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)

Lies we’ve been fed.

With all of the changes and violence in the news, and people thinking about the end of the world and Biblical prophecies, something I’ve noticed lately is that most people have huge misconceptions about Satan and Hell. Even as Christians, we need to take note of the lies we’ve been fed…

Satan in hell cartoonIt begins when we watch cartoons as kids…. You know, when someone dies, there’s the devil: all red, with horns, a tail, and a pitch fork, waiting to welcome the newest inmates that have arrived for him to torment! — *ahem!* — Firstly, let’s remember that Satan is a fallen angel, formerly called Lucifer, who in his pride wanted to be equal with God. One third of the angels followed him, and they (now called “demons”) were all cast out of heaven.

Satan’s status in Hell will be absolutely nil. He will have NO power. – Hell is a place of eternal death for Satan, his demons, AND all who have died a spiritual death due to sin. That is… all who are not covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, through faith! – Hell is complete separation from God… we wanted nothing to do with God, so that’s exactly what He gives us: the absence of Himself.

Satan is NOT the master of Hell! Satan didn’t create Hell, and God certainly didn’t create it for him as a place where Satan could be the ruler, and reign his terror on sinners. – [Our sins are disobedience against GOD’S law, and Satan is the worst offender. He has no right to punish anyone.] – The Bible tells us Satan is the “father of lies”, who masquerades as an angel of light. – His acting is convincing, and his temptations are tempting. (Obviously!) He wants to keep as many people bound by sin as possible.

Moreover, there is the concept of an/the Antichrist. Firstly, anyone who is against Christ is anti-christ, i.e. an antichrist. But Satan’s biggest attempt to overthrow God’s plan will ultimately be [the] Antichrist. Until he is thrown into Hell, Satan will continue to do all he can to steal, kill and destroy. He’s *always* trying to raise up the Antichrist, because although God knows who it will be, he doesn’t! He can’t see the future. — This is a good reminder to simply put our trust in the Lord, and not waste our life or money trying to figure out prophecies that God said we’re not supposed to know the answer to.

Maybe next time, when people around you are upset about the next big tragedy in the headlines, you can talk to them about how the one true God is a God of justice. He will never let the wicked go unpunished, and Satan will one day meet a very bitter end; never to gain power again.

Your Real Dad

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Dad. The word probably means something different to each of us. Recently, I’ve encountered many who have no attachment to that word whatsoever. “Dad” means nothing to them because simply, well, they’ve never had one. Now, obviously there was a sperm donor and from a biological perspective they have a dad. But from a nurturing, relational, and emotional attachment perspective, they feel fatherless.

I really believe that’s why Jesus spent his time on earth trying to help us understand what God is like and who he is. Many times throughout the Bible God is referred to as a dad, and that’s a good thing, but Jesus took it a step further. It’s one thing to say “You care for us like a dad” or “You are our dad,” but to say “Good morning, Dad” takes on a whole new meaning. Jesus wasn’t just describing what God is like, but Jesus also was telling us to relate to God as our dad!

If you want to dig in a little deeper, many scholars teach that when Jesus taught us how to pray in Matthew 6:9-13, and say “Our Father, who is in heaven…” that he was using the word “Abba” – the first word that a young child learns in the Middle East – “Daddy.” Think about what this implies. Even those who have had the best example of an earthly dad have been misunderstood and discouraged because of them. Your Dad in heaven knows you better than anyone else and he is the real Dad to those who have never had one. Not only are you very valuable to him, but he also knows what things you are in need of before you even ask!

Can you imagine the love your heavenly Dad has for you? If God delighted in his plan before he spoke the world into being, how much greater is his delight to witness the full fruition of his labor – a believing son or daughter. That’s why he longs for us to see him as he really is: our Dad. Once we make that connection our entire approach to our Creator should shift – which I believe was Jesus’ intention all along.

Trust vs. Self-Reliance

As many of you know, I married Matthew around two weeks ago. The conversations we had while dating were often about how to trust. Both of us have had people fail us, and we’re not too naive to realize that we would fail each other too.

While I was writing my wedding vows, I struggled with what exactly to say regarding trust. I finally said this:

“I take you with all your faults and your strengths as I offer myself to you with my faults and strengths. I will freely forgive your faults, knowing that my own have been freely forgiven in Christ…. I commit to honestly communicate and I give you my heart and my trust, willingly, and without reservation.”

