What God’s Will Isn’t

Photo Credit: www.flickr.com/photos/archetypefotografie/

Recently there are so many decisions I have to make. I’m seeking for God’s guidance on my service at church and the future plan after I graduate college next year. I really want to know what God wants me to do also His plan for me. How do you pray and what do you do when you are seeking God’s guidance and hoping to get clear signs? —a former VOICE student

This is an excellent question, namely because you’re crossing from making your own decisions to wanting to know what God wants for your life. If this is where you are, congratulations on making a very big first step. The subject of God’s will is incredibly broad, so I will only tackle a tiny aspect here…

God’s will is not like GPS. He does not list out all of the steps to our final destination. He does not (usually) give us step-by-step instructions on how to get there (“Go to this school.” “Date this person.” “Accept this job offer.”). He does not warn us about construction or traffic jams ahead. If this is what you’re looking for in God’s will, you’re not looking for the right thing. Seeking God’s will is actually more like knocking on doors. You may have absolutely no idea who or what lies on the other side. Or you may think you know and then find out it’s not at all what you thought. Whatever the case may be, your only responsibility is to knock and then enter when a door opens.

God’s will is not a safeguard against suffering. I once thought that if I just followed Jesus carefully, my life would (only) be blessed (read: safe, secure, and successful). If something went wrong, I must have screwed up somewhere along the way. I have since learned that while I do feel blessed, that does not mean that everything always goes well. In fact, I often feel more insecure following God, because He’s pinpointing all my false securities and tearing them down. That is exactly why He is my Savior—He is destroying all the things I trust in that can’t save me.

God’s will is not about your life. It’s important to seek God’s will for the big (and little) decisions in your life—but keep in mind that this isn’t about your life. It’s about the story He’s writing for the world. And because it’s His story, He cares infinitely more than you do about your part in it.

And lastly, God’s will is more about the journey than about the destination. Of course, God cares about whom we marry and what we do with our lives, but this whole issue of seeking His will is actually about learning to trust Him one step at a time. It’s about letting Him expose our hidden fears by taking us places we don’t want to go. It’s about resting in Him when our pressures are too great for us to handle. It’s about learning who this God is that we (thought we) decided to follow. Someday, we will arrive at the Final Destination and see Him face to face, but for now, living life is about knowing Him, and that is what following Christ is all about.

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

Identity in Christ

My identity in Christ. This is a phrase that I’ve heard my whole life, and I know the right places in a conversation to say it, but I realized that I don’t really know what it means. Yet it makes a big difference in life who I see myself as: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).

What is my identity to begin with? Who am I? What is your identity? Who are you? I’m Luke. OK, is that all? That’s my name, but is that me? I can change my name at any time, but surely that wouldn’t immediately change who I am as a person? The movie Batman Begins has the famous line in it, “It’s not who you are inside, it’s what you do that defines you.” Is that right? A lot of times, when we are “getting to know” someone, we ask what they do. Once we know that, do we know them?

Well, I’m learning that the meaning of having identity in Christ is that, in some way, it’s what he does that defines me. In fact, whatever it is that defines who Christ is, that also is what defines me if my identity is in Christ. So it’s helpful to think about who Christ is and how I get to know people in general, including Christ. Two things come to mind:

  1. I get to know others by learning facts about them.

I could spend a lot of time with someone, then later find out it was the governor, and what might I say? “I didn’t know who I was talking to.” Similarly, the Bible presents a lot of facts about me that are true because of my adoption into God’s family through Christ:

  • I have been given the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16
  • I am not my own; I belong to God (1 Cor. 6:20)
  • I may approach God with boldness, freedom and confidence (Eph. 3:12)

There are lots more facts like this that are true of us because of our relationship with Christ, and understanding and taking these to heart is part of knowing my identity in Christ.

  1. I get to know others by spending time in relationship with them.

Conversely, I could learn all the facts there are about someone, and yet not know them: reading someone’s life story, however detailed and accurate, is nothing like being friends with them. So to know well who I am in Christ, I need to know Christ well. This is probably where I fall short the most – Christ is a person who is alive and can be interacted with, conversed with, related to. Like any relationship, it takes work and effort to learn the best ways and then do it, but there is intrinsic reward and benefit for making that effort.

Maybe working on these two aspects, I’ll make some progress in understanding my identity in Christ.

life after VOICE

So a common question that my VOICE friends have asked since this summer’s conference is “What’s your life like now?”

Good question. Mostly, I am learning what it looks like to be a stay-at-home mom—with no other competing priorities. “That is the most rewarding work—you won’t regret it,” others tell me. And I know that.

But at the same time, VOICE was my first “baby.” I didn’t just work on it—I dreamt about what it could become. Now that I’ve stepped down, there’s a big empty hole in my heart, like part of me has died. Most days I’m too busy doing the next thing to notice, but when I try to articulate how I feel, the tears come.

