Tuesday, August 26, 2014

But Really, What's the Answer

Have you ever gotten an answer to a question but refused to accept it?

Have you ever asked a question over and over again, hoping the answer would change? (I've run into this technique as a teacher.)

I think we do this with God all the time. (Well, maybe I do this all the time. I'll just speak for myself.)

I pray and pray. God gives me an answer. But I keep praying about the same thing.

Why do Christians do this? Maybe we want the answer to change - we don't like the one we got so if we keep praying it will change. We don't want to do (or stop doing) what we've heard so we keep praying, thinking if we pretend we don't understand, we will get a different answer.

Sometimes we keep praying because we want to make sure it's the answer and not just our wishful thinking. It's good to verify whatever we think we hear, but to just keep asking to avoid action isn't good.

I think about Gideon. He asked God for a sign. (See Judges 6:36-40) He put out a wool fleece and asked God to make the fleece wet with dew and the ground around it dry. If God did that, Gideon would know that God wanted to use him to deliver Israel from the Midianites. God did what Gideon asked. Then Gideon said, "If you really want me to do this, make the ground wet and the fleece dry." God did that the next night.

I don't know if Gideon doubted his call or was just reluctant to do it. (Judges 6:16 does show some reluctance when God first came to him.) But Gideon asked and God answered. God kept telling Gideon to go. At last he did.

Sometimes it's not about doubting or reluctance. Sometimes, I think we don't recognize that the answer is the answer. We're expecting an answer that is completely different from what comes.

I've been praying a version of "God please show me what you want me to do" for the past couple of months. Last week I had hit a few snags in following what I felt were appropriate leads. I prayed that prayer again. "Show me what you want me to do."

Within a couple of hours of voicing that prayer, my phone rang. An editor called to offer me another writing opportunity. More of God's provision is what I was thinking.

Then a new thought appeared as I hung up the phone. "Why do you ignore the answer you keep getting?"

I pondered this. In several different instances, after I had prayed my "Show me what to do" prayer, I had received an email or call about a writing job. Since I wasn't looking for that to be the answer to my prayer, I kept missing it. Or maybe didn't want to accept it since I had a different answer in mind.

I read recently on a blog* that, when God seems silent and you are waiting, do the last thing that you clearly remember Him telling you to do. Every time I pray specifically about a teaching job, I feel that God is saying to wait. When I pray more generally ("show me what to do"), writing is the answer. Every time. So, how many fleeces must be wet or dry before I get/accept the answer?

So I'm praying something different now. "Keep me faithful in this task. And keep my ears open for whatever other paths You are leading me to travel."

And isn't that what I should have been praying all along? Keep me faithful to what You are doing now. And make me ready and willing for what is to come.

*I don't remember where I read this. If it's your blog or you know where I saw it, please let me know and I'll add a link and credit.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Replenishing Flour

I pulled up our bank account online the other day. I needed to transfer some funds; I wasn't just checking on it. I looked at the balance. It shouldn't have been that. There was much more than I expected in the account.

This isn't the first time that's happened. When I took my first teaching job two years ago, our income...well...was reduced.

And we always had enough (more than enough) to take care of our expenses. We had what we needed when we needed it.

Now, I keep getting freelance writing jobs. Cindy keeps working on her contract assignments (or new contract assignments). And we have (more than) enough to meet our needs.

The flour jar did not become empty and the oil jug did not run dry. (1 Kings 17:16)

The land was suffering a famine. Elijah traveled to Zarephath as God told him. He met a widow there. She was gathering sticks for her oven.

Elijah asked for water. As she went to get it, he said, "And bring me a piece of bread."

The widow said, "I don't have any bread. I only have a little flour and oil left. I was getting ready to make the last bit of bread for my son and me. Then we will die."

Elijah told her, "Make me a small loaf first. Then do as you planned. God says that the flour jar will not become empty and the oil jug will not run dry until rain comes."

The woman did as Elijah asked. And they ate for many days.

The flour jar did not become empty and the oil jug did not run dry, according to the word of the LORD He had spoken through Elijah.

As a man concerned about his family, I want to make sure we have what we need. As a worrier by nature, I want to plan and secure necessary funds. As a follower of God, I want to have faith.