Two weeks after saying those vows to Matthew, I’ve come to realize even more what a huge task trusting somebody is. My attitude in the past toward family and friends has always been “they’ll fail me; I can do it on my own.” But with Matthew, there are times that it is necessary to trust him. I can’t throw him aside and do it myself like I’ve done with so many other people.

I always thought that the opposite of trust is doubt. But for me, the opposite of trust is self-reliance. Self-reliance is the action; the reason why I’m unable to trust. It’s silly, isn’t it? Because I’m once again placing all my trust on someone who can fail me, myself.

One of my favorite authors, Tullian Tchividjian, whose recent moral failure was part of the inspiration for this post, said:

“…the deepest slavery is self-dependence, self-reliance. When you live your life believing that everything (family, finances, relationships, career) depends primarily on you, you’re enslaved to your strengths and weaknesses. You’re trying to be your own savior… Real life begins when we transfer our trust from our own efforts to the efforts of Christ.”

I sent this song to Matthew at the beginning of our relationship, and we even sang it together at our wedding. I still don’t know really what trusting in God means, but this song continues to express what I do understand of trust.

Lead, kindly Light, amidst the grey and gloom
The night is long and I am far from home
Here in the dark, I do not ask to see
The path ahead-one step enough for me
Lead on, lead on, kindly Light.
~ “Lead, Kindly Light” by Audrey Assad

matthew & cami lantern

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.

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?

“…finding out the greatness…”

– 2013 –

“Lord, why am I here? You clearly opened the door for me to work at this job, but I feel like I’m dying inside! I don’t care about business; I don’t even believe in the work that I’m doing!”

A year and a half ago, my heart cried this regularly. I didn’t understand what the point was for me to be working at that company. I sought to share Christ my coworkers, but other than that? Ick. – I saw no purpose in my work.

Finally, I began to rest and trust God. I began to rejoice, even though I didn’t feel like it.

– 2014 –

Just this morning, long-anticipated plans threatened to collapse. Excitement turned to worry and frustration. Someone else’s money could be lost, myself and others would be sad and disappointed… I prayed frantically as I tried to fix things. I groaned. I wanted to cry.

Just as I began giving into my fear and sorrow, an old hymn came to mind. “Jesus, I am resting, resting in the joy of what Thou art. I am finding out the greatness of Thy loving heart.” I knew the words were not true of me, but they needed to be! Because God’s faithfulness was already true of Him. I began to sing.
– – –

Fast forwarding to my current self… >>>>

Now, I see so much more clearly! To my surprise, the skills that I use every day at my current job [which I love] are the very same ones that I learned at the job I felt unfulfilled by. – – – God knew the future. He knew my need. He knew what purpose He wanted to fit me for, and provided me with free (in fact, paid!) training for the work He was leading me to. – “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in [my] eyes.”

And as for Today? 3.5 hours after it began, the crisis was over. The problem was solved. I’m still feeling an adrenaline rush from the “excitement”, but more than that, I’m so grateful to God for working it all out AND for teaching me again that rejoicing is always appropriate. That His name is worthy to be praised with or without the sun shining; with or without a silver lining.
– – –

These two circumstances remind of a lesson I learned 4 years ago… in the middle of yet another trial,

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“I will be praising God in a week or a year’s time for what is happening now, so why should I wait to praise and thank Him for His loving-kindness? He is ALWAYS good!”

Trust in the Lord

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV).” These were two of the first verses I remember memorizing as a young child (oh so long ago). During the past 20+ years I have quoted and meditated on these verses countless times while contemplating life’s myriad of questions. Perhaps you’ve asked a few of your own; What should I study? Where should I look for a job? How am I going to pay for school/car/apartment? Who should I marry? What should I do with my life? If you are anything like me, you have asked these and many more, and have struggled impatiently with the unknown.

