Friday, September 12, 2014

Hardest Spiritual Lesson #6: Accepting God's Timing

6.  Being Okay with God’s Time and God’s Way

            1 Peter 5:6-7:  “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.”

            In due time!  Such a scary thought for us.  Such a hard thing to accept, to wait for.  How hard it is to humbly submit our lives to the Lord’s timing and way.  But if we want to have the kind of life He wants for us, then we have to learn to humble ourselves before Him and to wait for Him to lift us up in His time and in His way.
            And I don’t know about you, but sometimes I am much too anxious for that.  I want what I want when I want it.  I have dreams that I want to fulfill and plans that I want to succeed and prayers that I want to be answered.  And nothing can mess with your faith more than not getting an answer or result fast enough.  So true, right?
            We pray and pray about something, and we have faith that God will work it all out.  But then time goes on and nothing happens.  And we begin to wonder if He is listening or if He even cares.  We begin to wonder what is wrong with our faith, if we are a failure as a Christian, if He is mad at us, and if He really is even there anymore.  Maybe He’s got better things to do than bother with us and our little request?
            Learning to wait on God in peace and expectancy is so hard to do.  Because we have our own ideas of how and when things should happen.  And when it doesn’t happen that way and when the wait drags on and on, all sorts of fears and doubts and anxieties begin to surface inside of us. 
            But please hear me . . . this is normal.  God’s silence is normal.  Long waits are normal.  And the anxiety and doubts that come up are normal.  That’s why the verse says that we are to cast our anxiety on Him.  He knows that waiting for His timing will make us anxious.  But the only way to get through it properly is to bring those fears and doubts to the Lord, to admit them to Him, give them to Him, and let Him calm our anxious hearts.     
            As I reflect back on my spiritual journey so far, I have to say that the most growth seemed to happen during the times of God’s deafening silence.  These usually started with me praying about some request.  And then, when the answer wasn’t coming and I couldn’t even feel His presence anymore, I would end up desperate, pleading to just have any sense that He was even there, that He cared and was listening, and that He hadn’t abandoned me.  What started out as a request for something I wanted or “needed” became a search for knowing that God really cared about me.  God’s silence forced me to move from wanting my request to just wanting Him. 
            It’s ironic to me that the greatest levels of spiritual growth come out of the times when I struggle the most with doubts and fears about Him and myself and my faith.  And the greatest growth I experience in my understanding of prayer comes when I feel like I am totally failing at it.  But it takes time.  It takes commitment to walk through the pain and silence and doubt with God, instead of bailing on Him because He is “too slow” or too silent. 
            I think that there are at least five reasons why God remains silent for stretches of time: 
            1.  It’s a time of discipline - a time when He has “withdrawn” to give us a little jolt that helps us open our eyes to our sins and the effect that they have caused.  This is to help us adjust our course as we walk with Him, and we should be deliberate about righting any wrongs and asking forgiveness as soon as we can.   
            2.  It’s a time of being turned over to the hardness of our hearts - because we have resisted Him and have neglected to listen to and obey the convictions and nudges of the Holy Spirit.  Or maybe we have outright rebelled or turned our back on Him.  First, He tries to get our attention and help us get back on track.  But if we persist, He has no other choice than to let us walk down the path of rebellion.  This kind of silence is to be feared and taken very seriously.  It is dangerous territory and can reap severe consequences. 
            3.  It’s a time of pruning and growth - when He knows that we are ready and willing to pursue Him and His righteousness more deliberately, when we have reached out for Him more earnestly than ever before.  And yet, somehow, it seems like He has withdrawn.  But this silence should not be feared.  He is there with you, encouraging you toward godly growth and character, like a parent who keeps taking steps backward as their child learns to walk toward them.  Allow this time to draw you closer to Him, in prayer and through His Word. 
            4.  It’s a time to teach us to be content with God’s right to say “no” or “wait.” 
            5.  And sometimes it’s just because He’s working on the answer to our prayers and it’s not ready yet.  And so He has nothing more to say than “Find your comfort and strength in Me, and hang in there.  I’m working on it.” 
            When you find yourself in an extended time of waiting, of God’s silence and you are getting confused and don’t know what to do, consider what this time of waiting may be about.  Is it for discipline?  Is it because you are in rebellion?  Is it that He is working on the answer or challenging you to give Him the right to say “no”?  Or is it because God is asking you to climb higher and dig deeper in your walk with Him?
            Quite honestly, our tendency is to fear this time, to feel abandoned, and to feel like it will never end.  And so we desperately try to fight our way out of His silence, or to fill it with busyness and “God-pleasing” activities in hopes that we can earn His answer or attention. 
            Resist the urge to lead the way out.  And follow instead!  Our job is not to concern ourselves with His job, with how He is leading or what in the world He is doing.  Our job is to obey, to praise, and to glorify Him today – whether He gives or takes away, whether we have a big job or small one, whether He is silent or active.  Our job is to be responsible for the tasks that He puts into our path today, and to let Him have the rest.  To let Him have tomorrow, let Him have the right to use (or not use) us however He wants, let Him have the right to grant success or to “take away.”  Ultimately, it’s letting Him be God.  And this is crucial in learning to be content! 