We've learned that God will provide. Cindy had an accident this spring. The hospital bills (our portion) has been much less than we thought. Unexpected opportunities appear in the mail. The account does not become empty or run dry.

Trust. A calm mind. Putting off worry and putting on faith. These are things I'm learning or re-learning.

And the jar and the jug do not become empty.

Does that mean that we just sit around, spend what we want, and just hope that the money is there?

No, we try to be wise about our spending. We give to ministries at our church and elsewhere. We pursue whatever appears that seems to be the way He is leading.

But we trust in Him for the future.

God is faithful. He provides.

Monday, August 11, 2014

This Way?

Did you ever stop and wonder, "How did I get here?"

I have when driving or walking through an unfamiliar space. I've ended up in a place different from what I expected. I thought I knew the way to go but ended up in a completely different spot. The path or hallway or street didn't go where I thought it would.

Two years ago I began a new career in classroom teaching. I knew how the path would go. I walked into a classroom and began to teach young kids. It was hard, harder in some ways than I expected. That year I kept thinking, "This is different than I expected." But I knew that things would settle and become more like I thought.

One year ago, the year began smoothly and I was happy at how things were developing. Then I was unexpectedly moved to a new school and a new grade level. And it was rough. For many different reasons, much rougher than I really thought it would be.

I thought, "It wasn't supposed to be like this. I'm working as hard as I know, doing the best I know. And it doesn't seem enough. I made this change, giving up salary and security. It should be better than this." (Yes, my pride seems to keep showing up in the middle of this journey.)

But I kept working, knowing that things would be different as time progressed.

Now it's now. School started here last week. All the kids and teachers began their new year. Without me in a classroom. This isn't the way it should have happened. This is not the direction I planned or expected. I had a moment last week when I was really, really sad. My dream wasn't going to happen. It is over.

Or is it?

Yes, we're heading through this in a way different from what I expected. But that doesn't mean I made a mistake or my dream has evaporated.

I think about Joseph...the Old Testament Joseph. (Read his story in Genesis 37–50).

Joseph also had a dream. He dreamt that the sun, moon, and stars would bow to him. He was the favored son of his father, the heir apparent. But he ended up as a slave in Egypt, sold by his own brothers. Then he was thrown in jail, for trumped-up offenses. He helped men who were troubled, and through that, he sought a way out of jail with a man who had the pharaoh's confidence. It didn't happen.

I wonder if Joseph ever thought, "How did I get here? This wasn't the way it should have been."

Then...after years...he was remembered, he assisted a troubled pharaoh, and he was elevated to leader of the kingdom. Many bowed to him. Even his own brothers. He had opportunity to avenge himself for the brothers' actions. But what did Joseph say?

"You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result--the survival of many people." (Genesis 50:20)

We are certainly not facing the hardships and evil that Joseph did. We are facing some challenges but those are challenges to our expectations. My carefully designed route is gone. We are in a new place, a route that I certainly didn't expect. But God is planning and leading for our good - to bring about His result. In the past any "detour" we encountered led to greater, better places. Will this be any different? I don't think so.

I don't want to ask, "Why this way?" I should ask, "What unexpected lessons are waiting on this way?"

That sounds so easy, so mature, so holy. I'm not there. But I want to be.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Unfamiliar Territory

I have been reading about Joshua and the Israelites. In Joshua 3, they are preparing to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land.

As they were preparing to leave, Joshua told the people to wait until they saw the ark of the covenant leave the camp. Then they should pack up and move, following it. He says to keep a distance from the ark as they go.

"Don't go near it," Joshua says, "so that you can see the way to go, for you haven't traveled this way before." (Joshua 3:4)

The people had to focus on the ark, the presence of God. They were moving into unfamiliar territory and the only way to stay on track was to focus on God.

Right now we are on a way we haven't traveled before. Some of our journey has been similar. But we are traveling new territory. How do we stay on track? Focus on God.

Unfamiliar territory can be unsettling, scary. Focus on God. He never changes. He leads and He protects.

At times, unfamiliar territory seems wrong. The circumstances make little logical sense. The path is overgrown, faded, or just plain missing. Focus on God. His ways are not our ways. But He doesn't abandon us; He leads in His own way.

We've laced up our boots and are ready to hit the trail. Focusing on God.