Even though I have been familiar with the words of Proverbs 3 for many years, I still have only started to realize the importance and truth contained within these verses. In the past year, the Lord has been helping me in His loving way to put aside my own understanding and ideas. As I shared with some of you at VOICE last summer, I had been looking for a job and still working through some issues getting my degree and teaching license taken care of, as well as trying to figure out how to live on my own in a foreign country. I often felt discouraged as one job opportunity after another failed to work out, and as each step forward required a mountain of paperwork. It seemed that everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong. Each time I thought about all of the things I needed to accomplish, I felt there was no way they could all be resolved. Could I find a job before my visiting permission expires and I need to go back to the US? Will I even have enough money to make it back to the US by then? I kept asking how long will I have to wait… And the Lord asked me to trust Him, and stop using my own understanding. I was still trying to fit what I thought I needed into my understanding of what God wanted for me. God told me to allow Him to demonstrate His love and wisdom promised in His word.
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God, of course, is faithful and provided a job just in time. The paperwork for my ARC, some of which had to be sent back to the US for authorization, was approved a couple days before my visa expired. My teaching license paperwork was approved, and I’m even getting better at surviving here in Taiwan. Most importantly, God’s promise to direct my path was fulfilled, and I have many testimonies of how the Lord provided exactly what I needed. Praise the Lord for not letting me continue to try to figure it out in my own wisdom. God’s word is true, may we continue to walk daily Christ Jesus.

Revive Me

“God, I can’t make it today. Life’s too hard. I’m tired.”

Do you have those days? I’m not talking about just having a late night and not wanting to get out of bed. I’m talking about the kind of tired where you don’t know if you care to ever get out of bed—the kind of tired that sinks into your soul. Psalm 119:25a says, “My soul clings to the dust.” I’ve found myself identifying with this verse.

It wasn’t anything in particular that made life hard. It was simply, well, everything. All of life’s platitudes and helpful sayings hit me like a slap in the face. Each morning rushed upon me like a charging bull. I needed a way out of an endless cycle of hurt and self-pity. Praise God! He has given one—the Word.

I thought: “I’ve tried that. I’ve read the Bible. Tell me something new.” But, the amazing truth is my answer is not in some new thing that will magically solve all my problems. My answer, as a child of God, is within me. The Father, who gave His all to know me, lives inside me and IS the answer to everything. And if He is what I need, I must fill my life, my heart, my mind, my soul with the Word. “…and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

All throughout the Word, we find the command to keep His commandments. “And this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3). Keep means to hold on to something, to take care of it, to have it with you. Our Father knows our weaknesses and needs above anyone else. When the soul is laid low, the answer is still the same.

Do you feel like your feet are slipping and you are desperately grasping for something to stop your plummet? Cling to His Word. Read the Word. Memorize it. Talk about it. Fill your free time with it. At first, you may not notice a difference. I didn’t, but, slowly, something happened. In the end, my life hasn’t changed too much, but my heart has. Deep inside something has grown. It’s a flicker of hope.

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My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to your Word.” ~Psalm 119:25

Why?

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Damage from a tornado in Moore, Oklahoma last month.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do bad things happen to anybody? If God is good, why does He allow bad things in this world – sometimes terrible things?
Last month we had several very powerful tornadoes in our area. One of them came within one mile of our house. Thousands of houses were destroyed, billions of dollars of damage, hundreds of people injured, and more than fifty people killed. I attended the funeral of one of the victims whose father I knew. Hundreds of people were there…and amazingly, it was a hopeful, encouraging time. Everyone was supporting each other, seeking God together, reminding each other that God goes with us through our pain. God suffers when we suffer. And God brings good out of our suffering and His suffering.

I don’t know why God let the tornadoes happen – probably there are many reasons. Probably there are special reasons in the lives of each person who was affected. Some of God’s reasons might be difficult to accept if we knew them. But maybe it wouldn’t be so difficult if we saw how everything fits together.

The week after one of the storms, I was listening to a sermon on Sunday morning and noticed what Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis 50:
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Gen. 50:20).

You know the story of Joseph, right? His brothers sold him as a slave into Egypt, where he was falsely accused of assault and imprisoned for three years. Because of that, he met the king’s wine taster. Because of that, he met the king and saved Egypt from a famine. Because of that, his own family moved to Egypt. Because of that, the family grew into a large nation: Israel. Because of that, the Egyptians hated them and they left Egypt and wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Because of their experiences in the wilderness and the Law that God gave them, they learned to trust God instead of themselves. Because of this, Israel was set on a path that would prepare them and even us to trust Jesus Christ. The evil done to Joseph was an integral part of the picture of God’s redemption of the world.

And this all began because Joseph’s brothers intended evil against him. Who fully understands God’s power to bring good out of evil? Certainly not me. But I think we can see glimpses of it at times, and those glimpses can help us to believe in bigger pictures like this one. This is part of living out God’s reality…in the middle of the reality around us. VOICE 2013 starts in less than a month and we’ll be talking about all kinds of stuff like this with more students and staff. See you there!