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Back before I had little kids underfoot, I joined everyone for the faith challenges at the Northwoods. That first year, I crossed the log without batting an eye. When I faced the log in 2006, however, my knees started shaking uncontrollably. I tried blocking out the well-meaning cheers coming from different sides of the pond (which meant that more and more people were watching). I inhaled deeply and coached myself with the words I’d used to coach dozens of others—”Don’t think about falling. Focus on the opposite end of the log.” I didn’t fall, but I couldn’t walk—so I ended up scooching awkwardly on my bottom.

Leaving VOICE has felt a little like that. Realizing that God was calling me out of VOICE was like taking that first step onto the log. Following Him out of VOICE—saying good-bye to something I loved so dearly, redefining my identity apart from it, and learning to live ordinary life for Him—has been hard.

But friends, this I know—Jesus gave up everything to make me His, and He deserves nothing less from me. I may no longer be the VOICE Conference Coordinator or the V2 instructor, but I am a child of God, and that will never change! Whether you are running, walking, or scooching in your Christian life, remember—we are not defined by what we do but by what He has done for us.

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 ESV)

All Manner of Thing…Even Trump or Clinton

julianAccording to Wikipedia, Julian of Norwich was the first woman to write a book in the English language. She said that she had a vision of Jesus in which he comforted her with a phrase that has become famous:

“In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. This impulse [of thought] was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed because of it, without reason and discretion.
“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.‘”

I’m not sure what to say about the legitimacy of this story. But granting for the moment that this is God’s perspective on things, I’m tempted to wonder why Jesus speaks in the future tense. If things are not well now, how could they become well? Even a future heaven will no doubt include our memories of sadness and sin, and of course the wounds upon the Divine Person – by any account a shocking reflection of our sin against God. The usual answer is that those things, while reflections of sin, are also reflections of love. When, in heaven, we remember our sadness and sin, we will remember how desperately we needed Christ’s love and how undeserving of it we were. And when Christ displays his wounds, he displays the depth of his love for us. But if that’s all true, then why not go all the way and say the same things about the bad things in the world right now? Why not say with Alexander Pope  that these wrongs are “well” because they display God’s love?

I think the genius of Julian’s quotation is just that it holds back from such a justification of the wrong in the world. The bad things that happen really are bad. Jesus’ suffering was bad. But the world will be well partly because of that – the depth of Jesus’ love will not be revealed unless bad things are done to him. That doesn’t make the bad things good, because his love isn’t revealed unless they are bad. This means that the future “well” is not merely what people have called “pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by.” It’s not just that God steps in and makes it all better, it’s that the pain now is part of the happiness then. And there is pain right now – right now, things are not well.

trumpsclintonsSometimes we can’t avoid bad things. In a few days, America will elect a president who many people fear will bring complete catastrophe. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton – both have large groups of opponents who fear the worst if they are elected. No matter which is elected, we have a very contentious and upsetting next four years to look forward to. Things are not well in American politics. One way to trust in God’s sovereignty is like this: “God is in control, so there’s nothing to be concerned about.” But that’s not what Julian of Norwich would recommend. I think her advice, and the more correct and realistic way to trust in God’s sovereignty is more like this: “Very concerning things are happening, but because of that, God will make all things well.”

A Life of Worship

What does it look like to worship God? Is worship restricted to a song set on Sundays, to volunteer work with your small groups, and to reading your Bible?

When I began teaching 9th grade English at a Texan public high school, one of my greatest fears was to cross legal boundaries. As a university student, there were no rules against inviting my classmates to fellowship gatherings, no eyebrows raised were I to wish my professor the joy of Christ on a Christmas card. A country’s education system, however, is often its most politically charged and micromanaging organization, so as a first-year teacher, I wondered how I could live my life in worship within the classroom.

Aw man, I thought when I read the educator’s handbook warning against religious music and decorations, how can I show my kids the love of Christ when my 48 daily minutes are devoted to grammar and state-mandated tests?

Oh dear, I muttered when I saw my schedule, I have barely enough time to microwave my food, let alone pray conspicuously over lunch in the Teacher’s Lounge.

Aha, I said to God when I met my 130 kids, they need exactly what only You can offer, so I’ll be the best channel I know how to be.

For each person, a life of worship looks different. For me, it means taking extra time and resources to care for children falling through the cracks. It means knowing these kids’ names, their needs, their likes, their dislikes. It means stopping to listen when there’s only time for me to speak. When students ask the same question for the 7th time, it means taking deep breaths and choosing to be patient.

