yes.  No, because I don’t want to think that God causes bad things to happen.  And yes, because I want to believe that all bad things have a purpose and that He is in total control.  It makes the bad things a lot easier to face then.  (And for the record, I think that our view of what’s “bad” can and does differ from God’s.  Our perspective is so, so cloudy and flawed compared to God’s.) 

UGW Q10: Bad Things Happen

            10.  Can things happen that God doesn’t want to happen?  

            Obviously, yes!  We fell, didn’t we?  We introduced death and sin into the human race and the world.  I bring up this question because people want to know why God would allow evil if God is all-powerful and can stop it.  And the answer is because He doesn’t use His power to override our choices and the consequences of our choices.  And so bad things happen because of us and because of Satan and his kingdom.  (Funny thing is, we don’t want God’s interference when things are going good and going our way, but we sure want His “interference” when they aren’t.) 

UGW Q9i: Still Waiting for an Answer

            So how long do we continue to hang in there and pray for something that doesn’t seem to be happening?  When it seems like God is not listening and it hurts us to have to plead again about a certain request?  I’ve pleaded with God for things that haven’t happened or that seemed a long time in coming.  And this is the best advice I can offer right now.  If you have gone through all the steps above and God is still not answering, hang in there and keep praying about a concern until one of five things happens.  Until . . .

UGW Q9h: Summing Up Effective Prayer

            After really searching the Word for verses on prayer, I’m beginning to believe that God doesn’t just answer prayer based on how much faith we have and on whether or not we claim that it will happen ahead of time.  Yes, we need faith.  That is a necessity.  But it’s not about “performing” or about jumping through hoops to prove how much faith we have.  It’s about the condition of our lives and hearts, about our relationship with Him and with others, and about how closely we are walking with Him and living in His love.  Do we have faith in Him to handle our request?  And no matter how He chooses to answer, do we have enough faith in Him as a good, loving Father to remain close to Him and to praise Him?

UGW Q9g: Other Convicting Verses

            Now, that’s a lot to take, I know!  But . . . there’s more!  If we really want to examine what sins we might be harboring in our hearts, we would be wise to consider these verses. 
            Here’s one for husbands.  1 Peter 3:7:  “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”  The degree to which we treat others with consideration and respect, particularly regarding a husband’s treatment of his wife in this verse, is the degree to which our prayers are unhindered.
            And here are three that scare me:
            Proverbs 21:13:  “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.”
            James 4:17:  “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” 
            Romans 14:23:  “. . . everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

UGW Q9f: Maybe God's Not Listening

            Okay, now this is a lot to think about already.  But there is more.  (And even more than what I am saying here.)  On top of all that I’ve already said, there are many more verses that shed light on why our prayers may not be effective.  We have a much greater responsibility than we realize in making sure that our prayers get heard.

UGW Q9e: Humbled by Unanswered Prayer

            Another problem with the “name it and claim it” interpretation is that we are tempted to bail on God, to criticize ourselves for our “weak” faith, or to question Him when we don’t get the answers that we want or thought we would get.  It confuses us, discourages us, and blows our understanding of God and His Word out of the water.  And I think that God allows this helplessness and futility so that we can learn that it’s not about us, it’s all about Him!  That He is God and we are not!  And so that we dig deeper into the Word to see who God really is and what He has to say through all of it - and not just through the few passages that we are familiar with.  

UGW Q9d: Idolatrous Prayers

            I think that there is something else that we need to consider when it comes to our requests.  How many times do our requests and our desires for an answer become idolatrous pursuits, taking our focus from God?  I think sometimes this is why many of us end up in the furnace of refining, long waits.  To purify our hearts, to help us weed out wayward desires and idols, and to help us refocus on what we should be focused on: God!

UGW Q9c: Considering Other Verses

            When you isolate a verse, such as Mark 11:22-24, from other Scripture, it’s easy to misunderstand it.  It’s easy to make the Mark passage a “name it and claim it in faith” verse when you do not take into account the rest of Scripture.  And this then causes me to focus more on my faith’s ability to make things happen and less on drawing near to God and immersing myself in Him and His Word.  After all, if my faith is enough to get it done, how much do I need Him?