            Too many times, our prayers are not from the foot of the cross.  They are from our position on the throne.  We demand and request and order God around.  We try to convince Him that we know best, and we act like He waits at our feet to do our bidding.  We have a “right” to the answers.  We’ve followed the formula.  We know best because we can see the justness, rightness, mercifulness, fairness, value, and importance of what we are asking for.  Surely God can see it, too.  Right? 
            And then we feel like He let us down and can’t be trusted if it didn’t happen the way we thought it should have.  We question what kind of a Christian we are, what kind of God He is, and if He really cares about us or not.  And we either get angry and rebel, or we retreat in pain and fortify our walls and say, “See!  I knew He’d let me down.  Everyone always does.”  We pass judgment on His ability to be God, and we evaluate His performance by our limited understanding.  But we have shrunk Him.  We have shortened His arm.  And I have to ask, who is really on the throne?
            Lack of answers and God’s silence and a “no” can cause us to doubt God.  But we can’t stop there.  We need to use those doubts as springboards to uncovering walls, sins, fears, and misconceptions about ourselves and about God.  And to root out any idols that we are chasing.  And once again, this brings us back to the importance of the Word.  Because that is where we find the truth about who He is and who we are.  Without Truth, we are left to float around hopelessly lost at sea.  We have no hope outside of God’s Truth!
            I believe that the healing that God wants for us is the kind that will bring us to the point where we can say, “Regardless of how You answer, Your will be done!  You are enough for me!”  This is being sweetly broken.  This is true humility.  And this is why we face His silence sometimes.  To break us of our need to play God in our life!  To teach us to be content!  And to cause us to wrestle and wrestle with our fears, doubts, misconceptions, idols, and sins - until we resemble Him more, draw ever nearer to Him, and realize that He is all we desire! 
            I can’t say that there are any steps to follow to get out of this time of waiting.  It’s not like there’s a formula to get God to act or to reveal Himself.  (Trust me, I’ve tried.)  But there are things that we can do to make the most of this time, to draw closer to Him instead of drifting, and to learn to wait more contentedly.  It may just be that God knows you are ready to learn something you never wanted to learn before - about yourself, about God, or about His plans. 
            Immerse yourself in prayer and in the Word, letting the Spirit know that you are willing to hear from Him.  But remember that just because we say “Speak,” doesn’t mean that He will speak right away.  He answers when He decides to.  I once heard His answer to a prayer almost before I even finished praying; but another time, I had to wait a couple years before I got any direction from Him (and before I even got a feeling that He was there and listening). 
            It seems to me that we usually have to wait longer than we want because longer times of silence make us try harder and dig deeper.  They reveal more of what’s inside of us.  And they ultimately test us.  They make us choose between giving up or pursuing Him more deliberately. 
            Now, while we can’t make Him talk or reveal Himself, we can make sure that we are in a receptive position when He does speak.  And we do this by reading the Word and praying and thinking on Him.  And when we are in a time of waiting, we have a great opportunity to develop our spiritual lives, such as examining our hearts and minds for any offensive ways and evaluating how well we obey, how well we treat others, if we glorify God in the jobs He has given us, and if we have learned to praise in the pain. 
            The key is: Don’t rush it and force your way out of His silence.  Don’t fill it with distractions.  Don’t despair.  Be willing to learn from this time and to wait on God.  Learn to be still before Him and in Him.  He will not forget you.  Trust me on this.  Trust the Bible on this!  But the waiting usually lasts a lot longer than we are comfortable with.  Just expect that and know that it is normal.  And while you wait for Him, just focus on doing the job that He gave you today to the best of your ability.  And when the time is right, He’ll move in your life. 
            If you find yourself in a long time of waiting, take some time to examine your life, your views of God, your views of yourself, your spiritual disciplines, your level of obedience, and any lies, sins, idols, or misconceptions that you harbor in your heart or mind.  Because when we get a clear, Biblical understanding of the truth about ourselves and of God, we will know Him as a good, loving Father that can be trusted, no matter how or when He answers.  We will be more comfortable with knowing that our job is to pray and His job is to answer.  We’ll know that even if we didn’t get what we wanted in our time and in our way, He will work it out for good.  Because of who He is!  And because of His love for us! 

            Psalm 37:7:  “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. . .” 

            Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” 

            Colossians 3:10-11:  “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience. . .”

            Hebrews 12:1:  “. . . let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

            Psalm 9:10:  “Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.”

            Philippians 1:6:  “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” 
            Deuteronomy 31:6:  “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified . . . for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”