Is it easy? Oh, goodness, no. When my students steal my supplies, try to physically intimidate me, talk back in class, skip my course, and blow up in my room, I sense a redness within me that I’ve rarely felt before. That, however, is when I must faithfully be an ambassador of Christ.

It is not “our job” to make people come to Christ. We are called, no matter where we are, to be a mirror of Jesus Christ. And there is no law against beaming his love, grace, and mercy into the lives I meet.

I fail often, no doubt about that, but it is my desire that my entire life gives glory to God, government-restricted job or not.

Is your life a representation of Jesus Christ? Do your actions and words speak Who you belong to?

Pray about what God has for you, specifically. As friends, children, parents, mentors, mentees, co-workers, leaders, employees, and employers, we are to be faithful where He has called us to be. He is worthy of our worship. Are you living it out?

goodbye, VOICE…

I once had the opportunity to ask well-known missionary and author Elisabeth Elliot one question: “What do I do when I have feelings for someone that won’t go away?”

“The things we love best,” she replied, “are substance for sacrifice.”

That two-minute conversation encapsulates a lesson that God has been teaching me throughout my life.

pitcher illustration

Many of you have heard me share my testimony at VOICE about how God asked me to give Him my love for volleyball, my hopes for education, my security at home in America, my feelings for someone I thought I’d marry… And now, God is asking me to give up one of my greatest passions: VOICE.

I spent the last twelve years developing VOICE into what I thought might be my life work. I made a lot of mistakes, but I got to see God do incredible things in your lives and mine. A couple of weeks ago, I was trying to take care of my sick family and get ready for this conference when God used a book I was reading to ask if I would be willing to give it up for Him.

“What?! Give up VOICE? How? Why?”

I write this with tears in my eyes. I wrestled with this decision as one can only wrestle with an idea that seems completely contrary to reality, but at the same time, it felt so familiar because I had been in this situation before. So I cried. I prayed. And I asked Him to confirm it to me through my personal devotions the next morning, and He did. In the words of a song, “Everything I once held dear, I count it all as loss…”

So what does this mean for VOICE? It means that #VOICE2016 may be our last conference. We hope you’ll pray with us that God will bring the people He wants to grow from the VOICE experience. If you have family or friends who have been thinking about attending “some day,” tell them this is the year they should go. If you’ve been wanting to come for V2, let me know.

Lastly, remember, VOICE is just a tiny chapter in God’s story of the world. We did everything we could to help you understand the Gospel and develop a personal relationship with Jesus. So now it’s your turn.

God is real. Live like it.

Safe.

Safety…

I had never really considered it before.

Even when I lived alone, half-a-world away from family, I’ve been blessed with a sense of security & protection all of my life. With safety a seemingly natural thing, I never really considered what it would be like to feel UN-safe, UN-secure, UN-assured. UN-protected.

Then I began a relationship… with someone who made me feel completely safe. Even safer than ever before! So I still didn’t notice it.

As I began preparing for our wedding, I ran across a few blogs, snippets of books, etc that talked about marriage and relationships. They talked about how to overcome common threats to deepening relationships: Anxiety. Insecurities. Inadequacy. Fears.

Suddenly, I began to realize what a precious gift I did have, by understanding what I didn’t have. I was so grateful to my parents, grateful to my fiancé, grateful to God! Moreover, I’ve begun to feel the beautiful weight of how our relationship with our earthly spouse is a mirror of our identity in Christ. (Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’d heard that all my life… but I didn’t KNOW it.)

For those who are 2nd or 3rd generation Christians, we take Salvation through Christ for granted. It’s hard to imagine life without Him. We obviously don’t want to turn back time and live a more sin-filled life in order to drink more deeply of His grace, but… we don’t know what it means to return to our first love, because we scarcely remember that far back! (Except maybe what our favorite toy was!)

And yet… it’s HUGE! It’s such a HUGE THING to be Saved. Washed clean. Redeemed. Uncondemned. Pursued. Loved. Secure. Accepted. Adopted. Wanted. Cherished. Completely whole in Christ. Made new. Safe.

The prayer of an unbeliever.

The prayer of a not-yet-believer.

pursuing the fairytale

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Recently, I’ve been wrestling over the decision of what to do about Arianna’s education.

Now if you don’t have children, please don’t write this off as a parenting post just yet. Last year, I was able to put off this decision, because we weren’t sure where Luke would end up. Now that he’s living his dream as a full-time student, it’s time to focus on the next student in our family.

But there is nothing straightforward about this decision. For one thing, there are hundreds of options here in Saint Louis. For another thing, right now this decision is more about me facing the fears and doubts in my heart than it is about discerning what’s best for Arianna.

I spent most of my school years in good private schools, but we can’t afford private school on a graduate student budget, so that means we consider either public school or home school.

