4 Stories of Letting God, Not Pride, Move You Forward

In 1 Samuel, David has not one, but two golden opportunities to dethrone Saul fall literally into his lap. At one point, Saul chooses to relieve himself in the very cave in which David is hiding (Ch. 24); in the other, Saul’s army falls asleep around him and allows David to sneak right up to the slumbering king’s position (Ch. 26).

Everything about both scenes screamed providence. It would have been simple to interpret Saul picking just the right cave, or being let down by an incompetent army, as divine appointment arranging his downfall. Neither is a common situation that one just blunders into.

And this is amongst a spiritual people predisposed towards just such interpretations – and towards David. He’d heard the cries of “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands”, and even though that cry was a more of a poetic call that doesn’t actually indicate superior favor towards David, there’s no question that the future king was popular. The Israelite public would not have hesitated to translate David’s mere possession of Saul’s effects as a divine legitimization of David’s kingship. David’s men may have twisted the prophecies in instigating him to kill Saul, but that didn’t change the fact that God was not on Saul’s side, and everyone knew it.

But David wouldn’t do it. When he cut corners on his obedience in even a small way, he repented.

It goes to show that the humble servant waits for God to remove obstacles in his own way and time.

There was also Moses, who values the things of God over his own ego:

A young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

Joshua son of Nun, assistant to Moses since his youth, responded, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

But Moses asked him, “Are you jealous on my account? If only all the Lord’s people were prophets and the LORD would place His Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:27-29)

Or Paul, who probably has the leverage to shut down his opponents but chooses instead to rejoice in a message greater than the messenger:

“…the others proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely, seeking to cause me anxiety in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just that in every way, whether out of false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed. And in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice” (Philippians 1:17-18)

And, of course, our Savior sets the prime example:

Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. And he said to Him, “I will give You all these things if You will fall down and worship me.”

Then Jesus told him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.” (Matthew 4:8-10)

This is actually a difficult thought for me, because it sounds like passivity, and I hate passivity. It’s been keenly observed for years now that passivity in Christendom, especially among men, has done a great deal of damage to homes and churches. Too often, “safe” Scriptural readings basically tell Christians to just not do anything – too much “be still and know that I am God” and not enough “fight for your families” (Nehemiah 4:14) – missing the balance that there’s a part that’s God’s and a part that’s ours.

But we would do well to remember that passivity can be either the refusal to act or the refusal to act well. Both are forms of surrender – to fear, indecision, and apathy, which turns people into spiritual slouches; or to one’s emotions and instincts, which can create domineering or violent menaces.

In these cases, David, Moses, and Paul are not being still. They are most decidedly fighting. Have you ever wrestled with a choice and actually found yourself more panicked at the thought of doing nothing? Bingo. It takes great strength to reject a power-grab opportunity that falls right into one’s lap. It takes immense character to pass up a fair potshot at another, which your own friends and followers are perfectly happy to execute for you, and trust God with your legacy instead.

When there was a clear conflict of interest for David, Moses, Paul. and Jesus, they conscientiously chose against their pride. Whatever other fair arguments happened to be going the same direction as their pride, they just didn’t trust them. They chose to err on the side of humility and counted on God to reward them for it.

God’s ways almost invariably involve patience and trust, precisely because we lack it, and lie in the opposite direction of our pride, precisely because we desire it. Sanctification is the point, not upward mobility. When we ask for a miracle, God instead shows us a mirror. And Scripture bears stories in which God never did move someone forward, because they were unwilling to surrender these parts of their hearts.

But at the right time, God moves the humble servant forward. Be in position for this, by being continually set against your pride. God will see it. He will not let you overthink or shame yourself out of his will for your life.

 

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No, Atheist, Faith Isn’t the Easy Way. It’s the Hard Way.

cliffEver seen a teacher accused of having it “easy”?

Having had my own classroom, I’m galled when people consider teachers overpaid for working 8am-9pm writing lesson plans, attending (or coaching) sports events, tutoring, meeting parents, re-decorating, supervising detention, and, yes, grading mountains of graffiti-ed tree product. However you feel about certain teachers, I assure you the good ones don’t bolt at the bell.

I feel somewhat similarly when some atheist announces that the Christian faith is easy. That we somehow settle for it, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, because it’s easier than changing our minds.

Behold this gleaming nugget:

“Believers are…easily trapped and continuously fooled by their own choice. Because it pacifies. It’s easy, and it’s comfortable.”

My jaw dropped. Then chortled at the absurdity.

Followed by a long sigh.

Easy? Comfortable?

The Christian faith is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I’ve long been on my knees for a sister fighting cancer (three children in tow). My church is scrambling for foster homes for countless little ones without anyone to look after them. We’re not spared the statistics that report almost half the world living on $2.50/day.

We see it. Experience it. Far worse in some countries.

And in each case, the onus for progress lies on us.

The church steeple is no shelter from the age-old questions of “if God, why evil”. In fact, it serves as a lightning rod, bringing them straight to our hearts. We don’t get to avoid suffering or pass it off as senselessness or randomness – we’re taught to embrace it as growth and God-familiarization, to seek God’s purpose in it. Weekly we’re pushed to persevere, with no real guarantee of healing or breakthrough in this life. Nothing reminds me of my disappointments like stepping into church.