UGW Q9b: Help for the Journey

            So faith in God isn’t “claiming” something that He hasn’t promised, believing that He’ll do it just because we believe in His ability to do it.  Godly faith is trusting that He is the God that He claims to be in the Bible and that He will do what’s best, in His time and in His way.  And our job is to follow in obedience, not to lead. 
            And contrary to the “name it and claim” way, I believe that we are off-base when we are “claiming” a particular answer to prayer before He reveals it, when we tell Him the answer that we expect and that we are going to wait for.  I think we need to not be claiming specific answers or blessings as much as “instructions” or “help along the way.”

UGW Q9a: "Name It, Claim It" Nonsense

            9.  How come some prayers don’t seem to work, even when you believe that it’s God’s Will?  And how long do you keep praying for something (especially when it’s a painful issue) when God seems to not be listening or answering?   
            Boy, I tell you, I struggle with this one all the time.  I want something so bad sometimes (even something that’s good and beneficial), and I pray earnestly for it.  And when it doesn’t happen, I struggle with why my prayers aren’t getting things done. 

UGW Q8c: About the Smaller Decisions

            Now as far as smaller, everyday decisions?  The less impact it has on our lives, on other’s lives, and on God’s kingdom, the less we need to spend time sweating over it in prayer.  It’s not wrong to ask God’s guidance about the route we take home from work, if we should buy the blue dress or the green one, if we should go to the beach today or tomorrow.  But we don’t need to dwell on them, either, feeling like we need to get God’s expressed direction in every decision we make.  It’s just not possible to live life this way. 
            If we live wisely - abiding in Him and having learned to heed the Spirit’s nudges and “red flags” - then we can go forward in life, making decisions as we go, knowing that He will direct our feet as we walk and that He will send up “pause” signals as we need them.  Because the Spirit lives in us.  (But we need to learn to recognize the signals and to heed them.)

UGW Q8b: Three Keys for Discerning Next Step

            And so, the next question becomes, How can I recognize His guidance when He is revealing the next step?  When we were house hunting, I had really wanted the next step to show up in neon lights.  But that obviously won’t happen.  And then I found a book that gave me some really good advice on how to know when God shows “the next step.”  And I really have to thank Gigi Tchividjian here.  Through her book, A Woman’s Quest for Serenity, she helped me understand how to discern God’s guidance, when so many other things were making it hard to hear His leading.  (If you can find her book, it is well worth reading.) 

UGW Q8a: Pray for Specifics?

            8.  If praying for God’s Will is necessary, then do I have to know the specifics of what to ask for?  How do we pray so that His Will gets done?

UGW Q7: But God Already Knows Our Needs

            7.  But what about the verses that talk about how God knows what we need before we ask, like Matthew 6:8 and Matthew 6:32?  Doesn’t this show that we don’t really need to pray for His care, because He’ll care for us anyway, since He knows our needs?

UGW Q6: But God Can Read Our Minds

            6.  But if God can read our minds, isn’t just thinking about what we want to pray good enough?  Isn’t saying, “I’ll pray for you” and intending to do it as good as doing it?  You know, “It’s the thought that counts,” right? 
            I used to think this.  I used to think that if prayers were just formalities and if He could read my thoughts, then He knew what I wanted to pray.  And that was just as good as praying.  Right?

UGW Q5: Prayer Matters

            5.  So prayer really does matter when it comes to making sure that God’s Will happens?
            Yes!  If we believe that God always does what He wants, then we won’t realize that prayer matters in discerning God’s plans for us and in getting His Will done.  Our prayer life will be weak.  And there are examples in the Old Testament that support the necessity of prayer and the fact that it affects whether His Will gets done or not.

UGW Q4: Taking Our Responsibility Seriously

            4.  Is there danger in believing that God will always work His plan in our lives, regardless of what we do or any responsibility we have? 
            Definitely.  Because then we don’t think so much about what we do and about our responsibilities.  We won’t take seeking righteousness, wisdom, His kingdom, prayer, and obedience, etc., as seriously because we don’t see the effect it has over our lives.  If He’s just going to do whatever He’s going to do anyway, then it doesn’t matter what we do or don’t do.

UGW Q3: His Will is a Verb

            3.  What Scriptural support is there for the idea that “His Will” is synonymous with what He desires from us and for us, and is not the same thing as His plans for us? 
            First of all, I do think that “His Will” also relates to His plans for us, in addition to what He desires from us and for us.  But it does not refer to some pre-set, fixed plan that we have to find or one that will happen no matter what.  “His Will” has more to do with the plans that He desires for us, plans that happen if we walk in obedience. 
            Now, when I look up verses that relate to us concerning God’s Will, I mostly see that His Will is a more like a verb, not a noun.  The Bible talks about doing the things that God wills, things that He desires us to do.  It does not as often talk about waiting for His Will or trying to find it as though it is a pre-set path or plan.