When I was a junior in high school, my parents made the difficult decision to start home education. That created nothing less than an uproar in our home—and in our community. God worked in my heart, and I eventually came to terms with what I believe was God’s will for our family at the time. But now those old misgivings have come flooding back.

That’s not all. I’ve been in the homeschooling community long enough to hear plenty of negative opinions on the public school. So here I am surrounded by other people’s voices and the fears in my own heart.

Luke and I are making this decision together, but part of that means letting God confront those dark corners of my heart. It means asking Him to free me from my fears and help me trust Him one step at a time. It means wanting whatever He wants regardless of how things turn out in the end.

That’s hard—whether you’re deciding your child’s education or pursuing a specific career or figuring out a relationship or choosing a university or major. Most of the time, I just want the path of least resistance. I want the outcome that will encounter the least amount of problems. I want to live a “happily ever after Christian life.”

I am learning that while God gives us promises in the Bible, He never promised us a problem-free Christian life. Instead, He became flesh so that we who were doomed to death might have life. He gave us His presence that we might find strength to face the darkness in this world. He bore the weight of our sin that we might experience the hope and freedom of His resurrection.

That is our fairytale. That is how we face life’s problems and decisions one day at a time.

 

A Tale of Two Composers

Two cities

Photo by will_spark and alvincchen / CC BY

Imagine two different 28-year-olds.

One is a New York Broadway lyricist and composer. His first musical on Broadway has just received the prestigious Tony award (the Oscar award for Broadway musicals). His future is bright, full of exciting opportunities.

The other was born in New York, but has lived in Taiwan for the past 20 years. He works at the VOICE Conference, and every year, he writes a musical for the conference attendees to perform. His future is uncertain, with nothing exciting planned.

You can probably guess that the second 28-year-old is me. Several years ago, I remember watching with admiration at a clip of a new, young composer named Lin-Manuel Miranda rapping his acceptance speech upon receiving a Tony Award. In my heart, I thought “When I’m 28, I want to be just as successful.”

Now that I’m the same age, I’m faced with the reality that I haven’t accomplished what I hoped to. I can’t help wondering, does it mean I’m not talented enough? Am I not hard-working enough?

More to the point, am I… a failure?”

Recently, I’ve gained a new appreciation for Psalm 42. The Psalmist is experiencing great, unsatisfied longings within his heart. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul…”

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Now, the Psalmist could try to convince himself he wasn’t thirsty. “You know, I actually have a pretty good life. I should be grateful with what I have.” Or what if he tried to solve the problems on his own? “If only I had chosen differently, I wouldn’t be thirsty now. If I work really hard, then everything will be okay.”

The key point is he knows what can truly satisfy. “…So panteth my soul after Thee, O God.” Though a thirsty hart may enjoy grass, hay, and corn, only water will do. And while I would like to be famous and successful, none of those things will satisfy. Only God will do.

So what does the Psalmist do? He acknowledges his desires, and looks to the only one who can satisfy them. “Why art thou downcast, O my soul? and Why are thou disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”

The point isn’t whether or not I am a failure. The point is, am I putting my hope in God? Is He MY God?

What Did You Expect?

I was watching “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” with my daughter not long ago, when there was a scene that took place that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. After the children arrive back in the fantasy world of Narnia, they find it’s changed drastically, and Aslan (the Jesus-type figure) is nowhere to be found – and it’s looking like he isn’t even in Narnia anymore.

As the kids start roaming the countryside, the youngest child, Lucy, looks across a deep gorge and claims to see Aslan. However, after her siblings look, Aslan isn’t there. Since no one believed Lucy, they took the long way around the gorge. Later that night, Lucy’s brother, Edmund, asks her “Why do you think I didn’t see Aslan?” Lucy responds with a very wise answer: “Maybe you didn’t really want to.”

Lucy trying to convince her siblings that she saw Aslan

The point is that Lucy probably first noticed Aslan across the gorge and over in the woods because she was expecting to see him in the first place. The other children were just going through the motions and weren’t sure if they even wanted to encounter Aslan. In the end, everyone meets up with Aslan, but some challenges could have been avoided if they had simply wandered through Narnia with a greater level of expectancy right from the start.

Now before you start believing that you’re the Lucy in this story, don’t forget that Jesus’ own followers were not even ready for Him after He rose from the dead. We’re talking about people that walked with Jesus face to face, heard Him say that He would die and rise again, and they still didn’t expect to see Him.

Walking through life with a heart full of faith isn’t an easy thing. Do I expect God to show up each day? Am I anticipating God to do the impossible even when God doesn’t seem anywhere to be found? The reality of living like God is real boils down to maintaining a level of expectancy that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him. The awe of our God is that He is still faithful despite our unbelief; nevertheless, do we really want to miss out on an encounter with our King merely because we were not expecting Him to show up?