I don’t seek pity for all this. I have God.

But I do seek to educate, because I wonder if certain skeptics have ever spoken to a Christian in their lives. Comfortable?

The narrow path is one of self-denial, self-examination, and wrestling with the thoughts. Power and riches are pooh-poohed by Christ. Instead, we’re taught to love the unlovely, pray for enemies, and leave no motive unappraised. All the while, the world spins itself apart around us, seemingly deaf to the cries of the broken, oppressed, and collaterally damaged.

Can non-Christians live stoic, introspective lives? Yes, some do.

But I know few atheists (or Christians) who aspire to lofty standards like “everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27). How do you explain why one would cling so tightly so a faith that denies him sex? Something tells me the sex drive is slightly stronger than The Comfort of the Status Quo.

Same with survival instinct. If the martyrs hint at anything, it’s that something more is behind Christianity. People don’t die for uncertainties.

That’s just two arenas, but none offer any less stratospheric a call.

There’s nothing easy about Christianity. The desire to cling to your upbringing is feeble next to the gale of livingit. Its tenets defy every human impulse, cut off every self-indulgence, and preclude the possibility of being the product of flawed human inertia. If I were making my own religion, it would look like anything but Christianity.

And that, skeptic friend, is a great part of how I know Christ is real.

 

 

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Yes, We Can Still Carol Amidst the Darkness

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday I learned that I shouldn’t be singing carols as long as suffering persists in the world.

At least that’s the charge of John Pavlovitz, a Christian progressivist blogger whose post I stumbled across today, quite unintentionally, in the course of my internet wanderings (I will not link it). He says our holiday joy should take a sober and subdued form as long as poverty, disease, injustice, and war persist.

I’m still trying to decide how literal he’s being. At first, this seems like a rigid and unfair stance. Suffering will always be around. The poor will always be with us. If you’re holding out for utopia on earth, you’re in for a long wait.

Should we never again sing at Christmas, then?

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When You Dislike Being Needy for God

mistLong ago, I listened to a remarkably holy man, a cancer patient, sharing a conversation with God.

It was a naked, piercing, and heavy testimony of the “when you’ve finally just had it” variety. During a morning quiet time in his big easy chair, he is praying and listening for God and suddenly (for are not these things rather sudden?) just explodes into venting about the story God is writing for him. It’s not just the disease. It’s the ongoing changes and the endless appointments and the constant vigilance and the social misunderstandings and the lack of closure and the shame and fear that attend. All his anger and helplessness and isolation explodes before the throne in frustration. He lets God know.

And the man described hearing God reply, “I understand you don’t like the story. How do you feel about the Author?”

Ugh.

It cut me to the quick – one of two things he said that did so. Not a pleasant reveal, but an unmistakably holy one. A divine refocusing.

For though I dared not compare my life’s difficulties to cancer, the question was stil one that I had not wanted to face. For I could tell you exactly how my journey (e.g. my family history, my weird and glitchy personality) has made me feel about God.

The other thing he said was:

“I could just hear the clarity coming to myself, and I finally said it: ‘What I really don’t like is, I’m now living a life where I need you, God, on a day-to-day basis, just to get through it. And I don’t like being desperately needy for you, God.'”

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When You Sin Seven Times in a Day

Hotel Summer Pool Infinity Luxury Sea Sky WaterI came across an article of John Piper’s in which he listed five besetting sins with which he struggles.

I chuckled bitterly. If only my list were that short.

Not that Piper claimed only five besetting sins, but I don’t even know how he could tier them. Mine certainly don’t lend themselves to stratification. They cling. They bite at my heels. They relentlessly pursue, like a dog who will not yield the chase, or the zombie who knows nothing but the taste of living blood.

I’m not rolling over, mind you. On some fronts, I’m winning more skirmishes than I’m losing.

But something in my heart refuses such encouragement. Total eradication is the goal. If I content myself with less, I will accomplish less.

And there are days in which I do indeed accomplish much less. Days that seem dominated, marked, headlined by sin.

Then, this evening, I read these words of Jesus to his disciples:

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God Finalizes His Adoptions

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ—seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:15-17)

Children Silhouette Family Sunset

Last night in youth group, we discussed God’s adoption of his people – how adoption serves as a beautiful metaphor for how God, in his kindness and magnanimity, chose to save men who, because of sin, were not his own. He initiated the pursuit; he made the first move. There was nothing a believer could do to seek God first; he reached out with his offer of salvation, and we responded. Amazing.

But it occurred to me last night that God doesn’t just initiate; he finishes. He closes.

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Encouragement After Falling Into Sin

Though a righteous person falls seven times, he will get up, but the wicked will stumble into ruin. (Proverbs 24:16)

For the Christian who longs to please God (and thus demonstrates that God has indwelt their conscience), it is discouraging and heartbreaking to fall into sin.

Satan throws gasoline onto the flame of our frustration, saying that not only have we disappointed our God, but we will never do any better. He tempts us, gets us to cooperate with his agenda by committing sin, then turns around and shames us for it. A vicious one-two punch. Indeed, the Hebrew word “Satan” carries the meaning “accuser”.

Fortunately, we belong to God, not him.

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