UGW Q2: Cause vs. Allow

            2.  Well, what about verses like Proverbs 16:4: “The Lord works out everything for his own end . . . ”  Doesn’t this mean that He makes everything happen for His own reasons? 
            I don’t think that’s what it means.  It doesn’t say He makes everything happen for His own reasons, it says He works them out for His own ends.  (I’ll break this down further a little later.)  He has an end goal, and He knows how to take whatever we do and work it together to reach that end.  But this doesn’t necessarily mean that He causes us to do what we do for His own reasons or that He causes the tragedies that we face for a reason.

UGW Question 1: Our Impact on God's Will

            1.  You say that we have an effect on the path that we walk in this life, that God’s “best path and best plans” don’t just happen apart from our cooperation.  Do you have Scripture to back that up?    
            Well, I’m glad you asked.  And let me ask this:  If God always did whatever He wanted to do in our lives, regardless of us, why are we told so often in the Bible to pray for wisdom, to seek it, and to be discerning?  If our choices and actions don’t matter and don’t have an effect on what He does in our lives, then it doesn’t matter if we live with wisdom or foolishness.  Whatever happens is God’s plan, right?

UGW: Intro Part 2

            I think the first thing we need to do when we talk about God’s Will is to define it.  When we say, “God’s Will,” I think there are actually three different things that we are referring to:  God’s desires, God’s plans, and what actually happens.  If you said, “It’s God’s Will that I moved to Denver,” it could be that you think it’s what God desired for you, or that it’s what He preplanned for you, or that it was God’s Will because God always does what He wants, so if a move to Denver worked out then it must have been God’s Will.  You know, the whole “Whatever happens is what God wanted because God always does what He wants” argument.
            I think it causes a lot of confusion when we lump them all together as “God’s Will,” because they are all different things.  So, what is it?  Is His Will best understood as His desires (what He wants to have happen), His plans (what He has planned to have happen), or what actually happens?  And does He cause what happens or just allow what happens?

Understanding God's Will: Intro Part 1

            This is a huge section that I posted on my other blog,  But I think it bears repeating.  Like most Christians, I have struggled long and hard with trying to understand God’s Will.  I went through years of stress when I was seeking His Will about buying our first home.  (I wrote all about this in the "Child of Mine" posts on the other blog.)  I was terrified of missing His Will. 
            But after that whole time was over, I delved deeply into the Bible to learn what it says about His Will.  And it changed my view.  The bottom line is I wasted a lot of time and energy worrying needlessly. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

First Things First: Do You Know Jesus?

(Updated 3/12/20, to simplify it, add new stuff, and make it cleaner-looking.  I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time.)

John 3: 16: “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

God so loved the world.  He didn’t just love the world; He so loved the world.  He so loved the world that He (Jesus) would die in our place before He would miss out on an eternal relationship with us.  He knew that we would disappoint Him and hurt Him and fail Him, but He still so wanted a relationship with us that He made a way.  He knew that there would be many, many people that would reject His gift of love and salvation, but an eternity spent with those who would choose Him was worth the price of dying on the cross.  That is some amazing love!

Let me ask you something: If you were to die today or if Jesus came back today, would you be ready?  Seriously.  This life as we know it isn't going to go on forever.  And we are not invincible.  People die every day, in every kind of way.  Are you ready to face eternity, whatever comes the moment after you take your last breath?  Have you figured out who Jesus is and why He matters so much?

Because this will be what matters most the moment after you die.  Actually, it's what matters most in this lifetime, too, because it greatly affects what happens the moment after you die.

Sunday, December 8, 2013


            I love Impressionist Art.  Monet is my favorite.  His Water Lily collection is amazing.  I can’t help but smile and relax when I see it.  It just makes me feel happy and at peace.  I love the colors and the mood that Impressionism creates.  The unpredictable beauty of “random” splashes of color.   
            If you stand too close, there is little definition, little that makes sense, and little that resembles what life “should” really look like.  It's messy and splotchy.  A dab here, a speckle there.  But when you step back and take it all in, it is beautiful.  It makes sense.  And you can’t help but go, “The artist knew what he was doing.  This is gorgeous.”
            To me, life is a lot like an Impressionist painting.